We’re finally here – the year 2020 – and doesn’t the turn of the century feel miles away already? Although technically the new decade really starts in 2021 (which made me question whether the new century actually commenced in 2001 instead of the year 2000), it just doesn’t feel right. So let’s just stick with what we’ve all been hearing for the past couple of weeks – a new year and a whole new decade as well is now upon us. And with a new decade comes an opportunity to start afresh and embrace a ‘new you’ as well.
To some of us that may mean travelling to new places, or exercising more, or getting outdoors again, or simply spending more time with loved ones. But let me tell you a quick secret: There’s one thing you can do that ticks all of those boxes: Hiking in Ireland in 2020!
Making a hiking or hillwalking visit to Ireland in 2020 will bring you into a world of new experiences and possibilities as you sample the local culture and take in the sights. You’ll get back into working on your fitness both before and during your journey. You’ll obviously spend plenty of time taking in the fresh air along our magical coastline, and it’s the perfect way to reconnect with your loved ones as they accompany you on your trek.
If you’re hoping to start a new chapter in this new decade, or if you’re already an avid hiker but want to explore Ireland off the beaten path this year, here are eight of the most majestic hillwalking routes all across the Emerald Isle.
The Kerry Way
The longest hiking trail in Ireland allows for tailor-made itineraries suiting walkers of all fitness and experience levels. Thanks to self-guided tour operators like Hillwalk Tours, hikers can see as little or as much as they want over just a couple of nights or even well over a week of walking. Mostly hugging the coastline and closely mirroring the Ring of Kerry driving route (one of Ireland’s major tourist draws), the Kerry Way offers up something a rental car simply cannot. Using your own two feet to slow the pace down and get to some out of the way viewpoints provides an entirely unique way of seeing the Wild Atlantic Way in 2020.
Among the highlights you’ll find along the Kerry Way are: The town of Killarney and its stunning lakes, the MacGillycuddy Reeks (home to Carrantuohill, Ireland’s tallest mountain), and exceptional sea views as you overlook the rugged coastline and numerous isles just off the coast. A side-trip to the island of Skellig Michael is a must-do if you have the time. Just make sure to book your boat ticket well in advance.
The Burren Way
Nestled in the northwest corner of County Clare, the Burren region is geographically distinct from the rest of the country. Massive ridges of limestone disappear off into the distance, resembling long fingers of light-grey rock. The exposed sections of rock occasionally rise up, seemingly piling on top of one another, creating bulbous hills and small mountains. In the early morning or late afternoon light, the folds of these landscapes are an absolute sight to be seen.
If you’ve thought about visiting Ireland before, you’ve no doubt heard of the Cliffs of Moher. Visiting them on foot instead of by tour bus is by far the best reason why you should hike the Burren Way on foot in 2020. And here’s the icing on the cake: Not only will you see even more of the stunning coastline on either side of the main tourist area of the cliffs, but you’ll get in for free as well!
|Self-guided tours from €449! Accommodation and bag transfer included.|
The Dingle Way
Once voted the “most beautiful place on Earth” by National Geographic Traveller Magazine, the Dingle Peninsula is one of the most popular spots for hiking in Ireland. Starting off in the picturesque seaside village of Dingle, you’ll complete a full loop of the peninsula to take in sight after sight after sight.
Budding photographers cannot miss the Dingle Way if they want to go for a solid hike in Ireland. Dunquin Pier, Slea Head, Inch Beach, Mount Brandon, the Gallarus Oratory, Conor Pass – these are just some of the photogenic spots you’ll see. You can also make an additional trip out to the Blasket Islands, an archipelago steeped in history.
The Sheep’s Head Way
For those of you seeking some real remoteness and isolation to clear your head in 2020, look no further than the Sheep’s Head Way. This is one of the most far-flung sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, but thanks to Ireland’s small size it is still surprisingly accessible. The full walk is under 100 kms (60 miles), so it’s an ideal length for those wanting to undertake a decent walk but keep some leftover travel time to spare for other parts of the country.
There are a total of five finger-like peninsulas jutting out in the Atlantic from Counties Cork and Kerry. The Sheep’s Head Way is on the smallest and most narrow of these. Add to this the fact that your walk brings you up along a prominent ridge line most of the way and you’re met with unrivalled ocean views compared with walkers in other Counties. For those of you bringing a drone, don’t forget to take a photo or video of the “Eire” sign made out of stones at the very end of the peninsula. These large markers were made in World War 2 to guide Allied forces as they flew over Ireland, and the marker near the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse is one of the best remaining examples.
The Beara Way
Most visitors to the ever-popular County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland flock straight to either the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. However it’s Kerry’s third peninsula which is beginning to rise in popularity for road-trippers and hillwalkers alike. In fact shared partially with County Cork, the Beara Peninsula is far less prone to the throngs of tourists seen further north. Hence it is the perfect spot in County Kerry for those wishing to walk along the Wild Atlantic Way but have more than enough space to themselves.
