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….
48 thoughts on “Discovering Beautiful Dublin Bay – # 1 Howth Head”
We never actually hit a beach or even the ocean during our visit other than the ferry into Dublin. We will be back and now I will make sure to put that on the itinerary.
There’s so much to see and do in the city – it’s hard to cram everything in…. a second or third visit means you can leave out the touristy bits and venture a bit further… You could even leave out the cliff walk and just visit the village for lunch – you’d still get a feel for it….XXXMarie
What a wonderful walk and a wonderful day for a walk. It would make such a nice contrast to the hard surfaces and ‘urbanness’ of Dublin itself. Thanks for the tip. Mel
It would indeed – even for just a few hours. The great thing is that it’s so close so travel won’t eat up a lot of precious visiting time…. XXXMarie
One day we will be allowed to walk in each other’s country again….
Won’t that be something Mel – we might pass each other half way!! Where would that be…. Malaysia maybe?!
How about Nepal??
YES!!! That would be brill!!!
One day we will be allowed to walk in each other’s country again…
Great review of this lovely little place. I went there often during my years in Dublin. The cliff walk is the most classic, but those prone to vertigo might feel uncomfortable. Otherwise, apart from the fish and chips, there are also some decent restaurants at the harbour. Thanks for the memories.
Glad you enjoyed! We actually remarked on the cliff walk that, with health and safety issues so major nowadays, it’ll be just a matter of time before the council either fences the path or closes it altogether … The ‘selfie’ brigade were the worst – right out on the edge for what I’m sure were stunning photos.. but still!!😖
Great report with lovely photos. You are very lucky to live in such a beautiful area.
I really am! Dublin is a lovely city in itself and then it has the bay in front of it and the Dublin Mountains behind….
Glad you enjoyed…. XXXMarie
Thanks for this. I am looking forward to visiting Ireland a lot more in the coming years now that my youngest son seems to be settling in Belfast. Dublin is definitely on my list but I ‘did’ the centre several years ago and so am ready to go to the outskirts and these guides will be very helpful.
Belfast will be a great base for you … The northern coast is beautiful and Derry is only about 90 minutes away. You’ll have to encourage your son to start exploring Donegal when you visit! Its about 2 hours from Belfast to Dublin so possible for the odd day trip. You will see a lot of changes – hopefully for the better – since your last visit… Have you met your son since the start of Covid??
My son is planning to go to Donegal later this year. We got over to Belfast and saw the Mourne Mountains and some of the north coast last July – terrific! That was shortly after he moved there but he has visited us on the way to video jobs in London since – bending the rules but lovely
We only had a few days in Dublin and never got out of the city centre! I don’t think we realised there were such beautiful coastal places within such easy reach – another time, hopefully … I love the views in your photos and the seafood sounds very tempting 🙂
It’ll probably work out better on a 2nd visit …. it’s a great spot for lunch – imagine the chowder!!! Yum!!
It looks absolutely lovely Marie – I absolutely love the Abbey 🙂
I mentioned in the blog that the island in front – Ireland’s Eye – had an abbey. I think that after it was destroyed by the Vikings, the monks moved to this abbey on the mainland instead…
The bay area looks like a nice break from the city! Love the pictures!
Thank you Lissy – Yes – it’s a great amenity right on the edge of town….
Howth was one of my favourite places to escape the noise and pollution of Dublin, but I know too well what you mean about visiting it on a warm, sunny summers day! Howth village on Dublin Bay’s northern peninsula may be relatively small for a capital city suburb, but it has a big reputation and that often comes with large crowds. I used to escape the tourist hordes by walking the Cliff Path Loop and taking in the splendid views. I still have to find the time to read James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, where the stunning coastal setting of Howth Head appeared as a romantic location. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂
The path can be busy also but at least people are moving along – and mostly in the same direction which is a help. It has a significant reference in the book – this is where Leopold proposed to Molly…. I’d say there have been many marriage proposals on Howth Head!!
A beautiful place to explore right on your front door, Marie. I love th coastal scenery, the history and the views. While we have visited Dublin a few times, we have never explored this area, as the call of the city and the nearby relatives always wins. Maybe sometime soon. Thanks for sharing. Allan
I find that the parts of Ireland I know least are the places with relatives!! Whenever we visit, we spend time catching up with everyone rather than exploring the area! The same with London – in more recent times, we’ve actually set aside a day and maybe booked a walking tour or something in order to get to know a bit of the city while visiting family… Can’t do everything I suppose!!!
You have packed so much into this post. It looks lovely! I am interested in the Island being called Ireland’s Eye as it believed that Swansea (where I am at the moment) cames from the Viking for “Swein’s Eye” or Swein’s island.
Yes – there is a link – ‘Eye’ came from the Viking ‘Ey’ for island.
The island was originally called Eria’s Island – named after some female or other. Eria became confused with Eirn or Éireann – which is Irish for Ireland.
So it became known as Erin’s Ey and later by default, Ireland’s Eye….
That’s interesting, thank you!
We stayed in Howth on a trip a few years ago and loved the community. Would stay there again for sure.
You’re the only person I know who’s ever stayed there!!!😅 😂 (my uncle lived there but that doesn’t count!!)
Have a long time friend in Swords who recommended it. Retired Aer Lingus marketing guy.
Hope he was useful for flight bargains over the years!!!!
Actually I was in the travel industry too so flew for next to nothing. And sometimes NOTHING!
Was it as idyllic as that actually sounds Marc?? Or was it all business….
So sorry we didn’t get to the shoreline in Dublin – I see what we missed! I’d love to sample those walks and the seafood restaurants. Looks like a great place to wander. We went up the western coast.
Impossible to see and do everything – and sure the west coast is beautiful and unmissable… XXXMarie
Nice review. One of my Sunday runs used to be – DART to Howth, run up around the coast road and back to town via Sutton (where Phil Lynott is buried). It’s a great spot to visit all right.
By Sunday run I thought you meant a nice spin in the car!!! But a great place for a running run….. good for the soul…and a fair distance back to town!!!
Marie, thank you for this wonderful post on Howth. It brings back great memories of the trip that my husband and I took to Ireland almost 10 years ago. We spent most of our time in Dublin but we took the bus one day to Howth and walked along the path to Howth Head.
Its always lovely to write a piece that resonates with a reader. I’m glad you’ve good memories of your trip to Dublin…. Was that part of a ‘grander’ European trip or a stand alone visit to Ireland?
What a great post! So comprehensive yet a really entertaining read. Thank you!
And thank you! Glad you enjoyed …. hopefully you’ll make it to Dublin some time with the van and dogs!!!!
I am sure we shall. I absolutely love The Emerald Isle and definitely need to see more! xx