The French invented picnics. The Australians professionalised them, adding high-tech portable barbecues, 13 kinds of posh hummus, and sun shades so complex you may need a degree in architecture to assemble them.
The Irish prefer to keep it simple, and easy to abandon in the event of rain. It's probably fair to say that some of the best Irish picnics have been eaten out of the boot of a car. Because for us, it's all about getting off the beaten track, to the perfect picnic spot no one else has discovered. So, because nothing says summer in Ireland like a lunch of hard-boiled eggs, cheese and onion crisps, with an optional sprinkling of sand and a spectacular view of coast, waterfall, lighthouse or forest, here are 50 of our favourite picnic spots that may not yet be on your radar. Go, discover, dive into the hang sangers – and leave nothing behind but your footprints.
Ards Forest Park
If a picnic among the sand dunes in a forest which boasts its own salt marsh, lake and ring forts sounds like an unlikely combination of natural phenomena, you obviously haven't been to Ards Forest Park in Co Donegal. If you're up to hiking for five or six hours, you can stitch together several of the trails here – including the Binngorm trail, the Salt Marsh trail and the Sand Dune trail – take in most of the sights, and finish up on the beach for your picnic. Or just get yourself straight to Binngorm Point, unwrap the hang sangwidges, and enjoy the views out to Sheep's Head Bay. The exact location is here.
Beaufort, Co Kerry
Cronin's Yard at the entrance to Hag's Glen, near Beaufort, Co Kerry, is a traditional starting point for ascents of Carrauntoohil, and it offers a cafe and showers. It's also a great place to start your search for Ireland's most isolated picnic spot, says Beaufort-based travel blogger Hazel Joy (arrivalshall.com). Follow the path for a kilometre to reach a footbridge over the Caol River, then meander alongside the Gaddach River, up to the viewing point. The trail itself is 16km in total and it's challenging in places so stock up on the protein bars and bottled water. The exact location is here.
There are surprisingly few places to stop along the Wicklow Way for a picnic, but one of the more popular spots is near Deerpark, by the banks of the Dargle, and just above the Powerscourt Waterfall, advises Feargal O'Connell. With passing walkers and plenty of roaming sheep, you are guaranteed solitude. The exact location is here.
The Sperrins, which stretch some 50km along the Tyrone-Derry border, were recently designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, and it's not hard to see why. The highest peak, at 678m, is Sawel Mountain (which allegedly comes from the Irish Samhail Phite Méabha, meaning "likeness to Maeve's vulva".) The limestone slopes make for easy climbing. The summit is famously windy, but you can grab some shelter under the big peat hag at the top. If you've got five hours and sturdy legs, there's a loop walk that takes in nearby Dart mountain. Sperrin's location is here.
Derroura Mountain Bike Trail
Connemara, Co Galway
Purpose built by Coiltte, the Derroura Mountain Bike Trail is a 16km looped trail near Recess, at the gateway to Connemara near Oughterard. Tuck into your sandwiches and flask of tea from one the picnic tables, or just hunker down on the grass and enjoy the views north into the Maam valley, west to the Twelve Pins, and at points along the trail, overlooking Lough Corrib. The exact location is here.
Lough Boora Discovery Park in Co Offaly is a nature sanctuary that has been tastefully enhanced with sculpture – it calls itself the "park where art and nature collide". There are 22km of tracks for walking and cycling, with plenty of picnic spots along the way. The exact location is here.
The Coumshingaun Loop Walk in the Comeragh mountains takes you on a challenging, four-hour hike around the spectacular natural amphitheatre that is one of Europe's finest corrie lakes. It's hard to imagine a better backdrop to your crisp blaa and red lemonade lunch than the spectacular, sheer 365m mountain face. The exact location is here.
Hike along the cliff top of Binevenagh towards Hells Hole in Derry, and you'll be so absorbed in the views over Benone Beach, Lough Foyle and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal that you won't even notice the 2.2 miles flying by. The walk begins and ends at Gortmore viewpoint, and that's where you'll have your picnic, if the wind is behaving. On a clear day, you can see Scotland on one side, and Donegal on the other. The exact location is here.
