Over the years, I learned that the way to have the best vacation experience possible is not through extensive research on the internet nor by working with a travel agency. No matter where I am or what I’m hoping to discover, nearly all of my favorite travel memories have one thing in common – they were recommended to me by someone else.
My wife was in Ireland recently for a short-term doctoral internship, and I flew over from America to join her for a couple days of traveling together. Based in Dublin, we spent most of our time exploring the city and all it has to offer. During a conversation with a University College Dublin professor affiliated with her program, however, we were given a suggestion that turned into one of the greatest travel experiences of my life.
We asked the professor for some recommendations of things to see in the Dublin area, and his immediate answer was “You absolutely have to go hike the Cliff Walk from Bray to Greystones!” After giving us a break down of what it was and how to get there, he offered a couple other suggestions and we were on our way.
Early afternoon the next day, we hopped on the DART train at the Tara Street station for the half hour journey south. Before long, we were out of the city centre and rattling along the Irish coastline, observing the beautiful blue water from our large picture window. We decided beforehand that we were going to ride to Bray, the northernmost terminus of the Cliff Walk, hike south, have dinner in Greystones, and take the DART back to Dublin from there.
The Cliff Walk starts after a short traipse along the adorable promenade in Bray. Houses, hotels, and family-owned businesses sit opposite a rocky beach in the shadow of the lush green face of Great Sugar Loaf mountain. Walk to the end of the promenade and up the hill that forms the distant border to the beach, and you’ve found the beginning of the Cliff Walk.
The Cliff Walk itself defies description. The sights and sounds, the smell of the salt air, the feel of the cool ocean breeze… only by witnessing these things in person can you fully understand the magnitude of the experience.
The hike is a 7km low-intensity walk along an old railroad construction pathway that winds between the steep hills of Sugarloaf and the Atlantic coastline, and runs parallel to the DART tracks below. The path is made up of fine gravel and rock, and in many places is lined on the ocean side with a concrete and wire fence to keep you from falling overboard.
We got extraordinarily lucky with regard to the weather that day – especially for Ireland! Beautiful blue skies, sunny and mild with a nice breeze, and not a drop of rain! But it’s the views, both uphill and out to sea, that made this such a breathtaking lifetime experience – the sweeping panoramas of green and blue ocean water to one side, and often nearly-vertical walls of lush greenery and wild flowers to the other make nearly every step a new vista to behold – there is no drab scenery nor bland overlook here!
About a third of the way into the walk, you happen upon an ancient-looking cluster of stone walls and steps with a small sign. Apparently, long before the nobility split their land and allowed the DART train to cut through their property, a significant amount of alcohol and other illicit goods were smuggled into Ireland here.
The variety of landscapes across the relatively short hike was mind-boggling. There were virtually no stretches where the scenery was unchanged on both sides – which caused us to stop often to take in the newest breathtaking views. The coastline, of course, was along for the walk for the vast majority of the way, but even that brought a good deal of variety with it – there were rocky beaches, steep cliffs, and several spots where massive stones jutted up out of the water. Along the path we encountered massive slopes exploding with wildflowers of yellow, orange, red and purple, craggy cliffs and pastoral meadows – and we even encountered a thick cluster of knobby old trees!
After a couple hours of meandering along slowly (and taking a ton of pictures!), we spotted our first peak at Greystones, and were sadly aware that our hike was nearing its end – though we actually talked briefly about hiking the whole thing in reverse after eating! As you near Greystones, the landscape flattens out and really widens – and you also venture further away from the coastline for the first time.
The hike finishes by dropping you onto another beach, this one wrapped in small boulders and even rockier than the beach in Bray. The yellow swatches of wildflowers blanketing Sugar Loaf’s southern face contrasted perfectly with the grey-green waters of the Atlantic. We even dipped our bare feet into the frigid water for a minute or so – just as long as we could stand it!
The village of Greystones is a charming terminus for the hike! Most houses are meticulously maintained, with vibrantly-colored gardens and primly manicured yards. There is a broad variety of shops to browse through, from an excellent farm-to-table market to a somewhat hidden beach-art shop! There is not a dearth of restaurants to choose from, but the Beach House pub offered delicious and hearty meals with outdoor seating alongside the marina – it was a perfect fit for us to refresh ourselves after our coastal exploration!
The train ride back to Dublin was a relaxing end to an incredible day. Riding north along the same tracks we had paralleled on the Hike, the views out the window offered a good summary of the majestic experience we’d had. As we settled into our seats and peered out the windows, we reflected on the glories we had witnessed … and how fortunate we were to have been offered such a valuable suggestion!
A video I shot from the location where I took the picture of the DART train at the top: