There aren’t many places on earth as staggeringly beautiful as the Burren in County Clare, in Ireland. It’s a place of magnificent geological formations, with truly stunning rock formations and is well worth a visit on any trip to the west of Ireland.
Famous for it's otherworldly, lunar like landscape, it has inspired poets, painters and writers throughout the ages, and in this complete guide to the Burren, I'll be talking about what the Burren is, why it looks like it does, what to do when you're there, along with ideal ways of seeing it and great places to stay so that you can plan your visit and get the most out of a trip to this remarkable part of Ireland.
So what, and where, is the Burren?
The Burren get's it's name from the Irish word 'Boireann', meaning 'great rock' or 'place of stone'. It's an area of over 250 square kilometres (97 sq Miles) situated in the northwest part of County Clare, just south of Galway Bay on the western Atlantic coast of Ireland.
It's unique landscape is a combination of dramatic karst limestone caused by millennia of wind and rain etching linear fissures across the terraces and pavements, along with huge granite boulders deposited by ancient glaciers, and surrounded by the rising, swirling mountains, formed from the seabed over 300 million years ago, now pushed to the surface and exposed by the earths shifting plates. The result is a totally unique landscape unlike anywhere else in the world.
The first thing you notice are the vast terraces of karst limestone. 'Karst' is an area of limestone terrain characterised by the deep ravines etched into it's surface, and here in the Burren, it is the largest example of this type of landscape anywhere in Europe.
You will also see huge, rounded granite boulders scattered across the landscape. These were carried within frozen glaciers and then deposited as the glaciers melted.
And then, rising above it all is the unique, swirling mountain of Mullaghmore, a dramatic vision forced upwards by the incredible forces of the earths tectonic plates, pushing million year old layers of carboniferous limestone, filled with the fossils of a sea long gone, upwards towards the sky.
It really is a unique place that is worth of a day or two to explore and appreciate fully.
Edmund Ludlow, an officer during the Cromwellian invasions of Ireland, had this to say upon discovering the Burren: "It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him... and yet their cattle are very fat, for the grass growing on turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing".
You can see some of the Burren from the air here:
The flora of the Burren
The Burren has an unusually temperate climate compared to the rest of the west of Ireland with an average air temperature between 15 °C (59 °F) in the middle of summer (July) and 4-6 °C (39–43 °F) in January.
Because the soil temperature very rarely drops below 6 °C, which is the temperature at which grass will grow, it means that the Burren has one of the longest grazing seasons in Ireland or Britain.
These warm soil temperatures also mean that this area supports an unusual and eclectic mix of plants, with Mediterranean, Alpin and Arctic plans, thriving side by side as a result of the highly unusual environment and climate.
You'll find more than 70% of all of Ireland's species of plants and flowers here, including many of the rare Irish species, some of which aren't found anywhere else. For example, the Arctic Sandwort (also knows as the English or Norwegian Sandwort) has only been spotted once here in 1961!
Spring, and in particular May, is a wonderful time to visit the Burren and marvel at the diverse array of interesting plants and flowers.
Sit back and relax and see the Burren in spring in this short film:
The manmade monuments of the Burren
When you visit the Burren you'll soon realise that it's not all about nature's creations too. With over 6,000 national monuments situated in County Clare, most of them are located within the Burren, including the most photographed monument in Ireland - the megalithic wedge tomb called Poulnabrone.
This tomb no doubt had significant spiritual significance to those who built it, with the portal stone aligned with the rising sun.
The high concentration of such accessible visual heritage from Ireland's past in close proximity to each other makes the Burren Ireland’s ultimate outdoor museum, hugely popular with visitors and scholars alike.
Such an abundance of archaeological remains testify to the vitality and ingenuity of the Burren’s ancestral inhabitants. These features now make the Burren one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.