Rock of Dunamase
"Just off the M7 near Stradbally in Laois" might not sound like the most enticing directions to a memorable and mostly undiscovered picnic spot, but stay with us. The Rock of Dunamase is a 45m high archaeological ruin that was plundered by the Vikings almost 1,000 years ago. Later, the Normans took it over and it passed through the hands of Dermot MacMurrough Kavanagh, Strongbow, and then onto his son-in-law, William Marshall. A picnic among the ruins offers incredible views of several counties – and the odds are you'll have it to yourself, except for the ghosts of warriors past. The exact location is here.
Loughcrew Megalithic Centre in Oldcastle, Co Meath has a playground, picnic benches and a campsite. But if it's views you're after, we recommend climbing to the top of the hill by the cairns where you'll have spectacular vistas in every direction. It is said that on a clear day, you can see half of Ireland from here – or 16 of the 32 counties at any rate. The exact location is here.
Kinsale, Co Cork
Picnic on the grassy banks near the 1607 James Fort in Kinsale, Co Cork, and what you sacrifice in seclusion and privacy, you'll make up for in views over Kinsale and the fascinating history of the place. There may not be access to the fort itself at present, but you can roam around the outskirts. A small sandy beach just below the fort makes for another good spot for tucking into the salad rolls. The exact location is here.
Bere Island, Co Cork
Ardnakinna Lighthouse, on the western end of Bere Island, Co Cork, might just rank as Ireland's most picturesque spot for a picnic. It is about a 40-minute walk from where the Bere Island ferry lands. Continue along the coastal track with views back onto the mainland. From your picnic blanket, you'll be able to see Sheep's Head, the Mizen, and west to Dursey Island. And maybe even some whales, basking sharks, and bottle-nose and common dolphins, which have all been spotted from the island. The exact location is here.
Howth, Co Dublin
Take yourself and your picnic basket to the West Pier in Howth and hop on the ferry for the 15-minute trip to Ireland's Eye. Relax and watch the birds, or explore the ruins of the church that date back to 700 AD or the Martello Tower. If you're feeling adventurous, check out the gannet colony on The Stack, the huge freestanding rock on the northeastern corner of the island. The exact location is here.
Sherkin Island, west Co Cork
Silver Strand on Sherkin Island, west Cork's island of the arts, is a great place to watch the sun set, feel the sand between your toes, and dream up your next creative project. Take a ferry from Baltimore, a 10-minute trip across to the island, where you'll find abundant wild flowers, artists' studios and lots of spots to roll out your yoga mat and tuck into your sweet beet hummus. The exact location is here.
Two Mile Gate Lakeside Park
Killaloe, Co Clare
Two Mile Gate Lakeside Park near Killaloe, Co Clare, is a safe and picturesque Blue Flag swimming spot overlooking Lough Derg. Across the road is Ballycuggeran Woods, oak woodlands offering looped walking trails and panoramic views. The exact location is here.
Valentia Island, Co Kerry
Glanleam Beach, Valentia Island, Co Kerry, is best known for its "stunning views and refreshing" (read: freezing) water. The beach disappears at high tide, says Trish Howard, at which point you'll have to be ready to "pack up and head back to the village for lovely Guinness". The exact location is here.
Trá an Doilín
Carraroe, Co Galway
If coral beaches and crystal ocean are a requirement for your picnic, get yourself to the Blue Flag Trá an Doilín, Carraroe, in Co Galway. There are changing rooms and toilet facilities provided, and lifeguards on duty in the summer. The exact location is here.
Ard na Gaoithe, or the Ardnageeha Loop, on the Mayo/Galway border, is said by those in the know to be an enchanted place for a walk and a swim with your picnic, though even locals can struggle to find it. The gently sloping 2km trail takes you on an elevated path overlooking Lough Corrib, passing through woodlands. You'll end up by the lake, where there's a seating area and views of Lough Corrib and the islands. Dogs are allowed. The approximate location is here.
