Wanting to escape the city for some fresh air? Looking for somewhere both charming and adventurous to explore? Howth is your perfect next destination.
If you’re visiting Dublin and itching for the sea, or have a long enough layover to squeeze in a seaside hike, then Howth is calling your name. Bonus – it’s only a short city bus, DART, or even bicycle ride away! Here is the ultimate guide for what to see and do while visiting this seaside beauty.
Howth has everything needed for an afternoon or day out of the big city. With a population of under 9,000, this tiny fishing village 14 km north of Dublin’s city centre is the perfect place to recharge and breathe in the refreshing sea air. With multiple hiking trails, seafood restaurants, a castle, shops, water sports, beaches, and museums, there’s a lot packed into this tiny peninsula for everyone to enjoy.
Meaning “headland” in Norse (“Hoved”), Howth was once an island but is now connected to the rest of Ireland. Prior to its Scandinavian connections, Howth was referred to as “Bin Éadair” in Gaelic. There are even references to Howth on Egyptian maps! The Howth Peninsula Heritage Society, an organization that hosts lectures in Howth, is packed with interesting information on the peninsula’s past.
Transportation to Howth
Whether you’ve a few days or only a few hours, Howth is an easy destination to reach from Dublin, whichever way you get there.
Dublin City Bus
For a couple of euro, you can take the Dublin City Bus to Howth Harbour (#31) or to Howth Summit (#31b) in about 40 minutes from Dublin’s city centre. Talbot Street and Abbey Street Lower, both off of O’Connell Street, are your departure points in the centre of town. With access to free wifi, friendly bus drivers, and double decker bus views, you can’t go wrong hopping on the Dublin City Bus to get to Howth.
DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit)
For a scenic 25 minute ride, hop on the DART and be whisked along the coast. It’s affordable and there’s onboard free wifi – though who wants to stare at a screen when you’ve the Irish Sea outside your window? In Dublin’s City Centre hop on at the Connolly, Tara, or Pearse stations. Depending on your plans for the day, purchase a one-way (€3.30), return (€6.25), or Leap Card discounted ticket (€2.40 one-way).
End to end, from Dublin’s Aston Quay to Howth Harbour, the drive takes about 30 minutes in normal traffic. There are a few different routes to take, including one with coastal views!
If you’re the seafaring sort and enjoy taking the road less travelled, hop on a ferry with Dublin Bay Cruises. Beginning in Dublin’s City Centre, the ride is approximately 2.5 hours and passengers are provided with a DART voucher (via email) for their return. The voucher allows travel from any station on the Dun Laoghaire – Howth route on the same day that you take the ferry. At the time of writing, adult and student tickets cost €32, and a child’s ticket (4-12 years) cost €24.
Adventurers, start your engines because you can bike from Dublin to Howth! Bonus features include travelling at your own pace, stopping to smell the roses, hopping off for a bite to eat, warming up for your hike.
If you don’t own a bike in Dublin, here are some places you can rent from:
- Neill’s Wheels
- These guys provide maps and tips on places to eat and drink.
- Bike Hire Dublin
- Have your pick between city, mountain, and hybrid bikes, 7 days a week.
*I have not used either of these companies yet. I would love to hear your experiences with them below!
What to See and Do in Howth
There are 4 main hiking trails in Howth. For a map detailing the routes listed below (and more), visit here.
Bog of Frogs Loop
Make sure to come prepared with food, water, sunscreen, and good footwear for this 12km route, the longest of the 4 trails. The Bog of Frogs Loop begins at Howth DART Station (purple arrows) and finishes downtown. Along the way, enjoy the views of Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye. After 3.5 hours of fresh air, you’ll be ready to refuel at one of the delicious sea food restaurants nearby (I suggest a good ol’ fashioned fish and chips at Beshoff Bros!).
Howth Cliff Loop
This trail starts at Howth DART Station and is approximately 6km long. All you have to do is follow the green arrows and enjoy the next 1.5 – 2.5 hours as you meander along this moderately ranked trail. Wear good walking shoes or, if your legs are weary, hop on the 31B bus or into your car to reach the Summit. The weather changes quickly here so avoid the area if it’s raining or foggy.
Black Linn Loop
Follow the red arrows for this 8km hike, starting and ending as the others do, at the Howth DART Station. Fun fact: In addition to the beautiful scenery, this path will bring you to a pub and a GAA pitch! The Black Linn Loop Walk is moderately ranked and will take between 2 & 3 hours, depending on the length of your pub visit.
If you guessed that you’re starting this hike at Howth’s DART Station…you’re right! This 7km hike is great for the hiker who doesn’t typically hike. Catch that? It’s easy! Just follow the blue arrows and enjoy the views along Howth’s Nose. Enjoy a bit of history as you pass the Bailey Lighthouse, the last automated lighthouse in Ireland. To end your stroll, follow the old tramline which is now a walking trail.
