Explore your shores: The best holidays on the coast in Ireland

The pick of Munster's coastal attractions are on Tom Breathnach's staycation destination itinerary
Explore your shores: The best holidays on the coast in Ireland
The Blasket Islands: Dún Chaoin pier is the departure point for the islands.

Ballycotton Sea Adventures

Island escapes are one thing — but when you’re also off to explore an iconic lighthouse, it certainly ups the adventure ante. 

Ballycotton Sea Adventures offers 90-minute trips from the postcard fishing harbour to the iconic East Cork lighthouse, where you’re guided through the island’s storied legacy, with amazing 360-degree views as standard. 

Ballycotton lighthouse in the sunshine Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballycotton lighthouse in the sunshine Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Once back on terra firma, head to Skinny’s Diner down the village — they serve a lip-smacking, all gluten-free menu, the highlight being Ballycotton fish and chips which you can tuck into in their pretty seating area overlooking the bay. €20, ballycottonseaadventures.com 

Gin & Beara it 

Gin’s in. And where better to feel its botanic infusion than the flora wonderland of Wild West Cork? Based out of Castletownbere, Beara Gin is an artisan distillery founded by siblings John Brennan and Eileen Power. Their secret? Adding a little local flavour to the mix, from Atlantic seawater and Ventry harbour sugar kelp to hand-picked fuchsia (West Cork’s signature bloom). The distillery itself is not open to the public but there are plenty of scenic waterholes around the peninsula to enjoy a tipple. Try the Wild Atlantic Bar near Adrigole for the ultimate tonic. thebearadistillery.ie 

The Warming Wagon 

If you can imagine the Wanderly Wagon receiving a makeover in Finland, you’ve got the visual here. The Warming Wagon is a quirky mobile sauna which parks itself in scenic locations across the East Cork coast (and beyond) offering a bolt of bliss to members of the public who book a session. 

The wood-fired sweat room is infused with essential oils and features a glass-fronted facade, allowing guests to soak in those sea views before making a break for them. Entry is €15 and the wagon is also available for private hire.

Keep tabs on upcoming locations via its Facebook page. @thewarmingwagon 

Experience Dún Chaoin

It’s Ireland in a postcard. Dún Chaoin pier (aka the sheep highway) is one of the most iconic rural scenes in the country. Okay, Instagram may have seen the people-to-sheep ration divvy out over the years, but the zig-zag roadway which descends to the ocean still makes the greatest pit-stop on a visit to the Dingle Peninsula. It’s also, literally, a must-stop for any visitors to the Blasket Islands as ferries depart from here. Try and make it for sunrise or sunset for added epic impact. dingle-peninsula.ie

Dark Skies on Dursey 

Dursey Island: Europe's only cross-sea cable car brings visitors to the island.
Dursey Island: Europe's only cross-sea cable car brings visitors to the island.

There’s many a novelty reason to visit Dursey Island: It’s Ireland’s most southwesterly fringe and is only accessible via Europe’s only cross-sea cable car. But for those who opt for a sleepover, there’s a benefit to being on one of Ireland’s most remote locations — it’s a dark skies heaven. An island population teetering around two means light pollution is a non-issue on Dursey so clear weather here means exquisite starry nights. To stay, there are a couple of Airbnb options on the island but they are snapped up quickly, so camping’s a legit alternative. Just make sure you get permission from a local farmer before pitching up.


#Bling in Ring 

It’s Waterford crystal — but not as you know it. In Waterford’s Gaeltacht fishing village of An Rinn lies the charming Criostal na Rinne, an artisan glassworks run by local craftsman Eamon Terry, who cuts his beautiful sea-inspired contemporary crystal by hand. 

Pop in and Eamon offers free tours and demos to both individuals and groups, where you’ll experience the techniques of a master craftsman and Waterford’s rich history of glass-making, which stretches back hundreds of years. There’s no ‘brú’ to purchase but pieces start from €85.


