The 20 best days out in Ireland

The judges of the ‘Irish Times’ Best Day out in Ireland competition have chosen their long-list of 20 excursions. Skellig Michael, Glenveagh and the Burren are on it. Is your favourite?

We set out to find the country’s most impressive visitor attractions, leisure experiences and great destinations, and asked our readers to help by nominating their favourites. Marble Arch Global Geopark in Fermanagh was one of those nominated.

The judges of the Irish Times Best Day Out in Ireland competition have chosen their longlist of 20 great ways to spend a day.
We set out to find the country’s most impressive visitor attractions, leisure experiences and great destinations, and asked our readers to help by nominating their favourites.
A memorable day out can take many forms: an adrenaline-pumping outdoor activity, a visit to a museum that brings its subject to life, a relaxing day at a pampering centre, a ramble through a little-known corner of Ireland – or a combination of the lot.

A day on the River Shannon

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“Cruising along the Shannon is a therapeutic as well as a challenging activity for families and couples alike . . . a fantastic day out and adventure for the entire family to enjoy.”
Nominated by Cian Guckian.
Information Numerous outlets rent all kinds of craft – kayaks, rowing boats, cruisers, barges – along the river.

A day on the Co Antrim coast

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Heritage

“Carrickfergus Castle, the Giant’s Causeway, Ballygalley, Cushendall, Ballycastle for a picnic lunch on the beach, the rope bridge to jangle the nerves at Carrick-a-Rede, crashing white waves at Whitepark Beach, Dunluce Castle, and Bushmills, home of the whiskey. What a day. What a drive.”
Nominated by Irene Moran.

Skellig Michael, Co Kerry

Categories: Great Outdoors, Heritage

“Landing is risky, but once you get on, the peace and tranquillity of the place take over. The long winding path to the top takes you past puffin and gull nests and follows the steps of monks of more than 1,000 years ago. The view from the top makes you realise that you have come to a magical yet remote place. I have never had such an exhilarating or memorable day.”
Skellig Michael

Lough Boora Parklands and Birr Castle, Co Offaly

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Hidden Wonder, Heritage

Lough Boora: “Abundant with nature, fun for all ages. The former Bord na Mona site, now a heritage park, is a hidden gem awaiting discovery.”

Birr Castle: “From the beautiful Courtyard Cafe to the country’s largest treehouse, Birr Castle is a treat.”

Clare Island Adventures, Co Mayo

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“Clare Island Adventures give a wonderful day out, full of adventure and challenges. You can go coasteering, rock climbing and abseiling, snorkelling, raft building. I was enormously impressed with the professionalism of the staff and the confidence they instilled in me, not to mention the sense of achievement I felt at the end of the day.”

Dolphinwatch, Co Clare

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“Along the wonderful Wild Atlantic Way, stop off at the beautiful seaside fishing village of Carrigaholt and take a trip out on to the Shannon estuary with Dolphinwatch, to see and learn about the local dolphins, birds and cliffs. Afterwards eat your fill in the award-winning Long Dock restaurant, followed by trad sessions and great pints in Carmody’s pub or Keane’s pub.”

Dublin Bay Cruises, Co Dublin

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“We boarded the boat at Howth. The day was dry and bright, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my home town from a different vantage. As a Dublin native I don’t do touristy things, but viewing both the north and south sides of the city at sea was quite an experience.When we landed in Dún Laoghaire we had brunch and a ramble around before heading back to Howth on the Dart.

Connemara, Co Galway

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“A cycle on the Clifden to Roundstone Loop is breathtaking. Take in the Bog Road, with its lakes, pools, heathers, sheep and views of the Twelve Bens. Experience seafood direct from the busy harbour at Roundstone. Visit Gurteen and Dog’s Bay, with their pristine sands.”

Big Day Out in Co Leitrim

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“Join Leitrim Landscapes Guided Walks for an hour-long guided foraging nature walk. Next let Adrienne and Graham from Adventure Gently help you explore the Shannon Blueway by Canadian canoe. Then cycle the easy way on a one-hour electric-bike cycle with Electric Bike Trails. Finish with a hearty meal, creamy pints and lively trad.”

Glendalough, Co Wicklow

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“Calling Wicklow a garden limits and inhibits its wild, fresh-aired, lung-filling wonder. Glendalough is best experienced with a crowd – cousins, college friends, whoever. Eat first, then wander, chat and be amazed at nature’s offerings. This is best done in several weathers, as sun, wind and rain change the scenery, and it’s worth seeing in many variants.”

