Whether it’s one of our scheduled small group tours departing regularly from Dublin city centre, or one of our well planned customized private tours of Ireland, there is no doubt that you or your family and friends will have close encounters with Irish wildlife. All while visiting archaeological gems, experiencing Irish culture, partaking in amazing activities and enjoying the endless vistas of spectacular scenery!
The island of Ireland is home to some of the most stunning landscape & amazing wildlife, it’s literally right on our doorstep. Yet Ireland still remains Europe’s undiscovered wildlife frontier.
Perched on the western edge of Europe, on the shores of the wild Atlantic, This wee island is known for it’s ‘craic agus ceoil’ isn’t on many peoples bucket list when choosing a top European wildlife and birding destination.
So to turn all you doubters into believers here are 5 reasons why Ireland should be on your bucket list for your next wildlife adventure.
1. Ireland’s Best National Parks
Ireland’s wildlife scene is buzzing like a nest of bees. You don’t need a level 1 mountaineering course to get close to it – in fact, it’s usually just a walk in the park. National Parks in the Republic of Ireland and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Northern Ireland are some of the best places to see our wildlife showing off. They make some pretty playgrounds, too.
Over 650 km2 (160,000 acres) of Ireland is covered in national parks, forest areas and reserves. Our 6 national parks contain an amazing variety of unspoiled landscape and vegetation.
Irish Experience Tours explore and stay in, or right next to, no fewer than 5 national parks…
Photo by Robert Booth
Killarney National Park
A truly special part of Ireland, Killarney National Park is a rugged wilderness area situated just outside the town of Killarney in County Kerry. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty packed with mountains (including the highest in Ireland – Carrauntoohil), lakes, woods, parklands and waterfalls.
But most importantly it’s home to Ireland’s only native deer species the Irish Red Deer. Visit Killarney in the spring to see the new calves, or each year from late September to late November the annual “Deer Rut” takes place. It is the Deer mating season and the Stags can be heard bellowing in the evenings. It is an ideal treat for travellers to experience one of Ireland’s wildlife wonders. Each Year for the “Rut” we name the dominant Stag “Tuan” the King of the Deer. Tuan was the name in Irish mythology to a creature that could transform from one creature to the next.
However, you should be able to spot the red deer year-round in most cases!
Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park is almost 3000 hectares of mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and forests, and it’s all yours to explore. The boglands give rise to unique flora and fauna throughout Connemara, making this an area well off the beaten track and not to be missed.
The birdlife of the Park is varied. Meadow pipits, skylarks, stonechats, chaffinches, robins and wrens are just some of the common song-birds Birds of prey are kestrel and sparrowhawk, with merlin and peregrine falcon making occasional visits.
Rabbits, foxes, stoats, shrews, bats, pine marten and non-native mink are often observed at night. The largest mammal in the Park is the Connemara Pony. Although a domestic animal this pony is very much part of the Connemara countryside.
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park in west Donegal is a beautiful and remote wilderness of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and a haunting (some say enchanted) oak forest in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains. The stunning Glenveagh Castle, a 19th Century mansion and gardens, is situated at the edge of Lough Veagh. Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal, with over 16,000 hectares of wilderness streaked with lakes, rivers and a castle. Falcons, ravens, peregrines and the recently reintroduced Golden Eagles take to the skies watched by you and the resident deer, badgers and foxes.
Photo by Pol O Congaile
Glendalough & Wicklow Mountains National Park
“The Valley of the Two Lakes” is a rough translation for one of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations, Glendalough. Renowned for its history, scenery, archaeology and wildlife, Glendalough in the mountains of County Wicklow is a truly remarkable area. Visit the ancient monastic city, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century, and see the outstanding 30m high round tower along with churches and stone crosses.
Both Red Deer, Sika Deer and Red/Sika hybrids herds can be found in the valley of Glendalough and the surrounding woods and mountains. Herds of feral goats can also be found within the National Park along with foxes and badgers . Grey Herons are common, standing motionless ready to spear a passing trout. Out on the lakes lookout for Goosanders or Greylag Geese. Ravens and the symbol of the Wicklow Mountains National Park the peregrine falcon breed on the cliffs above the Upper Lake. Whooper swans are also present on the Upper Lake some winters.
