This island is Europe’s best kept adventure secret

From the Westeros Bike Trail around the Old Castle Ward Demesne, better known as Winterfell Castle to Game of Thrones fans, to climbing sea stakes with the world’s only professional sea climber. People are raving about Ireland, the emerging adventure capital of Europe. If you think seeing is believing, wait until you try some or all of these unique Irish adventures, from mild to wild.

Howth Cliff Walks

Bailey's Lighthouse from Howth Cliff Walk
Photo: Jen Coleman.

Our first uniquely Irish adventure is a stroll through the gentle coastal town of Howth (rhymes with two), on the north side of Dublin Bay. It is located outside Dublin city and is easily accessible by car or DART train. Once you arrive, you’ll find four iconic walks around the Hill of Howth, offering spectacular views of Dublin Bay. Perhaps the most popular route is the 5-mile Cliff Path Loop, which takes in the upper and lower cliff paths.

Kayaking Strangford Lough

Strangford Lough Kayaking Ireland
Photo: Jennifer Coleman.

Heading up the coast towards Northern Ireland, you reach Strangford Lough, one of the largest sea inlets in the British Isles. It has over 58 square kilometers of water with amazingly idyllic flat water conditions. It is also a marine nature reserve and a special conservation area that protects and preserves more than 2,000 species of wildlife.

You can check out the seals sunbathing on the shore while you paddle in the same waters that St. Patrick used to return to Ireland. If you want to double-dip on St. Patrick, you can visit his grave in nearby Downpatrick.

Rougey Cliff Walk

Rogey Cliff Walk Fairy Bridges and Wishing Chair Bundoran - Wild Atlantic Way
Photo: Jen Coleman.

The Rougey Cliff Walk in Bundoran is a gentler activity to take part in and a great segue to a bit of Irish history. The Pale was a strip of land centered around Dublin controlled by English kings in the late Middle Ages, marking the historical edge of English legal and cultural subjection. Hence the phrase, beyond the pale. Geographically, the Rugi Rocks are about as far from the Pale as you can get. The wilds of western Ireland retained their cultural identity through centuries of English occupation, including the preservation of the Irish language and belief in fairies.

Unsurprisingly, the Rougey Cliff Walk features two distinctive fairy-tale features: Fairy Bridges and the Wishing Chair.

Cycling the Great Western Greenway

Cycling the Great Western Greenway in Ireland
Photo: Jen Coleman.

Along the coast you’ll find more Irish adventures in County Mayo. Many people come to explore the moors and dark skies of Wild Nephin National Park, but if you want to escape to the Irish countryside, consider a walk along the country’s growing network of greenways. We drove the Great Western Greenway, Ireland’s first Greenway, which runs 27 miles around Clew Bay in County Mayo. The first section opened in 2010 from Newport to Mulranny. Since then, it has won many prestigious awards, including being named “one of the top three bike trails in the world” by The New York Times.

Walking in the Burren

Buren National Park with guide Tony Kirby
Photo: Jen Coleman.

The Burren is a fascinating karst landscape centered around County Clare, where every stone and blade of grass tells a story. There was always a precious little topsoil covering the surface limestone, which was completely eroded by the Late Bronze Age due to agriculture and environmental changes. One of the largest collections of open limestone pavements in Europe remains in its place.

You’ll find oddities such as arctic-alpine and Mediterranean plants living side by side and low-impact pastoral methods used to control the spread of invasive shrubs. It is home to Neolithic sites such as the Poulnabrone dolmen and the Burren National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the nearby Cliffs of Moher.

Coasting at Ballyhornan

Coasteering at Ballyhornan Ireland
Photo: Ed Coleman.

Clear Sky Adventure Center runs canyoning trips with cliff jumping up to 25 minutes, beach swims and water exploration of sea caves. It’s an extreme adventure suitable for any group. Their website states: “You don’t have to jump in, but most people like to try the smaller ones, and you don’t even have to swim under the care of our expert guides, so no excuses!”

If jumping off a cliff isn’t cool enough, the center is located in the Old Castle Ward Demesne, better known as Winterfell Castle to Game of Thrones fans. You take an archery lesson from a costumed instructor in the forecourt of Winterfell Castle or ride the Westeros Bike Trail at 20 GOT filming locations on the castle grounds.

Hiking Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park Ireland
Photo: Ed Coleman.

Connemara National Park is a free attraction and destination for hikers who want to challenge themselves to the top of Diamond Hill. The 4.2-mile loop trail is generally hiked clockwise to best manage the steep descent from the summit. There is some debate as to whether the name Diamond Hill comes from the shape of the peak or the quartzite flakes you’ll see on the sparkling trail.

Cycling in Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park Ireland
Photo: Ed Coleman.

After crossing over Northern Ireland you reach the Wild Atlantic Way. Glenveagh National Park lies in the heart of the Derryvig Mountains in northwest Donegal. If you’re feeling mild, you can take a bus from the visitor center to the castle. If you’re feeling a little wild, hire a bike or walk the length of the loch (Lough Veagh) through Mulangore Wood to see the towering Astelleen Burn waterfall.

Unique climbs on Krut Island

Unique climbs on the Isle of Croat, Ireland
Photo: Ed Coleman.

Krut Island is 20 miles west of Glenway National Park, but it feels like it’s a million miles from nowhere. Adventure travelers travel to this remote northwest corner of Ireland because it’s where granite meets the sea, meaning world-class climbing with incredible views. 80% of Ireland’s marked climbing routes are in this region and they are incredibly underdeveloped and unexplored. Iain Miller, the world’s only professional sea climber and owner of Unique Ascent, says that if you climb a new route every day, it will take you 15 lives before you exhaust the first ascents.

Surfing Rossnowlagh

James travels in Ireland via James Garvey
Photo by James Garvey.

This Irish coastline is known as the Cold Water Hawaii because they have waves to suit every surfer from beginner to advanced. James, owner and operator of Rossnowlagh Surf School, explained how the slope at Rossnowlagh Beach creates a uniform and consistent wave with minimal rip currents. Between October and March, a large tidal wave forms at nearby Malaghmore Head that can reach heights of over 60′. There’s something uniquely Irish about surfing, where the North Atlantic current hits Europe for the first time in the shadow of Clasiebaun Castle.

Read the full article with a full interactive map here. Dozens of unique Irish adventures from mild to wild

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