Tuesday 19 March 2019

Spring Breaks: 7 of the best places to travel in Ireland and overseas

Spring is the perfect time for a short break at home or overseas. Our Travel Editor shares some blooming good ideas...

Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial during spring
Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial during spring
The Burren in Co. Clare has a fascinating ecology
Jefferson Monument with blooming cherry blossom
Keukenhof in the Netherlands. Photo: Deposit
Yosemite 'firefall'. Photo: Deposit
Armagh's skyline. Photo: Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Walkers on the slopes of Croagh Patrick, above Clew Bay, Co Mayo. Photo: Gareth McCormack/Fáilte Ireland
Osaka castle with the cherry blossoms in spring
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Not to hot, not too cold, and bursting with cherry blossoms, tulips, daffodils and orchids… spring can be a beautiful time to travel.

1. Cherry Blossoms in Japan and the US

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Osaka castle with the cherry blossoms in spring

Japan is the ultimate cherry blossom destination, with the first blooms appear in the south in January, and slowly spread north as the weather warms.

The ‘advancing front’ is eagerly mapped by media, and Kyoto is the most famous city to witness the phenomenon (though Tokyo is terrific too). The River Kamo-Gawa is bedecked with blossoms, Kyoto’s Geisha & Maiko perform special ‘Cherry Blossom Dances’ and you can walk the ‘Philosopher’s Path’ - a small but perfectly formed path through foothills on the edge of the city.

Japan doesn't have a monopoly on cherry blossom magic, of course.

Washington DC’s National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20 – April 13) sees 1.5m people visit its trees. Interestingly, the trees can be sourced back to Japan - in 1912, Tokyo’s then-Mayor gifted the originals to the US capital.

Check Washington's ‘peak bloom forecast’ on cherrybloomwatch.com.

Travel Notes: Accommodation in Kyoto, Tokyo and DC can soar during peak season. Try to book well ahead or travel midweek for best deals.

More: Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: Pól Ó Conghaile's ultimate travel guide

2. Take a hike... in Ireland

Spring is the ideal season ideal for walking - not too hot, not too cold, with Irish woodlands carpeted with wild garlic, bluebells, daffodils and more.

The Slieve Blooms Walking Festival (slievebloom.ie; May 3-6) is 25 years old this year, and it claims to be Ireland’s longest-running walking festival. Based out of Clonaslee and Kinnitty, treks cater for all levels of walker, from 4km strolls with Alpacas to 12km guided hikes.

Pilgrim Paths Week (April 20-28) is an Easter festival based on Ireland’s network of pilgrim walking routes. Walks on trails like Cnoc na dTobar in Kerry, or St Kevin’s Way in Wicklow, are organised by local communities with both a heritage and a spiritual focus. See pilgrimpath.ie.

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Walkers on the slopes of Croagh Patrick, above Clew Bay, Co Mayo. Photo: Gareth McCormack/Fáilte Ireland

2019 is the 10th anniversary of the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail walking festival (March 8-10). The trail runs 60km from Balla to Murrisk and rates start from €20 to €50 for the three days, with transfers included. Stays are extra. See croi.ie/heritagetrail.

Carlingford’s National Leprechaun Hunt sees €4,000 in cash prizes (including a €1200 bar of gold) hidden in cauldrons throughout the area on May 12. Pay €5 and join the hunt to find them! See thelastleprechaunsofireland.com.

More: Ireland's Top 20 walks... under 10,000 steps

3. The big thaw... in Yosemite

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Yosemite 'firefall'. Photo: Deposit

Spring is the best time of year to visit many US national parks, with cool weather and fewer crowds. Yosemite’s waterfalls are at their best in May, reinvigorated by the winter thaws that spark all sorts of seasonal flora fireworks.

Other must-sees include rock formations like El Capitan (2,300m backdrop to the Oscar-winning ‘Free Solo’ documentary), giant sequoia trees over 1,000 years old, and the recent ‘firefall’ – an orange phenomenon when the sun strikes Horsetail Falls (pictured above).

Some hiking paths are snow-free by April, and the four-mile trail to Glacier Point usually opens in late May.

Travel Notes: nps.gov/yose; park entrance is $35 per car.

More: A 'firefall' is blazing at Yosemite... for one week only

4. The Burren in Bloom

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The Burren in Co. Clare has a fascinating ecology

“It is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him,” as one Cromwellian General, Edmund Ludlow, said of the Burren in 1651.

It’s a different story in late April and early May, when hundreds of species of wildflower, their seeds blown in from Alpine, Arctic and Mediterranean climes, burst through the rocky limestone landscape.

Every May, the Burren in Bloom Festival (burreninbloom.com) has a series of talks and walks celebrating the Burren and its heritage.

There are some modern surprises too. The Burren is home to Ireland’s oldest perfumery (burrenperfumery.com), a Slow Food Festival focusing on seaweed and salmon (May 10-12; burren.ie), and even a chocolate factory (hazelmountainchocolate.com).

More: Why May is the most magical month to visit Clare

5. Tulip time in the Netherlands

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Keukenhof in the Netherlands. Photo: Deposit

Keukenhof is the world’s largest flower park - a 32-hectare tapestry of gardens open for just two months (March 21 to May 19 this year).

Gardeners plant seven million bulbs (the designs differ every year) - crocuses, hyacinths, orchids, daffodils and, of course, tulips (one exhibition looks at the ‘tulip mania’ of the 17th century). It’s one of the most photographed places in the world.

Keukenhof is in Lisse, an hour from Amsterdam (keukenhof.nl; €17) - so can easily be combined with a sneaky school-term city break.

If you're a tulip fan but don't fancy the travel, Powerscourt Gardens in Co. Wicklow has a Tulip Festival on April 19 (powerscourt.com/gardens; €7.50).

6. Apple blossoms in Armagh

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Armagh's skyline. Photo: Northern Ireland Tourist Board

You don't have to travel to Japan to enjoy a bloom of blossoms. Armagh is Ireland's Orchard County, and its Apple Blossom Weekend (May 10-12) marks the start of this year's growing season against the backdrop of "4,000 flower-filled acres of land".

Orchard tours, cooking lessons and demos, painting lessons, walks and more are all on the cards over the weekend (visitarmagh.com).

Meanwhile, in Drogheda, Apple Blossom Walks take place as part of the Boyne Valley Food Series between April 27 and May 4 (boynevalleyflavours.ie; €5).

More: Good Apple: Tasty Armagh is a much closer trip than you think

7. Spring Festivals in Ireland

Looking for a day out in Ireland this spring? The green shoots of festival season are beginning to sprout. Here are just a few of the highlights...

  • Snowdrop Month at Altamont Gardens, Co Carlow (February)
  • Tullamore Tradfest, Co Offaly (April 12-14)
  • Waterford Festival of Food (April 26-28)
  • Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots (May 3-6)
  • Ardara Cup of Tae Festival, Co Donegal (May 3-6)

Read more:

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