Eco Tourism Destinations in Ireland

eco tourism spots in Ireland

In light of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions I thought an article on eco holiday day-trips was timely. I’ve previously written about having a Sustainable Day out in Dublin city, but now I’m going further afield to looking at eco tourism attractions around the rest of the county and country.

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Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

This article started off longer than this but I had to take out wonderful attractions because they didn’t appear to be making sustainability a priority. Maybe they are hiding their light under a bushel and are doing all manner of eco activities covertly. If you know of any eco spots that are walking-the-walk in terms of sustainability or fall into one of the categories list below, then please add a comment beneath this article or send me an email about them.

  • land given over to wildlife or forestry
  • particularly impressive gardens
  • animal sanctuaries or rescue centres
  • organic farms set up for visitors
  • environmental groups set up for visitors

Birdwatch Ireland Nature Reserves. This non-profit organisation manages 16 wildbird nature reserves throughout the country.

And Coilte has a list of it’s recreational sites on this interactive map.

Bike Hire
Cycling is one of the most sustainable ways to tour an are and there are plenty of bike hire companies out there. If you’d like to support one that has completed training in sustainable business practices then check out the members of Sustainable Travel Ireland

Tour Companys
Tour company Wilderness Ireland actively reduce the environmental footprint of their tours by prioritising walking or cycling or kayaking, banning the use of single-use plastic bottles, prioritising small independently-run businesses and limiting the size of tours in order to limit impact. They also offsett the carbon they do emit and donate to environmental charities in the area in which they operate.

Farm Tours
Take a tour of an organic farm with Farming for Nature. Also the organic farm An Tairseach in Wicklow carries out montly farm walks.

And if you’re out and about how you might be interested in this comprehensive list of playgrounds around Ireland.

Aloha Surf school is located at one of the Geosites in The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Geopark. The company is a member of Burren Ecotourism Network and the Education Committee of BurrenBeo, Ireland’s first landscape charity who promote and support the sustainable management and use of the unique landscape and heritage. Price – on request

Lough Hyne in the only Marine Reserve in Ireland. It is a salt water lake connected to the Atlantic sea and for that reason has a unique habitat with a diverse range of marine plants and animals.

The Donkey Sanctuary in Cork is a registered charity and has over 130 donkeys and mules on it’s open farm. It also have a visitor information centre serving teas, coffees and snacks. Price – Donation requested

Wild Ireland is a wild animal rescue sanctuary based in a woodland in Donegal. It is home to brown bears, European wolves, wild boar and lynx, back together in the Irish forest for the first time in thousands of years. Each session to the park lasts 3 hours and their are keeper talks every 15 mins. It’s on my list of places to visit but we haven’t made it to the corner of the country as of yet. Cost – €10 per adult, €8 per child

Glenveigh National Park is a remote landscape of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and native oak woodland in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains in the north west of County Donegal. At the centre of the Park on the edge of Lough Veagh is Glenveagh Castle, a late 19th century castellated mansion, built as a hunting lodge. The castle has gardens, which are open for free all year round. There’s a cafe and visitor centre at the edge of the park and wilderness camping is allowed outside of the main valley in the park.

North Bull Island is a wildlife reserve near Clontarf in Dublin Bay on the east side of Dublin and is particularly well know for wild bird sightings. They’re aren’t a lot of amenities on the Island but there are restaurants within driving/ cycling distance. The best place to read up no the location is on the Trip advisor website. Not quite sustainable but they’ve an impressive Kite Festival on the island once a year. Cost – Free

Booterstown Marsh Reserve is another wildlife sanctuary, this time on the South side of Dublin. AS with the resserve above the best place to find up to the date info on it is on the Trip Advisor website. Cost – Free

St Anne’s Urban Farm in Clontarf on the East Side of Dublin, near the North Bull Island is a community-run rescue centre for animals you’d typically find on a pet farm. Cost – Free

Shane’s Howth Adventures gives tours of the UNESCO Dublin biosphere around Howth, Co Dublin. In terms of sustainability they minimise waste, promote public and human powered transport and local food suppliers.

The Burren National Park is located in the south-eastern corner of the Burren and is approximately 1500 hectares in size. The word “Burren” comes from an Irish word “Boíreann” meaning a rocky place. It contains examples of all the major habitats within the Burren: limestone pavement, calcareous grassland, hazel scrub, ash/hazel woodland, turloughs, lakes, petrifying springs, cliffs and fen. An information point is mentioned on the website but it’s unclear what exactly that is.

The Burren Nature Sanctuary is 50 acres in total and offers a wild orchid meadow, magical hazel fairy woodland, a stonewalled pasture, a 3 acre lake that empties and refills every 12 hours and 25 acres of rewilding. On site there is an organic garden, an air-to-water heat pump, a rain water harvesting system and a high spec waste-water system with a sand filter. The owners are also members of ‘Adopt a Hedgrow’, clearing rubbish yearly from a 1km stretch from their entrace gate to Kinvara, They also plant native trees, compost organic waste on site and operate low waste principles in relation to rubbish, water and energy.

