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20 winter walks in Ireland you can do within two hours

With lockdown loosened, we’re free to travel again within our counties. It’s the perfect excuse for a winter walk, says Adrian Hendroff

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The Ben Bulben Forest walk in Sligo is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of the mighty Benbulben. Photo: Sligo Tourism

The Ben Bulben Forest walk in Sligo is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of the mighty Benbulben. Photo: Sligo Tourism

Family fun outdoors. Photo: Adrian Hendroff

Family fun outdoors. Photo: Adrian Hendroff

Oulart, Co Wexford. Photo: Lorraine O'Dwyer, Gallivanting.ie

Oulart, Co Wexford. Photo: Lorraine O'Dwyer, Gallivanting.ie

Bertra, Co Mayo. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Bertra, Co Mayo. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Portumna Castle and Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Portumna Castle and Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Photo: Fáílte Ireland

Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Photo: Fáílte Ireland

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The Ben Bulben Forest walk in Sligo is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of the mighty Benbulben. Photo: Sligo Tourism

Now that we can travel again in our counties, and with country-wide travel possible from December 18, here are 20 great winter walks around Ireland, all doable within a family-friendly two hours.

1. Sheep’s Head, Co Cork

Best for: Seascapes, kids aged 8-12, teens

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There’s an edge-of-the-world feel to the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse Loop. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

There’s an edge-of-the-world feel to the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse Loop. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

There’s an edge-of-the-world feel to the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse Loop. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan


Hike: There’s an edge-of-the-world feel to the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse Loop. Bring along a copy of Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘The Peninsula’ (it’s an epithet for the area), and soak up wild coastal views throughout the fully signposted route — stay away from cliff edges, though. As vistas go, you’re spoilt for choice with Mizen Head to the south and the rugged Beara Peninsula to the north. You’ll pass the shores of picturesque Lough Akeen, then after a helipad you’ll see the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse on a slope below. If your kids love sunsets, you’re in the right place here.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 4km; 1-2 hours

Get there: Follow Sheep’s Head signage from Kilcrohane, continuing around 9km to the car park at the western tip (Grid: V 733 340). Then follow the blue arrows.

Pack: Hiking boots, layers, waterproofs, snacks, drinks. Helen Fairbairn’s Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way guidebook is useful, or find the trail map at sportireland.ie/outdoors

Refuel: For snacks and coffees, try the White House Gallery café (thewhitehouse.gallery) around two minutes’ drive southwest of Kilcrohane.

2. Benbulben Forest, Co Sligo

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The Ben Bulben Forest walk in Sligo is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of the mighty Benbulben. Photo: Sligo Tourism

The Ben Bulben Forest walk in Sligo is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of the mighty Benbulben. Photo: Sligo Tourism

The Ben Bulben Forest walk in Sligo is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of the mighty Benbulben. Photo: Sligo Tourism


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Best for: Poetic souls, younger walkers aged 4-12

Hike: This is an easy but rewarding trail under the shadow of mighty Benbulben, one of Ireland’s most iconic mountains. You’ll get sublime views of the deep gullies and fluted buttresses of this mighty limestone peak, sometimes compared to South Africa’s Table Mountain. You’re looking at its north facing escarpment, so it will hold snow if Sligo gets a wintry blast. As the trail loops around, try and spot Classiebawn Castle on the Mullaghmore peninsula while taking in amazing views of Donegal Bay as far out as the imposing sea-cliffs of Slieve League. Since this is Yeats Country, it might be fitting to recite some of W.B. Yeats’ poetry to your kids — try ‘Under Ben Bulben’.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: 5.5km; 1.5 hours

Get there: Take the N15 north out of Sligo. Around 2.5km after passing Drumcliffe (where Yeats is buried), lookout for a junction signposted Barnaribbon beside a thatched cottage. Turn right there and continue straight (ignore a right-hand turn) for just over a kilometre to reach Gortarowey car park. Then follow the red way-markers.

Pack: Sturdy walking shoes, layers, waterproofs, snacks, hot flask. See sligowalks.ie for info and a trail map.

