A primeval place shaped beneath ancient seas and eventually forced upward by geological shifts, the Burren is one of the world's finest and most extensive examples of a glacio-karst landscape. Stark, moody and riven by fissures, this carpet of rock is a surprisingly diverse place inhabited by varied wildlife, and the site of numerous archaeological structures and extensive cave systems.
Evidence suggests people have lived on the Burren since Paleolithic times. Ancient burial tombs, early Christian churches, medieval castles and quaint villages give the area its character. You can also add a reputation for fine food and some of the country's best traditional music to its list of charms.
UK & Ireland specialist Jasmine
While driving through the Burren, I always feel impelled to pull over to drink in its lunar-like landscape framed by a midnight-blue ocean. I also make time to visit one of the area’s many local artisans, from painters to perfume-makers.
Things to see and do in the Burren
The Burren’s karst landscape
The Burren's defining feature is its remarkable karst landscape, a blanket of tortured rock that covers a vast area of northwest County Clare. The exposed, windswept region looks all but featureless until you examine it more closely and discover its beauty is best revealed at close quarters, when the patterns in the rock and the vibrancy of its plants become apparent.
It’s one of the largest and most accessible karst landscapes in the world, the bare limestone marching over hills and down valleys in striated rows while its streams and small rivers drain into a series of underground caves.
One of the only places in the world where Mediterranean, alpine and Arctic wildflowers grow side by side, the Burren’s phenomenal diversity of plant life is thanks to its temperate climate and unusual conditions.
The cracks in the bed of limestone are filled with mineral-rich soils sheltered from the wind, allowing them to support a rare assortment of wildflowers. Feral goats roam the hills and a surprisingly diverse collection of butterflies, moths and bats survive off the plants and flowers here. Pine martens, foxes and stoats also thrive here, while dolphins, porpoises and otters live off the coast.
Despite its stark appearance, the Burren has a strong agricultural tradition, and artisan producers have mastered the challenging conditions. Award-winning chefs head the teams at many restaurants and champion local produce, with craft butchers supplying organic meats and local fishermen delivering fresh fish and seafood.
A whole host of small producers come together to form the Burren Food Trail. Several villages hold bustling farmers' markets, where you'll find local honey, smoked fish, farmhouse cheeses and locally made chocolate. There are also regular special events such as a slow food festival in May and a winterage food fare in October, as well as harvest banquets and the option to go on a foraging coastal walk.
The Burren was once covered in woodland, but as nomadic hunter-gatherers began to settle toward the end of the Stone Age they cleared the forests and over time the soil eroded to reveal the bare rock you see today. It was once a well populated area, however, and more than 2,500 historic sites define the landscape here.
Among them is the 5,000-year-old Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Bronze Age chamber tomb that would once have been covered in rock and soil. There are also almost 500 ring forts and a number of medieval castles, such as those near Kilfenora and Doolin.
Responsible travel and the Burren
The extremely fragile ecosystem of the Burren has led to it being protected as an Area of Special Conservation and a Global Geopark. Local businesses, conscious of the delicate balance of interests, promote ways for visitors to tour the area sensitively in an effort to protect the environment along with its rich heritage and traditional communities.
One of the best ways of learning about the Burren's unusual characteristics is to take a guided nature, history or wilderness walk with a local guide. These guides have a deep affinity with the landscape and can bring the Burren to life through their passion for and knowledge of this otherworldly place.
Cliffs of Moher
The towering Cliffs of Moher are a series of sheer cliffs that reach 200 m (656 ft) high and plunge dramatically into the Atlantic on the edge of the Burren, weaving around headlands into the distance.
An interpretive exhibition built into the nearby hillside has displays about the cliffs' formation and offers guided tours. For the most evocative experience walk toward Hag's Head for uninterrupted views far from the crowds.
The cliffs are home to huge colonies of nesting seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, peregrine falcons, razorbills and kittiwakes.
Suggested itineraries featuring the Burren
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in the Burren, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of the Burren
Places & hotels on the map
Places near the Burren
- Galway 29 kilometers away
- Limerick 46 kilometers away
- Inis Mór 47 kilometers away
- Connemara 87 kilometers away
- Killarney 112 kilometers away
- Kilkenny 125 kilometers away
- Cork 130 kilometers away
- Dingle Peninsula 130 kilometers away
- Kenmare 133 kilometers away
- Cobh 139 kilometers away
- Sligo 144 kilometers away
- Kinsale 150 kilometers away
- Waterford 153 kilometers away
- Enniskillen 174 kilometers away
- Newgrange and the Boyne Valley 184 kilometers away
- Dublin 185 kilometers away
- County Wexford 188 kilometers away
- County Donegal 192 kilometers away
- Northern Ireland 242 kilometers away
- Derry/Londonderry 247 kilometers away
- Belfast 268 kilometers away
- Giant’s Causeway 297 kilometers away
Photos of the Burren
Ideas for experiencing the Burren
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting the Burren, and which use the best local guides.