If you are looking for breathtaking countryside, rugged cliffs, rocky headlands, and stretches of sandy beaches then Ireland has it all to offer.
The Emerald Isle’s ever-changing and dramatic landscape provides magnificent views and breathtaking scenery.
With literally thousands of miles of coastline surrounding the entire island, there is a great selection of beaches to choose from.
We take a look at some of the very best ones here. Read on and find out where the best beaches in Ireland are located, and make sure these are on your list of places to visit.
Where are the Best Beaches in Ireland?
A diverse and rich history has shaped Ireland into the country we know today. Presently the nation is still enjoying an economic boom with healthy growth numbers being reported in employment and retail.
There has also been a substantial increase in tourism, with Ireland actively targeting and encouraging visitors from Britain, America, and Europe.
Every year approximately 9 million visitors make their way to the Emerald Isle to enjoy their vacation, and tourism is currently one of the biggest contributors to the Irish economy.
Visitors to Ireland flock to the country by air and sea to experience the delights, history and rich tradition that Ireland has to share. Popular destinations include
- Galway Bay,
- County Cork.
There are castles, stately homes, imposing cliffs, national parks, mountain and of course the beaches. Ireland is home to one of the longest coastal tourist routes– The Wild Atlantic Way.
Famous worldwide and covering over 1550 miles of coastline from north to south on the western side of Ireland, this path weaves its way through 6 regions of Ireland.
It gives the opportunity to view spectacular scenery along the way and passes historic towns and villages, dramatic cliffs, lighthouses, national parks, and festivals.
As the country of Ireland is, well, an island, the coastline runs continuously around the entire country. However, the reported measurement of the actual length varies greatly with reports of different measurement’s being assigned by multiple sources. Different agencies have reported wildly different numbers, recording distances from 1448 km (900 miles) to a whopping 6347 km (3943 miles).
Why is there such a large variation? The basic explanation in layman’s terms is that Ireland’s coastline is ‘fractal’ and therefore it depends on the measurement system used to report the numbers, accounting for the discrepancies.
It’s all a bit technical but it does explain why there are such vast reported differences in the overall distances. If you would like more detail you can read more about the measuring system HERE
No matter what the actual length is off the coastline of Ireland, it doesn’t much matter when it comes to the beauty of the country and its coastal areas. As far as landscape and scenery go Ireland is virtually unsurpassed.
There are a good number of beaches that simply have to be experienced by the visitor. From north to south, east to west, there are beaches, peninsulas, dramatic cliffs, and rocky coastlines that are undoubtedly some of the most spectacular and breathtaking you will ever see on your travels.
Top Irish Beaches To Visit
It is worth noting that in 2018 Ireland received a record number of the much-coveted Blue Flag Awards for its beaches. The standard of the beaches is high all across the county.
The Blue Flag award is recognized worldwide and assures visitors and tourists of clean, safe, and accessible beaches that are of the highest standard.
Ireland was awarded the Blue Flag for 83 beaches in total, quite an accomplishment. With numbers like that you can be assured you are seeing some of the best and finest beaches around.
It is at the beginning of the previously mentioned The Wild Atlantic Way in the Northern Headlands that we find the first on our list of ‘The 20 Best Beaches in Ireland’. Keep reading and discover the ones you should visit.
1. Rossnowlagh Beach
Located less than 4 miles from Donegal Town this Blue Flag beach is known for its soft golden sands and is very popular with local and visiting surfers. Rossnowlagh translates to ‘heavenly headland’ in the old Irish language, and the beach is just under 2 miles long.
It is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike and this beach consistently attracts walkers, joggers, surfers, kite flyers, dog walkers and families looking for a relaxing day out.
It is easily accessible by several car ramps scattered along the beach and has a wide walkable area on which visitors can take a stroll. It is possible to walk along Rossnowlagh beach all the way to the neighboring Murvagh Beach.