Lord of the Rings and the Burren
As soon as you visit this incredible place, you'l immediately understand why it was the inspiration for JRR Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings. The Burren was said to be Tolkein's muse, and he visited the place often, with the area eventually inspiring his masterwork.
Tolkein visited the west of Ireland several times with another author and friend CS Lewis, writer of the famous Chronicles of Narnia books, and then, when he became an external examiner in the English Department of NUI Galway, Tolkien made regular trips to the Burren, and it was at this time he also finished and published The Lord Of The Rings.
But it wasn't just the land above ground that inspired Tolkeins writing. The nearby Poll na Gollum cave is the longest cave system in the Island of Ireland, with over 16km (9.9 miles) of interconnected passageways. And we all know the famous creature that lived in the caves was called... Gollum!
Peter Curtin, the Burren Tolkien Society Chairperson had this to say about Tolkien's relationship with the area and his writing:
“We have studied Tolkien’s works and correspondences, and we have spoken with people who knew the man. We are certain that his most famous work, The Lord of the Rings, was inspired, at least in part, by his experience of the Burren. We believe that Tolkien denied the Burren links when his masterwork was published in 1954 as he might have felt that Irish influences would have been unpalatable to his largely English audience at the time.
In the few years leading up to his death in 1973 however, Tolkien spoke more openly about how his writings were influenced by the themes and ideas of Irish and Celtic Mythology. Although he referred to Gaelic as an unattractive language, he admitted that he had studied it and found it to be of great historical and philological interest.
He also said he was suffering from acute Eire-starvation, having not visited his favourite Counties of Clare, Galway and Cork for a number of years.”
Watch some beautiful time-lapse footage of the Burren here:
Walks in the Burren
There are several trails which are clearly marked for you to take and explore the region. Whether you go it alone or maybe take an organised walking tour, you'll get to experience this highly unusual landscape close up.
There are several individuals and companies who specialise in walking tours of the Burren. I have included links below if you would like to arrange a guided tour.
If you want to head out on your own The Burren National Park have marked out a variety of walking trails, marked in different colours.
The Mullaghmore Traverse, or Red Route is the longest walk, at around 3hrs, over a distance of 6km, with a maximum climb of 140m. This is classed as very difficult, into remote upland, going right across the top of Mullghmore. This is a Class 5 trail.
The Mullaghmore Loop, or Blue Route is very slightly shorter at 2 hrs and 55 mins, and also takes you over and around Mullaghmore, although as this route is a loop it will bring you back to your original start point. Again, this is very difficult, taking you into remote upland and is a Class 5 trail.
The Mullaghmore Return, or Green Route, is slightly shorter again, at 2hrs and 45mins, taking you up to the peak of Mullaghmore and then back down again the way you came. This is another very difficult 6.5km hike and is also a Class 5 trail.
For a much shorter and easier trail you can try either the White Arrow Nature Trail which is 1.5km and takes around 40mins. This is a moderate walk, with an altitude of only 20metres and is a Class 3 trail.
The Knockaunroe Turlough Orange Route will only take around 30mins and again only has an altitude of 20 metres, so is also fairly flat. This is a moderate walk and is a Class 3 trail.
You can download a high res version of this Burren walking guide here.
Bear in mind that the terrain in the Burren has lots of never ground, loose rocks and steep climbs, and that the rocks can often be wet and slippy.
As long as you are relatively fit and give yourself plenty of time, most people can manage the longer Class 5 trails, but make sure to keep a keen eye on the ground, as it would be fairly easy to twist an ankle if you're not careful!
But worries aside, the trails and walks really are incredible, and are a fantastic way to feel part of this ancient landscape and get up close with the flora and fauna.
On a walk through the Burren you will come across plenty of fossils like the one above. They are the corals, crinoids and gastropods that lived at the bottom of a tropical seabed 330 million years ago and are now exposed high on an Irish mountainside!
We also found this strange white, jelly which we assume was a type of fungus, although we've not managed to properly identify it since. Perhaps it came from space!? If anyone knows what this is please let me know!
