Ireland is a small place, but its also one that’s famously sparsely populated outside of its city hearts. With a combined population in the Republic and Northern Ireland of around 6 million, there are only a handful of places that have any real claim to being a ‘city’, with over 25% of that combined population is concentrated in the capital of the Republic, Dublin.
Sure, you could fit Ireland inside the area of Russia more than 200 times over, and even with our windy roads, it takes less than eight hours to drive the entire length of the country, between the two extremes Mizen Head and Malin Head. Still, you won’t find it hard to get lost in the green expanses and feel like civilisation is far, far away. Here’s how…
Head for the Aran Islands
The Aran Islands are arguably Ireland’s most traditional and unspoiled spot. Made up of three populated, rugged blobs off the coast of Connemara in County Galway, getting there requires a boat trip, and when you arrive you’ll find limited accommodation, throwback villages, and lots of old, old relics.
It’s true that Inishmore (the largest island) has developed both substantial foodie and tourism scenes in recent years, but if you can’t get lost in beautiful rural isolation here, you’d struggle to do it anywhere. Check out the wormhole natural swimming location, which is a spot on the cliff-diving world series, as well as ancient fort Dun Aonghasa, and the local penchant for tracking down edible seaweed.
Meditate in an unlikely Buddhist Temple
You wouldn’t probably wouldn’t associate Ireland with Buddhism (the country is traditionally staunchly Catholic), but in Dzogchen Beara, rural Cork has one of the finest Buddhist retreats you’re likely to find. Combining a meditation centre, café and accommodation, the building sits atop a cliff on the Beara peninsula, and features a regular series of events ranging from retreats and workshops to guided meditation. It’s a profoundly peaceful corner in its own right, and a great space to disconnect from the pace of modern life.
Hire a boat on the Shannon
Hike the Irish Camino
Based on that Spanish institution the Camino De Santiago (though some claim it far predates its more celebrated Iberian cousin), the walks of the Irish Camino date back to the times of Saints, and have hefty religious links. They’re very different to the Spanish routes, in that they’re mostly in areas that are sparsely populated and extremely rural, with few places to bed down along the shorter routes, and the sites mostly comprised of ancient community relics and crumbling buildings. The perfect place to spend time on your own, and to see some truly stunning countryside. Read our full lowdown on the five hikes here.
Kayak on Lough Hyne
Explore the Blueway
Greenways are a common thing in Ireland (we’d encourage you to check out both the Great Western Greenway and the newly opened Waterford Greenway if you’re keen to spend time on a bike), but there’s nothing quite like the concept of a ‘Blueway’. Generally blending hiking, kayaking, diving and snorkelling, the Blueways are carefully curated pieces of coastline and river designed to be explored. Our favourite is the combination of several sights that make up the western location, where you can explore Ireland’s only fjord, check out the crabs, and feel a million miles from the nearest settlement.