The Best Long-Distance Hiking Trails in Ireland and Northern Ireland

From the craggy coastlines of the Wild Atlantic Way to the rolling hills of Kerry, here are 8 stunning long-distance treks from the Emerald Isle.

23rd June 2023 | Words by Jazz Noble

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.”
- W.B.Yeats

There are many things that first come to mind when imagining Ireland: traditional Celtic music, a pantheon of all-time greats of literature, the roaring yodels of The Cranberries, a pint of Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion Taytos, and crucially; the never-ending landscapes of green.

It’s no secret that the scenery of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have inspired the masses for centuries (with no sign of stopping). And while no one’s expecting you to go on a hike and come back with a fully-formed Pulitzer Prize winner, there’s no harm in getting your feet stuck into some of these iconic landscapes this year.

And what better way to enjoy nature than a good old-fashioned hike? Spanning across much of both countries, we’ve put together a list of just some of the best long-distance hiking trails this island has to offer. From the distinctive boglands of Fermanagh and the mountainous landscapes of Donegal, to the rolling hills of Kerry and the ancient Pilgrim’s Walk of Saint Patrick; there’s a little something for everyone here.

The Dark Hedges, the Game of Thrones trees, are a road of iconic beech trees in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Credit: Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

(Disclaimer: Ireland is known for championing all four seasons in one single day. So, if you’re trying to get an idea of what kit to bring, it’s well worth investing in some reliable waterproofs, a sturdy pair of walking boots, and a burly three to four-season tent.)

Without further ado…

Ireland and Northern Ireland’s Top 8 Long-Distance Walks

    • The Ulster Way 
    • The Kerry Way
    • The Burren Way 
    • The Wicklow Way
    • The Western Way
    • Saint Patrick’s Way 
    • Causeway Coast Way
    • South Leinster Way

The Ulster Way

Hiker with hiking backpack walks across boardwalk covering a blanket bog, with mountains in background, Northern Ireland.

Credit: Goinyk

Location:  The six counties of Northern Ireland | Distance:  636 miles | Duration:  3 to 5 weeks + 

At a hefty 636 miles, The Ulster Way is the longest hiking trail on the whole island. Taking in the six counties of Northern Ireland, it’s also one of the most unique ways to get to know the North in its entirety. It’s a circular route crossing the Mourne mountains, the iconic Giant’s Causeway, the spine of the Sperrins, the uplands of the Fermanagh lakelands, and a hell of a lot more. Better described as a multi-week expedition than a standard hiking trail, the Ulster Way consists of mostly waymarked routes, with a few non-waymarked sections where public transport is recommended.

The Kerry Way

A winding country road passing through the Black Valley in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range in County Kerry, Ireland.

Credit: Dawid

Location:  Starts and finishes in Killarney | Distance:  133 miles | Duration:  7-10 days 

Located in the south-west region of Ireland, County Kerry is famed for its unbelievable vistas of green. It’s also home to the highest mountain range in Ireland, the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, as well as the tallest peak on the island, Carrauntoohil. The Kerry Way, however, loops around the Iveragh Peninsula, passing through some of the most iconic landscapes in the country. While still challenging, this hiking route sticks to the lower reaches of the mountain ranges rather than the high peaks themselves, taking in more scenery in a shorter amount of time. Including farmlands, boglands, tarmac sections, and abandoned old coach roads (known as ‘boreens’ in Irish); it’s the walking alternative to the famous Ring of Kerry driving route. It also starts and ends in the tourist town of Killarney, so rest assured, you’ll have a nice place to stay once you’ve finished.

The Burren Way

The Burren Way hiking route passes by the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland.

Credit: MuzzyCo

Location:  Lahinch to Corrofin | Distance:  71 miles | Duration:  3 to 5 days

Traversing much of the Burren National Park, The Burren Way takes you across some of Country Clare’s most fascinating and unique landscapes. More specifically it takes you across The Burren itself, a mystical area of broken bedrock consisting of glacial-era limestone, remote cliffsides, archaeological sites of interest, and much more. While isolated and desolate in parts, The Burren Way also takes you through ancient woodlands, coastal towns and quaint Irish villages. Along the way you’ll have views across to Galway Bay and the Aran Islands, as well as visits to ancient Christian monuments and neolithic ruins. If you fancy a little detour, you’ll even have the option of visiting the lesser known – more modern – site of interest known as Father Ted’s House. Iconic, to say the least.

The Wicklow Way

A pink sky and mountain view over Glendalough Lake, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland.

