The wonder and majesty of Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher are undeniable. The staggering cliffs soar 702 feet above the water and seem to reach out like fingers into the crashing waves. At the same time, the Cliffs of Moher identify as Ireland’s most visited natural tourist attraction. And as such a popular natural attraction comes commerciality with parking fees, audio guides, gift shops and busloads of visitors. If you want to get off the beaten path in Ireland, the country rewards with countless other natural stunners where you won’t have to elbow your way up front for a view.
Set up on the south-west coast in County Donegal, Slieve League represents some of the highest seas cliffs in Europe at roughly 1,998 feet. Nearly three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher, Slieve League doesn’t receive the same number of visitors as its more famous neighbor to the south. Believed to be the site of a pilgrimage before the arrival of Christianity, you can climb a path up the cliffs which begins just a few miles from the car park. The very tip-top of the cliffs is referred to as One Man’s Path and is advisable for serious walkers only. Regardless of your vantage point, on a clear day, from Slieve League you can see right across to Sligo and Leitrim.
The Wicklow Mountains
While just south of Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains still retain their splendid isolation thanks to the remote nature of the park coupled with the fact that there are few facilities. Traversed by 3 roads, all of a small and tasty nature, the Wicklow Mountains present some of the most scenic drives in all of Ireland. You’ll head through 20,000 hectares of wild bogland, native oak woodland, conifer forests and past several serene lakes. Perhaps most famously known for housing the ancient monastic settlement founded in the 6th century Glendalough, the Wicklow Mountains present an ideal natural terrain for hillwalkers.
Located off the coast of Western Ireland and roughly 45 minutes by boat, mystery surrounds Skellig Michael, yet another natural stunner in Ireland. The remote island was first settled by monks well over a millennium ago. Once you spend a few hours on this isolated and storm-lashed island which rises a steep 714 feet above sea level, you’ll gape in wonder at the thought of monks living here all the way up until the 13th century. While the island’s appearance in recent Star Wars films has upped its popularity, Skellig Michael retains an isolation and wonder thanks to the fact that the government has imposed a limit on the number of yearly visitors. Only open to visitors from mid-May to early October and only 180 people allowed per day, you can often explore the island, climbing up its 670 step stairway to the monastery, without the crowds. The UNESCO World Heritage Site remains a popular spot for seabirds like puffins and fulmars.
Most travelers to Ireland expect emerald green rolling hills, but few know the country also holds a lunar-like landscape too. Located in County Clare, the Burren is unlike any other Irish landscape you might envision. Dedicated a Special Area of Conservation by the E.U., the Burren largely consisted of limestone, craggy terrain that looks more like the moon than Ireland. Formed millions of years ago beneath long forgotten tropical seas, one of the best times to visit comes in the spring when the wildflowers pop. In fact, the Burren is home to 70% of Ireland’s 900 native plant species.
Just across a narrow sound, Dursey Island floats as the most westerly of West Cork’s inhabited islands. The rugged island is devoid of commerciality as there are no shops, no pubs, no nothing. Its unique isolation lends commanding views of the Beara peninsula, making it a fine spot for bird watchers and walkers. You can walk the 5.5-mile loop around the island, stopping to admire its Atlantic views and rugged cliffs. You might even spot the ruins of a church said to have been founded by the monks from Skellig Michael, a castle and a Napoleonic era signal tower. Reaching Dursey Island is also part of the adventure. The island is accessible by way of an Ireland’s only cable car as the strong tides between the mainland make boat travel hazardous.
Ireland’s impossibly green landscape affords much more natural wonders than just the popular Cliffs of Moher. Pack your windbreaker and walking shoes for these natural wonders won’t disappoint.
Have you been to Ireland? What was your favorite off the beaten path natural attraction?