Hiking, surfing, and… bog snorkeling? 7 ways to get out there in Ireland

March 16, 2015                 3M read time
Harry Guinness


Despite what you may think, Ireland isn’t all rainy weather, pints of Guinness, and fancy fiddle playing. True, the pubs are cozy and the drinks do flow, but that’s not what earned the Emerald Isle its colorful nickname. From coastal mountain trails to bucolic pastures, the island is packed with many green miles to explore. Find your perfect outdoor adventure below. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure a glass of whiskey is waiting for you at the end of the day.

Surfer in wetsuit riding a wave with green fields in the background discover enniscrone

Surfer in wetsuit riding a wave with green fields in the background

discover enniscrone

Surfer riding a wave in northwest Ireland

1. Surf In The Northwest

On the northwest coast of Ireland, waves crash against Donegal’s long sandy shores, creating fantastic breaks for surfers of all levels. Experienced wave riders should check out the Peak, a reef break that routinely hosts international surfing competitions. The swells are gentler near the beach at Rossnowlagh, making it a great spot for intermediates and beginners to practice.

If you need a little help catching a wave, sign up with one of the many local surf schools. Wetsuits are essential—this isn’t Hawaii—but the scenery makes it worth braving the cold. Bonus: you won’t encounter any sharks here!

Girl walking in the foreground; grass and tree-covered rolling hills and a lake in the background Martin Dobey

Girl walking in the foreground; grass and tree-covered rolling hills and a lake in the background

Martin Dobey

Shramore, Wicklow, Ireland

2. Walk the Wicklow Way

If you're visiting Ireland, you're visiting Dublin. While the capital isn't an outdoor paradise by any means, Wicklow, the county directly to the south, is. If you've got the time, go there to walk the Wicklow Way, Ireland’s most popular long distance trail. The 80-mile marked path starts by taking you over the Wicklow mountains and through evergreen forests and then mellows into rolling foothills and the country's ubiquitous farmland. The Wicklow Way is a true cross section of the Irish landscape—bogs, mountain lakes, and the ruins of Saint Kevin’s, a 6th century monastery, all make an appearance.

You need about a week to walk it in full. If you don't have that time to spare, either tackle a shorter segment of the Way—I personally love the area around Saint Kevin’s—or check out rock climbing in nearby Glendalough.

Two people climbing Carrauntoohil's steep green hillside Tom Fahy

Two people climbing Carrauntoohil's steep green hillside

Tom Fahy

Two hikers descend Carrauntoohil's eastern flank 

3. Hike the 7-mile Coomloughra Horseshoe trail

You'll scramble along a knife-edged ridge that spans four of the five highest mountains in Ireland, including the tallest, the 3,414-foot-high Carrauntoohil. If you want something more challenging, connect with a local guide and attempt Howling Ridge. The multi-pitch mountaineering route takes you straight up the northeast face of Carrauntoohil.

Mountains reflected in the water Richard Browne

Mountains reflected in the water

Richard Browne

Ben Crom Reservoir in the Mourne Mountains

4. Mountain Biking in the Mourne Mountains

An hour north of Dublin, the peaks and valleys of the Mourne Mountains make for exhilarating mountain biking. Slieve Martin, a popular summit, rises 1,640 feet above the shores of Carlingford Lough. On the slopes, mountain bike trails snake their way steeply through forests to reach the top before plunging back down to sea level.

From the trailhead in Rostrevor, you can choose from four trails, a 17-mile red trail and a 12-mile black one, as well as two short and steep downhill runs. Most competent cyclists should be okay tackling the red trail, but you’ll want to have ridden a mountain bike before tackling one of the steeper trails. Rent a bike and, at least for the first run, take the hard way up. You'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Lough below to whet your appetite for the descent to come. If the trail is wet, you'll have to deal with mud but it only adds to the fun.

Green mountains, foggy sky, lake ritesh3

Green mountains, foggy sky, lake

ritesh3

Macgillycuddy's Reeks, Killarney 

5. Explore MacGillycuddy's Reeks

Contrary to the downright awful name, MacGillycuddy's Reeks contains the country’s most dramatic peaks. Near the town of Killarney in the southwest, the range rises from the glacier gnawed valleys of Kerry and offers stunning views—when the rain abates—of the surrounding rugged countryside and the lakes at Killarney.

Lighthouse on a cliff GrahamAndDairne

Lighthouse on a cliff

GrahamAndDairne

Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse near Kinsale, County Cork

6. Sail the Atlantic Coast

Ireland's Atlantic coast is best seen from the sea. Craggy cliffs tower above whitecaps and sheltered bays offer safe haven. Charter a yacht—with or without a skipper—in the coastal town of Kinsale, Cork, and set out. Sail west and you'll encounter some of the country’s most beautiful, untouched, landscapes. Dolphins are a common sight in the water. If you’re lucky, they’ll play in your boat's wake. If you’re really lucky, you might spot whales, too. What you won't see, however, are many people. Marinas on Ireland's Atlantic coast are few and far between. While the anchorages are unparalleled, don't hold out hope for a hot shower.

Snorkeler's head peeking out of the water surrounded by reeds and onlookers Ethreon

Snorkeler's head peeking out of the water surrounded by reeds and onlookers

Ethreon

 

7. Bog Snorkelling in Monaghan

If you find yourself in Ireland during September, make a detour to Monaghan county to witness the All Ireland Bog Snorkelling Championships. A niche, and not especially serious, sport, bog snorkelling involves submerging yourself in one of Ireland's many peat bogs and swimming from one end to the other as quickly as possible—often in the most ridiculous costume you can lay your hands on. This task is hampered by the mud, weeds, your tutu, angel wings, or other novelty accessories, and the indigenous wildlife. Not many sports put you in such close proximity to frogs.

Harry Guinness

Harry Guinness (yes, that is his real last name) is a writer and photographer from Dublin, Ireland. He suffers from a terrible allergy to what someone with moral character might call “work.”

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