With green grass covered cliffs, spotlessly clean white sandy beaches, bays with perfectly flat stones for skimming and waves big and small for all water sports fans, Ireland has plenty of pretty coastal spots for you to explore. Sure the weather can be slightly, er, unpredictable, but that only keeps the beaches quieter and somehow keeps the water that little bit warmer – or so it seems!
Below is our list of the top ten beaches in Ireland, as chosen by a local in the know. If we’ve left out your favourite hidden bay, be sure to let us know so we can include it in our next post, just like we did with our readers’ tips on the best beaches in Britain.
1. Inchydoney Beach, Clonakilty, Co. Cork
Cork’s most loved beach, Inchydoney, is as popular with those out for a Sunday drive as it is with hard-core surfers (riding waves even in the midst of Irish winter) honeymooners and newlyweds looking for the perfect spot for their wedding photos. The pristine sands of Inchydoney are divided up into two magnificent beaches that stretch out as long as the eye can see. Broken by Virgin Mary’s Point and the end of the main road, you’ll find Inchydoney Surf School on the beach to the right, as they make use of the excellent off shore breaks to teach beginners how to catch their first wave. The area has a lot of nearby facilities including a small shop that opens during the summer, public toilets next to the beach, and the luxurious Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, which has panoramic view across both beaches and out across the bay. Dunes Pub and Bistro is the perfect place to warm up after a long walk (or surfing session!), serving up local seafood dishes and cold pints of Guinness!
The only tricky thing when it comes to this beautiful beach is actually getting there. You can catch a public bus as far as Clonakilty but you’ll need to get a taxi to reach the beach – the easiest method is to rent your own car giving your freedom to stay as long as you like. You might want to stay a bit longer and explore the surrounding countryside with your new set of wheels – check out this article for five of the best scenic driving routes in Ireland.
2. Coumeenole Beach, Dunquin, Co. Kerry
Before visiting you’ll have thought such natural beauty only existed in holiday brochures and filtered Instagram feeds, but Coumeenole Beach in Co. Kerry is the real deal. Rocky outcrops jut into the Atlantic, covered in long grass and surrounded by perfect patches of sandy beach. It’s so stunning that Lonely Planet once described it as “one of the most beautiful places on earth”, and after a few minutes exploring the peninsula, you will surely agree. While swimming here is sadly not recommended due to strong and unpredictable currents, surrounding cliffs make for a nice place to walk and provide an opportunity for some stunning photographs. As this is real, untouched middle-of-nowhere Ireland, you’ll be hard pushed to find any toilet facilities or even shops near by. You may also encounter a small language barrier, with most locals speaking Gaelic as their first language.
3. Brandon Bay, Co. Kerry
Home to some of the most consistent waves and the most breathtaking sunsets in Ireland, Brandon Bay’s golden strand is a water sports mecca. With great offshore breaks and big swells from the North Atlantic gracing the Kerry coastline, it’s a hot spot for both beginners and big-wave surfers from Ireland and abroad. To try your hand at surfing, book a lesson with Jamie Knox Watersports, and choose between wave surfing, windsurfing or even kitesurfing. Back onshore, join the post-surf crew at nearby O’Connor’s pub where they serve equally large portions of food, drink and mighty craic.
4. Keem Bay, Achill Island, Co. Mayo
The most photographed spot on Achill Island, Keem Bay is in a coastal class of its own. Driving down the steep and narrow roadway along Achill’s coastal route, as wandering sheep overtake you on either side, Keem Bay will emerge ahead of you, inviting you to explore it’s beautiful shores. Here the Atlantic Ocean could be mistaken for a tropical paradise, with the water a magical blue, contrasting with the elevated cliffs and dramatic Slievemore mountain which form a backdrop for this beautiful horseshoe bay. This Blue Flag beach comes complete with friendly lifeguards in the summer and some of the softest white sand to dip your toes in. The area is rich in marine life, with frequent sightings of dolphins, seals and even basking sharks.
Feeling peckish? Head on over to what might be the cutest and most retro sweet van in Ireland. The friendly owner sells a variety of soft drinks, chocolate and novelty treats…along with a incongruous collection of DVDs!
5. Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay, Connemara
With a little imagination, and if you wrap up warm, a sunny day in Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay in peaceful Connemara could transport you to the Caribbean. These two white sand crescents look like a mirror image of each other when viewed from above, with just a few hundred metres of flat green headland keeping them apart. The sand here is part of the appeal, consisting of shells from sea creatures or foraminifera, which gives the sand its dazzlingly white colour. The beaches are some of the safest in the area, protected from waves and without any major currents to be cautious about. The only thing you may need to fear is the temperature of the water – in January and February the weather in this part of Ireland can be pretty dreek, with temperatures as low as 2°C. While there are no facilities by the beach, there is a decent supermarket in the village of Roundstone, just three miles away.
Credit: ©Raymond Fogarty
6. Sandycove Beach, Co. Dublin
One of the (many) amazing things about Ireland is how many great public beaches and swimming spots there are close to the city centres. Sandycove Beach in south Dublin, for example, can be accessed from the city centre by car, DART (rail) or even by bike. On a quiet day, you can have the place to yourself but any sign of sun in the sky and you’ll be queuing up with hundreds of other brave souls to take the plunge in this natural swimming hole. Sandycove is most famous for the Forty Foot and their Christmas Day swimming events which attract foolhardy swimmers dressed in Santa suits. Not even the Irish winter will deter people here, with cold water swimming clubs meeting many mornings to brave the icy waters. Once you’ve taken a dip, reward yourself with some locally caught seafood and a hot whiskey at nearby Caviston’s Food Emporium. If you’re staying in Dublin for a few days, check out our local’s guide to find out where all the hidden pubs and bars are, so you don’t just end up at Temple!
7. Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
Besides Sandycove, Dunmore East is the only other beach on our list that is not situated along Ireland’s famous West Coast, or the Wild Atlantic Way. Instead, this part of the country is known as the ‘Sunny South East’ as it gets more sunshine and warmer weather than any other part of Ireland – reaching a balmy 26 or 27°C regularly during the summer months. One of the best places in Ireland to go snorkelling, the coastline around Dunmore East consists of sheltered coves and calm waters teeming with interesting sea life. If you’re a good swimmer, head out along the coast from cove to cove, ending up on the warm (sometimes) sun-drenched sands of Councillor’s Strand. Qualified local lifeguards are on duty from June to August. There’s ample parking space and excellent public facilities here, and hungry swimmers can refuel at Bay Café, where you can indulge in delicious open crab sandwiches with views across the harbour.
8. Glanleam Beach, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry
While Glanleam Beach may well be on the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s more subtropical shoreline than wild and rugged. Situated along the Gulf Stream and at the foot of a sheltered valley, Glanleam is one of the warmest beaches on the west coast and a top spot for sunbathing during the slightly warmer summer months (highs of 18°C in July and August). Had enough of the sand between your toes? Time to get steamy in Glanleam House gardens and greenhouse, founded in 1775 and home to exotic plants from Asia and the southern hemisphere. Open from April to October, with tours available on request.
9. Skerries, Dublin
Our last beach on the list is beautiful Skerries in north Dublin, which is a quintessential Irish seaside town, complete with playgrounds, rock pools and an array of watersports on offer. If you’re looking to get out on the the water – instead of just enjoying the view from the terrace of Blue Bar and Restaurant – check out Outdoor Dublin which offers kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, blo karting and surf lessons from their base in the sheltered harbour.
10. Easkey, Co. Sligo
Home to the headquarters of the Irish Surfing Association, Easkey Beach in Sligo (Ireland’s newly nicknamed ‘Adventure Capital’) is pounded by consistently good waves and draws big name surfers from the world over. The nearby headland, just past the ruined castle, is the perfect place to watch the action as the surfers glide in or get thrown off their boards in spectacular style. These waves are big and fast, so best to leave them to the professionals unless you really know what you’re doing. As the area is quite remote you’ll not find any public toilets here nearby. Your best option is to drive to the nearby McGowan’s pub, in Easkey village, a great place to grab a pint and a sandwich and listen to the post-surf chat.
Fancy more fun day trips or longer staycation inspiration? Read more tips and ideas on what to see and do in the UK and Ireland here:
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