Special Reports
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.

Irish adventures that offer a feast for the senses

Food writer Kate Ryan details the beauty spots that have provided some of her favourite memories and meals

When it’s too hot to move in Spain, a better option is to stay right here on the dear Emerald Isle and take in everything it has to offer. Piffle to the weather — pack for everything, cop yourself on, and get out there and experience the places, people and things that makes Ireland unique.

As school holidays end and the seasons turn again, here arrives my favourite time of year: autumn. Holidays from now take on a more relaxed pace with every possibility you can have an entire spot all to yourself. Water is still warm, woods are alive with colour, and mountains are dotted with heather.

It’s all here for you, and to celebrate that, these are my favourite Irish staycation destinations.

Antrim Coast Road

Just a few minutes after setting off from Belfast city, the beautiful Antrim Coast Road emerges. Bordered by the Nine Glens of Antrim and where the Irish Sea meets the North Atlantic Ocean, this is easily Ireland’s most spectacular road.


Your destination point is Harry’s Shack on Portstewart Beach and their often raved about seafood dishes. On the way, hike to The Hidden Village of Galboly (be sure to access the village via the wide public quarry path and not across private land), visit Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (book in advance), and on to the Unesco World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway (first thing in the morning or after 4pm avoids the biggest crowds).

Onward to Bushmill’s Whiskey Distillery for a tour and tasting at the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. Stop a while to take in the precariously perched Dunluce Castle and then arrive, in much need of refreshment, at Harry’s Shack (book via DishCult to reserve a seat).

Glenveagh National Park, Co Donegal

One of only six National Parks in Ireland — all beautiful, but Glenveagh is particularly breathtaking. This once-former grand estate on the edge of Lough Beagh is wild country. Expect stags and deer to roam nonchalantly across your path, flora and fauna of all kinds.

Driving is forbidden around the National Park, so choose your mode of transport carefully — the walk from the visitor centre to the castle will take between 20 and 30 minutes. Bikes are available to hire, and there is also an electric shuttle bus service. But if you can, walk. Take the time to breathe in Glenveagh, a place that seems lost in time, unchanged by the outside world.

In the Synge & Byrne Restaurant and Tea Room, located in the Glenveagh Visitor Centre, you’ll find delicious coffee and freshly baked sweet treats — the perfect spot to refuel as you cover the extensive grounds!

Silver Strand, Co Donegal

There are several Silver Strands in this part of the world, but the one I’m referring to here is named on maps and road signs as Malin Beg. This pristine beach, backed by sea cliffs and accessible only by multiple flights of wooden steps, takes effort to get to — probably the only reason it isn’t constantly thronged by visitors!

The sea is aquamarine and crystal clear with a beach of fine golden sand. It’s sheltered, warmed by the cliffs that protect it, and mind-blowingly gorgeous. Co Donegal is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to stunning beaches, but also when it comes to dining choices!

In recent years, the county has been put firmly on the map as a foodie destination. Most recently, The Harbour Restaurant in Donegal town was named overall winner at the Food Awards Ireland 2022, winning both Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year.

Westport Town, Co Mayo

This town on the river is always hustling and bustling with people. The pubs are great, some truly delicious places to eat, including This Must Be The Place, An Port Mór, and The Gallery Wine and Tapas. Cruise around Clew Bay’s legendary 365 islands with Westport Cruises, or visit the recently renovated 400-year old Westport House — why not even stay there thanks to its new Glamping Site with luxury bell tents?

From the cosmopolitan buzz of the town, immerse yourself in the raw beauty of Wild Nephin National Park, the pristine crispness of Keel Beach on Achill Sound, ponder the peculiarity of Achill Henge, or soak in the deafening quiet of Slievemore’s deserted famine village.

Roundstone and Dog’s Bay, Connemara

The pretty harbour village of Roundstone is a hive of activity during the summer months, but come autumn things are much easier going. Most of the time, we wish fog and mist away, but here, in among the wild landscape of rugged Connemara, it gifts a beauty all its own. This is a hikers’ paradise with trails for foot and bike that take you in and around Roundstone Bog.

But you’ll also be thankful for some clear days too, to head to Dog’s Bay, an unusual geographical feature called a tombolo formed by Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Beach lying back-to-back. The waters are as clear as glass and the beaches are white and fine. The bay faces directly west and on a sunny day offers one of the most spectacular spots in Ireland to witness the sunset. Seals swim up close to the beach — keep an eye out for their bulbous heads bobbing above the water and playing in the shallows.

Speaking of sealife, be sure to also look out for Little Fish — the Cleggan restaurant that opened to rave reviews earlier this year, only a 20-minute drive away from Connemara.

