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Go on a great city break without going far from home

Ireland has plenty to offer this autumn when it comes to city breaks for staycationers

A view of Kilkenny town and Kilkenny Castle. Photograph: iStock

A view of Kilkenny town and Kilkenny Castle. Photograph: iStock

 

You don’t have fly to some far-flung European metropolis to find culture, history, architecture, breathtaking scenery and amazing outdoor pursuits. You can find all that and more without leaving the island in Ireland’s own historic cities.

If it’s history you’re looking for, it’s hard to beat Kilkenny, Ireland’s medieval city. Kick off your trip with a visit to Kilkenny Castle, ancient seat of the Butlers of Ormonde, close relatives of Anne Boleyn who had an interesting role to play in 16th-century English politics. And then there’s Jerpoint Abbey, a Cistercian abbey and church founded in the late 12th century.

For those looking for something a little bit more contemporary, Kilkenny offers numerous excellent restaurants and gastropubs, while the surrounding area offers some excellent outdoor pursuits including angling, paddle-boarding and walks in Jenkinstown Wood.

The Kilkenny Ormonde, the only city centre hotel with a swimming pool, is offering a special €79 per person sharing package which includes an overnight stay, breakfast, lunch and dinner, use of the swimming pool and gym facilities and tickets for nearby Kilkenny Castle. Guests can also avail of some pampering at KO Spa which offers a range of face and body treatments using organic Irish brand Voya.

Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. Photograph: iStock
Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. Photograph: iStock

Not too far further south is Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. Founded by the Vikings more than a millennium ago, the city is still very much in touch with its ancient roots. The city’s Museum of Treasures includes the Viking exhibition inside the famous Reginald’s Tower, while in the Medieval Museum you’ll find preserved chambers and a range of religious artefacts.

Another must-see for many visitors will be the House of Waterford Crystal, where you can see the world-famous glass being blown and moulded and cut by expert craftspeople.

If you want to get out in the open there is the renowned Waterford Greenway, a 46-kilometre cycling and walking route which follows the line of the old Waterford-to-Mallow railway line. Beginning on the banks of the River Suir, the route traverses three viaducts which offer spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

English Market

Just along the coast from Waterford lies Ireland’s southern capital, Cork city. Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s home city boasts attractions to suit every taste. And, speaking of tastes, no visit is complete without dropping into the city’s famed English Market; just ask the queen of England.

Established in 1788 by the city corporation, the market’s vaulted ceilings, polished marble fountain and ornate decor are unique in Ireland. And once you’ve stopped marvelling at the architecture, you can sample some of the excellent local produce on sale there.

The English Market in Cork city. Photograph: Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
The English Market in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

On a more downbeat note, a visit to the city’s old gaol might just offer the possibility of a meeting with its resident ghost.

Moving a little bit outside the city, visitors can take in the Titanic experience in Cobh – the last port of call for the ill-fated luxury liner, and from there pop over to Midleton to sample some of the flavours of the historic Jameson Distillery.

Back in the city, a marvellous way to get in some exercise is with a stroll around the grounds of University College Cork. Among the famous buildings on the university grounds is the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, which hosts a large collection of Irish and international contemporary art and installations.

And, before you leave, why not visit Blarney Castle where you can kiss the famous Blarney Stone – if you dare.

Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Ireland’s city break destinations is Limerick, the Treaty City. It’s home to the ancient King John’s Castle – named after the really bad guy in Robin Hood – and the Treaty Stone, where the ill-fated peace treaty between the Jacobite and Williamite forces in Ireland was signed in 1691.

The restored castle and its excellent visitor centre are certainly worth a like, as is the Hunt Museum, which contains what can best be described as an eclectic collection of art and artefacts ranging from an ancient Egyptian amulet, Impressionist paintings, the bronze and enamel ninth-century Antrim Cross, and paintings by Jack B Yeats.

A more singular experience awaits visitors to the Frank McCourt Museum. Dedicated to the life of Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, the museum is a memorial to the hard but often hilarious daily life in the city in that period.

Don’t confine yourself to dry land on your visit. There are plenty of attractions on the River Shannon as well. And, staying with the aquatic theme, not too far south of the city you’ll find Lough Gur, with its traces of prehistoric settlements.

Entertaining

And onwards to Galway, the City of the Tribes, which could quite possibly be Ireland’s most entertaining and lively city. Even with Covid-19 restrictions, the city centre positively throbs with life, with its Medieval Quarter, Quay Street, the Spanish Arch and other areas offering a selection of restaurants, bars and cafes to satisfy even the most rarefied of tastes.

