Special Report
A special report is content that is edited and produced by the special reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report but do not have editorial control.

Have fun and stay safe on an Autumn staycation

When the kids go back to school the grown-ups come out to play

Autumn is a terrific time for a staycation, with the countryside golden and the weather mild enough to enjoy it. It’s a lovely quiet time to visit museums and galleries too, or historic homes and gardens, putting out their last blast of colour.

If you’re planning a mini-break Kilkenny is hard to top, surrounded by beautiful countryside for touring by car and with a city centre packed with places of interest to visit on foot.

These include Rothe House, a restored medieval house and garden, the Medieval Mile Museum and St Canice’s cathedral.

The star attraction is Kilkenny Castle, home of the Butlers of Ormonde. Check it out at your leisure with a stay at the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel (kilkennyormonde.com), a three minute stroll away. "All the craft shops, boutiques, cafes and Kilkenny Design are open, so there's plenty of mooching to do," says Ann Phelan, its marketing manager.


The hotel has a bright and airy atrium and they say the Covid protocols are designed to relax you even before you arrive. In advance of your stay you’ll get a call from the reservations team recommending you book your lunch, dinner or pool slot – it’s the only city centre hotel with a pool – in advance, so you can park your cares with your car and just enjoy being looked after.

B&B rates are available from €55 per person sharing with two nights B&B plus one dinner from €169 pps. One of its most popular options is its Castle Break, which gets you B&B, lunch and dinner, plus a ticket to Kilkenny Castle from just €79 pps.

Sligo is another terrific option. It never gets as crowded as some other counties along the Wild Atlantic Way and in September, its sense of space to breathe and room to roam is even greater. In autumn the sea is at its warmest too, making it a lovely time of year for a last dip of the year.

There are loads of great beaches in the area, including Strandhill, home of Voya Seaweed Baths, as well as Rosses Point, Lissadell and Streedagh.

Sligo’s not all about the seaside though, there are wonderful woodland walks such as Coillte’s Hazelwood, Dooney Rock and Slish Wood on the shores of Lough Gill or, furher afield, the Benbulben Forest Walk and the Gleniff Hoursehoe.

The Sligo Park Hotel (sligoparkhotel.com) has a number of great packages right now, including its Autumn Along the Wild Atlantic Way offering which includes two nights' B&B and one evening meal for two adults from € 149 pps. A one night stay's B&B starts from €119.

If you haven’t seen your buddies for too long, it has a special two night B&B Ladies Night Away reunion package - which is actually two nights away – including two breakfasts and one dinner with pre-dinner bubbly, from €169.

Its over-50s three night package, which includes B&B and three evening meals for two sharing costs from €220 pps in September, falling to just €195pps in October and November. The hotel’s Stay Safe programme promises the highest possible safety standards for your stay.

The same ethos applies at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort (Galgorm.com), three miles from Ballymena and just 30 minutes from Belfast but a world away from hustle and bustle. Situated on 160 acres of lush parkland, with the beautiful River Maine flowing through it, this historic property is the last word in luxury.

It has 124 guest rooms including suites, deluxe and superior rooms, as well as a range of contemporary Cottage Suites and riverside log cabins with private hot tub, so there’s something to suit everyone. Wherever you stay, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in its stunning Thermal Spa Village, a Global Luxury Spa Hotel of the Year award winner.

After the stress of the past few months, it could be just what you need to unwind, especially after a recent multi million euro expansion which includes new spa attractions such as a 10m vitality pool on the shores of the river, a 200 sqm Palm House relaxation area with heated loungers and a brand new Salt Room for halotherapy.

Galgorm has recently launched new non-touch Dermalux LED facial technology, allowing guests to safely enjoy the full spa experience. The hotel offers fine and casual dining options, championship golf and a bar, McKendrys, with over 300 whiskey blends and its own premium Galgorm Estate Gin.

The resort was the first in Northern Ireland to receive the new AA COVID Confident Mark for its health and safety commitment.

A two night Cottage Dining Retreat Suite includes complimentary mini bar, breakfast each morning, a three course evening meal, an afternoon tea in The Conservatory, plus access to the Thermal Spa Village, from £496 (currently round €548) per couple.

For one night of luxury pampering, stay in a deluxe guestroom for B&B, dinner and complimentary mini bar plus a 60 minute treatment from its Spa menu, and access to the Thermal Spa Village from £530 for two guests, or around €586.

Alternatively sit back and let someone else do the driving, and the guiding, with a fully guided tour from Travel Department. The company, much loved for its group tours around the world, has responded to Covid by developing Homegrown Tours (traveldepartment.com), reminding those of us living locally of all the best bits of home, as well as hidden gems we didn’t even know about.

Whether it’s culture on the Aran Islands, a fresh take on the Ring of Kerry, the stunning landscapes of Donegal , or an opportunity to explore the historic city of Derry, there are loads of great options. Group sizes are smaller, for safety and reassurance, and the company is offering a new flexible low deposit on all bookings up to September 30th from just €100.

For a sample itinerary, how about seeing the stunning Connemara region dominated by the Twelve Bens, dotted with lakes and home to world-renowned ponies, while visiting Leenane, Letterfrack and Cong. With its three-night tour you’ll get a relaxing cruise on Lough Corrib and a visit to Inis Mor too, all from €599pp.

Or head north for a coach tour of Belfast to see the Albert Memorial Clock Tower, Opera House, City Hall, and The Crown Bar. Take in an Antrim Coast day trip, walk along the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and see the Giants Causeway. En route to Donegal, you’ll visit Derry, walk along its famous city wall, and learn more about this historic city.

From your base in Letterkenny, you’ll see the best of Donegal, including Rathmullan and Sheephaven Bay, with a guided tour of Glenveagh Castle and a chance to explore its gardens and national park on a four night tour, in safety and comfort, from €629pp. Wherever you go, when it comes to holidays, this autumn there really is no place like home.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times