Trip Idea: Off The Beaten Track

Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal

Discover a host of hidden gems on this little island, from dazzling light shows to amazing architecture

Going off the beaten track in Ireland is worth it – prepare to explore the secrets of this ancient land. Iconic castle ruins, bog bodies and what locals call "the magic road"...there's a whole host of special places across Ireland just waiting to be discovered

Off The Beaten Track in Ireland

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The delightful north of Ireland

Secret wonders abound in the north of Ireland. Meander from Donegal to Down and discover all that this place has to offer – castles in Antrim, Aurora Borealis in Donegal, ancient burial grounds in Armagh: oh, and the origins of some very famous writers...

A driving 1 hr 23mins
Grianan Of Aileach
Grianán Of Aileach

Dancing with the Northern Lights

Inishowen on the Wild Atlantic Way is remote, beautiful – and THE place to witness the Northern Lights in Ireland. Bring along a flask of hot chocolate, snuggle under a blanket and watch this phenomenon at Grianán of Aileach, a huge 2,000-year-old ring fort sitting 250 metres/820ft above sea level. It’s a spectacular sight for sure! When you've had your fill of wonder, pop over to Buncrana to the delicious Tank & Skinny's Seaside restaurant, which serves award-winning food in an incredible location.

If you have more time

Drop into the Inishowen Maritime Museum & Planetarium for a fascinating history of sea and sky.

B driving 1hr 27mins
Dunseverick Castle
Dunseverick Castle

Dunseverick Castle: the old king of the peninsula

The Causeway Coast boasts some epic sights that are famous the world over – Giant’s Causeway, anyone? One of the unsung heroes, though, has to be Dunseverick Castle. Although it’s a crumbling ruin now, Dunseverick’s location on top of a peninsula adds a gravitas worthy of its eventful past. St Patrick allegedly visited in the 5th century; a Viking invasion came to its door in 870 AD; and it was captured and destroyed in the 1600s – the fact that it survived at all is pretty miraculous!

If you have more time

Head to the nearby Bushmills Inn restaurant for traditional fare with a twist.

C driving 1hr 6mins
Divis & The Black Mountain
Divis and the Black Mountain

Hidden treasure on Divis and the Black Mountain near Belfast

Looking for a wild countryside experience? This gorgeous National Trust site is it: think free-roaming cattle in green fields, wild horses and badger setts. Keep an eye out for rare birds – peregrine falcons are known to frequent this spot. Pick a clear day for your stroll and your view will include Strangford Lough, the Mourne Mountains, the Sperrins and even Scotland. Bliss.

Image courtesy of Outdoor NI. 

Don't miss

Not really off the beaten track, but one well worn it's so good – if you're anywhere near the city, Titanic Belfast is a one-of-a-kind experience!

D driving 1hr 6mins
Navan Fort
Navan Fort

Ancient skulls at Navan Fort in County Armagh

Named after the pagan goddess Queen Macha, who, according to legend, ruled for over a decade in this part of the world, Navan Fort (Emhain Mhacha) was once the high seat of the Kings and Queens of Ulster. Archaeologists love this place, thanks to finds like the 2,500-year-old skull of a Barbary Macaque, which found its way there from North Africa. Mysterious, yes, but also fascinating.

If you have more time

Reserve a table at The Moody Boar, secreted away in the beautiful Armagh Palace Demesne. Enjoy chicken, haddock or steak with a hearty local cider.

The Silent Valley
The Silent Valley

Get some silence in the Mourne Mountains

The shimmering heart of the Mourne Mountains, the Silent Valley reservoir is a magnet for busy minds yearning for solitude. If you want to get away from it all, this is the place to be – ringed by mountains, the man-made lake isn't called "silent" for nothing. The tranquillity here makes it a perfect spot for chilling out and reflecting on your journey.

If you have more time

The Brontë Homeland Drive brings you to the tiny church where Patrick Brontë – father to Charlotte, Anne and Emily – was born and raised.

Ireland's Ancient East

Magic in Ireland's Ancient East

Ireland's Ancient East is renowned for its long history of amazing stories – ask any local about the area you're in and you'll see what we mean. But two spots in County Louth and County Kildare take the crown for quirky stories you'll never forget...

F driving 1hr 45mins
The Magic Road
The Magic Road

Roll up the Magic Road in Jenkinstown, County Louth

The ‘magic road’ is legendary among locals in Jenkinstown, and rightly so! Take a car to this unassuming little spot, stop at what is affectionately known as "the Big Mushroom", shift gear into neutral and prepare to defy gravity – literally.

If you have more time

Fancy an adrenaline rush? Head to Carlingford Adventure Centre and try rock-climbing, zorbing and laser tag in this picturesque area.

G driving 44mins
A friendly face at Lullymore

Find fairy folk at Lullymore Heritage Park

Meander through the tree-lined roads that surround Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park, and you'll find yourself in another world. Once a monastic retreat (until it was ransacked in the early 18th century), the park is now a celebration of the Irish Peatlands. A biodiversity tour introduces the amazing flora and fauna of the area – watch out for the Irish Hare! 

