Stuck for a date idea? Our 50 days out with a difference will see you through Valentine’s Day... and beyond
From cuddling strangers in Wicklow to a spot of after-dark canoe-ddling in Cork, dates with a difference that will see you through Valentine's Day... and beyond
How: Here's an old-school outing for the Instagram age. Co Wicklow's Lough Ouler is a corrie lake shaped exactly like a heart, though don't underestimate the challenging walk of about 3.5 hours to get there and back. Start from the car park above Glenmacnass Waterfall; end with a memory (and boots pic) to savour.
Ramp up the romance? Pack a bottle of Móinéir Irish strawberry or blackberry wine by local Wicklow Way Wines along with your picnic.
How: Dublin's newest museum is MoLI, the Museum of Literature Ireland overlooking St Stephen's Green. There's a secret garden here where you can take food from the Commons Café out to the shade of a lovely Killarney strawberry tree. Best of all, on the top floor, literary lovers can peer at James Joyce's handwritten notes for Ulysses, including Molly Bloom's immortal line: "I said yes I will Yes".
Ramp up the romance? Doh! Bend the knee!
How: Put down those petrol station flowers. Instead, go and see a drift of snowdrops in a great Irish garden like Burtown House in Co Kildare, the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin or Altamont House in Co Carlow (it alone has over 170 varieties). You'll be galanthophiles (snowdrop collectors) in no time.
Ramp up the romance? Buy some bulbs to take home and plant in a shaded, woody area in your garden… a surprise for next spring.
How: Paul Brady once sang that he wanted to take us all to an island, but thanks to Airbnb, this sort of romantic break is no longer the sole preserve of talented folk-rock troubadours. Rabbit Island lies in the cool waters of Lough Corrib, and it is home to a charming and luxurious fishing lodge. Originally built in 1907 by Lord Headley, this exclusive property was renovated and modernised in recent years. Lose yourselves in the romance of your own tiny kingdom, or just enjoy shouting at each other, safe in the knowledge that the only living being within earshot are the flock of sheep who inhabit the island.
Ramp up the romance? Take afternoon tea in the surrounds of Ashford Castle, to the north of the lake.
How: Your footsteps are the only ones in the sand. The beach stretches for an age. The nearest traffic is miles away. Sold? Walk from Dunfanaghy in Co Donegal out across the sand dunes to Trá Mór. The sandy strand here is not accessible by road, and off-season visits very often see the place deserted. Smooch!
Ramp up the romance? Book into the designer Breac House on nearby Horn Head. Breakfast is "silently delivered" through a private hatch…
How: Whether or not you're newly acquainted with your plus-one, in a long-term romance or even flying solo, a cuddle party is a great way to experience mindful, non-sexual touch and affection in a safe and welcoming environment. You'll leave flooded with endorphins, basically, and there's a forthcoming event in Bray on Valentine's weekend that you can buy to tickets to on eventbrite.ie.
Ramp up the romance? Cuddle parties are more about relaxation and comfort than sexy times. What you get up to with your new bounty of endorphins is up to you.
How: Get high by taking Croke Park's Ericsson Skyline Dusk Tour, a limited-edition V-Day outing involving a 17-storey high rooftop walk with views over Dublin City (and beyond) as darkness descends. Bonus points if you wear your county GAA jerseys. It takes place at 4.30pm on Friday, February 14 (€21p; book ahead).
Ramp up the romance? The ticket includes a complimentary cocktail or mocktail across the road at the Doyle collections' Croke Park Hotel.
How: The laid back Loose Canon wine bar on Dublin's Drury Street is the perfect restorative pit-stop during a day wandering around Dublin. There are always interesting natural and biodynamic wines from small producers by the glass, and the toasties are epic.
Ramp up the romance? Buy a bottle to take home along with cheese (Ballylisk) and Irish charcuterie from Gubbeen.
