Walking Breaks in Ireland: Take a Hike with 5 Top Routes
National Geographic included Ireland among its top 10 hiking locations in the world, and for a small island, it certainly packs in a wide variety of terrain and experiences for the walker. From the jagged cliffs of Donegal to the rolling hills of Wicklow and the spectacular peaks of Killarney, the opportunities for hikers are unrivalled. With car hire in Ireland, you’re never far from an interesting trail, whether you are a Sunday stroller or a seasoned mountaineer. Here are some of our favourite walking routes:
1. The Causeway Walk, Antrim (Moderate)
If the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Giants’ Causeway are on your list of things to see in Ireland, you can combine them with an invigorating walk along Northern Ireland’s scenic north coast. For the energetic, the full Causeway Coast Way is 53km long and extends from Portstewart to Ballycastle, but you can take in the highlights on an 18km excerpt.
Leave your rental car in the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge car park, and, after taking time to marvel at this iconic attraction, head west and descend to the overflow car park where the grassy cliff path at the far end leads you across White Park Bay. Be sure to check tide times before you go, as you will need to cross within three hours before or after low tide.
This manageable section of the walk takes in a range of attractions, including the ruins of the 16th-century Dunseverick Castle and the site of a Spanish Armada wreck, before ending at the Giants’ Causeway. The most scenic part of the Causeway Coast Way, it hugs the coast, crossing beaches, rocks, and cliff tops. It will take you about four hours to complete the section.
2. Wicklow Way, Wicklow & Dublin (Moderate to Strenuous)
If you were to complete the Wicklow Way in its entirety, it would take you up to 10 days, as the trail is 130km long and covers the counties of Dublin, Wicklow, and Carlow. An extremely popular and generally approachable one of the country’s National Waymarked Trails, it starts in Dublin’s Marley Park and ends in the village, County Carlow. You can find full route details here.
The walking terrain includes mountain trails, country paths across fields and woods, and little-used side roads. You will find abundant accommodation and facilities en route. The Wicklow Way is usually separated into six primary stages, but you can break them down further to make the route even more accommodating for people of various fitness levels and time constraints.
Marlay Park to Knockree (20.5km)
Marlay Park to Glencullen, Johnny Foxes (12km)
Johnny Foxes to Knockree (8.5km)
Knockree to Roundwood (21km)
Roundwood to Glendalough (13km)
Glendalough to Glenmalure
Glenmalure to Moyne (21.5km)
Moyne to Shillelagh (30km)
Shilleagh to Clonegal (19.5km)
3. Coumshingaun Loop Walk, Waterford (Moderate)
Waterford is often overlooked by visitors in search of attractive hiking routes, but the Coumshingaun Loop Walk illustrates just what they’re missing. This is a manageable 4 hour (7.5 km) walking route above the spectacular rock walls enclosing Coumshingaun corrie lake and taking in views of the Comeragh Mountains. Coumshingaun is one of Europe’s finest corrie (coum) lakes, which were created by glaciers in the last ice age.
If you enjoy rock climbing, you’re in ideal territory. For walkers, park your rental car on a side road to the right just before Kilclooney bridge. Cross the road facing the Comeraghs and negotiate a marshy area near the river to reach a grassy path that leads to the lake. Keep to the right / northern slopes of the mountain to keep the track in clear sight.
The cliffs behind the lake soar 365 metres above the lake. A cairn at a high point in the Comeraghs rises to 792 metres, offering exceptional views over the plateau in all directions.
4. Torc Mountain, Kerry (Moderate)
Kerry is home to the highest mountains in Ireland, and some of the hiking trails are only for more experienced climbers, but Torc Mountain, near Killarney, is a really accessible peak that offers maximum returns in terms of scenery. You’ll cover the 7.5km in two to three hours, and although the summit is 525 metres, the walk is quite easy and suitable for all ages and fitness levels because it is very clearly marked and largely laid out on paths made from covered wooden sleepers.
The view from the top is stunning, taking in Muckross House and Killarney’s lakes, the town, and the McGillycuddy Reeks. You can park your rental car in the upper Torc Mountain car park, which is on the main Ring of Kerry road toward Kenmare, about 8km from Killarney. If you’d like to do any of the magnificent selection of walks in the Killarney area, check out the Killarney Walking Festival.
For the dedicated mountain walker, an unforgettable (if tiring!) experience is to walk the entire range of the McGillycuddy Reeks – a 21km (10 to 12 hour) tough climb around the range containing Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil. Starting near the Gap of Dunloe, near Lough Acoose, you will be walking for the whole day, but your reward is incredible views of the Reeks and the Black Valley.
A more manageable alternative is to drive to Cronins Yard, the gateway to the McGillycuddy Reeks, at the entrance to the Hag’s Glen, 7km from the Gap of Dunloe cross (which is 12km from Killarney). There are several routes to the summit of Carrauntoohil from Cronins Yard. The Brother O’Shea’s Gully approach to Carrauntoohil is a moderately strenuous 5-6 hour (13km) trek to the top of the mountain (1,039m), with the return leg via the safe if sometimes tricky to follow Zig Zags (a small stone marker has now be erected).
This is now one of the more popular routes to the summit, avoiding the Devil’s Ladder section, which has become eroded and unstable due to overuse. Other gully routes on the north west side of Carrauntoohil include the Curved and Central Gullys, which are considered more difficult than O’Shea’s Gully. Care is needed to get to what is known as Level 1 above Lough Gouragh in the Hag’s Glen, however, as the route is quite exposed in some areas, but most scrambling can be avoided with minor detours. If unsure, consider hiring a guide.
Even if these trails seem like too much hard work, and a gentle stroll on the beach before dinner is more your style, you will find that car hire in Ireland is your best option if you want to appreciate the incredible scenery that spills out of every corner of this green island.