The Irish Adventure Bucket List: 25 days out to try before you die!
Looking for a day out with a difference? Nicola Brady, Catherine Mack and Pól Ó Conghaile have 25 Irish adventures to try before you die!
Could Ireland be the next New Zealand?
Sure, we’re short on Alpine peaks, bungee jumps and... erm, sunshine. But we’ve got the Wild Atlantic Way, the GAA and bog snorkelling! Ireland doesn’t need to be the next anything.
It is what it is, and as countless thrillseekers, adrenaline junkies, solo, group and family travellers are discovering, the whole island is a natural playground of amazing potential.
1. Kayak into darkness in West Cork
Sea kayaking at night? Big time. The Starlight/Moonlight trips run by Atlantic Sea Kayaking are the stuff of local legend, as you noted when voting sea kayaking ‘Best Irish Adventure’ in our 2017 Reader Travel Awards. But don’t worry: it’s not total darkness. If you’re lucky, as dusk falls and you paddle out onto Lough Hyne or Castlehaven Bay, bioluminescent plankton will fizz into life beneath your boat, materialising like willowy splashes of the Northern Lights. If the night is clear, you’ll remember it forever — PÓC
Do it: atlanticseakayaking.com; €50pp for 2ƒ hour trips.
If you like that, try this: Kayak past sea caves, smugglers’ coves and Game of Thrones locations on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast (farandwild.org; from £40/€47 for a half day).
2. Climb a tree in Slane
Fancy feeling like you’re away with the birds? Try climbing to the top of an ancient oak tree at gorgeous Rock Farm in Co Meath… and don’t think it’s just for young ones or tree huggers. Climbing a tree is a wonderful (not to mention nostalgic) adventure, and here you do it both harnessed and helmeted, climbing up and abseiling down. The minimum age is eight, but there’s definitely no maximum. If ever there was an experience to Tweet about, this is it. You might need more than 140 characters though. — CM
Do it: rockfarmslane.ie; €39/€29 (over- eights only) for a two-hour experience.
If you like that, try this: Try Ireland’s longest over-water zip line at Castlecomer Discovery Park (discoverypark.ie; from €15), or one of Zipit’s treetop adventure courses in Cork, Roscommon and Dublin (zipit.ie; from €30/€15).
3. What’s SUP in Leitrim?
Stand-up paddleboarding has taken Ireland by storm, and there are more places than ever to hop on a board and take to the water. In contrast to many water sports, SUPing is all about taking things slow and appreciating your surroundings — it’s surprisingly easy to find your balance, too. The Shannon Blueway is the perfect place to get started, drifting down Leitrim’s peaceful rivers, surrounded by lush greenery — NB
Do it: leitrimsurf.ie; from €35pp.
If you like that, try this: Perfect your SUP skills near Dublin city with Aboveboard (aboveboard.ie), whose classes are held in Dún Laoghaire harbour.
4. Go from A-to-Zorb in Westport
Don’t do this with a hangover, although I can’t help thinking that whoever invented zorbing must have had a few pints (“I know — let’s strap people into a giant ball, put water in it and then push them down a big hill!”). Laugh all the way down the specially constructed hill in Westport House for a madcap but mighty experience. — CM
Do it: westporthouse.ie; from €18.
If you like that, try this: Just when you think it couldn’t get any madder, they invent body zorbing. Encase yourself in a ball and go bash someone in another ball. It’s a Tyrone thing (toddsleap.com).
5. Bog snorkel in Monaghan
It’s one of the most bonkers events in the country, and the Irish Bog Snorkelling Championship is showing no signs of slowing down. Held in September, the competition sees people from all over the world head to Monaghan, strap on a pair of goggles and snorkel their way down a 60m trail in a peat bog. Yes, really. It’s at Alice’s Loft & Cottages in Doohamlet, just outside Castleblayney. — NB
Do it: facebook.com/bogsnorkelling; €20pp to enter.