Connemara National Park is located in Letterfrack in Galway and covers some 2,000 hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and woodlands. Some of the Park’s mountains, namely Benbaun, Bencullagh, Benbrack and Muckanaght, are part of the famous Twelve Bens or Beanna Beola range. Wilderness camping is allowed in the park, subject to exclusions, and there’s a visitor centre, cafe and playground.

Brigits Garden is a non-profit set up as a place of connection with nature, beauty and Celtic heritage, and as a resource for education, reflection and creativity. On site they’ve solar panels, a wood pellet stove and an organic garden, all with a view to showcasing sustainability to visitors through their educational programmes. They also have a cafe serving locally sourced food. Cost – €9 for adults €6 for children €26 for family of 4

Slieve Aughty Centre in Loughrea, Galway, is an eco-friendly equestrian and activity leisure centre set on 17 acres, some of which is a Special Protection Area for the hen harrier. They offer horse trecking and lessons, bike and donkey hire and pizza making sessions. The centre runs on renewable energy and supplementary heating in the eco-lodge is with wood harvested on site. The centre is designed to maximise daylight and reduce the need for artificial lighting. Laundry is mostly air dried and lighting and low flow shower heads, sink taps and toilets are installed in the common areas. Rainwater is collected for use in the stables and garden and hot discharge water from the dishwasher is sometimes used to clean floors or outside decking. Vegetables and fruits are grown chemical-free on site with additional additional fruits and vegetables sourced locally and organically, when possible. Cheese and free-range eggs are provided by local farms and mushrooms are harvested from the forest when available. More than 90% of purchased products are certified organic and coffee and tea purchased are fair trade. They compost any food waste and they reduce packaging by buying in bulk. In 2007 chalets were constructed with old timber, roof and brick from our old guest house. Dining room furniture was made with timber from the old guest house as well and in 2010, 2 sheds were renovated completely with materials from the original guest house. Guests who choose non-air travel receive a 5% discount on their holiday and farm bikes are provided free for guests to visit the immediate area. Eco-friendly cleaners are used for all cleaning and clothes washing and cloths are used for cleaning instead of paper towels. The centre supports the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council, places bird houses and plants native trees around the centre and has developed a free nature walk for the public at it’s own expense. Cost – €25 – €60

Sea Synergy is a marine awareness, research & activity centre founded in 2014 by marine biologist Lucy Hunt. They offer walks, snorkling, stand up paddleboard and canoe tours  focused on local marine wildlife. They also provide educational programmes for schools. Prices – Vary depending on the tour

The Naked Sheep in Tuosist offer a 2 hour guided Alpaca trekking experience for people over 12 years of age, through forests with views overlooking the Cloonee Lakes, Kenmare Bay, and the Ring of Kerry mountain range.

South and west of the town of Killarney in Co. Kerry is Kilarney National Park, an expanse of mountainous country that includes the highest mountain range in Ireland, the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the famous lakes of Killarney. Here. Also in this 10,236 hectare National Park are woods and waterfalls, a hostel and educational centre for visiting groups, and two country houses with gardens. Canoing on the lakes is allowed, with a permit.

Based on a 100 acre organic beef farm Mountallen Eco Tours offer a number of walks, with the option to focus on local ecology and biodiversity. They also run a number of workshops including Moth Trapping, Conducting Butterfly Transects, Hedge Coppicing, and Composting. The farm has been organic since 1996 and His farm has a variety of habitats including a raised bog, mature native woodland, species rich acidic grassland, wildflower meadows, lakeshore and river. Additionally, it has a diversity of rare and declining species such as the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, Large Heath Butterfly, Lady’s Tresses Orchid and Mudwort. A wetland habitat has also been created onsite to support populations of breeding and wintering wildfowl and waders such as Curlew.  The farm is engaged in social farming practices in which individuals experiencing difficulties are invited to engage in farm-life. Price – on request

Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is located on the western seaboard of Western Mayo and comprises of 11,000 hectares and is home to Owenduff bog, one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Ireland and Western Europe, and the Nephin Beg mountain range. You can hike and camp in the park and there’s a visitor’s centre and cafe.

Mayo is also now home to Ireland’s first International Dark Sky Park, showcasing some of the darkest, most pristine skies in the world.

