Sligo’s distinctive Knocknarea Mountain overlooks the main drag of Strandhill and the coastline beyond, stretching out as far as Donegal on a clear day. From the top of the peak you also get a closer look at Queen Maeve's Grave, the megalithic tomb that gives Knocknarea its unique silhouette. The climb is made easier thanks to the wooden boardwalk that snakes through the forest and up to the very top, meaning you can get to the summit in around 45 minutes. When you’ve come back down, make your way to Shells Café on the seafront, for a top notch brunch alongside the local surfers. Their eggs Benedict with smoked salmon is the stuff of legend.
Set along the top of the jagged Kilkee Cliffs, this 5km loop takes in some of the best scenery in the west, from the natural sea pools to the blow hole through which the Atlantic erupts. You’ll see all of the highlights along the way as well as the stark beauty of the cliffs themselves, the overlapping sheets of grey rock surrounded by the wild swirls of the waves. Diamond Rocks Café is right at the start of the route, so grab a crab and apple sandwich for the walk, or pop in when you’re finished for some avocado toast and a coffee. They also sell a Cliff Walk breakfast special in the mornings, with fresh fruit, natural yoghurt and granola that you can devour along the route.
Surrounded by the undulating Galtee Mountains and the glorious expanse of the Glen of Aherlow, the Rock an Thorabh Loop leads you through ancient forests and along the sandstone ridge of Slievenamuck. When you reach the rock itself, you’ll be met with gorgeous views out over the valley, the patchwork of green fields framed by the mountains on the horizon. While the Rock an Thorabh Loop is a moderate 6.5km trek, there are seven other walking routes in the Glen of Aherlow, from an easy 2km woodland trail to a tougher 10km hike. When you’re finished, head to Aherlow House Hotel for a coffee or afternoon tea on the veranda, with great views of the mountains. After all, any view is better when you’ve got a homemade scone in your hand.
There’s no shortage of walking routes in Wicklow, but most of them require a car to get to the trailhead. Not so on the Lower Vartry Reservoir trail, which begins just a couple of minutes’ walk from the village of Roundwood. Officially starting at Waters Bridge, the flat 7.2km route takes in pretty country roads and winding paths alongside the tree-lined reservoir. Pick up a picnic in Roundwood Stores, a grocery and café that sells homemade doughnuts and giant sticky cinnamon rolls. It’s also a great spot for lunch if you’d rather sit down after your walk, with generous salad plates and freshly made sourdough breads.
A country walk doesn’t always have to mean a lengthy trek around the hills. At Lough Boora Discovery Park, there are plenty of walking trails to suit all levels, whether you want to take a short walk with the kids along the Fairy Trail or head out for a 9.3km hike along the Mesolithic Route. Whatever you choose, you can enjoy the still wetlands and spot some birdlife or even some artworks in the Sculpture Park, all framed by the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the distance. Their café sits right on Loch an Dochais, so you can fuel up with at the water’s edge with a cup of tea and a wedge of chocolate cake on the water before you set off. You can also pick up a falafel salad or a sandwich made with honey glazed ham, to eat on one of the picnic benches along the way.
One of the coolest walking trails in Ireland, this floating boardwalk sits right on top of Acres Lake, giving you the feeling of walking on water. When you get to the end of the boardwalk, continue along the Shannon Blueway for a gentle stroll along the banks of the canal. The route to Battlebridge Lock is 6.5km long but the flat path leads straight to Beirnes of Battlebridge, a quaint country pub where you can have a pint by the fireside. Head back to Drumshanbo and grab some lunch in Jinny’s Bakery and Tearoom, which serves up a mean crispy bacon sandwich served on their own ciabatta bread.
A strong contender for best walk in the county is the Howth Cliff Path Loop, which ticks all the boxes when it comes to coastal scenery, with dramatic cliffs, slopes covered in wildflowers and views out over Dublin Bay and its islands. This route starts from the DART station, leading you along the harbour and up onto the headland to a winding trail that clings to the edge of the cliffs. While this particular loop is around 6km, there are tougher and longer ones you can do if you fancy a challenge, each of which are signed and colour coded on the cliffs. Bear in mind that the trail is steep, narrow and can be a little rough in parts, so wear good walking shoes and watch your footing. When you come back down to the village, head to The Dog House & Blue's Tea Room and treat yourself to a bowl of chowder or buttery crab claws. You’ve earned it.
8. Ticknock, Co Dublin
At 42km long, the Dublin Mountain Way is a bit too long for most of us to trek in one go. But walking a little stretch of it is a great way to see the peaks that border the city, particularly if you hike along the scenic trails in Ticknock forest. Park up at Glencullen Adventure Park and you’re directly on the Dublin Mountain Way, where a pleasant 20 to 30-minute hike will take you up to the peak of Three Rock, with clear views back to the city. Along the way, you’ll pass by the 4,000-year-old megalithic wedge tomb known as the Giant’s Grave. When you turn back and arrive at basecamp, you can sit down for a feast at The Gap Kitchen, where they serve up juicy burgers slathered in homemade relish and Biscoff ice cream sundaes. You can also get there on public transport, with the 44b bus running from Dundrum to Glencullen, dropping you just a five-minute walk away.