Dungarvan Brews 

All that Greenway cycling is thirsty work, you know. Dungarvan has become a gourmet destination in recent years, thanks to its locally-inspired smorgasbord of food and drink.

Dungarvan Brewing Company, located just off the town’s bypass, welcomes visitors for tours through its small-batch facility, all chased by a tutored tasting of its craft beers.

Whet your appetite with the likes of Black Rock Irish Stout and a Comeragh Challenger Gluten Free Pale Ale . If you’re feeling peckish afterwards, head to Eunice Power's gourmet ANDCHIPS. Beer then batter. What more could you desire? dungarvanbrewerytours.ie

Is land of Arts 

Looking for an artist retreat to get inspired, or just fancy going on an alternative art trail?

Sherkin Island off the coast of Baltimore is stocked with so many artistic studios it has earned the moniker 'Island of the Arts'. Visitors can even potter (not literally) around an artist’s trail where you can visit local artist studios and the island’s craft shops. Either day-trip here or overnight in traditional islander accommodation such as Sherkin Northern Shore.

Sherkin is reachable via a 15-minute crossing from Baltimore.

Skellig Chocolate Factory 

Are we there yet? After an afternoon of gear-shifting around the Ring of Kerry, seeing the Skellig Chocolate Factory appear on the horizon is any road-trip's ultimate cocoa-dusted oasis. The state-of-the-art facility in beautiful Ballinskelligs allows visitors to witness the dairy deliciousness being made before their eyes, which should serve as inspiration to pick up a few treats in the shop. Choose between flavours such as rose and pistachio or Irish honey, or head to the “treats only” café to indulge in a hot chocolate with, yes, real chocolate. skelligschocolate.com

SUP in Ardmore 

Work your core in Ardmore. West Waterford’s postcard coastal nook may be home to a vibrant arts and food scene, but it also ranks as a popular outdoor playground, being within an hour's scoot of both Cork and Waterford cities. Ardmore Adventures offers a wave of sea-based activities, with stand-up paddle-boarding the trending option. Beginners are welcome, and once you’re confident on the SUP board, you can explore the craggy Ardmore coastline, with highlights including a cave which was a former copper mine, and the wreck of a Samson crane. Afterwards, pull up a pew in the garden of the Round Tower Hotel for a hearty bowl of chowder. ardmoreadventures.ie 

Burren Ice Cream 

Heading on a Burren road-trip? Located along the shores of Lough Murra sits Linnalla Irish Ice Cream, run by husband and wife team Roger and Bríd Fahy. The gelato goodness is all thanks to the family farm; namely a dairy herd of short-horn cattle grazed on a meadow diet so rich it gives Linnalla’s milk a distinctive creamy quality. Flavours are anything but vanilla too. Try the surprisingly mouth-watering sea buckthorn variety. 


Seafood Delights 

It wouldn’t be a Munster coastal tour without a lazy seafood lunch and sometimes the best food experiences are those you stumble upon in real life, rather than on TripAdvisor.

Helen’s Bar, at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it crossroads of Kilkmackillogue Pier on the Kerry edge of Beara makes an idyllic lunch stop on any tour of the peninsula.

Seafood is often hauled in straight across the road, making it a great spot for a moules frites, Kerry style.

Doolin Music House 

Trad sessions may be a little thinner on the ground this summer season, but you can’t stop a cool hub like Doolin from jigging. Doolin Music House is the private residence of acclaimed flute-player Christy Barry, who along with artist partner Sheila Quinn, hosts live musical soirees in their home. This summer will see most of the gatherings al fresco in the garden and visitors can enjoy Christy’s renditions while Sheila serves wine and cheese.

It’s a really wonderful way to spend an evening and spectacular sunsets are an added bonus.


Inch Surfing 

Inch Beach: A surfing paradise in Co Kerry.
Inch Beach: A surfing paradise in Co Kerry.

G’day, Kerry! Few beaches in Ireland can pull off the Summer Bay vibes like Inch beach, when on a sweltering day in the Kingdom it morphs into a surfers’ paradise.

