Your Pocket Guide to The Waterford Greenway | co. Waterford

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that ‘adventure holidays’ is not a combination of words I use very often… if ever. Here we tend to visit lush gardens, period houses, old-fashioned museums and at a push, we might hike a moderate trail.
But this Summer, I cycled (part of) the Waterford Greenway and this is the most ‘adventure holiday’ you’ll see here. To be honest, I feel like a changed woman. I absolutely loved riding along the Copper Coast and I can’t wait until my next cycling trip! A sentence I never thought I would say. Luckily, Ireland is going through a ‘greenway boom’ as they are fast becoming a popular holiday destination so I have a large selection to pick from. The Waterford Greenway has actually been voted Ireland’s Favourite Adventure in the Independent’s Reader Travel Awards 2019. Below you’ll find everything you need to know before you set your wheels on this stunning trail.

WHAT IS THE WATERFORD GREENWAY?

The Waterford Greenway is an off-road trail stretching between Waterford City and Dungarvan, in the Southeast of Ireland. With a distance of 46 km, it is the longest greenway in the country. It follows an old railway line and features 11 bridges, 3 viaducts and a tunnel. It was opened in March 2017 to cyclists and walkers alike. As it’s car-free and mostly flat it’s a great introduction for those who are less confident on a bike.

HOW TO GET THERE?

You can start the Waterford Greenway from either end: Waterford or Dungarvan.
Waterford City is one of the major Irish cities so you won’t have any problem getting a train to the city’s station: Plunkett Station. From Dublin, the train journey is direct and takes about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can use Bus Eireann or a private coach company for the journey. By bus, it takes 2,5 hours.

As there’s no train station in Dungarvan, you’ll have to come by public or private bus if you want to use public transport. I used the the private Dublin Coach M9 Express Service (which also stops in Waterford). It was the cheapest and fastest option I could find for Dungarvan at the time.

Alternatively you could start at one of the greenway’s access points which you can locate via this interactive map. Local bus lines stop at a few of them.

HIRE A BIKE?

Of course you can also walk the greenway but I think it’s more fun to cycle it (and being on two wheels allow you to see more of it in a shorter time).
You won’t need to bring your bike (and gear) with you as there’s no shortage of bike hires in the region. It is quite hilarious actually, it seems like every business along the greenway has added a rental as a side hustle. It amused me greatly to spot the various shop signs: ‘cafe and bike rental’, ‘pub and bike rental’, ‘barber’s and bike rental’, ‘Funeral Parlour and … okay, okay I might exaggerate a bit but it really all felt a bit ‘Hot Fuzz’.
You’ll find bike rentals in Dungarvan and Waterford City but also at some of the access points along the greenway. Click here to access the interactive map to locate the greenway’s access points, bike hires and available car parks where you can leave your vehicle.
I personally rented a hybrid bicycle from Waterford Greenway Cycle Tours and Bike Hire in Dungarvan. I’d recommend 100% as they were super friendly and helpful. They also have a desk in Kilmacthomas and Waterford. It was €25 a day and came with a helmet (I did regret not enquiring about a lock as it would have been nice to park the bike safely and explore off-road). If you want an electric bike, it will cost you €50 a day. Included in the price is the trip back with their shuttle bus should you need it. I had intended to catch it in Kilmacthomas (the greenway’s halfway point) but unfortunately missed the only one available that afternoon.
The bike prices are more or less the same everywhere but I think what you should take into consideration when choosing your bike rental is their shuttle bus’ timetable and make sure it fits your plan.
With that being said, you’ll find public transport along the greenway so you’re not likely to get stranded anywhere. For information, the public bus I took from Kilmacthomas was €5. Not expensive by any means but it was a cost I should have avoided with more preparation.
In retrospect I should have gone with Waterford Greenway Bike Hire & Visitor Centre, their shuttle bus leaves from their Kilmacthomas hub in the Workhouse which is exactly where my journey ended.
An extra tip for you: make sure you write down the exact name of the rental company you’re going for to avoid any confusion as they may have very similar names.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

If you’re a seasoned cyclist, legend has it that you could whizz through the whole thing in 4 hours. Honestly, I personally wouldn’t know. You see I’m couch potato in chief so I had to push myself real hard to cycle half of it. It took me 3 hours to cycle the distance between Dungarvan and Kilmacthomas, about 22km. To be fair, I didn’t rush it, I stopped a lot to take pictures or to simply catch my breath. Don’t tell anyone but I even walked for a bit (what can I say, my bum was sore).
You’re free to tackle the Waterford Greenway the way you want, but I think the nicest way to go about it is to take your time, enjoy the scenery and the various stops.
If you’re set to complete the whole way, take at least a half day, maybe more if you want to include a visit to Mount Congreve Gardens.
But it’s important that you know your physical limit. If like me you hardly ever cycle, pick a section that you think you’d enjoy. The most beautiful part for me was from Dungarvan to O’Mahony’s Pub. If I had to do it again, I’d cycle there, have a cosy pub break then leisurely come back to Dungarvan for an evening along the quays.

