The Burren – Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way (and Beyond)

The Burren is a unique area on Ireland’s West Coast. Approximately 400 square miles, today’s Burren was once an ancient tropical sea. Eventually, the sea dried up and the corals turned to rock, drifting north to modern-day Ireland. Nevertheless, the evidence of the sea is everywhere. From the caves that stretch to the shore, to the unique landscape, the Burren surrounds you. Although many people explore Ireland quickly, I wanted to provide you with an in-depth look into this area. Here, you’ll find all the most popular and unique things to do in the Burren. Whilst planning your trip on the Wild Atlantic Way, use this guide to figure out where you want to stop – and what you can skip. At the bottom of this article, you’ll also find a free downloadable map of the Burren. Additionally, don’t forget to check out “Unique Things To Do in Dublin.”

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A horse and a fawn as seen in Doolin, The Burren, Ireland.

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The Burren Packing List

The weather in the Burren changes quickly. From sun to rain and wind, it’s always good to be prepared for the unexpected. I suggest getting ready for lots of hiking and walking. My favorite hiking products are below.

Packing Travel Tip:

I have been scouring Amazon for the highest quality, most helpful travel items. From the softest leggings (perfect for the flight) to the most stylish suitcase, these are the best travel products on Amazon, designed to make your vacation even better. Go check out these great finds!

Where to Stay in the Burren

Fiddle and Bow

The newest hotel in Doolin offers modern accommodations, modern decore and great service. Fiddle and Bow is a premium Doolin hotel is ideal for those seeking luxury in the Burren.

The Doolin Inn

A cross between a hotel and a bed and breakfast, the Doolin Inn combines Irish hospitality with modern creature comforts. Ideally located just steps from the Cliffs of Moher trailhead, the Inn is also well known for its hearty breakfast included with your stay.

The Vaughan Lodge

The highest-rated hotel in Lahinch, The Vaughan Lodge offers rooms situated on the golf course and overlooking the ocean. This location is ideal for the golfer but is a short driving distance from downtown Lahinch. The hotel is well known for its great food, well-maintained rooms, and premium service.

Things To Do In The Burren

Ailwee Caves

Deep under the Buren, lays a complex network of caves. To this date, only a few have been discovered – the rest lay in wait. The Ailwee Caves first opened to tourists since in the 1960s.

Also Read: Renting a Car in Ireland, A Complete Guide

The tour takes about an hour. Although some parts of the caves are adapted for humans, much of the cave is in its natural state. The area can be slippery and if you are tall – watch your head. The cave path takes you past deep waterfalls, stalactites, stalagmites, and other natural phenomena. Although there is no evidence humans ever lived here, we know that bears did. While in the Ailwee Cave you’ll have a chance to view bear remains, including bones that are 10,000 years old. While you can use flash photography, I still found it challenging to get good pictures. Altogether, the hour-long tour is both fun and educational. The experience does not feel rushed, and you can take your time with photography.

Ailwee Cave under the Burren in Ireland
Although the cave is tight in some places, it’s an easy walk.

Ailwee Cave Travel Tip:

The smallest cave group goes out at the opening time – 10 am. If you want to tour the caves with as few people as possible, get to Ailwee in the morning.

Birds of Prey Center In Ailwee Caves

The Birds of Prey Center is another fun attraction located within the Ailwee caves complex. The center focuses on homing, training and rescuing birds of prey. Under Irish law no bird who was born free can be displayed or trained, so all rescue work is done behind the scenes. The birds on display were all born in captivity. Some were rescued from bad breeders or unsuitable homes.

The best reason to come to the Birds of Prey Center is the Dynamic Flying Displays. Falconry is both an ancient art and a sport. The birds fly free during the displays and can technically leave at any moment. They do not – both because they identify with their caretakers and enjoy easy access to meals. During the display, the trainer and the bird work as a team to exhibit the flyer’s learned skills and natural abilities. It is an incredible and rare display – a giant eagle soars only inches above your head. You can attend the program several times a day, and come back through the day for more – each show exhibits different birds. During the display, volunteers of all ages have a chance to hold the birds.

A colorful eagle lands on a young girl with red hair in the Birds of Prey center in the Burren.

