June is traditionally the beginning of the Irish summer season. Kids finish up the school year, the weather is (usually!) warmer than the spring and autumn months, and seaside resorts open up to welcome tourists from overseas. Many Irish families have fond memories of packing up the car and heading to the coast for a week or two to explore the country, soak up the sun (when it appears) and dip their toes in either the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea. Camp sites, caravan parks and self-catering cottages are still as popular as ever, as well as hotels and Bed and Breakfast guesthouses for those who prefer their creature comforts. Here’s our guide to the quintessential Irish holiday...
Essential Irish Summer Activities
Ireland is an excellent holiday destination for all types of people; there’s plenty of sandy beaches, parks and fun activities for families; thousands of years worth of history and heritage for culture vultures; cities full of shops, bars and restaurants for those who like a cosmopolitan vibe; and no matter where you go, plenty of breathtaking natural panoramic views to ooh and aah at. Much of Ireland’s population lives in or close to urban centres, so when summer hits, the natives like to flock to coastal or rural destinations in search of sun, sea and scenery. It’s not uncommon for families to have a holiday home or caravan somewhere, or at least a favourite destination that they return to again and again. The west coast of Ireland is always a big hit with any visitor, but especially for surfers. Huge waves crash to the shore all along the more than 2,000km of coastline, which not only makes for great opportunities for watersports, but epic scenery and wildlife too.
The western coastline is dotted with charming towns both big and small, and is at times the most remote and untouched region in the country. The east coast on the other hand is much calmer, more peaceful, and has more consistent weather - particularly along the sandy stretches of the south east coast. It’s a firm favourite with young families and Dublin natives since it’s within easy reach of the capital, and has all the family activities you could possibly want. The north and south offer two vibrant cities - Belfast and Cork respectively - that are becoming increasingly popular for people who want an urban base while exploring the surrounding areas. The midlands are mostly farmlands, and while the region is excellent if you really want to get away from crowds and the hustle and bustle of large towns, it can be lonely - especially if the weather turns bad. Lots of rivers, lakes and forests make it a great choice for outdoorsy types though.
Weather Warning! As anyone who has spent more than 24 hours in Ireland will tell you, the weather changes. A lot. Hourly intervals of blistering sun and torrential rain are par for the course, and there’s a favourite saying that the country can get all 4 seasons in one day. You may think that’s an exaggeration, but it’s really not! Holidaying in Ireland at any time of year is a gamble. In autumn and winter you could be blessed with unseasonally warm temperatures and calm winds, although more often than not it’s wet, windy, and chilly. Spring and summer can vary a lot; ‘heatwaves’ - meaning temperatures of over 15 degrees celsius - of more than two or three weeks can happen when the sun shines consistently. When this happens, the entire country immediately dons their shorts and sunglasses and hits the beach (or the park, wherever is closer), fires up the barbeque and indulges in some ice cream. Rain showers are a contrast threat, although the temperatures do tend to be more comfortable at this time of year.
While there has never been any scientific experiments on the matter, the first few weeks of June - when thousands of school children are taking their exams - is always guaranteed to be beautiful! So long story short, wear layers, always have a back-up plan, and keep both a rain jacket and some sunglasses close to hand at all times - just in case.
Where to Go
There are plenty of excellent holiday destinations around Ireland no matter what your interests are. We’ve chosen a few of our favourites, all with varied activities, histories and lifestyles, to give just a small taster.
Dingle: One of the most popular holiday spots in Ireland and definitely the most popular in county Kerry, Dingle is a charming fishing village full of brightly painted boats, narrow streets with cosy pubs and cafes, and the most welcoming locals you’re likely to come across. One particularly famous local is of the non-human variety; Fungi the Dolphin has been swimming in the waters off the coast of the town since 1983. There are numerous boat tours that take the trip out to see him; he turns up and puts on his own choreographed show every time, without fail.
