Which Is The Best 7-10 Day Walk In Ireland?
A question that has been nagging me for years. On any list of the top ten you will almost always find the 3 walks of County Kerry. For me the best of the best are the 3 Peninsula walks; The Dingle Way, The Beara Way, and The Kerry Way. Each offers a mix of spectacular mountain and coastal scenery as well as enjoyable small towns and villages to connect with locals.
I have been walking around Ireland for many years and have had the good fortune to walk several other long distance trails. In 2016 I walked the European 8 Trail from Dublin to Dursey Island in Cork. 2018 found me walking from my ancestral home in Clare to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (It’s A Long Way From Tipperary To Santiago). My walking experiences on the Emerald Isle include many day hikes including Croagh Patrick, The Two Lakes of Glendalough, Mount Brandon as well as the following long walks:
- The Wicklow Way
- The Dingle Way
- The Beara Way
- South Leinster Way
- East Munster Way
- Blackwater Way
- The Burren Way
- East Clare Way
- Mid Clare Way
- The Western Way in Connemara
- The Barrow Way
So on a recent visit to Ireland I walked the Kerry Way completing the 3 Peninsula Treks in Kerry. I suppose this qualifies me to write a summary with recommendations for those wondering which one to endeavor.
Each walk was worthy of consideration and there is no clear answer to the question. However, there are differences to be aware of that may help in your decision.
All 3 are peninsula loop walks and have other similarities. They are all 200K and 10 days more or less, They all include majestic mountains, beautiful coastal areas and gorgeous beaches. They also all include excellent side trips up mountains or to spectacular islands. And of course a wide range of villages and pubs to enjoy a pint at the end of your walking days.
Let’s start with a summary of each. Also included are the island side trips for each that are highly recommended. For one thing, they lengthen your journey. Secondly, each of them takes a great walk and extends them to a special experience.
Regarding accommodations, each of the walks has a mix of hostels, B&B’s, and hotels to choose from. I only camp if I have to, opting for a hostel if available. If no hostel I prefer B&B’s as they provide better opportunity for conversation with locals and other guests versus hotels. Also, at the B&B’s you will have the option for a Full Irish Breakfast which is a perfect start to a long day of walking.
Starting with the Beara Way as that is the first one I walked in May 2016. Part of the Beara happens to be on the European 8(E8) long distance Trail from Istanbul to Dursey Island. I started the E8 in Dublin and walked to Dursey Island but then continued on the County Cork portion of the Beara Way back to Kenmare.
The Beara Way is a 206 kilometer loop trail on the Beara Peninsula starting and ending in the pleasant harborside village of Kenmare in Kerry. Unlike the other 2 peninsula walks discussed, the Beara Way is in Kerry and Cork.
Walking from Kenmare you follow the peninsula’s northern shore west walking through hills enjoying fabulous views of Kenmare Bay and the Iveragh Peninsula. After 3 days you veer south over a mountain pass and down into Allihies.
On the 4th day I left the Beara Way at Allihies heading to Dursey Island. The interesting difference about visiting Dursey is that you cross over the sea via the last remaining Cable Car in Ireland.
There are no accommodations on Dursey Island so reaching the end of the island, supposedly one of the most westernly parts of Europe, I pitched a tent and enjoyed a beautiful evening alone with the birds and sheep, perhaps the last person in Europe to witness the setting sun that day.
The Beara Way continues through Cork along the southern side of the Peninsula with views of Bantry Bay and Sheeps Head Peninsula. At Glengarriff you veer back inland following near the Kenmare Road back to Kenmare.
The Dingle Way is a 179 kilometer trek starting and ending in Tralee circuiting the Dingle Peninsula. Upon leaving Tralee, you find yourself on the Kerry Camino, an ancient trail to St. James Church in Dingle Town and the staging point for catching a boat to La Coruña, Spain and the English(Irish)Way to Santiago de Compostela. If you are a veteran of the Camino de Santiago (as I am) this is a big plus for the Dingle Way.
