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How to Hike the Wicklow Way – Explore Wicklow: All You Need to Know

9 min read

Ireland’s first long-distance route meanders through the beautiful hills of the Wicklow Mountains – arguably the East Coast’s most dramatic spot.

What is the Wicklow Way?

hiking Wicklow way

Hiking through the scenic landscape of the Wicklow Way.

 

The loveliness of Wicklow has not escaped the notice of Dubliners since County Wicklow is nicknamed the Garden of Ireland! The Wicklow Way is a 132 km (82 mile) trail that winds its way south from Dublin through the Wicklow Mountains. Created in 1980, the Wicklow Way is Ireland’s first signposted long-distance hiking trail, and was the brainchild of J.B. Malone through a series of newspaper articles in 1966. Later appointed to a committee dedicated to developing long-distance walks, he set about turning his idea into reality, opening the Wicklow Way in 1980.

Today, the Wicklow Way is one of many way-marked paths in Ireland and further afield in Europe. As the route starts in Dublin, it is also one of the most accessible routes!

When is the best time of year to hike it?

Ireland in Summer - Slieve League

Summer comes to Ireland’s dramatic Slieve League cliffs in remote Donegal!

 

April to September is the best time of year to hike the Wicklow Way, as in winter, the days are too short and often chilly, and many accommodations and restaurants are closed. In summer, expect more fellow hikers but don’t worry about the trail feeling overcrowded. The busiest section is the one surrounding the monastic site of Glendalough.

How long does the Wicklow Way take to hike?

Hiking along the beautiful lakes and valleys of Wicklow.

 

At about 132km/82 miles long, most hikers take about 5-7 days to hike the Wicklow Way, with some extending it over 10 days. A lot of this depends on your pace, whether you omit any sections (such as those along the road, especially towards the start or finish), and whether you prefer to take public transport to your night’s accommodation, or if you’re willing to accept lifts from drivers (perfectly legal in Ireland).

Can I wild camp along the Wicklow Way?

Wicklow Glendalough hiking

Wicklow Glendalough hiking

 

Wild camping (i.e. setting up a tent in a random spot of your choosing) is not legal in Ireland unless one has permission to do so from the individual landowners. Camping is not allowed in Wicklow National Park. However, if you do opt for this option, the best way to do so is to ask permission from the local landowners. However, the reluctance of many local landowners to open their land to wild camping, the widespread sheep pastures meaning you’ll have to purify all water, and the windy open hills and exposed heathland all make the Wicklow Way a difficult spot for a backpacking trip.

So what kind of accommodation can I expect on the Wicklow Way?

luxurious delux eco-lodge on Hiking the Wicklow Way.

Relax in this beautiful ivy-covered lodge tucked into the Wicklow Hills.

 

While there is some accommodation, your choice is somewhat limited as Wicklow is a rural, mountainous region and you are limited by how far you can walk or the availability of public transport. Wicklow Way accommodations are mostly small BnBs and hostels which can fill up quickly – it’s best to plan and book in advance.

But the best way to hike the Wicklow Way and be sure of comfortable accommodation and good food and drink options is to book a guided tour. Not only do you not have to worry about finding and reserving the best Wicklow accommodation, you also won’t have to worry about public transport options, additional walking, or getting lost as the guide will organise transport in advance.

Hike it point to point or in sections?

Hiking Wicklow Way Glendalough

Hiking

 

Glendalough is the most popular part of the Wicklow Way but there are other, less well-known parts of the route that merit exploration!

It really depends on what you’re looking for. For some people, a sense of accomplishment is best achieved when hiking a trail point-to-point. Others prefer to walk only the sections that interest them. Obviously timing can be a constraint as well, especially those visiting to Ireland.

It also depends on what kind of walking you’re interested in doing. If you prefer off-road or rural tracks and are keen to avoid road walking as much as possible, it’s preferable to skip certain sections – namely, the first and final sections – and concentrate on the best outdoor walking – in other words, the middle sections.

