The Burren is a wealth of diversity and heritage that you must visit while in the West Coast of Ireland. Check the things to do and see in the Burren National Park located in County Clare, Ireland.
The Burren (named from the Irish ‘Boíreann’ which means ‘rocky place’) is a wealth of natural heritage comprising important flora, fauna and archaeological landscape as well as cultural landscape and historical records from the hunter-gather society who occupied the Burren lands over 6000 years ago.
It is one of the best places to visit in Ireland, and one of the many things to do in county Clare – also known as the Banner County.
If you are travelling the Wild Atlantic Way and wondering what things to do in Clare besides visiting the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren is a good place to explore for a few days at least.
The Burren region
Where is the Burren?
The Burren region of roughly 560km2 of area is located in the northern part of county Clare, in the west coast of Ireland, stretching partly into county Galway. It ranges from the sea level to 300 meters. At this link you can download the burren map and various types of maps of the region so you can get your bearings.
The Burren is a must see destination in Ireland, check this useful guide with the best Ireland Itinerary.
What is the Burren exactly?
As a very simplistic description the The Burren is an area comprising a wealth of geological, archaeological, historical and cultural heritage. Here is a brief description but you can find a list of all things to do in the Burren related to these aspects below in the article.
How was the Burren formed? The Burren is an amazing geological wonder composed of limestone pavements which were formed around 340 million years ago. The limestone erodes easily horizontally and vertically with rain water forming a distinctive pattern known as karren, while the cracks are known as grykes. Underneath the limestone pavements there are huge caves and rivers that suddenly flood when it rains.
Without going into the detail of the geology (which you can find well described on Wikipedia), the appearance of the rock formation is very reminiscent of the very beautiful Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales, where they filmed part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1).
The Burren has also been described as one “vast memorial to bygone cultures” because of its wealth of archaeological monuments and records that allows us to trace the evolution of the Burren inhabitants from 6000 years ago to the present day.
There are around 80 wedge tombs of Neolithic origin in the region, hundreds of ancient sites and ring forts and a couple of very well preserved burial sites such as the Poulnabrone portal dolmen, from some 5800 years ago.
Further there is plenty of tower houses and early Christian sites in the region, such as the Kilfenora Cathedral built in 1189, which adds to the extraordinary wealth of heritage found in the Burren. While exploring this region you will also find villages abandoned since the potato famine and walk through green roads for miles without ever seeing a car.
The Burren is also famous for its diversified flora and fauna. The wildflowers of the Burren are unique in that there is such a variety of species present from both warm and cold climates and mountain and lowland areas that co-exist here. In fact you can find seasonal Alpine, Mediterranean, Arctic and tropical plants growing alongside native Irish wildflowers here. Three quarters of Ireland’s native species are found in this area.
Need more reasons for visiting the Burren? Well, this region and the whole of Co. Clare is one of the most vibrant cultural areas in Ireland. It is home to many artists and craftsmen and women. The Burren offers plenty for the cultural seeker such as traditional Irish music, art galleries and literary heritage.
Things to do in the Burren
This area of Clare is very beautiful and worth visiting if you get the chance. There are plenty of things to do and explore in the area, as the area covers several hundred square kilometers.
Visit The Burren National Park
The Burren National Park itself is located in the southeastern part of the Burren and is a lot smaller than the Burren region at only about 15km2.The Burren national Park was established in 1991 as a Government effort to ensure nature conservation and public access.
Despite being the smallest National Park in Ireland, The Burren national Park offers all the diversity of the Burren region to visitors, including the limestone hills, turloughs (a type of disappearing lake found mostly in limestone areas of Ireland), woodlands and limestone pavements. The Park also features the range of the Burren flora and display many archaeological features, from field walls to wedge tomb. The Burren visitor centre is based in Corofin and during the summer months there are shuttle busses available from the visitor’s centre to the park.
Enjoy the Burren walks
There is plenty of natural biodiversity to see along one of the many Burren walking trails. There is everything for everyone in this area. From short 20 minutes Burren looped walks to long distance trail walks like the Burren way which is 117km long, which starts in Lahinch and ends in Corofin. Click here for the Burren way map.
You can enjoy a Burren guided walking tour or take one of the self guided walks along the way. Here you can find the burren national park map with the walks highlighted.
More walks can be found here.
Check the ancient Pulnabrone Dolmen
Pulnabrone Dolmen is a Neolithic portal tomb dating back to several thousand years BC as is quite amazing when you realise its antiquity (older than Stonehenge). It is situated in a karst limestone plateau, 150 meters above sea level. Therefore it is a great place to see the features of the Burren’s Karst landscape. It is also a good spot to do some stargazing due to the complete lack of light pollution here (you may need to be lucky with the rain clouds though!).