Due to the popularity of surfing, there are surf equipment rental outlets and training facilities to cater to a beginner or advanced advocated of the sport.
There are also several surfing events and competitions held here throughout the year. Because of the beaches position, geographic location, and its design that leads into a funnel-shaped bay, the area is capable of producing some impressive surfing waves.
There is a popular hotel and surfer bar next to Rossnowlagh and overlooking the area from the cliffs are additional restaurants, bars, a post office, tea house, and local shops that cater to visitors.
A Franciscan Friary is located close to the southern end of the beach and visitors may spend some time there at the gardens, Visitor Centre, and Donegal Historical Society Museum where some interesting local historic artifacts are on display.
2. Culdaff Beach
Situated on the Inishowen peninsula in North West Ireland and just 50 yards from the local village this beach is a highly popular location for watersports, swimmers, and walkers.
Culdaff is separated into ‘big’ and ‘small’ beach areas but overall is a long sandy area. Due to the beach’s popularity, it can get very crowded during the peak summer months with local visitors and tourists.
The headlands area is quite rocky and is a Special Area for Conservation. It is divided into zones by the rock formations of Lady’s Rock, Black Rock, and Buckers Rock. The sea is safe for bathing and is lifeguarded during the season.
Culdaff village dates as far back as the 8th century and was the original site of the St Buadán Monastery, in town, there is a shop and a handful of pubs. McGrorys is a well-known pub that attracts a good crown and provides food, drink, and traditional Irish music for its customer’s enjoyment.
There is a harbor close by that provides watersports and fishing. The area attracts many walkers and nature photographers.
3. Benone Beach
This is a spectacular beach that has won the Blue Flag award multiple times. It’s an unbroken 7 mile stretch of beautiful golden sand that is free of any rocks, seaweed, or shingle. Dunes lead up to the beach and are in impressive natural formations leading on to the firm sands of Benone Strand.
As if that were not impressive enough the entire area is set against a backdrop of mountains and dramatic cliffs. The location offers stunning views and is a popular sightseeing spot for tourists.
It is also a paradise for nature lovers and provides ample opportunity for the study of botany, shells, and entomology. There is also a golf club, an outdoor paddling pool and playground, and all of the usual watersports available.
4. Portrush White Rocks Beach
The area of Portrush Beach has become a favorite with international travelers. Visitors arrive from the world over to experience the magnificent and stunning landscape of the area.
Dramatic limestone cliffs carved by decades of erosion line the beach and have been formed into archways and caves. There is a history of several shipwrecks in the area.
Sections of the limestone rise from the ocean with names like the Lions Paw, the Wishing Arch, and Elephant Rock. Many caves can be explored while some area accessible only from the sea.
The caves are deep and run far back from the cliffs underneath the coastal road. There are viewing areas in the area from which to take in the breathtaking and stunning views of the cliffs.
The sea is good for swimmers and attracts many participants in watersports; canoeing, kayakers, and surfers all frequent Portrush Beach and there can be horse riders seen most days. The beach is popular with walkers and is accessible for the disabled. For golfers, there is a course close by and a pitch and putt for the less experienced.
5. Portstewart Strand Beach
The Strand is a nature conservations area and has been named as a location of special scientific interest this beach home to many species of plants and wildlife. Its 2 miles of golden sands stretched from Port Steward to River Bann for 2 miles.
The beach is known for its large sand dunes, some up to 100 feet high, but is still accessible by wheelchair for the disabled.
Walking access is available and car parking is allowed right on the beach itself. Many leisure activities are on offer; horse riding, play areas, jet skis, windsurfing and golfing. There is an 18 hole golf course nearby that provides amazing scenic views of the surrounding area while you sink a putt.
Portstewart Strand is good for hikers and nature ramblers, and has several walking and nature trails throughout the area that can be explored, making this one of Northern Irelands most popular beaches for visitors.
