50 best beaches in Ireland: secret strands, foodies’ favourites and accessibility

Whether its a seaside stroll, a swimming adventure or a spot of birdwatching, we’ve listed the best beaches around the country to visit this summer

We’ve got wetsuits and Dryrobes sorted, have upped our picnic and food truck games, and are free to enjoy those amazing beaches again — not just on social media, but in real life.

Ireland is a small country, but it has several thousand kilometres of coastline, and this year, received a record 93 Blue Flags for its beaches and marinas.

We’ve listed 50 here in no particular order, but in several categories, with surprises ranging from shipwrecks to velvet swimming crabs, amenities from water parks to beach wheelchairs and walks, dips and adventures galore.

Tips? With the first good weather of the year, teeming crowds will flock to the most popular beauty spots, so try to go off-peak and off-grid, plan your food or book ahead, and leave no trace. We share the coast with some beautiful but endangered wildlife. Let’s keep it that way.

Stone cold classics

1. Dog’s Bay/Gurteen, Connemara 

There’s two stunners for the price of one at this Connemara classic, a curving sickle stretching into the Atlantic near Roundstone. The sand is made of finely milled seashell particles (because, of course, it is), and a walk means you are surrounded by water on three sides. The Goat? connemara.ie

Coumeenole, County Kerry

2. Coumeenole, Co Kerry

While the strong currents mean swimming here is a no-go, this is a great beach for a seaside stroll. The winding road of the Slea Head loop weaves right alongside the water, and you have great views out towards the Blasket Islands, too. It was also a key filming location in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, so bring a lace parasol just for kicks. discoverkerry.com

3. Whiterocks, Co Antrim

With all of the historic hotspots along the Causeway Coast, it can be easy to forget about the actual beaches. But Whiterocks is a stunner, with dramatic limestone cliffs and craggy rock formations along the sand. It’s a strong favourite among water-sports enthusiasts, too. discovernorthernireland.com

4. Spanish Point, Co Clare 

Spanish Point has it all — a storied history (the name evokes Spanish Armada ships wrecked nearby), thumping waves for surfers, firm sand to walk on when the tide is out, and the brilliant Armada Hotel with its new Catch food trailer nearby. A beautifully bracing dose of the Banner County. clare.ie; armadahotel.com

Kinnagoe Bay, County Donegal

5. Kinnagoe Bay, Co Donegal

The cliffs that slope down towards this perfect curve of white sands are thick with greenery, giving off a real tropical island vibe when the sun shines. This bay is one of the prettiest in the land, made all the sweeter by its remoteness. Kicking back at Kinnagoe is a highlight of a drive around this magical peninsula. govisitinishowen.com

6. Barleycove, Co Cork

Right down almost at the tip of Mizen Head, this romantic stretch of sands is one of the most southerly beaches in Ireland, and certainly one of the finest. With wispy strands of white sand, kissed by sparkling clear waters, jagged cliffs and grassy dunes, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Visit off-peak however, as traffic jams can be an issue at busy times. purecork.ie

Killiney, County Dublin

7. Killiney, Co Dublin

There might be finer beaches in the country, but the real charm of Killiney comes when you take in the view from above, on the Killiney Hill walk. If you fancy a swim afterwards, you can take a dip at the gorgeous Vico Bathing Place. And you don’t even need your togs, as it’s nudist friendly. The beach has a new food truck in Fred & Nancy’s, too. visitdublin.com

Best beach walks

8. Raven Point, Co Wexford

Curracloe was named Ireland’s Favourite Beach in our reader Travel Awards 2020, and its 10km of sand packs in everything from surf lessons to gigantic dunes and seals swimming offshore. The Raven Nature Reserve to the south adds a 9km loop (allow 2.5 hours) through Corsican pine forest, skirting the North Slob lands, and returning via castaway white sands. Bliss. visitwexford.ie

