20 locations for the perfect picnic

Not only does food taste better outdoors but it tastes better when you eat with your fingers


Enjoy a feed at a fjord

Few locations are as spectacular as that of Ireland’s most famous fjord, Killary Harbour, on the border between Galway and Mayo. Work up an appetite with a hike along the old Green Road, a grassy famine relief project high on its southern flank, stopping to spread a blanket for a little lunchtime theatre starring dramatic views out over its deep waters and on to mighty Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest mountain, beyond. connemara.ie

Garnish your picnic

Garnish Island in Bantry Bay, Co Cork, accessed by boat from the pier at Glengariff, is one of the most romantic spots in the country. The sheltered island’s Gulf Stream microclimate has so many exotic specimen plants you’ll feel you’ve fetched up on Capri. The 15-hectare gardens have a clock tower, Greek-style temple and a Martello tower but it’s the plants that steal the show, with rhododendrons and azaleas in spring, herbaceous perennials lighting up summer and a terrific autumn display of heathers. garnishisland.com

Fish for your supper

Kids love picnics but they also love messing about on boats, trailing fishing rods in the water which makes Rathbeggan Lakes in Dunshauglin, Co Meath, purpose built for family picnics. There are climbing walls and ziplines, an airsoft range, heritage park with replica stone circles, dolmens and archaeological digs plus a fairy garden with a wishing tree. Hire rods and fish its trout-filled lake, or just find a sunny spot on the grassy lakeshore to sit back and relax over a lunch you prepared earlier. rathbegganlakes.com

Derroura, Oughterard

Bike for a biscuit

Pedal for your picnic along the Derroura Mountain Bike Trail. The 16km looped trail, at the gateway to Connemara near Oughterard, provides picnic-perfect views north into the Maam valley, west to the Twelve Pins and, at the halfway point, overlooking the entire expanse of Lough Corrib. Stop in a shady glade along the way, or reward yourself afterwards at one of the purpose-built picnic tables. derrouramountainbikehire.com

Diversity in Donegal

No matter what type of view you like to see over the top of your hang sangers, Ards Forest Park is likely to come up trumps. Forest? Check. Rivers? Check. Sandy beaches? Check. The 480-hectare park in Sheephaven Bay has the most varied terrain of any forest park in Ireland, with great viewing points, nature walks, picnic tables and a play area. It’s also home to historical and archaeological gems such as four ring forts, megalithic tombs and a historic Mass rock, perfect for a pre-prandial peruse.

Killarney National Park

Lunch on a lake

Killarney National Park is teeming with nice spots for a picnic but for total serenity, it’s hard to beat Innisfallen Island. Hire a boatman at Ross Castle to row you over and come back for you when you’re finished exploring the ruins of this ancient monastic settlement where Brian Boru is said to have studied. Just get him to stop off at Dinis Island first, to pick up goodies from the gorgeous coffee shop, leaving you free to wander Innisfallen at your leisure, with only the resident deer to disturb you. killarneynationalpark.ie

Fall for a waterfall

While tourists love to visit the gardens at Powerscourt in Co Wicklow, seasoned picnickers make straight for the waterfalls just up the road. As well as plenty of green space to wander – and no flower beds to haul the kids out of – it’s got rocks for hopping and stones for stepping, and enough ice cold water rushing by to cool a bottle. Pair it with a hike around Djouce Woods, from which the water actually falls, for a great day in the great outdoors. powerscourt.ie

Luncheon in Leitrim

Glencar, with its series of waterfalls cascading from dramatic cliffs and bluffs, is immortalised in Yeats’ The Stolen Child – falls 50ft into a pool below, resulting in a permanent, and very romantic, haze of white spray. Take a walk along the bog road for great views of the lake and the beautiful v-shaped Swiss Valley that holds it. Wherever you stop for your picnic in this part of the world, it’s going to be a recipe for success. leitrimtourism.com

Pick up a picnic in Wexford

For a dramatic setting Dunbrody Abbey outside New Ross is worth exploring. The 12th-century abbey may be in ruins but it’s got a certain magic. Go on a Saturday to pick up treats from the weekly market for an impromptu picnic on the spot, fuelling an exploration of the visitor centre and maze. Or pack up the cooler box and head further afield to sites such as Duncannon Fort and Hook Head lighthouse, the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. dunbrodyabbey.com

Load up at Lough

Key Few forest parks can top Lough Key, Co Roscommon, for fun, with outdoor playgrounds and adventure centres plus indoor activities such as the Boda Borg, perfect for when it rains. There are forest trails, lakeside paths and a treetop path you won’t have seen this side of a rainforest. Stop off first at the Origin farmer’s market in nearby Boyle for locally produced knapsack fillers to make best use of the park’s lakeside picnic tables. Alternatively, hire a bike – or cheat and hire an e-bike – and take a spin to a picnic spot of your own. loughkey.ie

Gourmet on the Greenway

Picnickers, like armies, travel on their stomachs. Launch an assault on the Great Western Greenway, the 42km off-road cycle trail from Achill to Westport, taking full advantage of the canny Gourmet Greenway Food Trail alongside it. Devised by local foodies, it’s designed to showcase the artisan produce of the region.

