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14 sustainable activities in Ireland
Who says sustainability can't be fun?
Olivia McGillOlivia McGill is a journalist and content writer who has worked for a variety of broadcasters, including Sky News and Al Jazeera. Since returning to Ireland she has set up her own coaching and communications business.
A growing number of us are taking steps towards a more sustainable future, and activity options count when it comes to preserving our natural world. By prioritising greener choices you’re helping biodiversity, ecosystems and local communities to remain protected and unspoiled. From exploring the great outdoors to indoor experiences in smokehouses and stadiums, lots of Irish activity providers have heard the sustainability call, making it easier than ever to find bucket list-worthy eco-friendly things to do. 

If you’re looking for sustainable activities for a short break in Ireland, here are some providers making sure you have a good time while being good to the planet.

Outdoor experiences

1| Vagabond Adventure Tours, Co Wicklow

You’ll be helping the environment just by booking with Vagabond Adventure Tours. They plant a tree for every guest on their tours, which range from walking and cycling to horse riding and kayaking, as well as history and culture; in 2023 alone, they planted almost 4,000 trees. Their commitment to carbon neutrality has earned them B Corp certification and a gold standard rating from Sustainable Travel Ireland.  

2| Two Rock Outdoor, Co Wicklow 

Two Rock Outdoor offers guided hikes through the mountains and wild areas in Ireland with a focus on sustainability and a respect for the hills. Careful thought goes into the impact on the areas you’ll be exploring, from footfall and transport to litter and local communities.  

The key to every hike and tour is education through experience, as well as encouraging the principles of Leave No Trace, wider waste management and the magic of experiencing biodiversity first hand. Small group numbers mean a more undiluted experience of communing with nature, as well as minimising the danger of scaring away the wildlife.  

3| Atlantic Scuba Adventures, Co Galway 

Getting up close and personal with marine life while diving or snorkelling puts a more urgent perspective on the importance of looking after our oceans. At Atlantic Scuba Adventures, protecting the clear waters and seagrass meadows in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht is written into the job spec. The buildings are solar powered, the team uses electric vehicles and a ‘no touch’ policy is promoted during all activities.  

Education around our personal responsibility extends to the kind of sun cream or shampoo we use before getting into the water, as some can have an adverse impact on the marine life you’re likely to meet. And if you want to learn more about how to interact with the ocean in a way that doesn’t damage it, marine ecology courses are open to anyone interested in ocean conservation and marine wildlife.  

A person scuba diving with Atlantic Scuba Adventures in County Galway
Dive into the deep end with Atlantic Scuba Adventures.

4| DK Connemara Oysters Farm Tour, Co Galway 

Did you know that oysters improve water quality and that their shells help rebuild the coastline and provide fish with a natural habitat to reproduce in? If you didn’t, a tour of DK Connemara Oysters will tell you everything you need to know about these eco-friendly molluscs. 

The main reason the oysters are there in the first place is because David Keane and his team partnered with An Bord Iascaigh Mhara on a conservation programme to re-establish native oysters to the bay after being wiped out by disease. As part of their education programme, you’ll learn what it takes to grow an oyster from seed to plate, about the practices that influence growth and how they’re affected by global warming. 

5| Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co Wicklow 

Roaming around the 47 acres of Powerscourt House and Gardens would bring out the conservationist in anyone. For starters they’re beautiful – so pretty that in 2010 National Geographic put them third in their list of world’s top gardens. But the estate has always blazed a sustainability trail, as it was originally purchased for the use of hydroelectrical power at Powerscourt Waterfall.  

As well as a commitment to waste reduction and being Net Zero by 2025, their biodiversity initiatives include wildflower meadows, a tree planting programme and a bee sanctuary at the walled gardens – all of which have helped the estate become Ireland’s first premier attraction to be certified gold by Sustainable Travel Ireland.  

Wander the wildflower meadows at Powerscourt House and Gardens.
Wander the wildflower meadows at Powerscourt House and Gardens.

6| Airfield Estate, Dublin

Take in the seasonal walking trails in native woodland, century old redwoods and wildlife on the Airfield Estate to commune with nature and feel its benefits. Along the way, you can bear witness to some of the estate’s sustainable initiatives, which include rainwater harvesting, improving solar technology and regenerative land management.  

As well as working to reduce the carbon footprint of their activities through composting, better waste segregation and reducing waste to landfill, the team highlight their achievements as “sustainable stops” on paths around the site to encourage visitors to do the same at home.  

The walled gardens at the Airfield Estate in Dundrum, County Dublin
Pick up some sustainability tips at the Airfield Estate.

Indoor experiences

7| Fanad Lighthouse, Co Donegal 

The folks at Fanad Lighthouse have built a visitor experience that puts sustainability at the centre of all their activities. After perusing locally made arts and crafts you can sink your teeth into locally sourced, sustainable produce in the café. There’s no single-use plastics anywhere onsite, and if you buy a keep cup you’ll get a free coffee – and your used grounds will be offered back to you to nourish your garden back home.  