The substantial stone tombs were used to burial the dead. The investment of labor to put these stones together as a tomb suggests that they served a powerful symbolic role in the communities who lived there over 5000 years ago.
Caherconnell stone fort
This ringfort is preserved in its original state and thought to have been inhabited from 400-1200 A.D. It is suggested that they were built for personal security from wild animals and raiders and not defensive security. The fort is open for public visitation for a fee.
Visit the Cliff of Moher
North of Lahinch you have the famous Cliffs of Moher. The views are spectacular from the cliffs and the visitor’s centre there provides an interesting visitor experience. If you are there at the right time you may be lucky enough to see the Puffins!
You only need a couple of hours to enjoy the beauty of this place unless you want to take the Cliffs of Moher walk on the coast, from Doolin to Liscannor (or any part of it). Please be aware that in the Cliffs of Moher hike you are exposed Clifftop path, narrow & steep ascents and flagstone steps, therefore it is not suitable for everyone. The visitor centre and vantage points in the visitor’s area however are all child-friendly and accessible to wheelchair.
Shop at the Burren Perfumery
If you fall in love with this area, which you sure will, you can take something home without damaging this environment. The Burren perfumery makes products inspired by the area and native natural ingredients (which are not anymore sourced from the area).
Visit the beautiful towns and villages
In Lahinch you have the famous surfing beach, or if you are even more adventurous you could try surfing the Aileens a bit further up the coast near the Cliffs of Moher. Many other water sports such kitesurfing, windsurfing, scuba and snorkling are all possible things to do in Lahinch too. Or perhaps you may prefer 18 holes on the famous championship links golf course in Lahinch. If you want to play the old course the green fees are not cheap, but then what would you expect from the ‘St.Andrews of Ireland’! And remember, no buggies here – you have to walk it! Instead you can play Pitch and Putt with the whole family.
Doolin is another cool place to visit. A small little village with a few tourist attractions such as the Doolin Cave where you can get to see the greatest stalactite of Northern hemisphere. You can also get the ferry over to the Aran Islands from here which is a great activity. There are of course also the necessary pubs and restaurants to visit, and it is a good place to catch some traditional Irish music in the pubs, just to name a few things to do in Doolin. There are also some campsites here for the not so fainthearted who are prepared to brave the force of nature that comes off the Atlantic here. When we stayed here it was blowing a gale and the waves were crashing into the cliff and being blown over it – pretty spectacular!
Is one of the most popular towns in the Burren region offering stunning views of the Burren hills and the Galway Bay. Its proximity to Galway and the Burren attractions makes it a great location to stay.
Very close to Ballyvaughan and inland you have the Aillwee cave next to the Burren Bird of Prey Centre. It is one of the oldest caves in Ireland. Here you can get a cavern tour and even learn to fly your own bird on the Hawk Walk!
Ennistymon is a lively town, close to Lahinch, with many shops which retain their traditional shop fronts and doors. The Cullenagh river, which crosses the town, rushes through the rocks forming a lovely cascades.
Corofin is well known for its traditional music, walking, fishing and many other activities. It is the home of the Burren National Park visitor centre. In the summer months there are busses to the National Park from the visitor centre. Corofin is also home to the Clare Heritage Centre, offering insight into Irish life in the 1800’s, and the Genealogical centre where you can trace your irish roots and learn about the Irish emigration history.
Lisdoonvarna is famous for it Spa Wells, local irish cuisine and the annual Matchmaking festival, the largest singles festival in Europe. It’s an excellent base to explore the Burren and enjoy the music and craic of Clare.
Carran (or Carron) village lies in the centre of the Burren overlooking one of the region’s largest Turloughs (disappearing lake).
This town just across the border on County Galway. It is home of the Burren Nature Sanctuary, a 50 acre organic farm featuring a mile long trail walk through the Burren habitats, woodlands and wild flowers meadow, petting farm, playground and cafe. There you can also visit the Botany Bubble which houses the national Collection of Burren flora.
The Burren Centre, located in Kilfenora, provides information on the secrets of the Burren.
To summarize, there are many things to do in Clare, and the Burren is one area you cannot miss out on. It may mean you have to detour from the Wild Atlantic Way to visit some of the sights, but it will be worth it – there is something for everybody.
For some driving routes to follow along the Wild Atlantic Way in County Clare follow this link to Explore the Wild Atlantic Way.