The Best of Romantic Ireland

With castles and legends, Old World hospitality and indulgent experiences, epic scenery and fairy trees, Ireland is a world of romantic mystique.

> Ardmore and Environs

(County Waterford)

Quiet Ardmore offers jaw-dropping sea views, ancient ruins to explore, fun activities, and one of the most romantic hotels in Ireland.

Ride horses on the beach with

Monatrea Equestrian Centre

, or

get out on the water in a kayak

Âto see the sea caves (and possibly dolphins). Less adventurous? Explore the medieval ruins of

St. Declan’s Cathedral

, then do the

three-mile cliff walk

, starting from the 5th-century holy well, to drink in the dramatic coastal scenery. Or watch the creative process unfold in the studio at

Ardmore Pottery and Gallery

Âand shop for local crafts.

A road trip north to the

House of Waterford Crystal

Âgives you a chance to choose your favorite pattern after the sparkling factory tour. Afterward, drive to the tip of Hook Peninsula to take in the view from the top of

the oldest working lighthouse in the world

.

Romantic Stay:

At the

Cliff House Hotel

, floor-to-ceiling glass panels ensure stunning sea vistas from comfy beds and fireplace seating. Have an organic peat and ginger soak for two on the

Well Spa

’s terrace, then savor an eight-course tasting menu with paired wines at the Michelin-starred

House Restaurant

.

> The Kingdom of Kerry

This southwest county known as “The Kingdom” serves up legendary landscapes, traditional experiences, and non-stop charm.

Take a horse-drawn ride through

Killarney National Park

to the 15th-century

Ross Castle

Âor to the lakesideÂ

Muckross House

Âto experience Victorian grandeur. In

Tralee

Âstroll past the

“Rose of Tralee” statue

to the extensive rose gardens (peak bloom is in August), then take in a traditional folk performance atÂ

Siamsa Tíre

Âto cap off the evening.

Head for theÂ

Dingle Peninsula

Âto order jewelry with your name in ogham writing at

Brian de Staic Celtic Jewelry

in Dingle town, thenÂcatch the sunset fromÂ

Dunmore Head

, Ireland’s westernmost point.

On the

Ring of Kerry

, stop in

Portmagee

for fresh seafood at theÂ

Moorings restaurant

on the docks, then take a drive toÂnearby

Caherdaniel

andÂdrink in the island view with an Irish coffee at the

Scarriff Inn

.

Romantic Stay:

The

Lake Hotel Killarney

overlooks a dreamy 12th-century castle on the banks of Lough Leane backed by

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks

. Watch wild red deer graze on the lawn in the evening with the dramatically lit castle ruins as backdrop.

> Dublin

In this cultural capital city, you are spoiled for choice among enticing offerings.

Pay homage to St. Valentine at

Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church

Â(his remains were sent there in 1836Âand devotees still light candles at his shrine), then share a kiss on

Ha’penny Bridge

, a charming pedestrian Âthat spans the River Liffey.

Stroll the

National Gallery of Ireland

‘s venerable halls to see Frederic William Burton’s“

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs

,” a 19th-century watercolor of a knight and maiden

recently voted Ireland’s favorite painting

, then head to the

Merrion Hotel

Âfor their afternoonÂ

Art Tea

,Âwhere pastries patterned after modern masterpieces highlight the three-tiered service. Take in a classical music performance at the

National Concert Hall

, and finish the evening with dessert at a

Butlers Chocolate Café

.

Romantic Stay:

Dylan Hotel

, a chic boutique hotel on the leafy outskirts of Dublin’s city center, has a fanciful nouveau style that creates a lighthearted atmosphere. Each room is different, but all include thoughtful touches like Italian marble bathrooms with heated floors and towel racks. Try the sophisticated cocktails in Dylan Bar.

> The West

Wishes and blessings and castles and luxuries beckon visitors to Ireland’s West Coast.

