Seven Ways to Experience Real Adventure in Dublin
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Dublin as a destination? Let me hazard a guess… Guinness? Temple Bar? Trinity College? Of course, there’s a good reason (a few actually) why Dublin is well known for the ‘black stuff’, the nightlife and the city’s iconic university. But did you know that if you are looking to get active and get your adrenaline pumping, you can have real adventure in Dublin too?
Last October I was invited by Discover Ireland to uncover a side of the city that not that many visitors know about, and I had so much fun, that I’ve compiled a list of alternative ways to experience Dublin, both the city and the county, so you can experience it too.
Experience real adventure in Dublin
Get your hiking boots on
Ireland is a hiker’s paradise, and believe it or not, so is Dublin. The city is surrounded by the Dublin Mountains, where you can find a lot of trails within easy reach that can be explored on day hikes.
Ben of Howth
One hike that is worth mentioning for the views across the Irish Sea and Dublin Bay, and an enchanting 4000 year old history, is Ben of Howth, by the fishing village of the same name in Dublin. Guided by Shane’s Howth Tours, we set off towards Howth Castle, the current residence of the heirs of the Lords of Howth. Through the Deer Park we got to the Rhododendron Gardens, with its collection of… well, you guessed it, rhododendrons, as well as other exotic specimens like palm trees and tree ferns, that were planted in the nineteenth century. The best time to see the rhododendrons in flower is May and June, but any time of the year it will feel like you’re hiking through a jungle with a touch of fairy magic.
Within the woods you will also find Aideen’s Grave, one of the oldest monuments in Ireland said to be the burial place of Aideen, an important figure in Irish mythology, and also a portal to the fairy world. This is easy to believe, with the mystical trees and light around this monument, it almost felt like fairies would appear at any moment. Especially after hearing the legends that surround the area about fairies and selkies, mytical creatures that live as seals but shed their skin to become human on land.
We continued on to the top of the hill to find the incredible views of Dublin Bay with Bull Island to the south, and the Irish Sea and Ireland’s Eye Island to the north.
To get to Howth, you can take bus number 31 or the train from Connolly Station.
Hell Fire Club, Montpellier Hill
The other hike that I did is Montpellier Hill, south of Dublin, which has great views over the city and Glenasmole Valley, the last Gaelic speaking part of County Dublin. We were guided by Terry from Hilltoptreks, who knows the area and the dark history that this hill hides, like the back of his hand.
We hiked to the top of the hill, where we found the site of an ancient cairn, a burial monument, and the infamous Hell Fire Club. With the club building now in ruins and such an eerie name, the place felt very spooky, and it became even spookier when we found out the history behind it.
The Hell Fire Club was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 18th century and later became a gentleman’s club where all sorts of debauchery, like heavy drinking, orgies, witchcraft rituals, and even sacrifices took place. Some of the stones from the ancient burial mound were used for its construction, and shortly after its completion, the roof was blown off. Local superstition said that the Devil was involved in this, and there are lots of legends and stories surrounding the building, which is said to be one of the most haunted in Ireland. And it certainly felt that way!
Go for a paddle and meet the local seals
If you like true adventure and wildlife spotting, then this is for you! Starting at Bullock Harbour in Dalkey, only 20 mins from the city, we set off led by Kayaking.ie into Dublin Bay for a paddle along the Dalkey coast. The sea was really choppy and the wind was against us so we had to work really hard to move forward. It was certainly a work out!
Kayaking itself was great fun, but the cherry on the cake was when we approached Dalkey Island, home to a colony of about 60 seals. We were able to observe some of the seals while they were lounging on the rocks, and some curious ones even took to the water to take a closer look at us! Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of them, as the memory card on my GoPro got full before I got there. Bad planning on my part!
Dalkey Island is a former Viking settlement, now uninhabited, with the remains of a church, a cairn burial, a gun battery and a Martello Tower, used for defence during the Napoleonic war. After we walked around the small island, and explored a little bit of its history, we jumped back on the kayaks to go back to the mainland – this time with the wind in our favour but the tide against us, so it was again fun and games. It was a fabulous day out and somehow we all managed to stay inside our kayaks with no incident!
After the paddle, stay in Dalkey and explore this charming village. The castle (there used to be 7 here!) is a great place to visit if you enjoy history, and I highly recommend the coffee at Mugs Cafe and the delicious food at the Dalkey Duck. You will have worked up an appetite!
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Explore the Dublin Mountains on horse back
You wouldn’t necessarily associate Dublin with horse riding, but just outside Enniskerry in the outskirts of the city, you will find Killegar Stables, one of Ireland’s longest established horse riding schools and livery yards.
