Friday 18 October 2019

20 Cool Campsites in Ireland: How to camp like a champ this summer

Nothing says summer like a freshly pitched tent. Thomas Breathnach has our ultimate guide to camping in Ireland…

'Rugged Connemara diamond': Clifden camping
'Rugged Connemara diamond': Clifden camping
Pure Camping, Loop Head, Co. Clare
Hidden Valley
Tree climbing at Rock Farm, Slane
Clissman Caravans in Co. Wicklow
Blackstairs
Glamping in Killarney
The beach at Anchor Caravan Park, Co Kerry
Camping
The Apple Farm - camping in Tipperary
Glamping Under the Stars
Killarney Glamping
Lazy Days Campers in Connemara
Morriscastle Strand
Wildflower Glamping
Animal Wood Park at Castlewellan. Photo: Tourism NI
Glamping at Legan Castle
Treetop adventures at Jungle NI. Photo: Tourism NI
Lough Mardal
Teapot Lane

Thomas Breathnach

We Irish have camping in our blood.

A whole generation of people like me were raised on holidaying at home, on annual family escapes and adventures to campsites from West Cork to Wexford and beyond.

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Sure, some rainy-season sojourns had flavours of a Father Ted getaway, but there was always an innocent adventure behind the camping holiday: setting up an awning, exploring a jingly new mobile home or sighting the arrival of an exotic French family in some roof-racked Renault.

Over the years, things changed. Budget airlines, affordable overseas travel and, let's be honest, notions saw domestic camping become a tougher pitch. Irish consumers were seeking more exciting alternatives, and the humble camping and caravan park didn't always provide it.

Well, now they do. Across the island, a fresh wave of exciting camping options is emerging: from glamping for romantic getaways to havens for nature lovers and old-time favourites for nostalgia-hunters.

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Glamping at Legan Castle

"We've already had a bumper Easter," says Irish Caravan & Camping Council CEO Con Quill, who adds that Irish campsites are gearing up for a record year. "Some campsites have recorded their busiest season yet."

Sales of caravans, motorhomes and tents are up, and Fáilte Ireland says caravans and campsites saw the largest share of domestic visitors of any accommodation sector in 2018 - rising from 52pc in 2017 to 60pc last year.

The appeal is clear. Camping getaways offer an affordable and green getaway. Encouraged by last year's sweltering summer, people are confident to take a punt - and as today's travel special proves, there have never been more places to take it. In truth, nothing makes you feel more at one with Ireland than unzipping your tent on a dewy summer's morning.

Your best holiday could lie right ahead… here's how to find the right pitch.

Best for families

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Hidden Valley

1. Hidden Valley, Co Wicklow

There's an art to balancing pin-drop serenity with family-friendly fun, and Hidden Valley has it mastered. The beech-blotted park in Rathdrum was voted Ireland's Favourite Small Stay in our Reader Travel Awards 2019, and not only serves as a patchwork for camping, caravans and cabin accommodations, but for memory-packed pursuits like kayaking, laser tag and in-house cinema nights. A Splash Valley Aqua Centre is a thrilling new addition - think water theme park meets a challenge from Ireland's Fittest Family.

Bonus Point: As one of the closest campsites to Wicklow National Park, Hidden Valley is the perfect springboard to discover some of Ireland's wildest landscapes.

Details: irelandholidaypark.com; 086 727 2872; from €16pp or €36 per family.

More: Value in the Valley: Inside the campsite you voted Ireland's Favourite Small Stay

2. The Apple Farm, Co Tipperary

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The Apple Farm - camping in Tipperary

Want to be a wise apple? Consider a camping holiday in Ireland's secret orchard country. Located on a working farm in the heart of the Munster Vales, The Apple Farm is one of the country's unsung camping settings. Pitches here sit amid a vast acreage of pear, plum and apple orchards, adding such gloriously continental feels, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in the Loire Valley. They also organise local foodie activities, from orchard walks to granola-making.

