Summer Staycation - Hidden Gems

Now that Summer is finally here we thought we would take the chance to celebrate all the hidden gems that Ireland has to offer, so over the next two weeks, we will have built up the ultimate travel guide.

Sligo

Though Strandhill is great, it's almost always jammers. Instead, head to Rosses Point, where the beach is a dream for swimmers, and you can get amazing lobster rolls and pit smoked BBQ at the (relatively new) Driftwood. There's also a secret beach that only the locals know about...

Enniscrone is another great spot, with old school Kilcullen's seaweed baths and a great beach. Easky isn't too far away, so head there for a takeout from Pudding Row (where you can also get gorgeous picnic baskets packed with baked goods, which you return when you're done). There's also a natural swimming pool on the beach that's only accessible when the tide is out.

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Mayo

Mayo is packed with incredible beaches that you can often get all to yourself, even in the height of summer. One of the best is Rinroe, that's right at the end of a country track on the Carrowteige peninsula. It's a perfect little horseshoe bay surrounded by giant cliffs that shelter the beach - and the Carrowteige loop walk has to be one of the best in the country. The Belmullet peninsula has tons of tiny little bays with the whitest sands and clearest water.

If you want to get a picnic together, the Cornrue Bakery in Westport is a great place to start - they make amazing sourdough and there's also a little market outside on Saturdays, where you can pick up local mussels and veg. There's a great spot for gelato called Krem, where you can get Achill sea salt caramel gelato and one infused with local beer. The pier at Blacksod is a great spot if you're self catering - you can turn up and buy lobster and mackerel right from the fishermen. At Belleek Castle, the Jack Fenn restaurant now has a full courtyard at their disposal, and the food is exceptional - think scorched, rare steak in a ciabatta or seared duck in their very own honey.

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Cork

East Cork, Ballyandreen Beach.

Cork's main beaches are already facing massive congestion this summer (Gardaí had to turn traffic away from several this weekend!) so think of the county's many secret coves like Ballyandreen Beach. The tiny shore makes for idyllic bathing, plus it sits at the end of the Ballycotton cliff walk where many of the crowds have petered out. Sit above the rocky outcrop and admire views of Ballycotton Lighthouse while spotting basking sharks in the waters below. For picnic fare, stock up on fresh goods from the Village Greengrocer in Castlemartyr or the Ballymaloe Cookery store. Or afterwards, head for a seafood spice bag in Skinny’s in Ballycotton on the areas happening food-trucks. For an evening alternative, Roche’s Point Lighthouse makes a great spot.

West Cork, Whale Watching

Who needs Vancouver when you have…Baltimore! There are several whale watch operators offering fun but educational wildlife spotting tours off Cork’s west coast. You can experience a world-class trove of fauna resident off Cork’s shores; dolphins, porpoises and seals and whales from minke and fin to even breaching humpbacks. Baltimore tours also stitch in a lunch stop off on Cape Clear where you can enjoy open seafood sambos with fresh crab. For an alternative (and free) option, go seal-spotting on the Blue Pool walk in Glengarriff.

Cork City

Cork is definitely on the rise with its developing skyline and exciting al fresco dining scene at The Montenotte, The River Lee and not least Cork’s brand new Dean Hotel (which just opened this year) with its rooftop restaurant. For some more local favourites, head to Izz Café, an award winning Palestinian restaurant in the heart of the city serving amazing babaganoush and falafel, or check-out the Good Day Deli in the Nano Nagle Centre, an artisan café run by an Irish / Polynesian couple, where you can dine amid the oasis gardens of the centre. Brunch items include smoked mackerel benedict and Kai Moana (food from the sea) tacos.

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Donegal?

We spent most of our time on the Inishowen Peninsula but drove over to the Fanad Peninsula from there. There is a handy ferry over Lough Swilly from Buncranna to Rathmullan which cuts about 40 minutes off the journey time, and you have the pleasure of being on a ferry instead of driving. We missed the ferry by five minutes - you need to allow plenty of time when driving the peninsulas in Donegal. The narrow roads and gorgeous scenery will make your journey time longer than planned.?

Fanad Lighthouse normally runs tours, and you can even stay there, but it is currently closed. There are lovely walks around the lighthouse and gorgeous beaches at Port Salon / Ballymastoker Bay, as well as on the Rosguill Peninsula which is just a short drive away. Tra na Rosann Beach was one of my favourites there. I'm told you can hike up the headland at Tra na Rosann beach to get a great view of Murder Hole Beach, which is currently closed to visitors.?

