The short answer is: plenty. All walks are either linear, where your start and finish point are in different places; or Looped/Circular, which means you start and finish in the same place. The Republic of Ireland has developed a series of National Loop Walks, which are clearly marked and easy to navigate, while highlighting areas of local interest along the way. While Northern Ireland has its own carefully selected series of Circular Walks, which take you through stunning landscapes to suit all types of walkers.
Some areas in particular have captured the imagination with their landscapes and diverse range of flora and fauna. These have been designated National Parks (Republic of Ireland) or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Northern Ireland). These are the glitterati of Ireland’s landscapes and include Glenveagh in Donegal, Wicklow’s mountains, Killarney, the Burren and Connemara in the Republic of Ireland, and The Sperrins, the Causeway Coast and Antrim’s Glens in Northern Ireland.
Mountain and hill walks are plentiful for those with a head for heights, while historical, archaeological walks and pilgrim paths, will enlighten with their prolific ruins, compelling mythology and the island’s deep-rooted Christian heritage.
Country parks and estates, of course, provide ideal terrain for gentler, more family-orientated strolls, with Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, County Wicklow, and the Castle Ward Demesne, County Down, just two of the many to explore. Challenge Walks, on the other hand, are for the more skilled walker, with long-distance walks, which leads us onto Waymarked Ways and Trails.
What are Waymarked Ways?
Waymarked Ways/Trails are usually long distance or multi-day routes, offering a challenge to more hardy hikers or walkers. The Ulster, Antim Hills, Causeway Coast, Moyle, Beara, Kerry, Wicklow and Sligo Ways all slice through brilliant landscapes, with a lot of each route off road.
The lengths of these walks vary from the nominal 16 mile (26km) Cavan Way and the 121 mile (196 kilometres) Beara Way in Cork to the far longer 625 mile (1005 kilometre) Ulster Way.
Not all walks are waymarked, but unless you are competent with a compass, it’s best to stick to ones that are.
How are the lengths of walks defined?
Short Walks in Ireland can take anything from 1-5 hours. Medium Walks can be anything from 5-20 miles (8-30 kilometres). On the lengthier end of the scale, Long Distance Walks can range from 20-650 miles (35-1000 kilometres).
I'm into climbing mountains, where should I go?
You’ve got lots of options here. Wicklow’s peaks are an obvious choice, of course, with Down’s Mournes or Sperrins verging on the epic. Kerry is home to Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, while the path of Ireland’s patron saint is a famous pilgrimage on Mayo’s Croagh Patrick. The Slieve Blooms are best described as ‘gently rolling’.
What about walks that aren't too demanding?
The Grand Canal makes its way from Dublin to Shannon Harbour in County Offaly. Along the way are some very flat, picturesque walks and the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland have conveniently mapped all the routes
National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are perfect for dipping in and out of; and you can always take bite-size chunks of any of the Waymarked Ways/Trails that take your fancy. The Burren, Connemara, and Killarney are all home to extensive National Parks, while areas such as The Sperrins, Antrim’s Glens and Bineavagh are great for straight-forward strolls.
What about walking festivals?
Mountains are a good place to start: The Mournes, The Sperrins and the Slieve Blooms all celebrate their landscapes with a walking festival. Indulgences at Christmas are burned off at the Westport Walking Festival and Limerick, Tipperary and Cork are all included in the Ballyhoura International Walking Festival.
The Glen of Aherlow and Laois Walking Festival are home to two fine celebrations of walking; with Sligo’s Spring Walking Festival taking seriously scenic strolls through Yeats country.
Are there any ways of organising an actual walking holiday?
There are lots of advantages involved in using a local operator to organise your trip and transfer your luggage. Firstly, the itinerary will be expertly arranged based on the extensive experience of the guide. Secondly, you’ll be given the best possible accommodation choices, as well as being directed to the best evening venues for traditional music, song and dance. You’ll also receive personal insights into the local region, its history, culture, flora and fauna. Many local operators will also support self-guided trips and will pre-book accommodation and provide daily route maps.
What should I bring, and what should I expect from the weather?
In terms of weather, expect anything. Have a quick read of our weather page for an idea of Ireland’s climate. Light, rainproof gear is definitely a good choice. Of course, a strong pair of walking shoes is necessary if you’re planning on hiking through boggy, mountainous terrain. Water, some sort of sugary snack for energy will rarely go unused, too. Finally, where possible, always bring a fully charged mobile phone. You can walk in Ireland all year round as the winters are mild and the summer is temperate. Make sure to bring the correct items for the season and remember that the weather can unexpectedly change – so be prepared.
Leave no trace
There is an outdoor ethics programme in place across the island and all walkers who enjoy the countryside are strongly encouraged to abide by it at all times. The Seven Principles include:
Plan ahead and prepare yourself well
Be considerate of others
Respect farm animals and wildlife
Travel and camp on durable ground
Leave what you find
Dispose of waste properly
Minimise the effects of fire