I’d only ridden a horse once before, but that was not a problem. The team at the stables gave us an introductory ride around the paddock and after a couple of rounds and exercises we were all ready to go.
We started the ride along a quiet lane and slowly went uphill along some beautiful green fields. I have to say that I’ve never seen green scenery like the one in Ireland. So vibrant and intense! Soon after we went into the woods, where we had a little bit of fun following the paths and avoiding getting hit by branches. Some of us managed it more successfully than others…
On the way back, we had the views over the Dublin Mountains right in front of us with their beautiful green fields. When we got back to the stables, I helped putting my horse Ceasar away. He was a very good boy but he had a bit of a competitive streak and didn’t like to be overtaken by another horse!
Master the skills of hurling
So you are in Dublin and you want to learn a new skill. How about learning to play hurling? But what is hurling? Hurling is an ancient gaelic game that has been played in Ireland for over 3,000 years. It is one of the oldest field sports in the world and it’s one of the most popular sports played in the country.
We went to see the O’Driscoll Brothers from Clash Gaelic Games, experts in this field, to learn all about this intriguing sport that is little known outside of Ireland. And learn we did! Through storytelling and jokes we learnt about the unique skills that make hurling so important and how it is at the centre of every community around the country.
But in addition to the history and tradition of this uniquely Irish game, we got to go in the field and try it out ourselves. We got to learn how to hold the hurley, the wooden stick with a flattened curved shape at the end used to hit the leather ball. We also learnt how to control the ball with the hurley, how to hit it, how to pick it up from the ground without using your hands, and most importantly, how to steal the ball from your opponent using the hurley.
It was a great team sport and we even had a competition at the end to see who could hit the ball the furthest. I didn’t even make top three, but had the best time!
Enjoy the coastline on two wheels
Cycling is always a great way to explore a city and its surroundings, especially when you have a fantastic coastal road with magnificent views over the Irish Sea.
We picked up our bikes from the Irish Centre for Cycling in Malahide, just north of Dublin, after a visit to the magnificent castle and grounds. Lead by Shane, we set off and arrived at the coast pretty much straight away. We cycled and enjoyed the views of the sea to our left, stopping a couple of times to learn about the numerous castles and Martello towers that we could see along the coast.
A Martello tower is a small fort that was built across the British Empire in the 19th century as part of a line of defence during the Napoleonic War. The Irish east coast is peppered with these towers. There are also a lot of castles, which were built privately by the local lords to protect their land and sometimes their trade routes. Some of these castles and Martello Towers have now been turned into private residences, airbnb properties, and one of them is even a museum dedicated to James Joyce.
Climb and swing from tree tops
No matter how old you are, climbing a tree and swinging from it always feels like an adventure. And you can do just that right outside of Dublin, at Zipit Forest Adventures.
Zipit has a number of circuits of varying difficulty, with the easiest ones suitable for children. I started off on the Orange one, of medium difficulty, but challenging enough with the wobbly platforms, swings, ropes, and very cool ziplines. I then tried to go on to the blue one which is the next one up in difficulty. I say try because my little legs couldn’t get over the first hurdle! So I had to come back down after failing to reach the first step feeling a bit deflated, so instead I followed my fellow adventurers along the ground while they zipped and wobbled along the canopy.
Some of us (obviously not me!) even completed the red course, which is the hardest one. This course requires a lot of upper body strength and one of the obstacles is to cross from tree to tree over a rope while cycling a bike! Maybe I should have given it a go… (!)
Segway all the way
And of course, ‘Segwaying’ through Dublin had to be included in this list. This novel way of exploring a city has almost become a bit viral and you’ll be pressed to find a capital city where there are no Segway tours.
We chose to explore Phoenix Park with CP Adventure. Before we got started, we had a couple of trial runs on the Segway. It took a few minutes and a few runs back and forth to get the hang of it. But it soon became very intuitive and natural to be moving on wheels while standing up straight. A very odd sensation that felt oddly natural.
Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed park in any capital city in Europe and it’s five times bigger than Hyde Park in London. It was rutting season when we were there so we got to see a lot of wild fallow deer around. And we got relatively close to have a good look at them… and them at us!
The park has fantastic views over Dublin and we were really lucky that the weather was really sunny and clear.
Although you can get to some of these adventures by public transport, the best way to explore County Dublin is by hire car, which gives you the freedom of discovering out of the way villages and less accessible areas. For the best hire car deals, click here.
What would be your preferred adventure activity in Dublin? Let me know in the comments!
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Disclosure: A big thank you to Discover Ireland, who hosted me on this trip. As always, all views are my own. This post also contains affiliate links, that earn me a small commission but come at no extra cost to you. Thanks as always for your support!
Feature Photo Credit: Bill Fink