Getting your Nature Fix in Dubin
January 1, 1970
by Jess Tang
If you have ever thought of traveling to Dublin or even if you’re exploring there now, I hope that you’re already familiar with some of the well-known spots in town. Places like Grafton Street, Temple Bar, the Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Castle are all well-traveled and rightly so. They embody much of the city life that has made Dublin famous worldwide for history and culture, perfecting the art of drinking and live music shows every night of the week. Dublin is an amazing city to get to know and I’ll never have enough time to explore this town.
What too many people forget is that Ireland has always been known as one of the greenest countries to visit, full of rolling hills bursting with wildflowers and sheep, goats and cows to keep you company along your walk. A trip to Dublin would be incomplete without immersing yourself for at least a day (or longer!) in the local flora and fauna.
If your transportation methods are limited, you’re in luck because Dublin is home to the largest enclosed park in any European city. Phoenix Park is free to enter and just a 30 minute bus ride or 45 minute walk from Grafton Street in the city center and is home to the Dublin Zoo, the President of Ireland and a very large herd of wild deer that you can catch grazing at all times of the day. With over 700 hectares of land, Phoenix Park can keep you busy all day. As long as weather permits, pack a picnic and head out to this park for a stroll in what may soon become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
National Botanic Gardens
If you’re looking for a more manageable area of land to explore in the city, the National Botanic Gardens may be the place for you. Dublin’s second most visited attraction is spread across almost 20 hectares of land and has several beautiful greenhouses, filled to the brim with exotic plant species from all over the world. My personal favorite, the Palm House, transports you into a hot and humid tropical jungle, despite Ireland’s often grey and rainy weather. Take your wander through the Orchid and Cactus Houses, connected to the Palm House on either side, and you’ll be able to spend the day traveling to almost every country and climate zone, if you just use a little imagination.
Howth Cliff Walk
To escape the city and find a little more nature, hop on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) electric rail system at Connolly Train Station and head north to the Howth stop. In less than 30 minutes you will find yourself on Howth Head, a peninsula with spectacular views of the Irish Sea and green-covered cliffs that drop down to it.
Though there are several looped hikes that you may take, all are fairly easy to do and follow clearly marked signs the whole way. For the most popular walk, start at the Dart Station and walk along the promenade, following the green arrows. They’ll lead you up a road and soon you’ll be walking along the beautiful cliff path. For these walks, bring some comfortable shoes (I’d recommend some form of walking or hiking shoes) and a bottle of water. The green path is around 6km total and has a slight elevation gain of 130 meters. Though it will only take around 2 hours to complete the walk, my favorite way to finish up an active day in Dublin is at a chipper, so give yourself some time to grab a bite to eat and walk around Howth Village. For a longer day, take the purple path or check out more detailed information on each walk here.
Bray to Greystones
If you’re like me and have the time and energy to explore more villages surrounding Dublin, I’d also recommend the Bray to Greystones walk, a few kilometers south of the city. Similar to the Howth Head cliff paths, this hike takes you along the coast of the Irish Sea starting in one town and finishing in the other. The great thing about this route is that there are DART stations in both towns, so you can get off the train in one, walk the salty and usually a bit windy seaside path and then catch the DART back into Dublin at the end of your walk.
I like to start in Bray and walk to Greystones so that I can have a delicious post-walk meal at The Happy Pear, a vegetarian restaurant run by two brothers who also write cookbooks full of delicious recipes. Similar to Howth Head, this walk is not too long or challenging but I do recommend bringing walking shoes and water, as well as a warm jacket or raincoat as is it along the sea and frequently experiences rainy and windy weather. The path stretches for 7 km and can take you anywhere from 2-4 hours. For more detailed information, check out Wicklow County’s website here.
I’ve learned that pretty much every city, town and tiny village in Ireland has its own well-traveled path so no matter where you find yourself, nature is accessible and ready to be explored! Just remember, Ireland is known for its mild but wet and grey weather- don’t let this keep you indoors though. My walking essentials include some waterproof pants, hiking boots and a rain jacket, as well as a hat and warm sweater, no matter what time of year it is or how sunny it looks. Sunny days do happen though and I always bring some water and sunscreen as well.
Most importantly, remember that the weather can go from warm to pouring rain in a matter of minutes, so keep an open mind! Ireland’s natural beauty is just as awe-inspiring when you can see vast views of rolling green hills as it is when you’re walking through a mystifying blanket of cloud and can only see as far as the brightly-colored moss and lichen around your feet.