Discover the Greenways of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands: Walking and Cycling Trails

Pack a small suitcase, drop it in the boot of your car, and in two hours you will well and truly reach that wondrous yet simple state of being – away from it all.

A short journey from home, that’s a world away all the same, it’s time to slow right down to the flowing waters’ soothing pace of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Stretching across nine counties, the rich, rural landscapes of this captivating part of Ireland are equal parts rugged and beautiful – and are absolutely flourishing with wildlife.

You can dip a toe into relaxation along the reedy banks of the Shannon, escape to wide sweeping glens and valleys or to the isolated sanctuary of a dense, deciduous forest. The air is as fresh as the tumbling waterways are clear and that distinct mossy smell of the Irish woodlands brings everything into the here and now.

Point your camera in any direction without having to crop out fellow backpackers. And with a mini-staycation devoid of crowds and bustling, there’s no contest on where to go, or rising early to beat the attraction’s queues.

Fill your time in the Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands with walks, hikes, cycles and delicious food. It’s all there to enjoy. Read on for your perfect itinerary or get started with some of the many attractions below and take time out to explore new experiences, off the beaten track in Ireland.

Portumna Forest Park, Galway

Walking along the trails of Portumna Forest Park, Co. Galway.
Walking along the trails of Portumna Forest Park, Co. Galway.

Travel along The Beara-Breifne Way to reach the dense, sanctuary of Portumna Forest Park. You can swoop down to Lough Derg and watch the gentle interactions of nature by the lakeside, keeping an eye out for the majestic antlers of the herd of fallow deer.

Let the sprawling ruins of Portumna Abbey, with its ancient stone arches and columns, take you back to the 15th century. Or step into the more regal setting of Portumna Castle – with its spectacular gardens and the magnificent manor house that harkens back to the Renaissance. Let yourself get lost in the fairytale willow maze, where the sweetly fragranced paths are lined with lavender and native fruit trees.

Cycling and walking trails

The two-way Old Rail Trail begins in Athlone and meanders along for 40km to the market town of Mullingar. Naturally, the scenery and length – just over two hours – make it a perfect route for cyclists. As part of the Midlands Great Western Railway route, you cycle past flourishing small towns and lush countryside. How long it takes, and where you want to end up is entirely up to you.

If you visit Athlone, a 45-minute cycle – or just over three hours for hikers – from Moate, call into the castle for a tour or the world’s oldest pub – Sean's Bar – for a tipple and a touch of history. Athlone Castle is also well worth a visit for a fully interactive experience that brings the castle’s history to life.

Cavan Burren Park, Cavan

Trails through Cavan Burren Park, Cavan
Trails through Cavan Burren Park, Cavan

Find peace under the misty shadow of Cuilcagh mountain and simply pause to take in the 340 million years old, pre-glacial landscape. Touching the megalithic tombs of our ancestors is the ultimate primal experience threading you back to your roots. Unearthing the hidden treasures of the Burren – its barren sinkholes, fairy forts and breathtaking viewpoints out onto the Lost Valley – will have your skin tingling with the otherworldly beauty of the place.

Corlea Trackway, Longford

Truly a hidden gem of Ireland – set your eyes on a 2,200 years old oak timber trackway. This well-trodden path, preserved in bog has been left exactly where it was found with the Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre constructed around this amazing archaeological find. After soaking in the local knowledge, set out across the mosses and heathers of the boglands of Longford to follow this ancient road left by the Iron Age people.

And if you’re thinking of extending your trip, perhaps voyage along the stunning waters of Lough Ree and the River Shannon. Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is sustained by the glimmering lakes and rippling rivers that pour across its lands. Read on for the perfect waterway itinerary and find how you can cruise through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands on your very next break.

you may also like

9 Scenic Walking Trails

There are many ways to experience everything that Ireland's Hidden Heartlands has to offer, but perhaps the most satisfying is to do so is on foot.

Read more