WHAT TO SEE ALONG THE GREENWAY?

The Waterford Greenway is divided in 6 sections. Each of which comes with its own set of sightseeing spots. It’s generally advised to go in the direction from Waterford City to Dungarvan as the views when you reach Clonea Bay are breathtaking. Added bonus, the path goes a midge downhill in that direction.
With that being said, I started from Dungarvan but that was alright with me as it meant more breaks to stop and look behind (and I can confirm the views are indeed amazing). Here is a quick breakdown of the greenway’s six sections.

WATERFORD CITY TO KILLOTERAN (7.5km)
Your journey starts in Waterford city and soon enough you’ll pass by the Waterford IT campus, which has a car park available. Through woodlands, you cycle along the River Suir and the railway track operated by the Waterford & Suir Valley Heritage train. Keep an eye for the old-timey locomotive!

KILLOTERAN TO KILMEADAN (3km)
In Killoteran you’ll find another car park but if you decide to go on you’ll be surrounded by the same kind of landscape: woodlands along the water. On your way, you’ll pass by a Norman Castle and Mount Congreve Gardens. The Gardens are absolutely ravishing, they’re renowned for their rhododendron collection so do plan a stop there, you won’t regret it. Besides, they have a charming courtyard cafe should you be in need of refreshments at this point.

KILMEADAN TO KILMACTHOMAS (13km)
Here the woodlands will slowly make way for countryside scenes, the farm animals will become your new road companions. Along the way, you might spot a tower. It is Fairbrook, the old woollen mill.
Just outside Kilmacthomas, there’s an old Famine Workhouse which now houses the spiffing Coach House Coffee. Great place to enjoy a bite to eat!
The town of Kilmacthomas marks the half way point of the greenway. Remnants of its old train station have the charming look of a toy set from another era. Here you’ll cross your first viaduct. If you want to have a better view of it, leave the cycling trail to join the main street of Kilmacthomas.

KILMACTHOMAS TO DURROW (13km)
The green emerald fields keep rolling as you ride and the cows graze, indifferent to your huffing and puffing. The beautiful valley surrounding you is partly framed by the majestic Comeragh Mountains, to the North. You will come across the second viaduct, the Durrow viaduct.

DURROW TO CLONEA ROAD (6km)
In Durrow, you’ll find the famed Mahony’s Pub and shop with old Irish charm to boot. It’s almost mandatory to stop here for a pint and a chat. Soon after you’ll be faced with the Ballyvoyle tunnel. It is 400m long and it is advised to get off your bike before entering. As you exit, you’ll feel you’ve been transported to another latitude. The surrounding walls are covered with exotic plants, giving the greenway a jungle flavour all of a sudden. Spot the fairy-sized doors dotted along the way among the fern leaves.
Next is the third and final viaduct, Ballyvoyle viaduct.
Brace yourself for the big greenway finale, as you’re now approaching the Copper Coast. The views over the Clonea Bay are a favourite among locals and visitors alike.

CLONEA ROAD TO DUNGARVAN (4km)
The last section follows along the coastline and brings you to Dungarvan via a rather scenic metal bridge over sea marshes. The view over Clonea bay and Dungarvan harbour combined with the sea air are truly exhilarating. Dungarvan is a charming sea port town with some great restaurants to explore once you have returned your trusted steel steed.

WHAT IS THE GREENWAY CODE?

Before you cycle the greenway, you need to know a few rules so it’s all smooth sailing… I mean cycling for you and the others whom you share the road with.
– Just like on any road in Ireland, keep on the left and pass others on the right. It’s advised to ring your bell before you do so but from my own experience, people seem to prefer a good, clear, warning, hello.
– Always cycle at a safe speed.
– In Ireland, especially in the countryside, it is not uncommon to greet any person you walk by on the street. It seems to apply to cycling on the greenway too. I’m not the most sociable creature (understatement of the year) so I compromised with a friendly nod.
– Leave the place like you find it. Clean up after yourself and bring your litter home.
– If you walk your dogs, keep them on a lead and scoop the poop.

WHAT TO PACK?

In terms of bike gear such as helmets, high-visibility jackets, tow-along for kids and locks, your rental should be able to provide. One thing that you might want to pack is padded shorts. I know glamorous but I deeply regretted I wasn’t wearing any. I may have first had a little laugh when I noticed that the cyclists around me had weird cushioned bums. Twenty minutes later, I got it. Ouch. Trust me, these are essential. If you’re not into cyclist fashion, you can also get seat pad covers that you can add to any bicycles.

Bring water in your refillable bottle. Recently the Greenway has added free drinking fountains along the way. They are available at four locations: Abbeyside, Balleylinch Cross, Kilmacthomas and Bilberry.