If you have more time

Head to Harte's Bar and Grill in Kildare town for award-winning food in relaxed surroundings – try their steak on a stone! 

The Wonderful Barn

The weird and the "Wonderful Barn" in Leixlip, County Kildare

Ever seen a barn that's shaped like a corkscrew? Well, you have now! The Wonderful Barn in County Kildare was built to create employment in the local area, all the way back in 1743. Towering above its surroundings at 22m/72ft high, the barn hides a crow's nest viewing gallery – the whole thing is a serious feat of engineering.

Image courtesy of Gary Boggan. 

Don't miss

If you haven't realised already, you've been time travelling through Ireland's Ancient East... take a look at where you can eat, sleep and do around here!

The Bay and Cliff Coastlines

The Wild Atlantic Way's hidden gems

There's magic in the air between Mayo and Clare – stony bridges and defiant churches are just two of the curiosities on this part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Listen up: these counties have some of the greatest stories to tell on the island... 

I driving 1hr 42mins
Clapper Bridge, Louisburgh

Walk along Louisburg's quirky clapper bridge

Mayo's curious clapper bridge was built for pedestrians and is made up of large stones supported on smaller stony piers. It's the largest complete clapper bridge in Ireland at 50m/164ft long, and the design dates back to prehistoric times! It's thought that Louisburgh's clapper bridge is a good deal younger, though – a recently settled Church of Ireland community created this version in the 1840s.  

If you have more time

Visit The Tavern in nearby Murrisk for delicious, locally produced seafood.

J driving 2hr 33mins
Cnoc Suain

The Bog Bodies of Cnoc Suain in Spiddal, County Galway

Cnoc Suain (meaning ‘quiet hill’) is a restored 17th-century village in Spiddal set in 200 acres of Connemara’s rolling bogland. In Cnoc Suain’s backyard? An ancient patch of ground where perfectly preserved bog bodies have been found – and current home to the wonder plant, sphagnum moss.

If you have more time

Drop into An Crúiscín Lán in Spiddal for a filling meal and – if you're lucky – a charmingly traditional music session! 

The Little Ark Church
The Little Ark Church

No man's land at The Church of the Little Ark, County Clare

Back in 1852, parish priest Father Meehan was denied permission to build a much-needed church in Kilbaha. Instead, this enterprising priest decided to celebrate mass on ‘no man’s land’. So, the ‘Little Ark’ was built – a wooden altar on wheels, which was rolled onto the beach at low tide and used to give mass to locals. Eventually, a church was built, known as the Church of the Little Ark. But you can still visit the original Little Ark in its new home within the church – a testament to Father Meehan's courage.

If you have more time

Drop into the Kilbaha Gallery for a look at some of the region's finest art and design. Oh, and their café is pretty good too – why not try a home-baked cake there?

The Southern Peninsulas

Your adventure continues...

Counties Kerry and Cork are two of Ireland's largest – and they really pack the sights in! From the tiniest churches to the most enormous mountains, this part of the Wild Atlantic Way is simply enchanting.

L driving 2hr 28mins
Dunquin Harbour
Dunquin Harbour

Take a very crooked road to Dunquin Harbour

As if the Blasket Islands weren’t glorious enough – they’re accessed via the remarkable Dunquin Harbour. Once the spot from which the Blasket Islanders would launch their currachs (traditional boats), Dunquin provided a life-giving link to the mainland. Times have changed, however – Dunquin’s harbour has been remodelled and its (very) crooked path juts starkly out of the cliff face. The sandy nearby beaches featured in the film Ryan’s Daughter, and famed Irish language author Peig Sayers was a native of the village.

If you have more time

Rest awhile in Kruger's Bar, the most south-westerly pub in Europe!

M driving 1hr 36mins
Gougane Barra Church
Gougane Barra Church

An oh-so-pretty place in West Cork's Gougane Barra

Want to know a secret? Cork’s idyllic Gougane Barra Forest Park is hiding the prettiest little church you will ever see. Right by a lake sits St Finbarr's Oratory, close to a former 6th century monastery. Unsurprisingly, this little church is a popular wedding location. Just look at those views...and think of the wedding album.

If you have more time

Eat up in the Gougane Barra hotel – "where the simplicity of the venture and the sincerity of everyone working here truly gladdens the heart"

Dursey Island

Sway gently over the waves at Dursey Island

Do you want to head way off the grid on this adventure? Congratulations, we've found you the right spot. Head to Dursey Island off the coast of County Cork, accessible by Ireland’s only cable car – and one of the few cable cars in Europe that traverses open sea. The car is a lifeline for the Dursey's handful of inhabitants, who use it to cross over to the rest of the world. If you can handle looking down, you may spot dolphins and whales playing amongst the waves! 

Don't miss

The next stop on your adventure? Why, a galaxy far, far away of course... Head to the Skellig islands, where Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed.  

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