1. Where? Downhill Strand, County Londonderry
Best for? Game of Thrones® fans.
Why you should visit? Northern Ireland is Game of Thrones® Territory, and even the beaches here have played their part in the fantastical HBO series. Downhill Strand is a stretch of spotless white sand beneath the striking cliffside Mussenden Temple. As Downhill’s TV alter-ego, this is the beach where Melisandre burned the old gods on Dragonstone. If you have more time, pull on a wetsuit and learn how to bodyboard or surf around nearby Portrush West Strand, and end a perfect day with a table filled with delicious seafood at Harry’s Shack, which is quite literally located on Portstewart Strand.
2. Where? Five Fingers Strand, Malin, County Donegal
Best for? Unspoiled beauty and nearby Star Wars magic.
Why you should visit? This Wild Atlantic Way beach on the Inishowen Peninsula has five fingers sticking out into the sea. Purists would call them rocky outcrops, but we prefer its local moniker “Five Fingers Strand”. Skip the swimming here – the currents are dangerous – and instead enjoy the spectacular scenery and salty breezes with a walk along the sands. If climatic conditions are favourable, you’ll be treated to views of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) dancing over the horizon, while cast and crew from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were also welcomed to the area for filming. Get creative with local produce under the tutelage of Brian McDermott (known as the “no salt” chef) at his cookery school in the town of Moville; drop into Farren’s Bar and talk to the owner Hugh about the time when Star Wars came to town; or tuck into great seafood chowder in Kealy's Seafood Bar, Greencastle.
3. Where? Inchydoney, County Cork
Best for? Surf and warm waters.
Why you should visit? Whenever we say the water is warm around Ireland, visitors put on their “it’s all relative hat”. It may well be cooler on a global scale, but that lovely Gulf Stream really does work its magic warming up these Wild Atlantic Way waters. The result? Great big sandy beaches with warm seas that are perfect for swimming and surfing, and a perfect example is Inchydoney in the stunning surrounds of West Cork. More time? Check out nearby Clonakilty and surrounding towns, which have developed excellent reputations for their great local food. There is more to indulge in than the renowned Clonakilty Black Pudding, so check out Scannells Bar, Deasy’s Harbour Bar and Seafood Restaurant and Dillon’s Restaurant for delicious seafood, chowder and artisan produce.
4. Where? Coumeenole, County Kerry
Best for? Movie buffs.
Why you should visit? If you watched in awe as the epic drama unfolded between Rosy Ryan and Major Randolph Doryan in David Lean’s 1970s flick, Ryan’s Daughter, this finger of sand will be instantly recognisable. In more recent times, those Star Wars Jedi also did some filming around the Dingle Peninsula’s Sybil Head, so you could say this is a location scout magnet. Peckish after all that fresh sea air and reminiscing? Then grab some hearty pub grub at The South Pole Inn, so named to remember the exploits of local hero and one of history’s greatest polar explorers, Tom Crean.
5. Where? Murlough Nature Reserve, County Down
Best for? Sand dunes, flora and fauna.
Why you should visit? When a place is protected by the National Trust, you know there’s something special going on. And with Murlough Nature Reserve, you get a fragile 6,000-year-old sand dune system, and a Nature Reserve since 1967. The dunes are preserved, but there is a network of paths and boardwarks running between them. Take a walk around here and you’ll be rewarded with butterflies and moths (720 species), wildflowers, perhaps the odd pygmy shrew and a seriously glorious beach. If you have more time, feast on the fruits of the sea in the Mourne Seafood Bar in nearby Dundrum.
6. Where? Curracloe Beach, County Wexford
Best for? More movies.
Why you should visit? Just one of the two major films that used Wexford’s Curracloe Beach as a backdrop would actually make you want to go there. However, when you consider that the dramatic opening scenes of World War II drama Saving Private Ryan was one of the movies, you’ll soon realise why it may not have been shown on screen in its best light. The second movie, Brooklyn, was far more romantic and showed Curracloe as the beauty it is – a delightfully sandy strip on the coast of Ireland’s Ancient East. After your trip to the seaside, head into Enniscorthy town and see more of the places where Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson got to know each other a little better.
Check out other beauties around the island of IrelandThe Island of Ireland