Located in Europe, Ireland is a small but beautiful country. Known as the Emerald Island and shaped as a bear, Ireland is well known for its rich and tumultuous history, friendly population, and festive pub culture. When thinking of visiting Ireland, one thinks about the capital, Dublin, home to some of the most interesting historical sites like Trinity College, the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, and the St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
But, Ireland doesn’t resume itself to just Dublin. The Irish countryside is home to beautiful national parks like Wicklow Mountains National Park and famous sights like the Ring of Kerry and the Connemara.
Though these landmarks are some of the best in Ireland, the country hides some hidden gems that are equally as interesting and deserve more attention from both locals and visitors. With our insider tips, you'll be ready to discover some of our favorite secret spots that you won't want to miss out on. After having lived as expats in Ireland for over three years, Eric and I have come to discover some of the hidden treasures of the Emerald Island.
In this post, we are sharing 9 of our favorite hidden gems that might interest you too!
Visitors coming to Ireland will usually start or finish their trip with a few days in Dublin. It therefore makes sense to start with the best hidden gems in and near the city.
Hidden Gems Near Dublin
Walking an alpaca, for a unique Irish experience
Alpaca walking activities in Ireland must have been one of the most surprising things that we have found in the country. Who would have thought the population of alpacas in Ireland was so big! Ask anyone what animal they associate with Ireland and you’ll see that most people will answer sheep. Although not wrong, alpacas are also quickly becoming a statement in the country. There are about 1500 alpacas in Ireland and it seems that that number is growing quickly! Alpaca farms are popping up all over the country and offering lots of walks with alpacas.
Located about one hour south from Dublin, you will be able to walk an alpaca at K2 Alpacas. This is a gem that mainly only locals know about.
The walk takes you around the mountains where you’ll have beautiful views on Wicklow County. After the walk, you can easily take some time to go and explore the Wicklow Mountains.
Dollymount Strand, to follow the locals
Coastal towns in the south of Dublin, such as Bray and Greystones, are very popular among locals and tourists. One place that is less talked about among tourists (but loved by locals) and deserves more attention is Dollymount Strand.
Located on Bull Island, this beach is a long strand of thin sand that was created after the Bull Wall was built. The beach is surrounded by grass dunes and offers beautiful views on the sea, the pier, and kite surfers.
Like we always say, if you want to know a country, go where the locals go!
There are several ways you can reach Dollymount Strand from Dublin:
- One way is to walk, although this will take you about one hour and a half. It’s a nice walk though and it takes you through Clontarf which is a nice coastal town as well.
- Another way is to hop on the DART which is the local train and only costs a few euros. The DART will drop you off near St Anne’s Park. You will need to cross St Anne’s Park and Bull Island to reach the beach.
- You can also access the beach by bus.
Salt Cave paradise, a unique taste of Ireland
Salt Cave Paradise is located in Balbriggan right by the sea and offers halotherapy and saltwater therapy. As they recently opened, this place is still a bit under the radar and is a great option for a unique date idea near Dublin. The establishment features family rooms, where you can also bring kids, and adult rooms, where kids are not allowed.
With saltwater pools and waterfall, a heated salt beach, a Finnish sauna, and more, this is a great spot to pamper yourself and spend a relaxing and rejuvenating moment.
The easiest way to reach the Salt Cave Paradis from Dublin City center is by DART, the local train. You can hop on the DART on Tara Street and hop off in Balbriggan.
Iveagh Park, the best guarded secret in Dublin
Iveagh Park is one of the best guarded secrets of Dublin. When thinking about parks in Dublin, most people will lean towards St. Stephen’s Green, St. Anne’s Park, or Phoenix Park. However, these parks are usually bustling with busy people.
If you are looking for a more relaxed and less crowded park, Iveagh Park is it!
Located right in the city center behind Merrion Park, Iveagh Park features a rose garden, a maze, fountains, green spaces, and a waterfall. In this park, you will find people walking, reading, and playing with their dogs.