We also spent time in southern Donegal. We stayed in Harveys Point and visited the Slieve League Cliffs. Make sure to take the coast road to Kilcar and Muckross Head but come back via Ardara and the Glengesh Pass. When you get to the Slieve League car park there is a gate that you can drive through. Just close it behind you and drive up to the viewing point. If you park in the main car park, it will take a good 30 minutes uphill to get to the viewing point.?

There are many more highlights in southern / western Donegal that I didn't get to see, Narin / Portnoo beach, Malin Beag, and Glenveagh National Park - the 2nd largest National Park in Ireland.

I fell in love with the Inishowen Peninsula, it was my favourite part of Donegal, although I know I still have more to see! It is so unspoilt, in many cases we were the only people on its beaches. I spoke to some locals who said they describe it as Ireland’s 33rd county, because it's often forgotten about.?

There are so many superb beaches but Kinnagoe Bay was my favourite - it could rival Keem Bay as Ireland’s best beach. It reminded me of beaches in Malaysia or Bali - golden sand, with a lush green backdrop. We were the only people on it, however, I was told that in July and August it can be difficult to get down the narrow road.?

Wild Alpaca Walk - This is a simple short walk with Alpacas, but it is something that my kids loved. The walk offers stunning views of Five Fingers Strand - I believe Kathryn has done this too.

Other top attractions: Mamore Gap scenic drive and Malin Head cliff walk?

Wild Ireland - Sanctuary for rescued animals. Bears, wolves and lots more. It's small and there are no talks at present, so it should only take about an hour, but it is only a 15 minute drive to Derry city, so it is a great combination for a day trip if staying on the Inishowen Peninsula.

Restaurants:?

Nancys Barn in Ballyliffin (Inishowen) - voted the best seafood chowder in Ireland ( it only serves lunch so we didn't make it )

Ballyliffin Lodge - Gorgeous outdoor dining on a terrace that can be covered.

Rusty Mackerel at Slieve League Cliffs - make sure you pre book. If it's full enjoy a lobster roll at the viewing point for €8.50!?

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Derry City

We visited Derry City from Inishowen, it is only about 30 minutes from Buncrana or Malin. Derry city is one of the world’s best preserved walled-cities, and is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland. The tour of the Derry Walls is excellent. It lasts about an hour and it only costs £4 - kids under 12 are free! The guide spoke about the history of the walls from 400 years ago right up to the present day. He described his experience of Bloody Sunday, and explained the meanings behind each of the murals on the Bogside that are visible from the walls - albeit at a distance.??

Make sure to walk across the Peace Bridge too - you will notice that it is not straight - this symbolises that the path to peace is never straight forward. It opened in 2011 and its aim was to help unify the communities from the opposite sides of the Foyle River - the Protestant Waterside and the Nationalist Bogside.

The craft village is another must visit, there are gorgeous restaurants with outdoor seating and lovely craft shops for souvenirs. Soda and Starch in the Craft Village was highly recommended by many people for lunch, but remember many places stop serving lunch early so you need to pre book in advance, or not arrive at 3pm like we did.

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Limerick?

There's a brand new outdoor dining concept at the Woodlands Hotel in Adare, called?The Treehouse. They’ve built cute wooden cabins that you book as a bubble, so you’ve got a bit of privacy while being outdoors. The kids can explore the fairy trail, there are treats for the dogs, and the food is great – think sirloin beef blaas, burgers and great vegan options, too.?

?The new?Limerick Greenway?is finally opening on July 1 – it’s a 40km route linking Rathkeale, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale in West Limerick. The first stretch is already open, and it’s a great one for kids.??

?Not too far away, the?Knight’s Trail?by Glin is a gorgeous 4km walk, and you get beautiful views of the castle and the bay. Plus, you can end up at O’Shaughnessy’s, one of the most gorgeous pubs in the land.??

?Crew Brewing?is a microbrewery started by three friends, who got the keys right before covid struck. Happily, they’re now properly open once again and serving their own beers in the outdoor space.

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Kerry?

?Fancy sitting in an outdoor seaweed bath with the ocean right next to you? The?Wild Atlantic Seaweed Baths?are made from Irish whiskey barrels and are fully mobile – they pop up in different locations each week, with the exact spots announced on their social media every Wednesday. They just opened yesterday for the summer season, and they generally use three locations in Kerry – two along the Dingle Peninsula and one in Ballinskelligs. They have locations in West Cork and Clare, too.??

?The Hungry Donkey?in Killarney is a new food truck from Chad Byrne, who converted a horse trailer with the help of crowdfunders back in February. He doles out super authentic tacos (he learned from chefs at the Mexican embassy), and next level spice boxes with quirky toppings like crispy chicken livers, or scallops and octopus.??

