In 2013 The Irish Times embarked on a countrywide search for the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland. The 32-county competition discovered some great places, explored them, and shared them with the world.
The eventual winner, Loop Head Peninsula in Co Clare, was selected not only for its beautiful amenities and hardworking hospitality businesses, but also for its vision of a new kind of tourist experience, based on sustainability, community involvement and care for its natural environment.
Today, we are embarking on the same search: for the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland 2022, in association with Fáilte Ireland.
Once again, we are asking readers to nominate the place where they love to holiday. A panel of judges and researchers will scour Ireland to check out its lesser- known holiday locations and its famous destinations.
The only place that cannot win is Loop Head in Co Clare, which still holds its original title. This year we want to recognise another great Irish location.
Where do I come in? To help us, we are asking the public (that's you) to nominate your favourite places to holiday in Ireland and write a short account, of no more than 300 words, stating why you think it should win. To nominate see the form in this article. If you are reading this in the Irish Times app, click here.
What sort of place can I nominate? "Place" is a deliberately broad term. You can nominate a town, village, city, island or wider region such as a peninsula or other distinct area. You can live there, or be a visitor. Entries will be judged on criteria including natural amenities; built environment; tourism services; diversity; a welcome for outsiders; transport links; accommodation supply; cost . . . and the X factor. You might want to keep these in mind in your nomination.
Who decides? Our judging panel is composed of people with expertise in tourism in urban and rural Ireland, food and drink, hospitality and commerce, originality and sustainability. They include: Nadia El Ferdaoussi, travel blogger; Cillian Murphy, county councillor from Loop Head, the 2013 winning place; Trevor White, director of the Little Museum of Dublin; and Rosita Boland, Irish Times journalist. The panel will be chaired by Irish Times journalist Conor Goodman.
Choosing a winner Over the course of two to three months our judges will shortlist a number of places based on the submissions, visit the frontrunners, and eventually choose a winner. Every stage of the contest will be documented in The Irish Times and on irishtimes.com.
How can I nominate? In this article you'll find a simple form that allows you to enter a short "pitch" of up to 300 words for your favourite place to holiday in Ireland.
To inspire you, here are some accounts by Irish Times journalists of their favourite places to holiday in Ireland.
Connemara, Co Galway: ‘The most idyllic place’
Not everyone sees the logic of heading to Connemara for holidays in the winter, but then, I have grown to love it so much since the unmentionable of the past two years switched our focus to exploring the corners of our own little island. It’s the place that I’ve returned to off season, when it’s just us, the sheep, a few Connemara ponies, and sometimes a dog called Sailor. Every day the sun shines is a bonus.
A small cottage in Lettermullan was our great escape after the first lockdown, and even though I've been to Connemara many times, I'd never ventured to this corner of the Gaeltacht, where three islands, strung together with causeways, look across to Inis Mór. There have been no Irish students there for the past two years, no Ban an Tí action, so I don't know how much that wakes up this quiet little stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way each summer.
What I do know is that it is the most idyllic place for switching off and for heading out for interesting, unchallenging walks – down to a hidden harbour, a reilig, or a holy well. Each time, I may add, with surprisingly good luck when it comes to the weather. Because once you accept what it’s like – highly changeable – AccuWeather is your friend and you can pick the moments in your day.
The walk along the coast of Gorumna Island, from Trabane looking across Greatman's Bay towards Carraroe, is one of my favourites
It's not a place for restaurants; for that, it's a drive back up to Maam Cross where the scenic Michelin green roads will take you out to Leenane, to the Misunderstood Heron food truck, parked by the pure beauty of Killary Fjord. It's no secret. It's been featured in Lonely Planet and on just about everyone's Instagram feed, so getting there early is advisable, as the food does run out. The Sea Hare, which is moving to Clifden this summer, is also one for the list.
We always have folding chairs in the boot of the car, a picnic rug, and maybe even a picnic, particularly if we've been through Oughtarard and picked up some fixings in Sullivan's Country Grocer. For wine, it's in to Clifden to the Lamplight Wine Bar where Anke Hartmann has the shelves packed with interesting bottles made by some of the world's top young producers.
And there is plenty more walking beyond our little haven in Lettermullan. The walk along the coast of Gorumna Island, from Trabane looking across Greatman's Bay towards Carraroe, is one of my favourites, and then there is the utter joy of arriving in Ardmore when the tide is out, revealing rocks laden with seaweed, barnacles and tiny pools, where you can walk right out towards Finish Island.
And if you’re lucky, Sailor, a friendly local sheepdog who polices this stretch of coast, will keep you company on your walk.
The North coast: ‘Don’t tell people ... It’s our secret’
The North coast is our secret. It has long been a go-to destination for northerners in search of sea, sand and, if they’re lucky, sun, but remains relatively unknown south of the Border,
though the success of the Open golf championship in Royal Portrush in 2019 has helped to change that.
