Wondering if Ireland has mountains? Keep reading for more information about Ireland’s landscape and geographical features!
When most people picture Ireland in their minds, they immediately picture lush green hills dotted with sheep or cows. They might also picture buckets of rain, stone walls, and warm pubs in charming small towns. But, probably fewer people picture mountains or mountain ranges.
Ireland has a somewhat varied landscape, with vast stretches of coastline, rolling hills, forests, and a few mountain ranges. You won’t find staggering peaks like the Alps or the Andes, but instead smaller mountains that have been rounded by glacial activity. You won’t need technical equipment to summit Ireland’s peaks, but they are still fun to hike and explore.
I lived in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland for about a year when I first moved to the country in 2020. In this post, I’ll share some of the best mountain ranges to visit in Ireland, tips for staying safe while hiking, and other information about the natural landscape.
So, Does Ireland have Mountains?
Yes, Ireland does have mountains! There are mountains across the island of Ireland, but they’re most commonly clustered near the coastline.
Ireland’s mountain ranges are small when compared to ranges like the Alps or the Rocky Mountains. That wasn’t always the case, though – Ireland had enormous, 20,000 foot peaks (over 6,000 meters) some 350 million years ago. This was during the time of the supercontinent Pangea.
Since then, erosion, glaciers, and time have all worn down the mountains into their current form. Today, when you see Irish mountain ranges, most of the peaks are soft and rounded in shape, especially in the Wicklow Mountains. Glacial lakes and valleys are very common in the Irish mountains and can be some of the most beautiful parts of the landscape.
Does Ireland have Hiking?
Hiking and hillwalking is very popular in Ireland, so there are plenty of trails to explore. County Wicklow and Count Kerry have some of the best views and most trails, so they’re the perfect place to start exploring the Irish mountains. If you enjoy the outdoors, I absolutely suggest that you fit a hike or two into your Ireland itinerary.
The Irish trails are less well known than the nearby West Highland Way in Scotland, but you can thru hike in Ireland. The two major thru hiking trails are the Wicklow Way and the Kerry Way, though the latter is actually a 133 mile (214-kilometer) long loop trail.
Top Mountain Ranges in Ireland
Planning your visit and want to visit some of the best peaks in Ireland? Here are the best mountain ranges to visit in the Republic of Ireland.
The inviting and picturesque peaks in County Kerry draw in huge numbers of visitors each year, many of whom complete the Ring of Kerry. This 111 mile (179 km) driving route includes incredible views of the mountainous Iveragh Peninsula, as well as panoramic views from both Moll’s Gap and the Gap of Dunloe.
The highest peak in Ireland is Carruntoohil, which stands at about 3,406 feet (1,039 meters). The hike to the summit of Carruntoohil is challenging, with over 3,000 feet (914 meters) of elevation gain over about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers). The summit is prone to dangerous, foggy conditions, so check the weather before you attempt this climb.
For a less adventurous hike, head to Killarney National Park and hike up Torc Mountain. I took the trail from the car park near Torc Waterfall up to the summit of Torc Mountain. After completing the hike, we walked down to see the Torc Waterfall from the car park.
The final push to the summit of Torc Mountain and the walk down to (and subsequently back up from) Torc Waterfall were both steep, but otherwise the trail was very manageable for reasonably fit hikers. Although I couldn’t find a trail outline, the route was very easy to follow when we were actually completing the hike.
Just look for Torc Mountain and Torc Waterfall on the posted signs. So long as you stay on well marked trails, you shouldn’t have a problem.
The Wicklow Mountains are the largest contiguous upland in Ireland, meaning it’s the furthest shelf above sea level. For this reason, you’re more likely to see snow in the Wicklow Mountains than anywhere else in Ireland.
This mountain range is conveniently located only about an hour’s drive from Dublin, so it’s easier to reach for many travelers than the peaks in County Kerry. You can visit Wicklow on a day trip from Dublin or stay in a charming B&B set in the mountains, depending on how long you’d like to stay.
Hiking and walking are some of the best things to do in Wicklow. My favorite hike is the Spinc Trail around Lake Glendalough, and my favorite hill walk is the network of trails around Trooperstown. For a lovely forest walk with a few hills, stop by the Clara Vale Woods about 10 minutes from Glendalough.