The Burren – Poulnabrone Dolmen

One of the oldest structures in Ireland, the Poulnabrone Dolmen was build in the new stone age – approximately 3,500 BC. At the time this area would have looked very different. Open pine forests would have shaded this temple. The land was used for farming, and thick soil covered what is today exposed rock. Although we don’t know much about the people who put up Poulnabrone Dolmen, we do know that they practiced some form of religion and felt an attachment to their dead. More than 33 people were buried here, moved from another area. And with them, personal possessions – weapons, jewelry, and pottery.

Today, it is easy to visit this ancient area, but only a few do. Located inland from the Wild Atlantic Way, this cordoned off area is free to enter. Here, you can stroll the ancient pathways and read descriptive signs explaining the history of Poulnabrone Dolmen. While you are in the Burren, take a bit of time to visit this prehistoric construction – you’ll be glad you did.

The ancient structure of Poulnabrone Dolmen in the typical landscape in the Burren.

Sheepdog Demonstrations at Caherconnell Fort

The sheepdog demonstrations at Caherconnel is a delightful experience. One of the smartest dogs on earth, a sheepdog can understand hundreds of verbal and whistle commands. During the show, an experienced local farmer directs his three working dogs to herd a small flock of sheep. He demonstrates both simple and complex techniques, and how he works with the pups as a team. To say its cute would be an understatement. The dogs love working because, after all, they were bred for it. The entire experience is authentic and unforgettable. In the summer, you can attend two demonstrations per day. Before you go, check the schedule and plan your day accordingly.

A shepherd stands next to sheep and three sheep dogs lay on the ground.
The demonstration at Caherconnell Fort is presented by a local farmer.

The Burren – Caherconnell Stone Fort

A thousand years ago, an extended family constructed the Caherconnel Stone Fort. Generations lived inside these powerful stone walls. Back then, wild animals would have been a threat. A bigger threat? Other humans. This fort is one of the thousands of similar forts through Ireland. However, it is the one in the best condition. Today, we know it was inhabited long after other simular structures were abandoned. We know this because archeologists found artifacts from as late as 16th century on this site. It is not clear why the fort was inhabited for so long. What is clear is that generations were born, lived and died here. Safe in the confines of the stone walls their ancestors had build.

You can tour the fort in relative silence. Few travelers make it out here, tempted by the more famous attractions along the Wild Atlantic Way. Their loss is your gain. The area is much more than historically interesting. There is a powerful current here, and if you listen very closely you might just hear the sound of a thousand years gone by.

An animal skull lays on the remnants of Caherconnell Fort in the Burren.

Kilfenora Cathedral

The ancient Kilfenora Cathedral stands on the site of an even older monastery. Altogether, a religious building stood here from the 6th century. Rebuild by its many conquerors, the cathedral is a mix of styles and ages. Parts of ancient stone walls date to the year 1,000. However, the new glass roof shielding a part of the building is a modern addition. The artifacts inside cover the thousand years in between.

Kilfenora Cathedral is free to enter. The old oak roof burned down centuries ago, so most of the structure is open-air As you make a way in the low passageways, look for the ancient crosses, a carved effigy and stone pillars. Before you enter the Cathedral, walk over the ancient cemetery outside. Here you’ll find burial plots, some as old as the 1600s. And others, as recent as last year. The unique combination of antiquity and modernity is a great reason to stop by Kilfenora Cathedral in The Burren.

The Kilfenora Cathedral in the Burren, Ireland.
It’s easy to miss, but if you look closely you may be able to spot a carved stone effigy and pillar in this picture.

Dunguaire Castle

The first thing you should know about Dungauire Castle is that it is not actually a castle. Remember – a castle’s main purpose is to withstand an attack. But Dungaire Castle was erected in 1520 – a time of peace and prosperity in Ireland. At the time, it was fashionable for wealthy men to build “Tower Houses.” These residences were designed to look like castles but offered none of their protection. So what you have here, basically, is a 16th century McMansion. You’ll find many examples of these tower houses through Ireland, usually constructed by a wealthy farmer or landlord.