Inis Oírr (Inisheer), Aran Islands, Co Galway

Arrive by ferry from Doolin pier on to the lesser visited Aran Island of Inisheer and spend a day getting a feel for island life. The guided horse and trap rides around the island are reasonably priced and great fun, run as they are by lifelong islanders who love the chat and share great stories about Inisheer’s history and life.

You can easily walk the island, but this is a charming way to see it, clip-clopping through narrow boreens surrounded by dry stone walls and thatched cottages. Visit the rusting red hulk of the Plassey Shipwreck, the lighthouse, and the Tower Ruin before relaxing on the pure white, blue flag, beach. Pubs provide hearty food options, and the pints are chilled, creamy and dreamy — just as you will be when it’s time to board the boat back to shore.

Enniscrone, Co Sligo

It’s possible that Enniscrone has it all! As well as award-winning spots such as Ocean Sands restaurant, there’s a beautiful beach, two historic seaweed bath houses, a championship links golf course a ball’s throw away, and two great surf spots in Easky and Strandhill only a short drive away. A little further north again is monumental Benbulbin with its many walking trails to suit all abilities and views to gawp at all the way round. While there, might as well visit the final resting place of WB Yeats and recite a few lines of poetry. South of Enniscrone is the wonderful Downpatrick Head Sea Stack and Cliffs, and if in need of a culture fix, the Céide Fields Visitor Centre is where you’ll get all you need to know about Ireland’s most extensive Stone Age settlement.

The Beara Peninsula has dual citizenship to counties Cork and Kerry, separated by an invisible line in one of the region’s most iconic driving routes, The Healy Pass. Kerryside and the calm northern shore of the Beara Way, tucked in near the village of Lauragh, is Derreen Garden, a 19th century landscaped garden overlooking Kilmackillogue Harbour and bounded by the Caha Mountains. Among the 60 acres of this 150-year-old garden are impressive specimens of trees and plant, many rare to Ireland, and gorgeous views of the secluded harbour and misty mountains. There is a wonderful cafe on site serving a small but perfectly formed offering of light bites, cakes and coffees. Parking is free, and the small entrance fee includes a map with key information about the garden.

From here, it is a short drive to a hidden little nook on the road to Kenmare. Gleninchaquin Park was formed 70,000 years ago by a glacier and as a result is backdropped by a spectacular waterfall. The waterfall feeds several lakes around the park, one of which is Uragh, of note for its silent sentinel — a bronze-age standing stone circle. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead, and after hiking cool your feet in the gently babbling brooks of glacial waters.

Cork city

A visit to Ireland’s second city will always be the tastiest. The city’s food scene is absolutely hopping with buckets of things to taste and experience. Hit the heritage food scene by visiting Ireland’s only Butter Museum (phone in advance to inquire about butter-making workshops), and a visit to the English Market is always worthwhile with new, innovative vendors setting up stall there all the time.

Channel your inner Gen Z with Cork’s newest food tour. The Underground Donut Tour visits four stops, including Offbeat Donuts and Dulce Bun House before finishing with freshly made churros. Fab Food Trails are a long-standing perennial favourite covering all the classic Cork food stops. If you still have room, mosey down to The Marina Market or The Black Market, both of which are stuffed to the gills with amazing container kitchens serving ridiculously brilliant food.

Brewing and distilling are back in the city with a bang, too. A visit to Rebel City Distillery is a unique experience in the old industrial heart of the city located in the old Ford motor factory. Here they make a gin flavoured with spices from a woman’s co-operative in Kerala — the home place of distillery co-founder Bhagya Barrett, as well as Ireland’s only absinthe. A variety of tours and themed experiences are on offer throughout the week.

Gwyneth Landon of O’Sullivan’s Poultry at the English Market chats to visitors.

Drop into Cork’s newest boutique brewery, Original 7, located in the Fran Well Pub on North Mall. Learn about Cork’s history of brewing, tastings and how to pour the perfect pint!

Dungarvan, Co Waterford

Away from the hustle and bustle of Waterford’s hugely successful Greenway, Dungarvan has many jaw-dropping spots to visit. The Comeragh Drive takes a meandering path through the rugged Comeragh Mountains. Along the way, discover Waterford’s Magic Road, famous for the optical illusion of cars rolling uphill. The Mahon Falls should be in fine fettle during autumn where any drop of rain will result in awesomely noisy cascades of water. A detour to Carey’s Castle Forest Park (near Clonmel) makes for a spectacular forest trail that leads to a castle of the same name hidden deep in the woods.

Of course, any visit to Dungarvan would be incomplete without popping into The Tannery, a staple of the area since 1997. As well as delighting diners with their ever-changing menu to showcase the best of seasonal local produce, the dedicated team there also run the Tannery Cookery School, a state-of-the-art facility offering courses all year round.