Pack snacks. Breakfast bars or energy balls will give you a boost along the way. For something more substantial, there are plenty of great spots to stop for a bite (for instance, Coach House Coffee or Mount Congreve Gardens’ cafe) but you’ll also find picnic tables dotted around if you’d rather bring your own lunch.

As you all know by now, the Irish weather is temperamental so be ready for all occasions. Carry a rainproof jacket, sunscreen, sunglasses and wear layers. A little tip, do reapply your sunscreen regularly, especially on your hands. They’re in a vulnerable position on the handlebars. I only applied some just before taking the road and they got sunburnt.

Make sure your phone is charged and you have all the emergency numbers saved.

Download the official map on your phone or get the app so you have all the info you need at hand.

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Poolbeg Peninsula | Dublin

If you lived in Dublin for a certain period of time, chances are that the landmark you associate the most with the city is the Poolbeg Chimneys. Not Temple Bar or the Ha’penny Bridge or even Trinity College, no, those candy-striped chimneys are our version of an Eiffel Tower. Pretty much from anywhere in the Dublin Bay, you can see their familiar silhouette sticking out on the horizon.
And if like me, you travel by boat, they are more than a landmark. They mean you made it home as they welcome you when you enter Dublin Port. For that reason, I was quite excited to do the Poolbeg Peninsula Walk as it meant I got to finally see these two ladies from up close!

There are several starting points to the Poolbeg Peninsula but the most scenic trail begins at the Irishtown entrance. As you follow the peninsula outline, the Dublin shore on your right extends from Sandymount Strand, with its front of colourful houses, to the recognisable port of Dún Laoghaire.
Looking out from the shore, you’d be forgiven to think the peninsula is an absolute wasteland, especially with the waste management facility looming over it. But don’t be too quick to judge as once you enter it, a treasure of fauna and flora opens to you. To be honest, it’s almost easy to forget that the city’s waste is being burnt a few steps away from you.
I was actually surprised to discover that the peninsula is home to a nature reserve, the Irishtown Nature Park. The reserve was born from an idea that seemed completely mad in the 1970s: turn a dump full of waste and rubble into a nature spot. Volunteers gathered forces to make it into the space it is today, a home to many birds, insects and plant species. Quite an inspiring story that gives me a bit of hope for the future!

As you are getting deeper into the trail, the iconic Poolbeg Chimneys are getting closer. They are part of what used to be a power station but they have been disused since the early 2000s.
Did you know that one was taller than the other? Only 40 centimetres mind you! They are one of the tallest structures in Ireland, at a little more than 200m. They gained international fame when they featured in U2‘s music video for Pride (In The Name of Love). In 2014, they became protected to everyone’s relief as they had been previously threatened with demolition.

At the end of the Peninsula trail, there are a couple of beaches which would have looked idyllic if not for the giant eye-sore of the waste management facility behind it.

Tip: If you’re into photography or are looking for a nice insta backdrop, this is a great spot for a little Summer shoot what with the beach grass and the Poolbeg chimneys in the background.

It takes about 2km to get to the beginning of the Great South Wall from the Irishtown’s trail entrance. If you’re short of time, you can skip the trail and come by car (or taxi). There’s a handy parking space at the bottom of the Great South Wall..

The Great South Wall is one of the longest sea walls in Europe. You’ll have to walk nearly 2km to get to the Poolbeg Lighthouse. Half way through is the Half Moon Swimming and Water Polo Club. The old-fashioned blue and white cabins sure look charming on the pier but why would anyone want to swim at this exact spot is beyond me! It is the Dublin Port’s entrance after all, which comes with its heavy traffic of ferries and boats.

Quick advice, do mind your step as the granite path is uneven and only come here on a good weather day, you don’t want to be swiped by an angry wave!

There has been a lighthouse at the end of the sea wall since it was built in the late 18th century. It was first powered by candle-light (the first of its genre, it is said) but the podgy red tower you see today was built in 1820.
Do you know why the Poolbeg Lighthouse is red? In maritime convention, red means port, which is the left side of a boat. And if you look towards Howth, you’ll spot North Bull Lighthouse which is green. And green is for starboard (right side). Now you know!

Fun fact: Poolbeg Lighthouse is nearly equidistant of the Dublin shore, Dún Laoghaire and Howth. That makes it a great spot to admire the Dublin bay!

If you’re looking to escape the city but you’re short on time, it is the walk for you. Once you step in the peninsula, it’s hard to believe you are still in Dublin. The sound of the swishing beach grass and the sea air would cure any city fatigue.

A side note, there’s a talk of a plan to redevelop the area into a residential quarter with high-rise apartment blocks. While Dublin desperately needs new accommodation to alleviate the housing crisis, I can’t help but worry about what it means for the peninsula and its nature reserve. If you haven’t been yet, I’d say hurry and go explore Poolbeg before it changes forever.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Poolbeg trail is easy to tackle, it is mostly flat (just be careful on the sea wall as the ground is uneven and sometimes wet)
From the shoreline to the Poolbeg Lighthouse, it is about 4 km. Count about 2 hours to go to the lighthouse and back to the shoreline.