6. Mulranny Beach
Located close to Mulranny village and offers beautiful views of Clare Island and Clew Bay. Large sand dunes lead on to soft golden sand and the area has salt plains and marshes, hosting a wide variety of plants, birds, and wildlife.
Mulranny has been designated as a European Area of Excellence and award that recognized outstanding local achievements. The recent restoration of the Mulranny Park Hotel and the Victorian Causeway contributed to winning the honor.
The area as a whole has undergone a 10-year restoration and redevelopment project to revitalize the location. Several historic buildings have been restored, walking and nature trails have been added, and the old railway converted into the Great Western Greenway providing walking and nature trails for over 25 miles, with spectacular views across the bay for locals and visitors.
7. Elly Bay Beach
Located in County Mayo and regarded as one of the best beaches in Ireland. Elly Bay Beach has been identified as holding importance internationally for several scientific fields of study and has, therefore, earned the designation of Natural Heritage Area.
The beach is home to wading birds and wildfowl that come to the area to breed and seek shelter in the natural landscape of the region.
The dunes extend over a large part of the beach and have extended areas of machair, low-lying arable or grazing land formed near the coast by the deposition of sand and shell fragments by the wind, and grassland.
Elly Bay beach is located on the Bellemullet Peninsula and is a popular area with tourists. It is quite sheltered allowing for good swimming, surfing, and sailing along with all of the other typical water pursuits.
8. Kilkee Beach
Also located on The Wild Atlantic Way this beach has a reputation for the safest bathing in Ireland. It is located in County Clare and is a crescent-shaped beach covered with golden sands. The beach slopes gradually and gently towards the ocean which in this location has virtually no current, making it a safe place to swim during either high or low tide.
Kilkee Beach has a selection of sandy coves and rock pools. It is known for the Pollock Holes, so called because young pollock inhabit them most of the year.
They date back millions of years and range from 1m to 2.5m deep and 20m to 40m in length/width. The water in the holes is clear and has become a favorite among young swimmers and beginner snorkelers.
There are some nice walking areas and trails along the cliffs and the spot is visited by thousands of tourists each year. The region also hosts a popular annual walking festival, a 3-day event with selections of walks that vary in difficulty.
9. Donabate Beach
A popular spot for walkers and canoeing, Donabate Beach is not far from Dublin for those that want the peace and quiet of the seaside with the amenities of the city.
Donabate is a long sandy beach extending for over 2 miles with large sand dune areas. Cars are permitted on sections of the beach and there is good pedestrian access. The beach itself offers great views of the Howth Peninsula and Lambay Island.
For golfers, there is a selection of golf courses to choose from in the local areas and for city types, Dublin is just over a 13-mile drive.
Donabate Beach and its dunes have become a habitat for a wide range of plants and animals, during low tides many rock pools become exposed which house crabs, fish and jellyfish and exploring them have become an enjoyable pastime for both young and older visitors.
10. Brittas Bay South Beach
It is the most popular beach in Wicklow County, highly maintained, and pristine. Like the other beaches on this list, it is Blue Flag awarded but that is not new to Brittas Bay, it has maintained the status for many years in successions. Truly an accomplishment.
The beach is a 3-mile expanse of white powdery sand and sand dunes. The area has been proposed as a Special Area of Conservation due to its ecological importance. The dunes cover approximately 100 hectares, and those along with the fens and grasslands house many wildlife, bird, and plant species.
Brittas Bay is a great location for sailing, walking, and bathing. It is considered safe for swimming but the beach is lifeguard patrolled as a precaution. Dogs are allowed on this particular beach provided they are on a leash.
11. InchyDoney Beach
Just a couple of miles from the town of Clonakilty this beach is another one that is part of The Wild Atlantic Way. Clonakilty is the first ‘Autism Friendly Town’ in Ireland and had to meet requirements and complete a heavy accreditation process. It involved the education and training of schools, public organizations, voluntary services, healthcare professionals and a number of employers and a percentage of the local population.
