This is easily one of my favourite places in all of Ireland. I knew that I had made the right decision quitting my office job when I brought a tour group to Muck Rock, at the top of Howth, on a beautiful Tuesday morning. Let’s talk about some of the best things that you will be able to do on this little peninsula.
Today we are going to talk about some of the amazing things that you will be able to see, do and eat here. Also, we are going to talk about the best ways of seeing the area and we will discuss whether you should go yourself or as part of a guided tour.
Getting to Howth
Howth is a peninsula just north of Dublin city and is easily accessible by public transport. From Dublin centre, you will be able to make it to Howth in less than half an hour. There are both bus and light rail routes into the area.
Below you will find details on getting to Howth via public transport. I have also included links to the official websites for these transport services, where you can find information on stops and up to date fare prices.
Dublin Bus to Howth: The number 31 Dublin Bus goes to Howth Village and the 31A goes to Howth Summit. You can get these buses from the centre of Dublin. If you don’t have access to a leap card, the fare will be €2.85 for a single adult ticket. Dublin Bus Website.
D.A.R.T to Howth: This is probably the easiest way to get to Howth as the village’s train station serves as one of the northern terminuses for the DART line. This journey should cost about €6.50 for an adult return ticket. DART Website.
Guided Tour: There is also a guided tour which leaves Dublin city centre at 9.30am most mornings during the week. This tour costs €28, which covers the tour itself and your transport costs there and back. Though this tour lasts about 6 hours, you have the option to stay behind and explore the area at your own leisure. I may be a little biased as to how good this tour is, because this is the tour I used to give!
If you want more information on the prices of things in Dublin, you can read my article; “How Expensive is Dublin to visit?”.
Things to do in Howth
There are so many stories and attractions packed into this tiny area, it can be difficult to see it all. Here you will be able to find prehistoric monuments alongside medieval castles, with some of the best natural scenery in Western Europe. The area has been home to poets like W.B. Yeats, ancient Viking Kings and Irish pirate Queens. The harbour was used to smuggle guns for Irish rebels during the struggle for freedom over 100 years ago and today provides fresh seafood for most of the East Coast of Ireland. There really is a lot going on right here, so let’s try to make the most of it!
This is the centrepiece of the village and is divided into 2 parts, the private marina and the commercial fishing port. The fishing part is the one closest to the train station and throughout the day you will be able to find fishermen unloading the day’s catch.
Knowing this, much of the local wildlife has decided to take advantage and you will often find seals playing in the water around the boats. In fact, of all the tours I have done I have only not seen seals on less than 10 occasions, they are almost always there.
On the far side of the harbour you will find dozens of smaller, privately owned craft. This was the place used by Irish rebels to unload a shipment of German weapons. These guns were later used by the Irish forces in the 1916 Easter Rising, one of the most important events in Irish history.
Today you will be able to explore the pier and walk to the small lighthouse at the end. Usually there will be buskers playing right along its length and it is a popular haunt for locals.
The Castle and Abbey
Overlooking the harbour, you will be able to find the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. This structure was originally built as a church in 1042 by Dublin’s last ever pagan king, Citric Silken-Beard (this may be the best name in history). He is also credited with establishing the first church on the site that is now Christchurch Cathedral in the centre of Dublin. He converted to Christianity in 1026 and built these buildings afterwards.
The only part of the Abbey used today is its graveyard, though part of its foundations has become a Starbucks. Though that might not sound like the best use for the structure, this is the perfect spot for overlooking the town with a cup of coffee and some free WiFi, to contact home and brag about where you are!
Howth Castle is located on the far side of the train station from the harbour and there has been a castle of some form on that site since the original Anglo-Norman invasion of the area in 1180. The castle has been owned by the St. Lawrence family since then too, as they were the original feudal lords of Howth and still live there today!
A local legend about the castle surrounds the pirate Queen and Gaelic Chieftain, Grace O’Malley. One evening in 1576, she decided to pay a courtesy visit to the 8th Baron Howth. She was told they were at dinner and so the castle’s gates were closed against her. Enraged, she captured his grandson and heir as a hostage. They came to a compromise when the St. Lawrence family agreed to always keep the gates open to unexpected visitors and keep an extra place at every meal. Even today, this agreement is still honoured.
The grounds of the castle are one of Howth’s best attractions and they are home to some really great things that you should check out.
The Deer Park Golf course is owned by the St. Lawrence family and it was the first privately owned course that was available to the public in Ireland. Today there is both an 18- and 9-hole course as well as a smaller pitch and putt course and a FootGolf course. This is played using your feet and a soccer ball and is a great, relaxed group activity.
The club is open during daylight hours. For a comparison of the prices of different products, please see the table below:
|Pitch and Putt||€5.50|
|FootGolf||€11 – €14|
Beyond the Golf club, you will be able to find the Rhododendron gardens. These are an invasive species in Ireland and have become quite damaging to the local ecosystems throughout certain parts of the country, but during the summer months they look stunningly beautiful. May will be the best time to see the gardens in full bloom.