Bus
18 (Dromard Terrace, the last stop in Sandymount)

Howth Castle | Dublin

Howth Castle

Up until recently, I had never heard of Howth Castle, despite going to Howth Village more times than I can remember. Judging from the reactions I had from some Dubliners, I was definitely not the only one oblivious to its presence. This 700 year old castle is literally hiding in plain sight on the peninsula of Howth.
You see, when you exit Howth Dart Station, you instinctively take a left, in the direction of the harbour. Next time go against your instinct and take a right until you reach the estate’s impressive stone gate entrance. It would be a shame to miss this estate, scene of a pirate legend and of one of the most famous monologues in Irish Literature.

Howth Castle

From the time you pass under the entrance gate, it’s a good 10 minute uphill walk until you see the castle. It’s an impressive sight.  Notice the layers of history in all the parts that were successively added to the structure through the ages.
There has been a Howth Castle since 1180 on the edge of Howth village but nothing is left from that original timber building. The oldest parts you can see today date back from the mid-15th century.

What’s fascinating is that the same family has been living here since 1180 thus making Howth Castle one of the oldest residential castles in Ireland, if not Europe. The Lawrence Family has been carrying all sorts of stories and traditions over 35 generations. One in particular involves a lady pirate, Grace O’Malley. Back in 1576, she wished to visit the castle but when she knocked on the doors, she found them shut tight. The Lawrence Family was too busy having dinner to receive her. Strongly offended, she orchestrated the kidnapping of the family’s young heir in retaliation. After much discussion, Grace and the Lawrence came to an agreement. She was to bring the boy safe home on the condition that the castle doors must always be open and that an extra seat must be set at the table for any unexpected guests. It is said that the family still honours their promise even to this day. Do you reckon I could show up tonight for a bite?

Howth Castle

If you’re interested to know more about the castle and the Lawrence family, you can take part to a tour between the months of April and September, on Sundays.
To be found also inside the castle is the National Transport Museum of Ireland as well as the cosiest cafe I ever did see. It is located in the courtyard. As soon as I stepped inside the Castle Cafe, I felt like I had been transported to someone’s private garden, albeit with a grandiose castle background. Little white cast iron tables and chairs are scattered on the lawn and there’s also seating available in the adorable conservatory. I heard they make scones everyday fresh out of their aga. It sounds absolutely heavenly, I’m dying to try them out with some yummy jam. They also serve afternoon tea in this idyllic setting.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Outside the castle, you still have plenty to explore in the 250 acre gardens so hold on to your boots. First you’ll stumble upon the Deer Park Golf. At the time of my visit (early June), it was completely covered with buttercups which was ever so cheerful. I immediately had the urge to cross the field and walk towards the sea until I reached the park’s edge. Through the trees, I was surprised to see spreading in front of me Howth harbour and its tiny seafood restaurants. It’s a crazy thought, Howth Castle demesne had been here all along, only hidden by a handful of trees. I could see below the streets I had trodden, oblivious to the amazing treasure that was lying so close.
This sudden change of perspective made me feel a bit dizzy. What else have I not noticed around me? I had missed a bloody castle, after all!

Howth CastleHowth Castle

After spying on the village like a creepy puppet master for a while, I set off in the direction of the golf club’s bar. Near the parking lot, I watched a lone golfer practising his swing. Surely, he must have felt like the luckiest golfer alive facing the epic view over the peninsula’s entrance.

Behind the building is the start to the Rhododendron Walk. It goes through a forest of, you guessed it, rhododendrons. It looks so out of place, almost jungle-like, you would not necessarily expect to find a setting like this in Ireland.  The forest paths are covered with the trees’ exposed twisting roots, I felt like I had just been transported in the film Legend. I don’t think it would have totally surprise me to catch a glimpse of a unicorn in between the foliage.
Note that the rhododendron trees bloom from May to June so make sure to plan your visit around that time to experience the place to its full potential.

Howth Castle
At the start of the walk, you can go straight and climb steep steps that will lead you to the top of the Rhododendron hill. It might take a little effort but believe me the pay-off is worth every steps. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that there you will find one of the most stunning views in Dublin. In my opinion, it ranks as high as the view from Killiney Hill. It sweeps over Howth Castle, Howth Harbour and the Ireland’s Eye. You can even see the Poolbeg Chimneys on the left!

