When it comes to breathtaking natural beauty and strikingly untamed wilderness, Ireland has no shortage of wild places for outdoor lovers to explore. From rugged coastlines to majestic mountains, vast bogs, and remote islands, the Emerald Isle offers a diverse range of landscapes to satisfy the cravings of adventure seekers and nature lovers.
Lace up your trusty hiking boots, pull on your cheery cap and waterproof jacket and join us as we explore some of Ireland’s most wild places, delving into the landscapes, culture, and outdoor activities that make each destination a must-visit.
Landscapes: Balanced on the edge of County Cork and County Kerry, the Beara Peninsula is the wildest of Kerry’s three peninsulas. This rugged corner of Ireland weaves a tapestry of wild mountains, pristine lakes, and meandering coastal and mountain roads. For those itching to explore the less-travelled routes, head inland to hike through the Caha Mountains.
If two wheels are your preference, embark on a scenic cycle along the Beara Way. While the whole route is a challenging 196-kilometre-long (121-mile) route, even simply biking a few sections of it will offer views encapsulating the untamed beauty of the area.
Culture: The Beara Peninsula is rich in local culture. Sparsely populated and rural, stumble across quiet villages and their warm and welcoming communities. Duck inside a pub or three to discover traditional Irish music, rub shoulders with the locals, and try a pint of the local brew.
Never far from the sea, indulge in fresh seafood just caught off the shores of Cork and Kerry each evening. West Cork is beloved for its cheese and dairy too – why not try a local cheese like Milleens? (For cheese lovers, read our guide to Irish cheese and dairy).
Bike through the Kerry Peninsulas on our deluxe bike trip.
Landscapes: The northern reaches of Donegal feel far-flung and otherworldly. With its secluded beaches, hauntingly beautiful mountains, dramatic cliffs, and forgotten bogs, Donegal’s untamed beauty is an adventurer’s playground. The stunning Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point, offers panoramic views that are second to none.
Stand at what feels like the top of Ireland on the Slieve League Cliffs, some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. These cliffs are so remote that they once played host to a mass rock, where illicit mass was given in plein air during Ireland’s Penal Times when Catholicism was outlawed. Read more about Slieve League in our guide here.
Culture: Donegal’s culture is deeply rooted in Irish traditions. Visit local craft shops to sample the finest Donegal tweed. While perhaps not as well-known as Harris tweed, these fine textiles are of the highest quality. Whether you’re just looking to browse or you’re keen to have a whole suit tailored to you, there are many chances to embrace the tweed.
Of course, you can enjoy the lively sessions of traditional Irish music in the pubs, perhaps with a pint of Kinnegar to hand, a delicious beer brewed in Donegal.
Pull on your sturdy hiking boots and head off into the hills and glens of northern Donegal on our hiking trip along the Causeway Coast and Donegal.
Landscapes: County Mayo is home to two pristine wilderness areas. Ballycroy or Wild Nephin National Park, is a vast expanse of untouched bogs and mountains. The area provides numerous hiking trails, birdwatching opportunities, and simply a chance to reconnect with nature. The Nephin Beg hills are the only major range of hills not crossed by roads. Try the Bangor Trail, a 25 km long point-to-point trail through the oft-forgotten Nephin Beg hills for full wilderness immersion.
The remote peninsula and village of Carrowteige in northern Mayo feels like a step back in time. Rugged and eerie, the peninsula loop is a great coastal hike as the sheer cliffs, diving seabirds, wild sea stacks, and hardy sheep provide a vivid backdrop.
Culture: Immerse yourself in local culture by visiting historical sites, such as Slievemore, the Deserted Village on Achill Island, where you’ll learn about agricultural practices of yesteryears such as boolaying and turf cutting.
Irish folklore is woven into the fabric of our emerald hills and desolate landscapes. Carrowteige is no different, playing host to the chilling myth of the Children of Lir. Read the full story here.
Achill Island, accessible by bridge, hosts castles once home to pirate queens, white-washed fishing villages, mountains cloaked in otherworldly fog, strings of sandy beaches and some of the highest – though challenging to reach – sea cliffs. There’s also the hauntingly beautiful deserted village of Slievemore, a hommage to Ireland of the past. Probably the least wild of northwest Ireland’s islands, Achill seamlessly blends the past and future of Irish island communities.
Take things at your own pace on a self drive adventure through the wilds of Mayo.
Landscapes: The islands off Ireland’s west coast are secluded paradises. The little-visited Inishturk, off the Mayo coast, is a microcosm of wilderness. Rugged terrain, hidden coves, and rich birdwatching opportunities, the island of Inishturk is home to only about 50 people and has only had paved roads since the 1980s. Other remote islands in the region include Iniskea north and south. There are no roads here, no bridges, and hardly any human inhabitants – wild Irish islands at their finest. Explore the remnants of once-thriving island villages and bask in the beauty of pristine island wilds.
While more accessible than the above islands, Clare Island is still an amazing place to be if you’re looking for quiet shores, white sands and a break from the busyness of modernity. Activity lovers can enjoy the islands’ endless opportunities for exploration, including kayaking, hiking, and wildlife spotting. Read more about birdwatching in Ireland here.
