Ireland’s Hot 100: Escape the crowds and step back in time with these lesser-known little gems. have your staycation bucket (and spade) list...
With travel restrictions lifting on Monday, we're bringing you the ultimate guide to the best things to do, see, and eat around the country. Here are 20 hidden histories...
Looking to escape the madding crowds? First, head for Ireland’s Wild West… Connemara. Next, take a hike up the 250m Mauméan, a little-known (to outsiders anyway) pass linking Maum and the Inagh valleys through the Maumturks. In times past, this was an important Celtic shrine, but later became a mass rock and shrine to St Patrick. A souvenir-sized chapel marks the spot (Mám Éan means ‘pass of the birds’). maamvalley.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: When the islands open back up, take a trip to Inishbofin… a stunner, whatever the weather.
Strategically timed around low tide, a family coastal walk from Skerries can be a thrilling adventure. When the tide’s out, taking due care, you can walk out to Shenick Island, in St Patrick’s Bay, with its Napoleonic Martello Tower standing sentinel over the deserted island. Look out for basking seals before returning to shore. — JB
While you’re at it: Serving some of Dublin’s best chicken wings, check if The Blue Bar is open for lunch. bluebar.ie
Road-trips are only as good as their pit stops, and Moher Cottage in Liscannor in Co Clare makes a perfect pause along the Wild Atlantic Way. Caitriona Considine’s gorgeous café-gift-store fusion offers great coffee, home-baked treats and curated Irish crafts (it’s been shortlisted for Ireland’s Best Welcome in our Reader Travel Awards, too). Try the homemade fudge and sit by the big picture-frame window, or outdoor terrace to soak in those vistas. mohercottage.com — TB
While you’re at it: St Bridget’s Well just across the road will grant your wish if you spot an illustrious eel!
You’ve a few spots to choose from, but the little stretch of the Shannon Blueway in Battlebridge, Co Roscommon, is a beaut, with a wide path meandering alongside the peaceful river. Alternatively, stroll the jazzy floating boardwalk at Drumshanbo in Leitrim. bluewaysireland.org — TB
While you’re at it: Treat yourself to an al fresco pint in Beirne’s of Battlebridge when it’s open – there’s a great little playground, too. battlebridgecaravanandcamping.ie
Sign up for our free travel newsletter!
Like what you're reading? Subscribe to 'Travel Insider', our free travel newsletter written by award-winning Travel Editor, Pól Ó Conghaile.
Did you know B314 Flying Boats once whisked passengers like JFK and Humphrey Bogart to and from Foynes on the Shannon estuary? The Foynes Flying Boat Museum brings the era to life through details both small (model planes, label pins) and big (a replica B314 complete with its own ‘honeymoon suite’). Another attraction is a remarkable collection of Maureen O’Hara memorabilia, including her Oscar. €12/6; flyingboatmuseum.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: For celeb clothes worn Audrey Hepburn Princess Diana and more, visit the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons in Co Kildare. free; visitnewbridgesilverware.com
It began as an ancient burial site dating from around 1700BC to the time of the Tuatha de Danann. The stone fort of Grianán of Aileach still stands in its windy and exposed place as a silent witness to the history of Inishowen. The present structure, dating from the 6th century, sits 250m above sea level. From here the views of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly are breathtaking. — KD
While you’re at it: A good coffee stop is at GAP coffee company in nearby Bridgend, while the 3-star An Grianán Hotel is a handy base. angriananhotel.com
Discover the heart of Dublin Bay, by walking from Sandymount through Irishtown Nature Reserve along the Poolbeg Peninsula. The Great South Wall stretches into Dublin Bay, a coastal defence built in the 1700s that still delivers dramatic widescreen panoramics. On a clear day you can see Howth, Dun Laoghaire and the Wicklow mountains from the foot of the ruby red Poolbeg Lighthouse. — JB
While you’re at it: A perfect spot for a family nature walk, kids can gather beach treasure here and colourful wildflowers from the nature reserve. visitdublin.ie
Street art has revitalised Limerick’s streetscapes in recent years, with self-guided art tours becoming a destination attraction in their own right. Take in the famous Dolores O’Riordan mural by artist Aches as well as works from the Stanza campaign, known as poetry in 3D. drawout.ie - TB
While you’re at it: Head to the Déise to enjoy the Waterford Walls festival (from July 13). waterfordwalls.ie
Ballydehob in West Cork seems to boast a higher density of quirky, local businesses than London’s Shoreditch — and Levi’s Corner House is the poster child. The historic bar, music and spoken-word venue moonlights as a pop-up market every Wednesday, making it a colourful spot to stock up on road-trip staples before venturing south on a Mizen Head escapade. leviscornerhouse.com — TB
While you’re at it: Check-out Michelin Star restaurant The Chestnut (just next door) for its gourmet picnics and Bridie’s West Cork craft shop in the village post office.