Click here to read my post on Killiney Hill

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Now if you’d rather not climb any steps, you can take the path on your right to explore the forest grounds. There you’ll find an impressive dolmen, the 2nd heaviest in Ireland. It’s nicknamed Aideen’s Grave after a young widow who died of a broken heart following her husband’s death at the battle of Gabhra (AD 184). Unfortunately as romantic as this legend sounds, it can’t be true as the stone was dated at least 300 years older than the historic battle.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Another fictitious love story was set among these trees. Indeed, it is here that Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is the scene of the most recognisable monologue in the book. Amongst these striking trees, she said yes she will yes. Who wouldn’t really?

See also: Drimnagh Castle, if you’re looking to visit another castle in Dublin

Howth Castle

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Howth Castle – website 
Howth Demesne
co. Dublin

Opening Hours
Tours of the castle are available on Sunday afternoon from April to September, you can book your ticket here.

Admission
The demesne is free to roam while the entrance fee to the castle starts at €50

Dart
Howth Station

Your Ultimate Guide to Glendalough | co. Wicklow

Glendalough
If you ever spend some time in Ireland, chances are that you’ll get recommended a visit to Glendalough a fair few times. It took me the good part of a decade to finally set foot in the old Monastic City so you can imagine how many times I heard the whole Glendalough spiel. Well, now it’s my turn to lay it all on you! Glendalough is one of the most visited attractions in Ireland and for good cause, this natural wonder is positively ravishing. So what are you waiting for? I know I know, I get you, when you don’t drive, it can be a tad tricky (and as I found out even if you do have a car, getting there may come with its own set of hurdles) but fret not, after spending 4 days there, I’m here to help you make the most of your time and organise a hopefully all-round fuss-free trip to Glendalough, car or no car.

1. ABOUT GLENDALOUGH

Glendalough means in gaelic ‘valley of the two lakes’. The two lakes, the Lower Lake and the Upper Lake, were shaped as a result of the thaw following the Ice Age. You can find this awe-inspiring valley in county Wicklow (Dublin’s southern neighbour county). It is part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, the biggest of the 6 national parks in Ireland.
Glendalough is famous worldwide for its grand Monastic City which you can still see in part today. The monastic settlement finds its origin back to the 6th century when Saint Kevin founded the place after falling in love with the beauty of the quiet valley.
For 600 years, the settlement flourished. You’ll have to imagine the place in its heyday, it comprised of farm buildings, guest houses, an infirmary and dwellings for the monks and the local population. The monks organised manuscript workshops and sold oak timber to the Vikings to build their fleet. It all came to an end after multiple raids carried out by the English and the final nail on the coffin came with Glendalough losing its ecclesiastical status to Dublin’s Diocese. It remained a local church and a place of pilgrimage for a while but soon enough the place fell in ruins. The monuments you see today mostly date from the 10th to the 12th century.

The site of Glendalough can be divided in 3 sections and this is what you will find in each of them:

The Lower Lake

This is where you will find the famous Monastic City. Coming from afar, the first thing you’ll probably see is Glendalough’s very recognisable Round Tower, standing tall at 30m. It is said to date back from the 10th century. The Monastic City has many other interesting features so keep an eye out for the grand archway, which has a unique design, St Kevin’s Church, also called ‘the Kitchen’ due to the shape of its chimney, the Priest’s House and the eerie Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. If like me, you enjoy a graveyard full of Celtic crosses, you won’t be disappointed.
Fan of Irish folklore, legends and stories? Locate St Kevin’s Cross and try to wrap your arms around the cross to make your fingertips touch. There, all your wishes will be granted… or that’s what they say! Also don’t miss the Deer Stone which is said to have magical powers. Indeed, legend has it that if you splash your face with the water collected in its hollow, you might just keep your looks forever.
Next to the Monastic City are the Visitor Centre, the Glendalough Hotel and the first car park. In the Visitor Centre, there’s an exhibition and an audio-visual show (there’s an entrance fee of €5). If you want to book a tour guide of the Monastic City, you’ll have to contact the centre first by phone or fax.
Further down is the Lower Lake which you can cross thanks to a boardwalk or simply walk along its sides on a pathway.

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The Upper Lake

A good 20 minute walk through a beautiful oak woodland will take you from the Lower Lake to the Upper Lake. There, you will find the Information Centre where you can enquire about Glendalough’s hiking trails and the local flora and fauna. Guided walks are also available. If you are hiking, this is where all the trails start.
Outside, you will find the second car park with food stalls and restroom facilities.
At the bottom of the lake, there’s a makeshift beach and one of the site’s most fantastic view so don’t miss it!
Take the path on the left of the Lake and start your hike along the Poulanass River and Waterfall. On the right, walk through a rather enchanting pine forest for about an hour and you will get to the Miners Village. Keep an eye for Temple-Na-Skellig (the original site of St Kevin’s settlement) and Saint Kevin’s Cave, both of which can be seen on the opposite lakeshore.

