We’re all very excited (and maybe a little cautious too) about Ireland ‘reopening’ at the end of June. Things have changed a lot over the last few months. Many of us have taken the time to appreciate the infinite, amazing and beautiful places that we have right here in Ireland. Like lots of others, we can’t wait to get outdoors and explore more of our wonderful island.
Holidays abroad aren’t really on the cards this year, so people are starting to plan road trips and staycations in Ireland. We’ve put together a list of some brilliant places for you to explore with friends and family.
With everyone having been cooped up inside for the last few months, every place is sure to be really busy. Social distancing is likely to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. For these reasons, we’ve chosen outdoorsy places that offer plenty of open space.
The Burren, County Clare
The Burren’s 1500 hectares give plenty of space for social distancing. An Boireann, meaning a rocky place, has an almost infinite amount of activities so there is sure to be something for everything.
Walking is probably the most popular thing to do in the Burren. There are lots of downloadable maps online that you can use if you want to head off by yourself. (Don’t forget to dress appropriately for our Irish weather!) The marked routes vary from 1 km to 8 km and will take you between 20 minutes and 3 hours.
Alternatively, you can go on a guided walk. At the time of writing we’re not really sure which companies will be reopened and what the limitations might be, so you’re going to have to look that one up yourself. There is so much history, flora and fauna in this unique place so we’re highly recommending a guided walk.
If you’d like to see a bit more of the Burren in a lesser time, you might consider taking out the bike. Just like walking, you can download a map online or get a guided tour. There are a few bicycle rental shops around too. And if you’re not feeling too fit after lockdown you could rent an e-bike.
However you travel, there’s a huge amount of historical sites to be seen. The most famous of these is Poulnabrone Dolmen. It’s 5,800 years old and archaeologists have discovered the remains of 22 people here.
If you’re craving the sound of the sea, why not check out some of the stunning coastal sites, such as Fanore Beach, Black Head Lighthouse Flaggy Shore or Finavarra Point, which are nearby.
Glendalough, County Wicklow
Glendalough is part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. It comprises 20,000 hectares (yes that’s huge) and it has 9 easy-to-follow marked trails. The trails have a good variety of distances and difficulties to suit all fitness and motivation levels. And they all start at the visitor centre.
Glendalough itself, is best known as a ‘monastic city’. The Christian monastery was founded by Saint Kevin in the sixth century.
There is a great selection of self-guided nature walks to choose from.
The bird walk gives you the opportunity to spot over 100 species of bird. There is also a bug walk, wild flower walk and tree walk with 15 types of tree. A great way to learn about wildlife and nature for you and the family.
Croagh Patrick and Westport, County Mayo
There are so many great options for things to do on a visit to Westport. I’m going to give you a little run down on some of the great outdoors activities available.
Croagh Patrick is one of Ireland's most famous and most popular hikes. You should allow 3 – 4 hours to get to the top of the 764-meter-high holy mountain. It’s quite steep in sections and I definitely recommend renting the walking stick on offer at the bottom. If you go very early or very late, it’s more likely to be quiet, but the stick renting shop won’t be open.
If you’re based in Westport and like a cycle, be sure to get out on the Great Western Greenway. It’s a 42 km off-road cycling trail that runs from Westport to Achill, via Newport (11 km away) and Mulranny (18 km). The cycle trail runs along an old railway which closed in 1937.
There are lots of great stop offs along the route but I am shouting for Ballycroy National Park. It’s 10 km from Mulranny and 11,000 hectares of ‘unspoilt wilderness’ by the Nephin mountain range. We definitely should have included it on the map!
Westport House reopens on 3rd July. The highlight for me is the 3.5 km looped walk. You’ll have a relaxing stroll while taking in the lake, river, woods and lovely gardens. Bike hire is available too if you feel like getting off your feet, while exploring 400 acres of wonderful outdoors. If you visit by day you can get a takeaway from the Coffee Dock. If you visit in the evening, check out Gracy’s Pizzeria and Bistro. It’s open until 10 pm.
