Earn that Guinness: 9 Awe-Inspiring Ireland Hikes & Outdoor Adventures
Crush your daily steps goal, learn about Irish history, and say things like "these views are bang on." We talked to our resident Ireland native (and EF Ultimate Break Tour Director), Laura, about Ireland hiking and other activities, and why the Irish outdoors are so great.
by Brendon Keefe
Updated February 2, 2024
Beyond the pubs
If the closest you’ve been to experiencing Ireland first-hand is a shot of Jameson and a pint of Guinness at your hometown bar—we understand if you assume pub culture is the island nation’s main highlight. While the pubs in Ireland (especially Dublin) are nothing short of spectacular, we think the wealth of awe-inspiring outdoor adventures are Ireland’s true draw.
From scenic Irish hikes (my goodness the green, so much stunning green), to biking along the coast through tiny villages and past wooly sheep in the wild (we just love those four-legged fluffballs)—Ireland is second to none on the “natural beauty” rankings. One person who won’t argue that: Laura, one of EF Ultimate Break's amazing Irish Tour Directors. We asked her for some commentary on Ireland’s top hikes, sights, and must-see attractions. Best part is? After you read about them here, you can experience them for yourself on our Active Ireland tour, which features a hand-crafted itinerary for outdoor lovers and adventure seekers alike. Oh, and it takes you to County Sligo and Dublin, both places where much of Normal People (the one with Paul Mescal) was filmed.
Whether it's your first time visiting Ireland or your 10th, there's no better way to take it all in than on an EF Ultimate Break trip.
1. Hiking Killarney National Park
Laura put it best when she said, “Killarney National Park is exactly what you imagine when you daydream of a romantic, rugged Ireland.” Ireland’s first national park is also one of its most breathtaking hiking destinations. Its 25,000 acres are primarily known for their inspired juxtaposition of the park’s towering mountains and its world-famous lakes. Hikers have several hidden treasures to look forward to on their journey, such as the 16th-century Old Weir Bridge. This straight-out-of-a-fairytale landmark emerges from the thick forest vegetation encompassing the nearby trail, allowing hikers to safely cross over the fast-flowing lake below. Unfortunately, since there is no direct vehicle access to the bridge, many visitors miss this beautiful piece of Irish history. But hey, that’s why EF Ultimate Break trips include an expert Tour Director with you the whole time—they’ll make sure you don’t miss hidden gems like this.
Pro Tip: While taking in all the natural beauty Killarney National Park has to offer, Laura recommends keeping an eye out for the beautiful wildlife. The park hosts several different bird and mammal species but is most notably home to Ireland’s last remaining wild herd of native Red Deer. Lawmakers and park officials have made a tremendous effort to protect these beautiful creatures, and with notable success having brought the population count from 110 to over 1,000 since 1970.
2. The Torc Waterfall
Technically, the Torc Waterfall is part of Killarney National Park, but Tour Director Laura insisted (and we must agree) it has its own spot on the list. The majestic 66-foot-high cascade sits at the base of Torc Mountain and serves as a satisfying spot for hikers to rest their feet and take in an unforgettable piece of natural Irish beauty. The word Torc comes from the Irish translation of “wild boar,” and while there are a number of… interesting… legends claiming to explain the story behind the name, we like to think of it as a fitting metaphor for the power of the waterfall itself. Also fitting: EF Ultimate Break travelers often say the waterfall acts as a metaphor for the flow of Guinness that will be making its way into their pint glasses later that evening!
3. Reeks Ridge and Carrauntoohil
You like bird’s eye views? How about a view from the highest point in Ireland! One of the most rewarding experiences on our Active Ireland hiking trip takes place on the Reeks Ridge trail. Hikers will make their way up the famous (or infamous) Ridge of the Reeks Traverse, considered one of Ireland’s finest walks, while passing eight of Ireland’s 10 highest mountains. The hike culminates at the top of Carrauntoohil, which is Ireland’s highest point at 3,407.5 feet. The sense of accomplishment hikers experience once they make it to this peak is rivaled only by their sense of awe, inspired by the unparalleled views of Ireland’s evergreen countryside and the Dingle Peninsula. Tour Director Laura says to make sure you look for the famous 12-foot steel cross which sits at the top of the mountain.
4. Walking along the Cliffs of Moher
Can’t leave this bad boy off the list. The Cliffs of Moher are arguably Ireland’s most famous, not to mention Instagrammable, natural attraction—and are a focal point of all of our group trips to Ireland. As hikers work their way along the trail, they can feel the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean working against the edge of the cliffs from 700 feet above. The hike itself only takes around two hours, but you could spend a lifetime gazing down at the mesmerizing struggle of ocean against rock.
Pro Tip: Not only is our Tour Director Laura an expert on Irish adventure, but she’s quite savvy with social media as well. She says, “If you want that perfect Instagram shot, as you are looking out to the sea turn right, walk up towards O’Brian’s Tower, and turn back to get that classic postcard image.” Your followers will thank you.