The weather in the Burren
Like the rest of Ireland, the weather can be changeable so if you are planning on taking any of the trails then make sure you check the weather forecast and be prepared for it to change at short notice. Bring good walking boots, rain gear and warm clothes as well as food and drink.
For further weather information check out www.met.ie
Where to eat and drink near The Burren
Like most places in Ireland, there are plenty of fabulous places to relax, eat, drink and take in that famous Irish welcome.
The Burren Food Trail
The fertile valleys of the Burren have long been known for their quality food and produce, particularly for the production of beef and lamb thanks to the unique and ancient system of farming. In recent years, this food tradition has extended through the emergence of many award-winning, chef-led restaurants and high quality artisan food producers, as well as the increase in practicing market gardeners and growers.
Themed trails and Burren Food Trail Events uncover the path your food takes from field to plate. Why not go along and meet the producers, dine in award-winning restaurants and learn about the fertile valleys of the Burren Geopark.
The Market Garden Trail – Download Market Garden Trail
The Burren valleys are home to many market gardens, farms and beekeepers. Discover the secrets of the gardeners, take a Cookery Master Class, pick some fruit, visit the Farmers Market where you can chat with the growers and enjoy the best of locally produced seasonal food.
Farm To Fork Trail – Download Farm to Fork Trail
Farming in the Burren has traditionally focused on animal rearing with cattle, sheep and goats grazing on the rich herb grasses of the ‘Fertile Rock’. Specialty producers and restaurants showcase the rich flavour of the local produce.
Taste of The Ocean Trail – Download Taste The Ocean Trail
The Burren is a coastal region with so much fresh local seafood on offer. Discover the taste of the ocean with foraging walks, cooking demonstrations, tastings and a little indulgence.
Nature Child Trail – Download Nature’s Child Trail
Satisfy your families hunger for nature on this fun-filled family trail. Meet animals, eat ice cream on the beach, ride the zip wire, connect with the landscape and each other while enjoying tasty local produce with hidden vegetables!!!
Things to see and do in the Burren
As well as hiking through this incredible landscape, there are plenty of other things you could do once you're here...
Cycling the Burren
With it's meandering network of quiet roads, the Burren is a great place to explore on a bike. Either bring your own bike or why not hire an electric bike from E-whizz. You can take simply hire a bike from them and take in the scenery at your own pace or alternatively you can join one of their guided tours.
Visit the Burren Centre
Situated at the west end of the square in Kilfenora this is the official visitor centre for the region. Located in the historic village of Kilfenora, the visitor centre encompasses an exhibition 'A Walk Through Time', an audio visual film theatre, a craft shop and a tea room.
This is a great place to find out more about the Burren before setting of and exploring it yourself. Many of the local artists also exhibit in the centre, so pop in to see the most recent exhibition.
Father Ted’s House
A stone's throw from The Burren itself, to the north of Mullaghmore you might also stumble across a rather famous house, sitting quietly in a large green field. The Glanquin Farmhouse is part of an organic farm and is home to the McCormack family, but is more famously know as Father Teds House as the property was used as the exterior for the world famous comedy TV series.
It has now become another popular tourist hot spot, with thousands of people from all over the world stopping by to take pictures and due to popular demand, Cheryl and Patrick McCormack and their family now offer afternoon tea (by appointment only).
It's a welcoming and informal atmosphere where you will get to experience some of the iconic Father Ted moments while creating your own Father ted memories yourself.
You can see the house in the opening titles of Father Ted here:
The Burren Perfumery
The Burren Perfumery is a family company that runs at a small scale with local staff, making perfumes and cosmetics that are inspired by the surrounding landscape. You can visit the herb garden, where visitors are shown examples of native herbs along with information on their traditional use.
