The large European islands of Britain and Ireland have long been well-known as popular destinations for travelers looking to experience the long history, rich and diverse culture, and cosmopolitan cities of these storied isles. But the natural beauty of these islands, which include Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and over six thousand smaller islands, is often overlooked in favor of the bright lights, pubs, and attractions of cities like London, Manchester, Dublin, and Edinburgh. Luckily, there are countless walking tours and holidays available to visitors who choose to look beyond the big metropolitan centers and explore the untamed, rugged, and beautiful landscapes that make the wilds of Britain and Ireland some of the most picturesque in the world. Let’s explore some of the best walking tours and walking holidays you can enjoy in Britain and Ireland!
South Downs Way – England
Hands down, one of the best walking tours you can experience is Britain and Ireland is Mickledore’s South Downs Way walking holiday in England, which begins in the ancient and historic town of Winchester southwest of London, continues southeast, following the northern crest of the South Downs chalk escarpment, and ends at the English Channel in Eastbourne.
This well-marked trail, which winds through vast fields, pleasant woodlands, quaint villages, stunning river valleys, and more, is well-marked, easy to follow, and has almost no stiles. One of the easiest National Trails, South Downs Way has very few steep sections and is known for the sense of solitude and the feeling of being on top of the world that its participants often feel as they pass Iron Age hill forts and view the breathtaking chalk formations of the Devil’s Dyke and the Seven Sisters.
Mickledore, a leading company that specializes in UK walking tours, offers several options to those who wish to explore this scenic route through rural England, depending on which part or parts of the trail you want to walk, how many miles you choose to walk in a day, and how much money you’re willing to spend. The shortest and least expensive option is the two-day Seven Sisters and the Long Man – South Downs Short Break, a 19-mile circular excursion beginning and ending at Alfriston that gives walkers the opportunity to enjoy the Long Man of Wilmington (Britain’s largest chalk figure), a night in Eastbourne, and a walk along the top of the Seven Sisters before returning to Alfriston. Walks along both the western and eastern sections of South Downs Way, both of which are roughly 50 miles long and range from 3 to 5 days long depending on the number of miles walked per day, are also available. Mickledore also offers a walk that encompasses the entire, 104-mile route and takes between 6 and 9 days to complete.
Regardless of which walk or walks you choose, an excursion along South Downs Way is a fulfilling and life-changing experience you will never forget.
The Best of Pembrokeshire – Wales
For a walking holiday that contains a bit of everything for nearly every kind of traveler, look no further than The Best of Pembrokeshire walking tour from Macs Adventure. Located in southwestern Wales, Pembrokeshire is a county that is known for its diverse geography, which includes several bays, sandy beaches, ancient woodlands, estuaries, quarries, hills, moorland, and farmlands.
Available only from April through October, the Best of Pembrokeshire walking tour is a seven day, eight night excursion through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park that allows walkers to enjoy some of the most scenic landscapes and birdwatching opportunities in all of Wales.
The tour begins in the popular beach village of Dale, roughly six hours from London and four hours from Cardiff. From there, participants will make stops in the village of Marloes, Skomer Island (which is home to thousands of marine birds such as puffins, razorbills, and kittiwakes as well as mammals like seals and dolphins), the beautiful village of Solva, St. David’s (the smallest city in Britain and the home of the historic St. David’s Cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century), and either Whitesands Bay or Ramsey Island, depending on the route you take.
Never fear, the route from Dale to your final destination is clearly marked with finger posts and acorn symbols, but it is strongly advised that participants be able to read a map and use a compass. It is also recommended that participants have a good level of walking fitness, as the walk is graded as moderate and contains some steep ascents and descents. Sections of the walk can be skipped, however, and rest days using the local tourist bus service are available. It is suggested that people wishing to participate in this walk, but aren’t currently engaged in an active lifestyle visit a good gym, draw up a training program with a personal trainer, or begin walking in hilly terrain regularly to prepare for the more challenging portions of the Best of Pembrokeshire walking tour.
Over the course of the week, walkers will stay at several different bed & breakfasts along the route. Included in the rate—$1,025 per person—is a daily, hearty breakfast, but lunch and dinner are not included and must therefore be sought out. Most of the accommodations along the route will be more than happy to supply a packed lunch, while dinner is available at the accommodations and local restaurants and pubs.
