50 great days out in Ireland
The Best Day Out in Ireland contest isn't just about one winner. Irish Times readers have also told us about their favourite ways to spend a day: here are 50 of the best
Inishbofin, Co Galway
The Irish Times Best Day Out in Ireland competition set out to find the country’s most impressive visitor attractions, leisure experiences and outdoor destinations, and asked Irish Times readers to help by nominating their favourites. We got more than 1,900 entries.
The competition – run by The Irish Times in partnership with Discover Ireland – covers all counties of Ireland, north and south. “Days out” include heritage experiences, outdoor activities, galleries, museums and more.
Here are 50 of the most intriguing, novel and plain brilliant-sounding suggestions we received from readers.
FIVE FAMILY EXCURSIONS
Bike Park Ireland
“Bike Park Ireland is a hidden gem in north Tipperary, a purpose-built mountain bike park that caters for everyone. I didn’t think that I was going to take part, but I had heard there was a lovely cafe on site so that was good enough for me. When we got there I couldn’t believe there were trails I could go on at my own pace. The best bit was getting a lift to the top of the trails in an army truck. A great day out with friends and family.” bikeparkireland.ie.
Toy Soldier Factory
Macroom, Co Cork
“I love the Toy Soldier Factory in Macroom. While travelling with my husband and children we came across a road sign to the Prince August Toy Soldier Factory.
Our three kids – Michael, 10, Mary, eight and Josh, seven – were so excited. Inside we did a 30-minute make-and-paint. The kids were amazed that they could make their own figures: a soldier, ballerina and a soldier on a horse. Every one of us walked out of the factory with big grins on our faces. As my son Josh says: ‘The coolest place ever!’” toysoldierfactory.ie.
Fota Wildlife Park
Fota Island, Co Cork
“A wonderful day out for both adults and kids. A beautiful walk in the sun or rain with all sorts of exotic creatures to keep everyone entertained. Easily accessible by rail or car, and – for those of us lucky enough to live locally – very reasonable prices with the season pass.” fotawildlife.ie.
Ballymote, Co Sligo
“Get up close with a wide variety of birds of prey, and other animals. The staff at the Raptor Research Centre are very good at educating visitors about the birds and animals, and showing just how beautiful and diverse they are.
“There is an outdoor show twice a day when eagles, falcons and owls fly within what seems like inches of spectators’ heads. We visit this sanctuary for birds of prey and owls at least twice a year, and my children always look forward to their next visit.” eaglesflying.com.
Ashbourne, Co Meath
“Tayto Park grows bigger and better every year. It’s a combination of a zoo, fairground and adventure park. There are rides to suit all, from toddlers to big kids. You can see tigers, monkeys and more. There are zip wires and climbing walls, play parks and a cinema. There is usually a face painting tent and an entertainment show for kids.” taytopark.ie.
FIVE ADVENTURE CENTRES
Dunmore East Adventure Centre
Dunmore East, Co Waterford
“A day at Dunmore Adventure Centre can now be enjoyed all year round, with indoor, outdoor land and water-based activities.
Choose from caving, “Wibit wipeout course”, archery, powerfan free fall, kayaking, climbing, sailing, stand-up paddle boards, windsurfing, and sea kayaking. If you are still feeling energetic take a walk along the cliff/coastal walk between Dunmore East village and Portally Cove.” dunmoreadventure.com.
Mallow, Co Cork
has the longest ziplines in Munster, high-ropes courses over the lake, rock climbing and abseiling on the natural cliff faces and amazing waters for kayaking, raft building and – since last year – cable wakeboarding.
An old quarry site is one of the most unusual locations for cable wakeboarding in the world.” ballyhasslakes.ie.
Clare Island Adventures
Clare Island, Co Mayo
“At Clare Island Adventures you can go coasteering, rock climbing, abseiling, snorkelling and raft building. I was enormously impressed with the professionalism of the staff and the confidence they instilled in me, not to mention the sense of achievement I felt at the end of the day.”
Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
Kilmallock, Co Limerick
“If you are a fan of the outdoors, then there is no better place to spend a day out than at Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Park, the largest trail network of its kind in Ireland, in the picturesque mountains, straddling the counties of both Cork and Limerick. After you are finished completing your excursions above at the trails, you can retreat to the luxurious Ballyhoura Hostel in Kilfinane, a self-contained oasis of comfort.” visitballyhoura.com.
Carlingford Adventure Centre and Skypark
Carlingford, Co Louth
“The state-of-the-art Skypark, set up on the mountain is full of challenges, zip wires and high ropes courses, zorbing and archery, with smaller stuff for kids. There’s plenty to do in its partner company, Carlingford Adventure Centre: rock climbing in the quarry, kayaking in the lough, sailing and more.” carlingfordadventure.com.
FIVE IDYLLIC ISLANDS
Inishbofin, Co Galway
“Kick off with a full Irish breakfast in the Dolphin Hotel, saunter down the boreen towards a sign advertising bike hire at a farm gate. Pedal to the award-winning Duach Beach, Granuaile’s “O’Máille’s Castle”, the little treasure trove island heritage museum, and on to East End Bay for a well-earned dip. Snooze the afternoon away on its tranquil shore.”
“An oasis of flowers, shrubs, plants and trees in Bantry Bay in west Cork. A network of paths and trails lead visitors from the quay to the different parts of the island, developed from a rock to the verdant gem it is today. Given the strong Italian influence in the design of the garden, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve been whisked off to Lake Como or some other exotic Italian location.” garnishisland.com.
“There is no place like Skellig Michael. The landing is a risky business but once you get on the island the peace and tranquillity takes over. The long winding path to the top takes you next to puffin and gull nests and follows the steps of ancient monks over 1,000 years ago. The view from the top makes you realise that you have come to a magical yet remote place.”
Aran Islands, Co Galway
“Inis Oírr has a special warm friendly touch about it. Arrive early from Galway. Try out your Irish. Have lunch on a sandy beach and look out for the dolphin.
Climb the hill past the castle ruins, stop for a moment and look back on the bay and village. Get a farewell pint at the pub and hurry to the boat for the journey back to the hustle and bustle.” aranislands.ie.
“Make your way to Baltimore for the ferry to Sherkin Island, noted for its peace and quiet, great walking, beaches and fishing. Beautiful in the summer, especially when the fuchsias are in full bloom.
You can stay overnight or enjoy lunch at the pub, before strolling down to the pier for the ferry back to Baltimore.” sherkinisland.ie.
Billy Lyons, Gina Mariotti
FIVE MIDLAND MARVELS
Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim
“This safe, easy-to-use series of water- and land-based trails allows guided and unguided paddling and walking along the Lough Allen Canal and River Shannon from Drumshanbo to Leitrim Village. Imagine paddling on a giant surfboard, negotiating the meandering majestic Shannon river with the Arigna mountains and Sliabh an Larainn as a backdrop.” bluewaysireland.org.
Lough Boora Discovery Park
“Once an industrial peat-extraction facility, now a nature reserve, sculpture park and community amenity. Lough Boora is fun for all ages throughout the year and has also recently opened a visitor centre and cafe. Bicycles are available for hire. Lough Boora is a hidden gem awaiting discovery.” loughboora.com.
Birr Castle Demense
Birr, Co Offaly
“From the beautiful Courtyard Cafe, where the food is a beautiful as the setting, to the country’s largest tree house, this location is a real treat.
“You can explore the history of the Parsons family on a tour through the castle (still their family home) and learn about the wonders of the scientific discoveries made through the years in the science centre.” birrcastle.com.
The Barrow trail
St Mullin’s, Co Carlow
“There isn’t another track or trail in Ireland that is as peaceful, intimately attractive, interesting and accessible as the Barrow Way. From historic Carlow town to ancient monastic St Mullin’s you can walk, cycle or canoe with your friends and family along a trail which follows the course of the Barrow river. “It’s easy, it’s away from traffic, it’s full of nature, wild birds and animals, it’s got history and 1,000 stories to tell along the way. There is no shortage of good food and libations along the way either.” riverbarrow.net.
