The 5 Best Beaches in Ireland

A list of only 5 meant tough decisions, even when limiting our choice to Blue Flag beaches: considered by an international authorities to be clean, well-managed, environmentally savvy and safe.

Water quality is considered by that authority too… but that doesn’t mean the water’s warm. This is the Atlantic. The water is … invigorating… even on hot days. 

Best Beach in IrelandKeem Beach

The criteria for these best beaches in Ireland is based on scenery, surroundings and the beaches themselves. One or two are adventure hotspots… so pack your boards, kayaks and wetsuits, and prepare to revel in the best waves Europe has to offer. 

Surfers please note: you’re unlikely to be addressed as “dude” out here.

5. Ballydonegan Beach

Tucked away in an impossibly picturesque nook of the Beara Peninsular, Ballydonegan is NOT a surfing hotspot.

It’s the most remote beach on our list, the least frequented, the most hidden, and is really quite special, with delicate rock pools in which to discover exquisite shells and sea creatures, and fine quartz sand on which to spread your picnic blanket. 

And it’s SO quiet. You’re just a couple of miles from town but it feels like a million. If you want to get away from it all, and be in nature, then this is the place. 

Not much in the way of facilities, but the loos are in good order. 

4. Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay

These are two beaches that are literally back-to-back (and equally stunning), having formed on either side of a ‘tombolo’: a narrow neck of land linking a headland to a mainland. 

Dog’s Bay is a mile-long near-perfect crescent that – like its neighbor – consists of finely crushed seashells. Both beaches, then, have a very white look, a sharp contrast to their attendant blue-green bays. Both are sheltered and safe for swimming: ideal for buckets and spades, and for watersports.

Like children, kayakers and windsurfers are a common sight here… and Gurteen, especially, is a hit with wave-jumping kite-surfers – amazing to see the height they get. 

The green headland and neck are perfect spots to stretch the legs and take in the various ocean views. 

Essentially, when you do arrive in Connemara, you simply MUST drive out to Roundstone and come down here, if only to dip your toes.

3. Barleycove

One of Ireland’s best-loved beaches can get a tad crowded on a hot summer’s day. But if you’re used to hot-spots in the Med, forget about it. Even on its busiest day, finding your spot on Barleycove is a breeze. It’s huge. 

So it is a bit of a walk to the eastern end. 

From the car park, the beach is reached via a boardwalk; or you can take the path along the top ridge, spy that perfect spot, and scramble down. Bear in mind, there are no facilities apart from toilets, so you’ll be carrying the cooler box along with the deck chairs and umbrella. 

But it really is worth it. The water is warm (for Ireland), there are no dangerous currents, and lifeguards are here through the holidays.

Barleycove is also the perfect place to brave the weather and enjoy the more rugged aspects of the Irish coast – the classic wet, desultory beach-walk is had on Barleycove… as shared with determined joggers and delighted dogs.

2. Inch Beach

Inch Beach,Ireland

Take the Barleycove experience and double it. Don’t be misled by the name. Inch Beach is 3 miles long and wider than many beaches are long: a vast tract of unbroken white sand, where horses and riders gallop past and disappear into the distance.

Inch is not known as a pretty beach, but it is tremendously utilitarian, which is to say it’s a multipurpose space used for every kind of beach activity you can think of, off-shore and on-shore. 

The joys of Inch are no secret, so yes it does get busy during the few weeks of summer, and the cars line up on the beach itself.

But even 50 cars are dwarfed by the huge expanse.

And given that it is on the remote Dingle peninsular, it is empty more often than not. Then one gets to see the Emerald Isle for the stark place it can be: grassy hills, rocky outcrops, distant cliffs, misty mountains, and the endless Atlantic.

1. Keem Beach

Keem Beach, IrelandKeem Beach

We thought to extend the theme of vastness, and end with Keel Beach on Achill Island – the best-known beach in a lesser-known part of Ireland.

In the end, though, we left the surfers to their big waves and came 5 miles west of Keel, to Keem beach: smaller, less frequented, more golden, and skirting a bay that, to me, is most reminiscent of the Med.

Except that the deep azure of the Med is replaced here by pristine-clear turquoise … not that one can pin down color in Ireland. The light in this country is still a mystery and still amazes me. It changes on a minute-to-minute basis, as do the colors.

Nowhere is this kaleidoscope effect more apparent than on Keem, where the viewer is mesmerized by rolling hills, shimmering waters, and distant cliffs.

