The Burren is a unique region in the West of Ireland. As one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe, stone terraces stretch to the horizon. The wild Atlantic ocean rushes behind them. The magic of this area can easily be explored by foot on the Burren Way and those who travel slowly can take in some of the rarest beauties to be found along the way. Here’s our overview of everything you need to know about the Burren Way and 9 reasons to hike this unique trail.
The numerous wildflowers that are so characteristic of the Burren are a particular highlight for those that travel by foot.
Where is The Burren ?
Where exactly the Burren begins and ends has not been entirely agreed in County Clare. While some definitions include the coastal regions, others only refer to the limestone terraces of the ‘Burren Highlands’. The national park, which is only 15 square kilometers in size, definitely forms the core of this area.
More generally, The Burren is in the west of Ireland, south of Galway City.
Hiking in the Burren
The Burren Way is a beautiful long-distance hiking trail that takes you right into the heart of the limestone landscape.
With a length of 98km (116km if including the Black Head Loop) the Burren Way can be done in 6 to 8 days. The total ascent of 1,500 meters can be classified as moderate.
There are also seven different hiking routes through the Burren National Park. They are marked with colors and the orange route is just a short walk at 1.3km. The loops around Mullaghmore are particularly recommended. Here you can expect not only hazel forests, but also sweeping views over the silvery rock masses.
The best hiking maps in Ireland are the official Ordnance Survey maps. These are printed on a scale of 1:50,000 and the various regions around Ireland are assigned different map numbers. The Burren Way is shown on map numbers 51, 52 and 57. Number 52 shows you the Burren National Park.
Best travel time
The best travel time for a hike through the vastness of the Fertile Rock is between May and August, when the many different flowers are in bloom. This is also the period with the highest average temperatures in Ireland.
Many travelers to Ireland first arrive to Dublin Airport. Closer to the Burren, in the West of Ireland is Shannon Airport in Co. Clare and the smaller Ireland West Ireland in Co. Mayo. From Dublin there are buses every half hour to Galway which is about an hour from the Burren National Park. There is a regular bus and train connection from Galway to Ennis with local connections from there to the towns of Co. Clare. A regular bus and train service also runs between Dublin and Ennis.
The easiest way to get to the start of the Burren Way in Lahinch is by bus from Galway. You can check the exact times here .
In the area around the Burren, there are plenty of attractive options for every different travel budget. Those who want to support the local economy and get to know the locals will be ideally suited to cozy B&Bs.
You can also find various sleeping options via the Burren Ecotourism Network . As part of this initiative, you can stay overnight on organic farms as well as in boutique hotels or on glamping sites. ‘Glamping’ comes from the mix of glamor and camping. So you can look forward to nights that are both comfortable and rustic.
If you are interested in a multi-day hike, but do not have the time to work out your exact route and look for accommodation in the corresponding daily destinations, a self-guided hiking tour might be the perfect solution. Hillwalk Tours looks after booking all of the required accommodation based on previous walker feedback as well as other required services such as daily luggage transfer and transfers to and from the trail if required.
All you have to do is pick how many kilometers you want to hike each day and they will look after the rest. During the day, hike from one place to another at your own pace, enjoying nature your own way. In the evening you can relax in the carefully selected B&B and thus combine the independence of an individual trip with the convenience of a booked hike. They also provide a walking pack with maps, bespoke turn-by-turn route notes and information on local history, sights, attractions, restaurants and everything else that you might need to know.
The specialties of the Burren are an interesting mix of traditional and innovative cuisine. This rural region also produces many products, including dairy products such as Burren Gold cheese, Linnalla ice cream, Sankt Tola goat cheese, but also seafood and smoked salmon. There are also many award winning local restaurants in Lahinch, Liscannor, Doolin and Ballyvaughan.
Most pubs also offer good-priced food which combines perfectly with a well deserved pint of Guinness after a good day of hiking.
9 Reasons To Hike The Burren Way
1. Immerse yourself in the moonscape
Geologically, The Burren is actually not a lunar, but a tropical landscape. 300 million years ago the landmass that is now Ireland was on the equator. It was covered by a tropical sea. Sinking, calcium-containing organisms formed the sediment from which the limestone was formed. This geological foundation has shaped the landscape to this day, for example because water is not held on the surface here and underground lakes, rivers and caves have thus formed.
The surface of the Burren was shaped during various ice ages and has produced such wondrous mounds as the spiral-shaped Mullaghmór.
To move in this unique area means to roam through millions of geological years of history. But even without in-depth background research, the atmosphere, the silence and, with luck, the sunlit stone ridges really cannot be compared to any other place.
