Welcome to Vadrafjord (that’s Waterford to you and I). Ireland’s oldest city has been steeped in a storied maritime history since it was founded by Vikings in 915 AD. The city’s well-preserved Viking Triangle offers visitors a trove of historic attractions within its walls. King of the Vikings, billed as the world’s first viking virtual reality adventure, is a family-friendly 3D experience which brings you up close and personal with Waterford’s onetime sea pirate warlords. The site is located in a replica Viking house within the ruins of a medieval monastery, all adding to the drama; kingofthevikings.com. For the perfect evening refuge, take the 20km spin down to cliffs and coves of Dunmore East and feast at one of Ireland’s best seafood chippers, East Pier.
It’s hard to believe that the Waterford Greenway has only been around since 2017! In just four years, the Déise’s outdoor wonder has emerged as one of Ireland’s great eco-tourism successes, becoming a literal rite of passage for tourists to the county. The route stretches 46km from Waterford City to Dungarvan — which may sound lengthy — but given its largely flat course, it makes a very doable day activity to cover it in its entirety, or you can opt to start at more midway spots like Kilmacthomas. Scenery featuring the Comeragh Mountains and the Celtic Sea makes those kilometres tick by. As does the promise of food options like Momo in Waterford or 360 Cookhouse in Dungarvan. There’s a veritable peloton of bike hire options too, from the Greenway Man to Waterford Greenway Bike Hire who rent rothars out from Waterford, Dungarvan or Kilmac.
It’s the OG Irish spa treatment: a refreshing seaweed bath. Wonderfully named Sólás Na Mara (Solace of the Sea) located in Waterford’s often bypassed Gaeltacht is a charming seaweed bath house where you can pamper yourself au naturelle in a tub of locally-harvested kelp. Prices start from €30 per one hour and afterwards you can visit their on-site café for ‘té, caife & císte’. Elsewhere, The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore is also an option for seaweed baths (€50). And if you prefer rooting for your own kelp rather than just bathing in it, Marie Power (aka the Sea Gardener) offers foraging outings and picnics along the Copper Coast. See solasnamara.ie & theseagardener.com
You may not make it to Santiago this summer, but Waterford (and Tipp!) are offering an idyllic route to keep your steps up. This summer sees the tourism launch of St Declan’s Way; a walking route linking the ancient ecclesiastical hubs of Ardmore and Cashel. The 96km trail follows the path that Declan took when going to Cashel to meet Saint Patrick in the 5th century. In the past 1500 years, pilgrims in turn have followed the suit to visit Saint Declan’s monastery, holy well and grave. Those Ardmore sites should take your breath away after your odyssey. That failing, the lobster rolls from The Pantry food truck by the Cliff House should do the trick.
Staying in a lighthouse has become a bucket-list experience for many wanderers in Ireland, but overnighting in Saoirse Fitzgerald’s Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage in Youghal takes the dream to the next level. The Home of the Year finalist has renovated the property to boutique hotel standards where a sensitive homage to the property’s maritime heritage is sprinkled with bougie touches such as a sunroom swing chair and a luxury bath tub overlooking the sea. A massive fanbase sees availability snapped up in minutes, so keep tabs on the @thelighthousekeepsher Instagram for a chance to bag a booking. The cottage sleeps six with rates teetering around €500 per night: a treat, but an unforgettable one. For an alternative coastal base, just across the bay in Knockadoon is a just launched studio-style Airbnb called The Boat Hut which comes with its own jacuzzi overlooking the sea. (€150 per night).
Up there with 99s, few other foods say a seaside summer like a piping-hot load of fresh fish and chips. But to add some extra heat, treat yourself to the latest coastal food craze: seafood spice bags. Servings typically include variations of chips with prawns, calamari and fish bites topped with onions, peppers and spices — Skinny’s Diner in Ballycotton and the Trawler Boys rolling artisan restaurant (last spotted in Ballycotton) are just two of the local purveyors offering the dish. Season your feast with your pick of local East Cork attractions like the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, Ballynamona Beach, or better still embark on a fantastic Ballycotton Lighthouse tour.
