Deservedly popular as they are, tourist attractions such as Dublin Castle, the Cliffs of Moher and Tayto Park are known to almost everyone at this stage. But for those prepared to take the road less travelled, there’s a host of places across the country that are well worth a visit.
Whether it’s culture, history or scenery that you’re seeking, the following destinations are sure to please. Start planning that road trip!
A 2km-long Anglo-Norman settlement situated on a peninsula on the western shore of Lough Ree about 14 kilometres north of Athlone, Rindoon is one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
Now deserted but begging to be explored, the Medieval town — which was once referred to as “Camelot on the Shannon” and previously ranked as one of the most important medieval town sites in Ireland — thrived as a trading post in the 13th century until Gaelic chieftains reasserted control and it was abandoned.
Often described as “a storybook in stone”, Rindoon’s fascinating ‘story’ can still be seen via the remains of a church, castle, mill, hospital, harbour and turreted town, all of which make for a visual and cultural treat.
Rindoon’s already significant appeal has further increased thanks to an extensive project by St. John’s Parish Heritage Group that has seen the restoration and conservation of the Medieval town walls, hospital, windmill and parish church. The addition of a newly constructed looped walk adds another string to Rindoon’s considerable bow, making it one of the country’s must-visit destinations.
Taking sibling rivalry (or, possibly, pettiness) to new heights, the imposing Jealous Wall, the largest Gothic folly in Ireland, owes its existence to a feud between two brothers.
Deliberately ruinous in style, the wall was built by Earl Robert Rochfort to function as a screen to obscure his older brother’s larger neighbouring property, Tudenham Park. It stands on the grounds of the Belvedere House, where the same loathsome Earl locked up his wife for 31 years after accusing her of adultery with another brother.
While the Jealous Wall is the key draw, there’s plenty more to tempt visitors. Belvedere House, Gardens & Park (belvedere-house.ie), which is located seven kilometres miles south of Mullingar, has evolved to become a relaxed, child-friendly space where the amenities include three playgrounds, a courtyard restaurant, stunning parkland grounds with picnic areas, and a range of wildlife and heritage displays.
Perfect for a day-trip for families, it makes for a fascinating day out. And helps put any family squabbles firmly into perspective!
A visit to the Fore in Co. Westmeath is akin to stepping back in time. Not only is this tranquil monastic village one of the most beautiful, ancient and unspoiled places in Ireland, it remains one of the least celebrated and, therefore, is mercifully devoid of coach loads of tourists.
Set within a quiet valley in the rolling hills north of Mullingar and just a few kilometres from Castlepollars, Fore makes for a fascinating day-trip where visitors can enjoy a first-hand experience with origins of traditional Irish folklore tales that have been around for more than a thousand years.
The village contains the upstanding remains of numerous archaeological features and is associated with St. Feichín, who founded Fore’s Benedictine monastery during the seventh century; and who is believed to who influenced the surrounding area in seven miraculous ways, collectively known as the Seven Wonders of Fore.
Evidence of Féichín is still readily apparent, allegedly: there’s a tree that won’t burn, a river that flows uphill and water that won’t boil.
Miracles aside, Fore’s attractions include a picturesque walking trail which won a prestigious National Heritage Project Award. Those with a sweet tooth, meanwhile, will likely make a beeline to Jane O’Reilly’s coffee shop where the desserts are legendary.
Located near the charming village of Dunkineely, at the end of an 11km peninsula lies St John’s Point, home to one of the most picturesque beaches in Donegal.
Coral Beach is truly something to behold – and well worth the trek, no matter how far the journey. Pretty, almost pink, sand crunches underfoot, while the beach’s water is said to be some of the clearest diving waters in Europe, making it a mecca for scuba divers and swimmers alike. The views are highly Instragram-able, too, stretching across Donegal Bay and towards Sligo, Mayo and beyond.
Such a memorable setting merits more than just a day-trip, though. If budgets permit, travel onwards to the remote St. John’s Point Lighthouse to enjoy an overnight stay in one of the two charming lightkeepers’ cottages, which are managed by Irish Landmark Trust.
It may be more low-key and less well-known than the famous Aran Islands but Cape Clear Island, off the west coast of Cork, is a gem that’s well worth taking the time to explore.
Accessed via a 40-minute ferry ride (cailinoir.com)from Baltimore across the choppy Atlantic Ocean, Ireland's southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island stretches a mere three miles long and one mile wide. Its size means that amenities are limited – the island is home to one shop, one pub, a church, a club house and an Irish language school – but that’s to miss the point: the island is all about fleeing from the madding crowd.
While Cotter’s Bar and Séan Rua's Restaurant are the hives of social activity after dark, the island buzzes by day with assorted activities: coastal walks, sailing, kayaking and, for the less energetic, bird-watching.
Visiting the island’s eco-friendly goat farm (and enjoying some mouth-watering goat’s milk ice-cream made by the resident blind ice-cream maker ranks deservedly as one of the most popular tourist attractions. The island also plays host to an annual Storytelling Festival each September, which attracts accomplished storytellers from both home and abroad.
Accommodation options on the island run the gamut from cheap and cheerful (Cape Clear Hostel) to 3-star B&Bs (Ard na Gaoithe) and self-catering apartments (Gaisceanáin View), while a number of cottages are available for private rental. For a truly unique alternative, though, consider a stay in the traditional yurts on the island (yurt-holidays-ireland.com), which offers an unforgettable glamping experience.
Cape Clear: escapism at its finest!