How: We defy you to glide over the water at dusk, your paddle disturbing shoals of bioluminescent plankton while stars pop to life in the sky above, and not feel just a teensy bit romantic. The experience comes courtesy of the awesome Atlantic Sea Kayaking in West Cork. The weather… erm, that's another story.
Ramp up the romance? Bring a little hip flask of hot chocolate.
How: Book in to a restaurant or seafood bar that carries a range of different oysters, such as Niall Sabongi's Seafood Café in Temple Bar, and settle down for an afternoon of bivalve-eating. Try as many different kinds as you can and see if you can tell your Dooncastles from your Harty's from your Flaggy Shores - each variety tastes subtly different.
Ramp up the romance? Pair the oysters with a crisp Muscadet or fino sherry.
How: Don't want to share your movie date with Joe Public? Skip sticky seats and popcorn-crunchy floors for a stayover at a hotel with a private screening room. The Devlin in Ranelagh, Brooks Hotel in Dublin, The Montenotte in Cork and the five-star Glenlo Abbey in Galway are just a handful to choose from.
Ramp up the romance? We assume you're staying the night… don't forget to book dinner and nab a pre-movie cocktail to set the mood.
How: Everybody talks about the beach at Inchydoney in West Cork but did you know the hotel's spa has a Couples Suite? It's got a treatment room for two with ensuite showers and a private relaxation area "to melt those aches and pains and soothe the senses" as the blurb puts it. Prices head north from €80.
Ramp up the romance? Book the Time for Two Ritual with Rasul Retreat. For €250, treats include a 'muscle melt massage' and 'age-defying facial' with lunch.
How: There's a time and place for a box of Roses. That time and place is not Valentine's Day. Small, artisan businesses are doing wondrous things with chocolate all over Ireland right now - whisk your sweetheart away to a truffle-making workshop with Bean and Goose in Co Wexford, or simply swing by a remote operation like Hazel Mountain Chocolate in the Burren, Co Clare.
Ramp up the romance? Benoit Lorge runs a day-long 'Beginner Chocolate Course' at his base in Bonane, Co Kerry from €180, including lunch.
How: The penthouse at Killarney's Aghadoe Heights has private elevator access, butler service, two en-suite rooms, a living room and dining area, a private bar, and an outdoor terrace with jacuzzi. And the price? A cool €1,800 per night.
Ramp up the romance? There's a six-foot projection screen for home cinema… so call ahead to arrange a surprise movie with room service.
How: If you live in Dublin, you probably spend most of your time rushing from A to B. Why not book a couple of hours to slow down and explore? There's a gorgeous stained-glass room in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Capel Street is perfect for a random ramble and Powerscourt Town Centre for an artsy rummage, while the relics of St Valentine himself are contained in a chest at Whitefriar Street Church.
Ramp up the romance? Plot your course to finish with a cocktail at the Blind Pig's subterranean 'speakeasy', or the Shelbourne's new 1824 bar.
How: Tom de Paor's brutalist, cast-concrete cinema in Galway may divide opinions, but the location in the city centre is a dream and the programming keeps culture vultures happy.
Ramp up the romance? Book in to the onsite Merrow restaurant for sharing plates and a glass of wine or cocktail before the screening. Five small plates - smoked haddock croquettes, pork skewers with harissa, house pickles - cost €25.
How: Think less horror, more hot dates. Dunbrody House in Co Wexford has a private cabin near its herb garden, where a couple can kick back in rustic, New England-style luxury knowing that the creature comforts of Catherine and Kevin Dundon's country house, restaurant and pub are just a short stroll away.
Ramp up the romance? Sleep in. Dunbrody offers one of the country's most civilised breakfast timings in the main house… serving up to 12 noon.
How: Bad weather can be a bonus in a lighthouse sleepover. Try the tower room at the Blue Book's Clare Island Lighthouse in Co Mayo, have an entire tower to yourself at Wicklow Lighthouse, or stay inches from the ocean in restored lighthouse keepers' cottages at Fanad Head or St John's Point in Donegal.
