The emerald-coloured hills of Ireland are best enjoyed on foot. But while Ireland is full of amazing places to hike, it’s not always easy to know where your best options are.
Ireland has six national parks as well as hundreds of acres of private land opened to the public, but most trails aren’t maintained, signposted or advertised to the same extent as North American paths are.
Therefore, to help you explore the Irish countryside, we’ve selected the top 5 hikes of Ireland.
The Causeway Coast - The Giant’s Causeway and Beyond
Following the rugged coastline of Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coast combines some of the best cultural, historical, natural, and even imaginary wonders of Co Antrim. With lush countryside to one side and whimsical ocean horizons to the other, visit stunning places like the clifftop Dunluce Castle, renowned Old Bushmill’s Distillery, Game of Thrones filming locations like Ballintoy Harbor (better known as Lordsport on the Isle of Pyke) - all leading up to the unique geological phenomenon, the Giant’s Causeway.
A jaw-dropping collection of 40,000 basalt columns surrounded by high cliffs, legend has it that the Giant’s Causeway was created as a bridge from Scotland to Ireland by two warring giants - and there’s still something magical about this place! The mystical landscapes of Northern Ireland are also said to have inspired CS Lewis to create the Chronicles of Narnia – so be sure to keep an eye out for a unicorns or centaurs!
Croagh Patrick - Ireland’s Holy Mountain
Known locally as ‘The Reek,’ Croagh Patrick mountain has been a pilgrimage route since ancient times. This impressive mountain overlooks the bustling town of Westport to one side and to the other, the sparkling Clew Bay, once the domain of the formidable 16th century Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.
Croagh Patrick is famous for its saintly connection – legend claims that St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, is said to have fasted on the summit for 40 days, and there is a shrine dedicated to him at the summit. Considered Ireland’s Holy Mountain, it is still climbed by thousands of pilgrims on the last Sunday in July – some of whom walk up the mountain barefoot! There are a few options to climb it. The Pilgrim’s Path is the most famous and the most travelled. Though well-worn, the path is still quite steep. St Patrick’s Way starts from the other side of the mountain before meeting up with St Patrick’s Way halfway through. Finally, the least-known path is the Western Ridge - though it is less steep, the path is more rugged.
Doolin Cliff Walk - Cliffs of Moher
Whether you choose the shorter route finishing at the Cliffs of Moher or continue on along the longer route finishing in Hag’s Head, the Doolin Cliff Walk is a breathtaking hike along the cliff’s dramatic edge. Hike along the narrow path while enjoying dramatic views of the swirling Atlantic Ocean far below your feet. To the horizon, gaze out at the Aran Islands, a final bastion of Irish language and tradition. This is also a great place to spot seabirds.
One of the best hikes in Ireland, the Doolin Cliff Walk is also called the ‘secret’ access to the famous Cliffs of Moher! The Doolin Cliff Walk is the best way to visit and appreciate the sheer size and raw beauty of the Cliffs of Moher - and by approaching on foot, you’ll enjoy the view of the famous cliffs and still avoid most of the crowds congregated near the visitor centre.
Donegal’s Malin Head - Hike to a Star Wars Galaxy
Co Donegal is possibly Ireland’s best kept secret. Rated #1 on National Geographic Traveller’s The Cool List, Donegal is a rugged and remote county overlooked by most visitors. At its tip, the rocky, barren outcrop of Malin Head has two claims to fame: it is Ireland’s northernmost point, and it’s part of a galaxy far, far away! Indeed, Malin Head is one of the filming locations used for the 2017 Star Wars film, The Last Jedi Episode VIII.
Start from Banba’s Crown, named for a Celtic goddess, where you’ll visit the old Napoleonic signal tower and the WWII-era EIRE sign worn into the ground, signifying Irish neutral ground. Follow the path around the headland to the aptly-named Hell’s Hole and Devil’s Bridge - part of Malin Head’s extraordinary geology.
St Kevins Way in the Wicklow Mountains
This rugged trail has been well worn by pilgrims for hundreds of years. The ancient pilgrimage route St Kevin’s Way has existed since medieval times. A hermit who lived deep in the silent mountains of Glendalough, St Kevin and the hermitage he built deep in the Wicklow Mountains inspired the creation of a monastic city in the 11th and 12th centuries. For centuries, Glendalough was once one of the greatest centres of learning in Ireland.
Today, Glendalough is nestled deep in a beautiful glacial valley in the Wicklow Mountains, a region nicknamed the ‘Garden of Ireland,’ and a popular escape from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. Enjoy awe-inspiring views of the lakes snuggled into the valleys as you explore the ancient monastery and region along St Kevin’s Way.
Enjoy many of these hikes on our Ireland Journey from North to South: http://www.mtsobek.com/trips/europe/ireland/ireland-journey-from-north-to-south