The island of Ireland is a bit like the country’s famous crystal. The coastline sparkles, especially along the Atlantic coast where walking holidays in Ireland never fail to lead you to a secret cove or along an expansive clifftop. The landscape is cut into intricate patterns by the elements, from the Glens of Antrim or Causeway Coast to the prolific peninsulas of the west coast, such as Dingle or Beara, all havens for Ireland adventure tours.
Similar to crystal, which gives off rainbows when held up to the light, you won’t be short of rainbows in Ireland. Expect the most colossal natural lightshows on walking or cycling tours, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry or Wicklow Mountains, for example, changing hues by the hour. The island may be divided into two countries but, as you will see on our holidays, which cover the whole of Ireland, there is no border when it comes to beauty.
Where to go
Killarney National Park and Kerry Way
Killarney National Park is the country’s largest national park, and at the heart of all cycling and walking holidays in Ireland. The latter take place on the Kerry Way, a colossal and sometimes challenging 210km long-distance walking trail that takes 12 days to complete. For cycling tours, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry takes you through the national park and also along the Iveragh Peninsula and to Valentia Island. Whichever way you take, the national park and Kerry’s emeralds shine brightly, be it at Killarney’s lakes, on the rich boglands and sandy beaches, or as the sun rises over Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.
The west coast of Ireland is peppered with the prettiest of peninsulas, and sometimes it’s hard to know which one to stop at. Beara is a beauty, however, and one that many Irish people haven’t even visited. The Beara Way is a waymarked 196km walking trail taking you around, over and into the heart of this wild and windy hillwalking heaven. Whether you choose to walk the Beara Peninsula in 12 days or do the slightly shorter 10 day or eight day versions, you can mix exhilarating cliff top walks or ancient bog roads with island idylls of Garinish and Bere. And you’ll also find a wide array of great foodie spots on these Ireland adventure tours.
The Dingle Way is an exquisite walking trail that covers 179km of some of Ireland’s finest beaches, rural villages, dramatic cliffs and panoramic views along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. It’s a world renowned walking trail, and yet you will always find tranquil spots on the likes of Mount Brandon, Ireland’s second highest mountain, in the foothills of Slieve Mish or among the dunes of the grand Inch Strand. We recommend diving into Dingle big time on the 10 day self-guided walking tour, or take in many of its heavenly highlights in eight days. When it comes to cycling tours, Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula is also spectacular, one of the highlights being a ride across Conor Pass, which traverses the peninsula at an elevation of 456m between Dingle town and Brandon Bay.
For serious hillwalking holidays in Ireland, head over the border into Northern Ireland to the Mourne Mountains. Just 50km from Belfast, this range of granite tors clings to the coast of County Down, dipping down like giant mythical creatures to drink from the sea. They aren’t that giant, in fact, with Slieve Donard (853m) being the highest peak of twelve over 600m, with the historic Mourne Wall traversing them. However, this range feels remote and wild, and has some spectacular views. The Mourne Way is a trail that takes you through some of the Mournes, exploring the likes of Slieve Meelbeg, Commedagh and Donard, Happy Valley as well as Castlewellan Forest Park.
The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s most visited site, and not surprising as its conglomeration of basalt columns that emerge from the sea is a miracle of nature. What’s almost more amazing is that only a handful of these visitors explore the surrounding coast on foot, even though the clifftop paths around the likes of Dunseverick or Dunluce Castles, the wide sands of White Park Bay and the wild beauty of Rathlin Island are also giants of gorgeousness. On our self-guided walking holiday of the Causeway Coast, you also have one more spectacle to add into the mix, that of the Glens of Antrim, with walks in two of the famous glens, Glenariff and Glenshesk.
Wicklow Mountains National Park
One of six national parks in Ireland, this is closest to the capital, just 23km from Dublin city centre. A vast open bogland, with rounded bronze coloured peaks, you can walk in some of the country’s wildest spots, with vistas of heath, waterfalls and long winding roads for miles around including out to sea, as the national park overlooks the east coast. The Wicklow Way dips in and out of the national park for 132km, visiting some of its most magnificent natural heritage highlights, such as Glendalough and Powerscourt Waterfall, Glenmalure Valley and the stretched out saddles at Mullacor, White Hill and Djouce Mountain.
Things to do
- It’s fitting that long-distance walking trails are all called ‘ways’ in Ireland, given that people here do seem to have a way about them that is intangibly Irish. They demonstrate welcoming, warm and wholesome ways, whether you meet them in a pub on the Kerry Way, a deli on the Dingle or Donegal Way, sharing banter on the Beara Way or shooting the breeze on the Sheep’s Head Way. You’ll find plenty of peaceful trails on walking holidays in Ireland, but you will also delight in the Irish carefree ways.
- Pack your swimming gear in your backpack to give our Ireland adventure tours aquatic added value. You may need a few suits on the Kerry Way of course, with glistening sands like Derrynane or Inch beckoning at every turn. Wash off the dust of wanderlust on the Blasket Island’s beautiful Trá Bán, on a cycling holiday around the Dingle Peninsula. And with the Mourne Mountains famously sweeping down to the sea, you will want to have a cossie to celebrate completion of the Mourne Way.
- The Irish food scene has transformed over the last two decades, with slow and sustainable food featuring on many menus, from fine dining to pubs. One of the best books to pack before you travel to the west coast of Ireland, is The Wild Atlantic Way – Where To Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way by Ireland’s leading foodies, John and Sally McKenna. It’s a passport to the finest picnics and pubs, delis and deliciousness all around the coast, from Cork to Donegal.
Responsible travel tips
- Ireland’s islands are like extra emeralds sprinkled around its shores, many with small, traditional island communities that depend on tourism to survive. You can visit several of these islands on our cycling and walking holidays in Ireland, so please do ensure that you spend some money locally when you are there. They are unique places to visit and it’s vital that we try and sustain them as best we can. They include Bere Island on our Beara Way holidays, Great Blasket Island while cycling or walking the Dingle Way, or Rathlin Island on our Causeway Coast walking holiday.
- Ireland is very committed to protecting its flora and fauna, and building biodiversity. To read up more about leading conservation organisations, see the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust. You can also donate to their causes of course.
- Ireland banned certain Single Use Plastics in 2021, including plastic cotton bud sticks, disposable plastic cutlery, plates, stirrers, chopsticks, straws, and polystyrene food and beverage containers. Some outlets may still be breaking the rules on this and so, if you spot any, Friends of the Earth Ireland has asked you to let them know.
- Ireland is really not that far away from Great Britain by train and ferry and so, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint by around 70%, there are some options open to you. One of the best is the Rail and Sail tickets, a combined ferry and train connecting some of the UK’s leading mainline stations to Ireland via UK ferry ports of Holyhead, Fishguard or Cairnryan. Your ticket includes the train, ferry and, in some cases, your onward train journey within Ireland. If you want to book trains within Ireland, see Irish Rail and Translink in Northern Ireland.
- Do read up on politics a little bit before you go, and tread carefully as the issues around colonialism and sectarianism are still very real for a lot of people. And don’t mock the Irish accent, or attempt to copy it, it never goes down well.