At its heart is the seaside town of Portrush, Co Antrim. Two beaches – East and West Strand – plus others within easy driving distance mean "the Port" is always busy in summer; earlier this year there was a collective sigh of relief at the news that Barry's amusements, known and beloved by generations of North coast holidaymakers, had been saved from closure and is to reopen as Curry's Fun Park.
Venture beyond Portrush and there are more beaches, including five with a Blue Flag. A favourite is Downhill in Co Derry, which is overlooked by the Mussenden Temple, an Italianate construction perched on the cliff-top which is one of the North's coast's most unusual landmarks; the railway line from Coleraine to Derry, which runs beneath it, was once described by Michael Palin as one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world.
Head east rather than west from Portrush and there is the ruined Dunluce Castle and the town of Ballycastle, with its views of Fair Head and the ferry to Rathlin Island, home to Northern Ireland's largest seabird colony (May to July is the best time to see the puffins) and the "upside down" lighthouse.
After all that fresh air, it's time for some food. The cafe and restaurant scene here has been transformed in recent years; two highlights are Harry's Shack, a fish restaurant right on Portstewart strand, and Native Seafood and Scran, also in Portstewart, which was born out of "frustration" at living on the North coast "and not having direct access to the abundance of incredible local seafood".
Morelli’s ice cream has been a North coast tradition for more than 100 years, while in Coleraine the excellent Causeway Speciality Market sells artisan food, arts and crafts in the central Diamond every second Saturday.
Speaking of which, make sure you don't miss the Giant's Causeway, the location of Finn McCool's famous hexagonal basalt columns and the North's only Unesco World Heritage Site. It's a "giant adventure", as the tourist board says.
Just don’t tell too many people. You see, it’s our secret.
Kinsale, Co Cork: ‘It’s not all posh grub’
The ideal Irish holiday destination has a happy mix of things to do if it’s raining, and sublime spots to bask in the sunshine. Add adventures for kids, options for the grown-ups, fabulous food, atmospheric bars, gorgeous scenery and big dollops of history, and it pretty much spells Kinsale.
A great deal is made of the Co Cork seaside town’s reputation as a gourmet capital, and it’s definitely having a moment.
You can go from wine bars to Michelin stars, but it’s not all posh grub. You’ll also find delicious fish and chips from food trucks, and fun family restaurants.
Kinsale has so many options, you’ll want to extend your stay. Indeed, if the definition of an ideal holiday destination is somewhere you visit and never want to leave, then Kinsale has to win hands down. I came here more than 10 years ago, and still haven’t quite managed to go fully home.
What to do after all that food? Kinsale is renowned as a sailing spot, and it's also great for kayaking and walking. Stroll around the harbour, and up the hill above Scilly, for amazing views past the Spaniard. Then dip down to another little harbour below Charles Fort. There you'll find the Bulman (did I mention Kinsale also abounds in wonderful pubs?), which lays possibly disputed claim to being the first pub on the southern start of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Charles Fort and its opposite number, James Fort, make up a pair of defensive structures that are well worth exploring. Charles Fort is the larger, but its older sibling sits on a pretty isthmus above the half-hidden beach that locals know as Platters and Dishes – and another lovely pub, the Dock, on the marina.
If you have beaches in mind, head 15 minutes further west, beyond the Old Head and its famous golf course and you’ll find a pair of long sandy Blue Flag strands at Garrylucas. There’s a caravan park at one end, where it always seems like the kids are having the time of their lives. Off season, Garrylucas is a haven for bouncy local dogs, but by summer it’s all about swimming and surfing, and a cluster of pop-ups offer coffee, pizza, doughnuts, ice-cream and even mobile saunas to refresh and revive. There’s also beach yoga and surfing.
History buffs will approve of the Lusitania memorial and museum at the Old Head Signal Tower, which is also a hotspot for birdwatchers.
Enough already? I haven’t even started on horse-riding, historical walking tours, friendly locals, charming shops, art galleries and coffee shops to sit outside and soak it all in.
Galway city: ‘The streets buzz with atmosphere’
My best Irish holidays have taken place in Galway city. It’s the one destination where I could go with my boyfriend, family, friends or by myself and still have a great time. On a visit there when I was about nine, I saw a guy sitting under a tree reading and I reasoned that must be what college students do. Since then I had a romanticised idea of the city, and it didn’t disappoint when I went to study there years later.
There’s a Celtic soul to the place and the streets buzz with atmosphere. My first port of call is usually Charlie Byrne’s, my favourite bookshop, nay place, on the planet. The ceiling-high wooden shelves are packed with bargain-priced books on everything and anything. The staff know their stuff and the whimsical children’s section is an attraction in itself.
You can hear myriad languages on the streets of Galway and the city’s food scene mirrors that. My favourites are Java’s French cafe for crepes and coffee, and Cava Bodega for Spanish tapas. There are countless places to get decent pub grub, as well as fine-dining options such as Kai, Aniar and Loam. On market day we usually get street food and sit by the water at Spanish Arch.