?It’s a classic for a reason –?Teddy O’Sullivan’s?at the Kilmackillogue Pier is a gorgeous spot, where you can sit out by the water with a pile of mussels, chips and a creamy pint.??

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Meath

When we think of Meath, we think of Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange, medieval castles - a culture based holiday springs to mind. However, the Boyne Blueway has over 35km of rivers. Kayaking with Boyne Valley Activities can be enjoyed from €60 per boat or €130 per family - life jackets and one way bus transfer is included.

Boyne Boats offer boat trips in traditional Irish currachs – the same boats that were used in Game of Thrones. Ross Kenny is a legendary boat builder who was on the set of Game of Thrones and gives great insight into GOT as well as telling stories of mythology and history over 90 minutes.

Ireland’s longest greenway, the newly opened Royal Canal Greenway passes through the Meath, with 22kms in Meath at Enfield, Longwood and Hill of Down.

Slane Castle will be opening for tours in a few weeks time and Allta wine bar Summer House is opening next weekend. There is a food truck on the grounds now open from Thursday - Sunday 10am - 4pm.

Rock Farm Slane is one of Ireland’s most popular glamping sites. There is a private river for swimming and an outdoor hot tub, clay pizza oven and large communal fire pit.

Sheridans cheese have a small food market with local food producers every Saturday - Kells

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Louth

Louth is home to the Boyne Camino, a self-guided, 25km looped walk that is officially recognised, and can be included in the 100km required to receive an official Compostela Pilgrims Certificate. You need to order your Camino passport in advance and collect stamps en route. If you complete the 25km here, you only need to walk 75km in Spain.

Louth is our smallest county but it has three Blue Flag beaches at Clogherhead, Port and Templetown. It's also home to Seapoint Beach, which has a shipwreck where a ship ran aground here in 1974.

A new seafood trail is launching at the end of the month called sea louth.The sea louth passport will guide you to 14 coastal scenic viewpoints along the trail, you can collect stamps from various shops, and over 40 participating restaurants when you choose a local seafood dish from their menu. When you gather 10 of the 14 scenic viewpoints and 2 restaurant stamps, present it at one of the tourist offices to receive a memento.

The Glyde Inn - beach bar and restaurant in Annagassan. Multi award winning, including pub of the year and National Geographic World Best Places to Eat 2019.

Ireland’s largest aerial adventure course Skypark is in Carlingford Adventure Centre. You can also find kayaking, SUP and rock climbing here.

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Dublin

Now is a great time to visit Dublin's galleries, before the tourists return. You can book free tickets online for the National Gallery, for guaranteed entry and smaller crowds. Try to time your visit to coincide with the opening of the cabinet that holds Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs – this delicate watercolour is only on display for two hours a week, to protect it from the light. Thursdays 11.30am, Sunday 2pm.

There seem to be new food spots opening every week, and Benedicts is the latest to hit the city. They only sell three different egg benedict buns – egg-only, bacon or salmon – and it already has a legion of fans.

If you’ve spent numerous lockdowns watching Below Deck, head out on your own sailing adventure in Dun Laoghaire. Dublin Under Sail has a gorgeous traditional sail boat called the Brian Ború, and you can head out around Dublin Bay, sailing past Dalkey Island, the Bailey Lighthouse and Howth Head. You can also learn how to sail with the Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School.

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Wicklow

Fat Fox is a great little drive through coffee hatch in Delgany, which is really handy if you’re heading into the National Park from the Dublin direction. They serve excellent coffee and giant, gooey chocolate chip cookies.

There are some fabulous walks at Russborough House, with shorter trails for kids (including a fairy trail) and a 2km stroll through the parklands. There’s a great playground, too, and the National Bird of Prey Centre, where you can meet birds of prey and owls.

Seefin is a megalithic tomb on the top of a mountain, with incredible views over Wicklow and South Dublin from the top. It’s a bit of a rough trail, but worth it from the top.

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Wexford

Grálinn is a little café that opened in Fethard-on-sea last June. Owner Dee used to have a little food truck that did the festival circuit, before opening up her first bricks and mortar shop. At the weekend, she does incredible donuts with fillings like rose geranium and orange blossom or miso caramel, and it’s in a great spot to walk around the Hook Peninsula.

If you fancy a bit of a stretch, you can do yoga on the beach on Baginbun with Livin Off The Hook. Classes run on Mondays, Wednesdays and weekends at 8am, so you can do the class when the beach is quiet then leap into the sea when you’re done.

The new Three Rocks Trail starts in Ferrycarrig and weaves over forests, medieval castles and monuments all the way to Skeaterpark.