Ireland's best beaches

We chart the country’s magical stretches of sand

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Jules Pearson

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

Irish beach (Sheephaven Bay)Some of the beaches fringing the rugged Irish coastline are up there with the best Europe has to offer. Sure, you might not be assured radiant sunshine; but if 2013 is any indication, future summers might be best spent on a local beach, whether in Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. Rolling sand dunes, secluded sandstone coves, cliffs, caves and fascinating wildlife are just some of the things you can expect when venturing to the Ireland’s best beaches. You supply the sun cream and shades, then sit back and relax as the scenery dazzles you.

It’s not easy to narrow down a list of Ireland’s best beaches. If you’ve never visited the country before, that might come as a shock. The locals, though, have long retained an affinity with the seaside; and it’s no wonder given the 70 Blue Flag beaches there are to choose from. If you plan to tick off some on your trip, you might want to consider a holiday apartment or cosy beachfront cottage for your stay; have a look at our extensive selection of Ireland rental properties. First, though, we’re shedding our flip-flops, fixing our googles and diving headfirst into an exploration of Ireland’s finest beaches!


Ireland’s top five beaches


Gurteen Bay/Dog’s Bay, Connemara, County Galway Gurteen Bay/Dog’s Bay, Connemara, County Galway

Why visit one beach when you can get two for the price of one? The well-sheltered beaches of Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay boast blazing white seashell sand and crystal-clear blue water, and are situated on the edge of the charming village of Roundstone. Separated by a narrow tombolo, both spots prove popular in peak season, and it’s not uncommon to spy a wind or kitesurfer doing his thing on the shredding waves in the near distance. The views from each bay, meanwhile, are stunning; against the backdrop of Errisbeg Mountain, with Inishlacken Island visible from the beach, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a paradisiacal deserted island.

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Keem Beach, Achill, County Mayo Keem Beach, Achill, County Mayo

The picturesque horseshoe beach at Keem is nestled betwixt the mountains of Benmore and Croaghuan, imparting the kind of tropical feel more associated with sand strips in the south of Thailand. Immortalised in the Paul Henry’s painting Launching the Currach, now on display in Dublin’s National Museum, the white sands, along with the verdant scenery of the bay, juxtapose to create a luscious visage you’ll never forget. Away from the beach itself, hill walkers enjoy tackling the Moyteoge spar on Benmore, paying a visit to the ruined watch-house at the summit. From here, you’re afforded a bird’s eye view of the remote beach wedged at the valley’s base.

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Barleycove, Schull, County Cork Barleycove, Schull, County Cork

Once hailed by The Guardian as Britain’s best beach - and the fourth finest in Europe - Barleycove is stunning. The sand is clean and smooth, there are many rocky outcrops and undulating dunes to explore, and wildlife such as swans, otters and cormorants patrol the outlying lagoons. Barleycove sits between two headlands in the Mizen Peninsula; the beach itself is accessible via a floating pontoon bridge, and lifeguards are in place during the summer. There are also showers, for when you wish to wash the sand from your toes. Of an afternoon, wander along to the lighthouse at Mizen Head or pop into nearby Crookhaven for a bowl of chowder in O’Sullivan’s Bar. 

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Portrush West Strand Beach, Portrush, County Antrim Portrush West Strand Beach, Portrush, County Antrim

This vast Blue Flag beach in Antrim attracts beach-lovers like a magnet. In addition, canoeists, surfers and even horse riders - though the latter not from May until September - descend upon the sand, in search of sea and sun. Bound at its northern end by a bustling harbour, flanked along its eastern edge by a busy promenade, West Strand is a proper old-fashioned seaside beach. The local Barry’s Amusement Park, meanwhile, is the largest of its kind in Ireland, and there’s also a clutch of restaurants and bars in the vicinity. Incidentally, should you tire of West Strand, the town’s other two beaches, East Strand and White Rocks, are handily close by. 

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Rossnowlagh Beach, County Donegal Rossnowlagh Beach, County Donegal

Renowned as one of the country’s primary surfing locales - international competitions have been held here - the dramatic, crescent-shaped Rossnowlagh Beach, in Donegal, also boasts 4km of firm golden sand perfect for walking, jogging - even riding on horseback. Whether you’re catching some immense rollers, or tossing a ball about on the beach, you’ll be glad you choose to visit what has been dubbed the ‘Heavenly Cove’. Naturally, the views are stunning; Mullaghmore Head sits just beyond Bundoran, the Slieve League Cliffs tower across the bay. Grab a refreshment in the Sandhouse Surfer’s Bar if the wind gets too much, but if you’re heading here, I suspect you'll have your heart set on big swells! Ireland’s very own Surfers Paradise.

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Holiday Rentals

Barn in Combe Martin - RUGGA

1 OF 9 CHARMING COTTAGES SET IN 18 ACRES OF OPEN COUNTRYSIDE WITH PLAY FACILITIES SWIMMING POOL AND ANIMALS Relax and enjoy the peaceful countryside surroundings in one of three refurbished cottages offering comfortable and stylish accommodation r...

Barn in Combe Martin - PARSC

1 OF 9 CHARMING COTTAGES SET IN 18 ACRES OF OPEN COUNTRYSIDE WITH PLAY FACILITIES SWIMMING POOL AND ANIMALS Relax and enjoy the peaceful countryside surroundings in one of three refurbished cottages offering comfortable and stylish accommodation r...

Apartment in South Allington - FERN2

1 OF 3 PROPERTIES SITUATED IN A PEACEFUL LOCATION SURROUNDED BY STUNNING COUNTRYSIDE This converted detached former farmhouse is situated in a region officially classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The South Hams covers the most south...

House in Crackington Haven - CANBE

DETACHED NEWLY RE FURBISHED HOUSE CLOSE TO BEACH WITH SEA VIEWS CHRISTMAS & NEW YEAR BREAKS - COMPLIMENTARY DECORATED CHRISTMAS TREE This property sits in an elevated position overlooking the north Cornish coastline. A fabulous location for those ...

Bungalow in Bude - FERNL

SITUATED IN A PRETTY WOODLAND SETTING A SHORT DISTANCE FROM THE BEACH This purpose built holiday accommodation has been lovingly renovated decorated and furnished to a high standard. It is privately owned but located on a friendly North Cornwall h...
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