Westport has any amount of walking, hiking and cycling routes. It’s sure to have just the right option for you.
Glenveagh National Park, County Donegal
“… is a remote and hauntingly beautiful wilderness of rugged mountains, pristine lakes, tumbling waterfalls and enchanted native oak woodland … “
Glenveagh National Park is situated in the Derryveagh Mountains. Glenveagh Visitor Centre is closed for now. But the castle and gardens are open. The Castle tearooms are also open for takeaway, tea, coffee and cake.
Glenveagh Castle, overlooking Lough Veagh, is a 19th century mansion. It’s the starting point for lots of great walking trails. Lough Veagh is 800 meters at it widest point. 4 rivers rise from here – Owencarrow, Gweebara, Lennan and Clady.
The Garden Trail is a 1km lopped walk. Allow an hour or so to take in all of the colourful trees and plants.
Glenveagh has 6 colour coded walks. The Lakeside Walk is a 3 km out and back walk from the visitor centre to the castle. The Derrylahan Nature Trail is a 2km looped walk with great views of the valley.
The View Point Walk is also a 2 km looped walk. It brings you up the hill at the back of the castle. There’s a bench at the top for you to take in the beautiful castle and lake.
The Lough Inshagh Walk is a 7 km out and back walk. If you’re lucky you might spot the extremely rare Golden Eagles. They were previously extinct but reintroduced in 2001.
The Upper Glen Walk is an 8 km out and back walk through Derryveagh Mountains.
Along this route, you’ll get a great view of the 115 meter high Astellen Waterfall.
Wateford Greenway is a 46 km off road cycle trial that stretches from Dungrarvan to Waterford.
If cycling is not your thing, there’s plenty of room for walkers and runners on the trail too.
If you don’t have a bike or you’d just like to avail of the excellent shuttle bus services, then you can rent a bike in Dungarvan, Waterford or Kilmacthomas. 46 km is no joke and the return journey of 92 km is a serious cycle for all bar the elite cyclists among us. An electric bike is also a rental option. I’ve never been on one so you’ll have to report back to me on that! But I’m sure it makes life easier along the way.
This is where a little bit of planning will come in useful. You won’t have a nice time if you bite off more than you can chew. Pack plenty of food and water and be prepared for a everything the Irish weather has to throw at you. There are plenty of stop offs along the way, whether it’s a café, pub or just a nice viewing point for your packed lunch. No littering please!
Mount Congreve Gardens are accessible from the greenway near Kilmeaden. That said it’s probably worth a day trip separate to your visit to the greenway. This quote from their website says all we need to know to want to visit!
“The Gardens comprise around seventy acres of intensively planted woodland, a four acre walled garden and 16 kilometres of walkways.”
There are so many highlights along the greenway. Durrow and Kilmacthomas viaducts, the 400 meter long Ballyvoyle tunnel, the stunning Dungarvan Bay and the Suir Valley Railway. This 50 minutes train journey from Kilmeaden to Waterford is sure to be will be a highlight for the kids.
If your trip to the Greenway isn’t just a day trip there’s lots to see and do nearby. The Copper Coast basically runs parallel to the greenway and it has lots of beautiful beaches and cliffs.
The Comeragh Mountains aren’t too far away either. If you haven’t been to Coumshingaun lake, you’ve likely seen it on Instagram. It’s every bit as good in person and well worth the hike. While you’re in the area Mahon Falls are also very instagrammable! Don’t forget to ask one of the locals to show you the magic road.
The greenway finishes (or starts) in Waterford, Ireland's oldest city. While you’re there, be sure to visit Reginald's Tower to learn about Waterford's Viking History. It’ll be a well earned break from the saddle!
Looking for a great way to record all the brilliant places that you have visited? Check out Scratchable Map Ireland. It has 62 of Ireland's best attractions for you to visit and scratch off.