Refuel: You and your kids will love Davis’s Restaurant at the Yeats Tavern (yeatstavernrestaurant.com) in Drumcliffe.

3. Paddock Hill, Co Wicklow

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Family fun outdoors. Photo: Adrian Hendroff

Family fun outdoors. Photo: Adrian Hendroff

Family fun outdoors. Photo: Adrian Hendroff


Best for: Kids aged 6-12; spotting glacial erratics

Hike: Across the road from the parking spot you’ll see a Yellow Man signpost showing the Wicklow Way (a popular long-distance walking route). Follow this along a track which later dwindles to a path that snakes uphill. Once you’re out of the trees, continue on a steeper slope then later veer left when you’re facing a spruce forest. After around 300m, leave the Wicklow Way, branching left at the first junction. The stretch from here to the unmarked top of Paddock Hill (it takes around 15 minutes) is decorated with erratics — large rocks and boulders transported by a glacier during the ice age. If your kids are into orienteering, try and locate the nearby Gossan Stones (Grid: T 145 988), a pair of ancient standing stones. The views of Scarr, Tonelagee and the south Wicklow hills are fabulous, and you may see them covered in snow if you’re lucky.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time:
4km; 1.5-2 hours

Get there: From the N11, take the R755 in the direction of Glendalough. Around 4km after Annamoe, you’ll reach Glendalough Green on the right. A car park is on the left, less than a kilometre up the R115/Military Road (Grid: T 140 975).

Pack: Layers, waterproofs, snacks, water, fully charged phone, East West Lugnaquilla & Glendalough 1:25,000 map.

Refuel:
Pop into the best café and deli in the area at Glendalough Green (glendaloughgreen.com) — try their delicious homemade cakes!

4. Glenbarrow Loop Walk, Co Laois

Best for:
Nature-lovers, younger kids and teens

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The Glenbarrow Loop Walk trail takes you along the River Barrow, the second longest in Ireland

The Glenbarrow Loop Walk trail takes you along the River Barrow, the second longest in Ireland

The Glenbarrow Loop Walk trail takes you along the River Barrow, the second longest in Ireland

Hike: The Waterfall Loop trail takes you through a lovely part of the Slieve Blooms. Follow the blue arrows on a surfaced trail ladened with railway sleepers and wooden handrails in places. As you walk under the shadowy pine forest keep an eye out for squirrels. The trail takes you along the River Barrow, the second longest in Ireland. It’s old too, with its sandstone river bed dating back 350 million years. After rainfall or a spell of snow, there’ll be mini-waterfalls and cascades everywhere. The highlight is the picturesque, three-tiered Clamp Hole Waterfall; keep an eye out for dippers on the rocks here. Above the waterfall, you’ll find holly and willow trees — symbolic for the season. Deciduous leaves have fallen, so it’s easier to spot wild birds such as the goldcrest, wood warbler and robin.

Level: Moderate. It gets fairly steep and rocky near the waterfall, so take care with younger kids

Length/Time: There are several looped walks here, but kids will love the Waterfall Loop (7km; 2 hours). slievebloom.ie/walking/glenbarrow

Get there: After a 25-minute drive from Portlaoise via the N80 and R422 to Rosenallis, follow Glenbarrow signposts to the trailhead and car park (Grid: N 367 081).

Pack: Hiking boots as it can be muddy especially after rain or snow — mind the wet tree roots too. A pair of binoculars will be useful for bird-spotting.

Refuel: Tasty bakes with tea/coffee (takeaways too) at Kelly Lou café (kellylou.com) at Kealew Business Park and Parkside Shopping Centre in Portlaoise.