If you like that, try this: Rev up your engines and leap around the Monaghan countryside on a quad bike with Irish Country Quads (irishcountryquads.com).
6. Discover seaweed in the kingdom
Irish adventures don’t have to involve surfing slabs or abseiling down sea stacks. There’s wonder in the Wild Atlantic Way’s little things too, as I discovered on a shoreline walk with John Fitzgerald of Atlantic Irish Seaweed. Seaweed is “the most on-trend food thing we’ve seen in years,” John said, giving me a hands-on introduction to everything from bubbly bladderwrack to “the truffle of the sea” (that’ll be the peppery-pungent dulse, or dillisk). The workshops wind up with a tasting lunch. Seaweed champagne, anyone? — PÓC
Do it: atlanticirishseaweed.com; from €35pp, group rates on request.
If you like that, try this: Fancy tasting Ireland’s earliest takeaway? A nature walk with maritime archaeologist Auriel Robinson (seatrails.ie), followed by an al fresco meal of freshly harvested mussels, is just one of the treats on the Sligo Food Trail (sligofoodtrail.ie; €35/€10).
7. Catch some waves in Bundoran
How many times have you heard about the great surfing in Ireland, without giving it a try yourself? Make this the year you hop onto a board, and you won’t regret it. Head to Bundoran for beginner-friendly waves, with classes held by Bundoran Surf Co at the gorgeous Tullan Strand (kids can sign up for one of the popular surf camps held in the school holidays). In a few years’ time, you could even make like a pro and surf The Peak! — NB
Do it: bundoransurfco.com; from €35pp for lessons and gear.
If you like that, try this: Make your way to the other Irish surfing Mecca of Lahinch in Co Clare, and book in for a lesson with the Lahinch Surf School (lahinchsurfschool.com).
8. Raft on the River Boyne
There aren’t many activities in Ireland that get better the more it rains, but battling the rapids of the River Boyne is one. When the blood’s up, or the water levels are high, you’ll go speeding past ancient abbeys and castles in one of Ireland’s most historic landscapes. Not that you’ll have time to get too serious about heritage (you’ll be laughing too much). Get a group of four for guided trips between November and May. Rain-dependent. — CM
Do it: boynevalleyactivities.ie, €50pp.
If you like that, try this: Raft on the River Boyle with northwestadventure.ie, based in Ballinafad, Co Sligo. Similar river name, very different river. Rapids are Grade 2, but suitable for beginners.
9. Ride a horse on a wind-swept beach
Three of my favourite spots for riding on the beach are Cleggan in Connemara Co Galway; Achill Island in Co Mayo and Rathmullan in Co Donegal. They all welcome beginners. So, even if you can’t gallop the strands like something out of a movie, you can still experience the joys of beach riding and feeling the salt and wind in your hair. There are few things like it. — CM
Do it: In Cleggan, clegganridingcentre.com; in Achill, calveysofachill.com and in Rathmullan, Golden Sands Equestrian Centre (Tel: 074 915 8124).
If you like that, try this: My favourite inland riding is at Slieve Aughty (slieveaughtycentre.com) near Loughrea in Co Galway. Eco-, family- and just all-round friendly. With lovely accommodation too.
10. Mountain bike in Ballyhoura
If your experience of cycling involves commuting in the city or tootling around of a weekend, it’s time to give mountain biking a bash. Ballyhoura, shared by counties Cork and Limerick, has the largest trail network of its kind in the country, combined with a drop-dead gorgeous backdrop, so it’s the perfect place to start. Beginners are kept happy with the 6km Greenwood loop, but serious bikers will be in heaven on the demanding 51km Castlepook loop. You can rent bikes and gear from Trailriders… even Kimye stopped by on honeymoon. — NB
Do it: visitballyhoura.com, trailriders.ie; from €35 per day.
If you like that, try this: Go wild in the wonderful Wicklow Mountains with a ride at Ballinastoe (biking.ie) — it’s just 45 minutes from Dublin.