Ramp up the romance? A cliff walk. A cook-in. A board game with a bottle of wine. Nix the Netflix for some different in-house entertainment.
How: It takes more than one to swing, they say. This Valentine's night, catch the 17-piece Limerick City Big Band boasts four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones and a full rhythm section in Dolan's of Limerick. They will be joined by the Nova String Ensemble and a number of guest vocalists. Tickets €20pp. If that isn't your thing, try the intelligent hip-hop of Dublin city's Mango X MathMan, (tickets €10pp) who play in Dolan's Kasbah Social Club that night.
Ramp up the romance? Ramp up the romance by manning the ramparts at nearby King John's Castle, where you even get to dress up as ye olde lords and ladies.
How: What better way to shed inhibitions than with a wild outdoors warmer? Mobile sauna Bosca Beatha has been travelling to remote and magical spots: already, it has been stationed in West Cork, the Hill of Tara, the Wild Atlantic Way and the Avonbeg River in Co Kerry. Keep an eye on Facebook.com/BoscaBeatha for details on where it will pop up next.
Ramp up the romance? Lepping from lake to sauna is more likely to be shrieky than sexy in mid-February, but keep things warm and cosy with flasks of hot chocolate, fluffy towels and a blanket big enough for two.
How: There are 60 acres of beautiful woodland gardens planted with bamboos and tree ferns at Derreen in Lauragh on the Beara peninsula, and in early summer the rhododendrons are spectacular. Bring a picnic and spend the day wandering the paths that lead down to the sea, seeing if you can spot Sika deer, sea eagles, red squirrels, seals and otters.
Ramp up the romance? Afterwards, call in to the idyllic Helen's Bar at Kilmackillogue Pier for crab sandwiches and a pint.
How: It's always been a great way to get some culture in during the working day, and this week, Michael Harnett's The Noble Call, a father-daughter drama starring Vinnie McCabe and Noni Stapleton, is the much-anticipated production. Perfect for those who aren't big date talkers.
Ramp up the romance? Head downstairs to Bewley's Café and enjoy something gooey and chocolatey along with some Prosecco.
How: He's the master of mind-melting, and his latest tour promises to be his most daring yet. Barry performs at the Wexford Opera House on Valentine's Night and promises to entertain even the most hardened sceptics.
Ramp up the romance? Try some mind-hacking of your own with the 36 first-date questions scientifically proven to help you fall in love including: "When did you last sing to yourself?" or "Describe your mother's best friend" (they're at 36questionsinlove.com).
How: This 1960s bus serves up scones and clotted cream, delicate sandwiches, cakes and tea, all soundtracked by 1950s jazz. There are three separate sittings for the Dublin Afternoon Tea trip on February 14. Just don't forget your table manners.
Ramp up the romance? The tour picks passengers up in Dublin's Temple Bar - take a trip before or after to the Gallery of Photography for some culture. Go the whole hog and dress in sexy/glam vintage outfits, too.
How: Whatever way your date goes, at least you'll have fun. The Rainforest Adventure golf centre in Dundrum, Dublin, has two Aztec/Mayan-themed indoor mini golf courses, meaning that you'll be kept entertained for a good 45 minutes.
Ramp up the romance? Share a pizza and bottle of wine together in between holes.
How: Some dates feel like a gruelling slog, so why not embrace that and actually go climb a mountain? Is there a better metaphor for overcoming all obstacles by working as a team than climbing Ireland's highest peak? Possibly, but the view will also give you such stunning views. Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry is one of those climbs that everyone should try at least once, and thanks to your local special-buys section, climbing gear won't cost the earth. Waterproofs and boots, food and water, and you are ready to go. The climb is the best way to get those endorphins pumping without removing any clothing. For the inexperienced climber, booking a guide is always best.
Ramp up the romance? Cronin's Yard, the traditional start point and car park, offers a café, shower facilities - and it even has a beautiful stone cottage you can book for an overnight stay out in the wilds, and pods for the glamping enthusiast, so you can watch the sunrise over the Reeks together.
