Travelling around Ireland’s coast, the first thing that strikes you is the drama. Craggy headlands, crashing waves and soaring cliffs mix with mountain-backed beaches, coral strands and rolling dunes edged with marram grass.
Wild beauty is everywhere. From quaint seaside fishing villages to the bustling port cities of Dublin, Belfast and Cork, and from towering sea stacks to sea-lapped little coves, Ireland’s coastline is as varied as it is vast.
But because this is Ireland, there’s a special feeling to our coastline that makes it best savoured slowly. Wind-whipped walks on deserted Atlantic beaches come with the comfort of salty fish and chips from a little local food truck, or the promise of a cosy post-walk pint of Guinness beside the fire in a traditional old pub.
A visit to an island is made all the more memorable thanks to the warm welcome from the locals, while there’s nothing quite like the awe-inspiring beauty of a coastal castle, ancient fort or wave-lashed lighthouse.
Think big. Think crashing waves, soaring precipices and epic walks – Ireland’s coastal cliffs are something truly incredible to behold. Sculpted by the ocean, and boasting dramatic panoramas, they include some of the most famous landmarks on the island: the Cliffs of Moher and the Slieve League Cliffs.
But there are also plenty of less well-known cliffs all around the coastline. A short hop from Dublin are the cliff paths of Howth (to the north) and Bray (to the south) book ending Dublin Bay; and only 40 minutes from Belfast sits The Gobbins – a wild cliff-face walk that brings you face-to-face with the elements.
The sea is always present on Ireland’s cliff walks, but there’s usually something interesting to see along the way. Ardmore Cliff Walk in County Waterford takes in a glorious amount of history with an early Christian well, a shipwreck and Napoleonic lookout posts. The Kerry Cliffs offer majestic views out to the Skellig Islands, and while the Giant’s Causeway is amazing from all angles, there’s nothing quite like the sight of it from up above on the Causeway Cliff Path.
Fancy experiencing the cliffs from a different perspective? Try the Carrick-a-Rede Sea Safari around the cliffs of the Causeway Coast; jump in a kayak and gaze at the mammoth Cliffs of Moher in County Clare from the water; or experience a blast of history at the awesome cliff-edge prehistoric fort of Dun Aonghasa on Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands in County Galway.
You may not think it from the weather, but Ireland is an island of dedicated beachgoers and we can be found enjoying our magnificent beaches all year round. From the biscuit-coloured strands of County Dublin to stony little coves on the Antrim coast, there’s a huge variety of beaches on the island of Ireland. And even if you don’t fancy joining the locals bracing the freezing cold waters at Dublin’s Forty Foot in February, you’re still guaranteed to find a beach experience to suit you.
If you like your beaches long, sandy and seemingly endless, then head to County Donegal and stroll the sands of Ballymastocker, Rossknowlagh and Magheraroarty – year-round it’s a wind- and wave-swept affair that leaves you feeling physically and spiritually reborn, as though you’ve just visited some tremendous open-air cathedral.
Morriscastle in County Wexford is said to be Europe’s longest beach, with a length of around 15km; sand-dune-backed Streedagh in Sligo is only 3km long, but boasts gorgeously clear waters (it was featured in Normal People, too!) and Benone Beach in County Londonderry is a show-stopper overlooked by the stunning clifftop Mussenden Temple.
And while our beaches are nothing short of dramatic, some of Ireland’s most charming spots are little coves or small arcs of sand edged with jagged rocks. Coumeenoole on Slea Head in County Kerry is one such gem and was immortalised in David Lean’s 1970’s film Ryan’s Daughter. The beach at Dunmore East, County Waterford is a favourite with sandcastle-makers and ice-cream lovers and is a scenic, sheltered spot, and Brompton Beach in Bangor, County Down is beloved by local swimmers.
Feeling active? Why not kayak the clear waters of Inis Oírr, County Galway, surf the waves at Strandhill in County Mayo or Portrush in County Antrim, discover County Wexford's stunning coastline on horseback, or take a seaweed bath in Enniscrone, County Sligo.
Ireland’s coastline is full of warm moments, and gorgeous seaside towns and villages along the coastline, including Dingle, Westport and Ballycastle, are great places to linger. But what about the truly epic, must-see sights? The good news is that Ireland’s coastline is full of them.
Adventure is everywhere and you can test your head for heights at stand-out sights including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in County Antrim, and Mizen Head in County Cork. Want to take things a step further? Why not try sea stack climbing in County Donegal amongst some of the most remote and wildest locations on the island.
In County Kerry, a boat ride 11km out into the Atlantic Ocean brings you to the remains of the 6th century monastic site of Skellig Michael, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More recent history awaits at the Blasket Islands off the coast of Slea Head, where you can wander amongst cottages deserted when the island was abandoned in 1954. Or how about a trip out around Fastnet Lighthouse off the coast of County Cork, the wildest rock lighthouse in Ireland.
And finally, for the ultimate coastal castle experience, don’t miss the fairytale Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the castle boasts an incredible location on the edge of the north Antrim coast – it’s the stuff that dreams are made of!
How to enjoy Ireland's coasts
Learn to ride the Atlantic waves at glorious Benone Beach with the expert help of the instructors at Long Line.
Take a walk on the wild side with Marie, the Sea Gardener, as she takes you foraging for edible seaweed along rocky shores.