If you’re staying overnight in either the lighthouse or one of the restored lighthouse keepers’ cottages, you’ll be snuggling up in front of a fire burning eco logs lit with firelighters made from recycled church candle wax and saw dust. The lighthouse is also a bilingual workplace, so you’re encouraged to try a few words of Irish and be part of a movement to preserve and promote the Irish language, locally and globally.  

Aerial view of the Fanad Lighthouse in County Donegal
Enjoy a locally sourced treat at the café at Fanad Lighthouse.

8| Cliffs of Moher Experience, Co Clare

Safeguarding the natural environment is central to everything they do at the Cliffs of Moher Experience. It’s part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark and in a special protection area for birds and wildlife, so leaving the area as you found it is impressed upon everyone who visits.  

But this eco-friendly visitor centre does far more than just raise awareness. Its commitment to the local community is such that the centre uses 40 suppliers from the county alone, and you can see the faces behind the produce at their regular ‘Meet the Maker’ events, where selfies are encouraged so you can keep up the connection with the place long after you leave. Supporting local businesses doesn’t stop at food producers: buskers are encouraged at the site to support local musicians and add to the authenticity of the visitor experience. 

The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare
Admire the wildlife at the Cliffs of Moher.

9| Guinness Storehouse, Dublin   

The Guinness Storehouse might be Ireland’s top fee-charging attraction, but it pulls its considerable weight when it comes to sustainability. In 2023, the visitor experience received a gold award from Green Tourism for shifting 100% of its electricity usage to renewables, and it is working toward becoming Zero Waste. 

Every visitor is encouraged to take part in sustainable initiatives, from using water refill stations throughout to discounts on coffee at the Cooperage café for those using a keep cup. The storehouse is also committed to using locally sourced ingredients and products where possible to lower transport emissions.  

People pulling a pint at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin city
Enjoy a drink at the sustainably conscious Guinness Storehouse.

10| Croke Park Stadium, Dublin 

The Croke Park Stadium Tour, Skyline and GAA Museum are great ways to immerse yourself in Irish culture while sticking to your eco principles. Waste, water and energy projects have been underway for a while, with all waste being diverted away from landfill to be recycled, composted or re-used as fuel since 2014.  

Surprisingly perhaps for an urban stadium but the grounds are home to native trees, shrubs and flowers, as well as bird boxes which help boost local bird populations. If you’re wondering why the pitch looks so fresh it’s because the turf comes from their own local farm, reducing carbon emissions associated with importing it from abroad. 

Three people on the Croke Park Skyline Tour in Dublin city
Try out the Skyline tour at Croke Park Stadium.

11| EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin  

Sustainability is about people and their impact on each other and the world around them. A visit to EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum takes visitors through 20 interactive galleries of Irish people’s stories, including the environmental impacts of our migration. By finding out about those who came before us, the museum hopes to inspire modern visitors to take action to build a brighter future now. 

The museum itself champions local artisans in the gift shop and has a Sustainability Working Group focused on implementing the guidelines from groups such as the Sustainable Irish Retail Action Guide and Sustainable Travel Ireland. 

Three people at an exhibit in the EPIC, the Irish Emigration Musuem in Dublin city
Follow Irish people's stories at EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum.

12| Burren Smokehouse, Co Clare 

Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cliffs of Moher it’s no wonder sustainability is important at the Burren Smokehouse. In the heart of this protected landscape, you’ll learn about the ancient food craft of smoking salmon as well as local history.   

On the tour you’ll get an insight into how wild salmon are caught or farmed sustainably. You’ll also learn about the recycled oak chippings they use in their smoking process and meet some of the (locally recruited) team before getting a chance to buy some locally produced products.  

Exterior image of the Burren Smokehouse in County Clare
Learn the art of smoking salmon at the Burren Smokehouse.

13| The Shed Distillery Experience, Co Leitrim 

Want your whiskey or gin tour to come with a slice of sustainable responsibility? At the Shed Distillery Experience it’s immediately obvious how seriously they take their eco-credentials. Electricity is sourced from renewables; water consumption was reduced by 50% in 2023 and the owners are heavily involved in local Tidy Town initiatives.  

There are some 100 local people employed at the distillery, and they’ve also added 80 acres of special conservation land which has been designated a nature reserve: 2024 will see them plant native trees and hedgerows as well as installing bee hives.  

14| Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre, Co Clare  

When it comes to sustainability, the environment gets most of the focus. At Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre, that environment is both above and below ground: there’s the weird and wonderful underworld of fossils and formations in the caves themselves (which you will explore on a cave walk), but the Birds of Prey Centre is all about protecting creatures that soar, notably local residents including eagles, owls and hawks.  

There are daily 45-minute flying demonstrations, while on a private Hawk Walk you’ll learn all about the UNESCO-protected art of falconry. The centre is also involved in a conservation project to protect the Asian white-backed vulture population from extinction as well as an ongoing project that resulted in the re-introduction of the red kite to Irish skies. Cyclists are also incentivised over motorists with a free cup of tea in the café.    

A bird at the Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre in County Clare.
Say hello to the wildlife at the Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre.
Go on an eco-friendly adventure

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