Walk this way: five of the best winter hikes in Ireland

Sheep’s Head Peninsula Ireland’s Atlantic Seashore

Explore West Cork’s dramatic Sheep’s Head peninsula on foot

Sheep’s Head Loop

Right on one of the most southerly points of Ireland, Sheep’s Head is a beautiful peninsula in West Cork. A dramatic outcrop jutting out into the Atlantic, it makes for an exceptional walk, with little loughs and rocky peaks, alongside the ever-present sea views. In its entirety, the whole walking trail is 55 miles in length, though there are plenty of shorter loops you can do along the way.

Your best bet is to go right to the tip of the headland, where the only way to explore is on foot. This Lighthouse Loop is 2.5 miles long, and takes you on a gorgeous route past the tiny Lough Akeen and right out to the Sheep’s Head lighthouse. Along the way, you’ll be met with dreamy views of the Cork coast, from the Beara peninsula to Mizen Head.

If you’re peckish when you get back, stop off at Bernie’s Cupan Tae (Irish for cup of tea) for a mug of something warm, a homemade scone or a bowl of soup. Head back a little farther inland and you’ll reach Ahakista and the Tin Pub, a charming, ramshackle spot that’s cosy on a chilly day.

Ireland, Co Sligo, Strandhill, cattle grazing at base of Knocknarea Mountain. Image shot 06/2016. Exact date unknown.G8T0DB Ireland, Co Sligo, Strandhill, cattle grazing at base of Knocknarea Mountain. Image shot 06/2016. Exact date unknown.

The climb at Knocknarea is worth it for the views alone. Photograph: Travelib Environment/Alamy

Knocknarea in Strandhill, County Sligo

You can see the mountain of Knocknarea from all over Sligo, the dome of Queen Maeve’s tomb giving the peak its characteristic silhouette. It’s always been a brilliant mountain to climb, but the launch of the Queen Maeve Trail has made it a much more manageable ascent, with wooden stairs and boardwalks working their way to the top. You’ll walk past megalithic remains, through thick forest, and over the final slope right to the very summit.

When you get there, the views out to Sligo Bay and the surrounding mountains are stunning – on a clear day, you can see for miles, from the long sandy beach of Strandhill out as far as Donegal. When you’re finished, pop into locals’ favourite Shells Cafe, and tuck in to a hearty plate of fish and chips. If you fancy a real treat, go to the Voya Seaweed Baths for a uniquely Irish experience – a bath is filled with piping hot seawater and freshly cut seaweed. Afterwards, you’ll feel like a brand-new person.

Pollnagollum Cave, Enniskillen

While Fermanagh is a county known for its beautiful lakes, there’s also plenty going on beneath the earth. Walk around Fermanagh’s “cave country” and you’ll be walking over an extensive system of caves, many of which you can explore in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. You can still see plenty without heading underground, though – the walk through Belmore Forest takes you to Pollnagollum Cave, where a waterfall flows over the top of the cliff.

If it looks familiar, there may well be a reason – it was used as a location in season three of Game of Thrones, where it doubled up as Beric Dondarrion’s hideout.

The walk is just over 4 miles long and showcases all that’s great about this region, from glimpses of Lough MacNean to Cuilcagh Mountain. But it’s also a haven for wildlife – you might spot buzzards, jays, hares and even bats around the entrance to the cave.

When you’re done, head to the village of Belcoo to refuel. Customs House Country Inn is the perfect place for a homemade bun or a bowl of crab tortellini, but if you’re sticking around for the night then MacNean House and Restaurant is one of the best spots, just over Belcoo River in Blacklion.

Mussenden Temple, Castlerock

Mussenden Temple on the clifftop overlooking benone beach and downhill strand county londonderry derry northern irelandBA16HP Mussenden Temple on the clifftop overlooking benone beach and downhill strand county londonderry derry northern ireland

Beauty and the beach: Mussenden Temple on the Causeway Coast. Photograph: Radharc Images/Alamy

The striking route along the Causeway Coast is home to many picturesque spots, whether it’s the ghostly ruins of Dunluce Castle or the Giant’s Causeway, a Unesco world heritage site. But Mussenden Temple is certainly one of the most beautiful. Balanced right on the edge of the cliffs, there’s something that looks a little miraculous simply in its precarious existence, as the waves crash down on the shore 37 metres (120ft) below. The temple itself – originally lined with books and heated by a fire in the basement below – is dreamily romantic.

Walk the length of the cliffs and you’ll pass through the grounds of the Downhill Demesne (well worth a detour for a look around the remains of this beautiful old house). Back towards the car park you’ll find Al’s Coffee, a little shack built under the arches of two tree branches, where you can get a decent flat white and some retro sweets (as well as some homemade dog biscuits for your canine friends).

Howth Head Cliff Walk

It’s only a short hop from the centre of Dublin, but Howth, with its wide-open clifftops and glittering expanse of ocean, feels like it is a million miles from the city. The four-mile loop starts right at the Dart station (less than a 30-minute train ride from the city) and leads you along the harbour and out on to the cliffs, where you’ll stroll among the gorse and the heather, with incredible views out over the water.

You’ll also spot Lambay Island (home to a troupe of wallabies) and the uninhabited island Ireland’s Eye, as well as the Howth lighthouse and Dublin Bay in the distance. Keep your eyes peeled, and you may see dolphins, seals or even whales swimming off the shore. It’s a leisurely enough walk (though a little tougher when the wind is up) and won’t take longer than about 2.5 hours. The best news? When you finish up you’ll be back in the village, where you’ll find any number of places to eat – try East below the King Sitric restaurant, a cosy cafe/pub where you can get a creamy bowl of fresh chowder and a pint of the black stuff (you’ve earned it, after all).

Fill your heart with Ireland
From the Causeway Coast and the Wild Atlantic Way to Ireland’s Ancient East, and the 11 cities in between, Ireland has plenty to explore. Now’s the time to start. Get inspired at


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