11. Go back to basics on a survival weekend
Who needs five-star hotels when you can spend a weekend striking flints, navigating by the stars and building your own shelter? Erm… that’s a rhetorical question. Clearly, we all have our comfort levels, but those with an inner Bear Grylls bursting to get out should take a dose of wilderness therapy. Check Lough Allen Adventure Centre in Ballinaglera, Co Leitrim, or the Living Wilderness Bushcraft School in Navan, Co Meath, for starters — you’ll be impressing with your axe skills and drinking nettle soup before you know it. — PÓC
Do it: loughallenadventure.com; bushcraft.ie; from around €195.
If you like that, try this: Kildare’s Carton House (cartonhouse.com) and the Radisson Farnham Estate (farnhamestate.ie) in Cavan run occasional Bear Grylls Survival Academies. Learn the essentials of ‘dynamic self-rescue’... before recuperating in a spa.
12. Wake up in Dublin
You don’t need to leave the capital to have an adventure. In the heart of the Dublin Docklands, in fact, you can strap yourself to a wakeboard and soar over the water, with nary a boat in sight. Cable wakeboarding is the hottest new thing in the watersports scene — it was even shortlisted for inclusion at the 2020 Olympics. Join a session at Wakedock at Grand Canal Dock and soon you’ll be somersaulting through the air (or, more likely, providing hilarious entertainment for Facebook and Airbnb staff on their lunch breaks). — NB
Do it: wakedock.ie; €60pp for a 30-minute lesson (gear included).
If you like that, try this: There are any number of waterski options at Watermark Wakeboard & Waterski Club (watermarkskiclub.com) in Lough Derg’s Terryglass Harbour, Co Tipperary — you can wakeboard, wakesurf or even try ski barefoot!
13. Get dirty on a Mud Run
If the thought of a simple run around the park leaves you snoring, get down and dirty with a mud run. You may have seen pictures from Tough Mudder — participants run 18km through an obstacle course of barbed wire, ice baths, shock wires and, of course, a hefty dose of mud. It’s the toughest Facebook profile pic you’ll ever earn. The only Irish event this year is being held on July 8–9 at Loughcrew Adventure Centre in Oldcastle, Co Meath. — NB
Do it: toughmudder.ie; €89/99
If you like that, try this: Push yourself to the limits with the Gaelforce West (gaelforceevents.com) event in June — head from Connemara to Westport by kayak, bike and foot.
14. Climb a sea stack in Donegal
They do things differently — and dramatically — in Donegal, and climbing the county’s magnificent sea stacks is as far out as it gets. Iain Miller, who probably has the most impressive CV in adventure leadership I have ever seen, is your guide to the remote and secret rocks around the Wild Atlantic Way — using kayaks and ropes to access these geological gems. Iain and his team are happy to teach anyone, even if you haven’t climbed before. — CM
Do it: uniqueascent.ie; rates depend on group sizes.
If you like that, try this: Bren Whelan’s Donegal Climbing (donegalclimbing.ie) offers epic rock-climbing trips at Malin Head from around €60pp.
15. Swim around Samphire Island
So, you’ve done the pier jumps and dipped in and out of the shallows. Now you want to swim in the wilds, without joining the triathlon brigade. What to do? Kerry-based Wild Water Adventures will take you on a guided swim around some of The Kingdom’s cutest coastal spots, mountain lakes or even around Great Samphire Island off Fenit. This is, quite simply, one of those adventure companies I want to marry. — CM
Do it: wildwateradventures.ie; prices from €60pp for a half-day tour.
