A stay in Ireland offers plenty of activities and sights to please those of all ages and tastes. From its lively city-centre bars and fine dining establishments to rugged coastlines and pretty loughs, there are so many elements to explore within this glorious ‘Emerald Isle’ (as it was once described by Johnny Cash). The third-largest island in Europe has a profusion of five-star hotels and fine castles, many of which have a story to tell. These are some of our favourites.
Positioned next to the renowned Royal County Down Golf Club, the 180-key Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s first Marine & Lawn property, enters a new chapter in 2023 with updated rooms, renovated event spaces, and restaurants. The historic hotel, constructed in 1898 by the Belfast and County Down Railway, boasts a rich history of hosting icons like Charlie Chaplin, Tiger Woods, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The design pays homage to Victorian architecture, blending seaside beauty and Irish traditions. The refurbished rooms offer scenic views and a palette inspired by the surrounding landscape. Slieve Donard houses four restaurants highlighting local ingredients, a spa offering ESPA treatments, fitness facilities, and a prestigious location near the towering Slieve Donard Mountain and Royal County Down Golf Club in the picturesque Murlough Nature Reserve.
The Merrion Hotel
Choose five-star service when booking this central Dublin hotel – an attentive concierge can arrange your excursions. Nestled in the heart of the city’s Georgian quarter, The Merrion is made up of carefully conserved townhouses. At its heart lies a charming courtyard garden, providing a little haven from the city bustle. Inside, guests can marvel at the national art collection (there’s an exquisite art-themed afternoon tea available too), antique furnishings and stuccoed ceilings. While it’s undoubtedly fancy, it’s also very family-friendly with a babysitting service, cots and children’s meals served on fine china. And The Merrion’s Tethra Spa with its blue-tiled pool is a treat.
Found in the city’s leafy Ballsbridge district close to the sea (Sandymount Beach is less than 20 minutes walk away), this hotel is described as a five-star urban resort. It was previously known as the Four Seasons and exudes an old school glamour, with fashionable decor. There are three restaurants, a cafe, deli and bar, with 208 rooms plus a pool, sauna, jacuzzi and spa offering ESPA treatments. Soundproofed rooms with blackout curtains and Egyptian cotton hypo-allergenic bedding, all contribute to a sublime night’s sleep. While family-friendly (connecting rooms can be booked), this IHG property offers romantic packages and is well-suited to a couples’ getaway.
Combining medieval and Victorian heritage, this grand establishment is found on the shores of Lough Corrib, County Mayo. Set within 350 acres of land, the building accommodates 83 rooms and a Hideaway Cottage. The castle is also home to Ireland’s first ‘School of Falconry’, a spa housed in a bronzed conservatory and multiple distinguished eateries. Dine bistro-style in The Dungeon, or beneath Waterford Crystal chandeliers in George V (one of the hotel’s notable guests) restaurant. Taking a tipple in The Prince of Wales Bar enables guests to soak in the warm ambience and original features, or there’s a Billiards Room if you fancy adjourning for a post-dinner game.
The Shelbourne Dublin
Part of the Autograph Collection, this 19th-century establishment is convenient for one of Dublin’s main shopping hubs. A Grande Dame of the city, The Shelbourne’s afternoon tea taken in The Lord Mayor’s Lounge is a longstanding local tradition. And there are three diverse, excellent bars, plus the Saddle Room restaurant. A collection of stunning stained glass windows, depicting the Irish counties have recently been installed, complementing the existing elegant furnishings. Bellhops await guests’ arrival, and valets take care of car parking – a level of service you can expect to continue throughout your stay.
Lough Eske Castle
This waterside property is flanked by epic scenery. Rising from the banks of Lough Eske and surrounded by mature gardens, the castle also looks toward the rugged backdrop as Donegal stretches inland. Decorated in a baronial style that reflects its past, the hotel sports majestic staircases, open fires, wood-panelled walls, chess sets and oil paintings. This is contrasted by a bright, airy and modern spa – floor to ceiling picture windows in the pool and hydro suite proffer a pretty garden outlook. While the 96 rooms are a mix of the old and the new. Outdoor activities are plentiful and include surfing, fishing, golf and horse riding.
Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa
Hidden beside mountains and lakes in the famed area of Killarney this sleek property boasts views over the town, lough and national parkland. As such, it’s well placed for a variety of sightseeing trips. But with a golf course, tennis court, spa, pool and fitness centre on-site, there’s much to do within the hotel’s perimeter. Guests can also drink in the landscapes while dining in its Lake Room or sipping cocktails on the outdoor terrace. 74 rooms have been recently renovated with extras such as Bose sound systems, fluffy robes, balconies and – in two of the suites – kitchenettes.
The K Club
Fully titled The Kildare Hotel and Golf Club (abbreviated to just The K Club), this is Ireland’s First AA 5 Red Star Hotel. Housed in a sprawling 1832 French-château-style mansion it has also been awarded the RAC Gold Ribbon. The K Club’s two championship courses ensure it’s sought out by golfers (it also played host to the 2006 Ryder Cup and 2016 Irish Open). But the expansive grounds also offer the opportunity for pursuits including fly-fishing, putting, horse riding, clay pigeon shooting, walking and cycling. The spa and hydro suite open up to a restorative Zen Garden outdoor space. And there’s a fine French restaurant.
Dromoland Castle Hotel
This multi-award-winning hotel was once the ancestral home of the Dromoland O’Briens (descendants of one of Ireland’s last High Kings). Found on Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List, it’s also a top golf destination and lies close to the UNESCO site of the Cliffs of Moher, just outside Newmarket-on-Fergus. Executive Head Chef David McCann serves fine cuisine in the grand dining room, and 97 guest suites have been given a modern twist, woven into its stellar heritage. A stay at Dromoland Castle Hotel is a sophisticated, fairytale experience.
An alternative city break destination, Cork’s is easily explored on foot and bubbling with culture. Spend your time here at the boutique Hayfield Manor, an 88 bedroomed central new build, that’s been designed with a heritage look and feel. While the property itself is but two decades old, the mature gardens date back well over a century. Two restaurants serve meals crafted from locally sourced ingredients (Cork’s famous market is but a stone’s throw away.) An outdoor hot tub is a particular highlight, plus there’s an ELEMIS spa, fitness centre (with pre-bookable personal trainers), a pool and a residents library.
A palladium-style mansion in the lush green valleys of County Wicklow is home to Powerscourt Hotel, part of the Autograph Collection. The large estate not only offers guest accommodation but is in itself a tourist attraction. Look out onto Sugar Loaf Mountain as you drink and dine at the elegant glass-walled Sika Restaurant. Or listen to live music and enjoy a traditional pub experience at the venue’s pub, McGill’s. Epitomising luxury, the hotel has a 20m Swarovski crystal-lit indoor pool and some suites come with their own rooftop terrace and jacuzzi. This is an excellent choice for your east coast staycation.
The Cliff House Hotel Ardmore
Take an upscale beach break at this modern five-star establishment. The Cliff House Hotel’s modern Irish cuisine has earned it a Michelin star. But a BBQ and picnic area serves as a more relaxed alfresco dining option (and there’s a light bar menu). Each room has its own balcony overlooking the sea and guests can luxuriate in the hot tub, or in an outdoor seaweed bath. A subterranean pool allows for a dip, even when if the weather proves inclement. Water is a running theme here, as seen through the decor and artwork (commissions from local artists are dotted around the building).