Bonus Point: Small touches make the difference... guests are welcomed with a bottle of The Apple Farm's award-winning juice (just bring bubbles for morning cider bellinis).

Details: theapplefarm.com; 052 744 1459; from €7.50pp or €25 per family, per night.

3. Jungle NI, Co Derry

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Treetop adventures at Jungle NI. Photo: Tourism NI

Welcome to the jungle! This giant park in Co Derry draws families to its grassy knolls with activities ranging from zorbing and llama-trekking to a kids' Gruffalo trail and its own forest school. There are cosy touches, too. Finnish-inspired BBQ huts are available to rent, making a great setting for some evening family bonding.

Bonus Point: If you're just passing through, the park also offers open family-fun days where you can pay as you go for on-site activities.

Details: thejungleni.com; 0044 28 8674 8881; from €8pp or or €36 per family, per night.

4. Morriscastle Strand, Co Wexford

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Morriscastle Strand

Long before the Wild Atlantic Way, there was Ireland's original destination brand: the Sunny South East. So it's little surprise that Wexford's beloved shores remain home to one of Ireland's original campsites, Morriscastle Strand Holiday Park. Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, the caravan park has perfected all the classic kids-and-adults amenities, from tennis courts for Wimbledon season to neat clubhouse services; from Pilates classes to a charity bookshop in case you forget your Kindle. The setting of a sandcastle heaven is the main sell, though, where early birds can soak up Ireland's most spectacular sunrises.

Bonus Point: Fancy taking your 99 to the next level? The campsite features its own on-site ice-cream parlour where you can order the infamously creamy-crispy Tayto Swirl.

Details: morriscastlestrand.com; 053 913 0124; from €8pp or €25 per family, per night.

5. Castlewellan Forest Park, Co Down

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Animal Wood Park at Castlewellan. Photo: Tourism NI

One of Northern Ireland's most popular summer hubs is Castlewellan Forest Park, a stunning historic demesne set in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains. The park's caravan site is an idyllic spot for touring and camping, with a slew of fun activities from orienteering and fishing to unearthing some nearby Game of Thrones locations.

Bonus Point: The park's Peace Maze consists of two miles of labyrinthine hedges - great for kids.

Details: castlewellancastle.org; 0044 28 4377 8733; from €18 for up to four people (e.g. a couple or family of four).

Best for couples

6. Wildflower Glamping, Co Cavan

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Wildflower Glamping

Love character? There's a campsite in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands which offers it in bohemian bucketloads. Wildflower Glamping, a bucolic haven outside Cavan town, offers a quirky mix of imaginative glamping habitats, all divided by blooming foxgloves and buttercup-crowded pastures. Among them, there's Dotty the vintage caravan, a daisy yurt, and the delightfully trippy hobbit hut. The site is both couple- and group-friendly, with packages available for hen parties looking for a free-range getaway.

Bonus Point: The park is located just outside Killykeen Forest Park, an outdoorsy haven for hiking and kayaking.

Details: wildflowerglamping.ie; 087 257 7718; from €50pps

7. Killarney Glamping, Co Kerry

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Killarney Glamping

Nestled on the banks of the scenic River Flesk, Killarney Glamping offers campers swathes of protected Kerry habitat all within strolling distance of Main Street, Killarney. With its couples-only policy, visiting romantics can enjoy peace, tranquillity (and Prosecco, if you upgrade) in all-weather luxury tents, each kitted out with their own outdoor kitchen-cum-BBQ. Come evening, the secluded dark-skies location makes stargazing possible, while electric blankets and a gas stove allow guests to adjust the ambience from open-air to toasty.

Bonus Point: The park has just launched new, self-contained cabins for those still wishing to enjoy the great outdoors - just with a little more 'indoors'.

