The greatest beaches in Ireland
Ireland’s coastline is a lush, 6200km-long necklace (3852 miles) of spectacular sites where the land meets the sea. From small coves known only to a few to enormous lengths of golden sand that are a destination in their own right, Ireland’s coast is a beachgoer’s delight.
The nicest beaches invariably are on the rugged western shores, where the sometimes violent seas of the Atlantic may not at first look appear all that attractive.
But on a beautiful summer’s day, you can run your hands over the unbelievably smooth sands and imagine yourself a good deal closer to the equator. Here are the top greatest beaches in Ireland.
Keem Bay, Achill, County Mayo is a gorgeous golden beach
Perhaps the most garlanded of Irish beaches is this quiet stretch of golden sand at the western end of Achill Island. Hemmed in on three sides by rocks that are part of the jagged Croaghaun Cliffs – the tallest in Ireland – you have to walk down a steepish trail to get to the beach itself.
Even accounting for the changeable weather and the gloomy Atlantic, Keem Bay is one of Europe’s most gorgeous sites – its Blue Flag designation hardly doing due to the breathtaking setting of it all.
Inch Strand, County Kerry is popular with surfers and novices
This 5km-long (3-mile) sand spit jutting into Dingle Bay is Ireland’s most renowned beach, having appeared in at least three blockbuster movies.
But although its star role in Ryan’s Daughter (1970), Excalibur (1981), and Far And Away (1992) provided spectators a peek of its immense grandeur, you need to feel your feet on the sand to properly understand what a magnificent part of County Kerry this Blue Flag beach really is.
It faces west, which means there’s fantastic surf here — in summer the local surf schools are busy teaching people how to stay up on its waves, which can grow as high as 3m (10ft) (10ft). If surfing isn’t your thing, Inch is also a great birding area, but ultimately it’s about a stroll and a swim.
Banna Strand, County Kerry, boasts towering dunes with beautiful views
If the world knows about Inch Strand, then this enormous Blue Flag beach around 13km (8 miles) northwest of Tralee is very much a local favorite.
On summer weekends – or whenever it’s not raining – folks from Tralee and beyond make their way here to walk the complete length of its 6km (3.7 miles), making it one of Ireland’s largest beaches.
Thanks to the warming waters of the Gulf Stream a swim here isn’t the mark of madness, especially in those glorious September days when the sea is softened by a long summer, but even if you don’t fancy getting into the water there are some stunning views from the 10m-high (33ft) dunes – look southwest and take in the glory of Mt Brandon and the Dingle Hills.
Trawmore Bay, Achill Island, County Mayo is a great beautiful place
This lovely Blue Flag beach creates a 4km-long (2.5-mile) ribbon of golden sand between the towns of Keel and Dookinelly, on Achill Island’s western shore.
It doesn’t receive the oohs and aahs reserved for Keem Bay – just 3km (1.9 miles) away – but its blend of sand and shingle is a beauty in its own right, and a favorite site for bodyboarders and surfers who test their talents in the Atlantic breakers. Swimmers should stay to the western (Keel) end since the currents are particularly strong.
Trawmore is also one of the most photographed of all Irish beaches, notably from the vantage point of the Minaun Cliffs at the beach’s eastern end, which rise to a height of 466m (1528ft) and is the ideal position to capture the beach looking its finest.
Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay, County Galway, offer sparkling white sand
The scalloped coastline of Connemara is home to numerous stunning beaches, none more lovely than the sisters of the Errisbeg Peninsula, 3km (1.9 miles) west of Roundstone.
Separated by a dog-bone-shaped sand spit and tombolo are the golden sands of Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay, made mainly of beautiful white sand.
Unlike other beaches, the sands are not made from rocks but from crushed seashells, which give them more of a sense of the Caribbean.
Trá Mór near Dunfanaghy, County Donegal, could be Ireland’s loveliest “huge beach”
In Irish, “trá mór” (or Tramore) merely means “large beach,” and although the nation has more than a dozen of them holding the moniker, this hidden jewel in the shadow of the Horn Head peninsula is undoubtedly the nicest.
It takes a bit of effort to get there: from the arched bridge at the end of the inlet that marks the end of Killihoey Beach (another looker) you have to clamber through the wind-blown grassy dunes for about 15 minutes, but your reward is a 2km-long (1.2-mile) curve so isolated and beautiful that you’ll instinctively want to keep the secret all to yourself. And, on most days bar the hottest, you can.
Ballyquin in Ardmore, County Waterford, is the greatest hidden beach
About 5km (3 miles) northeast of the famous coastal town of Ardmore lies this incredibly quiet beach, an arc of magnificent white sand that at its eastern tip gives way to tidal rock pools, above which are the remnants of a previous stud.
Unlike the considerably more popular beach in Ardmore itself, Ballyquin remains rather unfrequented: locals come here for morning swims while, in the evenings, it’s a fantastic site for surf fishing, with people throwing a rod in the hope of catching some flatfish or a bass.
To reach here, follow the road marker off the R673 for Goat Island.
Streedagh Strand, County Sligo, is the best beach for swimmers
Of Sligo’s enviably extensive array of beautiful beaches, curving, dune-backed Streedagh Strand is the favoured option for those who truly wish a dip.
Strandhill and Mullaghmore – the county’s better-known beaches – are good for surfing, but Streedagh’s sheltering setting in a semi-protected, tranquil bay makes it the swimmer’s pick.
The sand dunes at the rear of the beach give another little of shelter, above which on a clear day there are uninterrupted views to the north of the magnificent mountains of Donegal.
Offshore — and sometimes visible at low tide – are the remnants of three ships that went aground here during the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Killiney Beach, County Dublin, is the greatest beach near Dublin
As city beaches go, this one in the south Dublin suburb of Killiney is a pleasure.
The long stony beach is backed up by some of the most exclusive addresses in Dublin, the homes of some of the biggest celebrities like Bono and Enya, who have unfettered views of the wide arc of Killiney Bay, which is said to bear more than a striking resemblance to the Bay of Naples – hence the Italian names of many of the streets around here.
The beach itself is popular with swimmers, walkers, and families on a day out: on a lovely day you’ll be in plenty of company, but the walk from end to end is one of the best in Dublin.
Ballymastocker Bay, County Donegal, is an award-winning picturesque beach
The tawny-colored beach at Ballymastocker Bay on the western bank of Lough Swilly runs for about 2km (1.2 miles) from the tourist hamlet of Portsalon (which gives it its alternative name of Portsalon Beach) (which gives it its alternative name of Portsalon Beach).
This Blue Flag gem features fantastic vistas of the Inishowen Peninsula, and the beach itself is incredibly picturesque too: as you come over the high headland on the R268 Knockalla coastal route there’s a pull-off point that allows for the ideal view of the beach running straight up to Portsalon.