9. Trá Mór, Co Donegal

There are no roads to this desolately beautiful Donegal beach. Walk from Dunfanaghy, or the small car park near the arched bridge at the base of Horn Head, heading out over the grassy dunes to the strand (the distance is about 7km return). There are dangerous currents and rip tides on Trá Mór, so swimming is not recommended under any circumstances. govisitdonegal.com

10. Clogherhead, Co Louth

There’s a short coastal trail of roughly 2km linking Port Oriel to the pretty fishing village of Clogherhead and its Blue Flag beach on the east coast, with views stretching from Lambay Island to the Mourne Mountains. Little explorers will find plenty of wildlife, and the Fisherman’s Catch shop in the harbour at Port Oriel does a nifty chowder. discoverboynevalley.ie

11. Sherkin Island, Co Cork

Just 10 minutes from Baltimore by ferry, Sherkin is one of dozens of islands spotted about the wonderfully-named Roaringwater Bay. A series of colour-coded walking routes (2km-5km return) take you on fuschia-strewn boreens and off-road to pebbly coves, hidden swim spots like Trá Bán, and stunners like Silver Strand all awaiting discovery. sherkinisland.ie

12. Ardmore, Co Waterford

The perfect cliff walk? Ardmore’s 4.5km loop takes you from pretty, beachside village past heritage sites like St Declan’s monastery and hermitage, the wreck of a crane, cliffs teeming with seabirds, an old coastal watch station and the Cliff House hotel’s shiny new airstream trailer (ours is a lobster roll, thanks), before back to the strand for a swim — all in an hour or two. visitwaterford.com

Inch Beach, County Kerry

13. Inch, Co Kerry

There’s a contrast between its tiny name and epic, three-mile-long spit stretching out into Dingle Bay — the elevated view from the road is stunning. You can swim and surf here, but a walk out into the bay is arguably the highlight. David Lean filmed more iconic scenes from Ryan’s Daughter here. It’s another one that can get busy, so try to visit off-peak. discoverkerry.com

Best family adventure beaches

Kilkee, County Clare

14. Kilkee, Co Clare

It mightn’t be the most beautiful beach in the land, but Kilkee is a great option for kids who want to paddle and explore the rock pools. The Pollack Holes are lovely for a dip, the cliff walk is a beauty, and there’s plenty to do if the weather turns, like Kilkee Waterworld (kilkeewaterworld.ie). Fanore and Lahinch are strong family favourites in the Banner County, too. clare.ie

15. Inchydoney, Co Cork

Think of a water sport and there’s every chance you can do it on Inchydoney. From surfing to kayaking, swimming to kitesurfing, this is a beach that begs for a wetsuit and a sense of adventure. Plus, you can grab a bite to eat in the Inchydoney Island Lodge afterwards — one of Ireland’s best-known beachfront hotels. purecork.ie; inchydoneyisland.com

Paddleboarding in Castlegregory, County Kerry

16. Sandy Bay, Castlegregory, Co Kerry

If you’re all feeling the effects of a year spent in each other’s pockets, leaping around the inflatable waterpark at Splash Sports is just the ticket. The waters of Sandy Bay are nice and calm, leaving you all free to race between the slides and trampolines. splashsports.ie

17. South Beach, Rush, Co Dublin

There’s a real sense of old world charm to the beach in Rush. Kids can (gently) explore the dunes that line the back of the sands, and the beach itself is wide and calm. Plus, those views of Lambay Island, Howth and the distant mountains are always a winner. visitdublin.com

18. Kinsale Beach, Co Cork

Cork is hardly short on gorgeous beaches, but the sheltered little bay in Kinsale is often overlooked. Which is a pity, because this spot, cocooned by the headland, is a dream, with perfect sand for castles and calm waters. Plus, older kids can rent SUP boards and head out for a paddle. kinsale.ie