The Burren National Park
The Burren National Park is located in the southeastern corner of the Burren and is approximately 1500 hectares in size.
Arctic-alpine plants living side by side with Mediterranean plants, calcicole (lime-loving) and calcifuge (acid-loving) plants growing adjacent to one another and woodland plants growing out in the open with not a tree nearby to provide shade from the sun.
The Common Frog and the Smooth Newt are both found in the wetland areas of the Park. Among the most dramatic of the birds in the park are Ravens, Peregrine Falcons, Kestrels, Merlin and Hen Harriers.
Hares, Foxes and Pigmy Shrews may be encountered during daytime. In addition, Stoats may be seen weaving their way in and out of stone walls in search of prey.
Among the seven species of bats that inhabit the Park is the Lesser Horseshoe Bat, a species that is endangered in an international context.
The Feral Goat has come to be associated with the Burren landscape. There is a herd that frequents the Park, they roam freely over the park.
2. Ireland Under The Sea – Whales & Dolphins
Simply Ireland is one of the best locations in Europe to see whales and dolphins, FACT!.
One of the best wildlife spots in Ireland, the 2,500 km Wild Atlantic Way is an open gallery for whale and dolphin watching. The Shannon Estuary shelters one of only four bottlenose dolphin populations in Europe. The killer whale, the dolphin’s cousin, is a frequent visitor.
Baleen whales follow shoals of fish as far up to our shoreline. Minke whales arrive in spring, humpbacks in late summer and the fin whale (the fastest and second-largest whale in the world) appears is here from June to January.
Common dolphins occur in large numbers off the Irish south coast. A perennial favourite with guests, common dolphins occur in large numbers off the Irish south coast. We encounter dolphins on most of our tours, in groups of varying size, but sometimes in much larger aggregations numbering hundreds of animals. Dolphins will often make a beeline for the boat, and spend time bow-riding literally right in front of us. They’re also very acrobatic, and it’s not uncommon to see them leap spectacularly from the water.
The shy and elusive harbour porpoise is the fifth cetacean we see regularly on our tours. They are common along the coast here, and we often encounter them singly or in small feeding aggregations.
While they aren’t perhaps as charismatic as their more energetic dolphin cousins, there is nevertheless something very endearing about this tiny toothed whale.
Of course, we occasionally see other species of cetacean, including Risso’s Dolphins and Bottlenose Dolphins, on our tours… but the five species outlined above are by far the most regular.
If you like seals (and who doesn’t!?), there are ample opportunities to see them all along the Wild Atlantic Way. Further up the way, the rocky coasts of the Burren National Park or the quiet and rugged shores of Sligo and Donegal are equally ideal places to meet friendly Irish grey seals and common seals.
Grey seals and common/harbour seals are numerous around the Irish coast, In spring and summer, Ireland plays host to large numbers of Basking Sharks as they migrate north along the coast.
Photo by e-bikes Dingle
3. Ireland’s dramatic landscape
Ireland is perfectly positioned to attract some of the planet’s most iconic marine wildlife. 25 species of cetacean have been recorded in Irish waters, five of which we see regularly from our home patch on the West Cork stretch of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Ireland is home to a variety of different species of land and sea mammals, birds, plants and insects. There are approximately 50 species of land mammals e.g. hedgehog, pine martin, badger and sea mammals e.g. seals, dolphin and whales. We have over 400 species of birds and more than 4,000 plant species. There are over 12,000 varieties of insect. Without our amazing and diversified landscape, we would not have such an elaborate and rich biodiversity.
Ireland’s south coast is some of the most breathtaking you’re ever going to encounter. Dramatic Atlantic headlands, sweeping sandy beaches, hidden coves and inlets…. and views that are simply out of this world. Ireland’s stunning south coast is punctuated by dramatic headlands, jutting like fingers into the north Atlantic. These tantalising slivers of land act as magnets for migrant birds, and offer some of the best vantage points in Europe for spotting marine wildlife like whales, dolphins and basking sharks. The undulating coastline conceals hidden coves and inlets, mudflats, estuaries, beaches and dunes.
