The Burren--Boireann, meaning "great rock", in Irish--crashes through the rolling greens of Ireland's County Clare with about 95 square miles of karst landscape and stony cliffs dropping dramatically into the North Atlantic Ocean on the west and Galway Bay on the north. The villages of Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora, and Lisdoonvarna corral the Burren's limestone-covered pavements, which are particularly striking for their criss-crossing cracks ("grikes") and large isolated rocks ("clints"). Also unique to the region: low-growth plants; old stone ruins; and 350-million-year-old fossils.
Go to the Burren If You're Looking for...
Landscapes out of the ordinary, outdoor activities for people of all fitness levels, and traditional Irish music, culture, and language. The Burren is also a terrific solo endeavor. Its combined magnitude and quietude make it an ideal locale for self-reflection.
- Hiking. The Burren, like much of the rest of Ireland, lolls and tumbles. Hiking through the area can consume half a day, but the terrain is predominantly flat and, despite the limestone-y acreage, easy to navigate. The view remains relatively consistent--panoramic pavements, cliffs, crashing ocean waters--but consistently breathtaking ain't bad, and, if you go in the spring, a spectrum of blooming flowers will alight your path. Check out May's Burren in Bloom Festival for a true floral adventure.
- Rock Climbing. Those cliffs that plummet straight into the ocean? Down--and up--you go. The Burren doesn't mess around. Gear, experience, and a belayer are a must. Or you could take lessons.
- Irish Trad Music. The Burren and its surrounding villages are part of Ireland's Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking region. Committed to preserving the country's traditional language and culture, Gaeltacht towns also tend to have a delightful Irish music, or Trad, scene. About 20 miles southeast of the Burren is the town of Doolin, world-renowned for its yearly music festival, the Russell Memorial Weekend. Held since 1995 in honor of Micho Russell, a famous Trad musician who died in 1994, the festival takes place the last full weekend in February.
- The Cliffs of Moher. Though not part of the Burren, this international tourist attraction is close enough that most tour companies will lump them together in your day on the sightseeing bus o' fun. While geologically magnificent, the Cliffs can get a bit crowded and herd-of-cattle-ish. If you dare drive on "the other side" of the road, we'd recommend renting a car and traveling the hour-plus south to Kilkee, which also has beauteous cliffs, a quaint town, and a fraction of the crowds.
Best Time to Go to the Burren
If you're looking for blooms, May to mid-June. If you're looking for hot, dry, non-dreary weather...consider going somewhere else. Though summers on Ireland's western coast are almost universally nicer than winters there, it is not a destination one seeks out for its weather. Sunny summer days are glorious, but never guaranteed.
- The Burren National Park: http://www.burrennationalpark.ie/
- Burren Walking Tours: http://www.burrenwalks.com/toursonoffer.htm
- Rock Climbing in the Burren: http://www.burrenoec.com/rock-climbing-in-co-clare.html
- Burren Rock Climbing Lessons: http://www.bensrockclimbingclinic.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14&Itemid=31
- Burren in Bloom Festival: http://www.burreninbloom.com/
- Cliffs of Moher: http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/
- Doolin Music Festival: http://www.michorussellweekend.ie/