Hiking in Ireland means magnificent coastal cliffs, rewarding family-friendly walks and a variety of terrain and scenery that’ll leave you in awe of the beautiful Emerald Isle.
The country has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty, and seeing it on foot is one of the best ways to experience it. Ascend steep rocky paths, jump in the ocean right after, and sit in a local cafe to analyze the peaks and pits of the trail you just conquered. Here are 12 of Ireland’s best hiking routes.
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1. The Great Sugar Loaf, County Wicklow
A great walk for the entire family
2.5km (1.5 miles) out and back, 1–1.5 hours, easy
One of Ireland’s most recognizable hikes, the Great Sugar Loaf gets its name from resembling a giant pile of sugar. This short walk includes a steep scramble to the summit that makes the panoramic views from the peak that little bit more rewarding.
If you happen to hike the Great Sugar Loaf on an exceptionally clear day you can see all the way across the Irish Sea to Snowdonia in Wales. Pretty impressive for a mountain that stands at only 501m (1643ft) tall.
Carrauntoohil is part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range © Semmick Photo / Shutterstock
2. Carrauntoohill, County Kerry
The highest peak in Ireland
13km (8 miles) out and back, 4–5 hours, hard
The route you will most likely take to reach the highest point in Ireland is known as “the Devil’s Ladder” and it is no joke. As the name suggests this trail is challenging, steep and dangerous. Be aware of the difficulty and potential falling rocks from above before embarking on this hike.
If you’re not 100% confident in taking on this hike but still want to reach the top of Ireland, then you should contact a local guide. There are plenty in the area and are a good idea to help you safely reach the summit.
3. Mweelrea, County Mayo
Connacht’s highest mountain
10.5km (6.5 miles) out and back, 3.5–4.5 hours, hard
Offering up incredible views of the surrounding mountains, Mweelrea is a hike you can’t miss if you’re traveling along the Wild Atlantic Way. The highest mountain in the province of Connacht, standing at 814m (2671ft), has many different routes to the top that vary in difficulty and views.
For many, the best route to take starts and ends at Silverstrand beach. Not only do you get constant coastal views on the trail, but you can also hop straight into the sea to cool down afterwards.
4. Mt Errigal, County Donegal
Best sunrise or sunset hike
5km (3.1 miles) out and back, 2–3 hours, moderate
The best views in Donegal have just gotten even better. A new trail and stairs have been added to this beautiful mountain to make it that bit easier to reach the summit.
If you’re looking to catch a sunrise or sunset then Errigal is the hike for you. The 360 degree views of Donegal guarantee the perfect vantage point to watch the sun appear or disappear. If you’re lucky, you might even get above the clouds and see a cloud inversion. The best time to catch one of these is during autumn or winter.
5. Lugnaquilla, County Wicklow
The best hike for sweeping views of Wicklow
13km (8 miles) out and back, 3.5–4.5 hours, hard
A combination of forest paths, cliff faces, a valley trail, a waterfall and a river guides you up to the highest point in Wicklow. This hike offers some of the best views of the Wicklow mountains and is the perfect way to pick out any of the other peaks you would like to attempt.
If you’re finishing your hike in Glenmalure, there is a great mix of activities for you to try. Grab a pint of Guinness in a cozy pub, take a cold plunge in Coolalingo waterfall, or hit up the local sauna. All of these activities are a five minute drive from the starting point of your hike.
It’s a tough climb up Croagh Patrick © Christopher Murray / EyeEm / Getty Images
6. Croagh Patrick, County Mayo
A unique pilgrimage
8km (5 miles) out and back, 3–4 hours, hard
If you’re looking for a unique hiking experience then plan to hike Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday (the last Sunday in July). Thousands of pilgrims hike up to the summit to attend mass in honor of St Patrick and some will even hike barefoot as an act of penance.
If a pilgrimage isn’t your scene, you can climb this spectacular mountain any other day of the year. The summit offers some of the most incredible views of Clew Bay, a natural ocean bay that contains 365 islands.
