10.3 miles, Half day
The Howth peninsula forms the northern tip of Dublin Bay and has long been a popular destination for daytrippers keen to explore its fishing village, its hills and sea cliffs. Despite its proximity to Dublin city, it largely retains a wild, remote feel on account of its relative isolation from the rest of the mainland. This guide explores the harbour area around Howth Village before rambling along the clifftop path around the peninsula, returning over the central hills and via the grounds of Howth Castle.
The geology of the peninsula is predominantly quartzite and with rocks dating from the Cambrian period, approximately 550 million years ago, making them among the oldest rocks in Ireland. Evidence of human habitation on the peninsula dates back to at least 3,500 BC. Howth is depicted in a 2nd century map of Ireland by the Alexandrian scholar, Ptolemy, as a small island named Edri Deserta, or Edar's Desert. This suggests that the Sutton Isthmus, which connects Howth to the mainland, only formed in the last 1,900 years. The name Howth originates in the Norse word, Hofuth, meaning headland, and dates from the time of the Viking settlement of the Dublin area. The Irish name for Howth, Binn Éadair, may mean Hill of Edar, referring to one of the Tuatha Dé Dannan tribe, believed to be buried on the Ben of Howth, or it may be a corruption of Ben na Dair, meaning Hill of the Oaks.
The Vikings arrived in 819 AD and established Howth as an important seaport. Following their defeat at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, many of the survivors fled to Howth, where they were left to settle in peace. A number of surnames common to the Howth area, such as Harford, Thunder, Rickard and Waldron, are of Norse origin. The Norsemen remained at Howth until the Norman invasion of Ireland when they were defeated by the Norman knight Almeric Tristram on St Laurence's Day, 10 August 1177. Tristram took the surname St Laurence in honour of his victory and established his estate at Howth Castle. The castle has remained in the ownership of the St Laurence family ever since, although the unbroken line of male succession came to an end in 1909.
Isolated from the rest of Dublin, Howth existed as a sleepy fishing village for most of its history until the early 19th century when it was selected to serve as the port for the mail packet ship service to Britain. The harbour at Howth was opened in 1818 but suffered from problems with silting and the packet ship relocated to Dun Laoghaire in 1834. The harbour remains home to a substantial fishing fleet and the village is now a smart suburb of Dublin thanks to the DART railway service. The village and the cliff path draws many tourists throughout the year.
The cliff path is rather exposed in certain sections and it is not recommended during stormy weather. You should always bring a waterproof and windproof jacket given the changeable nature of the Irish weather. The terrain varies from paved paths to rough tracks, with the southern section of the cliff path particularly uneven. Nevertheless, flat trail shoes with good grip should suffice.
The best way to get to Howth is via the DART. Car parking is available at the harbour but spaces may be at a premium, especially on fine weekends.
There are numerous options for refreshments in Howth village.