Hook Peninsula, Co Wexford

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Heritage

“Driving down the narrow peninsula, one can see nothing but ocean to the east, south and west. Go to the salt mills in Slade and walk the coast to Hook lighthouse. Have you the nerve to visit haunted Loftus Hall? Settle your nerves at Kevin Dundon’s pub, the Local (next to his Dunbrody House). Great beaches too: Dollar Bay and Booley Bay are safe and perfect for swimming.

Donegal sea-stack climbing

Categories: Great Outdoors, Hidden Wonder

“For the past eight years we have been exploring the previously unclimbed sea stacks of Co Donegal, visiting many places where nobody has ever stood before. During the course of these adventures we have played with killer whales, basking sharks, Artic skuas and puffins. We guarantee you a day out you will never forget in places you never knew existed.”

Marble Arch Geopark, Counties Cavan and Fermanagh

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Hidden Wonder, Heritage

Marble Arch Caves, Co Fermanagh:
“A subterranean boat ride into a mile of caves. Beautiful and unique.”

Cavan Burren Forest Park:

“A gem of megaliths . . . You see, or feel, a presence of our ancient ancestors.

Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Co Armagh

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Hidden Wonder, Heritage

“The park has something for everyone – a play park for the kids, an adult fitness area, a scenic drive with views of the Ring of Gullion and of the Mourne and Cooley Mountains. There is a range of walks, including the 10-mile circular walk of Slieve Gullion. A great addition is the brand new Giant’s Lair, an innovative magical living storybook.”

Killarney National Park, Co Kerry

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Heritage

“Start with a visit to Muckross House, where the historic home gives up its rich and colourful history. The park is a place you could spend days exploring, skirting around lakes, under mountains and all the way back into Killarney town. Take a boat ride around the lakes and see its magnificence from the water. Killarney National Park is as close to heaven as you’ll get in your lifetime.”

Glenveagh National Park, Co Donegal

Category: Great Outdoors

“In sun, rain or shine Glenveagh National Park takes my breath away. A quick stop at the visitor centre and you’re off. Hire bikes or take the shuttle bus – either way, the views are the same. Take a guided tour of the castle and learn about its fascinating past.
If you’re feeling energetic, head into the hills on one of the trails – and, if you’re lucky, spot one of the deer that live in the park.”

Fota Wildlife Park, Co Cork

Categories: Families, Heritage

“A wonderful day out for both adults and kids. A beautiful walk, whether it’s in sunshine or rain, with all sorts of exotic creatures to keep everyone entertained. Easily accessible by rail or car, and, for those of us lucky enough to live locally, very reasonable prices with the season pass.”

Great Western Greenway, Co Mayo

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors

“Words alone cannot describe how fantastic the Great Western Greenway is. Nothing I can say here will come close to describing the experience of walking, jogging or cycling along all or any part of the greenway between the beautiful costal town of Westport and the rugged wilderness of Achill.”
Nominated by Fintan Conlon

The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, Co Clare

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Heritage

The Burren: “Many attractions for many people: natural history, rockclimbing , wild flowers, lush green fields to the east and swirls of limestone to the west.
Nominated by Nancy Cantwell

The Cliffs of Moher: “We stood above the seas as they pounded the cliffs and looked around at the most amazing integration of sea and land.”

The Barrow trail, Co Carlow

Categories: Families, Couples, Great Outdoors, Hidden Wonder

“From historic Carlow town to ancient monastic Saint Mullin’s, you can walk, cycle or canoe along a trail that follows the course of the Barrow river. It’s easy, away from traffic, and full of nature. Bring a picnic if you can. Listen to the birdsong. Jump in and have a wild swim. The Barrow trail is a place to share and to create treasured memories.”

The Best Days Out project is In partnership with


Northern Irish gems – 10 top things to see on a trip to Belfast.

1. Go back in time with a visit to the moving Titanic Museum.
Stunning architecture, and a museum which houses the world’s largest display of Titanic memorabilia.

2. Walk in the footsteps of TV stars from Game of Thrones on the Game of Thrones tour!

3. Discover one of the best beaches in the world. Murlough’s wide, flat 6km long sandy beach is a 50 min drive from the city.

It’s backed by an ancient sand dune system and is an excellent area for walking and bird watching due to its spectacular location at the edge of the Mourne Mountains.

4. Get cosy in the Crown Liquor Saloon. Don’t miss this Victorian pub in Great Victoria Street.
It was once a Victorian Gin palace but today offers great beer and pub food. It also has stunning stained glass windows, wooden booths and a great atmosphere. A historic gem.

Giant's Causeway

5. See a show at the Waterfront Hall Conference and Concert Centre.
The impressive, circular building, nestling on the water front was built in 1997 and has been a Belfast favourite ever since.
See the opera La Traviata there in April, or groove with 80’s band Hot Chocolate, plus The Three Degrees in May.