How: Whether you're embracing your inner kid or unleashing your nerdy side, there's something seriously fun about retro arcade games. With three bars, a casual dining area and over 30 games to chose from, Token in Dublin's Smithfield is pretty much a John Hughes rom-com come to life.
Ramp up the romance? Stick to the dimly lit and more intimate pinball parlour. Or swap out Token's fun gastropub fare for the more grown-up Fish Shop just down the road.
How: The Irish Open takes place at Mount Juliet in May, with star players including Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and reigning champion Jon Rahm, who will be aiming for a hat-trick this year, all confirmed to compete. If the object of your affections is a golfer, the prospect of a two-ball on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Championship course could prove highly seductive.
Ramp up the romance? Retreat to the Michelin-starred Lady Helen dining room for post-game analysis over a three-course meal and stay in a luxury room in the Manor House with breakfast the next day.
How: Ballyfin in Co Laois has its own in-house costume department which you can visit to choose your favourite period costume with the help of a trained dresser. Once dressed, dine by candlelight on Sam Moody's elegant country-house food in the State Dining Room.
Ramp up the romance? For total privacy, stay in The Gardener's Cottage set in the corner of the walled garden with views across the parkland and lake, where George and Amal Clooney are rumoured to have bedded down. With The Gardener's Cottage costing from €2,100 in low season for full board, one for those who want to splash the cash.
How: Shane Palmer of Scéal Bakery in Dublin conducts regular one-day sourdough workshops for beginners. You'll leave with everything you need to make your own sourdough bread at home.
Ramp up the romance? Present a voucher for your gift alongside a beautiful Scéal pastry, which you can buy at the Naomh Olaf farmers' market in Sandyford on Fridays, or at the Fumbally Stables market on Saturday mornings.
How: Paul McDonald from Kinsale's Michelin-starred Bastion is cooking at the luxurious Sheen Falls Lodge (above) on February 23, and if you never made it to Mews in Baltimore before its closure announcement last month, you could bring your love to Mews' chef Ahmet Dede's dinner on March 29. €120pp for each six-course tasting dinner.
Ramp up the romance? Why not book in for the night.
How: Whelehan's Wines runs a four-week wine-appreciation course designed for anyone who wants to learn about wine tasting and the origins of the wine they are drinking. Each week, participants will taste six wines, and learn about principal wine regions and key grape varieties. Held on Thursday evenings, the next course starts on February 27 and costs €120pp.
Ramp up the romance? At the end of the course, whisk your special someone off to visit some vineyards in France.
How: Whether or not you're steady on your feet, The Rink at D12 in Walkinstown, Dublin, is fantastic fun. A 4,500 square roller disco is a great alcohol-free date night idea, and if the date doesn't go exactly as you'd hoped, at least you've spent time getting fit.
Ramp up the romance? Hire the entire rink for yourselves and go the full Torvill & Dean.
How: In 1763, Lady Betty Cobbe and her husband began purchasing a dessert-and-dinner service of Worcester porcelain for Newbridge House. At around 400 pieces, it would be one of the largest on record from an 18th-century British porcelain factory, and is a reminder to all couples who argue over dinner sets that you can't take it with you so maybe just cool it on the shouting matches over which shade of Denby would most impress guests. It is currently on display in Dublin Castle's State Apartments Galleries under the alluring title of 'Birds, Bugs and Butterflies'.
Ramp up the romance? After working up an appetite by staring at empty plates, get some plates with food on them at the Chester Beatty Library's Silk Road Café, then admire their ancient book collection, one of the highlights being an Egyptian parchment with a love poem from 1160 BC.
How: Tables at this tiny 16-seater restaurant, remotely set on the Aran Islands, are as hard to come by as hens' teeth, so if you are lucky enough to bag one, then you are almost duty-bound to propose. The restaurant is only open from mid-March to September.