Life’s a breach! Social media footage of a humpback whale breaching in Clonakilty Bay last summer was the best advertisement Irish eco-tourism could ask for. There are a number of outfitters offering world-class marine life tours across Cork’s Atlantic shores, from Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours who operate out of Courtmacsherry to Nic Slocum’s Whale Watch West Cork who hit the seas from Baltimore. Like all wildlife tours, measure your expectations but hope for the best! Among the whale species in our waters are fin, minke and those iconic humpbacks as they gorge off Ireland’s krill-rich waters. Other sea life highlights in Munster include dolphins, porpoise and seals as well as birdlife like sea-eagles or puffins. Tours typically start from €50.
If you’re looking for an island getaway, Ireland’s southernmost community of Cape Clear offers the perfect coastal comfort. The Irish-speaking island which lies a scenic 40min jaunt from Baltimore is an unplugged haven for hiking and birding as well as being home to quirky cultural draws like its (currently stalled) storytelling festival. Stay over at the island’s eco-sensitive Chléire Haven glamping and campsite or check-in to the friendly Ard na Gaoithe aka Cape Clear Bed & Breakfast. Just this week the B&B received its Q-mark credentials from Foras na Gaeilge for its long-standing commitment to bilingualism. Translation: it also makes the perfect accommodation to practice your cúpla focail over bricfeasta!
Full moon kayaking on Lough Hyne has become a legendary pursuit in recent years not least thanks to its luminary USP. Famed for its bioluminescence where (here’s the science part…) whale fodder known as plankton stores up light energy by day and releases it at night, Lough Hyne’s combo of glowing waters and starry night has made it a true cult kayaking setting. Beyond the light show, nature lovers will delight at its flora and fauna displays any time of day. Prices start from €75 atlanticseakayaking.com. For an alternative adventure, Schull Sea Safari offers kayak hire from scenic Colla Pier where you can paddle out to the parallel world of Long Island which lies just 600m from the mainland. schullseasafari.ie
As perhaps the most picturesque village in Ireland, a trip to Allihies is well worth the 2hr (plus!) spin from Cork City. Its sheer remoteness is indeed all part of its charm — particularly when its kaleidoscopic streetscapes appear in the rugged backdrop of the Beara peninsula like Skittles down a valley. When not ogling its facades, take a dip at the white-sanded shore of Ballydonegan beach, pay a visit to the unique Copper Mines Museum or hike the Copper Mine trail up the Caha mountains. Keep tabs too on the mobile Wild Atlantic Seaweed Baths who are known to pop up on these shores. wildatlanticseaweedbaths.com
From the Sally Gap to the Conor Pass, Ireland has its share of epic road-trip spots. However, the Healy Pass, a 12km coast-to-coast shortcut across the Cork & Kerry’s Caha mountains offers the most drama of all. The route itself which hairpins its way aloft from Adrigole to a breath-taking summit straight from a Toyota Ireland commercial. Once you reach the Kerry shores on the other side, the charming harbour of Kilmacalogue makes for an idyllic spot to park up and Helen’s Bar, famed for its mussels and seafood fresh from the pier, is a dreamy locale for a Wild Atlantic Way lunch. (cash only).
Bursting out of the Atlantic with the air of a Celtic Machu Picchu, the Skellig Islands are without doubt Ireland’s superstar attraction. 618 testing steps take you to Skellig Michael’s summit where its early Christian monastery, resident puffins, and views back to Little Skellig and the mainland will blow any other travel experience right out of the water. The islands are typically reached via boat-trip from spots such as Portmagee or Ballinskelligs but you’ll need to book well in advance on the back of recent Star Wars fandom. Although it’s looking hopeful, the attraction is still unconfirmed for reopening at the time of print, but keep an eye out on heritageireland.ie for the latest updates.
For a taste of the Wild Atlantic — with about 40% volume — make a beeline to the new Skellig Six18 craft distillery, characterfully located in a former sock factory in Cahersiveen. Named after (you’ve guessed it!) the number of steps it takes to climb the above Skellig Michael, the facility creates a range of whiskey and locally-infused gins, using botanicals like birch, yarrow, fir and dillisk for a distinctively local blás. Visitors can go on a distillery tour, purchase a souvenir bottle, or if you’d like to take your skills up a notch and enrol in gin school. See current happenings at skelligsix18distillery.ie
Funghi sadly being as láthair from the waters this summer may seem an initial blow to Dingle Tourism but the dolphin has left a fine legacy of eco-tourism in his wake. The Great Blasket Island Eco Experience is a small passenger boat tour from Dingle to the iconic island where you’ll learn all about the local history, geology and wildlife en route. Highlight is when passengers land on the Great Blasket Island for up to 4hrs where the OPW can offer guided tours of the abandoned village or you can take a self-guided trek of this most far-flung European outcrop. €65 per person; greatblasketisland.net. For another option on the peninsula, hop aboard the ever-popular Dingle Sea Safari for €55; dingleseasafari.com.
