While Dublin’s museums, beautiful Georgian doorways, and craft beer scene could certainly fill an entire trip, we can think of some good reasons to venture beyond Ireland’s capital city. Glistening lakes, rugged filming locations, and scenic coastal drives are just a few reasons to get out of town. Here, five weekend trips from Dublin worth the drive.
For Surf & Spa: Sligo (under 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, from Dublin)
Sligo, a surfing town on the northwest coast of Ireland, is just under a three-hour drive from Dublin. Here, stand-up has become ubiquitous, particularly on Lake Isle of Innisfree (famously written about by Yeats in his eponymous poem). One great option is a company called SUP for All, which aims to get everyone, of all ages and abilities, onto the water. Lessons typically range from €10-€45.
After working up an appetite, fuel up at the Sweet Beat Cafe, a cafe that’s vegetarian and vegan-friendly. We love the popular avocado toast, the sweet potato falafel, and the kombucha, a fermented probiotic lemonade. There’s also Shells Café toward Strandhill Beach; stop in for their breads, which are baked in-house, a fish entrée, or a plate of chorizo and black pudding. Even better? Pop next door for a revitalizing seaweed bath (from €25) at Voya to soothe your muscles.
For Natural Splendors: County Clare (approx. 240 km from Dublin)
County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, is home to some of Ireland’s most iconic natural sites: the immense Cliffs of Moher; the vast Burren National Park; as well as the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland. The national park itself is nearly 4,000 acres in size, most of which is designated a Special Area of Conservation. Here, you can opt for a free wildlife and nature walk — exploring the geology, flora, and fauna of the park — generally offered April through September. (Book at firstname.lastname@example.org or +353-65-682-7693.) To get into the agricultural mind of things, try a guided visit to local farmer Pat Nagle’s farm.
While you’re here, don’t miss Ennis, known as the Friendliest Town in Ireland per this international award. You’ll feel welcome here anytime of the year, but next August is a particularly exciting time. That’s when the town will host the 2016 Fleadh Ceoil, the biggest festival of traditional Irish music in the world with 25 venues taking part. Many performances are free; ticketed events ranged from €8 to €25 this year.
For History & Literature: Belfast (approx. 165 km from Dublin)
It’s easy to see why Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, attracts the culture hounds. It’s the building site of the TMS Titanic, birthplace to Chronicles of Narnia author C.S Lewis, and home of Cavehill — a hill that overlooks Belfast city, and apparently Jonathan Swift’s inspiration for Gulliver’s Travels. One of the most popular activities these days is The Titanic Experience, an exhibition with nine galleries that takes you on a journey through the tale of the Titanic, with high-definition oceanography footage of the wreck (tickets are £14.72 online). Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention all the Game of Thrones tourism in recent months, and, Friday to Sunday, travelers can also head over to St George’s Market — voted the U.K.’s Best Large Indoor Market 2014 by the National Association of British Market Authorities — to sample local foods and enjoy live music from local performers.
Not sure where to start? One quirky way to experience all this is to take one of the Coiste Walking Tours with a former political prisoner (£10 per person). There are four to choose from, and everyone is invited for a glass of Guinness once the tour is over.
For Farm Life & Food: Cork (approx. 265 km from Dublin)
In the south of Ireland, Cork county boasts family farms producing some of the nation’s most prized produce — be it Gubbeen cheese or Ballymaloe relish — and is home to national treasures like Clonakilty pudding, Barry’s Tea, and a handful of breweries (think: Beamish, Murphy’s, and Eight Degrees). Hungry travelers can’t miss the so-called “English Market” in town, a covered market hailing from 1788. There, you can fill up on baked goods, cheeses, dips, locally caught fish, and more. But the holy grail of food pilgrimages in Cork is perhaps the Ballymaloe estate. This 100-acre organic farm encompasses a café, garden shop, hotel, and a cookery school — which hosts half-day master classes, special demonstrations, and seasonal programming (like seasonal foraging). Fees start from €95.
Cork is also a city of festivals, with a jam-packed schedule with everything from the Guinnes Jazz Fest to the St. Patrick’s Festival to the International Choral Festival. For foodies, however, it’s all about the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine, happening next over May 20-22, 2016. Irish and international culinary experts host a wide variety of events: foraging along the seashore; cookery demonstrations; talks and tastings on wine, beer, gin, coffee, and spices; and more. Events are €10-€95 each.
For a Remote, Scenic Drive: Donegal (220 km from Dublin) to Cork
This one’s for travelers who love getting behind the wheel. If you can handle driving three hours to Donegal before embarking on a roughly 400-kilometer drive, you’ll be rewarded by all the sights of the trail known as the Wild Atlantic Way. These include wild and invigorating coastal views, historical bogland, and relaxing beaches and seascapes. There’s city life along the way, too. Cobblestoned Galway has a (relatively) bustling city center and its own seaside village, Spiddal, where Gaelic is still spoken as a first language.