Ramp up the romance? If you are very lucky (and rich) you can stay in Inis Meáin's suites… they are all booked out for 2020 already but it's worth putting your name down on the cancellation list.
How: The Inishturk Community Club morphs into a restaurant that opens for lunch and dinner for three months in the summer. There's a bar at one end and a simple menu of super-fresh, locally caught fish and seafood, including lobster. The views from the window table across the sea to the Reeks are breathtakingly beautiful, but be warned that it's steep walk up the hill from the pier.
Ramp up the romance? Wine is available but you can bring your own if you ask ahead, so it's worth planning ahead and bringing a special bottle.
How: Modern life is eroding our souls. This can be your cheerful opening line as you pitch to your date that you are going to take some time out. The remote and beautiful wilds of west Cork are you destination, where Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Meditation Centre hold their Guided Loving Kindness Practice from 3-4pm, Mondays to Fridays. Rest your mind and open your heart in the Spiritual Care Centre's Meditation Room. This meditation is a method that helps us to develop unconditional love, starting with developing a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves and then extending that out into all our relationships and ultimately to all beings. So theoretically, it is the ideal date event.
Ramp up the romance? The centre also offers accommodation in the form of secluded cliff-top cottages, and has a café offering delicious vegetarian food.
How: Against the backdrop of beautiful Smock Alley in Dublin, feed your mind with romance-related art, comedy, spoken word and music (February 12-29). The real-time art project Maximum Black is described as "a shift between colours and shapes, directions and dynamics, sounds and melodies, explored in an intimate relationship", while theatre piece Textuality is "a tale of online romance-ish".
Ramp up the romance? Take an evening walk down the Liffey and scoot into the Italian quarter for refreshments.
How: Romantics on a budget should make a beeline for the tiny and delightful Assassination Custard in Dublin city centre. You can't book and you may have to queue outside on the street for a while, but once inside and seated at one of the restaurant's two tables, make like a big shot and order everything on the menu. Then sit back and marvel at the deliciousness of the food - sardines with aioli, trippa alla romana, vegetables from McNally Family Farm - that Ken and Gwen produce from the miniscule kitchen.
Ramp up the romance? Go with friends on a double date and you won't have to share your table with anyone else. And bring a couple of interesting bottles with you.
How: Morton's in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, serves impeccable fish and hand-cut chips, made with Maris Piper potatoes grown down the road in Limavady. Regulars also recommend the crab cakes - and warn that customers need to remain vigilant in the presence of the local seagull population. Sit at a stone picnic table and soak up the views of Fairhead, Rathlin Island and - on a clear day - Scotland.
Ramp up the romance? Combine this with a Game of Thrones pilgrimage to the nearby Causeway Coast.
How: Japanese chef Takashi Miyazaki's Michelin-starred Ichigo Ichie in Cork City is Ireland's only kaiseki restaurant, serving a no-choice multi-course tasting menu that melds Japanese techniques and flavours with top-quality Irish ingredients, including sea urchins from Bantry Bay and abalone from Connemara. Sit up at the Miyabi counter for the chance to watch Miyazaki at work.
Ramp up the romance? Ask for sake pairings to go with dinner.
How: What breaks the ice better than working in a team to try your luck in an escape room? You need to work together with creativity and communication to crack the code, Crystal-Maze style. Great Escape Rooms in Galway City offer three different 'room' experiences.
Ramp up the romance? Perhaps avoid the Quarantine Hospital Room and stick to the cosier Traditional Irish Pub Room instead.
How: On April 11, selected cinemas around the country, including the Lighthouse cinema in Dublin 7, will live-stream in HD Puccini's Tosca starring soprano Anna Netrebko in the title role, with Brian Jagde as her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, and Michael Volle as Scarpia, the chief of police.
Ramp up the romance? Afterwards, head up the road into hipster haven Stoneybatter and pop into Grano, a homely little Italian, for a romantic dinner for two.