Culture: Island life is steeped in Irish culture. Engage with the tiny island communities, keep an ear out for the Irish language sometimes spoken by islanders, and experience the unique way of life that comes with living on the edge of the Atlantic.
On Inisbofin, discover the crumbling castle-like ruins of the Cromwellian Barracks perched on an impressive rocky outcrop. Built during the 17th century, it was intended to imprison Catholic clergy (outlawed by the English) as they awaited transportation to the colonies.
During the 1600s, the formidable pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, once ruled the seas from Clew Bay to Galway Bay. This mighty figure is the stuff of legends to this day, and her castles on Clare Island, Achill and beyond are still impressive strongholds. Read more about Grace O’Malley here.
Read our guide to the Islands of Connemara & Mayo here.
Sail out to Ireland’s tiny western islands on our island hopping trip on Ireland’s west coast.
Landscapes: MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in County Kerry boasts Ireland’s highest peaks, offering breathtaking vistas and challenging hikes. Many people drive the Ring of Kerry, a ring road that encircles the Iveragh Peninsula, but far fewer turn inland towards the peaks and valleys that march across the land.
Carrauntoohil, the highest point in Ireland at 1,038m / 3,405 feet, is an exhilarating climb for experienced hikers, though one should only attempt this climb when accompanied by a hiking guide. The Gap of Dunloe, a narrow mountain pass, offers a scenic route for both hikers and cyclists, among other hills and lakes hidden in the centre of Kerry.
Culture: Explore the built heritage and archeology in the area, including ancient ring forts and castles.
If you need a break from the wilderness, head into Killarney town where a plethora of pubs, trad sessions (traditional Irish music), afternoon teas and Sunday roasts await.
Challenge yourself by climbing Carrautoohil and other impressive peaks in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks range on our deluxe Kerry Mountains hiking trip.
Landscapes: West Cork is beloved for its charming towns such as Kenmare and Kinsale, as well as its windswept landscapes. From the dramatic cliffs of Mizen Head, Ireland’s southernmost point, to the serene shores of Bantry Bay and all of the hills and coasts in between, this is a region sculpted by the wind and the sea.
Sparsely populated and traversed by winding roads and tiny communities, West Cork feels very far from the cosmopolitan centres of Dublin and Belfast – and not just because it is geographically located at the opposite end of the island.
Hiking trails like the Sheep’s Head Way and cycling routes around the Beara Peninsula Loop provide opportunities to explore the region’s natural beauty.
Culture: West Cork is a hub for arts and culture. Visit art galleries, explore castles, and savour the farm-to-table cuisine in this creative and picturesque part of Ireland. Wander the streets of colourful Kinsale, gaze up at the imposing Charles Fort, and learn about the pirates that once plagued the wee town of Baltimore.
West Cork is also known for its deliciously creamy cheeses, so make sure you get a taste of the local wares. Gubbeen, Durrus, Knockatee, or Toons Bridge are some favourites. Read our blog on Irish cheeses here.
Explore the wilds of West Cork and its islands on our island hopping trip through Cork and Kerry.
Landscapes: Located 11 km / 7 miles off the coast of County Kerry, the remote Skellig Islands are renowned for their ancient monastic settlements, incredible birdlife, and unique landscapes. Though a well-known spot and icon of Ireland, few people are able to make the boat journey to these protected islands. Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers an unforgettable experience for those who climb to the island’s summit. Read more about Skellig Michael here.
Wildlife enthusiasts who visit in the spring and early summer will marvel at the thousands of puffins and gannets who flock to the islands, often wandering about the feet of the island’s visitors. Read more about puffins in our guide to these loveable creatures here.
Culture: Peppered with ancient beehive huts, hand-chipped crosses in the tiny cemetery, steep and meandering stone paths, and other monastic structures, gain insights into the life of early Irish monks while on Skellig Michael. The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre on the mainland provides a deeper understanding of these remarkable islands.
For a pop culture reference, several Star Wars films were filmed on this rocky outcrop. Fun fact – the puffins are protected species, so instead of painstakingly editing the birds out, they were instead replaced with the adorable creatures, the porgs, who share Luke’s hideaway with him.
Set sail for the Skelligs and other islands and coastlines of the southwest on our island hopping trip through Cork and Kerry.
Landscapes: The raw beauty of Connemara, a region in Co Galway, is epitomised by the Twelve Bens mountain range. Connemara’s most iconic hike is Diamond Hill, with several decent paths from which visitors can choose.
If wilderness is your goal, hikers and climbers should head away from Diamond Hill and over to the other Bens, perhaps hiking the Glencoaghan Horseshoe, a 17-km / 10.5 mile loop through rough terrain. Revel in the challenge of scaling these peaks – your prize is stunning views of the surrounding lakes and fjord, and hills. The best part is you’ll have the scenery (and likely the hills) all to yourselves. As always when heading into the wild hills, ensure you travel with a guide and relevant safety items.
Culture: Connemara is steeped in Gaelic culture and language. So head into the villages, get chatting with the locals and learn a little bit of Ireland’s ancient (and notoriously complex) native language! Step into Kylemore Abbey for a history lesson or explore the region’s many crumbling ruins.
Read our guide to Connemara National Park here.
Explore the raw mountainous beauty of Connemara and Mayo on our hiking trip to Connemara’s Atlantic Coast.