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Explore Ennis and the Burren car-free
Make the most of a car-free visit to Ennis and the Burren.
Nicola BradyNicola Brady is a travel writer based in Dublin. She writes regularly for the Irish Independent, The Irish Times and Condé Nast Traveller, and has contributed to books on Dublin and Ireland for DK Eyewitness.
There’s nowhere quite like the Burren. The swathes of grey limestone could pass for the surface of another planet, with deep fissures and crevices in-between the sheets of rock. But it’s anything but barren – rare native orchids grow in the cracks; wild goats roam the land and purple butterflies flit around the wildflowers. The best way to experience it is on a hike through the national park, and it’s easy to get there by bus from Ennis, 13km to the south. The handsome county capital is itself worth exploring, with a historic abbey, great food and even better shopping.

Here’s how to see them both in a day.

Explore Ennis

The first bus to Corofin (the gateway to the Burren National Park) isn’t until 11am, which gives you time to explore Ennis first. Kick things off with breakfast in Eva’s Café, a cosy spot on Merchants Square where you can get homemade granola, a stack of pancakes or their own take on a McMuffin, with smoked bacon, sausage patty and a fried egg. Next door, Mondo does a cracking breakfast stack with Tournafulla black pudding, poached eggs and toasted sourdough.  

A breakfast dish in Mondo, Co Clare

Photo credit: @b0nappletit

Whet your appetite with delicious breakfast at Mondo.

Afterwards, head to Ennis Friary, a medieval Franciscan friary that’s the oldest structure in the town. It’s best known for its collection of intricate (and well preserved) 13th century limestone carvings, which you’ll see both at the tip of the stone arches and on display in the centre of the nave – there are gory depictions of the crucifixion and a sculpture of St Francis of Assisi with a stigmata.   

People on the grounds of the Ennis Franciscan Friary in Co Clare
Admire the architecture of Ennis Friary.

If you have some time afterwards, pop into the various boutiques around Ennis – this town is well-known for its selection of independent stores. Try Blackbird for cool gold jewellery, the Woollen Market for Aran knits or The Record Break Café, a hip place with stacks of vinyl, a small café and a sleepy resident dog.  

Where to eat lunch in Ennis 

Just up the road from Ennis Friary, Offspring Garden Café is a homely setup where you can get a Full (or a mini) Irish, a tuna melt or a jacket potato topped with St Tola goat cheese and pesto. There’s patio seating for sunny days, too. Cooks Lane Café is open every day for brunch and lunch, if you fancy a stack of fluffy pancakes or some smoked salmon and poached eggs. Café Aroma do an all-day breakfast, with dishes like eggs benedict and omelettes, as well as lunch fare like a Caesar salad, BLT or a club sandwich.  

Bear in mind that there’s nowhere to get food or drink in the Burren National Park itself, so if you want to bring a picnic on your hike, you can get takeaway focaccia sandwiches, homemade sausage rolls or açaí bowls in The Well, a cool space that also serves excellent coffee.  

An açai bowl from The Well in Ennis in Co Clare

Photo credit:

Order a fresh açai bowl from The Well.

Hike in the Burren

The Bus Éireann 333 service (4 a day, 22 minutes) goes from Ennis to Corofin, dropping you on Main Street, a minute’s walk from the Burren National Park Information Point. This is where you can learn about the native wildlife, suss out the hiking trails and use the toilets before you go. 

When you’re ready to head into the park, the free shuttle (14 a day, 10 minutes) runs from May to August and takes you right into the heart of the Burren, at the trailhead for all the local hikes. There are six trails that begin at this point, which vary from an easy 40-minute ramble around the nature trail to a challenging three-hour hike up and around the distinctive limestone hill of Mullaghmore.  

Mullaghmore Loop in the Burren, Co Clare
Reach the top of Mullaghmore.

But the most varied (and visually striking) walk is the Lough Avalla Farm Loop (7km, 2.5 hours). This route takes you over the limestone pavement, through thick woodland and over rocks overlooking the surrounding countryside. Be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots – while it’s not physically strenuous, the terrain can be challenging in parts, particularly if it’s wet. And make sure you have some cash if you want to enjoy a snack at the end of the walk. 

It might be tough in parts, but this trek ticks all the boxes when it comes to Burren scenery. When you turn left at the crossroads to start the hike, you immediately pass the fields of limestone that look like solidified lava. In the spring and summer, the cracks between the stones are bursting with wildflowers,  from daisies, cowslip and primrose to the rare Burren orchids, including the early-purple orchid that grows along the roadside.   

People hiking in the Burren in Co Clare
Spot the beautiful purple orchids on your hike.

Walk for about 20 minutes along the country road and you’ll reach the Holy Well, where the trail then cuts through the woodland. Take a quick pitstop at the well to look at the messages people have tied in the trees or to watch the water flow into the narrow river. If you want, you can also borrow a walking stick from the stack left at the start of the trail, but remember to return it at the end of your hike.  

When you emerge from the woods a few minutes later, you’ll walk out onto a remarkable sheet of limestone, the huge slabs of rock streaked with deep fissures. But don’t let the views distract you – keep an eye out for the purple arrows on trees and boulders that mark the trail route. You should always be able to see the next arrow – if you can’t, look for the upright cairns poking out of the rock, which lead you in the right direction.  

Follow the markings as you go.
Follow the markings as you go.

If the sun is out, take a minute to lay down flat on the slabs of limestone. Sure, you may get some odd looks, but these stones retain the heat of the sun and radiate warmth – some say it’s a spiritual experience, others think it’s nature’s storage heater. Either way, it’s a lovely way to catch your breath.  

From there, the trail weaves through dense forest where a thick layer of moss covers the trees and rocks. You’ll then head over some steep rocky peaks, but there are handrails made from tree branches to help you navigate the climb.  

Towards the end of the trail, you’ll pass through the farmland (say hello to the horned goats if they’re in the field) and alongside the edge of the lake, which has a boardwalk out over the water for birdwatching. You’ll also reach a sign that says ‘Tea & Coffee’ – turn right and follow this road for two minutes and you’ll reach the home of the farm’s owner, Harry Jeuken, who opens his cosy homestead to hikers, providing tea, coffee and slabs of homemade apple pie (cash only).  

A farmer and his cattle in the Burren, Co Clare
Say hello to local farmers as you make your way towards the end of the trail.

Don’t worry if you fill up on pie – the farmhouse marks the end of the loop. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk back to the crossroads where you began, which is where the shuttle brings you back to Corofin.  

If you’d prefer a guided hike, there are several companies who can take you on a walk around the National Park. Burren Experience Guided Walks leads heritage, nature and spiritual treks; Heart of Burren Walks runs private trips and group tours in the summer; while passionate local guide Pius Murray runs Walk with Pius, a mix of archaeological, spiritual and geological insights.  

Where to eat in Corofin  

Corofin really comes alive Thursday to Sunday. If you’re visiting on those days, Morning Dew makes a mean quiche as well as veggie ‘sausage’ rolls with chickpeas and sticky cinnamon buns – you can get something to takeaway too, for a picnic. If you’re visiting on other days, there are also a couple of local shops where you can pick up water or snacks.   

After your hike, you can finish up your Burren experience with a pint and a bite to eat in Bofey Quinns (also open Thursday to Sunday) for good old fashioned pub grub and traditional music in the evening. If you do stick around for the music, there’s an additional 333 bus service returning to Ennis later in the evening.  

See more of Clare car-free

Go beyond the boundaries of the Burren and plan your next car-free trip the Cliffs of Moher and beautiful Lahinch.

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