In spite of its design as a modern home for the 16th-century bachelor on the go, you’ll discover the castle is quite small While touring the home you will come upon 3 floors, each only one room wide. In addition to exploring the home, you can walk onto the roof. On the rooftop, you’ll find beautiful views but very cramped passageways. If you have suffer from claustrophobia, this one is probably not for you. All together it only takes about 30 to 45 minutes to visit the castle. A quick and fun stop on your tour of the Burren along the Wild Atlantic Way.

The Dungair Castle on the wild Atlantic way in the Burren.
The not-really-a-castle Dungaire Castle

Traught Beach in the Burren

If you are looking for off the beaten path, Traught Beach is the ideal stop along the Wild Atlantic Way. This small pebble beach gets only a few visitors every day. Here, you can stroll the shore, collect seashells or just spend a few hours relaxing. Although wild and not mostly empty, you’ll still find all the necessities here. This includes a washroom, a changing room, and a lifeguard.

Pebbles on Traught beach in the burren, Ireland.

The Flaggy Shore

Drive the Wild Atlantic Way in the Burren long enough and eventually, you’ll come upon the Flaggy Shore. Named after the low, “torn” cliffs across the water, the beach is a peaceful, protected area. After the car park, proceed along to the beach for a distant view of the shore and its cliffs. Or turn in the other direction, walk along the flat path away from the cliff. After a half an hour you’ll come upon the beachside Cafe Linnala.

Inside the cafe, enjoy a taste of ice cream, made with locally sourced ingredients. The ingredients are so local in fact, that the cows that produce the milk graze outside the cafe. After a snack, continue further inland and around the small Locht Muree. Here, walk past the livestock grazing on the rolling hills, and eventually, you’ll reach a country road. Turn left and another half an hour brings you back to the spot where you started – the Flaggy Shore in the Burren.

The flaggy shore beach in the Burren, Ireland.

Black Head Lighthouse

Constructed around 1936, the Blackhead lighthouse was deemed essential in preventing ships from crashing into the surrounding cliffs. At the time, Ireland was an important stop in the Trans-Atlantic shipping trade, and a lighthouse was a necessity. That changed with WWII when, due to threats from U-boats, the trade came to a screeching halt. Because of power shortages, the light was out for a part of the war and restored back shortly thereafter. Unlike many similar lighthouses, Blackhead is still in operation to this day. Today, the modern lighthouse is solar-powered and attended remotely by a computer.

You’ll find the Black Head lighthouse on the Wild Atlantic Way, where the road runs along the shore. This portion of the narrow two-lane highway is brilliant and dangerous. Parking is a challenge, and most people just park on the side of the highway, leaving only one lane to traffic. Although you will find a small parking lot across the highway, it is almost always full.

The blackhead lighthouse stands in isolation on a typical Burren landscape.

Fanore Beach

The unique ecosystem of Fanore Beach and Dunes is a European Area of Special Conservation. The dunes began to form more than 5,000 years ago are protected by dune grass, including rare grass species. Parts of the beach are cordoned off to protect the dunes and the animals who live here.

The rest of the beach is accessible to people and is very popular with surfers. In fact, you can take surfing lessons from beach vendors who set up in the parking lot. And speaking of parking, although the lot is huge it gets very busy. You may need to wait for a spot or get here early. If hiking rather than surfing is more your speed, the hard Fanore to Ballyvaughan Trek starts here. The six-hour, 800 m ascent takes you along the shore and into the hillside paths above the water. The trek ends in the village of Ballyvaughan.

The boulders immersed in sand on Fanore Beach.

Doolin

The tiny village of Doolin, situated on the Wild Atlantic Way is a place where most travelers only spend a night. Its a shame really, since the village is known for its delicious food, an authentic music scene, the charming main street. And Doolin is central to every attraction on this list. I spend four nights here while exploring the Burren. Most locals were surprised, if not shocked I chose to stay for so long. But the truth is, I ran out of time long before I ran out of things to do in the Burren. I could have easily spent 2 or 3 more nights in Doolin and covered even more things to do in this article.