5. Oulart Hill, Co Wexford

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Oulart, Co Wexford. Photo: Lorraine O'Dwyer, Gallivanting.ie

Oulart, Co Wexford. Photo: Lorraine O'Dwyer, Gallivanting.ie

Oulart, Co Wexford. Photo: Lorraine O'Dwyer, Gallivanting.ie


Suits: History buffs, multi-gen groups

Hike: A great battle took place here in 1798, when a few thousand rebels defeated a militia detachment; along the Cosán na Glóire (Path of Glory) you’ll pass several engraved stones to remember this. On the top of the hill you’ll find the Tulach a’ tSolais (Mound of Light), a commemorative monument loosely based on Newgrange. Kids will love exploring the narrow passageway that slices through the grassy burial mound. One of the looped walks is named after Jean Kennedy Smith, who turned the first sod here in the late 1990s and planted a Tree of Liberty nearby too. All the walks are signposted and there’s a panoramic viewpoint complete with information boards. Check out also Father Murphy’s well, the House of Stories, a medieval coach road and the curiously named hamlet, The Unyoke.

Level: Easy to moderate

Length/Time: Three walks ranging from 0.5-10km (taking around 15 minutes to 2.5 hours).

Get there: The Oulart trailhead is off the R741. Exit the M11 at Junction 23 following signs for Ballycanew. Around 14km after Ballycanew, turn right into Oulart at the crossroads to reach the GAA grounds. The hill itself is Grid: T 084 412.

Pack: Download a trail brochure and map from oularthill.ie (there’s one at the car park by the GAA grounds as well).

Refuel: Burgers or a Sunday roast at the Alamo in the Riverside Park Hotel 20 minutes away in Enniscorthy. riversideparkhotel.com

6. Slievenamon, Co Tipperary

Best for: Folklore, kids aged 8-12 and teens

Hike: This solitary peak rises from the Suir plains to 721m. This is County Tipperary, so you might want to sing the Kickham-penned ballad ‘Slievenamon’ on the way up. The summit is crowned by a standing stone and an ancient burial cairn, said to be a gateway to the Celtic underworld. It’s also steeped in folklore associated with Fionn MacCumhaill and Bodhbh Dearg… read it up and squeeze a bit of storytelling in. Save this for a clear day as the all-round view is sublime — you’ll see plains leading to distant hills, hopefully covered with snow.

Level: Moderate/Hard

Length/Time: 6km; 2.5 hours

Get there: Take the N24/N76 from Clonmel and turn left for Ballypatrick after 10km. Turn right at the crossroad then follow signs for Slievenamon Summit. Park by the roadside beside an entrance to a stony lane above Kilcash (Grid: S 317 288) providing access to the hillside. Follow it then swing right uphill after passing two gates.

Pack: Hiking boots, layers, waterproofs, head-torch, snacks, water, fully charged phone. A copy of John O’Dwyer’s guidebook The Comeragh, Galtee, Knockmealdown and Slieve Bloom Mountains, is useful here.

Refuel: There’s a kids menu at The Bunker (thebunkerrestaurant.ie) in Clonmel, they’ll love the BBQ chicken wings, while parents can feast on a steak on the stone.

7. Mahon Falls, Co Waterford

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Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford


Best for: Cascades, multi-gen groups

Hike: Amaze your kids by switching off your car’s engine and put it into neutral at the fairy tree — as if by magic you’ll find it reversing uphill! The way to the falls is obvious from the parking spot and there’s a gravel path for most of the way (I’ve seen families with buggies). The glaciated valley and its impressive cliffs light up during the early morning when the sun hits it from the southeast. It’s best visited after a night of heavy rain, when the falls are at their best and mini-cascades tumble down crags, perhaps surrounded by snowy cliffs — a slice of festive heaven! The kids will love the wandering sheep in their winter coats too.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: 2.5km; allow around 30 minutes each way.

Get there: From Carrick-on-Suir, take the R676 towards Dungarvan for around 18km to Mahon Bridge. Turn right following signs for Mahon Falls and immediately right again. Next turn right after around 2km through an entrance with a cattle grid. This is known as the ‘magic road’ (Grid: S 314 080) with a solitary fairy tree around 150m further. From here, continue for another 2km uphill to reach a large car-park.