The Custom House, to learn about Ireland's history
Sometimes, hidden gems are hidden in plain sight! Although located in the city center, the Custom House is a bit away from the usual touristy attractions and might not be on the mind of visitors. However, it is a worthy visit that will teach you plenty about Ireland. We have walked passed the Custom House a numerous amount of times and we recently finally got to go in.
One of the perks of visiting the Custom House is that the visit is free.
It takes about one hour to go around the exhibit, more if you are into reading everything. The visit deals with Ireland’s history and how the country claimed its independence. The tour is well organized by historical periods, with drawings, audios, videos ,and a modelling of the Custom House. You will also learn more about the architect of the house, James Gandon.
Hidden Gems in the Rest of Ireland
Ireland has lots to offer but if you are the kind of person that likes to follow a different direction than the crowd, you’ll love these hidden gems!
Kinsale, a colorful fishing village
Kinsale is a small coastal village, located between Cork and Bandon.
In Kinsale, you will find narrow streets with shops and houses painted in bright colours, a charming port and yacht marina and, of course, good food. Kinsale also played a part in Ireland’s history with the Battle of Kinsale.
While you're in the area, make a stop over at Cork City, a lively small town home to some big tech companies. If you're interested in working at Apple HQ, Cork could be your new home abroad!
To reach Kinsale from Dublin, the easiest way is to rent a car and make a road trip out of it, especially if you are travelling outside of the peak season (summer). You can rent a car at the airport or in the city center There is a small parking lot at the center of Kinsale village.
Kerry Dark Sky Reserve, the only Gold Tiered Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere
Known as the only Gold Tiered Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere, the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve is known for offering beautiful astronomical sights on clear nights. Of course, clear nights in Ireland are not very common, with clouds and rain usually around at least for part of the night.
Note that the night also has to be moonless for the amazing skies to reveal themselves.
From the reserve, you can see stars, the Milky Way Galaxy, nebulas, satellites, falling stars, and even aurora borealis, if you are lucky!
This area is free and completely open to the public and you're free to stargaze from anywhere in the area that you'd like to. You can hire a star-gazing guide though if you'd like someone with more experienced eyes to point out constellations.
Doon Fort, Donegal, another beauty in Donegal
It is no secret that Donegal County is one of the most beautiful counties of Ireland. Other than the Slieve League Cliffs, you need to visit Doon Fort.
Near the picturesque village of Ardara, you will find Doon Fort, a drystone fort located on an island in the middle of Loughadoon. The fort is known to date back to somewhere between the Irn Age and the Medieval Times.
The fort has high thick stone walls which makes it a Western Stone Fort. The island where the fort is located is privately owned so visits are a bit tricky. However, the owners rent out small boats from nearby villages in the summer for people to be able to approach the fort. This is the only way to access Door Fort.
Cappagh Beach, an out-of-this-world beach
Cappagh beach is located on the Dingle Peninsula, which is in itself another gem of Ireland! The beach is hidden, on the north side of the peninsula, between Cloghane and Brandon. Located in Brandon Bay, this is one of those places where it feels you’ve been transported in a different world.
Long strand sandy beaches and beaches with pebbles are most common in Ireland. They usually give amazing views on the sea and rather flat landscape. But, that's not the case of Cappagh beach. This beach seems like it was taken out of French Reunion Island and dropped in Ireland.
The beach has thin white sand and turquoise blue waters. It is surrounded by an amazing backdrop comprising of green and lush mountains.
When the golden hour hits the beach, it makes you leave Ireland for a second! When we visited Cappagh beach, there was absolutely nobody here besides two fishermen on their way home and a couple of cows. An absolute gem of a beach that definitely deserves to be seen!
There you have it, 9 incredible off-the-beaten-path destinations from southern to northern Ireland that I highly recommend you add to your travel bucket list!