Whether you're a landlubber or a water baby - we've got an activity to suit - from socially distant surfing and yoga walking tours, to sheepdog demos and canoe trails!
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...
Surf schools experienced an unexpected wipe-out when Covid-19 barrelled across the country, but many are now starting to re-open. Try the Sligo Surf Experience in Strandhill, or, in nearby in Donegal, Fin McCool Surf School is located only footsteps from Rossnowlagh Beach. All levels of surfer are catered for, from first-timers to the more experienced surfer. from €35/25; sligosurfexperience.com; finmccoolsurfschool.com — KD & PÓC
While you’re at it: Lahinch is a well-known surf spot, but did you know there’s a surf school based on the fab Fanore beach, too? surfschool.ie
Because good fish and chips eaten — with salt and a LOT of vinegar — sitting by the sea are wonderful. Eunice Power’s And Chips in Dungarvan (Facebook: @Andchips_) is one of the new breed of chippers responsible for elevating the classic experience in Ireland. We’ll have scampi (€13.50) or the calamari and seafood medley (€13) and eat it on the quay. Thanks for asking. — KMcG
While you’re at it: In Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, the fish and chips at The Little Saltee (Facebook: @thelittlesaltee) are as good as they come.
A few years back, Barbara and Michele Veterano were working in offices in Italy 10 hours a day. “We really, really wanted to change our lives,” he says. Today, they run the Flying Alpaca, an interactive farm on Loop Head. Visits, including walking with alpacas, start from €15pp. You can also book a handmade soap workshop or an Italian cookery class. flyingalpaca.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: The eco-farm also has two rooms for an Airbnb farm stay, from €60 B&B.
“Nature is proving the best lockdown medicine,” says Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea-Kayaking, which is back up and running with its West Cork outings. Half-day safaris depart from Reen Pier, Castlehaven Bay, with shorter trips are available for families. A night-time “moonlight/starlight” experience takes paddlers from dusk into darkness… From €50pp; atlanticseakayaking.com — PÓC
Between Drumkeeran and Tarmon, Spencer Harbour is a peaceful little dock on Lough Allen, with a big field behind that’s great for picnics. There are occasionally people fishing, and the odd boat passes by, but it’s a great spot for a bit of wild swimming. As with any lake, follow the rules from Water Safety Ireland (watersafety.ie) before you take a dip. leitrimtourism.com — NB
While you’re at it: Enjoy one of the looped walks on Sliabh an Iarainn nearby.
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Got horse-mad kids in the family? The Association of Irish Riding Establishments (AIRE) has 184 approved centres around the country, all with Covid-19 health-and-safety measures in place. Depending on where you holiday, you could organise beach treks, mountain outings, basic lessons or even therapeutic riding. And need we mention pony camps? Prices vary; gohorseridinginireland.ie — PÓC
While you’re at it: Visit the Irish National Stud in Co Kildare. It’s been open since June 8, but visits must be pre-booked. €13/€7.50; irishnationalstud.ie
A bracing dash into the waves at Blackrock is a surefire cure for the post-lockdown blues. There’s such a sense of retro charm to the ever-popular Galway spot, with the outdoor changing room and dogs leaping in to join their owners. Head down the stairs and don’t give yourself a second to change your mind once the water hits your toes — there’s no room for hesitation. — NB
While you’re at it: Scoot up to Mr Waffle, which did Trojan work feeding Ireland’s healthcare heroes during lockdown, for a post-swim treat. mrwaffle.ie
A secret cove close to Brittas Bay, Magheramore Beach is a wild Wicklow wonder. Calmer and quieter than neighbouring Brittas Bay, this hidden arc of golden sand is accessed by foot through a leafy laneway. Secluded and safe, there are shallow rock pools, cliffs and rocky outcrops to explore. A real beauty spot, it’s an ideal choice for children learning to bodyboard or surf. — JB
While you’re at it: Ten minutes away, in Wicklow Town, you’ll find several well-equipped playgrounds, including Ballynerrin and Murrough, overlooking the sea.