Necessary journey: Salthill in Galway
Necessary journey: Salthill in Galway

Moving out of the city itself, there is the Salthill Promenade, which gained notoriety as the backdrop of the “don’t make unnecessary journeys” news broadcast on RTÉ during Storm Desmond in 2015. From there, the spectacular Connemara coast is just a short drive. A visit to the Aran Islands is also a must if you have time and the weather is favourable.

Back on the east coast, Belfast has emerged as a top international city break location in recent years. The city, which rejoices in being home to “Europe’s most bombed hotel”, offers a Black Cab tour which takes tourists on a trip through its turbulent past. Belfast also gave birth to what is undoubtedly the world’s most famous ship, and the Titanic Experience with its nine galleries presents a mix of special effects, thrilling rides, reconstructions and interactive experiences to tell the story of the doomed vessel in vivid detail.

The city is also renowned for one of the most famous Christmas markets in these islands. The Travel Department is offering a three-night guided holiday to visit the markets and take in the city’s highlights for €399 per person. Also included are optional excursions, such as the Black Cab tours of Belfast or a joint Falls/Shankill walking tour.

Rounding off our trip around the island is Dublin. It’s hard to know where to begin there is such a breadth of activities and attractions available to visitors. Walking tours in the Dublin mountains to the south, sea fishing in the villages on the north coast, celebrity spotting near SuperValu in Dalkey, and a range of Ireland’s most historic buildings including the GPO, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin Castle and of course Windmill Lane recording studios. That’s just a sample of what awaits a city-breaking visitor.

If you want to treat yourself to something really special for your Dublin break, why not try out Dublin’s most famous address, the Shelbourne Hotel. The Shelbourne has a special package on offer to help visitors to get to know the city. Dublin Saunter at the Shelbourne is an overnight stay in a deluxe guest room with breakfast and car parking, combined with a private walking tour leaving from the hotel lobby, led by one of the renowned local historians and guides from Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours. Prices start at €299, or with dinner in the hotel’s relaxed and stylish Saddle Room from €349. Private three-hour walking tours from the hotel are available for six adults from €140, with each additional adult €8 up to a maximum of 10 people per guide.

Bellinter House, Co Meath
Bellinter House, Co Meath

Breaks near the city

Sometimes it’s a break outside of the city that people need most, particularly if they already live in a city. Fortunately, we are almost spoilt for choice in this country, with beautifully located hotels and resorts in rural locations but within close proximity to cities.

Just a 30-minute drive from Dublin in the Boyne Valley in Co Meath, Bellinter House offers the near-perfect escape for city dwellers. The luxury countryside retreat has just 35 individually styled rooms so guests can enjoy a secluded staycation. Dining options range from the casual in the Drawing Room bar to fine dining at the two-AA rosette Eden Restaurant. Topping off the experience is the award-winning Bathhouse Spa which offers everything from bespoke butler baths to yoga, pilates and mindfulness workshops. Prices start from €99 for bed and breakfast.

Not much more than an hour from the capital, on the outskirts of Kilkenny, is Lyrath Estate. The hotel offers a real getaway with its 170 acres of tree-covered grounds. The hotel itself is home to the award-winning Oasis Spa with its heated outdoor hydro pool, and there are lots of eating and dining options for guests to choose from including, Tupper’s Bar, the Conservatory, the Grill and Bar or the two-AA rosette Yew Restaurant. Lyrath Estate has created the Autumn Daze package (from €185 per person sharing) which includes two nights’ bed and breakfast and a three-course dinner on one evening in the Yew Restaurant as well as cream tea on one afternoon.

If a Midlands break takes your fancy, the Heritage Hotel in Co Laois has a Wine & Dine with a Lie-In offer from €85 per person sharing which includes overnight accommodation in a superior room, full Irish breakfast, three-course dinner in Blake’s Restaurant, a bottle of wine to enjoy in your room on arrival and free use of the swimming pool.

A little further west you’ll find the Wineport Lodge in Athlone. Hidden away on the shores of Lough Ree, the luxury lodge has 29 individually designed rooms and suites with offers starting at €85 per person sharing B&B.

Back in Wicklow you can take the whole family to stay in the Eagle Lodge, a house set in its own grounds at the main entrance to Rathsallagh Golf Club. The three-bedroom lodge has its own sittingroom with a fully equipped kitchen and dining area, and offers start at €950 for two nights for six guests with 36 holes of golf included.

Another golf offer in Wicklow comes from Tulfarris Golf Club with its Play Stay Dine midweek autumn special. The package includes an overnight stay, round of golf, a three-course meal in the AA rosette Fia Rua Restaurant, and full Irish breakfast with prices starting from €95 per person sharing.

And if none of those tickle your fancy, you can find dozens of autumn breakaway offers in Ireland’s Blue Book.