Kingdomwaves Surf School operates out of the blue flag beach and provides lessons and gear rental, as well as hosting fun activities such as surf camps. Lessons from €25;


Fastnet Rock Sunset 

Welcome to the edge of Ireland. The nation’s most southerly point, Fastnet Rock Lighthouse bursts out of the Atlantic with all the symbolic pomp of an Irish Statue of Liberty, so there's nowhere better to watch the sunset. The ever-friendly Cape Clear Ferries crew offer a three-hour tour to the architectural wonder, setting sail from the mainland at 7pm and circling the rock up-close as the sun signs off on Ireland for another day. For some pre-theatre dining, head to The Townhouse OD’s gastro-pub in Schull, where you can indulge in a tasty local menu of surf and turf delights. Tours €40. capeclearferries.com

Fastnet Rock Lighthouse bursts out of the Atlantic with all the symbolic pomp of an Irish Statue of Liberty.
Fastnet Rock Lighthouse bursts out of the Atlantic with all the symbolic pomp of an Irish Statue of Liberty.

Déise Desserts 

There’s more to Waterford's baking scene than the humble blaa. The eye-catching Seagull Bakery located along Tramore’s foreshore is an artisan sourdough bakery with a penchant for patisseries. But think of them as pastries with a local twist, such as meadowsweet creme patisserie with black currant, red gooseberry, Wexford strawberry and raspberry from Halley Berry fruit farm in Newrath. Just add coffee and you’ve got the perfect accompaniment for your Tramore beach stroll. seagullbakery.ie

Kilkee Cliff Walk 

Kilkee: The Kilkee Cliff Walk is a looped trail which starts from the town and meanders alongside a dramatic coastal route.
Kilkee: The Kilkee Cliff Walk is a looped trail which starts from the town and meanders alongside a dramatic coastal route.

You can’t road-trip the Wild Atlantic Way without lacing up for a cliff walk, but if you’ve already checked the Cliffs of Moher off your list, consider venturing to Loop Head instead.

The Kilkee Cliff Walk is a looped trail which starts from the town and meanders alongside a dramatic coastal route, studded with features including the Pollock Holes, Diamond Rocks, and the wave-bashed natural amphitheatre of Intrinsic Bay. Afterwards, head to The Pantry, a former restaurant turned food-hall in the heart of Kilkee. Try their fresh Doonbeg crab open sandwiches, made on chunky bread from Considines of Kilrush. pantrykilkee.ie

Rent Glin Castle 

Don’t overlook Limerick on your Wild Atlantic Way tour, particularly if you fancy splashing a little cash on your slumber. Glin Castle, overlooking the Shannon Estuary, is an exquisite historic property where the FitzGerald family has maintained a dynasty for more than 800 years (it’s currently owned by landscaper Catherine FitzGerald and her husband, actor Dominic West). The castle is available for private rental and also acts as an occasional pop-up hotel, with rooms just shy of €500 per night.


Say Cheese 

Ailwee in Ballyvaughan may be best known for its extraordinary caves, but it also plays host to the charming Ailwee farm shop and cheese factory. Here, you can watch Burren Gold (a buttery Gouda-like creation) being crafted, while also checking out Burren treats such as local honeys, fudge, bath salts, and soaps. 

Elsewhere in the area, make a beeline for the Cheese Press in Ennistymon for one of their legendary cheese toasties and a cup of locally-roasted Anam coffee. Ok, it’s technically 3km from the coast, but well worth the detour! irelandsbluebook.com 

Kelp in the Kingdom 

They call it grazing the Wild Atlantic Way! Rooted on the magical Ring of Kerry, husband and wife John and Kerryann Fitzgerald have been running seaweed discovery courses and workshops for more than a decade. 

Tours start at the seaweed discovery centre in Caherdaniel village, where participants can enjoy a brew of seaweed-infused tea while before given a crash-course on kelp. Then it’s off to the nearby shore for a low-tide guided walk to forage and harvest seaweeds before enjoying a tasting menu back at base.


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