So you’ve done the “city break," the pile the whole family in the car and drive around for a week vacation, the cultural tours, the same old, same old vacations in Ireland. There are plenty of different and interesting ideas for vacations in Ireland if you’re willing to leave the well-pounded tourist trail and explore your options.
From seaweed spas to celebrating TV priests or doing yoga in one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe, no one could ever say that Ireland is humdrum or dull.
Here are some of IrishCentral’s top tips for vacations off the beaten track:
1. Go whale watching
The area of West Cork is amazing. The food is great, there’s a great nightlife in almost every little town and then there’s the sea. As well as sailing, rowing, kayaking and wind surfing one tourist attraction that’s really taking off is whale watching.
So far 24 species of whale and dolphin have been recorded off the coast and 12 cetacean species. The Minke whales arrive off our coast starting in May and the Fin whales traditionally arrive in June or July. Although less predictable Humpback Whales traditionally arrive during August or the early autumn months.
2. Attend Tedfest - the “Father Ted” Festival
Tedfest is an annual festival held on the Aran Islands to celebrate the comedy series “Father Ted”.
The comedy was set on the fictional Craggy Island and told the story of three Irish priests, Father Ted, Father Dougal and Father Jack. The Irish version of the festival has been running just a couple of years and it’s now so popular that they have had to spread it over two weekends. Also this year a group in Australia held their own TedFest.
The quirky festival is held in the fabulous location of Innis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, and not a bad doppelganger for Craggy Island.
Essentially what happens is most of the people who attend the festival dress up as one of the various characters featured in the comedy show and then the hostels and bars on the island holds events. Just some of the events include the Lovely Girls Contest and Charity Auction, Hide A Nun and Seek, Ludo Aerobics, Buckaroo Speed Dating and the all important annual football match.
If you don’t believe me check the site - www.friendsofted.org
3. Yoga retreat in Europe’s largest karst landscape
So picture this: You’re enjoying a relaxing yoga session in the open air in one of the most unusual surrounding in the world. Where Mediterranean and alpine flowers grow up through the harsh landscape of a limestone pavement. Not your normal vacation right!
The Burren, County Clare is a Europe’s largest karst landscape and it’s located in the south west of Ireland. The area measures just 250 square kilometers and it is surrounded by beautiful villages such as Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna.
The Burren Yoga Retreat offers weekend or week-long retreats and all types of yoga. They also have a beautiful yoga center, in case it rains...which is likely. They have comfortable accommodation also.
4. Conquer the high seas
Ireland is a nation of seafarers. It is in our blood. Sailing is also a great way to see Ireland’s picturesque coastline.
There are a couple of yacht clubs around the country where experienced sailors can take a boat out for a couple of hours and tour the beautiful waters around Ireland. Alternatively for those who might not quite have their sea legs you could take an sailing course and get a taste of the Irish Sea.
5. Become a master-chief with some Ireland’s top foodies
The Irish tend to get a bad rap when it comes to food. Well this is all proven wrong by Ireland’s culinary capital of Cork. I defy anyone to visit Hayes pub in Glandore, West Cork, have a prawn sandwich and say we don’t know food.
Our ambassadors, when it comes to culinary wiles, are a family called the Allens. Darina Allen is the owner of the Ballymaloe Cookery School which has turned out some of Ireland’s best chef’s. You can take a course for just half a day or five days. Either way it is definitely worth your while.
Some other Allen’s you might have heard off are Rachel Allen who is quick becoming an Irish celebrity chef and Mytle Allen who is one of the pioneers of Ireland’s slow food movement.
Learn to make proper Irish bread or even better a delicious savory meal.
6. Pamper yourself at an Irish seaweed spa
Seaweed is become a valuable commodity as its value as a beauty product is being discovered. In fact some very clever Irishmen who are making their fortune exporting Irish seaweed across the globe.
There are a number of spas around the county that focus on the use of seaweed in their beauty treatments from seaweed wraps, to facials, baths and joint and muscle relaxing wraps.
7. Go native in a forest park
Some of the best vacations in my childhood were spent in the woods. There’s nothing better for a city kid then getting to run amok in the country literally going a little wild.
Around Ireland there are a number of places to stay in the natural beauty of Ireland’s forests and parks. Killykeen Forest Park, in County Cavan is just one of there. It is located on the shores of Lough Oughter and has very comfortable Scandanavian designed wooden houses scattered throughout the forest. In the park itself there are amenities for fishing, horse riding and also a games room for those kids.
8. Stay in a luxury castle
This is one for those among us with never ending pockets (a dying breed these days) but it’s certainly something different.
You’re on vacation to relax and treat yourself so why not do it in the one of the most expensive accommodations in Ireland and also one that is steeped in history; an ancient castle.
There are plenty of castles, many of which are also hotels, around Ireland but there are very few quite as expensive and luxurious as Lough Eske Castle in Donegal, near the Blue Stack Mountains in Donegal. This is a five star luxury hotel with a spa, beautiful rooms and all the grandeur you’d expect in a castle.
It’s also filled with history. The castle dates from the 1400s and the O’Donnell family who founded the town of Donegal. As well as having over 600 years of history the countryside in the area is exquisite.
Beware though, you may never feel quite the same about normal hotels again.
9. Stay on an island off Ireland
There are plenty of islands around Ireland to chose from including Valencia, the Aran Islands and plenty more, however Achill Island is definitely a wonderful place to bring a family on holidays.
The island is only 15 miles by 12 miles and it is the largest island in the country. Also its easily accessible by a bridge to the mainland.
Achill boasts of sandy beaches, sea cliffs and some lovely small towns to choose from including Dooagh and Dooega.
Although the island is pretty small there is plenty to keep the family occupied for at least a few days. You can visit the cliffs of Slievemore and Minaun, the beaches at Keel and Keem or go under the Achill Head. There’s also a famous Atlantic Drive which brings you around the beautiful coast of the island.
10. Conquer the River Shannon
The Shannon Erne Waterway is an amazing feature of engineering and also a wonderful place to take a vacations. Gather together a couple of friends of your family and rent a boat on the river.
This is a great way to have a fun during the day, cruising up the river, manning the locks along the way and docking at the great little towns along the way to enjoy some of their night life. Then it’s back on the boat to sleep and begin your next day of adventure.
Some might be turned off by the idea of spending time on the boats but the prices are reasonable, depending on the time of year, and the boats are quite comfortable.
However, be warned, you better get on the well with your vacation buddies there’s not much space to run away from them in those galleys.