Coast with the most: Ireland's best beaches, coastal drives and secret spots for summer
Summer is well and truly underway. To inspire you, Emily Hourican compiles a list of Ireland's best places to swim, walk, visit and muse.
Coumeenoole Strand, Slea Head drive, Dingle Peninsula. On the trail of the former sets of Ryan's Daughter and Far and Away, a steep stone staircase leads down to one of the most magical beaches in the country. Coumeenoole's swirling surf may occasionally make it treacherous for swimming but the spectacular views and location on the Slea Head peninsula make this a little piece of seaside heaven.
Inch may be the most spectacular beach in Ireland, with the best name.
For safe swimming options, Ceann Tra in Ventry, or Beal Ban in Ballyferriter.
For out-of-this-world scenery, and the occasional wave jumping, Clogher Beach cannot be beaten.
Garrettstown Beach is a great sandy beach near Kilcolman Marsh and The Old Head of Kinsale. Stop on the way back at the bridge into Kinsale, and try the fish and chips from the van parked there.
Inchydoney in West Cork is stunning. The sea is always freezing but it's worth it.
Dog's Bay and Gurteen beaches (below), two miles outside Roundstone, have sand so white it looks translucent, made entirely of powdered shell rather than limestone. Well sheltered from currents, they have views of Errisbeg, and are perfect for swimming, windsurfing or walking.
The Deise has an abundance of gorgeous beaches, which is possibly why two-mile-long Woodstown Beach stays under the radar. Situated on the Waterford Estuary, and accessed down a leafy country road - take the Dunmore East road from Waterford City and then follow the signposts to Woodstown. If you're a seashell lover, you'll be in heaven here, as the sheltered sand is strewn with pink and white shells along its length. Facilities are minimal and parking spaces are limited, but Woodstown's back-to-basics nature is an integral part of its charm; even on the hottest days, it's never overcrowded.
In Tramore, big kids and little kids will adore not only the beautiful beach, but also the amusements while you take time out looking at the shops, including Sarah Richards' brilliant Seagull Artisan microbakery, where you can pick up some amazing breads for lunch. See seagullbakery.ie.
Anyone into water sports should know that Rossnowlagh is the place to be - this is where Irish surfing really kicked off. For the landlubbers, there is 3km of sandy beach to stroll.
Rathmullan is safe, beautiful, and packed with history. The beach from which the Wild Geese left in 1607 is one of the most wonderful places overlooking Lough Swilly. Swim, walk, learn to sail or explore the town's history.
You can also get the ferry over to the lovely Inishowen Peninsula, crossing the water where the British Grand Fleet came in 1914.
After the day's exertions, the very friendly White Harte overlooking beach and harbour is perfect for a refreshing pint. Or take a walk up to the Cellar Bar at the Rathmullan Hotel, for excellent pizza and a great selection of draught Kinnegar beers from the brewery down the road.
Marblehill on the north-northwest coast, has miles of white sand, dunes filled with wild flowers and birds, including the elusive corncrake, and a Blue Flag.
An Tra Bhan, aka Silver Strand, on the wild Atlantic coast between Kilcar and Glencolmcille takes some beating. A big golden secluded horseshoe of a place accessible by what felt as children like thousands of steps, though in fact there are only a hundred or so.
If you don't like Silver Strand then you don't like beaches, it's as simple as that.
Curracloe's endless white-sand Blue Flag beach is Oscar-worthy - and indeed its star quality was recognised in 1999 when Saving Private Ryan, in which the Wexford strand stands in for Omaha Beach in Normandy, took home five gongs.
The pristine sands are worth a visit winter or summer, whether to walk your dog, make sandcastles with the kids or swim in the sparkling sea.
Silver Strand is glorious and secluded, about 15km from Louisburg, near Killadoon. The strand is sheltered by rocky headlands and high dunes, with magnificent views of Inishturk Island. Swimming is safe and greatly encouraged. Co Clare
Fanore has the Rolls Royce of beaches. Frilled by high sandy, lovely-to-slide-down dunes, it's a safe bathing area with lots of rock pools for intrepid explorers and budding scientists.
There's a surf school and riding stables nearby if you want to ride those waves or canter along the sand.
And for overnighters and holiday makers, there's the Fanore Caravan Park.
For the more adventurous, a half-hour boat ride from Doolin will take you to Inisheer.
Best of the rest
Ardmore, Co Waterford; Barleycove, Co Cork; Barna, Co Galway; Cross Beach, Belmullet, Co Mayo.
Best secret spots
Tides can be dangerous and you have to climb in off the rocks, so be very careful, but for experienced swimmers, or those who simply want a glorious view, Nohoval Cove in Cork is the place.
Goat's Island. Not exactly an island, more an inlet, between Youghal in Cork and Ardmore in Waterford; wonderfully isolated, a favourite with locals winter and summer, but largely unknown to the rest of the world.
Port beach in Louth, a few short miles north of Clogherhead, is a remote rural beach with wide sandy shores and a wide range of flora and fauna including the Marsh Orchid.
Take a ferry or fly to Inisheer (above) - the smallest of the Aran Islands. If you walk past the main beach, the airfield and the small assembly of currachs and rowing boats, you will come to a little cove with pristine white sand.
It's sheltered and out of the way, so you might get it all to yourself and your chosen one. The island is covered in fascinating fossil-rich rocks, so if you get bored……
Best Coastal Drives
On a fine day, one of the closest places to heaven is the Antrim coastal drive from Belfast to Portrush via Carrickfergus, Whitehead and Larne. Stop off for a wee cuppa and refreshments in Carnlough at the fabulously quaint Londonderry Arms - a must for racing enthusiasts. See glensofantrim.com.
