Last Updated on January 2, 2016
A trip to Ireland is all about the scenery which is why, when we visited the country a few years ago, we weren’t overly disappointed that Dublin just was not our cup of tea. The countryside sparkles there, and even the coastal hike we took in Howth, just outside of Dublin, made us fall in love with Ireland and promise that when we came back, the trip would be all about nature hikes in the national parks and along the magnificent coastline.
And we will definitely return! With several international airports and only a short ferry trip from mainland Britain, Ireland is easy to get to plus, being relatively small, it doesn’t take long to get out of its cities and into the countryside which means we can be hiking, cycling, climbing and possibly even surfing or scuba diving that very same day. We had no idea way back then, but Ireland is a full on destination for adrenaline junkies!
Walking and hiking
Ireland’s six national parks offer countless opportunities to explore this county’s incredible landscape on foot. Wicklow Mountains National Park, near Dublin, for example, offers a range of walks, from easy strolls to hill climbs, plus hikes for those with the equipment and experience to trek off-trail.
Travel east to discover Ireland’s other national parks. The Burren, in County Clare, is famous for its archaeological sites. Ancient remains include ringforts and over 90 megalithic tombs. If you fancy forest walks and wildlife, head for Killarney National Park, in County Kerry. This park is famous for its plants and animals, including wild Red Deer, and is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Cycling and mountain biking
Another great way to discover the Irish countryside is by bike. Again there’s something for everyone, from gorgeous stretches of rural roads to tough off-road mountain biking challenges. Alternatively discover the cities of Dublin or Cork on two wheels.
For mountain biking on the east coast, try the 14km Ballinastoe trail or the 8km Ticknock trail. If you’re a beginner then the Murrough trail is fairly flat and a great place to get off-road for the first time.
On the west coast, the Beara Peninsula offers a 183km circular cycling route. Mostly on country roads, tackle it at your own pace and attempt as much or as little of the route as you want. It’s a great way to discover the gorgeous villages and stunning scenery that this corner of Ireland has to offer.
Surfing, diving and canoeing
With so much coastline and so many rivers and lakes, it’s no surprise that Ireland is a great destination for water sports enthusiasts.
Surfers are spoilt for choice, especially on the west coast which is battered by Atlantic waves. Head for the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Kerry or Cork for some of Ireland’s best surfing. Conditions are best in spring and autumn, although the water is warmest in August and September. Canoeists also have a variety of destinations to choose from. Killarney National Park allows canoeing on its lakes, although canoes must be pressure washed first.
Fast-flowing mountain rivers offer great white-water canoeing opportunities. This white-water river guide will help you find a location suitable for your level of experience. If you’re not quite so experienced and prefer a group trip on calmer waters, find out about organised recreational paddles.
Want to discover Ireland’s underwater beauty? Both the west and east coasts have some interesting scuba diving sites. Try the Aran Islands in County Galway, or for wrecks, Baltimore in County Cork.
Climbing and caving
Ireland is packed with great climbing opportunities. Popular spots include Glendalough and Luggala in County Wicklow, Malinbeg and Cruit Island in County Donegal, and Ailladie and Murroughkilly in Burren National Park, County Clare. This is just a small selection of what’s on offer. For a full list, check out the Irish Climbing Route Database.
The Burren is also one of Ireland’s most popular caving spots. Here you’ll find the 16km long Pollnagollum system, the longest cave in Ireland. In the rest of the country, other recommended locations include Cloyne cave and Mammoth cave in County Cork, Crag cave in County Derry and the Aille River cave in County Mayo, which boasts one of Ireland’s longest underground rivers.