Other Landscapes You’ll Find in Ireland
Although you’re probably reading this post because you’re wondering about its mountain ranges, there are several other landscapes on the island. Other landscapes include the low plains, lakes and rivers, forested areas, inlets, islands, and even a fjord. Keep reading to learn more about the other landscapes that you can visit in Ireland.
Low Central Plains
The flattest part of Ireland are its central plains, which cover a band of central Ireland from Dublin to the west coast near Galway. This area has the fewest hills and mountains on the island, and much of it is shaped by the Shannon River basin. You can easily spot the central plain by looking at this topographical map of Ireland from NASA.
Ireland, like the UK, was one covered in forests. Once, 80% of Ireland was covered in forests, down to just 11% in 2018. No other country in Europe has experienced such a dramatic loss of native woodlands. Ireland still has some of the lowest forest cover in the EU, but it is slowly making a comeback.
Because the island is well suited to growing trees, timber production has become big business in Ireland. Many of the forests you’ll see in Ireland today are planted for timber production. You can spot them pretty quickly because of the straight lines of trees, which are very densely planted. They’re a little spooky to hike alongside, if I’m honest.
One of my favorite forested areas to visit in Ireland is Gougane Barra. This small park has a few large hills, a pristine lake, and lots of easy trails through the forest. So long as you have a rental car, it’s an easy day trip from Cork.
Rivers and Lakes
Ireland is famously damp, and as you might expect there are rivers and lakes throughout the country.
My favorite lake in Ireland is Glendalough, a glacial lake set in the Wicklow Mountains. The lake is serene and almost mystical, perhaps due to its connection to Saint Kevin, who founded the nearby monastery during the 6th century. You can hike and walk around Glendalough – it’s well worth visiting and an easy day trip from Dublin.
As for rivers, I have an affinity for both the Avonmore River that runs along a walking trail in the Clara Vale Woods and the River Shannon, the longest river in the British Isles. You can see the River Shannon from the grounds of Clonmacnoise, a 6th century monastery in County Offaly.
Given that Ireland is an island, its coastline is full of inlets, bays, and other places where the shoreline indents. Inlets are typically places where the shoreline cuts into an enclosed bay or lake. When this process is caused by glacial activity, it’s called a fjord.
Lough Foyle is the largest inlet in Ireland, and it also separates Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland near County Donegal.
Believe it or not, but Ireland actually has its own fjord! It’s called Killary Fjord and it’s a long, narrow sea inlet with steep cliffs. Fjords are created by glaciers and are most commonly found on the coasts of the Arctic and Antarctica.
If you want to see the entire fjord, you can take a sightseeing cruise of Killary Fjord. The catamaran takes you across all 9 miles of the scenic inlet for about 90 minutes.
Islands and Peninsulas
The coastline in Ireland is dotted with islands and peninsulas, with most of them concentrated along the west coast. The Dingle Peninsula is my favorite peninsula in Ireland, and it’s also home to my favorite beach – Coumeenoole Beach.
I’ve visited two of Ireland’s islands and loved both. The first is the uninhabited Great Blasket Island off the coast of Dingle, which I saw from the Dingle Sea Safari wildlife watching boat. We just saw the island from the water, but there are a few cottages that you can rent during the summer, if you don’t mind the lack of electricity, warm water, or WiFi.
The other is the Great Saltee Island near County Wexford. The Saltee Islands are a pair of islands that are breeding grounds for over 200 species of seabirds, including puffins. You can visit the Saltee Islands by taking a ferry from Kilmore Quay.
The Irish climate is a mild, temperate oceanic one. Temperature extremes are rare, with few days below 32° F (0° C) or above 70° F (21° C). Ireland does occasionally see snowfall, but it’s usually not more than a day or two and more likely concentrated at higher elevations. Locals consider anything over about 75° F to be very warm, with only a few days each year reaching such temperatures.
Ireland is known for its rainfall, and for good reason. The eastern half of the island sees between 750 and 1,000 mm (29.5 and 39.4 in) of rainfall each year, and the west of Ireland experiences about double that amount of rain.
Fog and frost are also common during the winter, especially at higher elevations. The coastal areas, especially along the west coast of Ireland, tend to be very windy.
The Atlantic Ocean and its weather systems are responsible for Ireland’s mild climate. The Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Current bring warmer weather to Ireland than other islands at similar latitudes, though the exact mechanisms of the heat transfer is a subject of scholarly debate.
