Dublin’s best day trip may entail just a quick ride out to Howth, a quaint fishing village on the northern fringes of Dublin Bay. Howth has lighthouses, a castle, an old abbey, and some great hiking trails.
Howth is the last stop on the DART line (Dublin Area Rapid Transit system) linking the city center with the coastline. It makes sense, then, that it's a favorite spot for Dubliners who need to get out of "the big smoke," as Dublin is called, and breathe some fresh sea air.
The town, nestled around the harbor with two long piers, will not disappoint you. Howth offers natural beauty along with Irish history, some good food, and a plethora of pubs. If you have at least half a day to spare when visiting Dublin, Howth would make for a great day trip.
Directions for Drivers
Howth can be reached by following the road from Connolly Station (Amiens Street) and the Five Lamps, past Bull Island and into Sutton. At the Sutton crossroads, the direct route and the longer scenic route are marked by signs—the first will take you straight to Howth Harbour, the second will take you there via a longer drive crossing Howth Summit. There is some parking at the Summit and at Howth Harbour. Spaces might be in short supply everywhere on weekends. (Map)
Public Transport to Howth
Unless it is a very sunny day, always take some rain gear and a pullover with you. The winds from the sea can be cold and wet. Avoid the East Pier and the Howth Cliff Path Loop trail in stormy and very wet conditions.
Things to See and Do in Howth
Howth is known for being a charming seaside town with welcoming residents and interesting historical sites.
Baily Lighthouse, the last lighthouse in Ireland to be automated, is located in a stunning location on the southeastern part of Howth Head on Dublin Bay. Built in 1814, Baily is one of Ireland's most photographed lighthouses on the eastern coastline. The first lighthouse on this site was built in about 1667 by Sir Robert Reading. While you can't drive to the lighthouse, in good weather it's a beautiful walk along the cliffs to get a bit closer.
Howth Castle is not on the main tourist maps because the castle, originally opened in 1235, is still a private residence and generally not open to the public. On the other hand, Howth Castle has observed an "open door policy" for centuries. So you can head up the drive and look at the outside, which has sections representing many eras of reconstruction. In spring, the castle gardens are full of colorful rhododendrons. To get there, follow the signs for the Deer Park Hotel.
Howth Cliff Path Loop is a hiking path which provides an opportunity for some fairly safe cliff walking above Dublin Bay. It's a good walk of around two hours on marked trails in fairly good condition. The most convenient starting point is at the train station in Howth. From there you simply follow the green arrows on the posted markers. Take note that there are four loops that start at the station.
Howth Harbour Lighthouse guards the opening to the harbor. Not only was it a lighthouse, it also had a strong circular wall, enclosing a gun position. As you look around the area you'll see several defensive fortresses from the same era, the Martello towers.The lighthouse served as an aid to navigation until 1982, when a smaller, more modern light was built.
Howth Summit is one of Dublin’s favorite viewing spots. When visiting Howth, make the detour to the summit and take in the view and have a meal at the Summit Inn, a 19th-century pub serving local seafood. There is a parking lot and you can access the trail for cliff-walking.
King Sitric's Restaurant, right on the harbor, is known for fresh seafood brought in daily at the Howth pier. The adjacent B&B is a great place to spend the night and listen to the waves lapping up against the shore.
The National Transport Museum at Howth Castle showcases a collection of antique vehicles, many with a Dublin connection. This is Ireland's only comprehensive collection of service and commercial road vehicles. The collection includes rare and unique vehicles including original trucks of the Dublin Fire Brigade.
Saint Mary's Abbey originally served as a Viking holy place. Often simply called "Howth Abbey," the buildings are situated halfway up the hill in the center of town. You can access the abbey by walking up Abbey Street. When you get to Abbey Tavern look on the right and you'll find a narrow alleyway of stone steps leading further uphill. At the top of the steps turn right. The gate to Saint Mary's Abbey should be easy to find. There is a great view from this hill as well as grave sites and abbey walls to photograph.
Planning for Your Visit to Howth
Howth can be a pleasant stop on a driving tour of the area or a multi-day getaway with a stay at the B&B at King Sitric's. At the absolute minimum, plan for an hour if you just want a bracing walk down the pier, two hours if you want to add some fish and chips to that, and half a day for the cliff walk. Set aside a full day if you want to explore some of the attractions of Howth.
Summer weekends, Howth can get crowded and so even finding convenient parking will take up some of your time. Weekdays are generally quieter. If you don't like crowds, avoid bank holidays between noon and six in the evening, as Howth will be full of visitors.
This lovely seaside town can be enjoyed in any weather by wearing the right clothes. Bring layers, as the wind from Dublin Bay can be quite cold even on sunny days, and rain driven horizontally by the wind will soak a light jacket in no time. You'll want to do indoor things and have a nice meal in a cozy pub when the weather is stormy. Nice weather is time to get out and do some hiking so bring your walking gear.