Big Days Out in Leitrim
Various locations, Co Leitrim
“Surround yourself by nature while leisurely exploring Leitrim’s unspoilt landscape. Join Leitrim Landscapes Guided Walks for a one-hour guided foraging nature walk, then let Adrienne and Graham from Adventure Gently offer you the pleasure of exploring the Shannon by Canadian Canoe. To complete your day out, cycle the easy way with a one-hour electric bike cycle with Seamus from Electric Bike Trails on peaceful country lanes.”
FIVE PRECIOUS PARKS
Doneraile Wildlife Park
Doneraile, Co Cork
“A 500-acre domain. The St Legers arrived in Doneraile in 1627 and built a manor house and gardens in French court style. You can walk through 400 years of gardens, and there’s a fabulous playground and enchanting tearooms set in the kitchen of Doneraile Court. When the sun shines it’s the most wonderful place on Earth.”
Lough Key Forest Park
Boyle, Co Roscommon
“Lough Key Forest Park is the perfect day out for everyone, from babies to seniors. You can take in a bird’s-eye view on the tree-top canopy, be transported back to the days of the big house on an audio tour, hire a boat on the lake, go zip-lining, or explore the miles of woodland walks.” loughkey.ie.
Ballycroy National Park
Barony of Erris, Co Mayo
“There is no place wilder, more remote or more beautiful on this island than the sparsely populated bog lands of Mayo. Ballycroy National Park lies inland between Mulranny and Achill Island, a haven in a desolate landscape, a joy for lovers of wild life, flora and fauna. Do not leave without going to the Ginger and Wild cafe: tea never tasted better than when gazing at the mountains of Nephin Beg.”
Glenveagh National Park
Letterkenny, Co Donegal
“Sun, rain or shine Glenveagh National Park takes my breath away every time. On arrival hire bikes or or take the shuttle bus to the stunning castle, then wander around beautiful gardens, head to the tea rooms and have some refreshments.
“If you’re feeling energetic, head off into the hills on one of the trails. When all is done, climb back into the car feeling exhausted but exhilarated.”
Raphoe, Co Donegal
“Lakes, gardens, sculptures, birds, bees and a train. You can spend a day at this 18th century converted deanery and gardens, far removed from the hectic humdrum of daily life.
“Wooded walkways and manicured lawns are so unexpected from the beautiful rugged scenery of Donegal. If you are planning a visit to Donegal, go there. If you live in Donegal, go there.” oakfieldpark.com.
FIVE HERITAGE EXPERIENCES
Mount Congreve Gardens
Kilmeadan, Co Waterford
“In spring the magnolia blooms hang overhead like giant pink party lanterns. In summer rhododendrons, geraniums, and all kinds of everything light your way along the many winding paths with a riot of colour. At the end of a day here, the kids will be flattened and you’ll somehow feel rejuvenated – an ideal, affordable, day out for the nature lovers of any age.”
Emo, Co Laois
“When James Gandon designed this great house he must have beamed from ear to ear to have such a beautiful landscape to work with. The extended walk by the lake has brought new play areas for our son to explore and we can’t leave without feeding the ducks . . . they must be carb-intolerant at this stage. All ages and interests have much to enjoy at this attraction.”
Cavan Burren Forest Park
Blacklion, Co Cavan
“When we moved here in 2001 we had no idea that we had this gem of megaliths virtually on our doorstep. The Coillte forest has been mostly felled and it has boulder tombs, wedge tombs, cairns and a collapsed dolmen that got drafted into use as a calf hut. But mostly what you see, or feel, is a presence of our ancient ancestors.” cavanburren.ie.
National Heritage Park
Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford
“Explore reconstructed historical sites depicting life in ancient Ireland, located on the picturesque surroundings of the Slaney river. A really interesting day out, with fun interactive displays and speakers. It’s also a good long walk, and there’s really good quality food.” inhp.com.