Sonairte Interactive Visitor Centre has a cafe, eco-shop and educational centre, along with an organic garden, and nature trails. Cost – Free

Back into Daylight is a registered charity and vegan animal sanctuary in Navan Co Meath. It looks after up to 400 wild and rescued animals, which they try to rehome where possible. Cost – Donation requested

Beewise in Co Meath offers talks and walks on their 5 acres site, which they planted with over 10,000 pollinator-friendly trees, and plants to complement the native hedgerows already in place. The venue is wheelchair and children friendly, with outdoor picnic and play areas, and some tea/coffee and light snacks on sale.

Boyne Boats offer you a chance to paddle your way down the Boyne river in a handcrafted traditional Irish currac.

Lough Borra Discovery Park – This park was originally harvested for it’s peat up until it was converted into a stunning natural park. There’s a few walks around the site but none short, so be warned. You can bring your own bikes to the park or rent some there, which is a great way to get around this stunning landscape. of lakes and woodland. There’s two car parks. One is near the visitor centre, cafe, picnic areas and bike rental, while the second, smaller one is closer to the start of the walks. The park is also dotted with sculptures. Cost – Free

Voya, specialise in seaweed-based products and spa treatments.   The company states that they only use natural and non-toxic ingredients including wild organic seaweeds, harvested by hand to protect the coastal environment, and that their products contain as much organic ingredients as possible. Voya products are free from cruelty and mineral oils, GM ingredients, synthetic colours, fragrances or preservatives and are certified as being organic. They are also a member of ECOPACT, an initiative designed to ensure the widespread introduction of environmentally responsible and sustainable development of seaweed resources and any emissions generated during the manufacturing process are offset with carbon credits acquired by the company. Price – €30 – €85

There are a number of designated walks through the Unesco Copper Coast Geopark, an area designated to be of international geological significance managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Cost – Free

National Heritage Park – Our family loved this park, both for it’s stunning scenery and fantastically constructed historical buildings. A huge park, you really could do with spending a good few hours here. We we able to engage in some archery when we visited, for a small additional fee and there was a show and tell of birds of prey up at the Norman castle.

Seal Rescue Centre is based in Courtown in Co Wexford and does exactly what it says on the tin; rescue seals. We were very lucky to have Santa bring us adoption papers for one of their seals in 2020, and really enjoyed seeing Asteroid getting better and being released in February of 2021. In pre-Covid times you could book a 60min feeding sessions at the centre at a cost of €20 per person.

JFK Arboretum is a huge park full of mature trees and lakes in New Ross, Co Wexford. It’s quite a manicured park and if you do the full loop it takes a good 2-3 hours so be warned. Other than trees there isn’t a huge amount else to see here. There’s a cafe on site. Cost – Free

Wexford’s Organic Lavender Farm, is located in Gorey and has woodland walks ranging from 2-7km for visitors. They also have an onsite cafe. Cost – Free

Tintern Abbey is a 16th centaury monastery set in a special area of conservation and surrounded by woodland with walking trails and a Colclough Walled Garden. During conservation special measures were taken to protect the local bat colonies. Cost – Free

Alpaca Lodge offers a 1-1.5 hour with their Alpaca’s over 2km through the Wexford countryside.

Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens – You may well be aware of the Botanic Gardens in North Dublin city, well these are it’s wilder cousins in Co Wicklow. We visited it when the Rhododendron trees were in bloom and it was a stunning site. Not a big site to walk so do-able with smallies, and there is a cafe on site. Cost – Free

Cool Planet Experience, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow– Here you’ll experience a great interactive display to help learn about climate change. My kids loved it. They also have a few well priced reusables on sale in reception too. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be open as of yet. Will update this article when it is.

Greenan Maze started out as an organic farm and now offers a walks through a nature reserve with native trees planted by the land owners. There’s also a maze, rural museum, craft shop and cafe onsite, with the latter selling organic coffee. €8 for adults €7.50 for children €29 for family of 4.

Galactic Ireland run 2 hour star gazing sessions near the sugarloaf mountain in Co Wicklow. It’s €45 per person for each session and a full refund is available if the weather results in it being cancelled.

Wicklow Mountains National Park is situated just south of Dublin. Covering 20,483 hectares,  it has the distinction of being the largest of Ireland’s six National Parks. Wild camping is allowed beyond the alley of Glendalough and there is a privately-owned hostel in the park. There is also a visitor centre in the village of Laragh and a National Park Information Office near the Upper lake.

Wild Acres offers talks, walks and workshops on it’s 17.5 acres nature reserve and honey farm in Co Wicklow. Since purchasing the property in 2017 the owners have created 9 ponds and 4 acre wildflower meadow, planted 2km of native hedgerows and over 10,000 native trees.

K2 Alpaca offers treks with Alpacas for anyone over the age of 8, which they finish with a glass of prosecco or juice! The walk itself is 1 1/4 hours long, with an intro at the start and a break at the end.

As always I’ll update this article as I come across more places.

Elaine & Paul

PS – If you like this article check out my other articles;

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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