Predictability of the Weather
The weather in Ireland is famously unpredictable day to day, with no reliable dry season. When packing for Ireland, I recommend bringing a light rain jacket and sweater even during the summer. You may have warm weather every day of your trip, but it’s definitely not a guarantee.
During the winter, the weather feels much colder than the mild temperatures would suggest. Be sure to pack rainproof and windproof clothing, along with insulating layers and water resistant shoes. The areas near the coast and the mountains are colder than the inland, flat areas, so plan accordingly.
As podcast host Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler once said, “There is no bad weather in Ireland, only inappropriate clothing.” I begrudgingly agree – your trip will be better if you prepare for all of the weather you might encounter. There’s no promise that you’ll have clear skies and sunshine even one day of your vacation, so it’s better to be prepared and hope for the best.
Safety Tips for Hiking in Ireland
Although Ireland is a particularly safe place to visit, hiking can pose significant risks. In order to stay safe on Irish trails, here are my top safety tips for hiking in Ireland.
Stay on the trail
Many Irish hiking trails don’t follow a set path, instead relying on sheep trails and foot trails to hike through the heather and bog. If there are trails, however, it’s very important that you stay on them. Typically, trails are established in areas prone to er
Do not hike in the fog
You really do not want to mess with the Irish fog. On foggy days, visibility can be severely limited, causing hikers to become lost, disoriented, or force them to shelter in place. One of the most dangerous places to be in Ireland on a foggy day is near the edge of a cliff.
If you know that the weather is going to be foggy, either choose a very well marked path or simply choose another activity.
Do not approach cliffs
This is good advice for cliffs anywhere in the world, but definitely don’t approach the edge. Often, there are loose overhangs or simply vegetation covering the true edge of the cliff, and you could risk falling to your death if the land were to give way.
FAQs: Does Ireland have Mountains?
Still have more questions about Ireland’s geography and landscape? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about Ireland.
Are there any mountains in Ireland?
Yes, there are mountains in Ireland. The tallest peak in Ireland is Carruntoohil, located in County Kerry. You can also hike Lugnaquilla, the tallest peak in County Wicklow at 3,035 feet (925 meters), by driving down about an hour from Dublin.
Is Ireland hilly or flat?
For the most part, Ireland is covered in gentle, rolling hills. Regions of Ireland near the coast tend to have larger hills or mountains, and the two best-known counties for mountains are Wicklow and Kerry. The central counties of Ireland are the flattest, including County Offaly and County Kildare.
Does it snow in Ireland?
Yes, it does occasionally snow in Ireland during the winter. There’s rarely enough snow to accumulate, but it does happen from time to time at higher elevations. The Wicklow Mountains are the most likely area in Ireland to experience winter snowfall.
What is the most mountainous place in Ireland?
County Kerry is the most mountainous place in Ireland. This Irish county is home to MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range on the Iveragh Peninsula.
Are there mountains in Northern Ireland?
Yes, Northern Ireland has two mountain ranges: the Sperrin Mountains and the Mourne Mountains. Both ranges are designated Areas of Outstanding Beauty, with the Sperrins set near Derry and the Mournes in the southeasternmost area of Northern Ireland. The tallest mountains in Northern Ireland are located in the Mournes.
What’s the difference between “hill walking” and “hiking” in Ireland?
The Irish more commonly use “hill walking” to describe easy to moderate outdoor walks that we would normally call “hiking” in the US. When the Irish refer to “hiking,” they could mean either a gentle hike or a more serious mountaineering trip. Hill walking, as the name implies, is always a gentle to moderate hike.
Conclusion: Does Ireland have Mountains?
Ireland is an island in the west of Europe with several mountain ranges that are popular for hiking and exploring. Much of the landscape was shaped by glaciers, resulting in softer, rounder peaks and some glacial lakes. Two of the most popular mountain ranges to visit in Ireland are the Kerry Mountains and the Wicklow Mountains.
The rest of Ireland is made up of other landscapes, including the central plains, small islands off the coastline, and even a fjord. There’s a lot to see!
Remember to be prepared for the weather when visiting Ireland, including appropriate rain gear for a trip any time of the year! Although the climate is mild, it can still be unpredictable.