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The Best Hikes in Ireland: 7 Unforgettable Treks in the Emerald Isle

7 of the Best Hikes in Ireland - Castle in Glenveagh National ParkCastle in Glenveagh National Park; (photo/David Young)
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Craggy mountains, meandering streams, lush green hills, glacial hanging valleys, and breathtaking fjords. Ireland may be a small island, but it packs some big views.

When it comes to hiking, or hillwalking, Ireland is worth adding to your list of places to visit. The Emerald Isle is full of hidden gems from seaside paths to rugged mountain trails. With six National Parks and miles of coastal cliffs overlooking the sea, hikers can escape crowds and treat themselves to spectacular views.

There is a reason shows like “Game of Thrones” and films like “The Northman” are filmed in Ireland — the landscape is otherworldly. With varied terrain across the island, there are ample hiking opportunities for all skill levels through a landscape that will ignite your imagination.

For most trails, you can make the walk as hard or as easy as you like. The friendly Irish locals make communicating simple. And there are plenty of educated guides offering direction and rich history of the region.

On a recent journey around the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, we unearthed seven of the best hikes to check out. Keep in mind that Ireland can experience some harsh weather and many trails are not well-marked, so come prepared with the right gear and a plan.

The 7 Best Hikes in Ireland

Howth Cliff Path: Leinster Province

Howth Cliff Path - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

Dublin is the starting point for many adventures in Ireland, which is why Howth is a great place to start hiking. A short train ride or drive from the capital city, Howth is a peninsula full of scenic cliffs and a quaint Irish village.

Start your hike at Howth Summit and follow the cliff path along the coast for some spectacular views overlooking the Irish Sea. The paths are mostly flat and easy to navigate, but watch out for some steep exposure at times as well as rocky sections and some hidden holes buried in the grass.

In addition to the stunning views of the cliffs, lighthouses, boats, and seascape, keep an eye out for the historic Ballscadden House along the trail where Poet W.B. Yeats lived in 1880.

The trail will wind down to the lovely town of Howth where you can enjoy a pint or a bite to eat before looping back up to where you started. Shane’s Howth Adventures is a fantastic local guide for this region.

  • Location: Howth Peninsula
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet

Wee Binnian: Ulster Province

Wee Binnian - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

Wee Binnian is in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, which are home to some idyllic trails. This out-and-back hike up Wee Binnian is full of tranquility and beauty.

At one time, this famous range was home to stonemasons, soldiers, and even smugglers. Today, it overlooks the farmland butting up to the expansive Irish Sea home to the Isle of Man.

The rugged trail works its way up the hillside to the Mourne wall, a stone wall built 100 years ago by farmers who were clearing their fields. The wall extends between the saddle of Wee Binnian and Slieve Binnian in an impressive feat of historical engineering.

You can ascend either peak, but watch out for holes buried in the grass that can easily twist an ankle. At the summit, you are rewarded with panoramic views of the Mournes, including the valley where part of the film “The Northman” was filmed.

Route finding in this area can be challenging, especially if fog or rain comes in. Expert mountain guide Peter Rafferty provides tours of this region.

  • Location: Mourne Mountains
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 806 feet

Lakeside Trail in Glenveagh National Park: Ulster Province

Lakeside Trail in Glenveagh National Park - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

Located in Glenveagh National Park, the Lakeside Trail looks like a scene straight from the pages of a fairy tale. Complete with a castle as a backdrop, the rugged and remote National Park covers 42,000 acres of the Derryveagh Mountains north of Donegal, making it the second largest National Park in Ireland behind Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Unlike National Parks in the U.S., Glenveagh is free to access and relatively empty, and hikers can roam anywhere they please. The main gravel trail extends through the heart of the park and loops around Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh.

The 19th-century castle is closed at the moment due to COVID, but it was built around 1870 as a hunting estate for red deer, which still roam the hillsides.

Beyond the established trails in the valley lies a vast wilderness of upland bogs and rugged hillsides, home to lakes and plenty of wildlife. There are no designated trails, so hikers should be prepared for rugged terrain, but they are allowed to go and camp anywhere wherever they like.

  • Location: Glenveagh National Park
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 479 feet

Cruit Island: Ulster Province

Cruit Island - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

If you really want to get off the beaten path and hike to remote, untouched Irish red sand beaches along with cliffs overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean, then head out to Cruit Island in Donegal. The island is attached to the mainland by a bridge.

This walk is a loop that extends off of county roads on the island that weave past homes and cottages. The coastal trail is rugged and lined by sharp cliffs overlooking Traders Bay. Pristine beaches greet you along the way where you can be the first footprints in the sand.

You can loop the trail around the shoreline of the island. Be careful as the path is unmarked and can be hard to follow. There are also sections with some steep drops and hidden holes that can swallow a leg. The effort of getting to this remote corner of Ireland is worth it — you are rewarded with spectacular views that few get to see.

  • Location: Cruit Island
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: N/A

Great Western Greenway: Connacht Province

Great Western Greenway (Connacht Province) - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

A former railway turned into a walking and cycling path, the Great Western Greenway extends 27 miles in County Mayo on the Wild Atlantic Way. It wraps around the northern and eastern regions of Clew Bay in County Mayo.

Jump on or off the trail wherever you like — the 4-mile stretch between Danlann Yawl Art Gallery and Mulranny offers spectacular views of Bellacragher Bay and Trawoughter Hill.

While the walk is an easy path, it leads you through Irish bogs, woodlands, and active farmland.

Take the trail as far as you would like and check out dramatic views of Clew Bay and the islands that dot the shoreline. The trail passes through small villages if you want to pause for a snack or drink.

  • Location: County Mayo
  • Distance: 4-27 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy-Difficult
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet

Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park: Connacht Province

Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

This loop trail is in Galway’s Connemara National Park on the western coast of Ireland. The rocky trail ascends Diamond Hill peak with a loop below it.

Diamond Hill has quartz in the rock and provides some great views from the top. Connemara means “inlets for the sea,” which is the scenery you get looking to the West at the North Atlantic Ocean.

The trail is a gravel path that meanders up the slopes of Diamond Hill. The National Park is free to enter and offers nearly 5,000 acres of bogland, mountains, heaths, grasslands, and forests. You can also camp in the park, though it’s restricted in some zones.

  • Location: Letterfrack
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 1,348 feet

Mullaghmore Loop in Burren National Park: Munster Province

Mullaghmore Loop in Burren National Park - Best hikes in Ireland
(Photo/David Young)

Ireland is home to some unique geological features, and few landscapes can compete with Burren National Park. Burren means “rocky place,” which aptly describes this 3,700-acre landscape.

Walking or hiking through this free National Park offers vast expanses of limestone pavement that once was at the bottom of a shallow ocean 350 million years ago.

Today, you can walk through stretches of limestone, wildflowers, and archaeological monuments that sit above an expansive Irish cave system that lies below the surface. Years of rainwater flowing through the limestone has created a karst landscape full of sinkholes, streams, springs, and caves.

The Mullaghmore Loop route takes you to the summit of Mullaghmore on the southeastern side of the park. The limestone terrain is rocky and loose. Camping is not permitted — and it’s easy to get lost on the rocky barren surface — so consider going with a local guide, like Tony Kirby, who is intimately familiar with the area.

  • Location: Burren National Park
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Elevation gain: 459 feet

The landscape is pristine and often untouched — ensure that you adhere to Leave No Trace ethics when hiking. So strap on those boots, grab a trekking pole, and get ready to dive into the fantastic terrain that Ireland has to offer.

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