Getting Outdoors in Ireland
Ireland is a compact destination by most international standards, but it packs in dramatic contrasts of topography. Some of Europe's most famous stretches of coastline provide much of the allure, such as Northern Ireland's rocky Causeway Coast, the extraordinary cliffs and crags of County Mayo's Carrowteigue Loop, and the sandy beaches of the Inishowen Peninsula. The coast wraps around an interior green enough to give the Emerald Isle its nickname, and expanses of mountains, karst, lakes, and bogs also await the adventurer.
Wherever you are, the rapidly-changing weather, alternating from downpour to gale to sunshine via every imaginable shade of color in-between, adds to the drama. Not for nothing is its most epic route entitled the Wild Atlantic Way. Whatever outdoor activity you choose, pack with inevitable rain in mind, even if you're planning a trip in the summer months. The good news? Temperatures remain steadily pleasant here, perfect for working up a sweat in the great outdoors at any time of year.
Long-Distance Walks Across Ireland
Get a breathtaking introduction to Ireland with one of its many village-to-village walking routes. Some of Ireland's most sought-after destinations are the lonely and lovely peninsulas of the southwest, and most multi-day routes here can be completed in a week or less. Most notable are the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Way, though walkers can also trace the County Cork, Beara, County Clare, and Connemara peninsulas.
For a bigger long-distance challenge, gear up for the longest coast-to-coast trail—the 620-mile Ireland Way, running from the fishing port of Castletownbere on the rugged Beara Peninsula to Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway. It runs through the middle of Ireland, passing 14 counties and taking an estimated 40 days to hike. Hikers sticking to Northern Ireland can tackle the Ulster Way, a 625-mile loop around almost all of Northern Ireland. The stand-out highlights are the southeastern Mourne Mountains and the Sperrin Mountains in the northwest.
For more information, see our Ultimate Guide to Multi-Day Walks in Ireland.
Half-Day & Day Hikes in Ireland
Ireland's selection of day hikes is phenomenal, and the best trails are found along the coast. A highlight of any trip to Northern Ireland is the Causeway Coast, and the spectacular 10-mile tramp from Ballintoy to the Giant's Causeway via Dunseverick Castle is doable in a day. This unspoiled route leads from one tempestuous headland to the next, culminating in the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site where bizarre, hexagonal basalt columns spill into the sea.
If there was a coastal walk to rival the Giant's Causeway for drama or beauty, it would be the Carrowteige Loop, a circuit of vertigo-inducing cliffs, teetering rock stacks, and isolated bays. The walk from Dingle to Dunquin via Slea Head, a 12.5-mile section of the Dingle Way, is a blend of coastal and mountain scenery, building up to the best bit: the views across to the remote Blasket Islands.
Meanwhile, walking any stretch of the spellbinding Cliffs of Moher in coastal County Clare is certain to be rewarding, as is climbing Ireland's highest mountain, Carauntoohil in Co. Kerry.
Cycling Routes in Ireland
Ireland's roads are often refreshingly bereft of traffic, passing through landscapes just as impressive as the country's hiking trails.
A start point for a pedal is the Wild Atlantic Way, the seminal coastal tour through nine counties from Malin Head on County Donegal's Inishowen Peninsula—the most northerly point of the Irish mainland—round to Kinsale on the south coast in County Cork. This trail can be broken up into any number of smaller sections, such as the Ring of Kerry, a 111-mile run around one of County Kerry's most picturesque sections of coastline. For more on this, see our Ring of Kerry Self-Guided Cycling Tour.
Other great shorter cycling routes would be the Sky Road, a jaw-droppingly beautiful 7-mile route in Connemara or the 16-mile Wicklow Gap Road from Hollywood to Laragh.
Surfing and Kayaking Ireland's Coast
Ireland is Europe's third-biggest island, and justifiably known for its coastline which together with a generous spattering of loughs (lakes) make for world-class water sports. It can be a rough ride, though: the infamous winds whip up strong waves and currents. The same three northwesterly counties—Donegal, Sligo, and Mayo—are best for both surfing and kayaking, thanks no doubt to their tantalizing (if tempestuous) sea coasts.
Catch a wave at Bundoran, the self-proclaimed surf capital of Ireland in Co. Donegal. Bundoran offers a range of surf schools, although beginner and intermediate surfers often favor the wide sandy bay of Rossnowlagh instead. For advanced surfing, the wave-bashed Inishowen Peninsula is where it's at.
Kayakers should paddle the East Inishowen Sea Kayak Trail, a mesmeric mix of river estuaries, loughs, and open ocean beginning near Derry, or head to Achill Island where sandy Blue Flag bays and the crashing Atlantic make for magnificent kayaking routes. The aforementioned Inishowen Peninsula is also an excellent (and advanced) kayaking locale.