5. Connemara National Park
Connemara is the second national park our Active Ireland tour visits. Its beauty rivals that of Killarney National Park, but for different reasons. Whereas Killarney National Park is characterized by its forests and lakes, Connemara is more known for its breathtaking mountains, expanses of bogs, and grasslands rich with wildlife. Hikers in Connemara are spoiled with several can’t-miss views, including that of the famous Twelve Bens Mountain Range. The “Bens,” which got their name from the Irish word “Binn”—meaning “peak”—range from 1,693 feet to 2,395 feet and have been known to act as a source of inspiration for tired travelers who find themselves needing an extra boost of energy to get them through their journey.
Pro Tip: While the unique natural wonders of Ireland are sure to help power hikers along as they make their way across the country, as an EF Ultimate Break traveler you’ll benefit from perhaps an even more substantial source of energy: encouragement from all the incredible friends you’ve made on your trip! Traveling is always great, but sharing the experience with awesome people is what makes it truly unforgettable.
Featured Trip: Active Ireland
12 days. 5 cities. The most hard-earned pints of your life.
Pros: Hike and bike along some of the most scenic stretches in all of Ireland, from the Cliffs of Moher and Giant's Causeway to 'One Man's Pass' and Carrauntoohil (the country's highest point). Pose at the base of Torc Waterfall and wish you had that kind of water pressure at home.
Cons: Instagramming-while-biking isn't easy.
6. The Great Western Greenway
Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 US Presidential Election was historic for many reasons, including the fact that it marked only the second time an Irish-Catholic candidate was elected into the Oval Office. The Great Western Greenway is a scenic 26-mile rail trail that makes its way through the picturesque local villages of County Mayo—where the President’s Irish family connections still live today. Our Tour Director Laura loves biking the off-road trail, taking in the dramatic Irish West Coast and cruising by a number of beautiful small islands out in the Atlantic.
7. Slieve League Cliffs
The Cliffs of Moher are to the Slieve League Cliffs as Mark Wahlberg is to his brother Donnie (just hear us out). Everybody knows how cool the former is; but the latter, while flying a little more under the radar, looks and sounds similar, and is arguably more badass depending on who you talk to. It’s anyone’s guess as to why the Slieve League Cliffs fly under the radar, considering they reach three times higher than the better-known Cliffs of Moher. Hikers will have to make their way single file along the “One Man’s Pass” trail, an effort that instantly pays off in the form of 2,000-foot views of the vibrant green cliffs contrasting with the deep blue oceans below.
8. The Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail
While this trail is one of the less rigorous hikes on our Active Ireland adventure, it still has ample rewarding sights and experiences. The boardwalk trail, also known as “the stairway to heaven,” ascends the 2,100-foot Cuilcagh Mountain. As you make your way up, you’ll be treated to views of “the Fertile Rock,” a flower-rich limestone landscape which dominates much of the terrain surrounding the beginning of the trail. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the peak of the mountain, which will provide a unique opportunity to take in the beauty of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the same time.
9. The Giant's Causeway
Tour Director Laura made it clear that she would disavow our list if we didn’t include this truly one-of-a-kind natural landscape (not that we needed any convincing!). While locals argue over whether the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns were formed by volcanic activity or ancient mythical giants engaged in warfare (my money’s on the latter), they all agree that the result was unlike anything else in the world. Years of weathering have created several natural treasures for visitors to take in, like the Giant’s Boot, the Chimney Stacks, the Giant’s Harp, and the Camel’s Hump.
Pro Tip: Laura says, “Your visit to the Giant’s Causeway isn’t complete until you walk all the way to the end of the causeway and look to the east, where on a clear day you’ll be treated to a view of the islands of Scotland!”
Planning the ultimate Ireland hiking trip
Or more like not having to plan it—and instead letting us do the heavy lifting. EF Ultimate Break's Ireland trips are hand-made for 18-35-year-olds looking to explore everything the country has to offer, without the logistical nightmare of figuring out flights (we can handle that for ya), accommodations (those too), local tour guides (yep, included), or simply researching what to do while you’re there (our itineraries are jam-packed with iconic sights while still leaving room for free time and go-with-the-flow adventures). Every one of these epic Ireland hikes is included in our Active Ireland trip, but if you prefer iconic city-hopping and pub-crawling, we have a lively Ireland tour for that, too. Book with friends, your significant other, or solo—either way, you’re guaranteed to meet a whole new group of friendly world travelers like yourself!
by Brendon Keefe
Brendon is a Trip Consultant with EF Ultimate Break. Born and raised on Cape Cod, Brendon’s passions include cheering for Boston sports teams, obsessing over Star Wars, and maintaining his perfect attendance at happy hour events. His favorite country to visit is Tanzania.
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