Best secret beaches in Ireland

19. Rinroe, Co Mayo

You’ll find this perfect little bay at the end of a long, winding road on the Carrowteige headland. The tide slips in and out to reveal hidden bays throughout the day, as the colours of the bordering cliffs change with the sun. In short? It’s an absolute beaut. northmayo.ie

20. Magheramore, Co Wicklow

Here’s hard proof that you don’t have to head west for an idyllic Irish beach. Parking in a local field (bring €5 for that), walking down a boreen, emerging to a view over a sandy cove that could have been cut from the Caribbean, it’s a doozy. Families love the sand, swimming (no shelf) and rock pools. In winter, it’s a respite for local surfers and bodyboarders. visitwicklow.ie

21. Nun’s Beach, Co Sligo

When most people go to Strandhill, they walk along the beach in the direction of Culleenamore. But if you turn right, walk a couple of kilometres through the dunes and over the runway of Strandhill airport, you’ll find this dreamily peaceful and tiny bay, with still waters and views out beyond Coney Island to Benbulben. sligotourism.ie

22. Sandscove, Co Cork

Walk down the leafy, wildflower-strewn lane near Dunowen and Ballynoe houses in Ardfield, and you’ll find a stony little cove with gin-clear water, cliffs popping with sea thrift and the perfect space for swims, fishing, beachcombing and whiling away a few hours. It’s much lesser visited than nearby Red Strand, but like Dunworley, there is little parking, so go early. purecork.ie

Stroove Beach, County Donegal

23. Stroove Beach, Co Donegal

The Inishowen peninsula is a treasure trove of gorgeous shores, but Stroove Beach takes some beating. It’s blissfully secluded, framed by grassy hills and striking rocks, and the lighthouse perched on the shore gives the setting a charming Cape Cod vibe. govisitinishowen.com

24. Tra na mBó, Co Waterford

With dramatic rock formations around the beach and a standing stone plonked right in the middle of the sands, Tra na mBó is surely one of the most distinctive and interesting spots along our coast. It’s a bit of a mission to get to, but when you arrive, it’s more than worth the effort — a must-do on one of Ireland’s most underrated coastal drives. visitwaterford.com

Best hidden histories

25. Keem Bay, Achill, Co Mayo

Here’s a beach that could have gone in almost every category. Basking sharks are visitors in summer, but did you know they were once fished here to the point of being endangered? Thousands were caught before fishing ceased in 1984, and the story of its fishermen was chronicled in an ITV documentary, The Shark Hunters of Achill, that same year. achilltourism.com

26. Streedagh, Co Sligo

As well as being a stunning beach in its own right, Streedagh is the keeper of historical secrets, with the ghostly remains of a 250-year-old shipwreck periodically visible when the tide is out. And it’s not the only one — three Spanish Armada shipwrecks are still entombed just offshore. sligotourism.ie

Messenden Temple in Downhill, County Derry

27. Downhill, Co Derry

Part of a seven-mile stretch of sand, Downhill is an all-rounder beloved of walkers, water-sports enthusiasts and even lazy pants who can park right on the beach. It featured in Game of Thrones, and overlooking it is Mussenden Temple — an 18th-century feature of Downhill Demesne that deserves its own Instagram page. The inscription around its edges reads: “Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore / The troubled sailor, and hear the tempests roar.” nationaltrust.org.co.uk

28. Eyrephort, Connemara

Just off the Sky Road near Clifden lies another killer little Connemara cove. Its white sands and round stones also hide away a Viking burial place — unusual for the west of Ireland. Sellerna beach in Knockbrack also squirrels away a megalithic tomb at its north-eastern end, while Omey Island’s gorgeous coast hides a “sunken” church. connemara.ie

29. Whitepark Bay, Co Antrim

Cutting a wonderful white arc, Whitepark Bay is unsafe for swimming, but see if you can spot ‘Elephant Rock’, which, legend says, is a woolly mammoth that tried to escape a volcanic eruption, and fossils like belemnites, ammonites and gryphaea that have intrigued since Victorian times. Oh, and you may also spot local cows out for a walk… always a bonus. nationaltrust.org.uk

