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10 of the best beaches in Ireland for 2019

There's no need to head abroad for a beach break. There are some beautiful stretches of sand up and down Ireland's coast, from Co. Kerry to Dublin. Even if the weather's not great, all that dreary rain just keeps the clifftops green and the crowds at bay.

1. Keem Bay, Achill Island, Co. Mayo

The Atlantic could easily be mistaken for the Med at Keem Bay, where the horseshoe of white sands is flanked by velveteen green cliffs. It’s worth the steep drive up and over the clifftops to reach this Blue Flag strand.

While you’re enjoying sinking your toes into it be sure to look up every once in a while – you might just see a basking shark offshore. A small truck is sometimes here selling sweets, but you’ll need to bring your own sandwiches if you’re planning on staying the day. There are toilets, back up the hill.

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2. Coumeenole Beach, Dunquin, Co. Kerry

Gently sloping golden sands fill in the gaps between the protruding rocky fingers of the cliffs on the Dingle Peninsula, once described by National Geographic as “one of the most beautiful places on earth”. The currents in the water here are notoriously strong, so choose dry land over a swim. The rugged cliffs make an appealingly dramatic backdrop to a leisurely stroll anyway.

There are no facilities here and no shops in the village of Dunquin (where most people speak Gaelic only), so bring everything with you; umbrellas, sun hats, scarves, sunglasses, a flask of tea, biscuits, water, walking boots etc. And be prepared for whatever the Irish weather may throw at you.

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3. Inchydoney Beach, Clonakilty, Co. Cork

Lush green fields roll down to the island of Inchydoney (connected to the mainland by two causeways) and its pristine sands. The two arcs of white powder you’ll find here are broken up by Virgin Mary’s Point (and the end of the road).

Inchydoney Surf School makes use of the consistent waves offshore to teach beginners how to find to their feet on a surfboard. There are public toilets next to the beach, while wheelchair users are welcome to use those in the Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa. The spa overlooks the sands and also has Dunes Pub and Bistro for local seafood dishes (food served 12–9pm).

However, it’s not easy getting to Inchydoney. Public transport runs as far as Clonakilty, and you’ll need to get a cab to reach the sandy spit. But these beautiful beaches are well worth the slog. Plus, you can always treat yourself to a massage at the lodge and spa at the other end.

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4. Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay, Connemara

On a sunny day Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay could be mistaken for the Caribbean. Granted, with some imagination – but almost, we promise! The twinset of white sand crescents sit back-to-back with a few hundred metres of flat green fields between them.

The sand here is made up of the shells of sea creatures named foraminifera, giving it a pure white colour. You won’t find dangerous currents here, making both beaches ripe for a swim. There are no facilities close by (besides parking) so stock up at Ferron’s Supermarket in the village of Roundstone, three miles away.

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5. Sandycove Beach, Co. Dublin

Ok, so this one isn’t a secret and if the weather’s good you’re sure to be sharing it with several (dozen) other bathers. But that doesn’t stop Sandycove being a great place for a swim, with its Forty Foot promontory along the site of a Gentleman’s Swimming Club (now open to all).

Even in winter you won’t get this secluded spot to yourself. It’s popular for cold water swims, said by their exponents to be extremely good for you. Refuel after a bracing dip at nearby Caviston’s, a food emporium packed with local produce, plus one of Ireland’s best seafood restaurants.

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6. Dunmore East, Co. Waterford

You’ll want to bring your snorkel to Dunmore East. The sheltered coves along the coastline here seem to collect sealife and beg for exploration. Swim along the coast from one cove to the next before drying off on the south-facing sands of Councillor’s Strand. There are lifeguards here from June to August. You’ll find a large car park and good public facilities here, as well as the fabulous Bay Café, where open crab sandwiches are served at tables perched above the harbour.

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7. Brandon Bay, Co. Kerry

The surf’s almost always up at Brandon Bay, where the long sweep of golden beach is open to the North Atlantic – and its swell. Consequently this has become something of a hub for watersports, with every type of surfing from wind to wave seen here most days. Want to join in? Take a lesson with Jamie Knox Watersports. You can refuel afterwards at O’Connor’s pub where lunch (11am–6pm) and dinner (7–8.30pm) are served.

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8. Easkey, Co. Sligo

The fact that the headquarters of the Irish Surfing Association is at Easkey might tell you something – this beach is pounded by consistently good waves. As well as offshore winds, there are two reef breaks here. One is by the mouth of the Easkey river, and the other east of the ruined castle: both are ideal for experienced surfers. There are currently no public toilets here, though a plan to provide some (and showers) is currently being discussed. McGowan’s pub, on the village’s main street, is a good place for a pint after riding the waves.

If you fancy taking up a new hobby or finding a new destination to discover on your surfboard, check out our pick of the top 10 surf spots in Ireland.

9. Glanleam Beach, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

The Wild Atlantic Way this may be, but Glanleam Beach sits in an improbably subtropical bubble. This is all thanks to the warm Gulf Stream and its position at the foot of a sheltered valley, which makes for a mild climate – and more sunbathing days. After a day on the sands here be sure to explore the gardens of Glanleam House, home to exotic plants such as lily of the valley and ferns. There is parking and restrooms here too.

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10. Skerries, Dublin

Want a proper slice of beach life? Skerries is the quintessential Irish beach resort town, with kids playgrounds, rock pools and watersports, all with views out to the black and white striped lighthouse of Rockabill. The north beach is the most sheltered here, even on windy days. It’s just a 30-minute drive north of Dublin and there are plenty of food options – pick of the bunch is the family-run Stoop Your Head, where Dublin prawns are €24.90.

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*Updated December 2018. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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