Those looking for a beautiful, well-organized coastal walk with dramatic natural scenery, terrific birdwatching, and excellent accommodations and food options, should look no further than Macs Adventure’s Best of Pembrokeshire walking tour. You won’t regret it!
Loch Ness Circular – Scotland
Perhaps the most famous lake in Great Britain, Loch Ness is a large and extremely deep freshwater lake, or loch, in the Scottish Highlands, with a surface area of 22 square miles and a maximum depth of 755 feet. Of course, this loch isn’t just famous because of its size; it’s also the reported home of the alleged Loch Ness Monster, a large, likely mythical serpent- or plesiosaur-like animal that has been occasionally sighted in the loch’s waters and along its banks since the sixth century A.D. But while the “monster” that makes this loch a source of fascination by many the world over may not be real, the Loch Ness Circular tour, provided by The Walking Holiday Company, very much exists.
The Loch Ness Circular is an easy, 81-mile-long walking holiday in the Great Glen area of the Scottish Highlands that can be completed within five to seven days. Beginning in Inverness, a city on Scotland’s northeast coast, the tour follows forest tracks and other paths and makes a complete circuit around the loch. Loch Ness Circular walkers will trek through several picturesque villages on their way around the large lake, including Dores, Inverfarigaig, Drumnadrochit, Fort Augustus, Invermoriston, and Foyers. Other points of interest that can be sighted from the tour include the ruins of Urquhart Castle, a former royal castle that overlooks the loch that was founded in the 13th century and played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence, and the tour’s last stop, Inverness Castle.
While there probably won’t be any monster sightings on this tour, there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to view much more common animals, including grouse, golden eagles, kites, goshawks, red deer, roe deer, otters, and red squirrels. Walkers interested in photography also have the opportunity to capture the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands, whose dramatic landscape creates striking light and shadows.
This unique trip around one of the world’s most fabled lakes offers something for just about everyone, making the Loch Ness Circular a walking tour that should not be missed.
Connemara Ramble – Ireland
The emerald isle of Ireland has long been steeped in myths and legends involving ghosts, fairies, and magic. After you experience the final walking holiday on our list, the Connemara Ramble, it won’t be hard to see why this lush and mysterious island has captured the imaginations of locals and travelers for millennia.
This sensational eight-day tour offered by Ramblers offers a wide variety of natural environments to explore, including forests, beaches, mountains, and more. History lovers will delight in the Connemara Ramble’s stops at ancient churches, abbeys, and forts that tell the story of this gorgeous area of the Irish coast.
The tour officially begins in the city of Galway, a harbor city that is also known as the City of the Tribes, before making its way through Brigit’s Gardens (a beautiful, award-winning botanical garden that takes visitors into the heart of Celtic mythology and heritage) on the way to Connemara. The excursion continues through mountains, rocky coastlines, beaches, archaeological sites, and around lakes over the next eight days and includes stops at notable locations such as Kylemore Abbey, Letterfrack National Park, the historical town of Westport (which was named the best place to live in Ireland in 2017), the small fishing village of Roundstone, and Gurteen Beach and Dog’s Bay, which are considered two of Ireland’s best beaches, while their surrounding area contain ecological, geological, and archaeological features of international importance. One of the last points of interest on the tour is Dún Aonghasa, a mysterious, prehistoric ring fort on the Aran Islands that is also an important archaeological site.
Led by Michelle Hughes, an International Mountain Leader who enjoys teaching and playing songs on her fiddle for her tour groups, the Connemara Ramble is the tour for you if you want to experience the very best of the wilds of Ireland. After your tour ends, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if this rich, green island seems even more magical and mysterious to you than it did before you started.
And there you have it! These are four of the best walking holiday tours money can buy in Britain and Ireland, but there are many more to choose from. Each one is unique in its own right and offers several opportunities nearly all travelers and explorers will enjoy. Find the walking holiday that’s right for you, make the adequate preparations for it, and then pack your bags to go on the expedition of a lifetime! Just don’t forget your quality outerwear, and you’re all set!