The judges in The Irish Times Best Place to Holiday in Ireland competition have selected their final five destinations.
In May this year, The Irish Times embarked on a search for the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland 2022, in association with Fáilte Ireland. This list is based on reader nominations, our own visits and judges’ assessments.
Some 1,200 people from all 32 counties sent entries for the competition. The final decision is now in the hands of our panel of judges: Nadia El Ferdaoussi, travel blogger; Cillian Murphy, county councillor from Loop Head peninsula; Trevor White, director of the Little Museum of Dublin; and Irish Times journalists Rosita Boland and Mary Minihan. The Best Place to Holiday in Ireland 2022 will be announced on the August public holiday weekend in The Irish Times.
The Burren, Co Clare
The Burren is strikingly original, with so much to see and do. It’s greener than you might expect — not all barren rock — and beneath it are some impressive caves with fossils embedded in the rock. The region is easier to reach than many west of Ireland locations, yet stretches to the Atlantic, with beaches such as Fanore easily accessible.
Star attractions include the Aillwee Cave/Birds of Prey Centre, Cliffs of Moher and Doolin Cave. And take the free guided walking tour of the Burren National Park, by booking at email@example.com. Tours focus on orchids, butterflies, geology or archaeology.
There’s a variety of towns: Lisdoonvarna is traditional, almost untouched by modernity; Doolin is better kept and more prosperous looking. It is also a point of departure for the Aran Islands.
There is no shortage of eateries in the area. Special mention to Monks at the Pier in Ballyvaughan, takeaway coffee at the Burren Perfumery (you’ll need a keep cup), and the Wild Honey Inn, Ireland’s first Michelin-starred pub. There’s a farmers’ market on Saturdays in Ballyvaughan — the Burren is famous for its local food producers.
You can travel around by bike, motorbike or car, and some people even do it on foot. There are several bus tours and a public shuttle bus from Corofin to the National Park. There is no sense that tourists/visitors are being “gouged”, although hotels are hard to come by at busy times of the year, partly because of the initiative locals have taken in welcoming refugees from Ukraine.
This is the “real Ireland” that many are searching for, but few can find.
Achill Island, Co Mayo
Stunning and elemental, with huge skies, and uninterrupted views of the sea and mountains, the landscape is the star in Achill (even if some of the planning and housing leaves a little to be desired).
The main attractions here are outdoors, and this large island has a wealth of beaches, mountains, lakes and adventure activities. Some of its outstanding features are the “beach at the end of the world” that is Keem Blue Flag strand, plus Keel and Dooagh, both of which offer good surfing. Keel Lake has paddle boarding and windsurfing.
It’s a long drive from anywhere … though fit and organised souls can get there by train and bike, via Westport. It’s also a lovely place to explore on foot or by bike, and there are plenty of rental opportunities. The Great Western Greenway runs from Achill down to Westport and is a great day trip. Retail enthusiasts can pick up some excellent bespoke local products, such as Achill lamb and sea salt local jam and honey, in the tourist and craft shops.
There’s a good range of food across all price points, from roadside food trucks to restaurants and cafes, so – in a pricey year for Irish tourism - Achill doesn’t have to be an expensive trip. Likewise, there’s lots of accommodation at moderate prices, including camping, hostel, B&Bs and guesthouses.
Achill calls itself Adventure Island and is certainly that. This is a wonderful place to holiday with a family, with plenty of outdoor activities available and is a worthy destination for the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland shortlist.
Carlingford, Co Louth
Set by Carlingford Lough, one of only three natural fjords in Ireland, looking out on the Mourne Mountains and backed by the Cooley Mountains, this is among the most eye-popping locations on the east coast. A rare blend of medieval buildings and 20th and 21st-century additions, the town itself is as beautiful as the landscape in which it sits. It attracts tourists from North and South.
It’s affordable for the young but offers something to all age groups, except maybe people who want a quiet get-away-from-it-all holiday. Note though that Carlingford is a party town popular with younger visitors and at weekends, stags and hens.
The adventure centre right in the middle of the town offers every kind of activity from paddleboarding to ziplining to forest skills. Greenore golf course is of a very good standard. The short ferry ride to Co Down is an experience in itself and further opens up the scope of things to do in the wider area. You will never run out of things to do here.
Most people will drive there, but you can get there and away using the Greenore-Greencastle ferry, or by bike if you’re feeling energetic. There are many walks in the nearby hills/mountains, including the 40km Táin Way that can be walked in two days.
There are lots of all kinds of accommodation, from the high-end Ghan House and Four Seasons hotel to the hostel/adventure centre in town. There is a wide variety and high number of food options, plus a supermarket to buy your own.
This is an established tourist town, offering golf, foodie breaks and luxury accommodation year-round, as well as summer activities.
Inishbofin, Co Galway
There is something special about Inisbofin: a wonderfully tranquil place to visit, with a good cultural scene if you know where to look. This beautiful island, 5.5km long, off the northwest coast of Co Galway has a precipitous coastline on its western flank, some lovely sandy beaches and rich archaeology.
It’s a 35-minute ferry ride from Cleggan, Co Galway, where you will pay €4 a day for parking. The ferry is wheelchair accessible. There is one shop selling groceries open every day in the summer, and SuperValu in Clifden will deliver to Cleggan if you need to bring additional supplies for longer visits.
The island has no feeling of elitism; it attracts people from all over Ireland and overseas visitors too. Across the board, prices are reasonable, for both food and accommodation. There are about 500 beds across hotels, a hostel and B&Bs, then plenty of self catering accommodation to rent. But book early as these are usually reserved in advance by returning holidaymakers.
There’s an arty feel with lots of musicians and a bit of a hippy/hipster vibe too. If you’re a lover of the outdoors, you will enjoy a holiday on Inisbofin since walking or cycling are the main way to get around. You can rent paddleboards or kayaks to explore it from the water, and the Inishbofin Blueway also has a snorkel trail.
Causeway Coast and Portrush, Co Antrim
Any town would be thrilled to have one lovely beach, and here there are two, which you can walk back and forth to in minutes. The town itself is a mix of carefully preserved shop fronts, and a lot of amusement arcades and fast food restaurants. But for all its traditional tourist feel, Portrush is an appealing place.
You can rent surf gear by the day in at least two places. At Woodies, it’s £20 (€24) for a surfboard, £25 for a paddle board and £10 for an (adult) wetsuit. They also offer lessons.
There is a range of accommodation — from mid-range hotels and guesthouses to hostels and AirBnBs. While prices here are rising as prosperity comes to the old tourist town, they are still more competitive than many places in the Republic. It’s also a pet-friendly town, far ahead of the south in this regard, with many cafes and bars accepting dogs. The main dining options — an important part of life in Portrush — are centred on the harbour, a complex of about six different restaurants and bars.
But perhaps Portrush’s main attraction is as a base to explore the Causeway Coast, home not only to the Giant’s Causeway, but also to the towns of Portstewart, Cushendall and Cushendun, and the Glens of Antrim drive, surely one of the great drives of Ireland.
This town and area are not a secret but, a little sadly, the vast majority of its visitors are still from the North. It’s a place that should be on every Irish tourist’s hit list.