Tullow, Co Carlow
“The jewel in Ireland’s gardening crown, Altamont Gardens are an enchanting blend of formal and informal gardens with riverside walks covering over 40 acres (16 hectares). Every visitor says it has a special atmosphere.” carlowgardentrail.com/altamont.htm.
FIVE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
“I like to get my head in the air, flying in a sailplane over the Kildare countryside. This is flying in contact with the air, sensing it as a supportive and energetic element working over the long slim white wings of the glider. Three thousand feet below me is the long line of the Wicklow hills, the changing colours of Blessington lake and Poulaphouca. Members of the long-established Dublin Gliding Club fly every weekend that conditions permit from Gowran Grange just outside Naas. For a day out of the ordinary, take a flight with an instructor.” dublinglidingclub.ie.
Jumping the Burren
“The Burren has many attractions for many people, from natural history to rockclimbing. My favourite way to spend time there is by jumping from stone to stone along the Lough Avalla farm looped walk near Kilnaboy.
At the end, after walking through hazel woodland carpeted with wild garlic, you come across the homestead – also a donation-based café with homemade goodies. Bliss!” burrengeopark.ie. Nancy Cantwell
“A cycle on the Clifden to Roundstone loop is breathtaking. Take in the Bog Road with its lakes, pools, heathers and views of the Twelve Bens. Passing Roundstone you come across Gurteen and Dog’s Bay beaches with their pristine white sands and azure waters. Later, the site of the crash-landing of the first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown in 1919, before making your way back to Clifden.” bikeelectric.ie,
“Pack the sandwiches, the red lemonade, the crisps, the bars, the wellies and the sun lotion. Glendalough is best experienced with a crowd: cousins, friends. Eat, wander, chat and be amazed at nature’s offerings. This day out is best done in several weathers as the scenery is changed by the weather and is worth seeing in many variants.” glendalough.ie.
Driving the Hook
“Drive to the saltmills in Slade and walk the coast to Hook Lighthouse. Look for fossils in the rocks, but make sure you keep your head up in case you miss the many whales that often dance off the coast. Have you the nerve to visit the haunted Loftus Hall? Great local beaches too – Dollar Bay, Booley Bay – safe and perfect for swimming.” hookpeninsula.com.
FIVE DUBLIN DAYS OUT
Dublin Bay Cruise and Dart
“We drove to Howth and boarded the boat at the harbour. The day was dry and bright and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my home town from a different vantage point. We crossed the bay heading for Dún Laoghaire. As a Dublin native I don’t do touristy things, but viewing both the north and south side of the city at sea was something I would recommend and I would be very happy to repeat the experience.” dublinbaycruises.com.
“Hidden in plain sight in grey Dublin, is the 26km wilderness that is the Dodder River greenway. Follow the heron from Ringsend to Clonskeagh Castle. Your guide changes to the trout and otter as far as Rathfarnham. Mandarin ducks negotiate the varieties of parks up to Bothernabreena, and kingfishers lead you up into the hills. An amazing 10-hour ramble or two-hour lazy cycle.” Keith Scanlon
Guided kayak tours of Dalkey
“Superb day out, amazing scenery with a view of Dublin coast and wildlife never otherwise seen. Jenny the host is full of knowledge, able to provide an informative tour combined with great fun. A wonderful day suitable for wide range of ages and fitness levels.” kayaking.ie.
Phoenix Park, Dublin
“Dublin Zoo is a wonderful place for adults and children alike. I always plan which animals I’m going to visit first as I love to see them being fed. There is a list of feeding times on the zoo’s website. There’s so much to see and do that you really need a whole day to fit it all in. My favourite part is the African Plains with its fascinating big cats. I thoroughly enjoy my days spent in Dublin Zoo.” dublinzoo.ie.
The mummies of St Michan’s
Church Street, Dublin
“I had forgotten about it until myself and my partner were chatting about hidden things in Dublin and remembered that underneath the church are burial vaults containing the mummified remains of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century Dublin families, plus a 650-year-old crusader.