Pack: A winter picnic — the cascades at the base of the falls are a great place for it! Some extra layers and waterproofs will also be handy in case the weather turns.

Refuel: Food and beverages at Kiersey’s Bar & Tearoom (Facebook: @kierseysbarandtearoom) in Kilmacthomas.

8. Bray Head, Valentia, Co Kerry

Best for: Star Wars fans, kids aged 4-12

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The best views from Bray Head in Valentia, Co Kerry are from the 19th-century signal tower

The best views from Bray Head in Valentia, Co Kerry are from the 19th-century signal tower

The best views from Bray Head in Valentia, Co Kerry are from the 19th-century signal tower

Hike: Foilhomurrin Bay is a pretty alcove giving fine views of Horse and Long Island. Three-quarters of the way up, on grassy slopes south of the access track, explore the remains of drystone buildings from early Christian times. The best views are from the 19th-century signal tower which includes all of Valentia, dramatic sea-cliffs and islands. Point out the Skelligs to your kids, they might better recognise it as Luke Skywalker’s island sanctuary on the planet Ahch-To in Star Wars. The sunset is great from here in the winter.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 5km; 2 hours

Get there: Approach from the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge at Portmagee. Turn left at the top of the road after the bridge. Continue for around 1.6km and turn left at a junction by Foilhomurrin Bay to reach a large car park (Grid: V 351 738).

Pack: Snacks, hot flask, layers, waterproofs, head-torch, a camera. Download the trail map from sportireland.ie/outdoors or a detailed description in Adrian Hendroff’s guidebook Killarney to Valentia Island.

Refuel: Fresh seafood at The Moorings (moorings.ie) — where Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill poured his pint of Guinness. For desserts and a cuppa, try Smuggler’s Café (smugglerscafe.ie).

9. North Bull Island Loop, Co Dublin

Best for: Wild birds, beach lovers, multigen groups

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If you’re feeling energetic, wander along the North Bull Wall while soaking the views across Dublin harbour

If you’re feeling energetic, wander along the North Bull Wall while soaking the views across Dublin harbour

If you’re feeling energetic, wander along the North Bull Wall while soaking the views across Dublin harbour

Hike: For your best chance of spotting birds on the saltmarsh, arrive 1-2 hours before high tide when they push closer to the causeway. In winter, you’ll find flocks of geese and godwits that migrate here from northerly latitudes. Kids will be fascinated with the murmuration of thousands of waders over the mudflats in the late evening. The sandy stretch of Dollymount beach is always a delight to walk on whatever the tides but in winter the sunset to the southwest can be absolutely compelling. If you’re feeling energetic, wander along the North Bull Wall while soaking the views across Dublin harbour to Poolbeg.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: The full loop from Causeway Road, Dollymount Strand, North Bull Wall and back along Clontarf Road is 9km (2-2.5 hours).

Get there: From Alfie Byrne Road, head east for around 4.5km along Clontarf Road before turning right into Causeway Road — park somewhere midway along here. It can be busy at weekends/public holidays.

Pack: A book on Ireland’s birds, kid will find it fun identifying them; no harm bringing binoculars or a long camera lens too. Bring extra layers — those sea winds are deceptive.

Refuel: Hot chocolate for the kids at Happy Out (happyout.ie) at the Bull Wall. They also do specialty coffees as well.

10. Glanteenassig Woods, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry

Best for: Adventure, multi-gen groups

Hike: Get ready to be wowed in a stunning landscape of woodland, lake and mountains. In this glaciated valley you’ll walk under ancient rocks, some 350 million years old. A splash of wintry snow will give the spruce and pine trees here a Christmassy look. Choose your trail from either a river walk (1km) near Lough Slat, before heading down to the lake to check out the imposing crag of Carrignaspaniagh (Spaniards Rock), or the Lough Caum Loop (2km) bounded by mountains. Time your visit after heavy rainfall and you’ll see waterfalls tumble down cliff-faces at both lakes — it’s like a scene out of The Lost World.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: Various trails from 30 minutes to an hour.