InchyDoney Beach is known as a family friendly location, and one of the most popular in West Cork. It has large areas of sand and dunes and has become quite popular with surfers. For those that wish to try their hand or learn the sport, a surf school is at the beach and boards, wetsuits, and other equipment may be hired.
12. Dollymount Strand
Offering over 3 miles of sandy beach Dollymount strand is in a somewhat suburban area on the north side of Dublin. The beach is actually located on Bull Island in Dublin Bay and is connected to the mainland by a famous wooden bridge. The area is frequented by locals looking to get out of the city and find a bit of peace and quiet for the day.
Dollymount Strand or beach acquired its name from a house that used to stand in the area. It was shown on maps in the 1800s and had the name of Dollymount House. The area around the beach is a small residential location with just a few shops and a restaurant. St Anne’s park is nearby.
13. Tragumna Beach
Also in County Cork, Tragumna Beach is quite a small rural beach that is sandy but flanked by cliffs which help to protect from the winds. It’s a short drive from Skibbereen where local pubs and shops may be found.
The beach is popular with families in the summer and attracts a number of birdwatchers than congregate around a small lake and marshland area behind the beach. It’s a picturesque location which provides fabulous views of sunrises and sunsets.
Tragumna is Tráig na Móna in Irish, and means Beach of the Turf. It is safe for swimming and has lifeguards on patrol for the safety of visitors.
14. Youghal Front Strand Beach
This beach is in walking distance of the local town of Youghal, which is an Irish Heritage town with links to Walter Raleigh. It has a rich history and medieval walls that have been very well preserved. The town has pubs, cafes and local shops in which to spend time browsing for local bargains.
Youghal Beach is a popular spot for walkers and a pleasant stroll will lead to the neighboring Claycastle and Redbarn creating a 3-mile stretch. It is situated to the west side of River Blackwater and with its accessible parking and picnic areas, it is popular with families and day trippers.
Ballyvergen Marsh is nearby and is a Natural Heritage wildlife haven and extremely popular with bird watchers and nature lovers.
15. Derrynane Beach
A sandy beach with a natural harbor, Derrynane Beach is located on the Ring of Kerry and sits just 2 miles from the village of Caherdaniel. Caherdaniel was home to poets and writers of day gone by and is known all over the world for rivers and lakes that provide excellent fishing.
Derrynane Beach is a large sandy beach in Derrynane Bay. Located close to the home of Daniel O’Connell, Irish Statesman and a National Park the area covers 320 acres. The sand dunes supply their own ecological system and the region is presently a National Heritage site. It is also one of the rare places in Ireland that the ‘Kerry Lily’ grows.
The natural harbor of Derrynane was once frequented by smugglers and pirates but now it attracts tourists, swimmers, cyclists, walkers, kayakers, and canoers from the world over. It offers some of the best scenery in the island and many walks and nature trails wind their way across the area.
16. Fanore Beach
One of nine geologically important sites that contribute to the Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark and the Burren. Fanore is located on the north west coast of County Clare and is a long narrow unspoiled beach which faces out to the Atlantic Ocean. It is back by a wide row of sand dunes. It is known for its clean golden sands and limestone cliffs.
Because of its location close to the edge of the Burren, Fanore Beach is very popular with birdwatchers, geologists, archeologists, and botanists. It is also close to Fanore village which offers a few amenities for travelers. The village has a local shop, pub, coffee shop and a campsite.
The location is a popular spot for anglers due to the cleanliness of the water and fishing competitions are held here regularly. The beach is also very popular with swimmers and surfers.
17. Rossbeigh Beach
A perfect beach for walking, swimming, and even horse riding. Rossbeigh Beach is a rural beach with expansive golden sands. The beach stretches for 7 miles and is a special area of conservation and a national heritage area. There are many species of important plant, grasses, and wildlife in the region.