CS Lewis is said to have dreamed up his mythical kingdom of Narnia after being inspired by Kilbroney Park. And it’s easy to believe that magical creatures live in this beautiful place near Rostrevor, Co Down. In neighbouring Co Armagh, you can visit Slieve Gullion National Park and learn how the mountain played a key part in the life of legendary figure Cú Chulainn. ringofgullion.org — KD
While you’re at it: A CS Lewis trail in Belfast (where the author was born) takes in seven Narnia-inspired sculptures. discovernorthernireland.com
A coastal walk from Rush to Loughshinny in Co Dublin promises the lure of buried treasure at Smugglers’ Cave. Start on Rush’s North Beach, and follow the clifftop path north to Loughshinny’s picturesque beach and harbour. Look out for a Martello tower, the famous Folding Cliffs, and, at low tide, Smugglers Cave on the seashore. A hotbed for smuggling in the 1700s, this deep cave was a favourite spot for stashing ill-gotten gains. — JB
While you’re at it: Find out about Baldongan Castle, an imposing 13th century Knight’s Templar fortress. The ruin is just 3km away.
Big city museums sometimes get all the attention, but this National Museum outpost in Mayo is a fantastic spot. You can tour the exhibits in the modernist structure or explore the beautiful Victorian gardens. Kids love the little wattle and daub cottage on the grounds, too. museum.ie — NB
While you’re at it: Grab your bikes and cycle the easy 7km Greenway into Castlebar — the museum is on its path.
Well, an extinct one. Did you know Croghan Hill is actually the remains of an extinct volcano rising from the Bog of Allen? Though only 232m high, the summit offers extensive views of the midlands, with the village of the same name nestled on the southern slopes. The mound at the summit is thought to be a bronze age burial place, and you may recognise the name — Old Croghan Man, a bog body found nearby, died between 362 and 175BC. visitoffaly.ie — PÓC
While you’re at it: The new Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails have begun with a 20km phase with great views of Kinnitty Castle. slievebloom.ie
Dublin Castle weaves a powerful spell. Dating back to the 13th century, it served as fortress, prison, treasury and seat of English rule for 700 years. Beloved by tourists but often forgotten by locals, history buffs and architecture fiends can enjoy a guided tour in the very heart of Dubh Linn, taking in the state apartments, medieval section and spectacular Gothic revival Chapel Royal. It reopens June 29. Self-guided tours from €8/4; Dublincastle.ie — JB
While you’re at it: Make time for The Chester Beatty Library’s cultural artefacts and treasures. chesterbeatty.ie
If you want to go off the tourist trail, Monaghan is one underrated option — a new ‘Secret Spots’ campaign will soon share more, with a highlight in the revamped Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Iniskeen. Open from July 20, it’s been transformed into a ‘mini-museum’ telling the story of the poet — whose childhood stomping grounds inspired much of his poetry. Expect lots of touchscreens, memory boxes, a death mask, and you can try old-school printing too. monaghantourism.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: Spot Billy Brennan’s Barn on the local Kavanagh Trail. patrickavanaghcountry.com
Think of Lough Derg, and bare-footed pilgrims come to mind. But there is another Holy Island (Inis Cealtra) in another Lough Derg (on the River Shannon), which makes for a fascinating day trip. A round tower, six church ruins, and a bargaining stone await intrepid explorers. Local operator Gerard Madden hopes to be back doing boat trips from Mountshannon this summer.
While you’re at it: Take a genteel cruise from Killaloe/Ballina with James Whelan’s ‘Spirit of Killaloe’; bar facilities available. €14/7.50; killaloerivercruises.com
Step back in time at the fairytale estate of Tullynally Castle, where 18th-century parkland, manicured gardens, woodland walks and ornamental lakes wrap around this impressive castle. A magical setting for a day’s exploration, there’s an atmospheric tea room, plenty of wildlife (including llamas!), a children’s discovery trail and acres of space. Tullynallycastle.ie; €18 for a family ticket — JB
While you’re at it: Another impressive estate with pedigree, Belvedere House near Mullingar offers history, heritage, playgrounds, a café and a brilliantly ridiculous ‘Jealous Wall’. €6.40/€3.20; belvedere-house.ie
Donegal’s mythical Maghera Caves are located beneath Slievetooey Mountain and some are accessible at low tides from Maghera Strand. To get there you pass the Assaranca Waterfall, an 8km drive from Ardara. But check tides locally before you set out for these truly magnificent caves, which can ideally be visited by kayak. — KD
While you’re at it: If you’re heading back through Ardara, check out Ramblers Bar at the Nesbitt Arms for food and stop at Eddie Doherty’s traditional hand weaver’s studio. handwoventweed.com; nesbittarms.com
Dalkey Castle reopens July 1, with Deilg Inis Living History actors ready to bring its stories to life. See an archer demonstrate a longbow, climb the battlements for coastal views and learn about local writers like Bono, Beckett and Maeve Binchy. Free tours at 10am and 4.30pm weekdays; 11am/4.30pm on weekends. dalkeycastle.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: King John’s Castle in Limerick reopens June 29. €11.70/€8.55; kingjohnscastle.com
Celebrating the life and work of Seamus Heaney, HomePlace, located just 45 minutes from Derry City, is a beautiful and ambitious centre set in the small village of Bellaghy, where the poet grew up. Crammed with artefacts, memorabilia as well as testimonies from well-known people about the life and work of Heaney, this is a place where visitors will have their curiosity sparked. — KD
While you’re at it: You can dine at Dawson’s Restaurant in Castledawson, five minutes away. seamusheaneyhome.com
NB: Listed prices are starting rates; most activities without pricing are free. All prices, opening dates and details subject to change and public health guidelines. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and safety measures, book ahead wherever possible before visiting this summer.
With travel restrictions lifting on Monday, we bring you the ultimate guide to the best things to do, see, and eat around the country. have your staycation bucket (and spade) list...