Get there: Take the N86/R560 from Tralee. Turn left into a road signed Glanteenassig Woods soon after passing the Seven Hogs. Continue for around 4km then turn right into a Coillte Recreation Area (note its closing time). Drive up the road and park either by Lough Slat or Lough Caum.

Pack: Download a trail map from coillte.ie/site/glanteenassig

Refuel: Pop into the Seven Hogs (traleebay.com) for delicious food and stunning sea views.

11. Kilronan Castle Woodland Trail, Co Roscommon

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Kilronan Castle

Kilronan Castle

Kilronan Castle


Best for: Romantics, families with kids

Hike: Once the stately home of the King-Tenison family, this 19th-century castle has been rebooted as a luxury hotel and spa. It’s a romantic destination in a secluded location, where the family can enjoy a lovely forest walk along the northern shore of Lough Meelagh. Red trail signage will take you along woodland paths as far as Doon Point on the lake’s western fringes. There’s an abundance of wildlife to look out for in the woods including deer, foxes, squirrels, finches, robins and blue tits. The lake is great for reflections and mist on a crisp, windless winter morning. The kids will love the swans flitting along the water.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: 4.5km; 1-1.5 hours

Get there: Leave the N4 round 8km west of Carrick-On-Shannon, turning right onto the R285 toward Keadew. Continue for 11km before turning left into the R284 to reach Kilronan Castle’s entrance 1.5km further.

Pack: Download the trail map on irishtrails.ie or ask at hotel reception.

Refuel: Afternoon tea next to the piano at Kilronan Castle Estate & Spa (kilronancastle.ie), depending on lockdown restrictions of course.

12. Ballyvaughan Wood Loop, Co Clare

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An autumn sunrise at the Burren, County Clare. Photo: Carsten Krieger

An autumn sunrise at the Burren, County Clare. Photo: Carsten Krieger

An autumn sunrise at the Burren, County Clare. Photo: Carsten Krieger


Best for: Kids aged 6-12

Hike: The word Burren comes from Boíreann, meaning ‘rocky place’. Its karstscape is lunar-like, bleak, grey, unique, timeless. Halfway along this looped walk and soon after passing Aillwee Cave, you’ll appreciate the folded limestone strata, ribboned rocky crevices and mosaic limestone cliffs. If it snows, you’re in for a treat. The rest of the route takes you along quiet country lanes, quaint thatched cottages, stone forts, tiny fields and open farmland — just follow the purple arrows. Aillwee Cave, one of Ireland’s oldest, is worth a 30-minute extension. Experienced guides will take you into this beautiful cavern to see its stalactites and stalagmites. There’s a Bird of Prey Centre here too offering flying displays and hawk walks.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 8km; 2 hours

Get there: The trailhead is located around 250m along the R477 from Ballyvaughan at the southern end of the harbour. Find a trail map at burren.ie

Pack: The trail can be muddy in places when wet, so bring boots. The Wild Atlantic weather can also be changeable so bring extra layers and waterproofs.

Refuel: Discover what ‘fresh’ is all about at the Wildflower Restaurant in the Wild Atlantic Lodge (thewildatlanticlodge.com). There are tea rooms at Aillwee Cave (aillweecave.ie).

13. Three Rock Mountain and Fairy Castle, Co Dublin

Best for: Views, kids aged 4-12 or teens

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Horses on top of Carrickologan overlooking Wicklow and Killiney, Dublin

Horses on top of Carrickologan overlooking Wicklow and Killiney, Dublin

Horses on top of Carrickologan overlooking Wicklow and Killiney, Dublin

Hike: I’m fortunate to have Three Rock as my local hill, with its masts just over an hour’s walk from my front door. From its huge, granite outcrops (there are three, hence the name), you’ll get an exceptional panorama of the city. It’s Dublin’s version of Cave Hill in Belfast and is easily reached: from the car park, just follow the forest road up to the masts and outcrops. Once you get there, you can also go further uphill to bag the 536m top of Fairy Castle. Its crowning glory is a huge circular cairn; be respectful as it is said to house a megalithic burial chamber. You’ll see it all from up here — the sea and all of the Dublin and north Wicklow hills, the city and its iconic Poolbeg chimneys, Howth, Ireland’s Eye, Lambay Island and on a clear day even the Mournes. If you hear ‘go-back, go-back’ calls, it’s not a hill fairy but red grouse, a bird of heather commonly found in these parts.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 5.5km; 2 hours