Ireland’s position on the edge of the Atlantic means you literally never know what might turn up. From vagrant cetaceans (the likes of Beluga, Bowhead and Northern Bottlenose Whales have all been recorded as extralimital vagrants off the Irish coast) to rare American passerines and waders blown across the Atlantic (Grey-cheeked, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Red-Eyed Vireo; White-rumped, Semipalmated and Buff-breasted Sandpiper and more).
4. Geo Parks & Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
It might seem ironic that geological parks promoting knowledge of the oldest part of our history – the formation of the Earth – are the new kids on the block in terms of sustainable tourism. Exploring the rock formations of our planet has become a popular pursuit. There are about 120 parks across the world, 69 in Europe and three on the island of Ireland.
Ireland has three Unesco designated Geoparks: the Copper Coast Geopark in Co Waterford, the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark in Co Clare and the Marble Arch Caves across the Fermanagh/Cavan border.
Take the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, for example. It reaches from the coastal western cliffs across to the Burren National Park, taking in areas of limestone, shale and sandstone/shale. Visitors are encouraged to explore on foot, by bicycle, by kayak or boat but crucially to “leave no trace”.
Living wild in the crevices of this strange-looking lunar landscape you’ll find rabbits, wild goats, mink and badgers, and Ireland’s only native lizard, the viviparous lizard, which can be seen scampering between shadow and sunshine at will.
Up in the air, meanwhile, the Burren also takes great care of the rare Great Yellow Bumblebee.
The Copper Coast Geopark has the distinction of being the world’s smallest geopark. It’s 90sq km spread across seven villages with sea stacks, accessible old-fashioned beaches and a copper-mining history.
The Marble Arch Caves, originally in Co Fermanagh but now also crossing the border into Cavan, is the world’s only cross-border geopark. It encompasses 18,000 hectares of publicly accessible land with 300km of paths and trails.
County Antrim’s Causeway Coast is another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with 18 miles of crumbling coastline, cliffs, and the Unesco World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway. The area is home to some charmingly named seabirds including guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake and fulmar – and if you keep your eyes peeled at the start of April around Rathlin Island, the puffins may come out to play, too.
Life is also thriving around the shoreline with shrimp and crab, while rare plant species include the pretty Blue Spring Squill and the White Sea, Campion.
Slip down the eastern coastline to Wexford Wildfowl Reserve’s mudflats and islands, which house nearly half the world’s population of Greenland white-fronted geese and over 190 species of waterfowl.
Connecting all of these counties and more are the island’s rivers and lakes, which are bouncing below the surface with perch, trout, pike, bream and salmon; while the banks rustle with mink, voles, duck and geese going about their daily business.
Photo by gmb.images
5. Irelands Best Outdoor Adventure Tours, Activities & Wildlife encounters
So what is the best way to get up close and personal to all this wonderful marine and wildlife? It is of course by getting out there and getting active with many of Irelands great tours and activity suppliers. From water-based wonders to cycling loops and coastal hikes fill up the day with fun and adventure.
Sea Kayaking in Dingle
Enjoy a half-day’s sea kayaking in Dingle Harbour, see Fungi the Dolphin at the mouth of the harbour and explore some of the many sea caves. This trip is available to all – beginners to advanced paddlers. Although not physically demanding, it provides a great introduction to sea kayaking, covering basic kayaking skills. If you want to experience the peaceful waters of Dingle Harbour and Dingle Bay at their most tranquil, you can enjoy a sunset kayaking tour at the end of the day. It is not arduous but as well as visiting Fungi and sea caves, it covers all basic kayaking skills.
Eco Boat tours around the Skellig islands and Blasket islands
The Eco Tour has multiple daily departures. On this tour the boat circles both islands and you get up close to Skellig Michael and the small Skelligs to see both the wildlife and the historical sites. The tour takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. This tour does not land on the island.
The Skellig Islands & birdlife.
Breeds such as the Guillemot, the Kitewake and the unmistakable Puffin call the Skellig Islands home during the summer months. This is especially true for the Gannet, as over 20,000 pairs migrate to Little Skellig between May and September every year, making it the second-largest Gannet sanctuary in the world.
The Skellig Islands are inhabited & Marine Life.