30. Dooagh, Co Mayo

It’s the disappearing beach of Achill Island. Over the years, storms have covered this beach in sand, before removing it again to leave a pebbled strand. Most recently, the sands returned in 2017, only to be scoured away two years later… a “coast to ghost” phenomenon, as The Guardian put it, that attracted media coverage all over the world. When will the sands return next? mayo.ie

Best beaches for foodies

31. Marble Hill, Co Donegal

This little corner of Donegal is blessed with great places to eat, like seafood spot Cove Restaurant and the Rusty Oven pizzeria. But if you’re just in the mood for an ice cream and an excellent coffee, head to The Shack on Marble Hill Strand and take a honeycomb cone onto the sands. It’s a lovely beach for a swim or surf lesson, too. shackcoffee.ie; govisitdonegal.com

32. Aughris, Co Sligo

Strandhill might get all the foodie attention, but the Beach Bar at Aughris Head is always a winner. This thatched-cottage pub is dreamy on blustery days, where you can cosy up with chowder and a pint after a bracing seaside walk. And if the sun is shining, you can sit outside with a platter of mussels. Bliss. thebeachbarsligo.com; sligotourism.ie

33. Greystones, Co Wicklow

How many coffee shops can you fit on one street? Greystones could be a Guinness World Record contender at this rate, with new delis, cafes and food trucks popping like mushrooms, even through lockdown. After divesting yourself of that Dryrobe in The Cove, head to the Boatyard to refuel at Burrito Box, or follow a swim on the South Beach with an outrageously good Bacon Jam Ham Sam from Tall Boy Toasties in the Dart Station car park. greystones.ie

34. Cromane Beach, Co Kerry

Who says a good beach has to be sandy? The pebbly shore at Cromane is a stunner, with views out to the McGillycuddy Reeks. Plus, the village is home to the excellent Jacks’ Coastguard Restaurant, as well as the seaside cafe the Boathouse Cromane. jackscromane.com; boathousecromane.com

35. Portstewart, Co Derry

Sure, the beach at Portstewart is a gorgeous stretch of wide sands and bulbous dunes. But the real reason people flock here (and pay the National Trust’s hefty £7.50 parking fee) is because of Harry’s Shack, one of the best seafood restaurants in the country. Sit on the deck and tuck into spankingly fresh lobster and crab, or buttermilk battered haddock. facebook.com/HarrysShack

36. Dunmore East, Co Waterford

You’re as spoiled for choice for food here as you are for beaches. The coves in Dunmore East are gorgeous, as is the cliff path out to Portally. Mediterranean magic at Azzurro may be the best of the lot, or try The Strand for seafood. A Waterford wonder. discoverdunmore.com

Best swimming and snorkelling beaches in Ireland

37. The Warren, Rosscarbery, Co Cork

The shelter provided by the curve of Creggan means this is a great swimming spot, with (mostly) calm, clear waters. It’s also the perfect suntrap on a summer’s day, if you like to dry off in the sunshine, and there are lifeguards working in the summer months. purecork.ie

38. Baginbun, Co Wexford

Right at the tip of the Hook Peninsula, this little cove is well protected from the elements and is a favourite among local sea swimmers. But it’s also great for snorkelling, if you catch it on a good day — head to the rocks at high tide and there’s a whole world to discover under the surface. Adventure operators, The Irish Experience, do sea-kayaking trips here, too. visitwexford.ie

39. St John’s Point, Co Donegal

Considered one of the best diving sites in the country (if not beyond), the calm waters around the lighthouse overlooking Donegal Bay here are bursting with life, from shoals of fish to vibrant corals clinging to the rocks. The nearby Fintra is great for diving, too. govisitdonegal.com

