Like Rio, Sydney and Cape Town, Dublin boasts an amazing location geographically for anyone that likes to combine urban pleasures with outdoor adventure. While the city’s metropolitan heart beats a buzzing hipster rhythm, part of its soul is found in the natural treasures that frame the metropolis. To the south, the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains provide rugged landscapes and wilderness, while the glittering expanse of Dublin Bay offers vast open skies and great lungfuls of fresh air. Rising in those hills and flowing to that sea, the River Liffey pulls it all together. Here are our fab four must-dos.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to spot an overlooked treasure – and that’s exactly what happened when Frenchman Francois Colussi trundled across the famous wooden bridge to Bull Island on Dublin’s northside and discovered Dollymount Strand.
“Usually near a city, the beach quality is not good. It’s crowded, it’s too small, there are too many buildings near or it’s polluted. But when I saw Dollymount, it was like a revelation. It’s a huge beach. It takes loads of different winds and it has shallow waters. That’s all you need for a great kitesurfing spot,” he states.
Known affectionately by locals as ‘The Dollier’, this strip of golden sand, backed by dunes and wild marram grass, is approximately 30 minutes from the city centre by car or bus. Jutting 5km into the Irish Sea, it boasts views of Howth Head and the mountains, and has a bird sanctuary at its more remote end. Colussi had travelled the world kitesurfing and knew instantly that this beach – both suburban and wild – was the perfect place for his kitesurfing school, Pure Magic, which he runs with Catherine Etienne.
The school caters for everyone from beginners to experts, with regular lessons running from March to November. Out of season, arrangements can be made for those willing to deal with colder weather.
For anyone unfamiliar with kitesurfing, it involves attaching yourself to a kite and skimming at high speed across a body of water on a board. Enthusiasts also catch big airs and perform spectacular stunts as they harness gusts of wind. If you like your outdoor adventure served with a healthy dose of adrenalin, then it’s hard to beat the thrill of this one.
When you stand on central Dublin's O’Connell Bridge and watch the Liffey slowly making its way to the sea through the city, you’d never guess that this river could be the key to your next adrenalin adventure.
Just upstream, the capital’s river has an utterly different personality. Welcome to Strawberry Beds. If the name sounds idyllic, that’s because it is. The area once supplied strawberries to Dublin and was also the destination for many Dublin day-trippers and holidaymakers. In fact, it was the destination of one of Thomas Cook's first tourist offerings in Ireland!
These days, you won’t find any fruit growing, but you will find a watery inner-city wilderness. Mother Nature runs riot with abundant birdlife and mature trees gracefully draping branches into the water. In spring and summer, green saturates the colour palette while in autumn it’s all russets and golden browns. Keep your eyes peeled and you might just see the electric blue of a kingfisher flash by on the wing or an otter gliding through the water.
But don’t go getting too mellow on us now. You’re here for adventure remember?!
The other thing that this stretch of the river is famous for is white water, and lots of it. That’s thanks to a collection of weirs once built to power everything from flourmills to the Guinness Estate.
The folk at Rafting.ie are ready to take you bouncing and bumping down weirs like Lucan, Anna Liffey, Wren's Nest and Palmerstown on a riotous white-water trip. Suitable for water-confident folk from aged eight and up, you can expect to be on the water for about 2.5 hours but the memories will last a lifetime.
Splashing through puddles on two wheels, darting through dusky trees, bouncing across rocks and roots and flying along thin little trails ... this is the thrill of mountain biking. Sure you’ll wind up with mud splattered across your face but there’ll probably be a big grin plastered there too. And better still, you can have a go less than an hour from Dublin on the purpose-built cross-country trails at Ticknock, Co Dublin and Ballinastoe, Co Wicklow.
These trails offer plenty to entertain both lycra-clad hardened riders and novices alike. Lung-busting forest road climbs lead you up the mountain before you turn off onto tight twisty singletrack where the joys of downhill momentum are combined with loads of ups and downs, tight turns and technical rocky bits.
Incidentally, singletrack is the term given to a narrow trail that is approximately the width of the bike and it’s what mountain bikers seek out all over the world. Devotees will tell you that one experience can lead to lifetime addiction.
But the appeal of mountain biking isn’t just speed and adrenalin highs. Stopping for a well-earned breather can be just as much part of the attraction. This is a chance to appreciate fresh pine-scented air and listen to the sound of the breeze playing in the trees like waves hissing on the shore of a beach. Stay still and quiet for long enough and a rabbit or some deer will often appear out of the trees.
If you’d like to give it a go, local company Biking.ie is a great choice. Run by renowned Irish cyclists Niall Davis and Tarja Owens, you’ll be in the hands of riders that between then have 13 Irish mountain bike championships. Both are fully qualified mountain bike guides and offer beginner and intermediate lessons, a guiding service and excellent rental bikes.
Open-top bus tours are all well and good for touring Dublin but what about powerboating down its main waterway, the Liffey, on board a 6.5m RIB powered by twin 60 horsepower outboard engines?
This high-octane adventure is the brainchild of Donnchadh Mac Cobb of Adventure Training Ireland, which is based beside the Jeannie Johnston Tall Ship and Famine Museum on Custom House Quay. “This is a truly special powerboat trip because you actually get to drive the boat. And we keep the ratios really low so you get loads of time behind the wheel,” states Mac Cobb.
First up on the two-hour trip, which is suitable for ages 16 and up, you’ll get to explore the city centre, travelling under O’Connell Bridge, the under-construction Rosie Hackett Bridge and maybe even the Ha'penny Bridge, picking up tidbits of history along the way.
Once you’ve got to grips with your powerboat, it’s out through Dublin’s working port and its massive ships and cranes, into the wide expanse of Dublin Bay to really feel the wind in your hair. Depending on weather conditions, you’ll head out to picturesque Dun Laoghaire, with its piers and colourful sailing boats or toward the seaside suburbs of Clontarf and Sutton, saying hello to seals, cormorants and seagulls as you cruise at speeds of up to 25 knots per hour. Hold onto your hat!