If you like that, try this: Compete in the Escape from Ireland Howth Swim (howthaquathon.com; July). Because there are swimmers who like to race too…
16. Free-Fall in Connemara
If merely crossing a suspension bridge gives you the willies, then the SkyFall at Killary Adventure Co will scare you witless (or turn you into a budding 007). For, when you cross the rope bridge, you’re not safely on solid ground — you’re at the top of a tower with a 60ft shaft in the middle. The only way down? Stepping into the abyss. You’ll free-fall for a full 40ft before a gradual deceleration and a soft landing. — NB
Do it: killaryadventure.com; €46 for a three-hour experience.
If you like that, try this: Try your hand at openwater swimming with the Great Fjord Swim in Killary Fjord (gaelforceevents.com).
17. Take a hawk walk
Have you ever seen a bird of prey in full flight? It’s amazing... but what if you could see it up close, and even have it land on your leather glove? Well, you can, thanks to a growing number of birds-of-prey experiences in Ireland. ‘Hawk Walks’ see small groups take a stroll with falcons and having them fly and return to your hand. Try Ailwee Cave in Co Clare, Ashford Castle in Co Mayo and Galway’s Glenlo Abbey Hotel. — PÓC
Do it: falconry.ie; aillweecave.ie; glenloabbeyhotel.ie; from around €50pp depending on group sizes/packages.
If you like that, try this: See if you can spot a golden eagle at Donegal’s Glenveagh National Park, or a white-tailed sea eagle in Killarney or near Holy Island on Lough Derg (there’s a public viewing shelter at Mountshannon, above).
18. Get hooked on coasteering
Coasteering is a madcap, made-up adventure tailor made for the natural playgrounds of the Irish coast. How does it work? Basically, you squeeze into a wetsuit, buoyancy vest, helmet and old trainers, and proceed to jump, swim and scramble your way into a lifetime memory. Yes, it’s cold. No, you don’t have to be a good swimmer (the jumps get higher as you go, but everyone chooses their own Everest). Wexford’s Hook Peninsula works wonderfully, but you can try it with adventure operators like Mór Active (moractivetours.com, above) in Kerry or Delphi Resort (delphiadventure-resort.com) in Connemara, too. — PÓC
Do it: shielbagganoec.com; from around €40pp depending on the operator.
If you like that, try this: Take a sea-cave kayaking trip with The Irish Experience (theirishexperience.com; €49.95) from Wexford’s Baginbun Beach.
19. Summit a Slieve and soak in seaweed
The seaweed baths of Sligo are well-known, but the super Soak bathhouse, on the coast of Newcastle, Co Down, is as good an incentive as you need to get yourself up Slieve Donard (above) or Binnian and then bliss out in bladderwrack afterwards. They even have bedrooms, so you can soak til you sleep. For more information on walking in the Mourne Mountains, with trails and events, see walkni.com, which is very informative. — CM
Do it: soakseaweedbaths.com, from £25/€29 per hour.
If you like that, try this: Climb Lugnaquilla, Leinster’s highest peak at 925m; guided hikes from €25 with mountaintrails.ie. Treat yourself to a meal, treatment or stay at BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa afterwards (brooklodge.com).
20. Kitesurf on the Irish coast
Have you ever sat on the beach and cursed the wind that whipped sand into your face? Well, if you’re kitesurfing, they’re just the conditions you’re after. Kerry is home to some of the best kitesurfing beaches in the world, and you can hone your skills with a class at Kite Surf Ireland. Ryan Coote will find the perfect spot for your level, as you ride the waves and the sky. Can’t get to The Kingdom? Don’t worry, Ireland isn’t short on wind. You’ll find Pure Magic kitesurfing schools at Dublin’s Dollymount Strand and on Achill Island, too (puremagic.ie). — NB
Do it: kitesurfireland.ie; from around €45pp.
If you like that, try this: Hit the Sunny Southeast with a kitesurfing session in Duncannon, Co Wexford, courtesy of Hooked Kite Surfing (hookedkitesurfing.ie).