If you don’t get the chance to see the flowers in bloom, the area is still a great place to visit and walking through the forest in the gardens feels like walking back in time. You certainly won’t think that you’re right next to Dublin city!
In the middle of the gardens you might find a structure called a Dolmen. This was created during the Stone-Age and though there may be better examples of these structures on the West Coast of Ireland, this is the best-preserved one this close to Dublin.
In my opinion, this is the best part of howth and it’s the most difficult to get to, if you don’t know where you’re going. Past the gardens, behind the Golf club, there is a small trail that leads up the side of Howth Hill. From the bottom it may appear to be inaccessible, but its just a steep walk uphill. There will be steps going up, then a densely wooded trail near the cliff edge to the top of Howth Hill.
This is the quickest way to get to Muck Rock, though it is also accessible from the hiking trails along the cliffs and further inland.
Muck Rock is a viewing point, overlooking Dublin city and the surrounding countryside. On a clear day you will get what I think are the best views in all of Ireland. From here you will be able to see all of County Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains to the South, the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland and the 6 counties that surround Dublin.
You will also get the best views of Howth and will be able to see the castle, harbour and most of the village. I can’t really express how good this view is, so I will just leave the pictures here to do the talking for me.
One of the best things about Howth are the hiking trails dotted around the peninsula. There are several different routes, of varying difficulties that you will be able to do around the local area. They are, usually, well signposted so you should be able to follow the routes easily once you start them.
The four looped hiking trails all start and finish at the train station in Howth Village. They will normally take at least 1 hour to complete, with the most difficult trail taking well over 3 hours to fully finish. Make sure that you bring appropriate footwear and water with you. Also, Howth is right on the coast, making it exposed to bad weather. Before heading out on any of these trails make sure to consult the Irish Weather Service and see what you’re in for. You never know, you might even need to buy sun-screen for your day out in Ireland!
In the table below I have given you an overview of the 3 main hiking trails, what to expect from them, but if you want to really get the most out of this experience, you really should go on a guided tour.
|Trail Name||Difficulty||Estimated Time|
|Tramline Loop||Easy||1.5 – 2 Hours|
|Cliff Path Loop||Easy||1.5 – 2.5 Hours|
|Black Linn Loop||Moderate||2 – 3 Hours|
|Bog of Frogs Loop||Hard||2.5 – 3.5 Hours|
All these trails will at some point go along the cliff paths overlooking the Irish Sea. After you pass the harbour, on the northern coast of Howth, you will find the road inclining and you will be able to see some really great views of the North Coast of Dublin and islands of Lambay and Ireland’s Eye. On the far side of the peninsula to the Village you will be able to see Bailey Lighthouse, the last manned lighthouse in Ireland.
The final keeper left here in the 1990’s, but he views out over it are so good, pictures of this part of the coast are used in the fish sections of most supermarkets in Dublin. While you probably won’t get the opportunity to explore the lighthouse, as it is still operational (though unmanned) and not open to the public, the views overlooking it are spectacular.
The cliff walks along Howth offer some of the best views of any cliff walk in Ireland and are even comparable to more famous sights on the West Coast, like the Cliffs of Moher or Slieve League. While these western cliffs might be taller and most imposing, they can be difficult to get to if you are limited in time while in Ireland. It is also far cheaper to see Howth than the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin.
If you are lucky, you might get a day here when the weather is perfect. If there is not a cloud in the sky, the views from this part of Howth are so good that you will be able to see right the way across the Irish Sea. In all the tours I have done, its only happened a couple of times, but there have been occasions where my group has been able to make out Mountain Ranges in Wales!
The Summit Inn
Right next to the views of Bailey Lighthouse is the Summit Inn, a bar that lies near the highest point on Howth. If you get the 31A Dublin Bus route, it will drop you off right next to this establishment. This place makes a great pit-stop for all the hikes that I mentioned above as it is roughly halfway through most of those routes.
One of the reasons why I want to mention this bar is the food, when I bring groups around Howth, this is the place where I like to stop and eat. The food is usually excellent and there are great choices on the menu for people of different tastes, but the seafood here is the best thing on the menu (more on that later!).
This is a popular, local bar where you can enjoy a nice drink and watch some sport. The Summit Inn is one of the best places to go and watch a sporting match, particularly rugby or GAA. As the Irish national team is one of the best rugby teams in the world now, the sport is very popular. GAA is the sport native to Ireland and Dublin has been dominating nationally for the last 4 years, making it also very popular.
This market has been in local life for the last 10 years. While the stalls on the main road are open all week, the central area is only open at the weekends and bank holidays.
The permanent shops here will sell sweets, homemade gelato, coffee and there is also a gourmet deli. The quality of the produce here is very high, and it is a great treat after a long day of exploring the scenery around Howth. When you get to explore the market on the weekends, you will discover stalls filled with craft goods and gourmet food. Almost all of it will be locally made or sourced.