The spectacular drive from Waterville to Derrynane beach. You need nerves of steel. When we were kids we used to scream at my dad for looking out the window when he should have had his eyes on the road. The Slea Head Drive takes in amazing scenery and wonderful black-faced woolly sheep peering over ditches. This is a circular route beginning and ending in Dingle, but break the trip at Louis Mulcahy's fabulous pottery shop and cafe at Clogher Strand. See louismulcahy.com.
For gobsmacking beauty - and a fair dash of adrenaline - the drive down to the steep-sided beach of Keem in Achill Island takes some beating.
A former shark fishery, this tiny scoop of beach is a good place to fly a kite, take a nifty dip and calm your beating heart before you head back up and out of the valley.
The 'Mayo Riviera' has one of the most spectacular coastal drives. Take the N59 from Westport to Newport - stop off for some of butcher Sean Kelly's award-winning black pudding and sausages in Kelly's Kitchen Cafe, (kellysbutchers.com) - then motor along captivating Clew Bay to Mulranny. From there, you can take the ferry across to Achill, or continue on to Ballycroy to get lost in the majestic wilderness of Ballycroy National Park.
Driving north to Donegal from Sligo, turn off the road at Cliffony to enjoy the spectacular cliffs of Mullaghmore.
A popular place for surfing, fishing and birdwatching, its beauty abounds in all seasons.
You'll pass Classiebawn, the castle inhabited by the late Lord Mountbatten, standing starkly over the rocks.
Follow the curve of the coast to Mullaghmore village where you can pop into a pub or cafe for refreshment. Try Eithna's seafood restaurant, which overlooks the harbour and the beach beyond. www.eithnasrestaurant.com
Set out from Dublin for the Wicklow hills, then treat yourself on the way back to one of the best drives possible.
From Killiney Strand go along the Sorrento Road and look over the bay. It has been compared to Naples, but don't see it and die - you'll want to come back again and again. Stop for an ice-cream.
Then make your way through Dalkey, view the island or even take the ferry across. On your way to Dun Laoghaire, take in Bulloch Harbour and Sandycove.
Best of the rest
Copper Coast Drive, Tramore to Dungarvan, Co Waterford; Kinsale to Mizen Head, Co Cork; Galway to Liscannor via Kinvara, the Burren Causeway coastal route.
Best Sea Walks
For many summers I spent a few weeks in Claddaghduff, in a house that looked across strand and sea to Omey Island.
The island is tidal so you need to time your walks and swims. Most years there is some incident when a tourist drives over and gets caught by the tide, despite all the warnings.
A good afternoon can be spent walking around the small island and swimming in one of the hidden beaches, which you will probably have to yourself.
Come six o'clock and it's time to repair to Sweeney's for a pint or two looking across the water and contemplating whether or not you should do the Sky Road walk into Clifden the next day; it's a long walk but if you are fit enough, you will have a second memorable day. See sweeneysbarcladdaghduff.com.
The aptly-named Sky Road is an 11km circular route that takes you up among the hills overlooking Clifden Bay and its offshore islands, Inishturk and Turbot.
The Burren is a walkers' nirvana. The Green Road begins up a boreen next to the Fanore Holiday Cottages (near the church).
It takes you up into the Burren hills in a gentle rise, with stunning views all the way. Turn back whenever you like.
Serious walkers can continue on as far as Ballyvaughan or they can peel off to the right into the incredible Cahir valley.
Stating the obvious; the Cliffs of Moher should not be missed.
There's a great, newly-designated walk, starting in Doolin at the intersection for the pier, near O'Connors pub.
Walk the cliffs of Tramore, starting at The Cliff House Hotel.
Bray Head to Greystones is a stunning coastal walk on a well-maintained path, which takes about two-and-a-half hours.
Return to Bray by Dart and, en route to the station, fortify yourself with some delicious traditional French crepes at La Creperie on Beach Road and icecream at Something Nice on La Touche Place. See lacreperie.ie.
For an alternative, take the path up and over Bray head.
Pause at the knob of headland overlooking Greystones, before scrambling down to join the cliff walk near Windgates.
Spur yourself on with the thought of a tasty lunch at the Happy Pear (thehappypear.ie).
Dingle lighthouse. The majority of the tourists go the other way - out toward Slea Head - so this coastal walk in the opposite direction, toward the lighthouse, is quieter and just as beautiful.
There are little coves below if you fancy a swim, and on many clear evenings you can see Fungi the dolphin making an appearance.
Having armed yourself with a nourishing protein box from the new Lemon Leaf Deli and Bakery on Market Street, hike up Heartbreak Hill from Kinsale and do the Scilly Walk, taking you out to Summercove and to the amazing Charles Fort.
Best of the Rest
Ardmore Cliff Walk, Co. Waterford; Killiney Hill, Dublin; Ballycotton Cliff Walk, Cork
Contributions from Lucinda O'Sullivan, Gemma Fullam, Emily Hourican, Fran Power, Jamie Blake Knox, John Masterson, Katy Harrington, Donal Lynch, Campbell Spray, Lia Hynes, Eilis O'Hanlon, Joy Orpen
For more information on Ireland's coastal villages and seaside towns see visitdublin.com, irelandsancienteast.com, wildatlanticway.com.
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