Details: killarneyglamping.com; 087 975 0110; from €40pps

More: Kerry like a local - 50 things to do in the Kingdom

8. Finn Lough, Co Fermanagh

Welcome to Nordic Ireland! Secluded in the leafy Fermanagh lakelands, Finn Lough has brought a dreamy Scandinavian feel to the wilds of Ulster. The resort's six dome capsules wow with a fresh-off-Instagram look where transparent 'walls' create a seamless window to nature. Luxury comes as standard, too, with furnishings gilded with four-poster bed, Nespresso machine, fluffy robes and a daily breakfast. This does come at a price, but you'll find nothing else like it between here and Lapland.

Bonus Point: With private telescopes in each dome, the stargazing from Finn Lough can be pretty astronomical.

Details: finnlough.com; 0044 28 6838 0360; from £122.50/€140pps per night for bubble domes (book ahead).

Best for glamping

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Lough Mardal

9. Lough Mardal Lodge, Co Donegal

In Ireland, it can be difficult to make a Mongolian yurt seem harmonious, but the heathery wilds of south Donegal do this kind of accommodation justice. Opening this summer, Lough Mardal promises a seriously photogenic site fusing luxury comforts with rugged 'scapes. Native fabrics, natural furnishings, sheepskins and tapestries give the sky-domed tents a cover-shoot polish - with a dramatic setting of lake, mountain, and forest views.

Bonus Point: Looking for a dog-friendly glamping? Lough Mardal Lodge also offers one pet-friendly tent - it's available with advanced booking.

Details: loughmardalglamping.ie; 086 173 1813; from €32.50pps

10. Teapot Lane, Co Sligo

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Teapot Lane

Ireland's glamping scene has evolved massively from the days of a tepee with a hot-water bottle to today's new, imaginative hotspots which are reshaping attitudes of the sector. One of the country's original outfitters is Teapot Lane, whose quirky curation of accommodation in the wilds of Sligo made our Fab 50 list of Ireland's 50 best places to stay this year. You can hit the eiderdown in a cosy yurt, a luxury treehouse or the particularly charming and newly renovated 1960s vintage caravan.

Bonus Point: Take advantage of Teapot Lane's prime borderlands location with activities from Sligo food trails to herb workshops at Leitrim's Organic Centre.

Details: glampingireland.ie; 087 934 0341; from €55pps

11. Legan Castle, Co Kilkenny

Give the camp stove a break! What's unique to Legan Castle, cosying around the remains of a 16th-century ruin near Thomastown, is its food story. Fresh gourmet breakfasts are a highlight, with guests treated to mouthwatering creations from poached eggs and avo' to deliciously fresh waffles. As for the accommodation? As another inclusion on our Fab 50 for 2019, you can expect luxury, fairy-lit bell tents made all the prettier with a setting alongside pastures of Connemara ponies.

Bonus Point: If you bring the kids, your host will be happy to teach them all about country living, from collecting kindling to gathering freshly laid eggs.


Details: legancastle.ie; 056 781 1024; from €85pps

12. Glamping Under the Stars, Co Laois

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Glamping Under the Stars
 

While the glamping boom in Ireland has seen many outfitters use off-the-shelf pods that lack sparkle, Glamping Under the Stars prides itself on offering a little more magic. The site, nestled near Cullenagh in Co Laois, includes a spread of boutique accommodations (think bell tents, wood cabins and a shepherd's hut) - none quirkier than their handcrafted Sunset Lodge.

Bonus Point: Family-friendly glamping? A Shephard's Hut sleeps up to six and features a triple-decker bunk bed. Hen parties can book out the site for a two-night weekend, too.

Details: glampingunderthestars.ie; 086 065 1485; from €60pps

Best for Nostalgia

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Clissman Caravans in Co. Wicklow

13. Clissmann Caravans, Co Wicklow

Nothing says slow tourism like the clip-clop of a native Irish pony through the Garden of Ireland. A unique camping holiday, Neasa Clissmann's fairy-tale outfit invites guests to explore the Wicklow countryside partnered with their own horse and Wanderly Wagon-style drawn carriage. Come evening, camp up at charming designated spots en route - idyllic farmsteads in the shadows of Glendalough, for example. Novices welcome; hay provided.