Yes, it’s cold. But the age of the Lidl wetsuit has opened up all kinds of water possibilities for Ireland, and snorkelling is one of the most underrated. On the right day (and you will need to pay attention to weather, as well as water safety advice), places like Achill Island’s Keem Bay, Connemara’s Glassilaun beach or Clahane in Co Clare offer up clear water teeming with little gobies and wrasse… a whole micro-universe awaiting exploration. — PÓC
While you’re at it: Dublin has a tradition of outdoors swimming… skip the busy Forty Foot for a dip at The Vico. Or try one of three beaches in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Saddle up and cycle alongside the leafy Royal Canal from North Strand as far as your legs will carry you. Pass under Croke Park, past Glasnevin’s round tower and enjoy the wide, smooth and safe pathways, with only a handful of junctions to cross. Castleknock is a good destination, 10km from the first lock, with the promise of a good lunch at the waterside Twelfth Lock. the12thlock.ie — JB
While you’re at it: Collect take-out from Drumcondra’s EatYard at The Bernard Shaw and park up along the way for a picnic. the-eartyard.com
Located on the western shores of the deep inlet of Lough Swilly, Ballymastocker Bay has been voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (it has a Blue Flag, too). The perfect golden sand here stretches for over a mile towards the little harbour town of Portsalon, so plenty of space for everyone. — KD
While you’re at it: Check out Portsalon Luxury Camping nearby, which rents out five yurts with luxurious king-sized beds, lovely cosy interiors and fabulous wood burning stoves. donegalglamping.com
If you’re looking for a family-friendly adventure on the Ring of Kerry this summer, head to Sea Synergy, a marine awareness and activity centre in Waterville. The centre hosts a bunch of beachside activities from SUP adventures to seashore safaris which explore the shores and rock pools of the Kerry coast! €12; seasynergy.org — TB
While you’re at it: Take the kids (or yourself!) to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory and savour the dairy delights of the Kingdom. skelligschocolate.com
Well run, great fun and guaranteeing instant holiday vibes, give the kids a day of adrenaline-soaked antics at Splash Valley Aqua Park in Rathdrum. The giant inflatable course, with 30-obstacles floating in a man-made lake by the Avonmore river, is suitable for anyone aged over seven. Wetsuits and life jackets are supplied for an hour-long session of slides, bouncing platforms, climbing frames and a swing. New Covid-19 safety measures are in place. From €20/17; hiddenvalley.ie — JB
While you’re at it: Wicklow’s Greenan Farm Museum and Maze is a fun day out, with its dizzying maze, nature walk, farm animals and café. €8/7.50; greenanmaze.com
This remote patch of the Munster Vales has reimagined itself as an outdoor playground in recent years. But it also makes a surprise backdrop for another pursuit: yoga walking tours. The guided tours awaken your six senses in a hike, before pausing for a yoga and mindfulness session, which includes a special Celtic ceremony. ‘There’s no Wi-Fi in the woods, but we promise you a better connection,” they say. From €20; visitballyhoura.com — TB
While you’re at it: Avail of Ballyhoura’s famous mountain bike trails — the largest network in Ireland. Bike hire can be booked with trailriders.ie
Castle Archdale Boat Hire & Water Sports on Lough Erne is home to Ireland’s first hydro-bikes (don’t worry, we’d never heard of them either). The gizmos provide “a gentle, low-impact aerobic total body workout; but it all depends on how fast you pedal”, they say. You can mix it up between a leisurely ride or “fast cardio session”. castlearchdaleboathire.com; £20pp — PÓC
While you’re at it: Stay nearby at Castle Archdale Camping and Caravan Park. castlearchdale.com/stay/camping
Did you know you can take a foodie tour of Derry City, involving a two-hour bike ride? As well as sampling great food, you will pass through the heart of the ancient walled city. Tour operator Far and Wild also do a two-hour paddle board tour in Derry as well as a moonlight paddle down the River Foyle. From £40; farandwild.org — KD
Climb the 300-odd steps up the side of this mountain outside Dromahair and you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable views of Lough Gill, the Sleeping Giant and, on a clear day, out to Sligo Bay. You can also try to find the old dancing platform, to throw a few moves while you’re up there. — NB
While you’re at it: Parke’s Castle is closed for now, but it’s worth pulling up if only for its gorgeous views out over the lake. heritageireland.ie
“Despite everything, I’m hanging in there,” says Charlie Horan of Go with the Flow River Adventures. Charlie runs river canoe trails on the Barrow, taking three or four people at a time, with a half-day paddling trip from €25pp. You can book up to three days on the river,
with wild camping along the banks en route. “Things are looking a lot brighter now with booking coming in for canoe hire and guided trips throughout the summer,” he says. gowiththeflow.ie — PÓC
While you’re at it: There’s some super walking along the Barrow towpaths, between Robertstown and St Mullins. Check these, and more, trails on sportireland.ie.