Miners Village and Beyond

This was actually my favourite area in Glendalough. There’s something chillingly atmospheric about this village in ruins at the bottom of the valley. If you could go back in time to the 1850s, you’d see here a bustling mine. Lead, zinc and silver were mined by 2000 workers here and in the neighbour valley. Business lasted for a 100 years until the 1950s when the mines were eventually abandoned.
Today, only a few structures are left standing as well as an old piece of machinery. I’m not going to lie when you get here, you feel like you reached the entrance to the Mordor. The hill slopes are covered with discarded stones which feels like they’re about to tumble in a rockslide any minute. Stop for a bit and observe the unfazed, feral goats jump from one rock to another without a sweat. They’re amazing little creatures!
Further up the path, you can ascend along the river which flows into the Upper Lake. At the top, you will be met with the rolling views of the Glenealo Valley where a herd of sika deer generally gently graze. Turn around and here is the spectacular panorama over the Upper Lake.
Now with the Upper Lake in your back, you can either go straight ahead and explore the Glenealo Valley or take a left, cross the makeshift bridge over the river and hike uphill to get to the boardwalk. This will lead you to the Spinc, one of the most sought after scenic view of the region.

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2. GETTING THERE

By Public Transport

This is where things get a bit tricky and probably why it took me so long to visit Glendalough. There’s only one private bus company that serves the route between Dublin and Glendalough. Moreover, St Kevin’s Bus provides only two round trips a day (every day). The first one leaves Dublin at 11.30am which gets to Glendalough at 12.50pm and the last bus back to Dublin leaves Glendalough at 4.30pm (check the Summer and Winter timetables here). It is great if you plan to stroll on flat ground around the two Lakes, enjoy the hotel’s terrace, maybe squeeze in a small hike. But it will leave you on a tight schedule if you attempt one of the more challenging hikes (the longest hike on the map is 4 hours). But I personally wouldn’t recommend it as it’s best to allow some extra time in case something unexpected happens during the hike. I’m afraid your best option is to find a nearby accommodation for the night if you intend on fully exploring Glendalough.
One thing to keep in mind if you travel with St Kevin’s bus company is it can get extremely busy during the weekends, holidays and high tourist season. I took the bus from Dublin on a Tuesday in late August and it was so packed people had to stand for a few stops until the company called on an extra bus. I’d advise you to get to the bus stop early so you can get in the front of the queue to get a seat. A return ticket from Dublin is €20 which can be purchased on board (click here for a full list of fares).

Now another option would be to take the train to Rathdrum from Dublin. The trip takes a little more than an hour. From there, the company Wicklow Way Bus can pick you up and drive you directly to Glendalough. Be sure to book with them in advance by phone or email and let them know how many people will be there (you don’t need to be a group) and what time you plan to be at Rathdrum Station. The great thing is that they are available 7 days a week!

Lastly, you can go on a day tour with a private company. I can’t personally comment because I’ve never tried any but recently Wild Wicklow Tours, a family-run business that tours Glendalough and other places in county Wicklow, has been voted the best travel experience in Ireland and 10th in the world by Tripadvisor. It sounds like a safe choice to me!

By Car

The journey by car from Dublin to Glendalough, travelling on the N11, will take you a little more than an hour (it’s well posted, so just follow the signs). That is if you avoid the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. In high season, Glendalough can get horridly congested and queues to the parking lots can get out of hand. So better plan a trip midweek or in low season if you don’t want to waste precious time on the road instead of enjoying the fresh mountain air.
Glendalough has two parking lots available. The first one in the Lower Valley, next to the Visitor Centre, comes with an entrance fee of €4 on weekends, bank holidays, Holy Week, Easter Week and during the months of June, July and August. It is free otherwise and open 24/7. The second one, next to the Upper Lake, will cost €4 at all times. It opens from 8am to varying times in the evening depending on the season so do check the signs before leaving the car park.
If you want to avoid parking in Glendalough, you can do so in the closest village, Laragh. There’s a parking lot on the main road to Glendalough that will cost you €5 and is open on the weekends and bank holidays.
Little insider tip for you, if you manage to park near the Glendalough Woollen Mills in Laragh, there is a pleasant forest walk starting behind the mills. It’ll take you straight to Glendalough in about 15-20 minutes.
For more information on parking your car in Glendalough, click here.
GlendaloughGlendalough

3. BEST TIME TO VISIT

Glendalough is open all year round, 24/7 but as I mentioned before it can get busy during the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. Not only the car parks will be congested at these times but you will find the Monastic City and generally the grounds surrounding the two lakes quite crowded at these times. However, you’ll probably find some peace and quiet on your hikes. In summary, a day in the middle of the week and in the low season would be ideal!

