How to truly discover a country (by hiking it)

There’s rarely anything more relaxing than hiking or hillwalking in a new country. Great scenery, adventure and new friends are all par for the course. On a long trek in the wilderness, you will discover a country’s true character, demonstrated by the quality of its hiking trails.

Over the past 9 months I have trekked regularly  in Ireland, which has exemplary world-class hiking. 

My most recent hike was through the first two sections of the brilliant Wicklow Way. It’s actually seven day-long sections in total, but two was a great fit for a long weekend. The start of the trail, at the beautiful Marlay Park, is accessible by city bus from Dublin – perfect for a one-way weekend trek. My wife & I made an early start and thanks to the guidance available on the Wicklow Way and Visit Wicklow websites, we had no troubles tackling our 22km journey over 7 hours.

Day one (Marlay Park to Knockree) of the Wicklow Way is divided into two main sections. The first is the ascent past Kilmashogue up to Two Rock, which gives stunning views of Dublin city behind you, followed by your first peek of Sugarloaf mountain at the top. Perhaps the Wicklow Way could instead be named after Sugarloaf – you can see it from many fantastic perspectives along the way. Keep an eye out for it! The second section of day one takes you around Prince William’s seat, for some brilliant coastal views and a reminder that the ocean is never too far away in Ireland.

Day two seems to be a tougher challenge than expected. It starts with a descent into the mysterious Crone Woods, followed by a long but picturesque ascent around Djouce mountain. Creeks, woodlands, waterfalls and ocean views – regular photo breaks are a constant temptation on this part of the trail. The icing on the cake is just around the corner after Djouce too, decidedly my favourite part of the trail. You’ll find majestic valley or ocean views in every direction along a 30 minute hilltop walk. Soon after, you are introduced to none other than the memorial of JB Malone, the pioneer of the Wicklow Way itself, over views of the spectacular Lough Tay.

Although the memorial would be a fitting place to end your journey, the Wicklow Way has more to give on day two – a descent through some dense woodlands and a brisk walk to Roundwood with views of Lough Dan. We were rewarded with a well-deserved pint at Roundwood Inn while waiting for our bus back to Dublin. All told, 15 hours over two days, 45km, many sandwiches and brilliant scenery all contributed to a memorable weekend. It was a perfect warmup to my next major hike – a 7 day alpine trek around Mont Blanc in France, Switzerland and Italy.

On reflection, I feel the Wicklow Way is a hiker’s paradise. It’s simple to navigate – even for myself, as an amateur hiker. It’s clearly signed, has well-maintained paths and yet the Wicklow Way still feels remote. Ireland is proud of its natural beauty and shows it through environmental protection efforts. In sections where the trail is overused, for example boggy areas prone to erosion, the local council has constructed permanent walking boards over the path. The “pack it in, pack it out” mantra for hiking supplies is encouraged and followed by all – you won’t find anything other than untouched wilderness, wildlife and farmland on the trail.

Overall, the Wicklow Way is a superb Irish adventure and an excellent example of how you can discover a country’s true character. Here are some other hikes in Ireland that I’ve enjoyed or would recommend to you:

Of course, Ireland and Europe has endless excitement to offer. Here’s why working abroad in Europe has been a priceless experience for me.