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Ireland's Six Beautiful National Parks

Author: Charlotte Boswell

Not only is Ireland famed for its ancient history, authentic culture and legendary hospitality, but it is also known for its diverse wildlife, breathtaking scenery and national parks. The Emerald Isle is home to six beautiful national parks, all of which boast unspoiled ecosystems as well as unique flora and fauna.

1. Connemara National Park

The magical Connemara National Park is located in the Connemara region of County Galway on Ireland’s west coast – an area that lives and breathes Irish culture and is home to some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery. Established in 1990, the national park covers an area of just 12 square miles and boasts several landscapes ranging from grasslands, mountains, bogs, forests and heaths. Connemara is most famous for the birdlife it supports and provides a natural habitat for chaffinches, meadow pipits, skylarks, the common snipe and kestrel. There are also a well-known herd of unique Connemara ponies that reside within the park. Connemara National Park provides a beautiful setting for hiking and it is also possible for visitors to kayak along the picturesque Connemara Coast.

Discover Connemara National Park on Self-Drive: Explore the West Coast of Ireland

connemara national park
Connemara National Park

2. Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park is Ireland’s first, and probably the most famous of the Emerald Isle’s national parks. Located near Killarney town in County Kerry, the park is awash with stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, shimmering lakes and historical buildings. In 1981 Killarney National Park was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its ecological diversity which boasts various habitats and a wide range of flora and fauna, some of which are unique and rare. Killarney is also home to Ireland’s only indigenous herd of red deer. If you are visiting Killarney, we can recommend our favourite hiking routes to discover the park’s forests, lakes, and waterfalls, or for something a little slower-paced, enjoy a traditional boat ride on the Lakes of Killarney.

Explore Killarney National Park on our Self-Drive: Kerry, Cork and Kinsale itinerary

killarney national park
Killarney National Park

3. The Burren

The smallest of Ireland’s national parks, the Burren, is renowned for its rocky limestone lunar landscape. It is said that the otherworldly scenery of the Burren National Park was the inspiration behind JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In spring and early summer, the Burren is home to one of the highest diversities of wildflowers in Europe where flowers ranging from the Alps to the southern Mediterranean thrive next to each other between the limestone rocks. It is also a great place for wildlife enthusiasts as it provides a habitat for rare butterfly and moth species, and is also home to water otters, bats, the pine marten and porpoises. During a trip to the Burren, it is recommended to visit with a local guide who will explain all of the native flora and fauna.

Visit the Burren during our Discover Ireland’s Wildflowers itinerary

the burren national park
The Burren National Park

4. Glenveagh National Park

Established in 1984, Glenveagh National Park is Ireland’s second largest park covering an area of 66 square miles. Located in County Donegal, this remote wilderness is home to heathland, woodland and a mirror-like lake that is nestled within the heather-clad mountains. Glenveagh’s diverse landscapes provide a habitat for foxes, badgers, peregrine falcons, owls and Ireland’s largest herd of red deer. The park is also a recognised Special Protection Area for the golden eagle. Aside from the flora and fauna, the national park is also home to the imposing 19th century Glenveagh Castle which is located on the shores of Lough Veagh. Visitors can take a guided tour of the castle for a chance to see the wonderfully decorated rooms and manicured gardens and learn about the history and architecture of the building.

Explore Glenveagh National Park on our Self-Drive: Belfast, Giant’s Causeway and Donegal itinerary

glenveagh national park
Glenveagh National Park

5. The Wicklow Mountains

The Wicklow Mountains National Park embodies the Irish countryside at its best. Situated just south of Dublin, Wicklow is the largest of Ireland’s national parks. Whilst the park offers beautiful scenery consisting of glistening lakes set amongst jagged mountain peaks, Wicklow Mountains National Park is probably best known for its monastic ruins at Glendalough. Ramble along the heather topped trails once walked by monks and pilgrims on your journey to the ancient site and enjoy views of patchwork fields lined with ancient stone walls. The park is also home to a diverse variety of flora including wood sorrel, bluebells, woodruff, polypody fern and tree species such as the hazel mountain holly ash. Wicklow also provides a natural habitat for ten bat species, nine threatened bird species and rare otters.

The Wicklow Mountains National Park can be explored on our Self-Drive: Ireland’s Ancient East itinerary

wicklow mountains national park
Wicklow Mountains National Park
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6. Ballycroy National Park

Ireland’s newest national park, Ballycroy was established in 1998 and is located in County Mayo on the north west coast. The park is a unique habitat for the diverse flora and fauna it supports and is home to Europe’s largest stretch of bogland. As a result, Ballycroy is an important site for breeding, roosting and feeding for many migratory birds such as the Greenland white-fronted goose. Other rare bird species found in the park include the peregrine falcon, whooper swan and corncrake whilst otters, wild geese and red grouse are all protected in Ballycroy. The national park also boasts several great walking trails where hikers can enjoy the magical scenery including the Nephin Beg mountain range which provides a stunning backdrop.

Incorporate a visit to Ballycroy National Park on a tailor-made trip to Ireland.

ballycroy national park
Ballycroy National Park / Image credit: Fabian Walden

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