You won’t need to drive to access some of Burren’s most famous attractions from Dooley. The Cliffs of Moher trail originates here and you can access Doolin Caves from this area. The ferries to the Aran islands depart from downtown Doolin daily. Additionally, Doolin boasts great shops and awesome bars. The plethora of clam farms in this area means if you love seafood you won’t want to leave this town in the Burren.

The Doolin - possibly the prettiest town in the Burren, Ireland.
The unusual pink house is a craft store, while Doolin’s most famous bar is the yellow house on the far left.

Cliffs of Moher Hike – The Burren

Every year, thousands of people visit the Cliffs of Moher. Many visitors fly into Dublin and drive into the Burren all in the hopes of seeing the cliffs. However, even though many spend countless hours getting here, most visitors only spend about an hour actually enjoying these views.

For lots more on Cliffs of Moher Walk check out the complete article.

The Cliffs of Moher are actually one of the big reasons why I chose to stay in the Burren for 4 days. You see, if you come here a the wrong time, instead of these stunning precipices you’ll only see endless fog. Giving myself four days in the Burren meant I could come out here on an ideal morning. However, it makes little sense to spend so long getting here and only spend a few minutes at the cliffs. Instead, if there is one thing you do in the Burren I would recommend the Cliffs of Moher Hike.

This moderate two-hour hike starts in Doolin and extends all the way to and past the cliffs. While walking this trail, you’ll be mostly hugging the coastline and encounter other more remarkable sights – views only a few others get to see. Plan your hiking with google’s hour by hour forecast to ensure you are walking in the best weather possible – and that you get the best views.

The dramatic cliffs of Moher under a cloudy sky.

Burren National Park

Of course, no trip to the Burren would be complete without a stop in The Burren National Park. Located in the southeast corner of the Burren this 1500 hectare preserve offers hiking opportunities for all levels and interests. Although you might think of the typical Burren landscape is barren, this is far from the case. On your walk, you’ll likely encounter meadows with an array of wildflowers and plants. Birds and insects are common here as well, attracted by the fecund plants in the park.

Perhaps the most popular trail here is the easy White Arrow Trail. While on this trail you’ll pass through a variety of environments – from bare limestone to mature woodland and open meadows. I did this trail in the rain. The limestone is very slippery when wet. I recommend walking sticks for any hike in the Burren.

Ancient, bare limestone is a typical landscape in the Burren national park.

The Secret Hike

I have a confession to make. I get lost. A lot. Having virtually no sense of direction is often a problem for a travel writer. But at other times, its a bonus. And so, my last day in the Burren I got lost. However, I also got very lucky and accidentally found a stunning, a secret hike. This hike was a true Irish adventure – complete with fairy forts and homemade apple pie. This trail became one of my favorite things to do in the Burren.

This hike is so secret that only a few locals know about it. And so, the person who maintains the trail, as well as other guests, asked me not to disclose the location too widely. In order to accommodate their requests, I decided not to include directions in this article. Instead, if you are interested in going, make sure you subscribe to my mail list and leave a comment on this article. I will then email you the directions. This way I can still share this hidden treasure with some of my subscribers while maintaining an air of secrecy.

A fairy fort with memorabilia left by travelers.

The Secret Hike – The Journey

The secret hike starts at a pond fairy fort which your reach via a well-maintained trail. Here, you emerge onto the bare Burren and work your way up to ancient burial sites. Then, via a man-made set of stairs descend back into the forest. Eventually, you make your way out into the opening where you come upon a small hut. Walk inside and help yourself to snacks like homemade apple pie and brownies. Leave a donation before you depart. If the proprietor is there, you can chat with him and ask him to take you into the secret fairy fort – where I took this picture. This trail and the environment is pure magic. If you are looking for an authentic old Ireland experience, this is a must.

A moss covered tree in the secret fairy fort.
The secret fairy fort

Lahinch

The picturesque village of Lahinch is conveniently situated on the Wild Atlantic Way, just south of Doolin. Lahinch is well known among travelers for its beach and the many restaurants in town. While Doolin is tiny and cute, Lahinch is sophisticated and offers more activities. Since I liked Doolin’s reputation and the cute homes on the main street I decided to stay there. But if you are looking for more variety and a beach Lahinch is a good bet. I came into town several times to have dinner when I ran out of new places to try in Doolin. However, I preferred Doolin’s quaint atmosphere to the more metropolitan Lahinch.