Located just 2 miles from the town of Glenbeigh this is a great beach for a family day out. Glenbeigh is surrounded by the Seefin Mountains and hills. It has many restaurants and is a popular location with visiting tourists.
There are historic sites in the area, and there are many different walks to choose from which to enjoy the scenery of the Rossbeigh and Glenbeigh areas. The walks range from short 1km strolls up to 12.5km hikes for experienced walkers.
18. Ballinskelligs Beach
There are several beaches around Ballinskelligs, the main one being the beach of the same name. Ballinskelligs Beach, known also as ‘Ladies Beach’, is a pristine beach with golden sands and a nearby harbor. There is even has a castle nearby. It’s not actually a castle, but a tower house built in the 1500s by McCarthy Mor. Officially known as Ballinskelligs Castle but among the locals is commonly referred to as McCarthy Mor Castle after its original builder.
In olden times Ballinskelligs Beach was often visited by sailors, pirates, and Buccaneers. It is thought that the castle was built to protect the area from ne’er do wells and also to charge fees and tariffs to ships coming in to trade.
The beach is quite a rural environment and is another site on the list of National Heritage locations. The whole area is quite remote and unspoiled with a lot of the local residents still conversing in the traditional Irish Gaelic.
19. Shellinghill/Templetown Beach
Located in County Louth on the mid-east region of Ireland Shellinghill/Templetown beach was named after the Knights Templar. The beach is one of Louth’s most unspoiled and popular coastal areas.
The beach is south facing, in a sweeping arc shape, and covered in sand and shingle. Owing to is position and rock formations it offers protection from the wind for beachgoers. The beach is well equipped with facilities for visitors and the area offers a great combination of beauty and scientist interest.
A popular day trip spot among locals that travel far and wide to visit the location. Shellinghill beach is also a dog-friendly beach provided that animals are on a leash. The area although very safe for swimmers is lifeguarded during the summer months.
20. Bunmahon Beach
Protected by cliffs at each side which keep the area relatively sheltered, Bunmahon Beach stretches for 3 miles. Characterized by cliffs, sand dunes, and rocky outcrops this region is known as The Copper Coast.
In the past copper, silver, and lead was mined from the cliffs through the 17 and 1800s. There are still some visible ruins of mining operations buildings and chimney stacks.
The sand dunes behind the beach provide a natural habitat for varies plants and animals, and several uncommon species can be found there. The region close to the beach is another designated National Heritage Area.
The beach itself offers several amenities; caravan sites, campgrounds, play areas, and basketball courts can be accessed. Bunmahon Village was an old mining town and now has many shops and restaurants to enjoy.
The Geopark Centre in the village has an exhibition in the local area and mining industry. For walkers, there are many trails to enjoy and The Copper Coast Trail is probably the most popular of them all.
This list is just 20 of the 100+ spectacular beaches that the country of Ireland has to offer, and concludes our list of the best beaches in Ireland. The beaches that are included here are all Blue Flag awarded, some for the first time, some have maintained the status for many years running.
Incidentally, you may have caught the word ‘Strand’ several times while reading this, in case you were wondering a ‘Strand’ is simply what the Irish people call a beach.
One thing is for sure, whatever you are looking for from your beach trip, Ireland can provide it all. From sheltered calm beaches to wild surf waves, firm golden sands to gentle waves, from sea dune habitats to majestic sea hewn cliffs, the Emerald Isle can cater to everyone’s taste.
The vast array of available water sports is a draw for water-skiers, surfers, and jet skiers. While calm bays, reefs, and rock pools will satisfy swimmers and snorkelers.
If you are planning a trip to Ireland in the coming months be sure to stop by and check out some of these fantastic beach spots. Enjoy a swim, try your hand at surfing or go fishing.
With all of the amenities on hand and all that is available a combined with the legendary hospitality of the Irish people, you are sure to have an enjoyable beach vacation at any of these locations.