Glen of Knocknarea
The Glen of Knocknarea in Co Sligo is a tiny valley or crevasse in the Knocknarea mountains – the Atlas Obscura dubs it an "enchanted microvalley" and a "geological oddity" – nestled between sheer rock walls reaching heights of 60ft. It's an otherworldly place, surrounded by hanging vines and ivy-covered stone, ancient trees and mossy rock. Read the directions before you go – this is not one for Google Maps – and bring wellies. The approximate location is here.
Achill, Co Mayo
The deserted village of Slievemore on Achill, Co Mayo, makes a fascinating and eerie spot for a lunch under the open skies. Set at the foot of the south-facing slope of Slievemore mountain, it consists of 80-100 stone cottages stretching for one mile. The site traces back to the 12th century, but the most recent period of habitation ended in the early 20th century, when the cottages, which had been used for "booleying" or seasonal grazing, were finally abandoned. The exact location is here.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Newry, Co Down
Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Newry, Co Down has to rank as one of the best family days out on the island, offering woodland trails and views that stretch to the Ring of Gullion, Mourne Mountains, Cooley Peninsula and the Armagh Drumlin. And there's an adventure play park and picnic benches in the ornamental walled garden. The exact location is here.
Dalkey, Co Dublin
At Dillons Park, Dalkey, Co Dublin, you can eat your boiled eggs and packets of Tayto on the gentle grassy slopes or picnic tables looking out to Dalkey Island. There's space for kids to roam safely, fishing off the rocks, and in autumn, you can fill buckets of blackberries for dessert. The exact location is here.
Dundrum, Co Dublin
Airfield Farm in Dundrum is a good spot for an outing with small people at any time of the year, but Sunday, June 24th, sees it host the annual Teddy Bear's Picnic in aid of Barnardos. The organisers promise games, farmyard animals, treats, giveaways, a giant toddler sandbox and a teddy bears hospital, but you do have to book. The exact location is here.
Bray, Co Wicklow
Kilruddery House in Wicklow is a perennial favourite with families, featuring a "sandpit, climbing trees, secret garden, and plenty of hills for rolling down", says Louise Gallagher. The exact location is here.
Aughnacliffe, Co Longford
Over the course of the past decade, Leebeen Park, Aughnacliffe, Co Longford has been developed by the community in Aughnacliffe to include nature trails, walking loops, and a boardwalk along the lake. People travel from all over to walk, play and picnic here. Note that the playground is designed for children aged six and older. The exact location is here.
Dollar Bay in Co Wexford, near Hook Head, is a bit of a scramble to get to, which is probably why the most dedicated picnickers arrive by boat. The good news is that it's never too crowded and, as it's west facing, it gets the sun late in the evening. Make a day of it with a trip to Hook Lighthouse and spooky Loftus Hall. The exact location is here.
The Copper Coast in Co Waterford is one of Ireland's most underrated coastal stretches, dotted with beautiful beaches, many of which remain blissfully empty even on the sunniest days. Bypass Clonea, Stradbally and Annestown and head for Ballydowane Beach and Kilmurrin cove if you want complete isolation – and don't mind a few stones under your picnic blanket. Kilmurrin's location is here, and Ballydowane's location is here.
Lough Key Forest Park
Boyle, Co Roscommon
Lough Key Forest Park on the shores of Lough Key in Boyle, Co Roscommon, is a hit with kids of all ages, with activities such as Boda Borg – a centre with 47 rooms filled with Krypton Factor-style challenges – and canopy walks and zip lining. There are abundant picnic spots and a campsite. The exact location is here.
Castlecomer Discovery Park
Ireland's longest over-water zipline and a treetop climbing centre should keep the adrenaline junkies in your life happy while you crack open the sandwiches at Castlecomer Discovery Park in Co Kilkenny. Finish up in the cafe, or visit the artists' studios in the courtyard. Parking is free for one hour or €4 for the whole day. The exact location is here.