We all need to let off a bit of steam. And you can do just that at the Lilliput Adventure Centre near Mullingar, Co Westmeath. You can hire kayaks or have a game of outdoor laser tag, and all the equipment is sanitised between uses too. They even have a ‘2 Metre Peter’ penguin to help kids with social distancing. Laser tag is priced from €15pp; lilliputadventure.com. — NB
While you’re at it: Pop around to Belvedere House for a stroll in the gardens. belvedere-house.ie
There’s nothing quite like the romance of a traditional wooden canoe. Head out on one of the Canadian canoes provided by Adventure Gently, and you’ll feel your cares melt away as you drift past the riverbanks and native songbirds. Just make sure you share your canoe with someone who knows their right from their left, or all those cares will come crashing back upon you (I speak from personal experience). Half day tours cost from €32.50pp; adventuregentlyireland.com. — NB
While you’re at it: Take a walk around the ruins of Creevelea Friary in nearby Dromahair.
Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands do just what they say on the tin. Not least when you’re kayaking (or indeed pedalling) along the Suir Blueway in South Tipperary. Though launched last year, the 56km route feels barely trundled and makes an idyllic spot to soak in the zen of our inlands waterways. Heritage-rich market towns like Cahir make for great pit-stops, too. — TB
While you’re at it: If you prefer lakes to rivers, Tipp’s Lough Derg shores also host a blueway with a number of adventure outfitters. tipperary.com
You don’t have to go to Bali to find an Insta-friendly swing, you know. Fermanagh’s Corralea Centre has introduced a new ‘Lough Swing’ for those much-missed photo ops (you can’t have travel without influencers, apparently!), but it’s got much more, too. The activity centre offers self-catering in cottages, a new eco-spa debuts this summer, there’s a waterpark, archery, climbing, mountain biking and more. Prices vary; corralea.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: Ard Nahoo in Co Leitrim has three cool eco-cabins for rental — book one, or all three for a socially-distanced reunion. ardnahoo.com
“The kids can’t bounce off the walls if you take the walls away!” So say the good folk at Squirrel’s Scramble, the tree adventure park in Kilruddery, Co Wicklow. The circuit is open (and open-air), with groups of up to 15 able to zip line, swing, surf, climb and crawl again in the beech and oak forest. It’s suitable for ages 5 to 99, they say — though those who don’t want to take part can enjoy the estate walks and farmers’ market. From €16; squirrelsscramble.ie — PÓC
While you’re at it: There are 15km of new bike and walking trails at nearby Belmont Demesne, with pizza and treats at Arthur’s Barn. belmontdemesne.ie
You’ve seen them on TV, but have you ever witnessed a real sheepdog in action? Away To Me is a working sheep farm where you can see demos on Donegal’s Slieve League Peninsula, while further south in Co Clare, John Davoren shows off the skills of his Border collies at Caherconnell Fort in the Burren. “The dogs can complete tasks in half the time it would take several people,” they say. Take that, cats! €12/5; awaytome.ie; caherconnell.com — PÓC
Nowadays our self-care routines could all do with a little help. And kelp. Sólás Na Mara located in the Déise’s scenic Gaeltacht is a seaweed bathhouse offering affordable pampering with that fresh jolt of sea air. €30 buys a one hour bath and steam treatment while afterwards you can relax in their on-site café. solasnamara.ie — TB
While you’re at it: Strandhill, Co Sligo is home to Voya — enjoy a seaweed bath with the ocean a stone’s throw away. From June 22, by appointment. voyaseaweedbaths.com