Get there: From Sandyford, head southwest along the R113/Hillcrest Road, then straight through the crossroad onto Blackglen Road. Around 650m after passing Lamb Doyles, turn left into a road signed Ticknock. Follow this straight uphill for 1.5km to reach the entrance for Ticknock Forest (note its closing time). Turn left and follow the forest drive uphill to a large lay-by and trailhead at the top (O 170 240).

Pack: Good walking shoes, layers, waterproofs, snacks and water — all the winter walking essentials.

Refuel: Soup and sandwiches at Ground Café (groundcafe.ie) in Sandyford Village — they have a kids menu too.

14. Portumna Forest Park, Co Galway

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Portumna Castle and Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Portumna Castle and Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Portumna Castle and Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland


Best for: Kids and teens with an interest in wildlife

Hike: The forest park is spread out over 450 hectares along Lough Derg’s northern shores. It’s a great place to go for a wander under tall evergreen trees such as Scots pine, Monterey cypress and Norwegian spruce — even better if there are snowflakes falling. There’s also areas of scrub, marsh, ponds and numerous little islands on the lake — so lots to explore. In winter, most of the deciduous tree branches will be bare, making it easier to spot any wild birds (85 species breed here), and you can use one of the bird hides to spy on wintering waterfowls, mute swans and if you’re lucky perhaps a white-tailed sea eagle. The woodlands are also home to mammals such as the pygmy shrew, badger, fox, pine marten, red squirrel and a large herd of fallow deer. It’d make a great photo if you spotted one of these in the snow.

Level: Easy to moderate

Length/Time: Four trails of varying length: Forest Friendly (1.4km; 20 mins), Woodland (2km; 30 mins), Rinmaher (10km; 2-2.5 hours) and Bonaveen (10.5km; 2.5 hours).

Get there: The forest park is located off the N65 (Loughrea to Borrisokane road) in Portumna. Follow signs for Portumna Forest Park about 1.5km outside town.

Pack: Good walking shoes, layers, snack, drink, hot flask. Binoculars or a long camera lens for wildlife. Download a trail map from visitportumna.com/sdforestpark.html

Refuel: Blas Café (Facebook: @Blas.Portumna) or Café Rose along Clonfert Avenue in Portumna.

15. Bertra Beach Walk, Co Mayo

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Bertra, Co Mayo. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Bertra, Co Mayo. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Bertra, Co Mayo. Photo: Fáilte Ireland


Best for: Beach walks, toddlers, multi-gen groups

Hike: With Croagh Patrick looming above and the lapping waters of Clew Bay, there’s something really magical about this stretch of beach. The walk along its sandy fringes to the end of the narrow peninsula is intensely invigorating. The route’s straightforward: just circle in a clockwise direction then later cross the narrow split of dunes. Mid or low tide is safest and best for toddlers or younger kids. From the northeast tip of the peninsula, you’ll get the most spectacular view of Croagh Patrick — sunset in the winter months can produce vivid colours in the sky in the direction of the mountain, even sweeter if its sugar-coated with snow. From up on the dune, you’ll get to appreciate Clew Bay and its jigsaw of drumlins. Tell your kids there are 365 islands, one for every day of the year.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: 4km; an hour (but can be shortened)

Get there: Take the R335 out of Westport toward Murrisk, pass the village then turn right into Bertra Road around 2km later, following signs for Bertra Strand/Beach.

Pack: Wellies if the tide is high. A camera. Extra layers and waterproofs as the Wild Atlantic weather can be changeable.