There is one disclaimer; please always have your fold-up rain mac with you in Galway, because you will need it
Galway is tough to beat when it comes to culture, you can catch the Cúirt literature festival in spring, and the city comes alive with Galway International Arts Festival in July. The festival hosts free exhibitions, child-friendly activities as well as wonderful theatre – sometimes featuring Cillian Murphy, need I say more – installations by Enda Walsh, and big-top gigs. On top of all that, you're right beside the beach at Salthill where you can go for a walk along the prom or a dip if you're brave enough.
There is some form of magic in Galway that forces the most reclusive among us to be social. You’re almost guaranteed a good night out in any of the million and one establishments: from trad-music pubs to nightclubs. It’s always a good idea to book a trip around a show at the Róisín Dubh, where the atmosphere is so relaxed you may even bump into the performer in the bar afterwards.
If this all sounds too good to be true, there is one disclaimer; please always have your fold-up rain mac with you in Galway, because you will need it.
Cork city: ‘Everyone is justifiably proud’
One of my favourite places to potter is around Cork city, where everyone is justifiably proud of themselves. I don't really go to Cork on holidays, but I go there whenever I can find a good excuse. I like Cork because it's really hilly and some of the streets have steps. I love the Bells of Shandon which people sing about, and the rotunda of the Firkin Crane, and the Shaky Bridge which is an old pedestrian bridge that shakes.
I also like Cork because I was born there and my mother’s family are from there. More specifically, they’re from an area of west Cork around Coolmountain in Inschigillagh. It’s gorgeous around there, the light is misty and the hills roll forever, but it’s not quite part of the tourist trail. It’s a place that people left when their farms failed. It wasn’t a place people visited until the 1970s when it became inundated with German and British hippies who believed Cork to be the best place to wait out the coming nuclear war. They built selfsustaining wooden houses in some of the hillsides, and refilled the dying schools and grew cannabis. Those buildings are still there, accessible via rocky roads into the woods, though many of them are empty now.
One musician got lost and fell off a cliff onto some sand dunes and ended up sleeping there until the tide woke him. He was grand
If you leave the city heading in a more coastal direction, there's a small village called Myrtleville. It was once a popular resort for holidaying city Corkonians. When I was in my 20s my band used to regularly play there in a place called the Pine Lodge, that sat at the top of an incline looking out onto the ocean. It was run by a music lover called Mick O'Brien who put on bands he liked. Audiences would travel from elsewhere to see them. Myrtleville itself didn't have a huge audience for indie music.
Once, a busload of bands came down from Dublin and another batch of cars came from Cork city for a festival of alternative country music called High Noon. We played in the daylight with our backs to the sea. It was a very sunny weekend. That night everyone got drunk and went swimming. One musician got lost and fell off a cliff onto some sand dunes and ended up sleeping there until the tide woke him. He was grand. Everyone else slept in nooks and crannies around the venue. Mick cooked us all a huge fried breakfast the next morning. I imagine he nearly bankrupted himself on things like that. Art and music can’t survive without that sort of heroic gesture.
Carlingford, Co Louth: ‘On a sunny weekend, nowhere like it’
Not too far from my native Blackrock, Co Louth is the seaside village of Carlingford. Located about halfway between Dublin and Belfast, this old Viking village is both picturesque and exciting.
There’s nowhere like Carlingford on a sunny weekend. The village itself is full of small craft shops, cafes, restaurants and one particularly fascinating antique shop.
Carlingford Adventure (carlingfordadventure.com) is a big attraction, which offers ziplining, archery combat (yes, this is as crazy as it sounds), laser combat, rock climbing, kayaking, canoe rafting, paddle boarding, foot golf and more; whether you're a small group of friends or a larger company interested in team building activities, this place has it all.
For those looking for a more measured form of adventure, Carlingford even has its own escape rooms. See escapehq.ie for details.
Unfortunately, like many places in Ireland, the easiest way to get here is by car, although the 90-minute drive from the capital isn't too far for a staycation
Also nearby are some of the northeast's best walking routes, boasting views of Carlingford Lough and the Mourne Mountains. The 9km Slieve Foye Loop will take you about 2½ hours to complete, and while it can be tough at parts, the views make the effort worthwhile. And for those looking for something much longer, the Táin Way walking trail covers a 40km loop around the Cooley peninsula. The terrain consists mainly of quiet roads, forestry tracks, and open mountain paths that give spectacular sights of Dundalk Bay and beyond. See carlingford.ie for information on the trails.
There’s no shortage of bars and restaurants. Ma Bakers is perfect for Sunday lunch or an evening of pints, and across the road, the Carlingford Arms will not disappoint. The tourism-focused village has plenty of hotels, B&Bs, Airbnbs and a hostel – all within the very walkable area.
Unfortunately, like many places in Ireland, the easiest way to get here is by car, although the 90-minute drive from the capital isn't too far for a staycation. There are regular public buses between Dundalk and Newry which stop in Carlingford throughout the day – see Bus Éireann's 161 route for information. See carlingford.ie for travel information.
Nominate your favourite place to holiday, for a countrywide contest: irishtimes.com/bestplace