In the Blending room Rose and Cate make their range of organic creams and balms, and in the rose covered Tea rooms you can relax with a selection of organic cakes, scones and pies. And of course, in the shop you can but their ranges of creams, fragrances and soaps.
Aillwee Cave & Birds of Prey Centre
Located in the heart of the Burren In County Clare. Forty minutes from both Galway and Shannon. Perched high on its Burren terraced mountainside with what has to be one of the most spectacular views of Galway Bay. It is a must for all who find themselves in the area.
The Burren is a place full of wonder, beauty and discovery. Expert guides will accompany and inform you during your leisurely tour, consisting of a 30-minute stroll through the beautiful caverns – over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall which sometimes gently sprays the unsuspecting visitor! Marvel at the frozen waterfall and explore the now extinct brown bears' bones (ursos arctos).
The guides will then bring you back to the outside world where you can browse and shop in a distinctly different gift shop which is housed in the award-winning complex that guards the entrance to the Burren underground.
Since 2008 the Birds of Prey Centre has been educating and entertaining visitors with dynamic flying displays set against the dramatic Burren Landscape. The mission of the Centre is to aid the conservation of Birds of Prey through visitor awareness and education, whilst actively fund raising for Raptor conservation monitoring efforts within Ireland.
The centre offers dynamic flying displays where visitors can interact and get up close and personal with the birds.
Doolin Cave & Visitor Centre
The award-winning Doolin Cave and visitor centre is home to the Great Stalactite.
At 7.3 metres (23feet) it is the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe. The Great Stalactite, suspended from the ceiling like a chandelier, is truly astounding.
You'd hardly believe that it was formed from a single drop of water over thousands of years!
Where to stay near the Burren
There are several well equipped campsites perfect for an overnight stay or two in a camper van. These sites will welcome you with the world famous Irish hospitality and many have spectacular views - perfect as a base to explore The Burren.
Nagles Camping & Caravan Park
Nagles Camping is situated on the verge of the Atlantic between the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. The site is only 100m from Doolin Pier, where you can take a ferry to the Aran Islands or the beautiful Cliffs of Moher.
It enjoys the most spectacular views imaginable. and open from mid March to mid October, the site boasts fabulous camping facilities catering for families, individuals and groups.
O'Connor's Riverside Camping & Caravan Park
Centrally located in the village of Doolin on a unique setting overlooking the Aille River. Riverside Camping is a small, friendly, family run park constructed within our farm grounds, to the highest hygiene standards. It is well sheltered and personally supervised.
The site is within walking distance from all our Pubs and shops. Facilities include; Toilets, Showers, Kitchen, laundry, Games Room, Hardstands with electric hook up.
Attractions in the area include; Trips to Aran Islands, Coastal walks, potholing, Doolin Cave (the great stalactite) Ailwee Cave, Pitch & Putt, Pony Trekking, sea and lake Fishing, Moher Hill Pet Farm and Bicycle Hire.
Strand Camping Doonbeg
A small and friendly camping site located directly on Doonbeg Bay, in Doonbeg, County Clare, on the West Coast of Ireland. The camp site is ideally located and designed for tourers exploring the breath-taking scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way along the West Coast of Ireland.
Bring your bicycle and be sure to pack your boots because walking, hiking and cycle routes surround the area of the camp site taking you through beautiful scenery. If sport or water sports are your preference local options include kayaking, surfing, horse riding and golf.
This site offers cosy camping and 'clamping' in bell tents but also offers limited pitcher for campers. Wake to the sounds of country life, Explore trails through our native woodland or take a 15 minute walk to the local shore and pier and bring your togs for a dip in case the tide is in! A true getaway.
Green Acres Caravan & Camping Park
Fancy a pitch on the shoreline? Green Acres is located in a tranquil rural setting on the southern Sea shore of the Loop Head Peninsula and directly on the “Wild Atlantic Way”. Loop Head has an unspoilt, uncrowded, wind swept natural landscape. Explore Loop Head with its stunning coastal cliff drives, cycle routes & walks, or just relax and unwind.