Refuel: There’s a pretty extensive menu at the Tavern (tavernmurrisk.com) in Murrisk — they do kids meals too.

16. Coliemore Harbour and Sorrento, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Best for: Buggies, toddlers, celeb-spotters, sunrise

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Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Photo: Fáílte Ireland

Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Photo: Fáílte Ireland

Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Photo: Fáílte Ireland


Hike: With its colourful boats and views out to Dalkey Island, this cosy harbour is one I can wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a perfect spot to usher in the dawn, with the sun rising later in the weeks before and after Christmas. Film star and lockdown legend Matt Damon recently fell in love with this place, and residents include Bono, The Edge, Enya and Van Morrison — so who knows who you might spot. Pop into Dillon’s Park as well for a look at its gnarled trees and sea views. Finish at the viewpoint atop Sorrento Park (buggies can only get halfway up to its balcony/bandstand) where you can appreciate all the little Dalkey islands, the rocket-shaped Muglins Lighthouse and the impressive coastal panorama towards Bray Head.

Level: Easy

Length/Time: 1.5km; 30 minutes but allow extra for the views

Get there: From Dalkey Dart station, head southeast along Sorrento Road for around 800m to pass the Vico Road junction. Continue straight and, if driving, park anywhere along the roadside adjacent Sorrento Park.

Pack: Some snacks and water should do for this short stroll. Don’t forget your camera too.

Refuel: A local favourite, the Corner Note (thecornernotecafe.ie) is a lovely little café with quirky charm and delicious food.

17. Loughsalt Mountain, Co Donegal

Best for: Snow, teens

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Once you reach the summit of the 469m Loughsalt Mountain in Co Donegal, you’ll be overlooking all of Lough Salt, its plains and moorland

Once you reach the summit of the 469m Loughsalt Mountain in Co Donegal, you’ll be overlooking all of Lough Salt, its plains and moorland

Once you reach the summit of the 469m Loughsalt Mountain in Co Donegal, you’ll be overlooking all of Lough Salt, its plains and moorland

Hike: It is reputed that the bottom of teardrop-shaped Lough Salt is a crater of an extinct volcano. It’s certainly one of the deepest in Ireland. Climb the slopes to the right of the lake from a lay-by at its southern end. The 469m summit (struck by a meteor in 1821) is graced by a trig point, two cairns, a cross and a pile of rock. Once there you’ll be overlooking all of Lough Salt, its plains and moorland. You’ll see Lough Greenan too and all the way across to Inishowen, over to the Blue Stacks and towards Errigal and Muckish further west. This is Ireland’s far northwest which normally has its fair share of the white stuff in winter — so perfect for building a snowman on the way down.

Level: Difficult. Save this for a clear, dry winter’s day as the views are sublime.

Length/Time: 3.5km; 2 hours

Get there: Head northwest on the N56 from Kilmacrenan for 4km then turn right into a road signed Lough Salt Drive. Later at the T-junction, turn left and follow the road for 3km to park at a small lay-by before the southern end of Lough Salt (Grid: C 122 255). If this is full, there’s another larger car park around 700m further on.

Pack: Hiking boots, layers, waterproofs, head-torch, snacks, water, hot flask, fully charged phone.

Refuel: At the Quiet Moment tearooms (quietmoment.ie) on the top of Letterkenny’s Main Street — you’ll love the charming features created with a Bewley’s atmosphere in mind.

18. Castlewellan Forest Park, Co Down

Best for: Sunday outings, multi-gen groups

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With a castle, lake, garden, pond, woods and hills, the Castlewellan Forest Park is a very popular destination in Co Down

With a castle, lake, garden, pond, woods and hills, the Castlewellan Forest Park is a very popular destination in Co Down

With a castle, lake, garden, pond, woods and hills, the Castlewellan Forest Park is a very popular destination in Co Down

Hike: With a castle, lake, garden, pond, woods and hills, this is a very popular forest park in Northern Ireland. There are a number of trails to explore and you can do as much or as little as you want. Stroll along the lakeside, explore the castle or if you’re feeling energetic, bag the 272m top of Slievenaslat. At the latter you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping panorama of the (if you’re lucky, snow-capped) Mourne Mountains. See if you can find the ruins of the Moorish Tower, a 19th-century folly tucked in the woods. Kids will love the twisting passages of the Peace Maze too — there’s a bell at the end if you complete it.