And so we go on a rainy Saturday morning, and a tour guide comes through the doors asking: ‘Who wants to see the mummies?’ We did.” stmichans.com
FIVE WEST-COAST WONDERS
Carrigaholt, Co Clare
“Along the wonderful Wild Atlantic Way, stop off into the beautiful seaside fishing village of Carrigaholt, and take a trip out onto the Shannon Estuary with Dolphinwatch to see and learn about the local dolphins, birds and cliffs. Afterwards, eat your fill in the award-winning Long Dock restaurant.” dolphinwatch.ie.
Great Western Greenway
“Nothing I can say here will come close to describing the experience of walking, jogging or cycling along any part of the greenway between the beautiful costal town of Westport and the rugged wilderness of Achill. Safe for adults and kids alike and well worth the effort.” greenway.ie. Fintan Conlon
Cliffs of Moher
“We visited Ireland for Christmas 2013, and a hurricane hit Ireland. When we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher they were closed, but my youngest daughter said, ‘We didn’t come all the way to Ireland not to see the Cliffs of Moher’. We stood above the sea as it pounded the cliffs and looked around at the most amazing integration of sea and land.” burrengeopark.ie.
“Whether you are seeking solitude in the rugged beauty of this hidden peninsula, or an entertaining getaway with friends, Inishowen has it all. If you are the sporty type, you can kayak, surf, ride horses on deserted golden strands and walk hills with the most fantastic views. It has Mesolithic rock art, majestic castles and forts, and all manner of Viking battle grounds. The Glenevin Waterfall in Clonmany is a must see, as is the Doagh Farm Famine Village, Donegal’s number one tourist attraction.” visitinishowen.com.
“The drive is fabulous as you make your way to the most southwesterly point in Ireland, taking in the views of Barleycove beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The visitor centre is fantastic, from the park for the kids, the tasty food from the café, the museum giving the history of the signal station and the Fastnet rock which you can see from the car park. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world.” mizenhead.ie. Siobhan Hellen
FIVE NORTHERN DELIGHTS
Titanic Experience and W5
“The sinking of the Titanic has colonised young imaginations to an extraordinary extent. Belfast’s Titanic Experience approaches the familiar tragedy in fresh, interesting and evocative ways, but it is outshone by its neighbour W5. Standing for who, what, when, where, why, it is spread over several floors, with hundreds of interactive gizmos allowing you to explore all sorts of scientific principles in entertaining ways.” titanicbelfast.com. Hugh Linehan
North Antrim coast
“A first trip to Giant’s Causeway in September 2014 turned into a wonderful trip up the coast with the Giant’s Causeway, Ballygalley, Cushendall, views out across the Irish Sea, Ballycastle, the rope bridge to jangle the nerves at Carrick-a-Rede, Whitepark Beach and Ballinatoy Harbour with its a delightful cafe. What a day. What a drive.” discovernorthernireland.com.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
“The park has something for everyone: a play park for the kids, an adult fitness area, a 10km scenic drive, and a café providing fresh meals made from local produce. There is also a range of walks including the 10-mile circular walk of Slieve Gullion, the highest mountain in Co Armagh. A great addition to the park is the new Giant’s Lair at Slieve Gullion, an innovative magical living storybook of dragons, giants, witches and fairies.” http://www.ringofgullion.org/.
Ulster American Folk Park
“One of the best open-air museums of its kind. A step back in time and a mark of respect to our heritage. Fascinating for adults and thoroughly enjoyable for kids. One of the best days out I’ve ever had, it immersed me back in time. Loved it and can’t wait to go again.” nmni.com/uafp.
Marble Arch Caves
“The subterranean boat ride into a mile of caves is beautiful. The tour guides brings you around while explaining the caves in a witty, informative way. The visitor centre is a nice place to have a cup of tea. For those who wish to explore, there are beautiful walks down through the glen, while experienced hikers can walk for hours through barren mountainside.” marblearchcavesgeopark.com.