The Bailey Lighthouse is a perfect stop for history buffs, locals, amateur photographers, hikers, and tourists. Situated on the south eastern cliff of Howth Head, this historical gem can be reached on all 4 Loop trails. It was built in 1814 and crisscrossed in time with the Norse Vikings and Normans stomping through the area. In 1996 it claimed the title of last automated lighthouse in Ireland. The public can’t access the grounds these days, however you can catch a glimpse and a few great photos from Howth Summit and the trails mentioned above.
Ireland’s Eye is a tiny island found a hop, skip, and a jump (or short ferry ride) from the East Pier in Howth. There are only 2 buildings on the whole island: Martello Tower, built in the early 1800s to deter little old Napoleon from crashing the party, and a dilapidated 6th century church. The petite point is teeming with wildlife, including a multitude of nesting birds. A massive freestanding rock named “The Stack” is a particularly favourite haunt for razorbills, fulmars, guillemots, gulls, and even some puffins! Please be careful and don’t disturb the birds during mating season if you’re visiting during the early part of summer. If birds aren’t your thing, there are also lots of grey seals around the island (and trailing fishermen’s boats for leftovers!).
To get to the island, hop on one of the aforementioned Ireland’s Eye Ferries, run by the Doyle family since the late 1940s.
For more interesting tidbits about Ireland’s little eye, visit here.
One of Ireland’s charms is the absence of pomp surrounding anything noteworthy. North Americans, in contrast, seem to crave this attention with our loud neon signs and well-staged attractions. A perfect example of the Irish whispering to those who listen is the tiny blue plaque on Balscadden House. W.B. Yeats lived here, and other than the dates of his residence and a quote, nothing else nods to the significance of the Irish poet. When I visited Howth it was the luck of the draw that drew me to read the sign as we passed the white home on the hill. Let me know if you find it too!
It wouldn’t be a visit to Ireland without stepping on the grounds of a castle. Cue Howth Castle, home to the Gaisford-St. Lawrence family for a whopping 800 years!…until 2018 when it was sold to Tetrarch Capital. Also on the grounds are golf courses, the Deer Park Hotel, Cookery School, café, and the National Transport Museum. Please visit each respective website to see if they are open when you plan on going, as they have undergone changes with the sale of the castle.
For more news articles on Howth Castle, see:
- “470-acre Howth Castle sold to Irish investment group Tetrarch” (Irish Times)
- “End of an era as Howth Castle is sold” (Dublin People)
- “Ireland’s Eye sold to private investment group” (The Journal)
Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio
If you’re into visiting quirky sites, or nerding out about radios or history, then check out the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio in the Martello Tower on Ireland’s Eye island. The museum is a not-for-profit entity run by Pat Herbert, a lifelong radio enthusiast. Both a blog and a Twitter feed are available to tickle your fancy before and after your visit. There has even been an award-winning documentary, called Hurdy Gurdy Man by Stuart Duff made about Pat Herbert and his museum.
If you’re near water, you might as well be in (or on) the water! Howth has a whole host (say that 10x!) of water activities for you to get your feet wet with.
Shearwater Sea Kayaking offers a range of courses for individuals to corporate groups on introductory sea kayaking, racing, and rescue skills. They also have guided tours and can customize trips along the coast. If you’re in Howth during the winter months Shearwater also runs pool courses, though you will need to have at least a beginner course already under your belt to participate. For a list of their prices, visit here.
PADI Scuba Courses, Kayaking, Paddleboard, and Eco Trips
Feel Good Activities is a one-stop shop that offers a ton of options for water activities in Howth. It also is the only Disabled Divers International centre in Ireland.
Sidenote, I can’t dive (thank you for nothing, sinuses), so I have not personally visited Feel Good Activities. With that being said, visit their link in the 1st paragraph for a run down of activities they offer. I’m thinking Power Boating or an Eco tour is in the cards next time I visit Ireland!
What to Eat and Drink in Howth
Post-hike or seaside stroll you’re going to need a little refreshment. On a chilly day the perfect way to warm up is with a cup of hot whiskey (also known as a hot toddy), a classic Irish beverage. Can’t make it to Ireland but want to enjoy this cup of delicious delight? Mix hot water, lemon, honey, and whiskey and you’ve got yourself a treat. Fun fact for any word nerds or historians out there, “whisky/whiskey” comes from either the Irish ” uisce beathadh ” or the Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha “, which means “water of life” – how brilliant is that?!
Along the Howth harbour and Main Street there are several places to refuel and recharge at. My favourite spot so far has the freshest fish and chips – Beshoff Brothers. Don’t forget your salt and vinegar!