Snack your way cross-country with products such as Murrevagh honey, Carrowholly cheese, Keem Bay smoked fish and Croagh Patrick oysters, stopping off at the Blue Bicycle Tearooms in Newport to stock up on gourmet sandwiches, scones and cakes for the picnic on the return leg. greenway.ie

Ballycotton cliff walk

Sea-bird’s eye view in Cork

For dramatic coastal picnics, pack the knapsack and head out along the Ballycotton Cliff Walk in east Cork. Starting at the car park at the most westerly end of the town, it extends along 8km of cliff walk to the beach at Ballytrasna, with about 300 species of bird to be spotted along the way. With meadows on one side and sea on the other, there are almost as many suitably scenic spots to stop and eat your sarnies. Choose a lofty vantage point along the cliff top, or take steps down to the shore for lunch on the rocks – either makes for a perfect impromptu dining room. ballycotton.ie

Take a tow path to treats

Not sure if it’s appropriate to picnic on top of the flat-topped motte in the picturesque village of St Mullins in Co Carlow, though the panoramic views will certainly aid digestion. Instead, strike out towards Graiuenamanagh on the 7km path which makes up the first – or last – leg of The Barrow Way long-distance walking path. It’s as bucolic a picnic setting as you’ll find, with a grassy towpath to spread your rug on and barges and cruisers to watch as you munch. borris.ie

Snack under the stars

On those happy occasions when warm night air and clear skies combine, nothing beats a picnic under the stars. If you’re inKerry, head for Waterville, and if it’s a weekend, even better, because you’ll have the Waterville market to shop for goodies by day, before finding yourself a spot overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay and Lake Currane to watch the sunset. It’s when the real show begins in this star spangled part of the world – part of the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve and the only Gold Tiered Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere. kerrydarksky.com

Picnic with puffins

Take a trip to see the wildlife on Great Saltee off Co Wexford, one of the bestird sanctuaries in Ireland. The privately owned island is home to around 220 species of sea birds, as well as a large population of grey seals. To get there, catch a boat from Kilmore Quay. You don’t need permission to land but when the island’s owners are in residence visitors are asked to come on shore between 11.30am and 4.30pm only – giving you plenty of time to find a ringside seat for a picnic with puffins. salteeislands.info

View of Dalkey Island

See Dalkey from the sea

In summer local fishermen offer return journeys to Dalkey Island from Coliemore Harbour. See the capital from a fresh perspective as you eat, after exploring the island’s 11th-century church and 18th-century Martello tower. Chances are you’ll have the island all to yourself, apart, of course, from the permanent residents – wild goats and rabbits. Combine it with a visit beforehand to Dalkey Castle and heritage centre, setting the historical scene for an epic outdoor lunch. dalkeycastle.com

Mountain high meals

With just under 3,000 hectares of pristine wilderness to explore, plus a custom-built pathway that will have you climbing its most famous peak – Diamond Hill – with the sure footedness of one of the resident Connemara ponies, the picnic opportunities at Connemara National Park are expansive, to say the least. There are other attractions too, including a great kids’ playground and, if you don’t fancy exerting yourself, picnic tables down near the car park. But don’t be tempted – it’s the view from the top that’ll really tickle your taste buds. connemaranationalpark.ie

Picnic in peat

Make for the midlands with a day out at Lough Boora Parklands in Co Offaly, a terrific amenity with lakes, wetlands, woodlands and 50km of walkway. The only way to see it all is to bring a picnic and extend your stay, taking in the sculpture collection made from machinery previously used to cut bog here. Bring the bikes – or hire them onsite – and whiz around its 14km of cycle paths. Or just sit back and exercise your mouth instead, in the grassy picnic area. loughbooraparklands.com

Break for a beach

Beaches and picnics go together like sand and sandwiches. Wherever you are in Ireland you’re only an hour and a half’s drive from one, so pick your favourite and stake your claim – and your windbreaker. For picnics you’d be hard pressed to beat beautiful Barleycove, on the Mizen peninsula in west Cork. The Blue-Flagged beach has lifeguards in high season, surfers to entertain, and huge golden sand dunes to perch on for panoramic views. The dunes were thrown up in the tidal wave that swept Europe after the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 – something to ponder as you picnic. blueflagireland.org

Dine on the view

Let the crowds battle over the few picnic tables along the lake shore at Glendalough in Co Wicklow – on a sunny day you’ve as much chance as bagging one as you have of meeting St Kevin. Leave them to it and head up the 600 steps tucked into the nearby forest up the Spink Mountain instead. It’s gruelling but rewards the effort with the most perfect picnic spot imaginable – a viewing platform in the sky from which to look out over the lake. On a clear day you’ll just be able to make out the people jostling for picnic tables down below. There’s no better relish. Bon appetit! wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie

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