This is one of the few markets that you will find anywhere in Dublin. Most of the old ones have closed and its only in the last decade or so that authentic, local markets have started to open in and around the city. The weekend market in Howth is one of the best and is a great place to purchase a reasonably-priced and genuine souvenir from your stay in Ireland.
You will be able to find this market across the road from the train station. Also, the 31 Dublin Bus route will stop right outside too.
There are two islands just north of Howth, Ireland’s Eye and Lambay island, you will be able to see views of both from the cliff walk along the coast of the peninsula. Though the views of these islands are stunning in themselves, some among you might want to explore them in more detail.
Ireland’s eye is the smaller and closer of the two islands. It has been uninhabited for most of its history, though there are the remains of several structures there, including a Martello tower. Ireland’s Eye Ferries run daily tours to and around the island, weather permitting. There is information on the tours below.
Lambay island is privately owned, so getting to it is more difficult. The island was once the home of an ancient Christian monastery, which was the site of the first Viking raid in Irish history! Today the island is home to a large number or Australian Wallabies after their exhibit in Dublin Zoo became overpopulated and many of them were shipped here in the 1950’s! Details on tours here are also below.
|Tour||Approximate length||Price (Adult Ticket)||Website Link, for More Information|
|Ireland’s Eye Boat Tour||1 Hour||€10||Ireland’s Eye Ferries|
|Ireland’s Eye Boat + Walking Tour||1.5 Hours||€15||Ireland’s Eye Ferries|
|Lambay Island Boat Tour||2.5 Hours||€45||Skerries Sea Tours|
|Lambay Island Boat + Walking Tour||4.5 Hours||€85||Skerries Sea Tours|
At the end of this section, there is another table to compare the establishments mentioned.
If you get seafood from any of the great restaurants in Howth, it was probably caught that morning. In fact, if you purchase seafood anywhere in Dublin, there is a good chance that it was caught by one of the fishing boats that you will see docked in the harbour here in Howth Village.
I have already mentioned the Summit Inn as a great place to get some seafood, but you will be able to find dozens of other places right along the harbour that will offer the same. There are many great seafood restaurants in Howth that will cater to people of different budgets.
The Summit Inn offers roughly mid-range fare, but if you want something more affordable, then I would suggest Beshoff Bros. This is a chain of “fish and chip” shops (or “chippers”) that are popular all-around Dublin, but their original location is here in Howth Village. Normally, I would suggest the Leo Burdock’s chain as superior, but not in Howth. If you want something cheap and cheerful, this is what I would suggest.
For something a little more upmarket, I would recommend Aqua. Located right at the end of Howth pier, this place is perfect for groups and has great views overlooking the Irish Sea.
My comparison table for food in Howth:
|Name||Price Range (Per Meal)|
|Leo Burdocks||< €10|
|The Summit Inn||€10 – €20|
As a popular seaside town, Howth plays host to many great festivals throughout the year.
Kicking things off will be the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival, which has become a focal point of the Dubin “foodie” calendar. The recent revolution that Irish cuisine has seen in the last decade or so can be best seen here. You will be able to find great craft beer and wine tastings as well as sample some of the best seafood around.
This festival will take place on St. Patrick’s Weekend (17th – 19th of March). Though there will be a follow-up event at the end of the summer. For more details, click HERE.
There will also be a Jazz and Blues festival in the summer and several sailing events throughout the year. Dates for these events are difficult to pin down at the time of writing this article, so please check the local website HERE, to find up to date information on events in Howth.
Guided Walks vs Exploring Yourself
I have tried to give you as much information in this guide to explore Howth by yourself. I really feel that this place offers visitors to Dublin a great way to experience the beautiful Irish countryside on a budget. Having said that I still think that the guided tour is well worth your time and money. I have my list of the benefits to both below:
|Guided Tour:||Self Guided:|
|Great value for money. €28, including €6.50 for a return DART ticket and an expert guide.||(Almost)Free. You will have to pay to get to Howth, but this will not be more than €6.50 for a DART ticket.|
|Avoiding a tour coach. This tour uses local public transport. Meaning that you will avoid crowds of tourists and stick to where the locals go.||Go at your own pace. Though the guided tour is a lot better than a coach tour, you will still have to travel with strangers.|
|Expert Local Guide. The guides who bring you around will know all there is to know about the local area.||You can relax in the morning. The tour starts at 9.30am. for some travellers this is a little early in the morning and that is a perfectly valid reason to stay in bed a little longer.|
|Get off the beaten track. The guide will bring you to places that you, generally, wouldn’t be able to find by yourself.||The tour doesn’t run every day. If you want to go on the tour on a day it doesn’t run, you will have to go yourself anyway. Make sure to check ahead before you book!|
|More freedom than other tours. Though you are still with others on the tour, once it ends you will have your return ticket and so can explore Howth at your leisure and return to Dublin whenever you want!|
|See more in less time. Most day trips from Dublin will bring you to the other side of the country and back that same day. This means that most of your day will be on a bus. Here you will actually have more time to explore nature, while still getting back to explore Dublin earlier in the evening.|