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Looking for a last-minute getaway that will get you out and about, enjoying some of Ireland’s most stunning scenery and filling your days with a host of active pursuits? We offer five destinations worth exploring, plus a few words of advice before you hit the road.
Holidays may be a little different this year, but if Covid-19 has given us anything, it’s a greater appreciation for life’s many treasures, and a holiday in Ireland offers so much to write home about. So don’t worry that a trip abroad isn’t on the cards this summer – you may well discover a corner of this wonderful country you’ve never really seen before… and it may become your new favourite spot.
Before you plan your staycation, however, remember that not only do you need to book your accommodation, but activities and meals out may also need to be organised well in advance. Especially now, with restaurants, cafés and vendors having to keep to strict guidelines, capacity is limited and therefore booking ahead is not only advised but essential. Pack a picnic if you’re travelling around all day, as last-minute bites may be difficult to come by, and before you reach your destination, be sure to check ahead what local shops are in the area and allow time for queuing.
If you’re worried the summer is almost over and you’ve yet to plan anything, don’t fret – there are still great getaways to be had across the length and breadth of this island, with hotels offering great value midweek packages. Once schools reopen, consider making the most of those sunny September weekends before everyone becomes busy again as life slowly returns to a new normal.
Here are five Irish destinations for an active staycation…
Situated as it is, just 90 minutes from Dublin, less than two hours from Cork and two-and-a-half hours from Galway, the Medieval City offers the perfect short break from most areas of the country, and has so much to offer those in search of pretty scenery, active pursuits, a little history and a bit of craic.
Spend your days exploring one of the many nearby parks – we particularly recommend you make time for Woodstock Gardens in Inistioge (make sure to have €4 in coins to exit the car park), Kilfane Glen and Waterfall (€7 per person admission), the parklands surrounding Kilkenny Castle, Nore Valley Park for families with smaller children, and Castlecomer Discovery Park for those looking for a little more adventure; this 80-acre activity park features a tree-top walk, Ireland’s longest zip line, mountain biking and axe throwing, while younger children will enjoy the playground, elf and fairy village, bouncing net and junior woodland adventure course.
If water sports are what you’re after, try Pure Adventure River Activities in the village of Graiguenamanagh, which offers kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddleboarding as well as hill walking activities to suit all ages. Or head to nearby Co Carlow to try Go with the Flow in Borris for a canoe tour with a few twists (and turns).
Get your steps in while also taking in a bit of history with Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile – a discovery trail running through the centre of the city linking the 13th-century St Canice’s Cathedral and the Anglo-Norman castle and plenty more besides.
Accommodation-wise, Kilkenny has a wide range of offerings, from the luxe five-star Mount Juliet Estate and Lyrath Estate to self-catering gems like Ballilogue, plus a host of super-central hotels like the four-star Hotel Kilkenny, which features a well-appointed leisure club offering classes, gym facilities, a kids’ club and 20-metre pool. And there are always camping (or glamping) options too for those in search of further adventure – try Butterfly Valley Glamping, or camping at Nore Valley Park or Tree Grove. For more information, check out visitkilkenny.ie.
The Garden of Ireland is renowned for its trails, mountains, beaches and waterways, so it makes the perfect spot for an active holiday. Whether you spend the day roaming the grounds of Glendalough (tip: if you’ve visited before but haven’t yet ventured past the lower lake, it’s well worth extending your exploration next time – you could spend hours here; bring plenty of water and a picnic and make a day of it; just note the current one-way system in place and respect social distancing measures), take a stroll along Brittas Bay or go for a sea swim, spend an afternoon at Powerscourt Estate (be sure to fully explore the gardens and in particular the Japanese Gardens; and if bringing little ones, stop by the pet cemetery and Pepperpot Tower), hike the Sugar Loaf, explore the Sally Gap, walk the Wicklow Way, chill out at Mount Usher Gardens, or book an afternoon of exhilarating adventure at Kippure Adventure Centre in Blessington (where climbing, high ropes, abseiling, orienteering, archery, kayaking and canoeing await thrill-seekers), Wicklow will open its leafy branches to welcome you.