How: Glamping has exploded in Ireland, but Finn Lough Resort's unique getaway globes - set in private slots of woodland with 180-degree transparent walls and four-poster beds - remain best in class (if there is a class for bubble domes).
Ramp up the romance? The Elements Spa Trail allows just two people to enter every 30 minutes… "It feels like a private audience with nature" they say.
How: Dickens said that there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter, so why not test your compatibility by bringing your date to a comedy show? Tony Cantwell brings his multimedia multi-meme comedic stylings to Cork's Cyprus Avenue on Valentine's Night. Cantwell's comedy is a good litmus test for any future relationship - you will either spend the evening screaming with laughter, or staring with furrowed brows. As long as you both have the same reaction, really nothing else matters.
Ramp up the romance? The Montenotte Hotel is offering a special Valentine's overnight package, with Prosecco on arrival, rose petals, chocolates, and a special Valentine's Tasting Dinner menu served in the Panorama Bistro overlooking Cork City. From €199.50.
How: Virginia Woolf once said that one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well - but how does one dine well? Dingle Cookery School are hosting their supper club on Valentine's night, in which you get to learn how to cook a wonderful meal, and then eat said meal. A perfect blend of activity, fun and socialising. €70pp.
Ramp up the romance? Feel the quickening of your pulse as you traverse the Conor Pass (above), and bask in the beauty of Ireland (and your date).
How: Everyone wants to feel special on Valentine's, and there are few more special than royalty - why not plan a trip to Cashel of the Kings, and walk in the footsteps of our long dead rulers, as well as those of our old friend Elizabeth II. Make base camp at Mikey Ryan's gourmet gastropub, before attempting the ascent to the Rock. Ensure you spend some time on Wikipedia beforehand so you can stun your date with your incredibly deep thoughts on the decline of the high kings, or the beautiful frescos in Cormac's Chapel, or prepare them for the filth and horrors of life with children by discussing the nearby leper colony. This is why you ate beforehand.
Ramp up the romance? Stave off the leprosy with an Irish Penicillin (it's a cocktail) in the Cellar Bar of Baileys Hotel in Cashel town.
How: Just be sure to explain this is different from being a naturist... The Botanic Gardens are a dependable date destination any time of year, but on Valentine's Day they will be celebrating Budding Romance with a guided tour. Discover the pagan roots of the day, Ancient Greek tales of metamorphoses, and the love lives of birds. It's only a fiver each, so if you decide that actually nature is quite dull, you can nip off early to Botanic House restaurant for some refreshments.
Ramp up the romance? Test your love's strength of emotion on the national question by strolling through nearby Glasnevin Cemetery, where all the big-hitters - Collins, Connolly, Kitty Kiernan, Maude Gonne - are.
How: This 18th-century folly modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli is no stranger to proposals. It's set over Northern Ireland's dramatic Downhill Beach - which also featured as a location in Game of Thrones.
Ramp up the romance? Stay at Bushmill's Inn nearby. It's got a small cinema, and a super-intimate inglenook by the open fire in the lobby.
How: Everybody loves Beethoven, the loveable St Bernard from the long-running family comedies. But did you know there was another Beethoven, who was human and wrote music? Surprise your date with this factoid by bringing them to The Printworks, Dublin Castle, on Valentine's night where the Irish Chamber Orchestra with Jörg Widmann conductor (clarinet), and Diego Chenna (bassoon), will bring to life Mozart's Figaro Overture; Strauss' late Duet Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon; Widmann's Con Brio, and Beethoven's 7th Symphony, or 'the music from The King's Speech' if you need to make it all seem less terrifying. Tickets are €28.
Ramp up the romance? Visit the Shrine of St Valentine in nearby Whitefriar Street Church and witness a Blessing of Rings for those about to be married.
Compiled by Bill Linnane, Katy McGuinness, Pól O'Conghaile and Tanya Sweeney
NB: All prices subject to availability and change.