Credit: Bruno Biancardi

Location:  Marlay Park to Clonegal via Co.Wicklow | Distance:  81 miles | Duration:  5 to 7 days

With an average ascent of 3,200m (10,500ft), the Wicklow Way is traditionally hiked from north to south, starting in Marlay Park in South Dublin, and finishing in Clonegal in County Carlow. On the route you’ll pass through County Wicklow (nicknamed ‘The Garden of Ireland’), and meander through the iconic hills and valleys of the Wicklow Mountain Range. Created in 1980, the Wicklow Way is actually Ireland’s first signposted long-distance hiking trail and is arguably one of the more accessible routes on this list. Whilst wild camping is – technically – not legal in Ireland, many just ask local landowners for permission to camp whilst on this trail. Alternatively, you’ll find a fair amount of local B&Bs and hostels along the way, though you’ll want to book well in advance.

The Western Way

A view towards the sea and the cliffs of Achill Head in County Mayo, Ireland.

Credit: fstopphotography

Location:  Oughterard to Bunnyconnellan via Co. Mayo | Distance:  125 miles (roughly) | Duration:  7 to 10 days

Taking in the spectacular counties of Galway, Mayo, and the edges of Sligo (depending on which iteration of the route you choose to take), is the mighty Western Way. As a predominantly coastal route skirting the western regions of Ireland, this hiking trail unsurprisingly crosses paths with the iconic Wild Atlantic Way. In this sense, you’ll be walking with the sea by your side, and there’ll be plenty of opportunities for a quick detour to the beach. Along the route itself, you’ll start in Oughterard and head north past Maum and Drummin to Letterkeen, Ballycastle, and finally south-eastwards towards Bunnyconnellan in County Sligo. Famed for inspiring the poetry of W.B.Yeats, there’s no better place to end your journey.

Saint Patrick’s Way

A sunset view over Ben Crom reservoir in the Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Credit: Sebastian

Location:  Armagh to Downpatrick | Distance:  82 miles | Duration:  6 to 10 days

Saint Patrick’s Way is a signed walking trail connecting some of the key Christian heritage sites relating to Saint Patrick (the primary patron saint of Ireland) between County Armagh and Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. In this sense, it’s one of the less remote hiking trails, taking you through a combination of on and off-road trails in order to reach these sites of interest. Fear not, you’ll get your fair share of natural beauty too, including the Mourne Mountains, the Murlough Bay Nature Reserve, and Tyrella Beach, to name a few. One of the key sights of interest, however, is the final resting place of Saint Patrick, situated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the city of Armagh.

Causeway Coast Way

A coastal sunset over the Irish sea by the Giant’s Causeway, Country Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Credit: aitormmfoto

Location:  Portstewart to Ballycastle | Distance:  31.5 miles | Duration:  2 days

Another fabulous hiking trail from Northern Ireland is the Causeway Coast Way. Though one of the shorter routes on this list, this trail still packs a punch, passing through the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Beauty (Ireland’s only World Heritage Site) and several other Areas of Special Scientific Interest. Popular attractions include the Giant’s Causeway (see picture), the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and the Bushmills distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. The trail itself mostly follows the coastline, hugging craggy cliffs, isolated beaches, and large sections of The Ulster Way. Beginning in Portstewart and ending in Ballycastle, this is one hike you’ll never forget.

South Leinster Way

A black and white sheep with horns grazing in green pastures as the sun sets in Ireland.

Credit: MNStudio

Location:  Kildavin to Carrick-on-Suir | Distance:  65 miles | Duration:  5 days

The South Leinster Way begins in the village of Kildavin, County Carlow, and crosses parts of Kilkenny before finishing in the town of Carrick-on-Suit in County Tipperary. Ascending an average of 1,600m (5,250ft), you’ll come across peaks such as Mount Leinster (795m) in the Blackstair Mountains, and Brandon Hill (515m) by the river Barrow, as well as the valleys of Nore and Suir. Compared to the likes of the Wicklow Way or Saint Patrick’s Way, the South Leinster Way is relatively less-trodden, and would suit a hiker searching for something less touristy. It’s full of authentic Irish charm too, passing many remote villages you might not have thought to visit before.

A dramatic sky showing a storm clearing over Mount Leinster in the Blackstair Mountains, County Carlow, Ireland.

Credit: John Timmons

Jazz Noble is a London and Northern Ireland-based writer with a passion for hiking, cycling and the outdoor world.

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