Westport: The perfect base to explore the west coast, Westport in county Mayo is a bustling town on the shores of Clew Bay, with gorgeous views encompassing the mighty mountain of Croagh Patrick on one side and a plethora of tiny islands on the other. There’s a huge choice of things to see and do; hike up the mountain for panoramic views, tackle some adventure activities at Westport House, take a road trip along the coast to keep your camera clicking, or just wander around the town and enjoy some fresh fish in the many award winning restaurants.
Donegal: Up in the far reaches of the north of the island, Donegal is the ideal destination if you want to get away from it all and surround yourself with nature. Full of unspoilt beauty, this hilly county is also a great surfing spot and has some practically deserted sandy beaches to enjoy too. You can visit the rocky crags of Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head, take in the sights of traditional thatched cottages and friendly donkeys, or go on endless hill walks with breathtaking scenery all around.
The Sunny Southeast: A favourite with Dubliners, the sunny southeast (i.e Wexford, Waterford and the surrounding counties) gets the best weather in the country - as you may have guessed from the name. Endless stretches of golden sand and calm sea, quaint fishing towns and several interesting historic attractions make this region a great all-rounder. If for some reason you get sick of the sun, check out the Viking roots of Waterford or pick up some dazzling Waterford Crystal, visit one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, Hook Lighthouse, or step back in history on board the Dunbrody Famine Ship.
Youghal: This seaside town claims to be the ‘premier coastal resort’ of Ireland, and it certainly has an excellent reputation. Popular with Cork families, Youghal has miles of beaches and a long standing sea-faring tradition. Take cruises on the River Blackwater or hit the sea to spot whales; take in a round of golf or hedge your bets at the greyhound stadium; or roam the countryside by bike or foot and take in the beautiful views of the Rebel County.
Galway: Largely viewed as the capital of the West, Galway is a vibrant city that oozes Irishness, from the traditional music buskers that line Shop Street to the many buzzing pubs - and that’s without mentioning its fascinating history and cultural heritage. Right on the doorstep of the city is the awe-inspiring scenery of Connemara, and day trips to some of Ireland’s top visitor attractions - the Cliffs of Moher, for one - are easily done by car or public transport.
Clare: Clare is sometimes overlooked by holiday goers, but it shouldn’t be. This western coast county is home to the sweeping, constantly photographed Cliffs of Moher, the dramatic Ailwee Caves, and of course plenty of beautiful beaches. The seaside town of Kilkee, Doonbeg, Doolin and Lahinch are bursting with surfers during the summer months, and the surf is regularly listed as one of best in the world. The county is also the home of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, when singletons from all around the world descend on one small village searching for their soulmates.
The Shannon: The Shannon is Ireland’s longest river, stretching through most of the midlands and entering the sea at the border of Clare and Limerick. Anyone who enjoys fishing, sailing and the various activities that come with both will have all of their interests catered for along the Shannon. Lough Derg and Lough Ree are especially worth stopping in at, and you can make Limerick city your start or end point to stock up on all the essentials - and indulge in some retail therapy if needed too!
Belfast: The jewel of the North, Belfast has successfully moved on from its troubled past and has emerged as one of Ireland’s most interesting cities. As well as the shopping opportunities and the burgeoning foodie scene, this city is steeped in history; the Titanic was built here and is commemorated with the behemoth that is the Titanic Museum. As well as that there’s also the captivating political murals and the still standing peace line, all of which can be seen from the back of a black cab tour. For Game of Thrones fans, most of the Westeros scenes are filmed in the surrounding hills.
Kilkenny: Known as the Marble City, Kilkenny is a small but perfectly formed medieval city in the heart of the midlands. Famed for its nightlife, there’s also plenty to do during the day. Take a tour of Kilkenny Castle - one of Ireland’s finest - learn about the craft of beer brewing at the Smithwicks brewery, or just wander through the narrow cobbled streets, still in the same layout (and with some of the same buildings) as when it was founded in the Middle Ages.
Carlingford Lough: A stone’s throw from Dublin, Carlingford Lough is an excellent choice for a family or group holiday. As well as its beautiful setting, the town of Carlingford comes alive at night with several pubs and restaurants to check out, and it also has a reputation as an adventure centre. Just a short walk from the town you can have a go at kayaking, zorbing, hillwalking or even archery if the mood strikes!