- Lifestyle & Sports
- 08 Mar 23
From stunning mountain hikes to high-octane sports, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Ireland this spring...
Following a seemingly endless winter, we’re more than ready to step into spring – and with those longer, brighter days ahead, there’s never been a better time to reconnect with all that Ireland has to offer.
Between its unrivalled natural beauty, and the historical landmarks dotted across every county, Ireland is a treasure chest of adventure and inspiration. For a relatively small island, we boast a remarkable range of terrains, views and outdoor activities – and we’re just the right size for day-journeys and unforgettable road trips alike.
Recent years – for obvious reasons that we’ll avoid mentioning! – saw many of us embrace the walks and trails in our local areas like never before. And that passion hasn’t faded – with a broad range of age groups now considering a hike in the mountains or a stroll along the coast an essential part of their week.
There’s so many ways to make the most of the great outdoors in Ireland – whether on your own two legs, or aboard a canoe, horse, bike, campervan or zip-line. For the thrill-seekers, there’s no better way to spend a Sunday than rock-climbing, abseiling, kitesurfing or wakeboarding. For others, a ramble in the hills is the perfect way to revive the senses after a long week.
You don’t have to be a diehard boy scout to get involved in the outdoors, either. There are activities and walks to suit every age, experience and ability level. Each county is home to a remarkably wide range of trails – from easy cliff walks, and multi-access trails through woodlands, to exhilarating hikes across mountain ranges.
If a day in the wilderness isn’t really your vibe, there’s plenty of other ways to make the most of the fresh air. Following its debut at 2020 Olympics, skateboarding continues to inspire new generations – and more and more cities, towns and villages around the country are seeing the benefits of installing a skatepark in their local area.
And for those who prefer their board on the ocean, Ireland’s reputation as a surfing nation has also continued to grow, with world-famous waves and stunning locations attracting visitors from near and far. With a coastline stretching over 3,000km – and more than 12,000 lakes – we’re certainly not short of access to the water on this island. Watersports like canoeing and kayaking, as well as the invigorating simplicity of a good ol’ dip in the sea, have never been more popular.
So, whether you’re an adventure-sport veteran, or have yet to break in your first pair of hiking boots, it’s time to leave the colder months behind us, and explore all that Ireland’s incredible landscape has to offer.
Here’s some inspiration to set you off on the right path...
What better way to embrace the beauty of Ireland than on two wheels? Irish people are currently hopping on their bikes in unprecedented numbers, and not just to get to and from work.
Ireland is home to a thrilling array of routes and greenways, for lycra-clad pros and budding bike enthusiasts alike. Before you set out on your journey, it’s important to plan ahead, taking into account your experience and fitness levels. Luckily, there’s trails to suit every ability, including plenty of fantastic family-friendly options.
Since its official opening back in 2017, the Waterford Greenway has proved a major hit for cyclists, thanks to its relatively flat, even surface. Following the old railway line from Waterford City to Dungarvan, the 46km route boasts plenty of gorgeous landmarks, from the incredible railway viaducts to the 400-metre-long Ballyvoyle tunnel – as well as stop-off points, coffee shops and bike rental options.
Of course, there are plenty of other trails out there for the more experienced cyclists. One of the most famous cycling routes in Ireland is undoubtedly the Wild Atlantic Way – a 1,600km trail that includes landmarks like Fanad Lighthouse, Slieve League, The Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, Loop Head, the Ring of Kerry, Dursey Island and Mizen Head.
The Kingfisher Cycle Trail, meanwhile, was the first long distance cycle trail in Ireland, and travels through landscapes dotted with rivers and lakes, as you follow minor country roads through the border counties. The many attractions on the route include the Lough Scur Dolmen, Castle Coole and the Marble Arch Caves.
City-dwellers don’t have to venture too far to enjoy some brilliant bike trails, either. In Dublin, be sure to try out the Canal Way Cycle Route – a 3.6km stretch that links Portobello’s Georgian history with the high-tech hubs of Grand Canal Dock and Spencer Dock.
And for something even more high-paced, why not try mountain-biking? You’ll find plenty of trails all across the country, including the Coolaney Mountain Bike Trail in Sligo – a network of purpose-built singletrack trails and forest roads designed for mountain biking, on waymarked circular routes that range from 3km and 22km in length. Depending on your experience level, follow the blue or red trails – and enjoy the incredible views, alongside the excitement of the fast descents.
There are few views as spectacular as the wash of wild rhododendrons that bloom during summer along the Howth Wild Rhododendrons Garden Walk. Beginning behind the Deer Park Hotel, the whole hike should take a mere 20 minutes and features panoramic views from the top of Deer Park’s golf course, as well as Ireland’s Eye perched along the east coastline.
If you’re looking to get your steps in – literally! – the Spinc hike, spanning across panoramic scenes of Glenealo Valley, features hundreds of sleeper steps. Overlooking the upper portion of the lake, the boardwalk trail eventually wraps around the top of the cliffs before descending into the deserted Miners Village, complete with stone house ruins. Hiking boots are a must for this rocky descent, as loose stones and gravel can make for a challenging downwards climb.
If you’re not feeling up to the challenge, or fancy a retreat into the woodlands, the Spinc has a diverging route before the real summit climb begins. Spanning 6km in total this route will take you 2 hours to complete.
Moving inland, the breathtaking Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co.Offaly boast a number of looped walkways. The Glenbarrow Eco walk will take you through woods, rivers and the remnants of old quarry roads. At 8km, this hike will last around 3 hours in total.
