So you’re drawing up that all important ‘to do’ list for your Dublin visit! Well don’t overlook the capital’s main amenity – no – not Guinness – the other one! I’m referring of course to the city’s fabulous bay area. We’re not just talking gorgeous beaches and every water sport you can imagine … think nature reserves, great hiking trails and lovely heritage villages all within easy reach of the city centre. We Dubs are spoiled rotten!
Tempting as it is, to try and ‘do’ the bay in one day, visitors should enjoy this part of the city in shorter bites – maybe half days in the city centre combined with mini excursions. Most parts can be reached in about 30 minutes and you’ll be rewarded with great experiences, wonderful food, amazing photos and your all important 10,000 steps before heading back to town for a night of craic…
So this is the first of 5 expeditions – I’m starting furthest from home – the north side of the bay – and working my way back (I think it’s a Covid thing – fear of another 5km lockdown so better leave the local area until the end – just in case!!😖).
Odd as it is I’m beginning with a negative – just to get it out of the way before we set off – the one thing not to love about Howth is …. yes – EVERYONE loves it! So if you’re planning a visit – and its summer – and its a lovely day – and its the weekend – well….. you’ve been warned!
This fishing village is a haven for foodies, packed with fresh seafood restaurants and traditional fish and chips shops. Within a half hour of the city centre, and easily accessible, its no wonder its such a hit with Dubs and visitors alike… .
Howth (rhyming with both) comes from the Old Norse ‘Hofud‘ meaning head /headland. The Vikings replaced the original name – Binn Éadair – around the 9th or 10th century. Binn = peak or hill so Binn Éadair loosely translates as Éadair’s Hill, Éadair being possibly a local chieftain.
Its less than 2 minutes from the railway station to the harbour but, tempting as it is to just sit and eat, drink and people watch, such pleasures must be earned – I’m taking you off for a tramp around the headland.
There are four local well marked trails. The shortest (6km) and the most popular, is the Cliff Path Loop which will take about 90 minutes (but add more time for stops and photos of course).
We’ll be heading off around that headland…
This particular beach isn’t great but it still attracts a few hardy swimmers…
As you leave the town behind, the coastline of County Dublin stretches away northwards. On a good day, you can see as far as Slieve Donard, 90kms away in Northern Ireland.
The island opposite the harbour is Ireland’s Eye.
There’s not a lot on the island – a church was established by monks in the early 8th century but was destroyed by Vikings a few hundred years later. The Martello Tower is one of several along the coastline, built in 1803 as a defence against a possible Napoleonic attack. The freestanding rock called “the Stack”, at the other end of the island is home to guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, gulls and even a few pairs of puffins during mating season. The island is also home to a colony of grey seals.
There are regular boat trips to the island from Howth pier.
Our path wanders up towards Howth Head, offering gorgeous views….
The Baily Lighthouse looks out over the main shipping channel between Dublin to Britain. There’s been a lighthouse on the site since 1667. This particular structure was built in 1814 and the last keeper left in 1996 when it became fully automated (there’s still an attendant living on site to deal with any technical issues).
From here our walk joins with some of the other trails or we can turn back, either retracing our footsteps or cutting in through the upper part of the village and back to the harbour.
History in a Nutshell!
In prehistoric times the peninsula was an island, but is now connected to the mainland by a sandy isthmus.
Howth was a trading port from at least the 14th century.
Before the 19th century, although only 14.5kms from the centre of Dublin, Howth was relatively isolated.
After the Acts of Union in 1801 and the transfer of Irish parliament to London, communication links from London to Dublin became more important. The trip to Holyhead took over 17 hours and Dublin Bay was prone to shifting sands, strong tides and even stronger winds. A harbour at Howth would reduce sailing time by a few hours at least.
Work on the harbour was completed in 1817.
Major road links to Dublin were built and a railway line was planned from the city out to the new harbour.
Howth harbour alas, was built the wrong way round! It began to silt up very quickly. Frequent dredging proved so costly that shipping traffic was moved across the bay to Dun Laoghaire!
The now complete railway line faced very heavy losses.
To encourage people to use the train, the railway company promoted Howth as a bathing and health destination and first class tickets included the use of changing cubicles on one of the beaches!
Throughout the 19th century, residential properties began to appear – mostly summer residences for Dublin’s rich and famous. Howth flourished and in its heyday, the peninsula could boast at least 7 hotels to cater for visitors.
Despite the tourism boom, this is still a traditional fishing town and a working harbour.
The East Pier is lovely for a walk – have a close look at Howth Lighthouse and enjoy the nice view back towards the village. You might catch sight of a trawler returning to port.
There’s a lot more action on the West Pier:
Here you will find the fish shops selling the day’s catch….
…..interspersed with great seafood restaurants….
….although on a good day its hard to beat lounging on the green with great takeaway fish ‘n’ chips!
A word of warning though!!!!
Howth seagulls are positively EVIL!!
You can admire the pleasure craft moored in the marina – there’s money’s worth here!
While you’re here….
St Mary’s Abbey can be spotted from the harbour. The 14th century ruins are very much part of Howth’s history and offer great views.
Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio is located in a Martello Tower. Gadget lovers will be delighted with early Morse equipment, gramophones, valve radios, music boxes, telegrams, batteries, and heaven knows what else!
There are great views from the tower…
Howth Castle is a 10 minute walk from the station. Now privately owned, you can admire the exterior or enjoy a coffee.
National Transport Museum is located near the castle and offers a collection of old buses, trucks and cars.
Car – it’s an easy drive and there are parking facilities at the harbour. Remember though, that traffic is horrendous on a fine weekend.
Bus – buses go from the city centre to both the village and the summit of the hill. Buses can also fall victim to traffic jams.
Train – best option! The Dublin / Howth line is part of DART- Dublin Area Rapid Transport – trains are frequent and take about 30 minutes. You might have to stand on a busy day but at least you’ll get there stress free!
Everywhere is walkable. Trails are very well marked
The King Sitric offers ’boutique’ accommodation and there are some airbnb options. There is better value to be had in the city.
There are always camper vans to be seen on the pier…
Close to station. Open weekends and offers fresh fish, meats and veg, homemade jams, cakes and breads and gift ideas.
Moving to Dollymount Strand (about 8 km around the bay). Tune in to see what this part of Dublin has to offer….