Tie a wish to the fairy tree at

Brigit’s Garden

, an enchanting landscape designed around Celtic rituals, folklore, and festivals. You’ll feel like you are receiving a blessing from St. Patrick when you stand before his statue at

Ballintubber Abbey

, founded in 1216 at the place where he baptized converts.

Walk the streets of

Galway

, the “City of Tribes,” and buy a Claddagh ring symbolizing friendship, love, and loyalty atÂ

Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold

.Then take a scenic drive throughÂ

Connemara

, including the

seven-mile Sky Road

,Âfor some of the most stunning views in Ireland.

Kylemore Abbey

, a dramatic castle set on the edge of a lake just a few miles from Clifden, is regarded by many as the most romantic building in the country.

As an extra treat, book detoxifying seaweed baths with hand-harvested seaweed at

VOYA Seaweed Baths & Spa

in

Strandhill

.

Romantic Stay:

Live like landed gentry at 15th-century

Knappogue Castle

. The three exclusive State Rooms are filled with art and antiques; the drawing room has a baby grand piano and crystal chandelier. Sip

Knappouge Castle 1951 Irish Whiskey

by the fire; the sherry-finish single malt is one of Ireland’s oldest.

> Northern Ireland

Mystical rituals, natural beauty, and a focus on the sea energize a trip to Northern Ireland.

Renew your vows–or make a new promise–the ancient way by clasping hands through theÂ

Doagh Holestone

, then seal your fate atÂ

Giant’s Causeway

Âwhile seated on the Wishing Chair, just one of the unusual rock formations here.

An eccentric earl builtÂ

Mussenden Temple

Âin 1785 based on Italy’sÂ

Temple of Vesta

, and the long-distance views of the Antrim Coast have stood the test of time. Write your name in the sand atÂ

Downhill Beach

Âbelow, the eastern end of a seven-mile strand. And don’t miss the stunningÂ

Glenoe Waterfall

.

InÂ

Belfast

, amble through the curved cast iron-and-glassÂ

Palm House at the Belfast Botanic Gardens

. Indulge in fresh oysters atÂ

Mourne Seafood Bar

,Âwashed down with a Mourne Oyster Stout, then grab one of the traditional “snugs” at the Victorian-eraÂ

Crown Liquor Saloon

Âfor privacy while imbibing.

Romantic Stay:

ÂFour-poster beds and soaking tubs highlight many suites at the centuries-oldÂ

Bushmills Inn

. Savor a filet steak flambéed in Bushmills Irish whiskey in the restaurant, followed by a rare single malt in one of the pub’s cozy nooks lit by flickering gas lamps and warmed by an open fire.

> County Wicklow

Rich and ancient treasures in the Wicklow Mountains are inspirational, and activities engage all the senses.

ExploreÂ

the majestic gardens at Powerscourt

, making time to admire the impressive statuaryÂand toss a coin into the grotto pool for good luck.

Drive the winding road through Sally Gap

, taking inÂpanoramic views along the way before arriving at the spiritual haven of

Glendalough

. Established in the sixth century, the pristine, mountain setting sets a tranquil, sacred tone for the monastic site that features a round tower, Celtic High Crosses, and stone oratories.

Monart Spa

in Enniscorthy is your destination for supreme pampering; try the thermal suite followed by a Warm Spiced Mud Wrap with peat, ginger, and cinnamon. Get hands on with Irish cuisineÂat

Ballyknocken Cookery School

with celebrity chef Catherine Fulvio. At

Avoca

Âin Avoca Village, tour the weaving mill founded in 1723, and shop for vibrant throws and scarves.

Romantic Stay:

Mount Juliet Golf & Spa Hotel

is the ultimate manor house experience. The light-filled Georgian suites have exquisite touches and the wooded grounds are tailor-made for late-night strolls.ÂThe food in the Lady Helen Restaurant is Michelin-starred; go for their signature tasting menu with paired wines.

Writer

Kathleen M. Mangan

takes advantage of her dual Irish citizenship by spending her summers in the Emerald Isle.

> More From Kathleen:

The Best of Romantic Ireland 1

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