Getting started: walking in Ireland

Carrauntoohil, County Kerry

With such beautiful countryside and friendly people, the best way to enjoy Ireland is to put on your walking shoes

Walker's paradise

Ireland has always been a nation of walkers, which means the trails are always fresh and clearly waymarked, and yet – apart from the most famous spots such as Glendalough or the Giant’s Causeway – you’ll have them almost to yourself, as there are so many trails to choose from.

For walkers, Ireland can’t be beaten. It’s a small island, sure, but the variety of landscape is dizzying. Mountains, bogs, forests, rivers, beaches and historic towns are all within easy reach, which means that the walker can wake up in the morning, check the weather and decide over breakfast what sort of walk to do.

Planning your trip

Are you in a group or travelling alone? Day walking from a base? Tackling a long-distance route? Tour operators and hotels will arrange to transport your luggage between your night stops for a long-distance walk. If you enjoy company, try to take in a walking festival. They’re held all over the island during the summer and last two to three days. They offer guided walks to suit all abilities and mix visitors with locals, before ending the day with traditional music and celebrations.

Choosing your walk

Ireland offers walking for every taste and fitness level, with linear or looped/circular walks. Families wanting a stroll could try a historic town trail, a sandy beach (Benone Strand, County Derry-Londonderry, and the Connemara coast are sensational), the lakes of Fermanagh, a river stroll in Kilkenny or a nature trail through unspoiled bogland.

For fitter types, Croagh Patrick and Slieve Donard offer a strenuous climb that would fill a day; the Sugar Loaf in Wicklow takes two hours or so, but with a scramble to the top. For real enthusiasts there are also long-distance trails/waymarked ways that take days: the Causeway Coast in Antrim, the Sheep’s Head in Cork, the Mourne Way in County Down, and the Wicklow Way – although you can easily just do a short chunk of them.

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 (35-1,000 kilometres).

Get the right gear

The weather in Ireland is changeable but it rarely gets very cold, even in winter. Throughout much of the country the rock is volcanic and craggy with loose pebbles, so for mountains and on long hikes take proper boots – you’ll need the grip and support. Trainers are fine for beaches and scrambling on rocks, but are not always waterproof enough for bog trails or ancient ruins, where the approach sometimes goes through long, wet grass. As for maps, the trails are so well marked you probably won’t need one for a looped/circular day walk.

What to eat

Cafés are in every town and village, but rare on country walks; buy a bottle of water and make or buy a sandwich before you set out. Supermarkets or newsagents in small towns often have a deli counter where they’ll make them to order. And when you return from a day in the fresh air, looking forward to a good dinner and a pint, remember – the evening is only just beginning!

Discover more great Ireland walks