Green Acres is a family run & family friendly Park where your children are sure to make new friends. Fully serviced large hardstands, all with spectacular Coastal Views. Enjoy the pleasure of falling asleep listening to the soothing hum of moored boats and the rolling waves on the seashore, along with the reflection of the moon and ships lights on the rippling tide. Green Acres is eco-friendly and has robust sustainable environmental programmes in place. Ideal base for exploring the Mid West Region.
Take a Dolphin & Nature Boat Trip to experience the dynamic wildlife along by the stunning cliffs of the Shannon Estuary and see Irelands resident group of Bottlenose Dolphins in their natural habitat.
Go birdwatching, fishing, whalewatching and enjoy the varied nature that loop Head can offer! Green Acres is just 7km from the Victorian seaside resort of Kilkee, offering watersports, spectacular cliff walks, diving, safe beach, restaurants and much more. The picturesque old fishing village of Carrigaholt is just 4km away with pubs, shops, restaurant, fishing and Dolphin Watch.
Killaloe Camping is located close to the shores of Lough Derg, within easy reach of the neighbouring villages of Killaloe & Ballina. There’s a huge choice of great places to eat in the area, with family-friendly restaurants and cafes catering for all tastes and budgets. If you prefer to cook yourself, the local supermarkets stock a vast range of locally sourced produce.
Lough Derg is a haven for water enthusiasts. Our campsite in Killaloe is the perfect base to explore some of the activities nearby. The UL Adventure Centre hosts Summer camps for all ages and abilities. Killaloe Sailing Club is also within easy walking distance of the campsite.
Or why not try a guided fishing trip and spend the day trying to catch some of the local pike or trout? For something less strenuous, Killaloe’s very own Blue Flag Beach at Ballycuggeran is just a short walk from the campsite.
Lakeside Holiday Park
Lakeside Holiday Park is set in a unique natural location on the shores of Lough Derg in Mountshannon, Co. Clare. Specialising in caravan & camping, watersports and boat hire, with the added attraction of viewing Cribby Island, home of the 'white tailed sea eagles' from their lakefront pitches.
Discover Holy Island by boat and a visit to the red squirrels will enhance your experience at the park, but remember they won't share their nuts!!
How to get to the Burren
No trip to County Clare is complete without a visit to the Burren, whether you simply drive through, or get out your hiking boots and explore it on foot, you'll be amazed by it's stark beauty - there really isn't anywhere else like it!
From Dublin to the Burren takes around 2hrs and 45minutes, heading west on the M4 and M6.
It takes about 3hrs and 30mins to get from Wexford to the Burren, heading northwest on the N11, N24 and M7.
From Cork in the south it takes around 2 hrs and 30 mins, heading north on the N20, M20 and then M18.
It takes around the same time, 2hrs and 30 mins to get down from Sligo to the Burren, heading on the N17 and then the M17.
And once you get there, why not take in County Clare's other geological wonder, the Cliff's of Moher? You can find all about this incredible natural wonder here.
Hire a Camper in County Clare and explore the Burren
A perfect way to visit the Burren is in a motorhome. Why not hire a motorhome from Ireland Camper Hire and see the Burren for yourself? You can check availability and rates from Great Escape Camper Hire here.
It's a wonderful way to tour around County Clare (and the rest of ireland!) and take in the sights at your own pace - and remember, be it with friends, family or as a couple, there's no holiday like a holiday in a cosy camper!
For further information on the Burren
If you'd like more information on the Burren and surrounding areas then check out these other websites.
The Burren is also part of The Burren & Cliffs Of Moher Geopark, which is protected by UNESCO. You can download their leaflet here, which includes maps and information on the surrounding areas.
Finally, just in case I haven't twisted your arm into visiting this wonderful part of Ireland, here's a short film about the Burren produced by Burren Ecotourism.