The beach and boardwalk in Lahinch, the Burren, Claire County in Ireland.
The beach in Lahinch

Where to Eat in the Burren

Ivy Cottage

A quaint restaurant on the main street, the Ivy Cottage serves all the usual Doolin favorites – clams, burgers, and vegan options. However, what differentiates it from most Doolin eateries is that it is a true restaurant and not a bar. Ideal for a quiet evening out, this is a great place to order a bottle of wine and lounge over a bucket of clams.

Gus O’Connor’s

Doolin’s most famous bar is the home of the best music in town. Famous (or should I say infamous) for its atmosphere, I made friends within 30 seconds of sitting at the bar. If you are looking for authentic Irish hospitality and a great menu, you can’t go wrong with O’Connors.

McGann’s Pub

Located a short walk from the center, McGann’s is perhaps the quietest pub in Doolin. The atmosphere is relaxed and early live music (starts at 6 pm) makes this a great leisurely stop for a dinner or a drink.

Clams are a popular food item in the Burren.
The clam portions in the Burren are huge – enough for two people.

One more thing…

If you have read this far thank you! I really hope you have enjoyed this article. Also, I have a favor to ask. Please leave a comment or a question in the comments section of the article. Comments help search engines determine which articles are valuable, and which are not. Thank you again for reading and I’ll see you guys on the road!

The Burren Downloadable Map

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A pinterest friendly image of things to do in the Burren.
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17 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Mary T McPartland
    November 5, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    Great tips! My personal favorite of the area is Spanish Point. I just love stopping by the Armada Hotel, especially in off season! I’d love directions to your fairy fort! Beachgirl9962@gmail.com Thanks!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Erin
    September 5, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Thanks so much!! We go next June—can’t wait to discover some of these treasures!

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 5, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      So glad to hear that Erin! Enjoy your trip!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Jada Fey
    September 4, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    Hi! I would love directions to the secret hike area. My husband and I will be visiting Ireland and that area in October. Thanks!

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 5, 2019 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Jada! I’ll send you an email. Enjoy Ireland 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Leslie
    September 4, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    I would love to know how to find the secret hike. Love this article. We will be back in Ireland in 2021 and hope to spend a couple of nights in Doolin while exploring the Burren

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 6, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Leslie! Sure thing, I’ll send you an email.

      Viktoria

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Nancy B
    September 4, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I was in Ireland last month, and made time to go to the Burren. I loved it, and want to go back and explore more. And, the Ivy Cottage is a great place to eat. Excellent recommendation. Thanks for stirring my memories, and inspiring me to come back to the Burren next year!

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 5, 2019 at 8:36 am

      Ah so glad to hear that! I also want to go back to Ireland, maybe even next year.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Judy
    September 4, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Thank you – gives me lots of ideas !!

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 4, 2019 at 9:57 am

      So glad to hear that! Enjoy Ireland 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Shelly Massie
    September 4, 2019 at 9:21 am

    One of the best articles I read. Hits beyond the usual tourists spots and reminds me why I keep returning.

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 4, 2019 at 9:25 am

      Thanks dear! I know you love Ireland, was thinking of you when I was writing it 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    EileenMcMahonWoods
    September 4, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Hey there … great piece!!! My Dad grew up in Doolin and I visit there often… I’m so happy to hear someone love it as much as me!! It’s my favorite place!! I especially loved your comments about the Cliffs .. it’s so true .. people don’t get the fee from just looking at them … a hike is a must!!
    I’m going 9/11-9/19 … can’t wait!!
    I’d love the directions to the secret hike if possible… thanks again for the great article!!

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 4, 2019 at 9:26 am

      Hi Eileen! Your dad grew up in a beautiful place. And the people there are amazing as well! I am going to send you the directions via email, let me know if you don’t get them 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Julia Ohst
    September 4, 2019 at 9:06 am

    Excellent write-up, Viktoria! Your downloadable map is great.

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      September 4, 2019 at 9:26 am

      Thanks so much Julia! You are always so kind!

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