"Where locals go" is our new series featuring under-the-radar holiday destinations that are often overlooked by visitors but cherished by locals. In this edition, our Ireland experts showcase their favorite holiday spots at home.
With its dramatic landscapes, vibrant cities and rich heritage, Ireland inspires all sorts of adventures. But away from the world-renowned Cliffs of Moher, the beaches of Donegal and the literary trails in Dublin, where do locals go when they want to steer clear of the crowds? Here, three of Lonely Planet's Dublin editors, share their favorite destinations for laid-back holidays in Ireland.
Fresh seafood and swims in Galway: Roundstone
Fionnuala McCarthy works on Lonely Planet's digital content team. She lives in Dublin but heads west for a three-day weekend whenever she can.
It's to the tiny Victorian fishing village of Roundstone on the edge of Connemara, where I escape to recharge my batteries. It's one of the oldest fishing villages on the Atlantic coast, and the three local pubs all serve up the freshest of seafood – though in my opinion, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything to rival the chowder served in O'Dowds pub.
Today, the village is also a creative hub and the home of many artists and writers. The old 1830s Franciscan Monastery has been redeveloped as the open workshop for Malachy Kearns, Ireland's master maker of bodhráin (drums made of goat hide) – and well worth a visit.
The surrounding countryside is wild and open, with nothing between you and the looming Twelve Bens mountain range but sheep, lakes and stone walls. Even at the height of the summer season, you can spend hours walking the countryside without encountering another soul.
Two of the coastline's finest beaches sit on the outskirts of Roundstone: Gorteen and the horseshoe-shaped Dog's Bay, which has the softest of white sand. In summer locals rename the popular strand after an affluent Dublin postcode due to its popularity with well-heeled Dubliners, yet it still remains unspoiled.
We usually stay at a quaint renovated fisherman's cottage in the heart of the village, but a recent find was the Scandi-style Stilt House in Fernwood Eco Farm, a short drive away in nearby Clifden. This hideaway is set in a woodland with private trails, and a sauna by a saltwater lake, with the only sounds you'll hear from the trees and the rescue donkeys on the farm.
A quieter escape in the 'Garden of Ireland': Lough Dan
Amy Lynch is a commissioning editor for Lonely Planet. She's based in Dublin but loves getting out of the city for hiking and biking trips in nearby Wicklow.
Wicklow - the 'Garden of Ireland' - is known for its scenic hikes, stately homes and sandy beaches. But when I want to enjoy the beauty of Wicklow away from the crowds in Glendalough or Bray, I head for two small lakes hidden amid the mountains. Lough Dan, mainly used by locals, is a tranquil, green, gorgeous area among the mountains near the village of Roundwood. Accessed via a scenic walk from Luggala Lodge, it is popular for kayaking and hiking. We usually bring a picnic and swimwear, and take a couple of hours preparing ourselves to dip into very cold lake water!
When we are ready to move again, there's a great walk from Lough Dan to Lough Tay (also known as the Guinness Lake), a beautiful lake 10km south of Lough Dan. There are numerous viewing points at Lough Tay to take in the stunning landscape.
When all the activities are done, Kavanagh's Vartry House in Roundwood is a great place to rest up, with a solid menu and cozy atmosphere. And if you're lucky enough to be there on a Sunday, you'll get to enjoy some live traditional music with your pints. There are numerous guesthouses and B&Bs in the area, particularly in Roundwood, but camping in Lough Dan is usually the top choice for many visitors.
Waterway adventures in Ireland's heartland: Graiguenamanagh
Sasha Brady works on Lonely Planet's digital content team. She lives in Dublin and is always looking to get out and about in green spaces.
Graiguenamanagh (pronounced greg·nuh·maanah) is rightfully celebrated as one of Ireland's most charming towns. It's only 90 minutes from Dublin, yet international visitors rarely make their way down here. The town is home to the beautifully-restored 13th-century Duiske Abbey, which is well worth a visit on a rainy day, and its location on the River Barrow (Ireland's second-largest river after the Shannon) makes it a perfect hub for outdoor adventures.
One of my favorite things to do is to rent a bike and cycle the wooded riverside trail from Graiguenamanagh to St Mullin's, especially during late summer when I can fill my basket with ripe blackberries and raspberries. But you can't visit the Barrow without getting wet, so I always encourage visitors to rent paddleboards, canoes and kayaks here and enjoy a guided or self-guided tour of the river and its canals.
When it comes to accommodation, I highly recommend pitching at Bandon Hill Camping, which offers a wide range of family-friendly amenities. Alternatively, you can stay at the Waterside Guest House, a boutique hotel located on the site of a former mill, offering a fantastic view of the river. Their full-Irish breakfast is renowned as one of the best in town.
As for a place to grab a drink, you'll be spoilt for choice in Graiguenamanagh, given the spread of excellent watering holes. However, it's hard to beat the atmosphere in Mick Daly's - one of my favorite pubs in Ireland - especially when a live music session is in full swing. With its rich history dating back to the 1800s, the pub has retained most of its traditional features and even houses an old-school grocery shop where you can find everything from fishing tackle to tea.
The best time to visit Graiguenamanagh is in summer to make the most of the outdoors, particularly in late August when the Barrow is at its warmest and buildings are transformed into bookshops for its long-running (and beloved) Town of Books festival.