Slow Adventures on the Island of Ireland: the Best Bits

Slieve Donard, in the Mourne Mountains, makes for an enjoyable hike
Slieve Donard, in the Mourne Mountains, makes for an enjoyable hike | © Paul Lindsay / Alamy Stock Photo
Hannah Summers

From gentle climbs at the Cliffs of Moher to relaxing woodland wanders searching for wild garlic, Ireland is a true paradise for slow adventurers. Cycle, swim, stretch or paddle – here’s our pick of some of the most peaceful and rewarding ways to take in the scenery.

1. Downward dog at the Cliffs of Moher Retreat

Hotel, Spa Hotel

Cliffs Moher WAW Lscape 1
Courtesy of Ireland Tourism

There are several short and soothing breaks available at the Cliffs of Moher Retreat, a homely health resort just metres from the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland. But if you want to combine gentle hill climbs with plenty of calm, then the Connect to Nature break is perfect. Over two days, you’ll take head-clearing hikes along the cliffs and repair your body and mind with long, nourishing stints on the mat in the glass-fronted yoga studio. Free time? Wade into the ocean for a dip, warm up in a wood-burning hot tub and indulge in a massage. Leave relaxed and revived.

2. Hike and island hop between Cork and Kerry

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Path to Monastic settlement, Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland
© Francesco Riccardo Iacomino / Getty Images

This gentle seven-day guided ramble with Wilderness Ireland skims the spectacular coastline of southwest Ireland – spotting sea birds and dolphins as you go – and throws in several hops over to the little islands where the Irish-speaking culture is still strong. Travelling with a local guide, you’ll uncover the most remote corners of the country: climb Skellig Michael (a Unesco World Heritage site and Star Wars film location) and tuck into hearty Irish meals and pints in the most charming pubs in Kerry – with a soundtrack of traditional live music, of course. Add-ons such as horseriding are also possible, if you fancy.

3. Take a dunk near Dublin

Natural Feature

Vico Baths at sunrise
© Kevin Grace / Getty Images

The popularity of sea swimming has soared over the last couple of years, thanks to the physical- and mental-health benefits. Handily, you don’t have to be a pro to reap the rewards – a brief bob in the water will do. For that, try Vico Baths in Killiney. Locals flock to this popular sea-swimming spot 16km (10mi) south of Dublin to take exhilarating hangover-beating dips year round. There are railings to guide you in and the supportive spirit from the locals adds to the fun. Be warned, though: don’t stay in the water for too long if you’re not a regular, and make sure you wrap up warmly afterwards.

4. Paddle across Strangford Lough

Natural Feature

29 April 2021 A view of the small harbour at Kircubbin on Strangford Lough in County Down Northern Ireland. The viillage is located on the western sid
© Ireland / Alamy Stock Photo

Whether you’re new to stand-up paddleboarding or a fully fledged pro, a peaceful float and paddle on Strangford Lough, County Down, is one of the best ways to discover Northern Ireland. Southeast of Belfast, the lough combines pretty bays, inlets, drumlin islands and historic monuments, and will give you a whole new perspective on the term sightseeing. Even better, the paddling rhythm and hypnotic lapping of water will quickly ease away any niggling stress.

5. Climb the Slieve Donard

Natural Feature

Climbing Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
© Paul Lindsay / Alamy Stock Photo

Just 50km (30mi) south of Belfast is the highest mountain in Northern Ireland – the Slieve Donard. Despite the title, it doesn’t have to be a challenging climb to the 850m (2,790ft) high summit. Go for the steep, calf-quivering incline route or a more gentle ramble, jumping across streams as you go. Whichever you take, the views from the top of the Irish Sea, Mourne Mountains and Mourne Wall are equally rewarding. Refuel with a picnic before wandering back down to a refreshing pint of Maggies Leap, a citrus IPA brewed locally that’s named after a chasm in the nearby cliffs.

6. Forage in the fields around Belfast

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Collecting wild sloes in Norfolk. The berry of the blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, is used to make sloe gin.
© SJ Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Slow the pace on a foraging walk with Belfast-based Dermot Hughes, founder of Forage Ireland and an expert in teaching wannabe foragers how to get started. He’ll explain the importance of the seasons, show you how to identify common plants (and how to use them), and give any newbies the confidence to forage for the “right” stuff. In milder winters, you’ll find plants such as cow parsley and sloe berries before wild garlic starts appearing in March. Walks finish with craft sessions such as jam or chutney making, so you have a start-to-finish experience of the fruit and plants you pick. Keep an eye on his Forage Ireland site for updated courses and dates.

7. Cycle the Waterford Greenway

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark, Hiking Trail

Waterford Greenway, Ireland
© Andrea Pistolesi / Getty Images

There’s no shortage of spectacular cycling routes in Ireland, but you don’t have to commit to a week in the saddle to appreciate the scenery. Waterford Greenway, in the southeast, is a great addition to your break: the former rail line is now a 46km (28mi), traffic-free cycle path that skims the foothills of the Comeragh mountains, passing small art galleries, grand gardens, cafes and, of course, some quintessential Irish countryside, before it finishes in Dungarvan. It’s possible to go there and back in a day, but if that’s a bit taxing it’s easy to load your bike onto a bus back to Waterford.

Start planning your adventure in Ireland today.

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