Bonus Point: Donkey walking experiences are also available, where a loyal donkey will accompany you on a scenic trek.

Details: clissmannhorsecaravans.com; 0404 46920; from €45pps; horse caravans from €580 for three nights.

14. Lazy Days Campers, Co wicklow

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Lazy Days Campers in Connemara

If you're thinking of embarking on the great Irish road trip, campervan holidays are emerging as an increasingly popular niche. Lazy Days Campers started business with a fleet of old-school VW Kombi vans, but have since upgraded to a fresher (and more reliable) fleet of VW Transporters - retaining the appeal of 'das Auto'. Vans are kitted out with every camping necessity, from coffee plunger to Scrabble boards, and unlike bulkier motorhomes, these low-guzzle machines mean you'll spend less time on the petrol station forecourt and more time off-roading.

Bonus Point: Do the math! With rates from €100 per night, the car rental and accommodation combo might be more attractive than you thought.

Details: lazydays.ie; 087 288 5771; from €50pps

15. Eagle Point, Co Cork

There's something magical about driving west in Ireland - and Eagle Point, located on its very own private peninsula in Bantry Bay, makes for one of the most spectacular end destinations. Views are king here, with spectacular panoramas overlooking Beara and Hungry Hill, while the site's seven pebble coves mean you'll always find a spot of solitude for your deckchair. For water babies, the park's sheltered waters are ideal for swimming and kayaking as well as fishing if you're already planning supper.

Bonus Point: Bantry Bay's rugged inlets make a perfect habitat for seals - take a trip to nearby Garnish Island to see them basking in glory.

Details: eaglepointcamping.com; 027 50630; from €12pp or €33 per family, per night.

16. Anchor Caravan Park, Co Kerry

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The beach at Anchor Caravan Park, Co Kerry

Often, the top criterion for a holiday is proximity to a beach. So when you've a caravan park which sits right on one, you've struck gold. Anchor Caravan Park, near Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula, is located along the sugar-sanded Aughacasla Strand, with the dramatic Slieve Mish Mountains as a backdrop. On-site, simple but spick-and-span amenities lend an old-school appeal to this site, whose guestbook now spans four generations.

Bonus Point: The Maharees are what beach horse-riding was made for, so take a trek with local outfitter O'Connors, who offer all-level experiences.

Details: anchorcaravanpark.com; 066 713 9157; from €9pp or or €22 per family, per night.

Best eco-friendly camping 

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Blackstairs

17. Blackstairs Eco Trails, Co Carlow

Instead of waking up to an alarm clock, what about the tap of a woodpecker? If that sounds appealing, Blackstairs Eco Trails might be for you. Set near Borris in rustic County Carlow, Mary and Robert White's blissfully noise-free site (nature excluded) offers guests quaint, shepherd-hut accommodation in the most sympathetic of country settings. Geothermal central heating keeps you toasty, water comes from their own well - and, although the atmosphere at this Fab 50 family pitch is proudly unplugged, you'll still be able to use your own electric charge point.

Bonus Point: While you're there, why not avail of one of the site's excellent workshops on eco-topics from foraging to wildflowers? There's a new stargazing offer, too.

Details: blackstairsecotrails.ie; 087 270 7189; from €37.50pps

More: Carlow reaches for the stars as new 'chill-out capital' of Ireland

18. Pure Camping, Co Clare

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Pure Camping, Loop Head, Co. Clare

Looking to switch-off? You know you're off the grid when you're transferring belongings from car to tent via complimentary wheelbarrow. That's the earthy ethos of Pure Camping, remotely poised on Clare's Loop Head. The site, which offers a pick of rustic wooden cabins, furnished bell tents and tent pitches, is cleverly powered by solar-heated water, harvested rainwater and reed-bed sanitation. To unwind, guests can avail of the site's private sauna or yoga sessions, where practising pranayama around a blazing log fire brings a next-level camping zen!

Bonus Point: Sustainable living is the message - everything from biodiversity walks to fire-making classes is on offer.

