Exploring the Burren

Poulnabrone Dolmen, photo by Martin Abegglen on Flickr

Take a quick look at the Burren, and you’ll see a limitless expanse off otherworldly scenery that might as well be a picture of some faraway planet. The Burren is not only one of the most unusual and magnetic places in Ireland, but also one of the most striking landscapes on the planet. This natural karst sheet is one of the largest of its kind in Europe – 250 square kilometers of uninterrupted rocky expanse that seems hostile to any form of life. The Burren is surprisingly rich in vegetation if you look between the cracks, and it has deep significance in Irish culture. Exploring the Burren is one of the kind of travel experiences that you will likely never forget.

About the Burren

photo by IrishFireside on Flickr

Although it may seem inhospitable and bleak, the Burren is nothing like that. Oliver Cromwell might have said that the Burren is a place where there isn’t even a tree to hang a man, enough soil to bury a man or water to drown a man, but that is just as well – the Burren is a place of peace and contemplation, not violence. A surprising number of plants have carved out a place for themselves between the rocks, and may are species thrive in the grykes (crevices). The Burren is also significant from historical point of view, as some of the oldest monuments and tombs in Ireland were found here, as well as dolmens and ring forts.

Attractions

photo by Pat Guiney

Many visitors simply drive through the Burren on the R480 road, but it is worth your time to stop and admire the more notable attractions, or better yet, to leave the road and take an exploratory walk on the karst sheet far from the noise of the passing cars. One of the most famous landmarks in the Burren is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the ‘hole of sorrows’, a portal-like monument dating back to the Neolithic. Caherconnell Stone Fort, not far from the dolmen, is an amazingly well-preserved ring fort of Celtic origins.

Towns

Doolin, photo by NealeA on Flickr

Not all of the Burren is made up of limestone pavements, and in some parts of the area it was possible to human settlements to spring up. The few towns and villages in the Burren are friendly, quaint places where you can stop for a pint and some shepherd’s pie. Ballyvaughan has a picturesque harbor, Kilfenora has some rather beautiful cathedral ruins, while Doolin and Lisdoonvarna are quite famous – Doolin for being the traditional music capital of Ireland, while Lisdoonvarna for its yearly Matchmaking Festival.

The Cliffs of Moher

While the Cliffs look a lot greener than the Burren in general, they are part of the Burren National Park and most people who visit the Burren also stop by. The cliffs are a tourist attraction in their own right, and they can justly claim to be the most beautiful cliffs in Ireland.

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