The added remoteness along the Beara Way means you’ll have plenty of chance encounters with rambling sheep and rams, as well as unspoilt views out across the Atlantic Ocean. The beautifully painted houses and pubs lining the streets in the villages of Allihies and Eyeries glisten in the sunlight as they welcome you down from the hills and into the warmth of the Ireland of yesteryear. Probably the greatest highlight along the Beara Way comes at the very west of the peninsula, where an old, wooden cable car (the only such means of transport in Ireland, we don’t have any ski slopes, remember) lifts you across a channel to Dursey Island. The island is almost completely uninhabited these days except for a few hardy stalwarts.
West of Ireland and Connemara (Including the Aran Islands)
Apart from the Wicklow Way, this route is unique in that it’s one of the only main hiking trails in Ireland which is mostly inland. However, hikers have the option of commencing with a ferry out to Inis Mor, the largest of the three Aran Islands, and partaking in a 40 km (25 mile) circuit of one of our most beautiful isles just of the coast of County Galway. Literally meaning “The Big Island,” Inis Mor is perfect for hikers and cyclists alike. One of my personal favourite things to do in Ireland in the summertime is to head down to Rossaveel Harbour on the mainland, take the ferry across to Kilronan, and immediately head out to the tea house of ‘Teach Nan Phaidi.’ Here you’ve got everything you can want on offer: Fresh pints of Guinness, hot soup, tea, coffee, and of course exceptional homemade cakes. After re-energising, my advice is to head up the hill to the iconic Dun Aonghasa Ring Fort which stands proudly atop some of the highest sea cliffs in the country. If you need a bit of a rest still before tackling the hill to the ring fort, head back the way you came to take a breather at the immaculate Kilmurvey Beach – a beautiful crescent of white sand and turquoise water on a sunny day. You really have to see it to believe it. Yes, we do have some pretty nice beaches here in Ireland too!
Back on the mainland you’ll take in some proper inland mountain scenery as you ascend the Maumturks Mountains and journey up and over Maumeen Pass. Here you’ll follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick, for you can visit a tiny pilgrimage church nestled between the rocks. This spot is his most westerly jaunt into the Connemara region. Hikers will also experience the Lough Inagh Valley, where two different mountain ranges soar up from either side of the peaceful lakes below. After this you’ll emerge out onto Killary Harbour, Ireland’s deepest fjord.
|West of Ireland/Connemara|
|Self-guided tours from €619! Accommodation and bag transfer included.|
Antrim Glens and Coastline (Northern Ireland)
There’s something for everyone along this particular trail in Northern Ireland. If it’s peace and tranquility you’re after, you’ll find this in the solitude of the glens and forests that make up the inland component which starts this route. However, adventure lovers, photographers and Game of Thrones fans will be equally delighted, if not more so, with the latter half of this walk where it emerges onto the meandering coastline.
Traversing the very north of the isle of Ireland from east to west, walkers are treated to spectacular sights such as Dunluce Castle (Castle Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway. Dunluce Castle juts right out over the sea, perched on clifftops which make it seem to nearly float above the frothy waters below. Meanwhile the unique geology of the Giant’s Causeway is something to marvel at, as its roughly 40,000 hexagon-shaped basalt rock columns form steps up and out of the ocean. Don’t forget to check out the Mermaid Cave beneath Dunluce Castle – just make sure to be wary of tide heights and times before making your way down. Finally, for those with time to spare there are a few scenic detours nearby such as the Dark Hedges (also from Game of Thrones) as well as the Gobbins Cliff Path – a thrilling journey right atop the water.
The Wicklow Way
Think you don’t have time to visit the big city sights of Ireland and partake in a walking holiday as well? Well think again. If you only have a few days in which to take in Dublin City but you’d still like to check out some nature and work on your fitness, the Wicklow Way is the perfect spot for you in 2020. Only 90 minutes south of Dublin Airport, this hiking trail through South County Dublin and County Wicklow features some of the must do highlights of any trip to the Dublin area, so why not take them in while walking for a few nights anyway? Along the route you’ll visit the misty valley of Glendalough which features the remains of one of Ireland’s most important 6th century monastic sites. It also boasts one of Ireland’s only remaining complete round towers, an architectural style unique to the Emerald Isle.
You’ll also pass some of the highest peaks in the country, yet you’re never too far from the ocean. On a clear day you can even see as far as Wales – perhaps a good moment to ponder a follow up hike across the Irish Sea, such as the Pembrokeshire Coast Path? If it’s a pint of the good stuff you’re after, there are plenty of pubs and B&Bs along the way at which to get your fix. Speaking of which, don’t forget to stop and admire the view of Lough Tay, known as “Guinness Lake” and strongly resembling the national drink.
So there you have it – eight perfectly good excuses to take up hiking in Ireland in 2020.