10 cool campsites
Pol O'Conghaile picks his favourite spots to pitch your tent this summer.
Garrettstown House, Co Cork
Visitors are normally turfed out of old country estates by 6pm, so it comes as a surprise to learn you can actually camp alongside Garrettstown House in Co Cork, pictured above.
Not only that, but a children's club and family disco are housed in the buildings around the cobbled yard (we love the sound of a reading room in the old Orangery).
The 18th-century pile is in ruins, but a playground and crazy-golf course have been added, and Garrettstown beach is half a mile away.
Details: Garrettstown House (021 477 8156; garrettstown house.com) has a unit plus two adults and two children from €26 per night. Electricity is free.
The Apple Caravan & Camping Park, Co Tipperary
You'll see why this camping site stands out the moment you arrive, when you are handed a free bottle of the owners' award-winning apple juice.
The family-run park is set on a fruit farm and 35-acre orchard, and visitors can stroll through the groves, then make apple and strawberry juices or pick through the plum jam, cider vinegar, mixed juices and apple jelly at the farm shop. They've even set the guests' kitchen in a converted apple store. It's like camping in a Bulmer's ad.
Details: The Apple Caravan and Camping Park (052 744 1459; theapplefarm.com) has an all-in price of €6.50 per adult and €4.50 per child per night, with electricity at €2.50.
Willowbrook, Co Roscommon
Tai Chi by your tent? You can have this and more at Willowbrook, a secluded camping and caravan retreat in the Lung Valley near Ballaghaderreen.
The park offers fishing, archery and Tai Chi at an extra cost to guests on site -- activities which combine perfectly with the quiet, natural landscape to lift you right out of the rat race. Willowbrook is also a handy base for Carrowkeel, for walking in the Ox Mountains or for sightseeing around the Shannon, Sligo and Leitrim.
Details: Willowbrook Caravan & Camping Park (094 986 1307; willowbrookpark.com) has a unit plus two adults and two children from €24 per night. Electricity costs €4.50 per night.
Knock Caravan & Camping Park, Co Mayo
One of Knock's lesser-known revelations is the fact that it hosts a caravan and camping park a short stroll from the famous Marian Shrine. One-and-a-half million people visit Knock every year, and it figures that some will need an affordable place to stay (as well as tents and caravan pitches, the three-star park offers mobile home and bungalow rental).
Fishing, golf and riding are all close to hand, and the site stays open through pilgrimage season to the end of October.
Details: Knock Camping & Caravan Park (094 938 8100; knock-shrine.ie) has a unit plus two adults and two children from €22 per night, with electricity at €3.50 per night.
Dundonald Touring Caravan Park, Belfast
You want activities with your camping? Dundonald's camping and caravan park sits right alongside the International Bowl. That places you alongside an Olympic-sized ice rink, ten-pin bowling centre, an adventure playworld and a chocolate-making workshop. That's not all: an eight-screen cinema and adventure golf course are both nearby, as is a choice of restaurants.
The park has 22 spaces for caravans, 30 for tents, and is located just five miles outside Belfast.
Details: Dundonald Caravan Park (0044 028 9080 9101; theice bowl.com) charges from £14 (€16.50) per night for tents and £22 (€26) per night for caravans. Electricity included.
Woodlands, Tralee, Co Kerry
Looking for an affordable holiday with adrenaline on the side? Woodlands Camping & Caravan Park is situated right next door to the Aquadome in Tralee -- with all the water slides, kids' pools and bubbling tubs that entails.
The 100-pitch site itself is in a quiet parkland setting, a 10-minute walk from the town centre. The site stands next door to Aqua Golf, an 18-hole themed mini-golf course.
Details: Woodlands Park (066 712 1235; kingdomcamping.com) has a unit plus two adults and two children from €24 per night. Electricity costs €3 per night. A seven-night deal, including camping for a family of six and unlimited access to the Aqua Dome and Aqua Golf, is available at €390.
Hidden Valley, Co Wicklow
If you like your camping with a dose of adventure, Hidden Valley has the perfect pitch for you. Located in Rathdrum, the camping and caravan park has teamed up with Wicklow Adventures to offer guests cycling tours in the Sally Gap and kayaking on the Avonmore River. You can also hire kayaks, boats and bicycles to go at your own pace, or just kick back and do nothing on sites overlooking the water.
Campfires are permitted along the river, and the valley is awash with wildlife.
Details: Hidden Valley Holiday Park (086 727 2872; ireland holidaypark.com) has a unit plus two adults and two children from €30 per night. Kayaking and cycling tours start at €35pp.
Lough Key, Co Roscommon
Imagine Avatar, only at one-zillionth of the budget. Lough Key Forest and Activity Park not only offers camping and caravan facilities but also a tree canopy walk, a play kingdom, walking trails, an observation tower and a network of old servants' tunnels to explore.
Set on the grounds of the old Rockingham Estate outside Boyle, the 350-hectare park is a super-sized playground, and also home to Ireland's only Boda Borg (a Swedish concept akin to the Crystal Maze). We defy you to get bored.
Details: Lough Key (071 966 2212; loughkey.ie) prices range from €12 for a small tent to €22 for a family tent or caravan per night. Electricity costs €3 per night.
Glen of Aherlow Camping Park, Co Tipperary
If it's a walking holiday you're after, there's no better place to shore up for the weekend than the delicious Glen of Aherlow.
Set between the Galtee Mountains and Slievenamuck, the Glen is braided with woodland walks and this four-star facility is situated right next to the Nature Park itself.
When you're done conquering the corrie lakes, nip over to nearby Ballyhoura, where you can unleash your inner beast on a 98km network of mountain bike trails.
Details: The Glen of Aherlow Caravan & Camping Park (062 56555; tipperarycamping.com) has units from €10 per night, with adults an additional €6, children €5 and electricity €4 per night.
Bayview, Co Waterford
Owned and managed by the GoldCoast Golf Club in Dungarvan, Bayview Caravan and Camping Park brings new meaning to the phrase 'added value'.
Guests can use the 18-hole golf course and the leisure centre in the GoldCoast Golf Hotel, as well as adjacent ten-pin bowling and children's indoor activity centre -- for a 50pc discount.
The 32-pitch park directly overlooks Dungarvan Bay.
Details: Bayview Caravan and Camping Park (058 45050; bayviewcaravancamping. com) has a unit plus two adults and two children from €26 per night.
Electricity costs €4 per night.