Flying a Blue Flag, means Keem has facilities. But they are minimal. At busy times, food and ice-cream trucks are parked close by. At other times Keem Beach caters more to those who enjoy being cut-off, without a care in the world

… and that is where we leave you.  

For more on how to get to these stunning beaches, see our various articles covering Ireland’s wild west coast.  


Inch Beach  (DINGLE)

Barleycove  (CORK)

Dogs Bay/Gurteen  (CONNEMARA)

Ballydonegan – (BEARA)

Road Trips and Car Rental Advice

You might like these

  • 4 Bucket List Islands

    Scattered across the oceans and seas are 4 bucket list islands. All of them are missing only one thing... you!

  • Sampling the South: a 3-stop Tour of County Cork

    First stop is Cobh: Ireland's famous port from where so many (America-bound) Irish fled the potato famine in the mid 19-century. After that we head for...

  • Around the Beara Peninsula

    We assume the best: that when you visit the Ring of Kerry, you won’t be swamped by crowds. But that CAN happen… which is why you might want to hop one over, to the Beara peninsula. Not as mainstream. Just as pretty.

  • Achill Island: Paradise at the Edge

    When you picture paradise, what do you see? It’s fair to say that pristine blue water skirted by a golden crescent beach, beneath a towering cliff of verdant green… makes for a decent description of paradise. So it is on Achill Island in county Mayo.

  • The 8 Best Beaches in the World

    The 8 best beaches in the world. Why is our list different to all others? Simple, we actually travel the world visiting hundred and hundreds of beaches. These are the results...

  • Before The Quest 4 The Perfect Beach Begins

    There is nothing like a little beach therapy and perfect beach therapy needs peace of mind. Lock that in well before you step out upon the beach of your dreams with travel insurance tailored towards beach holidays

  • The 4 Most Beautiful Coastal Cities in the World

    Phew, this was a hard list to create. We started with 15 cities. With much heated debate we got that down to six... then to 4.

  • 5 Top Quality Hotels in Ireland

    5 Quality Hotels in Ireland - here's what awaits at the first on on our list: your balcony doors open onto impeccable grounds. You are surrounded by old, other-worldly opulence, yet are next to one of Ireland’s most modern, quirky and cosmopolitan cities

  • Ireland West Coast Essentials & Secrets - From Cork to Donegal

    Starting in Donegal County and finishing down south in County Cork - the real heart and soul of Ireland's west coast awaits - click to discover it.

  • Along the Cook Highway and Beyond

    It is said that this 75km Captain Cook Highway is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. One side is the rugged coast, and the other side the tropical, lush rainforest. (Tip: you definitely want to...

  • Galway City - The Warm Heart & Soul of the Wild Atlantic Way

    Galway City sits in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way, and is itself a balancing act. It manages to combine cosmopolitan chic, traditional Gaelic culture, and college life… which all mix rather well.

  • Dingle, Ireland: it's not the wind that will blow you away

    Years back, I struck up a chat with an Irish chap, and asked where might I go. He thought for a second and said, Dingle, Ireland's best kept secret . A woman at the table over perked up, said, Dingle? What about Dingle?

  • Sligo Ireland - The Land of Heart’s Desire.

    Sligo is a festival city, a party city, a music city, a drinking city, and very much a coastal city. One walks in sea air along narrow streets, over bridges, past colorful Georgian facades.

  • Killarney: the jewel in the Ring of Kerry

    We tend to steer you a little differently. Often, that just means giving some common-sense advice about possibly THE hotspot on Ireland’s tourist itinerary…

  • Westport: Ireland's Little Secret

    In Westport Ireland they say that when God made time He made plenty of it. My advice:spend as much of it as you can in Westport.

  • Discover the Real Ireland. Come to Cork

    Discover Cork and you discover Ireland. So many Irish left from Cork and those with Irish ancestry tell me that it is here they cried. It was here that they felt the connection to the old country.

  • Connemara, Ireland : soft beds, hard country

    When we came to the Connemara, Ireland decided we'd done something right and, finally, bathed us in warm sunshine. Cruising into the harbor I turned to one of the locals on the boat with us that day, and I said to him… you live in a paradise.

  • The 5 Most Spectacular Coastal Drives in the World

    Each one of these 5 spectacular coastal drives should be on your bucket list. Add at least one to your plans for the next year... you'll be so glad you did.