Ireland can be touch and go when it comes to the weather… to put it mildly. From my own experience, the most pleasant months are May, June and September, which is great news for you as they’re not quite in the high season bracket.
In terms of seasons, there’s beauty to be found in each and every one of them. Glendalough is bursting with interesting fauna and flora which come and go at different times of the year. The Summers are green and lush, the gorse and heather splash the valley with joyful yellow and purple flowers. Springs come with the bluebells in the oak woodland and the Autumns turn the trees rust and gold. I am not sure I would actually recommend Winters although I’m sure it’s equally beautiful especially as the Wicklow Mountains are often the first area to get hit with snow. But Ireland is pretty much one giant storm from November to March so please bear in mind the weather conditions can be quite drastic. Moreover, if you intend to hike, some of the pathway are boardwalks so it can get quite slippery up there with snow or rain conditions.

4. ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD

You’ll have guessed it by now, if you don’t own or rent a car, your best bet to explore the hiking trails of Glendalough at your leisure is to find an accommodation nearby.
You have several options. On the site of Glendalough, you’ll find a hotel, a hostel and a couple of B&Bs. The closest town is Laragh which is a good 20 minute walk away. There you’ll find a few bed and breakfasts, hotels and airbnbs. But don’t stray too far away if you’re strictly on foot as you’ll need some energy left to hike in Glendalough.
When I visited, I went for a place on Trooper Hill, which is 1.5 hour walk away. It wasn’t the easiest on my legs, especially as you can imagine, my accommodation was located on a steep hill so coming home was rather arduous.
Worth a mention, Laragh Village has a bike hire shop with some fancy e-bikes that will make your exploring a lot easier. It is located next to the hotel Lynhams of Laragh.

When it comes to food, I was told by my host that the Glendalough Hotel has a very nice restaurant and bar. On the parking lot next to the Upper Lake, you’ll find food stalls that sell coffee, ice-cream and the usual chipper fare. I had a veggie burger and chips and you’ll hear absolutely no complaint from me. I thought it was actually a decent portion for the price but then I live in Dublin so most of the time I find everything cheap elsewhere. If you’re looking for a healthier option, you’ll probably have to pack some  food with you. Laragh Village has a few eateries and the cafe/deli The Glendalough Green has a tasty selection of foods that would be great in a picnic. I’d definitely suggest you take plenty of water and snacks (or even a picnic) with you if you intend on hiking. The longest hike is 4 hour long which can be done between meals but you never know!

5. WHAT TO PACK AND WEAR

It’s true what they say about the Irish weather, it is wildly unpredictable. Don’t be surprised if blazing sunshine is immediately followed by thunder and sleet. So the key to dressing here is definitely layers. You’ll want to check the weather cast before leaving and pack a weather-appropriate jacket, good footwear (if it rains or snows, make sure they come with gripping soles as the boardwalks at the top can be slippery). Make sure the clothes you wear are comfortable and breathable (go for natural textiles but avoid jeans as they take too long to dry if you get soaked). If the sun’s out, take your sunglasses and a hat.

In your bag, you’ll need:
– your phone, fully-charged (save the mountain emergency number, 999 or 112)
– rainproof jacket
– flask of water
– snacks (or picnic depending on the length of your hike)
– a map of the trails (you can pick it up for 50 cents at the Information Office, the Visitor Centre or you can download it for free on your phone via this link)
– sunscreen if it’s sunny
– if you plan on going off-track in the neighbouring valleys, take a compass
For more information on hiking responsibly in the Irish mountains, click here.

GlendaloughGlendalough

6. HIKING TRAILS

There are 9 waymarked trails on site. They range from ‘easy’ to more arduous ‘hill walks’. The shortest walk (1km) takes 30 minute to complete while the longest (11km) can be completed in about 4 hours.
All of the trails start at the National Park Information Centre near Upper Lake. If you’re looking for a guided walk, they can be arranged in the centre. Displays of the trail map can be found next to Visitor Centre and the Information Centre (inside, you can buy a map for 50 cents -or download it here for free).
The easiest trails wrap around the two lakes while the most challenging ones will lead you to the Poulanass Waterfall, the Spinc and further in the neighbouring valleys (Lugduff, Glendasan and Glenealo Valley). Some of them link with county Wicklow’s big hiking trails like St Kevin’s Way or the Wicklow Way.

 

I hope this posts answers all your question and you feel ready to explore the Glendalough Valley. If you’re on Instagram, do tag me @theartofexploring, I would love to see your pictures! Let me know in the comments if you think I missed something and I’ll get back to you.

Postcards from Saint-Julien-Chapteuil | France

Saint-Julien-ChapteuilSaint-Julien-Chapteuil

Last Summer, I went to a tiny village nestled among the volcanic hills of Auvergne called Saint-Julien-Chapteuil. I was to spend a week there with my friend and her sweet little family who had recently relocated from Belgium. I was especially eager to finally meet their adorable baby. Two trains and some seven hours later, Brussels far far behind me, I was sitting in her van in a middle of an intense catch-up session while she was driving us to the village I had heard so much of already.