County Sligo is home to the iconic Benbulben mountain. Said to be the homestead of the 3rd century’s Fianna warriors, the mountain was also the inspiration for William Butler Yeats’ ‘Under Ben Bulben’. The poet is buried 6km from the trail for Irish literature fanatics. Appropriate gear is required as this route can often be quite boggy, and at 8km, the climb can be strenuous at times so proper footwear is essential.
If you’re looking for something more laid-back than an invigorating hike, look no further than Carlow’s River Barrow. The Barrow Way follows the river’s original towpath where horses pulled barges and goods for transport. As the way stretches an impressive 23km in total, the Milford section is one of the walk’s most attractive parts. With an expanse of woodland, old mill buildings, and three bridges, this is an idyllic setting 7km south of Carlow.
The Hellfire Club walk is the perfect way to kill a couple of hours on the weekend. Saturated in scenic views of Dublin Bay, and steeped in history, adventurers will find a ruined hunting lodge at the summit which was the actual Hellfire Club. Dating back to the 18th century, the lodge was the meeting place for devil worshippers and satanists. Surrounded by countryside and woodland views, the relatively short route can be completed in under a couple of hours.
Heading south of Dublin, Waterford’s diverse landscape has plenty of options for walkers. The Anne Valley Walk is suited to those with reduced mobility, and the county’s beautiful stretch of coastline boasts stunning scenery along the Ardmore Cliff Walk. The back strand and dunes of Tramore are awash with nature making the area a great attraction for fauna-lovers. The county’s two River Mahon Walks are suited to those looking for a leisurely walk, classed as easy to moderate.
The Royal Canal which stretches from Kildare to Longford can be tackled as a six day trek, or experienced in limited stretches, depending on your persuasion- and stamina. The Longford stretch from Abbeyshrule to Cloondara can take anywhere up to six hours to complete, passing picnic spots, attractions, historical landmarks and an abundance of enchanting rustic landscape along the way.
Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, the Killary Harbour Coastal Walk along the Galway-Mayo border has been described as ‘Ireland’s fjord’. Although 8km in length, this walk is perfect for beginners looking to get swept up in the dramatic views of the west coast. For a similarly leisurely walk, the Mullaghmore Head Walk, will take you along the beach of Sligo’s coast, and should take no more than 3 hours to complete.
If you’re keen to test your water legs, canoeing excursions on the River Barrow are the perfect way to escape the world for a couple of days. Visitors can choose from single day trips to three day camping adventures, where paddlers will explore the meandering river bends, rolling valleys and idyllic scenery of Carlow as they drift down the Barrow.
Or how about wading out into the water to see the city? Dublin’s guided kayak tours along the Liffey is a new way to gain a different perspective on Ireland’s capital. With tours specialising in both history and music, Dublin’s kayaks will take you to some of the city’s most famous landmarks, like the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship, the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the Sean O’ Casey pedestrian’s bridge.
There is no place more beautiful to experience from the water than Dunlewey, Co. Donegal. In the shadow of Mount Errigal, and in the backdrop of The Poisoned Glen, kayakers can leisurely paddle along as they get to grips with a new skill and can choose to do so at sunset, dusk, or even in the bask of moonlight.
Amongst Ireland’s premier surf spots, Donegal’s Bundoran is heralded for its prime surf break, and has hosted the European Surfing Championship. For good measure, it’s also been visited by legendary surfers Kelly Slater and Tom Curren. Surf enthusiasts are also advised to visit the Donegal spots Rossnowlagh and Culdaff.
Sligo’s Mullaghmore might just be the country’s most intense spot, while Mayo’s Carrowniskey – perhaps best known for the horse races conducted on the shoreline – has a beautifully clean break that’s perfect for beginners. Nearby Achill Island is also a great spot for those just starting out.
Easky Britton, the fifth consecutive female Irish National Surfing Champion and the daughter of Barry Britton, was actually named after the popular surf spot found in Sligo. It offers gorgeous breaks that are fast and hollow – any surfer’s ideal kind of wave. Equally worth checking out are nearby spots Strandhill and Enniscrone. The former is known for picking up the swell from southwest to north, giving the beach some of the most consistent breaks in the country.
Finally, if you’re looking for surfboards, fins, wetsuits or apparel, Black Sheep Surf Co (Kilcolgan, Co. Galway; 089 213 1137) is a handy one-stop shop. They stock an array of top surf brands, including Billabong, Xcel, Roxy, and C Skins. It’s also well worth perusing their Black Sheep Surf Co soft surfboards and bodyboards. For more info, visit blacksheepsurfco.com
Visited by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk back in 2015, Bushy Park is one of the country’s premier skate parks. The first skate park to open in Dublin in 2006, it offers an extensive skating bowl and extensions surrounded by ledges, flat bar and stairs.
Down south, Cork’s Mardyke boasts obstacles perfect for both beginners and experienced skateboarders alike. Limerick’s Mount Kenneth Skate Park, meanwhile, has a scenic backdrop overlooking the Shannon. For the past 13 years, it has been Limerick’s only dedicated skate-park, and hosted the first ever All-Ireland Skate Championships in August 2009. Finally, another worth visiting out west is Sligo’s Zero Gravity SkatePark, which offers many different activities including beginners’ lessons.
SOUNDS OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS:
10 songs to soundtrack your adventures
1. Walking In The Dew - Skipper’s Alley
2. Cold Water - Uly
3. Jogging - Richard Dawson
4. Mountain Song - Anna Mieke
5. Beach Baby - Bon Iver
6. Sail On - Clare Sands
7. The Forest - José González
8. Int’l Biking Anthem - Local Boy
9. A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays - De La Soul
10. Beside the Sea - Damien Dempsey
Read the full Great Outdoors feature in the current issue of Hot Press:
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 13 Mar 23
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 10 Mar 23
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 09 Mar 23
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 01 Mar 23