Details: purecamping.ie; 065 905 7953; from €12pp or €36 per family, per night.

More: 100 great family days out in Ireland: Our county by county guide

19. Rock Farm, Co Meath

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Tree climbing at Rock Farm, Slane

Set on an organic farm overlooking the iconic Slane Castle, Rock Farm is the perfect postcard ode to Ireland's Ancient East. Gold-certified for eco-friendliness, the site offers secluded yurt getaways in a dreamy bocage setting along the Boyne Valley. Come evening, after romantic wanderings along the river-bank trails, take a dip in Rock Farm's bubbling hot tub set beneath a pretty enchanting hawthorn tree.

Bonus Point: Want to explore? Rock Farm offers electric bike hire, so you can tour everywhere along the Boyne Valley at your own pace.

Details: rockfarmslane.ie; 041 988 4861; from €50pp

20. Eco Beach, Co Galway

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'Rugged Connemara diamond': Clifden camping

Sun, sea and sand dunes mark the backdrop for this rugged Connemara diamond, positioned along a dramatic pocket of the Wild Atlantic Way. The site is a pioneer of Irish eco-tourism, and was the first accommodation in Ireland to be accredited as climate-neutral. Today, its shores welcome a party of seasoned green travellers, who pitch their tents in gorgeous surrounds, and rookie campers who avail of the site's sustainable packages - think everything from tent rental to kayaking excursions.

Bonus Point: Self-guided walking tours can be taken from the site to the tidal island of Omey nearby.

Details: clifdenecocamping.ie; 095 44036; from €13pp or €28 per family, per night.

NB: Glamping prices based on two sharing. Camping prices based on a) two sharing with their own tent or caravan and b) a family of four. Prices subject to change. Extra charges for showers, electricity and sometimes cars may apply.

Top 5 camping tips

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Glamping in Killarney
 

1. Take a trial run

If you're a novice camper, make sure to do a practice run with your tent before leaving home. Even pop-up tents, which can be simple as pie to erect, need some brainwork to deconstruct.

2. Upsize

When shopping for the perfect tent, consider going two berths larger than the number of people you're expecting to share with. You'll be glad of that extra living space once you set up.

3. 'Appy days

To save Googling on the road, Camping Ireland's handy app maps out all the campsites across the island, so you'll never be far from a pitch; campingireland.ie

4. Invest

Yes, camping can be cheap as chips. But choosing high-quality camping gear will not only make your trip more enjoyable, you'll save money with your boot of durable items for years to come.

5. The perfect pitch

One of the most common rookie mistakes is camping under a tree. Sure, it offers shelter, but in rainy weather, that constant drip-drop will test your sleep, while birds can offer unwelcome droppings too!

More: The Irish Adventure Bucket List: 25 days out to try before you die!

Did you know?

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Lough Tay, Co Wicklow

While wild camping is forbidden across much of the island, Wicklow Mountains National Park offers one of the few pockets in Ireland where you can pitch up with Mother Nature.

See wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie for designated spots.

5 Tips for your camping kit

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Camping
 

Forget disposable plates.

An all-in-one bamboo-ware set is highly sustainable, dishwasher-safe and makes a great addition to any picnic blanket; €49.99, 53degreesnorth.ie

Sleeping bags alone won't cut it if you're resting on a tree stump.

Charles Camping stocks a Vango Shangri-La memory-foam pillow for sweet slumber, whatever the elements; €33, charlescamping.ie

Cosy up!

Woven from 100pc recycled wool, Blarney Woollen Mills' stylish throws double as an extra layer of cosiness at night and a cutesie picnic blanket by day; €69.90, blarney.com

Get lit!

Outwell's wireless Obsidian lantern not only offers your camp an ambient glow; it plays music and answers your phone, too; €85, greatoutdoors.ie

Lather up!

Don't underestimate the power of a quality soap when camping. Versatile for everything from washing faces to dishes, Dr Bronner's green-friendly liquid soap is a must-pack; €10, organico.ie

Read more:

10 top tips for camping in Ireland

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