Others who are perhaps just visiting Dublin for a few days and only have time to do a day or two may prefer to do just a few sections of it. The most popular section is the one ending at the absolutely stunning glacial valley home to Glendalough monastic site. While beautiful and well worth the visit, you won’t get as much of the Wicklow experience without hiking through some of the less-travelled backcountry and quiet hills.

What is the terrain like?

Wicklow Way terrain

The Wicklow Way winds across rural farmlands, through bogs and over heather-covered hills.

 

Wicklow is a county full of hills and mountains – a landscape blanketed in vibrant heather. However, Ireland does not have the same Rights to Roam that Scotland and many other European destinations have, and many private landowners prefer not to have trails cross their land. Therefore some of the Wicklow Way involves road-walking, especially at the beginning and the end of the way. At least most of it is along country lanes and farmers’ tracks.

Otherwise, the walking is along off-road tracks that evoke Ireland’s agricultural and religious history: boreens (old, narrow country lanes), green roads (an unpaved country road), and mass paths (paths that led to secret spots of worship during the penal times when Catholicism was outlawed).

What is the Wicklow Way’s most fascinating points of interest?

Powerscourt Waterfall

Powerscourt Cascade, Ireland’s highest.

 

Dublin city

Though the section from Dublin towards Powerscourt isn’t the most exciting, it’s great that the walk includes such a cosmopolitan and fascinating city on the way. The capital and biggest city in Europe, Dublin is full of historic sites and exciting activities. Classics include the Guinness Factory, EPIC museum, St Stephan’s Green, the Temple Bar District, Trinity College, the Book of Kells and more. Walking tours or even paddling tours on the River Liffey are a great way to explore the lesser-known corners of the city.

Glendalough Monastic Settlement

Glendalough is perhaps the most well-known of all the sites in Wicklow. The monastic city of Glendalough was founded in 7th century in honour of St Kevin, who lived as a hermit in the same valley. For over 900 years, the monastery was a centre of learning, literacy and religion, preserving literary works, ancient tradition and XX. Though today little remains of what was once a vast and prosperous settlement, Glendalough and its stupendous valley and lakes is a place of peace and beauty. Surviving Glendalough monuments include the cathedral, St Kevin’s Church, the iconic round tower, and graveyards.

Powerscourt Estate & Waterfall

The beautiful Powerscourt Estate, originally a 13th century castle, was lavishly embellished in the 1730s. Admire the magnificent and extensive gardens, rated among National Geographic’s Top 10 Gardens of the World. Set in beautiful, verdant surroundings, marvel at the breathtaking Powerscourt Waterfall, the tallest cascade in Ireland. 

Lough Tay

As you walk along the Wicklow Way, enjoy expansive views of the heathery hills descending into a sweeping glacial valley whose crown jewel is the glittering Lough Tay. Once inspiration to countless artists, writers and intelligentsia, the lake is nicknamed “the Guinness lake” – in part because the Guinness family owns the estate, and in part because the shape of the lake with the white sand at the top makes it resemble a pint of Guinness!

Djouce Mountain

At 725 m (2,380ft), Djouce Mountain (pronounced ‘joaws‘) is among the highest mountains of Wicklow, and its location just off the Wicklow Way makes it a straightforward climb while hiking the Wicklow Way. On a clear day, views from the summit stretch all the way to Dublin and Howth in the north and Great Sugarloaf Hill in the east.

Lugnaquilla Mountain

This is Wicklow’s highest mountain, measuring in at 925m (3,035ft) and the 11th highest in Ireland. Lugnaquilla, or “the Lug,” isn’t on or along the Wicklow Way, so to climb this mountain, you’ll have to plan a short excursion from the path. The climb to the summit weaves in and out of woodland, heathland and bogs, making it as beautiful as it is desolate. Home to many species of birds, as well as deer, fox and hares, Lugnaquilla is not a hike for the faint-hearted as it is exposed to the elements. But the sweeping, expansive views from the summit on a clear day will take your breath away.

There are also a number of holy wells (each recognised for curing different ailments), picturesque lakes, and archeological sites, not to mention plenty of hills and mountains to summit!

Guided or self-guided?

Glendalough - Wicklow guided tours

Hiking the Wicklow Way to Glendalough is far more meaningful with a local guide.

