Updated: Apr 13, 2021
What a delight it is to step away from the cities and touring to spend a day hiking in Ireland. The verdant Irish hills beckon you to wander through them. Sheep and mountain goats call to you as you walk by them. Two of my favorites hiking trails are the Glendalough Walking Tour and the Howth Cliff Walk Loop. I use the All Trails App, with the premium service to download trail maps. This is especially helpful when hiking in areas where you do not have cellular service. I also use All Trails App to find places to hike when I am in a new area. Both of my favorite hiking destinations offer multiple trail options for all levels of walkers. They are easily accessible by public transportation or by car. Each offers very different, but equally spectacular scenery, wildlife and vistas. Don't forget to pack your rain gear and your hiking shoes. Looking for more hiking gear, check out my Amazon Store.
Glendalough Walking Tour
This is a 11.4 mile moderate loop trail through the lush Wicklow Mountains. It has moderate traffic weekdays and heavier traffic on the weekends. What makes this trail my favorite is the diversity of the terrain and the history that see you along the way. It starts at the Glendalough Monastic City Visitor's Center. You can take the private St. Kevin's bus from Dublin's St. Stephen's Green or the public bus from Dublin City South on Leeson St. If you arrive by car, you can park at the Visitor's Center for a small fee. Spend some time wandering through the ruins of the monastic city that was founded by St. Kevin in the 5th century. St. Kevin retreated into these woods and lived as a hermit for a number of years, barefoot, eating leaves and berries, drinking only water. When he emerged, he founded a monastery so others could build their connection with God by retreating in nature. Later in his life he retreated to the wilderness again, living in a cave that can still be seen today.
The trail is flat as you walk along the lower lake from the monastic city to the upper lake. Glendalough Valley is steep and U-shaped, created by glaciers during the ice age. Both the upper and lower lakes were formed in the low lying areas where the glaciers settled. The vegetation is lush with several water falls.
The next part of the trail is steep and there are a lot of steps to climb. It is about 2,506 feet from the valley floor to the highest point on the rim. The views are spectacular from the top and worth the hike up.
The Trail follows the U-shaped valley and takes you through a heather studded grassy plain.
As you come down on the opposite side of the valley, you walk through the ruins of a 19th century lead and silver mine. Watch for mountain goats among the rocks.
Once you are past the abandoned mine, the trail is blissfully flat and shaded. Don't miss the view of St. Kevin's cave along the trail.Nothing feels better than soaking your feet after a long hike or seeing a double rainbow on the road home.
Howth Cliff Walk Loop
This 4.3 mile easy trail that starts at the train station in Howth. If you are feeling more energetic, there is the longer 10 mile Howth Loop Trail. Howth is a picturesque fishing village sitting 10 miles to the northeast of Dublin and is easily accessible by train or car. There is a small car park and snack bar on the far side of town at the start of the cliffs. This loop trail wanders through the village, harbor and out to the cliffs on the western side of the village. There are spectacular vistas throughout the hike.
After wandering through the village with its pub, seafood restaurants and gift shops, you are treated to views of the marina and the Ireland's Eye, an uninhabited island just off the coast of Howth, now a bird sanctuary . Originally, it was named Ey, which is the Norse word for island. It evolved into the Eye because on the map of Ireland the topography on the eastern side of the map looks like a face. This island is the eye on the face. The trail then turns uphill and you walk along the road dotted with beach houses perched on the edge of the cliff.
There are panoramic views of the harbor and the Ireland's Eye.This headland was originally known as Dun Griffen, the Fort of King Crimthan. King Crimthan reigned as the king of Ireland at the time of the Roman Conquest of Britain. A notorious pirate, he raided Roman settlements in Britain until his death in 9 CE. The original Howth lighthouse was built high on the cliff. After numerous shipwrecks, the lighthouse was moved to this headland in 1665.
In the spring and summer the wildflowers are lovely along the trail.
As the path loops back towards the village, you find the remains of several EIRE markers. EIREs were large letters and numbers created on the ground with white stones and pebbles. During WWII, they communicated to pilots that they were entering into the neutral air space of Ireland. The EIRE markers on the Howth Cliffs were especially important because they indicated to US pilots where to head north to Belfast for refueling, before taking supplies and troops on to England.
Wildlife abounds on this trail. You will find lots of birds nesting in the low shrubbery on the top of the cliff. As you walk along the cliff's edge watch for seals down below.
I find hiking a wonderful way to explore a new area. Have you hiked in Ireland? Please leave your favorite hike or any advice in the comments section so we can all learn from your experiences. Ready to book a trip to Dublin, my favorite hotel is the Shelborne on St. Stephen's Green. Click here to book your trip.