Saint-Julien-Chapteuil

The week spent there was one of the most peaceful of my life. Every morning, I’d be woken by Saint Julien’s bells. More often than not, I would ignore them and fall back asleep. We were living on baby schedule, time before noon was slow and cosy, you would probably find me in the kitchen window stuffing my face with apricots. We had bought a whole crate for a ridiculous price at the end of the market. In the afternoons, if the sun wasn’t too hot, we would go on hikes in the mountains surrounding the village. The volcanic region offers some interesting rock formations like “basalt organ pipes” not unlike the one you can see at the Giant’s Causeway.

Saint-Julien-ChapteuilSaint-Julien-Chapteuil

The views over the valley were breathtaking and the air so pure. So was the water, can you believe the tap water tasted better than bottled?!

The evenings were spent cooking with good wholesome food. Sometimes we would set our table on the terrace, facing the mountains where the sun would eventually lie, lighting the sky orange and violet. And as the stars shone bright in a star-gazer’s perfect dream, we would play cards until our eyelids felt heavy. I would fall asleep to the song of cicadas, sometimes punctuated by the cymbals of thunderstorms.

Saint-Julien-Chapteuil

Ever since I left Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, I’ve been thinking of its slower pace of life (certainly enhanced by our lack of wifi) and its wonderfully old-fashioned events like the soapbox races and the Soup festival where people from the surrounding villages would come and gather in Saint Joseph’s school courtyard to eat cabbage soup, drink wine and dance to the old French tunes sung by an old lady with a quivering voice. For a long time, London has been on my mind but as I grow older, I feel ready for a change of pace.

What about you? Could you see yourself living in a village in the middle of nowhere or are you a city person through and through?
Next week, I’ll show you Le-Puy-en-Velay where we spent an afternoon. This picturesque town is famous for being one of the starting points of the Santiago de Compostela’s pilgrim route.

Killiney Hill | Dublin

Killiney Hill
Late April, I climbed Killiney Hill for the first time. I had no idea of its existence until Eadoin from City of Blackbirds posted a picture of it on her instagram (you should check it out by the way, it’s filled with beautifully serene scenes of the Irish countryside). It baffles me and gives me so much joy at the same time that such a place has managed to escape my radar, even after living here for 7 years. I wonder what other jewels you’re still hiding from me, Dublin.

I say ‘climbed’ like it’s some sort of feat but it’s actually a very pleasant walk, with some steep paths but nothing too arduous and always well paved. You can start the ascent either from the Dalkey or Killiney Dart Station. I would advise the former as the road from Killiney Station is a mean slope. You would definitely be better off going down this one.

Coming from Dalkey, don’t miss the Torca Cottage (photo above) next to the quarry, just before where the trail starts. This is where George Bernard Shaw spent his life as a teenager. I sure wouldn’t have minded that view!
Killiney Hill
Killiney Hill
As I enter the trail, the sweet coconut-like smell of the gorse hit me. Twice a year, in Spring and Autumn, a sea of blooms cover the hill. I keep walking, breathing ladleful of the air where sea salt and the flower scent artfully swirl. At the end of the path, I catch a glimpse of the pointy obelisk breaking the yellow waves. The top of the hill is within reach. I look behind me, down to the dazzling white Sorrento House, which looks like a haunted hotel, and next to it, the Dalkey Island with its goats and its strange little tower in the middle, like some sort of fortified nipple. I still find it hard to believe that all of this is a mere 30 minute train journey away from the city centre.

On the top of the hill stand three weird-looking buildings: two obelisks (nicknamed The Witches’ Hat after their conic roof) and a step pyramid. They are follies, structures built for no other purpose than to look ‘pretty’. In Ireland, they’re mostly ‘Famine Follies’, like these ones, they were ordered by rich landlords in order to create jobs for the poor in the darkest hour of Irish History.

Did you know?

If you walk around each level of the pyramid and then stand at the top of it, facing Dalkey Island, you can make a wish and it will come true! Locals call the pyramid ‘The Wishing Stone’.

Killiney Hill
Killiney Hill
Killiney Hill

The view at the top of the hill is everything (for a better vantage point, go inside the obelisk). The endless blue of the Irish Sea in front of you (on a clear day you can see the mountains of Wales), in your back the Poolbeg Chimneys can be seen looking over the Dublin Bay, on your left Dalkey Hill and Dalkey Island and on your right Bray and the Wicklow mountains. Panoramic views, innit.
And the cherry on top of the biscuit if you’re a dog lover like me, the place is a prime location for dog-watching. It seems to be the meeting point of all the dog owners in the area. That afternoon, I spotted a lady walking 5 dachshunds! Five! #DOGGOALS

Top tip

Bring a blanket and a picnic, the whole hill is a lovely spot for setting down but you might be able to grab the ‘best seats in the house’, a couple of flat stones facing the sea. I don’t think there’s a more romantic spot in Dublin!

Killiney Hill
Practical Information

Killiney Hill
The trail circuit is 2km

Dart: Dalkey or Killiney