I’m increasingly interested in outdoor destinations and parts of the country that I might explore on foot. I’ve taken a few road trips around Ireland and really enjoyed visiting the usual landmarks and attractions. My favourite experiences in Ireland have taken place outdoors and without any kind of entry fee – something that seems quite rare nowadays!.
In this blog post, I’d like to share with you some of my favourite outdoor destinations in Ireland that you might want to consider for your next adventure.
Top 7 Must-Visit Outdoor Destinations in Ireland
1. Killarney or the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry
For many tourists, Kerry represents their idea of quintessential Ireland. While I think that tourists are often misguided toward very busy places that feel overcrowded, I have to agree. Kerry is not only home to bustling villages with traditional music and food but also endless opportunities for getting outdoors. You don’t need to climb Carrauntoohil (Ireland’s highest peak) to appreciate the majesty of the mountains. Most of this scenery is easily accessed from marked trails such as the Kerry Way or the Dingle Way. There are lots of places to enjoy wild swimming, and Inch is fantastic for surfing with B&B’s everywhere in between. I was especially pleased to find so many campsites in this part of the country and a host of unusual experiences to encounter. My favourite islands include Skellig Michael, Valentia Island, and the Great Blasket Island.
Tip – Take an overnight trip to the Great Blasket Island. It’s permitted to wild camp on the island (You carry your own supplies) and there is also a small hostel.
2. Anywhere in Connemara, Galway (I love Leenaun)
I was first drawn to Connemara with hopes of walking alongside the old stone walls and fields that I saw in movies like “The Field” and “Far and Away”. I’m not sure how much of these movies were actually shot in the area. I was led to believe that Connemara was unspoiled in comparison to much of rural Ireland. The region certainly feels quite remote and primitive at times. There are interesting landmarks including the stunning Kylemore Abbey. If you would rather be more active you can go kayaking, horse-riding, and hiking.
When I walked around Ireland a couple of years ago, Connemara was one of my top three destinations. It really did feel rather unspoiled compared to many of the other popular areas.
Tip – I recommend taking a road trip through Connemara and prearranging some outdoor activities such as kayaking or a guided hike. You will find fantastic outdoor activity companies in the area through a quick search on Google. Leenaun is one of my favourite places to stay and located next to the beautiful Killary Fjord.
3. Inishmore just off the Coast of Galway
I’ve been to the Aran Islands quite a few times over the years. There are three different islands with Inishmore being the most visited. While I do think the other islands are more off the beaten path and even more authentic, there is just so much to do/see on Inishmore. For instance, there are many ancient forts to explore and some of these landmarks are without the busyness of Dún Aonghasa. The beaches feature pristine white powdered sands and the water is reminiscent of what you might find in the Mediterranean.
I spent a lot of time cycling from trail to trail on my first visit but decided to walk everywhere on my last visit. Either way, aside from the local pub, all of the attractions on Inishmore are outdoors. It’s true that some of these attractions require a small entry fee but not enough to take away from the experience.
Tip – Make sure to visit the Black Fort for a less crowded experience and use the hop-on/off minibus if you want to spend more time at each of the attractions on the island.
4. The Cooley Peninsula in Louth
The Cooley Peninsula is best known for oysters and Carlingford Lough. It’s a place where groups (often school tours) show up for watersport activities – and for good reason! There’s a great adventure centre where you can rent kayaks or join regular guided excursions. For me, the Cooley Mountains are the place to be! There is a long-distance path called the Tan Trail (40km), whereas Slieve Foy offers spectacular hiking and panoramic views. The Cooley Peninsula, which is en route to Northern Ireland, would make an ideal stopover on the way to the Antrim Coastline/Giants Causeway.
Tip – Try the Molly Loop Walk (5km) which leads up into the mountains to an abandoned village from the time of the famine.
5. Malin Head on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal
It’s not because I’m biased (I currently live in Malin Head) but because Malin Head is one of my favourite outdoor destinations in the country. As with the Aran Islands, all the “attractions” are to do with nature and within easy reach of each other. On a visit to Banba’s Crown at the very north tip, you can hike a rugged coastline, while taking in majestic views of the ocean. On Five Finger Strand, you can catch the sun going down from a beautiful stretch of beach. The “Little House of Malin” is another interesting stretch of coastline that also offers a nice little encounter with some local history. I should also mention the road to Malin Head is just as interesting as the Inishowen Peninsula. It is home to a lot more history and beautiful scenery than people seem to know about!
Tip – Rent a little cottage and spend a couple of days exploring on foot and walking around the very north tip in Malin Head. It’s rugged, unspoiled, and reasonably remote.
6. The Beara Peninsula in West Cork
I really love the countryside in Cork and the Beara Peninsula offers some of the most remote and stunning scenery in Ireland. If you fancy a road trip with lots of places to get outdoors, the “Ring of Beara” is perfect. It’s a rather short drive (4 hours) that passes many idyllic villages such as Eyeries and Allihies. As always, my personal interests lie within the natural attractions. Mare’s Tail Waterfall is thought to be the highest in the country and Healy Pass is also a special place. There are so many lesser-known looped trails on the peninsula and a trip to Dursey Island adds a little something different.
Tip – Hike a section of “the Beara Way” to really get off the beaten path. It’s a challenging hike and fairly remote but absolutely stunning!
7. Doolin in Co. Clare (Near the Cliffs of Moher)
Doolin is one of the most touristy towns in the country. Most of these tourists arrive for lunch and then disappear. It’s an ideal pit-stop on the way to the Cliffs of Moher. For whatever reason, most visitors don’t think to stay here overnight. I’m happy this happens because it leaves Doolin much quieter in the later afternoon and evening time. There is a hotel, B&B’s, hostels, and a great campsite just down the road from Gus O’Connor’s pub. I especially like to stay in Doolin. You can take a free shuttle to the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre and then walk these cliffs all the way back to the town.
Tip – Be very careful on the cliff walk. It’s not ideal for small children and rather scary in windy conditions.
I’m looking forward to visiting a lot more of Ireland but these are some of my favourite outdoor destinations in which the trails, mountains, and nature are always within reach.