One of Ireland’s single greatest draws is its untouched countryside. As most locals can attest, each summer, thousands of people descend upon the Irish countryside to check out just what all the emerald fuss is about, and actually, there is good reason for fuss.
Ireland doesn’t really have mountains, to speak of, but it is geographically rich in other ways. The coastline is probably the best example of this – 5,631 kilometers of pure oceany goodness (that’s 3,500 miles, for the Brits and Americans in the audience) full of stark cliffs, sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings. But the coastline isn’t just pretty, although for those that aren’t really into the outdoor sports, such as myself, that is of course its greatest aspect. Irish waters offer a heap of different activities, from kitesailing to surfing and, if we fudge a little, even some sunbathing now and again.
Beyond that, there are green hills galore to be explored, whether on foot, bicycle or horseback, and with a sense of adventure and a sturdy windbreaker, you can enjoy some of the freshest air and greenest grass you’ll ever set legs and lungs on.
This, the Irish version of hiking takes you on foot out into some the the true wilds of Ireland. The country is positively full of hills, which arguably border on being mountains thanks to their sheer height and rocky crags that are lined with grass and wildflowers in the summer.
Some of the Irish hillwalking hotspots include the Wicklow Mountains in Co. Wicklow just south of Dublin (the Dublin Mountains are a nice city break, for that matter), the Dingle Peninsula, the Kerry Way and Connemara, but there are 40 different “waymarked trails” around the country and dozens of other good walking spots in almost every county in Ireland.
I am not big into boating myself, but Ireland is a fantastic place for it. Sailing and kayaking are among the most popular forms of boating around Ireland, and the country has numerous harbours, docks and clubs that cater to boaters.
If you’re more adventurous, you might want to try out sea kayaking. Companies like Atlantic Sea Kayaking in Cork and Saoírse Na Mara Sea Kayaking in Mayo offer courses for beginners and trips where you can get up close to the stark Cliffs of Moher and other iconic sections of the Irish coastline.
People are often surprised when they find out there is surfing here, but actually Ireland is one of Europe’s best surfing destinations. I personally believe that is because surfers are completely mad and Ireland has some of the roughest, coldest sea out there.
The town of Bundoran in Co. Donegal is easily the top surfing spot in the country, with companies like TurfnSurf Lodge & Surf School, Bundoran Surf Co. and Surfworld Bundoran offering lessons, equipment and much-needed wetsuits to the droves of hang-tenners that descend on the village each year.
The Irish have a strong equestrian heritage and a general knack with horses, which is good for beginners that are romanced by the idea of a castle-to-castle trail ride through the wilds of Ireland. If you fancy a gallop down a beach, this is the place. Riding vacations in Ireland can range from the aforementioned multi-day trail rides across country, to stable-based riding holidays where you chill out in a historic stone lodge or castle and enjoy riding lessons each day. Equestrian Holidays Ireland has loads of info on riding excursions around the country.
Arguably the most spectacular horseback riding trail in Ireland is the elusive Connemara Trail, which goes essentially from just outside Galway City to Clifden, crossing the rough-edged beaches and coarse hills of the southern side of Connemara.
I have a lot of respect for you cyclists, but you are a mad, mad lot. Either way, I know you love Ireland and it is indeed a good place to cycle. Most of that is because of the cool climate and low altitude (the highest peak in the country, Carrauntoohil, is only 1,038 meters high, and I seriously doubt the viability of it as a cycling destination). There is also considerably less traffic on Irish roads, especially those teeny back-country ones, so cyclists can generally have plenty of space to do their thing.
Even if you aren’t enough of a pro to pack your own bike, you can hire one from companies like Irish Cycle Hire and Ireland Rent a Bike, and these lads can also give you info on good routes, maps and accommodations along the way. And CycleNI has info on routes and bike hire in Northern Ireland. Just beware – rain gear is not included.