In Belfast's Botanic Gardens, it's easy to forget that you're right in the middle of the city. Grab a spot in front of the iconic Palm House. There's also a children's playground, beautiful walks around the park and a bowling green. The exact location is here.
Iveagh Gardens, off Harcourt Street in Dublin, may no longer be the capital city's best kept secret, but they're still reliably less crowded than St Stephen's Green, and every bit as picturesque. And it's more compact and easier to navigate than the Phoenix Park. The exact location is here.
Ireland has been slow to catch on to the concept of communal public barbecues, which are hugely popular and typically well maintained in Australia and parts of the US. Barbecuing is not permitted at all on many public beaches, but there are two designated areas in Phoenix Park, in Dublin, where you can bring your own, while gas barbecues are permitted at the upper lake at Glendalough, in Co Wicklow. But the best place of all for a barbecue is by Powerscourt Waterfall, on Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. There's a playground, picnic tables and a well-stocked kiosk in case you forget the charcoal. The exact location is here.
Glenmalure Valley, in Co Wicklow is the longest valley of its kind in Ireland and Britain. There are multiple walking trials, taking in Lugnaquilla mountain, Drumgoff Forest, the Miners Path and Ballinafunshogue walk. Don't expect bathroom facilities and picnic tables; just find yourself a spot, roll out the rug and enjoy the wilderness. The approximate location is here.
Lough Navar Forest Park
Lough Navar's 2,600 hectares of bog, heath, waterfalls, native woodland and coniferous forest, including a lake an an ancient crannog, is the perfect place to go wild. Don't miss the view from the Magho viewpoint, or the Blackslee waterfall. The approximate location is here.
Glenteenassig Forest Park
Glenteenassig, outside Castlegregory in Co Kerry, is well and truly off the beaten track. Picnic on the shores of Lough Slat, with the imposing hill of Doon and the backdrop of the majestic rock face of Carrigaspanaig. If you go after heavy rainfall, you'll see why its name derives from Gleann Ti an Easaigh, or Valley of the Waterfalls. The exact location is here.
Sliabh Beagh Way
Cos Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh
The Sliabh Beagh Way, which cuts through Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh, is 65km in total, offering cycle trails and 36 marked hikes trials through the countryside, forest and bog, passing archaeological sites, with picnic spots and facilities. There's a picnic area with expansive views near Bragan Penal cross at the Tyrone end or, for a more rugged experience, park at St Patrick's Well, climb the steps and eat your picnic among the boulders at St Patrick's Chair. The exact location of St Patrick's Well and Chair is here.
Killarney, Co Kerry
The top of Torc Mountain in Killarney, Co Kerry, is a perennial favourite with hikers, view-seekers and romantics because of its spectacular views. Our sources say it's the perfect place for a romantic post-proposal picnic. The exact location is here.
Ardara, Co Donegal
Assaranca Waterfall at Ardara, Co Donegal has views across to Maghera bay, and beautiful grassy banks on which to sit, sip from a thermos and contemplate the universe. When you've had enough of that, Maghera beach and caves are a short hike away. There are over 20 caves, eight arches and five tunnels which can be visited, ideally by kayak – but do remember to check the tides. The exact location is here.
The beauty of the 50ft Glencar Waterfall, Co Leitrim, inspired Yeats to write The Stolen Child, and it is hard to imagine a more inspiring spot for a picnic than this scenic glaciated valley with its constant veil of white spray. In case the scenery and the poetry aren't enough to tempt you, there's also an excellent playground and very good tea rooms. The exact location is here.
If you go down to Mullaghmeen woods today, make sure to bring a picnic. And maybe a compass. This is one of the largest beech forests in Europe, and yet it remains relatively undiscovered. There are guided – though not necessarily well signposted – walking trails and picnic benches throughout. The exact location is here.