Bluenose Dolphins, Basking Sharks and Grey Seals are regularly encountered on our boat trips to the Skellig Islands, and on rare occasions, Bluefin Tuna and even the majestic Humpback Whale make an appearance.
Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tour
Take a 3-hour boat trip to the Great Blasket Island, one of the seven islands of the gorgeous archipelago of Blasket Islands and enjoy the spectacular rock formations while you search the horizon for seals, puffins and shearwaters. At open sea, search the horizon for a chance to see dolphins, minke whales, basking sharks or other species, including humpback whales occasionally!
The most thrilling way to see Dingle Bay; experience the outstanding natural beauty of the Dingle coastline, paired with an exciting speed boat blast. The Great Blasket Island Experience – a speedboat Eco Tour – departs Dingle Marina, touring the beautiful Peninsula coastline to the Great Blasket Island. Included is a highly recommended landing on the Great Blasket Island for 3.5 hours.
Experiencing fresh Atlantic sea air, breathtaking views, staggering cliffs and wildlife that is native to the Dingle shores.
Whale watching in West Cork
When it comes to unique wildlife encounters there are few things as breath-taking and humbling as coming face to face with the world’s largest creatures.
World Class Whale Watching in Ireland
When most people think of whale watching they immediately think of distant shores… places like Iceland, Baja California, South Africa, New Zealand or Canada… places that can be difficult and expensive to get to.
But the truth is you don’t have to travel far to access truly world-class whale watching. You’ll find some of the best whale watching opportunities in the North Atlantic aboard the Holly Jo with Cork Whale Watch.
West Cork, on the Irish south coast, attracts minke whales, fin whales, and humpback whales to feed in its rich waters every year. A short drive or a cheap flight will get you to County Cork, and our purpose-built whale watching vessel, the Holly Jo provides the ideal platform for that once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Photo by Galway Bay Boat Tours
Discover Galway Bay on some amazing boat Tours
Land and Sea Tour
This is the only tour of its kind in the West of Ireland. Following a walking tour based around maritime and medieval history guests will board a boat to tour the inner bay where stories of the Claddagh and its fishermen, including the triumphs and hardships they had to endure can be heard. This is a fantastic opportunity to experience Galway from local guides whose families were fishermen from the Claddagh.
Lobster Safari Tour
This is a fantastic opportunity to see Galway from the sea and hear how the sea provided a gateway to the world. While at sea guests will lift a lobster pot and the local skipper will tell stories of the, and generations of his families experiences on the majestic Galway Bay.
See Irelands largest Cliffs by boat – Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) & the mighty Cliffs of Moher
Sliabh Liag Boat Tours run tours to the magnificent Sliabh Liag Cliffs, one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe standing 600m (1972 feet). The tour will get you close to the shore to appreciate this spectacular sight.
Sometimes we are joined by wildlife like dolphins, whales, seals, and in May and June, we often see basking sharks feeding on the plankton. There is also a wide range of birdlife that can be seen nesting and hunting.
Did you ever dream of swimming at the foot of the Sliabh Liag Cliffs – well now you can. You can go swimming in the crystal clear water of the many coves on the tour. Wetsuits are provided if you think the water is cold but most don’t need them.
The Cliffs of Moher Cruise is a stunning one hour journey along the 6km of coastline from Doolin Pier. The Cliffs rise to a height of over 214 meters providing dramatic views by the sea. The Great Sea Stack (Branaunmore) plays host to thousands of rare birds of which you can see up close.
Between April and mid-July, you will be awestruck by the sea birds who arrive to breed on the cliffs! It’s noisy. Watch out for the puffins. Don’t forget your cameras! The captains are renowned for their unique live and witty commentary.
There are many nature walks along both the cliffs of Moher and Slieve League that are teeming with wildlife of all shapes and sizes. A unique experience for everyone.
Photo by Neal Haughton
Tailor-Made Irish Wildlife & Adventure Tours
Like the look of an Irish Wildlife & Adventure tour, but want to travel with family, your sports team, school group or your best buddies? We can arrange a special departure just for you, or tailor-make an Irish Retreats-style itinerary to any one of our destinations. Whatever you’re planning, our team of Tailor-Made specialists can help design your perfect adventure today.
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