One of the best ways of really seeing a country is on foot. Backpackers discovered this secret a long time ago, and slowly the word has spread. Today, backpacking is enjoyed by youthful gap year students, active families and silver haired hikers – all agreed on one thing: seeing a place up close, at walking pace, is the most revealing of all.
But what makes the southern part of Ireland so special for backpacking? Well, there’s the rugged coastline and miles of superb hiking trails that make this a dream destination for anyone with backpacking in their blood. There are the warm and welcoming Irish people, idyllic villages with lively pubs and a magical folklore and ancient culture that pervade everything. Stepping into southern Ireland really is like stepping into another world, where things are just a little different.
The southern counties of Cork and Limerick are a fine proposition for anyone with a love of hitting the great outdoors. Here it is possible to brave the heights at Blarney Castle in Cork to give a kiss to the famous Blarney Stone, or to hike the Great Southern Trail in Limerick, all washed down with a pint of Guinness and some traditional music in one of many pubs. Be sure to schedule a hike close to Ireland’s prettiest village, Adare, in county Limerick, where thatched cottages and a stunning Manor house catch the eye.
Local accommodation in this part of the world varies widely and those following pre-determined routes are advised to book ahead. Choose from quaint village bed and breakfasts to bigger establishments with more facilities in the county towns. Those seeking a livelier atmosphere should head for the towns of Cork and Limerick where there is more on offer in terms of nightlife. For choice and quality Limerick hotels make comfortable places to rest up after a long day pounding the beautiful Ballyhoura hiking trails nearby.
Walkers in Cork can enjoy a range of circular trails ranging in difficulty from the tough Allihies to Balldonegan loop that stretches 18 kilometres through rugged landscape, or the shorter Baran Loop to Sheep’s Head which hugs the stunning coastline. Being such a popular area with walkers, hikers and cyclists, there is plenty of information about trails and route suggestions widely available at Tourist Information points and online.
Backpackers who actually end up in Cork town itself should drop by the historic English Market – an enclosed marketplace selling traditional, locally produced fare. Alternatively, learn about key elements in the city’s past at Cork City Gaol, or the less chilling Butter Museum that tells of Cork’s days of buttery glory back in the 1700s.
The climate in this part of Ireland is great for walkers, not too hot, but sunny enough to be pleasant. The best months of the year to visit are May through to August, when the wild flowers are at their beautiful best and the rain tends to ease off.
When planning a backpacking route around sunny southern Ireland, take care to build in time for enjoying the spectacular scenery, wonderful hospitality and unique local customs. Pack a map of the area, but don’t get too stressed about getting lost – there’s always a friendly local on hand to point visitors in the right direction.