Dunmore East, Co Waterford
Pick up the best fish and chips in the southeast at O'Sheas in Dunmore East, and then take them to sit on one of the benches along the spectacular cliff walk as the sun sets. Or, if you can't resist the smell of vinegar on piping hot chips long enough, just get stuck in on Lawlor's Strand and wash them down with a pint afterwards at the Strand Inn. The exact location is here.
Port Oriel Pier in Clogherhead, Co Louth, has a chip van offering "freshly caught hake and chips, battered to perfection and cooked while you soak up the rays" on the pier, says Gavan Becton. Enjoy the views of the Cooley and Mourne Mountains to the north, and Lambay Island to the south. The exact location is here.
The spotless village of Tullahought in south Kilkenny is to George Clooney's extended family what Moneygall is to the Obamas. If that's not enough to tempt you there, it won the gong for tidiest town in Co Kilkenny, and boasts a nature reserve, a 6km looped walk, and a nearby viewing tower with views of Slievenamon and the Comeraghs, says Dermot Keyes. And when you're finished, you can wrap up proceedings with a pint in Power's Pub, which dates from the 1830s and reopened in recent years. The exact location is here.
Graiguenamanagh to St Mullins
Stroll the towpath from Graiguenamanagh along by the Barrow river to St Mullins in Co Carlow, an easy 6km, where you can reward yourself with your picnic and a drink at the Mullichain Cafe. Or do it in reverse, and save the beverages for one of Graigue's famous pubs. Top tip: Further up the River Barrow, there's a designated swimming spot at Clashganny. St Mullins's location is here.
Bruff, Co Limerick
Get close to the ancients at Lough Gur, near Bruff in Co Limerick, reputedly the only area in the country where you can see visible evidence of every age since Neolithic times. Locals rave about this place, which has a lake, castle ruins, round house remains, stunning views, an historical centre, fairy walk, and plenty of enthusiastic and well-informed volunteer guides. And, of course, there are also picnic benches everywhere. Top tip: insiders say the best spot for a picnic is the hill behind the visitors' centre. The exact location is here.
Concerts and movie nights with a difference are held inside the refreshingly uncommercial and unconventional Mitchelstown Caves in Co Tipperary. Visitors still buy their tickets from the farmhouse, as they have done since Michael Condon discovered the cave in 1833. For your picnic, though, we recommend sticking to the picnic area at the entrance, and enjoy spectacular views over the Galtee mountains while you munch on your Galtee cheese sandwiches. The exact location is here.
Cavan Burren Park
Cavan Burren Park, a prehistoric park located in the Unesco-designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, offers the perfect blend of history, stunning natural beauty and accessibility. There are megalithic tombs, glacial erratics, five looped trails including a multi-access trail. On a more practical level, there's a brand new interpretative centre with picnic tables, toilets and car parking. The exact location is here.
Stroll by the peaceful waters of the River Blackwater and see if you can spot a kingfisher. Then make your way through the woods on the 130 hectare Argory estate, and let the kids work off their energy in the playground. Facilities include toilets, baby change, cafe, and even a secondhand bookshop. There are ramps available to enter the main house and the ground floor is accessible to wheelchairs. The exact location is here.
Irish National Stud & Gardens
Tully, Co Kildare
Skip the crowds at Dublin Zoo and plan a family day out at the Irish National Stud & Gardens instead. As well as horses and foals aplenty, along with four acres of woodland trails, there is a Japanese garden, a playground, restaurant and picnic area. The Stud and St Fiachra's Garden are fully wheelchair accessible, while the Japanese Gardens are partially accessible. It's the only stud farm in Ireland open to the public and offering daily tours, and it's ours, so we should make more use of it. The exact location is here.
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin
A Sunday-morning picnic at Dún Laoghaire's farmers' market in the compact Victorian People's Park is a south Dublin institution. Roll out of bed, grab a picnic blanket and some cash, get yourself on the Dart to Dún Laoghaire, and you won't go hungry. The exact location is here.