40. Old Head, Co Mayo

Mayo is another county whose beaches could take up a list of their own. Old Head is a lovely little sweep of sand, east of Louisburgh. It has a bit of everything — safe swimming, clear water for snorkelling, shady trees, views stretching to Croagh Patrick, a pier to jump off at high tide and a hidden beach around the corner. A lovely corner of Clew Bay. mayo.ie

Best beaches for wheelchair users

41. Velvet Strand, Co Dublin

Beaches are notoriously tricky when it comes to accessibility, but there are options out there for those with mobility issues. Velvet Strand is one of the three beaches in Fingal with a free beach wheelchair available to borrow, which can be taken out on the sand. visitdublin.com

42. Rosslare Strand, Co Wexford

There’s a wooden boardwalk on the beach that’s perfect for wheelchair users. It was one of the first beaches in Wexford that introduced an accessible boardwalk, and the council brought in wheelchair users to test it out and pilot the scheme. There’s also a beach wheelchair.

43. Salthill, Co Galway

As well as the lovely long, wide prom that runs right along the sea, Salthill also has a beach wheelchair, which you can borrow from Ability West (abilitywest.ie). There are designated access points along the prom, and it’s available in the summer months. galwaytourism.ie

44. Youghal, Co Cork

There’s a 400m boardwalk right on the sand at Youghal, stretching from Front Strand Beach to Claycastle Blue Flag Beach. There’s seating along the way, and it’s great for buggies and pushchairs, too. youghal.ie; purecork.ie

Enniscrone, County Sligo. Photo: Ronan Connaughton

45. Enniscrone, Co Sligo

The first beach in Sligo to be provided with a beach wheelchair by the council, Enniscrone has the kind of long, even sands that are great for manoeuvring. You can book the wheelchair, free of charge, through Seventh Wave Surf School. surfsligo.com; enniscrone.ie

Best beaches for nature

46. Dollymount, Dublin

You may know this beach for its kitesurfers, sea swimmers or generations of Dubliners who have used it to learn to drive. But North Bull Island also has “the most conservation designations of any site on the island of Ireland”, according to Dublin City Council. Birders, in particular, can spot everything from wintering brent geese to snow buntings and short-eared owls. Plan a walk that stops by Happy Out for a cuppa and toastie, too. dublinbaybiosphere.ie; bullislandbirds.com

47. Trá Bán, Blasket Islands

You may have seen a seal on a beach before, but not like this. The Great Blasket Island’s Trá Ban can see gatherings of hundreds of them at a time, with their grunting and wooing audible all over the land-facing side of the island. A day trip, or overnight stay, here is a real Irish adventure, and that’s not even starting on the birdlife and possible cetaceans along the way. blasket.ie; blasketisland.com

48. Tyrella, Co Down

This sandy, two-kilometre stretch backs onto 25 hectares of mature dunes, creating a lovely conservation area in Dundrum Bay. Watch out for seals, gannets and terns, among other birds, and there are amenities and lifeguards in July and August. Walkers could take it in as part of the off-radar Lecale Way, a 75km hike from Strangford Lough to Newcastle. discovernorthernireland.com

49. Derrynane, Co Kerry

Derrynane is another delicious Irish all-rounder. But did you know that it’s now home to Ireland’s first underwater scuba-diving looped trail? Vincent Hyland of Wild Derrynane has mapped out a circuit for divers (it’s not suitable for swimmers or snorkellers) ranging from shoaling pollock to occasional octopi, kelp forests, velvet swimming crabs and beadlet anemones. Beautiful. vincenthylandartist.com

50. Kilcoole/Newcastle, Co Wicklow

Birdwatch Ireland’s East Coast Nature Reserve stretches along the train tracks between Kilcoole and Newcastle, taking in part of the Murrough Wetlands. The stony beach is home to nesting terns in season (you can walk the coastline all the way from Bray to Wicklow town) — watch out for gannets dive-bombing offshore. The wetlands themselves hide away everything from shovelers to widgeons and whooper swans. birdwatchireland.ie

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