Level: Easy/Moderate

Length/Time: Walking trails range from 2-5km (allow around 30 mins to 1.5 hours)

Start/Finish: Castlewellan Forest Park (note closing time).

Get there: From Newcastle, take the A50 to Castlewellan town. There, turn right at the T-junction followed by a left to enter the Forest Park at Castle Avenue. Follow signs for the main car park (£5 fee to park) in front of the Grange Courtyard.

Pack: Layers, snacks, drinks, a hot flask. More trail info at discovernorthernireland.com

Refuel: Maginns Bar (maginnsbar.com) in Castlewellan main street, they’ve a children’s menu too.

19. Glenariff Forest Park, Co Antrim

Best for: Waterfalls, kids aged 6-12 or teens

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After a wet spell, the waterfalls will put on a spectacular display along the Glenariff Forest Park in Co Antrim. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland

After a wet spell, the waterfalls will put on a spectacular display along the Glenariff Forest Park in Co Antrim. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland

After a wet spell, the waterfalls will put on a spectacular display along the Glenariff Forest Park in Co Antrim. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland

Hike: Glenariff — the Queen of the Glens — is one of the nine Antrim glens in Northern Ireland. Its forest park covers over 800 hectares; visit during a spell of snow to see its conifer trees covered in a winter coat. There are a few trails to choose from, but best of the lot is the Waterfall Walk (3km; 1.5 hours). Drop down to a rocky gorge (the steepest places are fitted with a boardwalk and steps) to a hidden world. After a wet spell, the waterfalls will put on a spectacular display. Look out for red squirrel too amongst the trees and try the optional Rainbow Trail.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: Various trails from 1-9km; 15 mins to 2.5 hours

Get there: Access the Forest Park from the A43 Ballymena to Waterfoot road. Glenariff Forest Park (£5 fee to park, gates locked at dusk)

Pack: Sturdy walking shoes, a camera and waterproofs (the spray off waterfalls can be strong especially after rainfall or when windy). Download a trail map from walkni.com

Refuel: Laragh Lodge (laraghlodge.co.uk), halfway along the waterfall walk — does take-ways or a scrumptious Sunday lunch with gluten-free options.

20. Barnavave, Co Louth

Best for: Hikes for teens

Hike: Set off from the southern shores of Carlingford Lough. You’ll pass an old Norman castle before weaving through town then uphill on country lanes and later hillside paths. It’s steep going at first, but the ever-improving vistas stretching out below will motivate lively, young teens. Save this for a clear day; you won’t regret the summit view where you’ll get to marvel at Carlingford Lough in all its glory, framed by the shapely Slieve Foye and distant snow-capped mountains of Mourne. No wonder this landscape inspired C.S. Lewis’s magical world of Narnia.

Level: Moderate/Hard

Length/Time: 5.5km; 2.5 hours

Get there: Leave the M1 at Junction 18 taking the R173 and R175 to Carlingford. Start your walk at the car park by Carlingford Tourist Office, following Commons Loop waymarks initially then Yellow Man signs before veering off to the 350m summit when you see Barnavave Loop signposts in red.

Pack: Hiking boots, layers, waterproofs, head-torch, snacks, water, hot flask, fully charged phone. Pick up The Mourne and Cooley Mountains guidebook.

Refuel: Fish and chips at Ma Bakers Takeaway (on Old Quay Lane to the rear of Ma Baker’s pub) is a must — there’s nowhere else like it!

Adrian Hendroff has written several walking guides for The Collins Press, including Family Walks Around Dublin’. He also runs nationally accredited Mountain Skills courses (adrianhendroff.com)


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