Before going to Ireland for the first time, I had an impression that the geography of the country was made up of mostly rolling green hills. Once getting in a car and driving through the country, I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was.
Ireland is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve visited, and its national parks are a big reason why. The terrain was diverse, moody, and inspiring. With tons of hiking trails and unique geography, the National Parks of Ireland are begging to be explored.
One of the most scenic areas in all of Ireland lies near the coast about an hour west of Galway. The drive into the park offers stunning views including the majestic monastery, Kylemore Abbey, which is set on a lake with the backdrop of lush greenery.
If you like hiking you’ve gotta hike up Diamond Hill. It’s a fairly easy hike but definitely gets the blood pumping. Depending on your pace, you’re looking at about a 2.5-3 hour hike. Also factor in how long you wanna enjoy the views at the summit, which looks back out at the Atlantic while being surrounded by the rolling hills of County Galway. This was my favorite hike I did in Ireland and you can see more pictures and read about it right here.
One of the highlights of the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park is a nature wonderland consisting of mountains, lakes, forests and waterfalls. It’s also home to Ireland’s native red deer, which are not too hard to spot. Located near the town of Killarney, the park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, established in 1981. Killarney National Park became Ireland’s first national park in 1932.
While driving the Ring of Kerry, I stayed at a great B&B (Friars Glen Country House) right down the road from one of the main tourist stops: the Muckross House and Gardens. After checking out the house and gardens, and short on time, my friend and I opted to take a jaunting car (horse carriage) over to Torc Waterfall. We definitely overpaid, but it was an interesting experience and we got to discuss Gaelic football with our driver and pretend that we knew what we were talking about. After getting dropped off we had a breezy 5 minute walk up to the Torc Waterfall, which was definitely worth it. Killarney National Park should be an easy choice to visit on a trip around the Ring of Kerry, even if it’s just to admire to Muckross House and Torc Waterfall.
Ireland’s second biggest national park, the area comprises mountains, woods, lakes, glens and a herd of red deer. Located less than an hour’s drive from the Northern Ireland city of Derry, the park has a plethora of hiking trails. If the weather doesn’t cooperate for a nice walk, Castle Glenveagh is another highlight for visitors. One of the gems of Donegal County, Glenveagh National Park is a worthy area of exploring in the north of Ireland.
Probably the most bizarre of Ireland’s National Parks, The Burren is identified by its signature moon-like rocky terrain of exposed limestone rock. The smallest of Ireland’s national parks, it’s a great park to drive through and admire the alien landscapes. A popular hike, Mullaghmore takes around 2-3 hours. Make sure to check out the Megalithic sites such as the Poulnabrone portal tomb. You could easily spend a day exploring the unique geological area. Easy driving distance of both Galway and The Cliffs of Moher, the remote park makes a great addition to a road trip around west Ireland.
If you’re into bogs, Ballycroy National Park has got you covered. Located in County Mayo, this blanket bogland is the last intact in Ireland and Western Europe. It is surrounded by the Nephin Beg mountain range. Visit the Wild Nephin Ballycroy visitor center and take a walk through the bog on the boardwalk to check out the wild features of this Irish national park.
The gem of Wicklow count, Wicklow Mountains National Park is heavily wooded area with mountains, lakes, valleys, and plenty of supreme hiking and driving options. Being only an hour from Dublin, it also provides a nice weekend getaway or a chance to see some of Ireland’s nature without having to drive too far.
The Glendalough valley has a visitor center, some interesting monastic ruins, and plenty of hiking trails. I hiked the white trail from the visitor center for about 3 hours. After a heart pumping initial climb, the views opened up, expanding across the valley. I was glad I was able to sneak this into the end of my 10 day road trip around Ireland and would recommend nature and history lovers to spend some time here.