2. Experience the Cliffs of Moher differently
Almost every traveler to Ireland knows them: the steeply sloping sea cliffs that stretch for kilometers on the west coast. Around a million visitors are drawn to this magical place every year. But many of them stay just a short time and concentrate on the area near the parking lot, from which the vast majority of tour buses leave.
Those who choose to hike the Burren Way begin this long distance trail with the spectacular section between Lahinch and Doolin that takes you right along the cliffs. This way, you will always have new perspectives on the majestically sloping stone wall and the roaring Atlantic Ocean below. Away from the visitor center, the hike is also much quieter and allows time to truly appreciate their wonder.
3. Keep your feet dry
Walking on limestone is a special experience. It requires a certain amount of attention to properly assess the subsurface and avoid cracks and holes in the ground. In the Irish climate, however, the terraces of the Burren offer a special advantage: even when it rains, the soil does not become full of water. In contrast to the boggy sections on many other hiking trails, your feet will stay dry here at least from below. However, appropriate footwear is still required to avoid getting wet from the clouds above.
4. Hear the best of Irish music
Ireland is divided into different counties. The Burren is in County Clare and this area is famous for one thing in particular: great music. And in a country like Ireland, which is already known for the musicality of its residents, it means something when a certain area is considered a musical Mecca.
Different places in and around The Burren, such as Doolin, Tulla and Kinvara, attract numerous visitors every year with first-class trad (traditional Irish music). After a day in nature you can not only quench your thirst in various pubs, but also tap your feet to reels and jigs and immerse yourself in Irish culture.
* A special tip is a visit to Gus O’Connor’s Pub in Doolin. Not only have some important traditional Irish music recordings been made in this legendary location, it was thanks to the three brothers who run this bar that Doolin became such an important center for Irish music. And what better way to round off a hike along the Cliffs of Moher than a pint and tunes?
5. Discover unique plants
What makes the flora of the Burren so unique is not only the rare species that can be found here but the fact that Mediterranean, Alpine and Arctic flowers can be found here at the same time. The famous blue gentian feels just as at home in the middle of the limestone terraces as the blood-red cranesbill and the eight-leaved silver arum.
Furthermore, 22 of the 30 orchid varieties in Ireland can be found here.
One reason for this abundance of wildflowers is the special methods of farming used. In summer, cows stay in the lowlands as it is too dry for them in the karst landscape. This means that the flowers can grow and seed unhindered. In winter, the cows graze at higher altitudes and eat excess plant remains. In doing so, they make way for the next generation of wildflowers. Insects, including some species of bees that are threatened with extinction, benefit from the multitude of different flowers.
The Burren is thus an example of a cultural landscape that has not only produced exquisite beauty, but also an astonishingly high level of biological diversity.
6. See puffins
The sighting of a puffin is a very special highlight not only for ornithologists. The bird famous from Guinness advertisements is an extremely cute fellow. Between March and September you have the opportunity to see him along the Cliffs of Moher.
Characteristic of the approx. 30cm tall alken bird are not only its black and white plumage, but above all its round beak and its large, painted-looking eyes.
7. Award Winning Local Ecotourism
Since its inception in 2011, the Burren Ecotourism Network has been a leading the way in community conservation. They have also created a code of sustainable tourism practices that over 60 local businesses have signed up to.
The model they have created has since been replicated by many other local tourism communities around Ireland and further afield. In January, 2021, Lonely Planet announced the winners of its coveted Best in Travel awards and The Burren Ecotourism Network was named as a winner in the category ‘Best in Community’. It was described as “an impressive community collaboration of local enterprises which has transformed Ireland’s Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark into a global leader for sustainable tourism”.
8. Discover archaeological highlights
County Clare can proudly claim to be home to some of the world’s most important archaeological finds and structures. A bear’s kneecap, originally discovered in the Alice and Gwendoline Cave, resulted in a spectacular insight. There were people in Ireland as early as 10,500 BC, about 2,500 years earlier than previously assumed.
Some of the many caves in the Burren, such as the Ailwee Cave, can be visited and walked in underground. But the region also has a lot to offer to those interested in history. The Burren is home to countless little-known monuments with the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the oldest megalithic tomb in all of Ireland.
9. Enjoy delicacies
Luxurious chocolate is perhaps not exactly the regional product that one would expect between barren stone fields. But this is where the Hazel Mountain Chocolaterie makes the most exquisite delicacies. You can try pralines, spreads and chocolate creations enriched with extraordinary ingredients such as seaweed.
When visiting their factory, you can even witness the magical manufacturing processes through the open space design.