Ireland is a fabulous destination for walkers.
The wildly varied Irish landscapes and breathtakingly diverse seascapes are so inspiring and resonant of their ancient Celtic past and reward any walking endeavour with spectacular vistas and panoramas at every step.
Traverse the deep and lush Glendalough Valley in the Wicklow Mountains in the east or the arid expanse of the flat Burren limestone plateau in the west of Ireland.
Trek the boreens and heathery moorland of the Sheep’s Head Way in the south or in the north take on the stony heights of the Mourne Wall Walk.
Stroll the beautiful sandy beaches of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry or amble along the chalky White Park Bay next to the famed Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
Ireland’s big advantage for walkers is variety; then it throws in wonderfully easy access to truly remarkable walk ways.
There are no disadvantages. Walkers of all levels of fitness can find something to suit with ease.
Getting out there can mean anything from hard core mountain hiking with map and compass, to a stroll with the dog on a greenway, to taking on one of the hundreds of walks laid out around scenic loops, national parks and trails past all the must-see sights.
And remember, it’s Ireland. The welcome at your journey’s end will be second to none and it’s always likely there’ll be a surprise or two along the way.
Ranging in distance from 25km to over 200km, the Emerald Isle has an impressive network of medium and long distance walking routes known as National Waymarked Trails.
They can be enjoyed as day walks or can be walked in their entirety over a number of days combined with stopovers in a great selection of accommodations along the way.
The Kerry Way for instance, at 230km, is the longest of the National Waymarked Trails and set amid some of the most famously picturesque landscapes in Ireland.
Starting and finishing in historic Killarney, it also passes through several charming County Kerry towns such as Caherciveen, Waterville and Kenmare offering plenty of bed rest options, local culinary delights and a chance to sample the Irish pub at its very best.
For those who want to scale Ireland’s highest peaks, it is the main mountain group on the route, the Macgillicuddy Reeks, that contains the two highest summits in Ireland, Carrauntoohil at 1038m and Caher at 1001m, which also form the backdrop to the wonderfully scenic Killarney Lakes.
For a gentler, and at 26km, much shorter walk, the Cavan Way is a lovely linear trail between the County Cavan villages of Blacklion and Dowra.
It meanders through country paths and passes a pool known as the Shannon Pot, the source of Ireland’s mightiest river and laced with Irish legend.
In Northern Ireland there is another excellent network of nine waymarked ways to choose from, one of the most popular being the Causeway Coast Way.
En route are sandy beaches, rocky bays, high cliffs and unique country villages offering a great variety of scenery within the Causeway Coast and Glens of Antrim, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Sites of interest along the way include the Giant´s Causeway, the ruins of Dunluce Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
All the after-walk facilities you could imagine – including accommodation, eateries and pubs – are also nearby and easy to get to.
Dovetailing with Ireland’s waymarked ways is a further extensive network of over 150 National Looped Walks.
Designed so users do not have to retrace their steps, they are suitable for everyone and range in length from an hour’s stroll to half- and full-day walks.
Among the most unusual and appealing of the looped walks are those on the islands off Ireland’s pristine and renowned wild West coast.
The islands capture an Ireland where time has stood still, where the Irish language still thrives and where sublime walking pleasures are on offer amid some of the finest coastal scenery available anywhere.
The three Aran Islands of Inishmore, Inishmann and Inisheer, grouped together off the coast of County Galway, are probably the most well-known Irish islands.
Walking these islands – ferries services are frequent in summer – takes you past a wide range of archaeological, historical, religious and cultural landmarks, providing many opportunities to get in touch with the rich heritage of Ireland.
Also very popular with visiting walkers are Ireland’s six national parks. They protect areas of outstanding beauty so you are guaranteed a wonderful experience.
Connemara National Park in County Galway, for example, noted for its diversity of bird life, is a remote, wild and hauntingly beautiful wilderness that offers a paradise of well-signposted walks ranging from short strolls to wild mountain tracks.
The landscapes of the other national parks vary dramatically, but they each offer walkers the chance to immerse themselves in raw, completely unspoilt nature.
The Irish say that when you join in a walking festival you climb new heights, and there is no doubt they are a great opportunity to have a blast at the same time as discovering the incredible Irish landscape.
Walking festivals take place all over Ireland throughout the year and involve a lively mix of organised walks suiting all levels and ability, great accommodation and nightly entertainment in local pubs and hotels.
Whether you arrive in a group of like-minded walkers, as a single walker, with your family or as a couple, you’ll soon be walking and talking, meeting new people, sharing your love of the outdoors and having plenty of Irish ‘craic’.
Castlebar International Four Days Walks (28 June – 1 July) in County Mayo draws walkers from all over the world to experience the magical west of Ireland scenery and the equally celebrated nightly entertainment.
The terrain includes road walks and rambles through bog, mountain and moorland.
After each day´s walk, evening festivities are laid on for those who want them and those are able to party the night away.
Warning: some report that the day’s walking is easy – it’s the nightly entertainment that does the damage!
In a similar vein the Mourne International Walking Festival (22–24 June) in Northern Ireland’s County Down takes place amid the spectacular scenery of the Mourne Mountains, an area of outstanding natural beauty with a huge diversity of flora and fauna and a wealth of heritage, myths and legends.
It provides walks for all levels of fitness and ability, with routes between 10km and 40km at both high and low level.
A ‘Blister Ball’ is the social highlight on the Saturday evening, but throughout the three days you can relax and meet new friends, have a Guinness or two and enjoy the sounds of traditional music at the festival centre.
Also in Northern Ireland, the Sperrins Walking Festival (6–8 August) takes place against the magnificent backdrop of the Sperrin Mountains in the west of the province –magical at any time of year, but particularly so during the summer months.
A range of family, moderate and challenging guided walks are available and they dissect some of the most spectacular and most undiscovered scenery in Ireland – a truly unforgettable experience.
Guides provide a fascinating introduction to the region’s unspoilt beauty, its archaeology, culture and heritage as well as its flora and fauna.
A range of social events, music, barbeques and other activities are on offer so walkers can unwind in the evening after their days exploring in the hills.
In County Tipperary meanwhile, in the south of the country, the Glen of Aherlow Walking Festival taking place over an Irish bank holiday weekend (1–4 June) and offers a haven of peace and tranquillity and the opportunity to explore the unique terrain of an Irish glen.
A host of accommodation options are once again on offer from B&B stays to caravan and camping facilities.
International Appalachian Trail
Some of Ireland’s walking routes are part of extra long-distance and transnational trails such as the European E8 and the International Appalachian Trail, which follows the route of the Bluestack Way running through the Bluestack Mountains in County Donegal.
Ireland’s walking link with North America is a geological one. They were once joined as part of a super-continent known as Pangaea, and an international attempt is being made to link all terrain that once formed the ancient Appalachian Mountains into a super-long international hiking trail.
Walking the Bluestacks is a wild, rough and very enjoyable route with wonderful views of south Donegal, certainly a ‘global’ experience in the sense of embracing the freshest of air and exploring the very best of what Ireland offers the walker.
It’s something everybody should experience sometime.