Just to the North of Dublin city proper is the peninsula of Howth. Howth rhymes with “Growth,” but in some Irish accents with the hardened “th” consonant, would sound more like “Boat” with an H. Further, if the speaker is one who uses what I call the “hissing T,” it would sound not as “hoat,” but “hoatss.” The letter H of course is pronounced “haych” here, not “aych” as Americans say.
Got all that? Good.
Fun with the pronunciation aside, this rounded peninsula just north of Dublin City is really a beautiful retreat from the concrete jungle that is the city centre. Ask most Dubliners—even southsiders—for a recommendation for a day out, and they’ll likely steer you to Hoatss—er, Howth. (Some shifty southsiders might also recommend taking the ferry out to Dalkey Island, and I can’t say I totally disagree…do both if you have time!)
Hit the Head
Howth Village is a cute little coastal berg, with its own seaside charm, a vibrant fish market, and high-quality seafood restaurants, but we’re heading uphill on the Howth Head trail system. The three looping trails wrap around the small mountain of the peninsula, offering some fantastic views of the village, the bare rocky coast, the city, the southern Dublin and Wicklow mountains, and a cast of ever-changing landscapes from bare rock to deep deciduous forest to soggy bogland.
From the village, follow Balscadden Road from the East Pier all the way up along the coast until you hit the well-marked trailhead.
The Cliff Path
Before the different trails diverge, they all follow the Cliff Path along the highest cliffs on the northeastern side of Howth Head. Here you’ll find a well-worn and well-marked trail. Look down into the water near the crashing waves for the seals and porpoises that occasionally play at the mouth of Dublin Bay. Stop at a bench—there are a few in the early chapters of the trail—to enjoy a picnic lunch or just a sip of water after a long climb up from sea level.
Look for the Baily Lighthouse on a small rocky point at the southeastern corner of the head. Sadly, you can’t visit the lighthouse itself, but the longer trail route does visit the point.
The three trails split near this hilltop parking lot. There is a “viewpoint” from the lot, but much better views of the city can be had just below the summit near the Baily Lighthouse. At the Summit, short-distance hikers can take the Tramline route directly back to Howth Village, following an arrow-straight path that was once a tram track taking wealthy weekend visitors up to the hilltop for the fresh air—probably prescribed by their doctor to cure their vapours, grippe, and cholera.
The Bog of the Frogs Loop
The longest route of the Howth Head system at 10 km, the Bog of the Frogs route continues around the small mountain from beneath the Summit—you can take a side trip to the top, but I don’t recommend it if you are taking the whole loop.
The Baily Lighthouse point is an extra loop you can take from the main path, some adventurous locals climb down to the seaside at the base of the cliffs, but there are easier and more secluded beaches later in the loop. The trail is very well marked—it has to be, as it crosses several roads, other paths, and even a golf course.
The long loop follows the seaside until it reaches the neck of the peninsula, at which point it turns inland—and back uphill—en route to the Howth Golf Club. The trail, funnily enough, crosses the active golf course via a marked public right of way. Keep your eyes on the nearby tee boxes for any incoming projectiles as you cross.
Beyond the golf club, the trail enters a new scene: thick wooded forest. On your way to the bog, you can take a trail diversion to some great overlooks of the neck of the peninsula and the north side of the city, but a good map would be highly recommended if you leave the marked Bog of the Frogs trail.
All of the trails loop back to Howth Village—specifically the train station—from different sides. Howth station is a terminus for the DART line, so any train leaving the station will be bound for Dublin’s city centre. Check the timetable before crossing the turnstiles to avoid a long wait during non-peak hours.
Whenever I have some time to kill before the next train, I like to unwind with a walk on the west pier, watching the seals play in the harbor while window shopping in the many busy fish shops and seafood restaurants.