6. Tuck into soda bread. It’s an Irish speciality.
TV celebrity chef Paul Rankin helped make it popular, and you can buy it everywhere in Belfast.

7. Walk the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
The amazing hexagonal-shaped columns of rock were formed from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago and it’s the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland.
Four stunning trails to walk and an easy drive from Belfast. Park at Bushmills village and, from now until October, use the ‘park and ride’ service.

8. Go whiskey-tasting at The Old Bushmills Distillery, on the coast road, not far from the Giant’s Causeway.
It’s been lovingly made here since 1608 and you’ll find it on Distillery Road.

9. Chill out and find a great buy at the Sunday craft and vintage stall at St George’s Market, Belfast.

10. Stay and play with a golf break at Hilton Belfast Templepatick Golf & Country Club.
It’s home to one of the finest parkland courses in Ireland and the Ulster PGA Championship has been hosted here six times.
It’s an ideal base to discover why Northern Ireland is the home of golfing champions.



How to Take a ‘Game of Thrones’ Tour of Northern Ireland

Game of Thrones MapCourtesy Northern Ireland Tourist Board

The Northern Ireland tourism board hopes to attract tourists by billing itself as “The Real Westeros,” thanks to its large number of Game of Thrones filming locations.

Game of Thrones has already brought more than £87 million to Northern Ireland, where many of the show’s scenes filmed, but that hasn’t stopped local officials from looking for new ways to cash in on the hit HBO show. With GOT’s fifth season debuting on April 12, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has put together a map of the series’ filming locations, including a three-day itinerary for the ultimate Game of Thrones road trip. The new, free resources are designed to bring more tourists, and tourism dollars, to the region.

The Discover Westeros tour includes stops at Castle Ward, better known to fans of the show as the Stark’s home, Winterfell; Ballintoy Harbour, which stood in during a pivotal scene for Theon Greyjoy in season two; and The Dark Hedges, which is featured during Arya Stark’s escape from King’s Landing with Yoren, of the Night’s Watch.

You can download the full itinerary, maps, and details about where Game of Thrones will be filming next at


In the footsteps of giants

Giant's Causeway

The only Irish attraction to make Conde Naste Travel Magazine’s “20 Most Beautiful UNESCO Word Heritage Sites” was County Antrims’s Giant’s Causeway. The 40,000 basalt stone columns that stretch into the sea towards Scotland were formed, geologists say, by volcanic lava. But Irish mythology says the strange formations were the work of the hero Finn McCool, who built the causeway as a path to cross the Irish Sea and do battle with a rival Scottish giant.

Whatever the derivation, the Giant’s Causeway is a scenic wonder that you can not only gawk at, but climb over and around as well. And that’s what hundreds of thousands of visitors do each year, after taking a short bus ride from the visitors’ center, operated by the National Trust. In addition to climbing on and among (weather permitting) the columns, there are hiking trails to the top of the impressive cliffs which tower over the causeway itself.

The visitors’ center also provides an informative and entertaining film, which outlines both of the conflicting accounts of the causeway’s beginnings. You can also purchase Irish handicrafts and souvenirs at reasonable prices (the causeway is no tourist trap), and get information on other attractions along the ruggedly beautiful coast of County Antrim.

Other nearby sites worth visiting include:

Dunluce Castle

Imposing ruins, dating from the 16th century, dramatically situated on a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea.

The Glens of Antrim

Take a breathtaking ride along the coast, detouring into the nine glens, where you’ll find lovely hidden coves, time-warped fishing villages, forests, waterfalls, and even the mountain where St. Patrick is reputed to have tended sheep while in slavery.


Here, you can walk, if you dare, across a rope bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm.

The Old Bushmills Distillery

Recover from the rope bridge experience at Bushmills Distillery with a taste of Irish malt whiskey, after touring the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery.

The historic village of Bushmills is literally minutes away from the Giant’s Causeway. A great place to stay is the Bushmills Inn, which provides one of the warmest welcomes you’ll find in an island famous for hospitality. Having a Bushmills double malt before a turf fire in one of the inn’s cozy sitting rooms is only topped by the superb dining in the inn’s acclaimed restaurant, where you can feast on Irish smoked salmon or succulent New Zealand lamb.

The Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills are about a four-hour drive from Dublin, mostly on modern highways. If you decide to say in Belfast and tour one of Europe’s emerging “hot” cities, try the Fitzwilliam International Belfast, a boutique hotel adjacent to the Opera House. While Belfast was for years considered “off limits” due to the sectarian troubles, with the current peace initiative, it’s actually one of the safest places in Europe these days.