Road-trips are only as good as the attractions en route — and the Foynes Maritime Museum along the Shannon Estuary makes a great stop for both history and boating buffs. The family-friendly museum charts the history of Foynes as a strategic haven in the days of antiquity to its standing as an important seaplane port during WWII. Exhibits include a paddle-steamer cabin, life on the river displays, as well as a 360 control tower with views of Foynes and the Shannon estuary. Admission €12/€6; flyingboatmuseum.com
There aren’t too many cities in Ireland where you can go kayaking with an 800-year-old castle as your backdrop but Limerick is no stranger to bucking trends. Nevsail Watersports offer a number of adventure kayaking trips upon the iconic Shannon where you can enjoy a tour along the iconic river with a unique urban twist — including a popular night kayaking tour of the city. After your adventure, quench your thirst with a visit to Treaty Brewery or enjoy a feast at Moll’s Fish. The local favourites have revamped the former Citroen van where the business all started and are serving seafood delights from soft-shell fish tacos and crab mac-n-cheese to chowder and prawn bao buns. Kayaking from €25 nevsailwatersports.ie
Many people touring the Wild Atlantic Way tend to catch the Tarbert ferry from Kerry to Clare and make a bolt for the Burren. But there’s plenty to discover around the Shannon Estuary, not least the ancient and natural attractions of Scattery Island. This lesser-known monastic settlement is home to one of best-preserved early-Christian sites on the island with a cathedral, round tower and several medieval churches. Beyond the ancient, you’ll find great bird-watching and even a lighthouse! Admission to the island is free but you’ll need to catch a boat from Kilrush (from €12 with scatteryislandtours.com). heritageireland.ie
A picnic in the Burren is outdoor dining goals. A picnic from the Burren Smokehouse gilds the lily even more. Just launched for this summer, Brigitte Hedin Curtin’s seafood mecca in Lisdoonvarna is offering a range of picnics for pick-up from their gorgeous visitor centre. As well as variations of their delicious organic smoked salmon, other basket fillers include homemade brown bread and St. Tola’s goat’s cheese, all washed down with your choice of orchard apple juice, prosecco or Moët. Picnics start from €10 and scale from there — you can also buy a sustainable pop-up table and tote bag for €50. Preorder at burrensmokehouse.com
Dive into all there is to know about oysters with a “shuck-off” experience at the wonderful Flaggy Shore Oysters at New Quay. Hosted by Gerry O’Halloran and his daughter Ciara in their coastal oyster warehouse, visitors will experience everything from the local history and science behind oyster farming, investigate the local sea creatures in the aquarium and master the art of oyster shucking before enjoying your spoils with a glass of wine. For the ultimate Burren seafood experience, pair your visit with their Pier to Plate food experience together with Linnane’s Bar (just around the pier), where you’ll follow your shucking morning with an incredible lobster lunch. €95 per person; see flaggyshoreoysters.ie & linnanesbar.com. For a dining option in nearby Ballyvaughan, Monks makes another happening spot for local seafood and great sunsets.
Unless you’re a real early bird, the best time to really experience the wonder of the Cliffs of Moher is at sunset. The cliffs take on a palpable draíocht at dusk, with fewer tourists, the dimming cacophony of seabirds and sight of the sun dipping down over the Aran Islands. For some late-night treats, stock up on some famous fudge from Moher Cottage in Liscannor — and a new mobile truck will be serving its café favourites from stunning Clahane Shore. To stay over, Sea View House in Doolin offers no shortage of spectacular sunsets and, as it’s reached via the spectacular Hags Head cliff walk, it makes a heavenly base to rest weary legs. https://]seaview-doolin.ie