Mountain bikers can head for the hills to Glencullen Adventure Park, aka The GAP. The brilliant new facility is a ‘gravity bike park’ with graded bike trails through dense forest. Suitable for riders of intermediate ability up to elite, you can rent bikes or take your own. A pedal-up pass costs €5 with uplift van options too. Pre-booking is essential. thegap.ie — JB
While you’re at it: Non-cyclists can hike from Glencullen to Fairy Castle, for super views and the promise of a toastie, wood-fired pizza or cake afterwards at Tibradden’s lovely Hazel House café. the-hazel-house.ie
It was a form of torture to watch the Streedagh scenes in Normal People while in lockdown. What I wouldn’t have given to walk that stretch of windswept sand… Well, soon enough, we’ll be able to follow in Marianne and Connell’s footsteps, so grab your GAA shorts and enjoy one of the prettiest beaches in the North West. — NB
While you’re at it: Grab a bite to eat in nearby Lang’s of Grange. langs.ie
Based close to the Mourne Mountains in Downpatrick, Falcon Outdoors offers local day hikes and multi-day treks adapted to your fitness level and ability. Run by Rob Hill, you can learn bushcraft and essential survivor skills in stunning surroundings. falconoutdoors.co.uk — KD
While you’re at it: Not far away you can check out the boat tours of Strangford Lough. clearsky-adventure.com
Crowds are something we’re all looking to avoid this summer. And where better to do that than a secret beach? Kinnagoe Bay in Inishowen is one stunning option. It was here that the Spanish Armada ship, La Trinidad Valencera, sank in 1588. And it doesn’t stop there. Walk to what you think is the end of the beach, cross some rocks and you’ll find a secret second beach where territorial terns nest on the rocks. — KD
While you’re at it: Get the Google Maps going and seek out Sandscove in West Cork (above), Mweenish in Connemara or White Rocks in Co Antrim.
You’ve explored Dublin by foot. Maybe even by bike. But what about kayak? In normal times, 85pc of City Kayaking’s business comes from overseas, it says, but as we all know, these are not normal times. Now, the company is offering kayak rentals… so you can see Dublin’s iconic bridges and famous landmarks from a whole new angle. The kayaks are of the stable, sit-on-top they say suits any level of experience or ability. Prices from €19pp; citykayaking.com — PÓC
While you’re at it: Take a rafting adventure in the Liffey Valley with rafting.ie
Sometimes you just want a short scoot on the bike, instead of a long, drawn-out cycle. The Bonaveen Cycling Trail in Portumna Forest Park is perfect at just 10km long, and weaves through the forest and along the lakeshore. coillte.ie — NB
While you’re at it: Visit the walled kitchen gardens at nearby Portumna Castle. heritageireland.ie
Catch it on a calm day and the waters of Lough Gill are like a giant mirror, with reflections of the bordering forests and mountains shimmering off the water’s surface. It makes for a gorgeous drive, but it’s even better on two wheels — the 40km loop is tough enough in parts, but boy, is the pay off worth it. sligotourism.ie — NB
While you’re at it: Stop off for a little picnic at Slish Wood.
“Sometimes I think we forget that what we have on our doorstep is actually the best in the world.” So says Irish Olympic hero Annalise Murphy — referring not to sailing, but to cycling. Annalise is one fan of a new Irish-run website Let’s Cycle Ireland, which provides cyclists with a free resource of the best long-distance cycles in Ireland, together with providers like hotels, cafés and restaurants. Not a moment too soon! letscycleireland.ie — PÓC
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.