21. Enter an island adventure race
Clare Island in Co Mayo is famous for pirates, so they couldn’t resist adding a ‘walk the plank’ section to their Adventure Race on the May Bank Holiday weekend. Run, cycle and then finish by walking the plank at the end of the pier, and swim back to shore. This island is full of adventurous treasures all year round, with superb coasteering and cliff climbing. If you haven’t tried them, just brave it, with Clare Island Adventures. This island knows how to do ‘invigorating’. — CM
Do it: clareislandadventures.ie; from €45pp, including return ferry. That’s a bargain, but I recommend staying the night — there’s a lot going on here.
If you like that, try this: Another island idyll opening its doors to keen athletes is Inishbofin, Co Galway (inishbofin.com), hosting a Half Marathon & 10k on May 13. Fun runners welcome.
22. Delve underground in Fermanagh
It’s easy to explore the beautiful underworld of the Marble Arch Caves, but if you want to go a little deeper, try a caving expedition in the area. Conditions are dependent on the weather, so sessions aren’t always possible, but the qualified cave leaders at Fermanagh’s Corralea Activity Centre in Belcoo can take you below the surface to a wet or dry cave in the vicinity. There, you’ll crawl, splash and wade while learning about the unique geology of the area. — NB
Do it: activity-ireland.com; £70/€82pp for a group of four.
If you like that, try this: Leap between floating trampolines and inflatable slides at Corralea’s Water Park or head to Athlone to Bay Sports on Lough Ree’s Hodson Bay (baysports.ie) — possibly the most fun you can have in a lifevest.
23. Go diving in Galway
If you’ve always wanted to dive but never dared, try the Discover Scuba Diving programme (DSD) in Salthill. Dive Galway also runs a number of different courses enabling you to get those all-important PADI qualifications — so you can get out beneath the waves of the Wild Atlantic Way. One particularly impressive course is the DDI system (Disabled Divers International) with special techniques for those with accessibility issues. Irish tourism is still slow to cater for those with disabilities, so go Galway! — CM
Do it: divegalway.com; costs vary, depending on skill levels.
If you like that, try this: Dive off the coast of Dingle, Co Kerry, and discover the under-water reef worlds of Thornback Alley and Thunder Cove. Beginners are welcome with divedingle.com.
24. Play the fastest game on grass
Hurling is one of the world’s fastest field sports, with summer championship games forming childhood memories for many. But have you ever held a hurley and sliotar yourself? Dublin’s Experience Gaelic Games and the Kilkenny Way Hurling Experience are two opportunities to give the ash a bash. Introductory videos, basic lessons and the chance to knock balls around (at speeds of considerably less than 180km/h) are all involved in sessions that tap into the Irish DNA surprisingly deeply. — PÓC
Do it: experiencegaelicgames.com (from €25pp for individuals or small groups); thekilkennyway.com (from around €50pp for a family of four).
If you like that, try this: You’ve been to Croke Park, but have you been on it? The Etihad Skyline tour (crokepark.ie; €20/€12) takes you on a 17-storey-high rooftop walk... with views to match.
25. Hold your breath in Mullaghmore
Rather than relying on scuba gear, free-diving utilises your ability to hold your breath as you dive under the water. It’s not a blind panic to swim as far as you can before your breath runs out, however. Freediving teaches you how to enjoy the underwater experience in a calm and measured way — it’s about control, not competition. Give it a go in Mullaghmore with the folks at Freedive Ireland or Northwest Freediving School, and check out the surprisingly vibrant Sligo seabed (in summer weather, of course). — NB
Do it: freediveireland.com; northwestfreedivingschool.ie; from around €120pp, depending on the course.
If you like that, try this: Snorkel the pristine Keem Bay Blueway on Achill Island (and keep your fingers crossed for a basking shark sighting).
NB: All prices subject to availability. Where two prices are quotCredit Boyne Valley Activities.jpgCredit Boyne Valley Activities.jpged (e.g. €10/€5), they are for adults/children. For more adventures along the Wild Atlantic Way, see wildatlanticway.com.
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