Forget any hassle with quarantine and foreign flights, Lauren Harte picks 10 of the best weekends away in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The north coast is home to stunning cliff-top walks and dramatic sea views which can be explored before taking refuge in cosy pubs and fine seafood restaurants.
There is plenty for the history buffs, from the 400-year-old Antrim Castle on Lough Neagh, the dominating Carrickfergus Castle guarding Belfast Lough and the wondrous walled gardens at Glenarm Castle.
Adrenaline-inducing adventurers will enjoy the exhilarating Gobbins Cliff Walk, the dizzying heights of Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge or hop on the ferry at Ballycastle and visit Ireland’s only ‘upside down’ lighthouse on Rathlin Island.
The 17th century Ballygally Castle is ideally located on the Causeway Coastal Route and overlooking the Irish Sea — the perfect base for exploring Bushmills Distillery, Carnfunnock Country Park and the popular Game of Thrones Tour.
Located at the heart of the Glens of Antrim, the recently renovated boardwalk in Glenariff Forest Park takes visitors through the nature reserve, past spectacular scenery, river gorges and three beautiful waterfalls.
Having worked up an appetite spending the day out in the sea air, seafood chowder is a must at Harry’s Restaurant in Cushendall or grab a slice of gourmet delights at Bushmill’s Tartine at Distillers Arms.
As Ireland’s second city, this cosmopolitan destination offers the perfect combination of history, culture, and fantastic food and drink all within easy reach.
The best way to get acquainted with the lay of the land is to hop on one of the open top buses and make the rebel city’s historic Gaol and Radio Museum Experience your first stop-off.
For those preferring to explore on foot, a Cork City Walking Tour offers a quirky insight into the city’s merchant and maritime past.
A peaceful stroll through the grounds of University College Cork brings visitors to the nearby Fitzgerald Park.
From there head to the award-winning Lewis Glucksman Gallery or sample the culinary delights of the world famous English Market.
Those looking for a unique experience can climb 132 steep steps to the top of St Anne’s Church and ring the Shandon Bells.
Once there, the panoramic views across the city will make the climb seem worthwhile.
After grabbing a bite at Gallagher’s Gastropub on McCurtain Street, head to the River Lee Hotel, which will seem like an oasis of tranquillity after a busy day in the historical city centre.
With breathtaking scenery, golden beaches and spectacular headlands, including the highest sea-cliffs in Europe, a visit to the rugged south Donegal coastline is a must.
Base yourself at Harvey’s Point on the shores of Lough Eske and just minutes from the bustling heart of Donegal Town with its rich array of award winning cafes and restaurants including the Olde Castle Bar and Blueberry Tea Room.
From there explore the heritage towns of Ardara and Glenties and sandy shores of Narin Strand or head south for surfing at Rossnowlagh and Bundoran beaches.
No visit to the area would be complete without taking in the stunning Slieve League cliffs, some of the finest in Europe and standing 600m tall.
From there visitors can head into Glencolmcille Folk Village and relive the Ireland of old.
A stop-off en-route in the harbour town of Killybegs, the cruise capital of the Wild Atlantic Way, must include some super fresh fish and chips at the hugely popular Seafood Shack, right on the pier.
With the seaside and the world’s best golf course on its doorstep, Newcastle is the perfect base to explore the magnificent Mourne Mountains and Northern Ireland’s highest peak Slieve Donard.
Home to Royal County Down and Newcastle Strand, the town boasts several popular pubs including Quinn’s and The Anchor, alongside award-winning restaurants like Brunel’s and the nearby Mourne Seafood Bar, where you can to relax and unwind when visiting the coast.
Staying at The Slieve Donard Resort leaves visitors well placed to visit the neighbouring town of Castlewellan and its stunning Forest Park, where you can explore the Peace Maze with the family, or rent a bike and try out the mountain trails.
The area is also home to Tollymore Forest Park, and only a short drive to Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor and the magnificent Montalto Estate.
After all that outdoor exercise, it is time to unwind in the Soak Seaweed Baths on Newcastle’s South Promenade where you can lie in a Victorian roll top bath in your own private bathroom and soak in hot seawater and fresh seaweed.
The best way to explore the stunning waters of the lakeland county is by captaining your very own cabin cruiser for the weekend and take to the idyllic Shannon-Erne Waterway.
Fermanagh is a water-lover’s dream with huge scope for canoeing and all kinds of watersports while nature lovers can take in the myriad of uninhabited islands including Devenish Monastic Site, founded in the 6th century.
The county is home to no less than three historic National Trust sites at Castle Coole, Crom and Florence Court while Castle Archdale country park also boasts beautiful woodland and lough shore walks.
The amazing underground limestones caves in the Marble Arch Global Geopark are a big attraction and afterwards roam the picturesque foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain on the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ boardwalk.
