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A stunning lunar landscape that will make you wonder if you’re still in Ireland.
Barren. Stark. Bleak. It’s the opposite of what I usually look for in a hiking destination. But, there I was, traversing across the rocky terrain of a region known as the Burren. Located in County Clare, the Burren encompasses an area of 250 square kilometers; a small portion of this makes up the Burren National Park. Burren comes from the Irish word, Boíreann, meaning “rocky place”. Massive and broken fragments of limestone cover the ground. It shatters the typical image of the Emerald Isle; shades of green are replaced by gray rocks and low lying scrub.
Despite the lack of soil, the Burren has a vast and diverse ecosystem. The EU designated it as a Special Area of Conservation (and it’s on the tentative UNESCO list). You’ll find 70% of Ireland’s native plant species in the Burren. That’s over 600 different plants and flowers growing in a space that appears unable to support much life at all. The plants are a rare combination of Alpine, Arctic, and Mediterranean varieties. It’s quite fascinating to see a moon-like surface with flourishing blooms protruding from the rocks.
Visiting the Burren National Park
There are seven walking trails in the Burren National Park where you can explore this intriguing terrain. Depending on how much time you have, you can hike from 30 minutes up to 3 hours per trail. And this is only within the Burren National Park itself; you can walk far beyond the park grounds to discover even more of the Burren. Each trail has color coded markers so they’re easy to follow and you won’t get lost.
There are so many things to do in the Burren! If I lived in Ireland or planned to stay for an extended period of time, I’d hike every trail possible in this region. However, I only had a morning here before I had to continue on my journey. Since I only had a short amount of time, I chose the Burren National Park Nature Trail, marked by the white blazes.
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If you aren’t sure which walking trail to choose, be sure to check out this Burren map of the trails at the Burren National Park.
Walking in the Burren
There are many truly fascinating national parks and hiking opportunities in Ireland. Most of them showcase the Emerald Isle as the lush, green country that we know it to be. When you arrive at the Burren, your preconceived notions of Ireland are turned upside down. You’ll encounter flat masses of gray, limestone rock. Jagged bits of broken up rock dot the landscape. Even though this might sound drab by my descriptions, there’s something quite enchanting about this flat scenery that stretches off to the horizon.
The Nature Trail
The White Arrow Route, otherwise known as the Nature Trail, is one of the shortest and easiest hikes at the Burren National Park. I chose this route based on the fact that it’s a loop trail, meaning that I’ll end the hike right where I began. That way, I wouldn’t add any additional steps or time making my way back to the car. Though the official website grades the Nature Trail as “moderate”, I’d go as far to say that it’s an easy walk. There are some stairs and some sections with a few loose rocks to navigate. Make sure you wear appropriate hiking shoes and this hike will be a breeze. Click here to see an affordable and durable pair of hiking shoes by Merrell that also happen to be vegan-friendly (and here’s a men’s version for the guys out there!).
One of the most interesting sights was the Mullaghmore Mountain in the distance. It’s possible to hike to the summit of Mullaghmore if you take the red, blue, or green route. While I didn’t have the time to hike the mountain (it generally takes about 3 hours to hike there and back), I am certain that the view from up there would be nothing short of spectacular. This time, I admired Mullaghmore off in the distance and perhaps I’ll return in the future to tackle that walk.
As for where to park at the Burren, there are a few spaces on the street right by the trail head. Several walking trails of the Burren all begin in the same spot. To reach the park, take the R476 to Kilnaboy. Then, make a turn at the corner with the ruined church. After about 5km, you’ll reach the trail head. The directions may sound vague, but it was very simple to find the entrance to the Burren National Park. It’s easiest to get here if you rent your own car (I rented my car quickly and easily at the Dublin airport with Hertz).
A Few Surprises
I was expecting the whole Burren hike to entirely consist of rocky surfaces. This was not the case. More than once, I descended down some stairs into a lush forest. It had rained earlier in the morning, so the sunlight reflected off the leaves and moss, coated in leftover rainwater and dew. At times, the light reached through the tree branches. Everything shimmered and glowed.
Towards the end of this loop hike, I came to a clearing. I was at a slightly elevated position and admired panoramic views of the scenery. Once I walked down the hill, I was surprised to find a small herd of friendly cows. These cows, resembling huge Oreo cookies (in cow form), peacefully gazed back when I stopped to admire them. I loved seeing all of the sheep and cows as I traveled around Ireland. Seeing these gentle giants was a great way to end the hike.
Extending Your Hike
Beyond the Burren National Park, there are so many things to do in the Burren. In fact, the Burren Coast is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, with its characteristic limestone rocks and wildflowers stretching between Doolin and Ballyvaughan. The dramatic Cliffs of Moher are technically part of the Burren, a famous sight that you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Ireland.
If going on more walking and hiking trips is your jam, there are tons of trails that extend beyond the Burren National Park. Check out the entire list of trails on the Burren Geopark Website, complete with maps of the Burren.
The Burren and the Burren National Park can be arranged as day trips from Doolin, Galway, Limerick, and even Dublin. If you don’t have a rental car or a guided tour is more your style, check out this Burren day trip tour.
Where to Stay
Here are a few suggestions for hotels and Airbnb apartments that I personally loved:
- Doolin: Aran View Country House had spectacular views and friendly staff, feeling like a home away from home. Check out my review, reviews by fellow travelers, and book your stay here.
- Galway: The Connacht Hotel was affordable and had many amenities, including free parking. Check out my review, reviews by fellow travelers, and book your stay here.
- Limerick: I adored this charming Airbnb, staying in the top floor of a house right across the street from King John’s Castle. (Get $45 credit for Airbnb if you’d like to sign up!)
- Dublin: I stayed in Dublin twice, and both times I lived like a local in these Airbnb rental homes.
Whether you’re basing yourself close to the Burren or you’re exploring on a day trip from a larger city, be sure to get out there however you can. I thoroughly enjoyed walking in the Burren and can’t wait to hit the trails again in the future. If you’d like even more in depth information about hiking the Burren, click here to check out this walking guide of the Burren and the Aran Islands.
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