Planning to visit Dublin? Here's how (and why) to day trip out to Howth Harbor

Sometimes you need a break from the city - even a beautiful, small city like Dublin. The small fishing harbor of Howth is bustling on the weekends, tranquil on weekday afternoons, and the easiest day trip you will find from central Dublin.

By: Jenna Mulligan + Save to a List

Trinity College is at the heart and center of Dublin, and as a student there, I was lucky enough to live in a building of flats that skirted the edge of campus. Our building was called Goldsmith, and despite its cold brick interior and over-zealous security guards, it had an open courtyard and an irreplaceable proximity to the things the began to define my life in Dublin.

The building was flanked by several great neighbors. The first (and truly least visited) was the gym and it’s beautiful climbing wall that inspired me to join the university’s climbing club, momentarily forgetful of my lack of both arm strength and climbing gear. The second (and truly most visited) was Gingerman’s Pub down the block, which concealed the walls and ceilings by hanging the tackiest Christmas decorations come early November, but still poured a great pint.

But the best neighbor was our next door neighbor: the DART station. The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) connects the school with a series of harbor towns that line the Dublin Bay, and it was my escape from the city, taking a matter of minutes and less than 10 euros to return myself to fresh air, open space, and silence.  I found myself headed on this train to Howth time and time again – when classes were cancelled in the afternoon, when I needed to write a report without the distraction of flatmates, when visitors came to town. It became my home away from home (away from home).

Howth Peninsula is about 15 km northeast of the city, famously immortalized as James Joyce’s backdrop of the proposal between Leopold and Molly Bloom in Ulysses. Geographically, this peninsula has been populated in some form since the Norse invaders stepped onto the eastern shores of Ireland in the first century. These days, it is considered a suburb of Dublin, populated by just over 8,000 residents who live among the fishing boats and coastal cliffs.

Here are some pieces of Howth I hope you don’t miss:

  • My favorite part of Howth was the Howth Cliff Path loop, an easy trail on the outskirts of town leading to a picturesque lighthouse on the peninsula.
  • Howth Market is open on weekends and bank holidays, and is a small farmer’s market with a collection of characters selling produce and sausages and homemade jewelry and jams. On a sunny day, don’t deny yourself of a 99, which is a traditional Irish ice cream cone made of creamy vanilla soft serve and garnished with chocolate shavings.

  • Ireland’s Eye is the small island that sits a short distance out in the water from the harbor walls and lighthouse. When flying into Dublin, this is the first spit of land you can see as you cross below the clouds, and the Eye is the signal to many that they are about to be home. You can pay the inflated prices to catch a ride out to the island for a few hours, where people scamper over the deserted rocks and picnic beside the ruins of an 8th century church, of which a circular Martello tower still remains intact. I never paid the price to do so, but I do know that you can haggle with the boat captains a bit to find a fair price, and an afternoon alone on a windblown island is the perfect setting to spark your imagination.
  • Stop into Beshoff Bros for an order of fish and chips for lunch.  The cod is fresh and lemony and the chips are greasy as can be. Walk out along the west pier or main pier and you’ll notice how many others are picnic dining with the same to-go boxes. You won’t regret extra napkins.
  • My brother and I once spent a rainy afternoon in Fisherman’s on Harbour Road, saddled up to the bar in a line of local fishermen (true to name) listening to old Beatles albums. This pub, along with many others in Ireland, values regulars over tourists – the bartender’s accent was thick as he asked what we’d have and exchanged jokes with his unruly pub patrons.

  • On the east end of Harbour Road, Balscadden Road turns south up a hill and then leads further out the peninsula.  Balscadden Bay Beach is near the base of this hill, through a wrought iron gate on the left side of the road and down a steep cement staircase. The beach is rocky and, in my experience, almost always deserted with the exception of a teenage couple smooching or a brave soul taking a dip in the icy water.

  • Further up Balscadden is William Butler Yeats’ childhood home, whitewashed and blue-doored. The Cliff Stop café is a great spot for a coffee or a snack before you reach the Cliff Path parking lot, and I discovered one blissfully hot day that they have popsicles. You’re welcome.

And that’s all it took for Howth to be pretty perfect to me – a quiet, often blustery perfection. Take a stroll around the harbor, grab a bite for lunch, hike out along the cliffs, and grab a pint before stepping onto the DART and riding back into the city. Leo and Molly would approve.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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