Back in Enniskillen, enjoy a glass of locally produced Boatyard gin by the fire at Blakes of the Hollow, one of Ireland’s most famous Victorian pubs, before heading down the street for traditional Greek dishes cooked with skill and love at Dollakis Restaurant.
As one of Ireland’s most picturesque and vibrant cities where seafood reigns, bohemian Galway is home to atmospheric pubs, street busking and fabulous food markets.
The European Capital of Culture 2020 sits on the Wild Atlantic Way, the doorstep of some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery.
Easy day trips from the city include the evocative Connemara region with its 2000-hectare National Park incorporating of mountains, bogs and grasslands with wonderful wildlife; the plunging Cliffs of Moher in nearby Co Clare, the famous Salthill Promenade while the Aran Islands are only a boat ride away.
The iconic Hardiman Hotel on Eyre Square is in the heart of Galway city and within minutes of all of Galway’s transport links.
For the best seafood in town head to Oscars Bistro while BoTown is famed for its craft burgers and beers.
Afterwards, the Quays Pub is the perfect spot to grab a chair outside and watch the world go by while Neachtain’s has bucket loads of history for anyone looking for the authentic pub experience along with a diverse clientele including actors and hippies.
A trip to the ‘Kingdom’ offers exquisite beauty including surf-pounded sea cliffs and Ireland’s highest mountain range.
With one of Ireland’s finest national parks as its backyard, Killarney’s colourful shops, restaurants and pubs make it the perfect base to explore the Kingdom’s two famed loop drives: the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula.
Killarney National Park is also home to the 19th century mansion Muckross House where Queen Victoria famously stayed in 1861 and the 15th-century tower house at Ross Castle.
If you don’t fancy seeing all the mountains and islands on foot, enjoy it all on a boat trip on the lakes of Killarney.
From you base at Killarney Oaks Hotel, a half an hour drive takes you to the capital of Tralee where you enjoy brunch at The Bookshelf Coffee House and later sample some Asian street food at Lana.
Or you can escape from it all with a visit to the dramatic Skellig Islands which famously featured in the two recent Star Wars films.
The Marble City is filled with Medieval architecture including the impressive central castle, dating back to 1195, and several well-preserved churches.
Located on a sprawling green lawn with a rose garden, parts of Kilkenny Castle can be visited on a self-guided tour and the grounds, popular with locals and tourists alike, are free of charge.
From there walk along Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile, a trail that links the castle to St Canice’s Cathedral and filled with artisan boutique shops and picturesque alleyways.
For those after good food or just a cold pint of Guinness, Kilkenny’s pubs will have something for everyone.
The award-winning Left Bank is famed for its gastro pub grub while history buffs will feel right at home in Kyteler’s, established in 1324 and one of Ireland’s oldest inns.
The Ormonde Hotel is only a three minute walk from the castle and the perfect place to retire after a long day sightseeing.
From Mullaghmore to Rosses Point, Strandhill to Enniscrone, there is no end to the fun places to visit in Ireland’s adventure capital.
Head to the Yeats Tavern for fresh locally sourced food and a warm welcome in Drumcliffe, six miles from Sligo Town.
The beautiful village is also home to WB Yeats’ grave at the foot of Benbulben while seven miles away is Streedagh beach, the setting for TV drama Normal People, which deserves a visit rain or shine.
Fancy a hike?
Head to the mysterious natural landmark, Knocknarea where the 40 minute trek takes you past Megalithic and Bronze Age remains to Queen Maeve’s Cairn at the top where on a clear day the views are spectacular. A sight to behold
Along the route are abandoned and derelict stone cottages, with stories to tell.
On a clear day, from the summit visitors can enjoy wider views of Donegal and Mayo.
Stay at the eye-catchingly designed Glasshouse Hotel on the banks of the Garavogue River in the heart of Sligo town and a short walk to the ultimate cocktail experience at The Blind Tiger.
As Ireland’s oldest city dating over 1,100 years ago, Waterford is a Medieval lover’s dream thanks to its Viking and Norman roots which are still celebrated today through stunning architecture and narrow winding streets.
Home to Lismore Castle and St Declan’s Cathedral (built in the 12th century), Waterford’s highlights centre around the Viking Triangle and Reginald’s Tower, the oldest civic building in the country.
The family-owned Granville Hotel is a great base for visitors spending a night or two in the city while Geoff’s Bar is a cosy pub with a mouthwatering menu or stock up on the local delicacy, Waterford blaa buns from the Granary Café to fuel your exploration.
Away from the city, Waterford is also home to some spectacular beaches at Tramore, Dungarvan, Dunmore East and the Copper Coast.
Visitors can also explore the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens, built as a tribute to Irish writer Patrick Lafcadio Hearn.