 

While Ireland seems to be full to the brim with the outdoors, it has very few waymarked trails, and even fewer well-maintained paths. Of those that exist, most of them are located in parks, where paths are usually only a few kilometres long.

To venture onto private land, you need the landowner’s permission. Many landowners are happy to open their lands to hikers but it’s not always easy to judge where one is allowed to hike, especially in absence of well-marked paths.

Things like holy wells, standing stones, neolithic era monuments, and even small churches and castles can be hard to find, and often get missed by visitors. Even when you do stumble across an ancient site, it is a lot more meaningful with a local guide there to interpret it.

All of that considered, while hiking self-guided is always a possibility, the best way to get the most out of your hiking trip along the Wicklow Way is with a guide. Not only do you not have to worry about finding your route or reserving accommodation, you’ll learn about Ireland’s intriguing history, ancient mythology, meet interesting local characters and find little-known spots off the main trail.

You also won’t have to worry about book accommodations, organising taxis (as most accommodations are not located right on the trail and wild camping isn’t allowed), or finding restaurants and packed lunches for the trail.

What to wear?

Hiking Boots - what to wear hiking in Ireland

A good pair of comfortable and waterproof boots is a must in Ireland!

 

In general, you’ll need a good pair of sturdy, waterproof boots. You’ll need waterproof jackets and trousers, as well as a series of non-cotton layers to put on or take off as needed, as Irish weather can be unpredictable. A daypack to carry extra layers, picnic lunch, snacks and water – bring a refillable water bottle.

Even if you are travelling mid-summer, a hat and gloves are always a good thing to stash in the daypack. Be sure to bring hiking socks as well (once again, stay away from cotton). For your own comfort, you might want to bring a blister kit and insect repellant as well.

Suggested Hiking the Wicklow Way trip option

hiking Wicklow way

Hiking through the scenic landscape of the Wicklow Way.

 

While it is possible to do self-guided, by joining a trip hiking the Wicklow Way, you’ll explore the dramatic hills and mountains of Wicklow, a region at the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East, without the stress of planning, reserving or researching.

On Wilderness Ireland’s Wicklow Way hiking trip, you’ll adventure into the wilds of Wicklow, a range of peaks, valleys and lakes south of Dublin on Ireland’s East Coast. Graded a level Green 3, Hiking the Wicklow Way includes gentle hikes perfect for beginners, or for those who prefer to explore the wilderness at a relaxed pace. Follow wooded tracks through lush forests and across emerald pastures, before breaking through to the open hills blanketed with the soft purple and golden heathland for which the Wicklow Way is famed.

This is a small group trip (max 8 people) that includes a local guide, accommodation, transfers and some meals. If you prefer to do it as a private trip, you can book a private departure just for you and your group, providing you with a bit more flexibility to adjust walking pace or even length of walks.

Some of the trip highlights include:

  • Learning Wicklow history, folklore, flora and fauna from a local hiking guide
  • A luxurious stay in a Deluxe-grade eco-lodge
  • Visits to Powerscourt Estate & Gardens (rated among world’s best by National Geographic), as well as the ruins of the ancient monastic city of Glendalough
  • A relaxing afternoon in a thermal suite with an opportunity to book extra spa treatments
  • Summiting the well-known Great Sugar Loaf peak
  • Historical walking tour of Dublin with a final night’s stay in the heart of Dublin

Trip Practicalities:

  • Fully guided by a member of our expert guiding team
  • Pick up & drop off in Dublin City + transport throughout
  • 6 nights/7 days hiking the best of the Wicklow Way
  • Small group sizes – Maximum of 8 clients
  • Activity level is Green 3 (out of 9) – see more about grading here
  • Comfort level is Classic but includes a stay in a Deluxe-grade eco-lodge
  • 6 nights of accommodation + most meals
  • Price from €1,785
  • See below for available dates:
Trip Date Price Availability Book
Hiking - The Wicklow Way 27th Jun - 4th Jul 2020 €1,8707 place(s) leftBook Now

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

“American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

View profileMore by Dawn

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