Love a good hike but cannot stand following maps and guides trying to find the best spots? Mountaintrails offers single-day tours and can tailor your hike to suit your abilities and interests, taking you off the beaten path to discover hidden views you’ve yet to experience. Accommodation-wise, the county has a host of offerings to suit every visitor, from cosy B&Bs and guest houses to five-star properties like Powerscourt Hotel and Druids Glen, self-catering gems and camping sites. For more details, go to visitwicklow.ie.
Longford offers a host of active pursuits for families either looking to stay or just passing through, from kayaking to horse riding, cycling and angling. And if you’ve missed out on plans to travel abroad this year and considered a visit to Center Parcs Longford Forest, there are some lodges still available to those looking for a last-minute getaway. It’s not cheap, and the Subtropical Swimming Paradise is operating under strict new rules to keep everyone safe (guests on a three or four night stay, for instance, will be able to swim just twice on their holiday and the two-hour sessions will need to be pre-booked), but if a stress-free, luxurious break where everything is at your doorstep without the need for a car is what you’re looking for, and you enjoy cycling, walking, tree trekking, ziplining, kayaking, golf and countless other outdoor pursuits amidst fresh woodland air, this may just be the destination for you in 2020.
Pristine beaches, mind-blowing cliffs, extraordinary landscapes… Donegal has it all. You’d need to spend well over a week here to catch all the highlights of this glorious county, but if time doesn’t allow, we suggest you start with these highlights and go from there: Spend the day in Glenveagh National Park, where mountains, lakes, waterfalls and a native oak woodland in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains in the northwest await you. It’s a vast park, so make sure to bring plenty of water and a packed lunch and strike out early to make the most of your trip. Next, walk the edge of the cliffs at Sliabh Liag, just a short drive from Donegal town, and enjoy phenomenal views of the Atlantic. Reportedly the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, Sliabh Liag reaches a height of 601 metres – nearly three times that of the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare.
Ever wanted to try surfing? Rossnowlagh Surf School offers lessons for beginners as well as a kids’ surf camp plus stand up paddleboarding. If a simple stroll along the beach is what you’re craving, check your map and mark off these beautiful spots with the aim to catch as many as you have time for – Five Fingers Strand; Narin Beach in Portnoo; Ballymastocker Bay in Fanad; Maghera Beach and Caves, Ardara; and Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head, located on the Inishowen Peninsula. For those in search of just a bit of fun, a trip to Bundoran offers a wealth of options, from horse riding with Donegal Equestrian Centre to surfing lessons at Bundoran Surf Co to fair rides at Bundoran Adventure Park. And when it comes to accommodation, Donegal has countless B&Bs and self-catering options, not to mention camping and glamping spots, but for those looking for the five-star experience, you cannot beat Lough Eske Castle for location, hospitality and superb facilities. Harvey’s Point, meanwhile, is a stunning lakeside four-star in the heart of Donegal town.
If you’re a true thrill-seeker, Connemara is the dream destination. Rugged and vast, its landscape is peppered with mountains, lakes and sandy beaches. Start your exploration with a visit to the imposing Connemara National Park, featuring 2,000 hectares of mountains, forest, bogs, heaths and grasslands. Bring supplies (snacks, water, lunch) and good outdoor clothing and footwear if you plan to explore the hill walks. There’s a visitor centre where guides are on hand to provide information on trails and highlights. After a bracing day in the national park, you’ll want to check out the many other land and water-based activities this wild region has to offer, but with so many possible activities to choose from, it may be worth checking out the many expert-run centres in the area to find the ones that best suit your interests and abilities.
Delphi Resort, Killary Adventure Co, Real Adventures Connemara and Connemara Wild Escapes all offer a range of activities, from kayaking to coasteering, abseiling, stand up paddleboarding, ziplining, aerial trekking, mountain biking and even bushcraft survival. Walk Connemara, meanwhile, offers guided short and full-day hikes so you can let someone else do the planning, leaving you to take in all that gorgeous scenery. As for accommodation, there are numerous self-catering options, B&Bs, guesthouses and camping parks, or you could push the boat out with a stay in the stunning four-star Ballynahinch Castle or Delphi Resort or the phenomenal five-star Glenlo Abbey Hotel. For more helpful links, visit connemara.net.
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