Leaving Tralee you follow Tralee Bay to Camp and then veer south to the Dingle Bay side of the Peninsula. After reaching the Bay, the trail takes you to Inch Beach, a lovely spot for a swim. After 3 days you’ll reach Dingle which is a popular tourist town and a great spot to stay an extra day if you like Irish music and hanging out in pubs.
Upon leaving Dingle Town, walkers experience the more remote and quiet parts of the walk. Dunquin is the likely stop on the 4th day. Just a few kilometers offshore are the Blasket Islands, including The Great Blasket Island which is accessible via ferry. There is a Hostel and accomodations on the island or you can just go for the day and walk around it in a few hours before returning to Dunquin. If you don’t have the time, The Great Blasket Centre is a good stop on the mainland with information on the history of The Great Blaskets. It’s a beautiful island and it is recommended to walk it in barefoot for those seeking to reconnect with their inner child. Be open and you may experience the joy of feeling 9 again as you walk the ridge with the ocean winds in your face and the open sea and America to the West.
From Dunquin you head north and return to the Tralee Bay side and traverse Smerwick Harbor which is one of the most beautiful spots in Ireland.
Next you go over Mt.Brandon Pass to Cloghane. Optionally you can climb Mt. Brandon, the 8th tallest mountain in Ireland. If you have the time and energy, and weather permitting it’s more than worth it offering spectacular views of Tralee Bay.
After Cloghane you traverse the 14k long Fermoyle Beach before making your way back to Camp and then backtracking to Tralee.
The Kerry Way is a 200+ kilometer Trail around the Iveragh Peninsula starting and ending in easily accessible Killarney. The walk has a great beginning through Killarney National Park, passing a few waterfalls and gorgeous old moss covered forests. Day 1 ends in Black Valley with spectacular valley and mountain views.
The beautiful nature continues on until the end of day 3 in Glenbeigh on the coast of Dingle Bay.
The trail leaves Glenbeigh through a wonderful Fairy Forest, and then follows the northern coast to Cahersiveen where it then veers south to Caherdaniel traversing some tough up and down bogland. The scenery in this section is some of the best in all of Ireland with views of the Skellig and other islands.
From the western shore of the peninsula you have the option to do a day tour to the Skellig Islands which includes Skellig Michael, a small, steep, double jagged peak island. Near the top is an ancient, intact 6th century monastery. If you go between April and July, the island is populated with gorgeous quirky Puffin Birds. For Star War fans, it also happens to be the retirement home of Luke Skywalker.
From Caherdaniel the trail follows Kenmare Bay through more hills and spectacular views of The Beara Peninsula across the Bay. Kenmare is a nice coastal town with plenty of pubs and shops and tourists.
The last day takes you up to a pass and into a valley where you come to a junction that you were at day 1. Turning left takes you back into Black Valley. Turning right to Killarney you retrace your first 18K of the walk.
So which is best? Well not to shirk the decision, the answer is debatable and depends on individual preferences.
If you prefer solitude The Beara Way might be best as there are no big towns other than the start and end in Kenmare. It also is likely to have the fewest fellow walkers.
That said, walking The Kerry and Dingle Ways were not crowded other than the stops in Dingle town and of course Killarney. if you are looking for spectacular and diverse scenery; both offer magnificent natural vistas and mountain walk options as well as special island visits. Both offer connections to Star Wars.
If forced to decide I would have to give the Dingle Way a very slight edge because of the first 3 days being part of a Camino de Santiago. But I am a Camino Junkie having walked it 15 times including once from County Clare, Ireland. It’s A Long Way From Tipperary To Santiago.
So my advice would be not to fret over the decision. All three offer a tremendous, beautiful 8-10 day walking experience. It is recommended to walk April-October, though mid May-mid September would be ideal. And it is Ireland so one never knows what kind of weather they will get on a walk.
If you want more information detailing the 3 walks feel free to review my daily blog posts for each walk: