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.

Here are some of the key highlights from around the Emerald Isle:

> 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 to 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 and shop for local crafts.

A road trip north to the House of Waterford Crystal gives 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 or to the lakeside Muckross House to experience Victorian grandeur. In Tralee stroll past the “Rose of Tralee” statue to the extensive rose gardens (peak bloom is in August), then take in a traditional folk performance at Siamsa Tíre to cap off the evening.

Head for the Dingle Peninsula to order jewelry with your name in ogham writing at Brian de Staic Celtic Jewelry in Dingle town, then catch the sunset from Dunmore Head, Ireland’s westernmost point.

On the Ring of Kerry, stop in Portmagee for fresh seafood at the Moorings restaurant on the docks, then take a drive to nearby Caherdaniel and drink 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 (his remains were sent there in 1836 and devotees still light candles at his shrine), then share a kiss on Ha’penny Bridge, a charming pedestrian  that 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 for their afternoon Art Tea, where 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 at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold.Then take a scenic drive through Connemara, including the seven-mile Sky Road, for 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 the Doagh Holestone, then seal your fate at Giant’s Causeway while seated on the Wishing Chair, just one of the unusual rock formations here.

An eccentric earl built Mussenden Temple in 1785 based on Italy’s Temple of Vesta, and the long-distance views of the Antrim Coast have stood the test of time. Write your name in the sand at Downhill Beach below, the eastern end of a seven-mile strand. And don’t miss the stunning Glenoe Waterfall.

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In Belfast, amble through the curved cast iron-and-glass Palm House at the Belfast Botanic Gardens. Indulge in fresh oysters at Mourne Seafood Bar, washed down with a Mourne Oyster Stout, then grab one of the traditional “snugs” at the Victorian-era Crown Liquor Saloon for privacy while imbibing.

Romantic Stay: Four-poster beds and soaking tubs highlight many suites at the centuries-old 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.

Explore the majestic gardens at Powerscourt, making time to admire the impressive statuary and toss a coin into the grotto pool for good luck. Drive the winding road through Sally Gap, taking in panoramic 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 cuisine at Ballyknocken Cookery School with celebrity chef Catherine Fulvio. At Avoca in 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. The 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:

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