Trip idea: Walking Ireland's southwest coast

Lakes of Killarney, County Kerry

Walk the five fingers of the southwest coast and witness nature's eye candy unfurl in front of you...

Each of the southwest coast's five peninsulas – Dingle, Iveragh, Beara, Sheep and Mizen – are waymarked for adventure: breathtaking trails that lead you across raw mountain ridges and pure sandy shores. And those views...there's simply no place in the world quite like it. From each peninsula, we've chosen a walk that will create treasured memories for years to come.

The southwest coast

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Iveragh Peninsula

Iveragh Peninsula: Killarney National Park

Wonderfully wild and, in parts, impossibly delicate; the Iveragh Peninsula is like a watercolour brought to life.

Macgillicuddy's Reeks, County Kerry

Big hitters and highest heights

The largest of the southwest's five fingers, the Iveragh Peninsula has everything a walker could wish for: jagged mountains, rolling hills, picturesque villages and stunning coastal views. One of the biggest draws here is the Macgillycuddy's Reeks mountain range, which spikes stunningly up through the peninsula's centre and stretches from the breathtaking Gap of Dunloe to the spectacular, isolated hamlet of Glencar. Hiking the full range is a 10-12-hour commitment, but if you're up to the challenge, you'll thank yourself.

On the easier end of the scale, Killarney National Park is filled with manageable trails punctuated by picture-perfect pitstops – like Ladies View, so loved by Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting that it was named for them; or Muckross House, the 19th-century mansion surrounded by traditional farm, craft shop and sprawling gardens.

Encircling the majority of the peninsula itself is the Ring of Kerry, a road favoured by drivers and cyclists alike; but even if you only stop off here for a quick stroll, it's worth it for the gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean, right out to the Skellig Islands.

If you have more time

Challenge yourself to Ireland's highest peak and climb Carrauntoohil: it's just 1,039 m up the Devil's Ladder path...

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula: The Kerry Camino

Between the towns of Dingle and Tralee, the Kerry Camino traverses 6,000 years of history across this beautiful stretch of land.

Inch Beach, County Kerry

Walk in the footsteps of St Brendan, The Navigator

When it comes to a place like County Kerry, there's simply no better way to get to grips with the wild beauty around you than by stepping right into it. A smaller branch of the much longer Dingle Way, the Kerry Camino is plotted out perfectly to entice you across three legs – Tralee to Camp; Camp to Annascaul; and Annascaul to Dingle – so that, pilgrim or not, the beauty you'll see will guarantee a spiritual experience.

For those who love a good story as much as a good stretch of the legs, this trip is the ideal option. As you walk Kerry's rugged coastline, you'll trace the footsteps of St Brendan. After setting out on this same path in the 6th century on a mission to spread Christianity, he soon left Ireland far behind. Gazing out over the windswept sands of sprawling Inch Beach, it's impossible to imagine how he ever left... Walkers can collect stamps in a Camino logbook and pick up their certificate of completion at the Spanish-built Church of St James in Dingle.

If you have more time

Though the Camino is self-guided, groups travel the route together each year in May for a three-day trip, with support cars and guides there to help you finish your journey.

Dursey Island

Beara Peninsula: Dursey Island

Take a cable car to Dursey Island and let the road rise before you...

Dursey Island, County Cork

Check out from reality

It doesn't get more removed from the daily humdrum than swinging your way across the Atlantic Ocean in a tiny cable car that carries sheep as often as it does people. This is the only way to access Dursey Island: County Cork's most westerly inhabited island and home to a 9km walking trail that gives you a sense of journeying back in time.

There's something about the crumbling dry-stone walls, the soundtrack of hushed waves and crying gulls, the ruined castle and solitary lighthouse that make you feel you've landed somewhere quite special. And you wouldn't be the first: it's said those who built the long-tumbled Kilmichael church here were monks sent from Skellig Michael, way back in medieval times. Part of the Beara Walking Trail, Dursey Island is a must see – a perfect path on which to walk your worldly worries away...

If you have more time

Continue your meditative streak with a trip to nearby Dzogchen Beara Retreat Centre for a lesson in mindfulness – or just to visit the delicious café, complete with some of the best views in the world.

Sheep's Head

Sheep's Head: The Lighthouse Loop

Of all the walks along the Sheep's Head Way, the Lighthouse Loop may be crowned the winner...

Sheep's Head, County Cork

A beacon of light to weary seafarers

To make your way out along the Lighthouse Loop, you'll need to follow the blue arrows out towards the very tip of the peninsula, where you'll witness the views go from sublime to spectacular. From here, with Lough Akeen behind you, you can gaze outwards across the ocean to neighbouring Mizen and Beara Peninsulas on either side of you.

Once you're up this high, it's easy to get lost in the beauty, but pay attention at way-marker 220: the path is rocky and this site is home to several open (though fenced) shafts. Once part of the local copper mines, they have been deserted, along with what remains of the miners' cottages, since the 1800s.

You can also take a stroll around what is perhaps the most internationally recognised face of Sheep's Head: the peninsula from above. The infamous ÉIRE sign located near the helicopter pad was placed here during the Second World War, to let pilots know they were flying over neutral territory.

If you have more time

To ensure you have sustenance to tackle the wild Atlantic wind, a visit to Bernie's Sheep's Head Café will leave you warmed up with homemade scones, apple pie and her legendary salmon sandwiches.

Mizen Head

Mizen Head: Mizen Bridge

With the Atlantic Ocean whirling under your feet, it's easy to feel at one with the elements.

Mizen Head, County Cork

DO look down on Mizen!!

Though its claim to fame is being Ireland's most southwesterly point, what that means doesn't really hit you until you set foot on Mizen Head. Then you realise just how far from city life this lighthouse is perched: jutting into the ocean on a small, rocky outcrop, it clings to the mainland by the single arm of a narrow bridge. In the water below, you might catch seals or even dolphins dancing. Take a minute to look down and see, or you might regret it. Although admittedly, it's hard to appreciate each and every one of nature's gifts on your walk when there are simply so many around here.

If you're seeking a bit more than a gentle stroll from the Visitor Centre down the 99-step path to the signal station, make your way to Three Castles Head. This walk will take you past beautiful Barleycove beach, right out to the 'hammerhead' peninsula of Three Castles. Named for three-towered Dunlough Castle on the shores of Dun Lough, the sight of this ancient ruin reaching out of an otherwise unspoiled landscape will take your breath away.

If you have more time

If you're visiting during the summer months, call into Three Castle Café to recharge your batteries with a feed of home-cooked, locally sourced produce.

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