7. Glenbarrow Waterfall Loop, County Laois
Best hike for reconnecting with nature
4.5km (2.8 miles) loop, 1–2 hours, easy
Stroll along a riverside as you explore a moss-covered forest. This gentle hike offers you the chance to relax and enjoy the serenity of the flowing water and natural forest landscape. Many people will take the opportunity to go for a dip in the waterfall or meditate beside it, taking in the calming sounds of the flowing water.
The trail is located in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, a great place for hikers and trail runners to enjoy. With routes that range from 2km (1.2 miles) all the way up to 60km (37 miles), this mountain range caters for every ability level.
8. Ballinastoe to Djouce, County Wicklow
Best hike to take it slow
12km (7.5 miles) out and back, 2.5–3.5 hours, moderate
Take a mythical walk through Ballinastoe Woods before emerging at a viewpoint overlooking Guinness Lake. This is one of those trails where you have to keep reminding yourself to watch where you’re putting your feet because it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off the views.
Keep an eye out for the JB Malone Memorial along the trail. He is the man responsible for getting the Wicklow Way to become a recognized trail, and a true legend in the Irish hill-walking community.
9. Croaghan Cliffs, County Mayo
Best island hike
12km (7.5 miles) loop, 4–5 hours, hard
The third highest sea cliffs in Europe, located right beside one of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches, on an island that’s accessible by car. How perfect can a hike sound?
Three times bigger than the Cliffs of Moher, this hike is not to be missed if you’re traveling the west coast of Ireland. If the full hike is too long for you there’s a shorter one-hour long round-trip hike up to a viewpoint looking down on Keem Bay. The views here are nothing short of spectacular.
Time your hike to Lough Ouler with sunrise or sunset for the ultimate view © Wirestock / Getty Images
10. Lough Ouler Loop, County Wicklow
Best romantic hike
8km (5 miles) loop, 3–4 hours, hard
Lough Ouler is known as the “Love Heart Lake”, so you can probably guess why it’s the ultimate hike to go on a date. This trail is the best place to catch an epic sunrise with your significant other, but of course you don’t need to go as a couple.
If you’re willing to brave the cold lake waters, Lough Ouler is the perfect place for a swim, and you can set up camp quite comfortably beside the lake.
11. The Wicklow Way
Ireland’s best multi-day hike
130km (80 miles) thru-hike, 5–7 days, hard
The Wicklow Way is a dedicated hiker’s dream and Ireland’s crowning jewel thru-hike. Challenge yourself to finish it as fast as possible or just take your time and enjoy the serenity of the Wicklow mountains.
Some of the best camping features along the trail are the three Adirondack shelters, located near Scarr mountain, Glenmalure and Aughavannagh. Sleeping a night in one of these shelters with just a mat and sleeping bag is a great experience.
12. Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk, County Wicklow
Best scenic walk near Dublin
9km (5.5 miles) one way, 2–3 hours, easy
The Bray to Greystones cliff walk is the perfect walk for families staying in Dublin. It starts and ends near the two town train stations that both take you back to Dublin. For those looking for a higher vantage point, Bray Head can be incorporated into the hike to get sweeping views of the Dublin and Wicklow coastlines.
Bray and Greystones are both filled with excellent cafes and restaurants to refuel after your hike. With immersion in coastal nature and high-quality food and coffee available afterwards, you’ve got the best of both worlds on this trail.
Take rainwear, a compass and a map with you © JAG IMAGES / Getty Images
Top tips for hiking in Ireland
- Pack for all weather. The Irish weather is very changeable, particularly on exposed peaks, so come prepared.
- Trails can sometimes be hard to follow on the more difficult routes, so do your research before attempting any trail. There are official and detailed regional maps called Ordnance Survey Maps.
- Walkers and cyclists in Ireland have no rights of access to privately owned land. Access has been negotiated with landowners for many national trails and waymarked walks. However, you will occasionally come across locked gates, barbed-wire fences or “no walkers allowed” signs – these are legal and must be obeyed.
- Leave no trace. Anything you bring with you on a hike must come home with you.
- Pack snacks and water before you leave your accommodation or get them in the town or city where you are staying. There are very few shops close to many of Ireland’s best hiking routes.
- Know the emergency numbers for Ireland. They are 112 or 999.