Best hotels in Ireland
Where: Co Mayo
Castles don’t come much more opulent than Ashford, complete with canopied four-poster beds, chandeliers and creaking suits of armour. Many of the bedrooms have views of Lake Corrib, which leads down to the Atlantic at Galway, and the facilities are second to none, with everything from golf and fishing to archery, kayaking and falconry. The spa has a hammam, steam room and terrace overlooking the lake and there are several different restaurants to choose from. The Dungeon is most atmospheric, serving Irish classics beneath a stone ceiling decked with heraldic flags.
Belfast’s number one must-see is the waterfront Titanic Museum and the Titanic Hotel next door continues the shipbuilding theme with 119 bedrooms featuring nautical touches and Art Deco furniture. You’re staying in the old Harland & Wolff drawing offices—where the Titanic story really began—and many of the original 19th-century rooms have been restored. Check out the Telephone Exchange, where the world first heard of that iceberg, and take a seat in the grill restaurant for Irish dishes with views of the historic slipways where the White Star Line's Titanic, Olympic and Britannic were built.
The Dylan is surely the most stylish spot in Dublin; its Victorian brick surrounds contrasting chicly with the padded leather walls, swirly gilt mirrors and Baroque-style furniture. You’re on a quiet side street here so the capital’s mad nightlife won’t intrude on your slumber, but it’s just a pleasant 20-minute walk into the city centre. It’s worth having a night in to try the Tavern restaurant, which specialises in local seafood, and whether you’re eating in or out, don’t miss a nightcap in the Dylan bar, where the heated courtyard offers the chance to have a cocktail or Irish whiskey under the stars.
On the shores of Loch Caragh just off the gorgeous Ring of Kerry scenic loop drive is this country house home from home. Built by an English aristocrat in 1913 it is all elegance, right down to its lakeside lawns, where afternoon tea is served. The 32 acres of gardens are a delight – follow secret pathways to secluded glens – and the lounge has a fire and complimentary bar. At Ard na Sidhe, the best rooms are in the main house, with antique furniture and no TVs to disturb the peace. There’s also an intimate restaurant serving Atlantic fish and Kerry lamb.
Where: Fermanagh Lakelands
Lough Erne Resort has an unrivalled location on a 600-acre peninsula in the Fermanagh Lakelands. This makes a great base for touring north-west Ireland, which feels as if it’s trying to clamber in the window from all angles. Rooms are set up to make the most of the view and some look out onto the Faldo Course, one of Ireland’s best golf courses, designed by renowned pro golfer Nick Faldo. The spa has a Thai flavour with traditional Thai massages and tropical rain showers, while the Catalina restaurant serves three AA Rosette-rated cuisine beneath glittering chandeliers—and with more lake views.
Although Powerscourt is just half an hour’s drive from Dublin, the city feels a million miles away. The Palladian-style building sits at the base of Sugar Loaf mountain, and rooms are designed to make the best of the view; some have balconies, while the Presidential Suite has a rooftop terrace with views of the Wicklow mountains. There are three places to eat here—the fine-dining Sika Restaurant, the Sugar Loaf lounge for afternoon tea, and McGills Irish pub for top-quality traditional pub dishes—and the spa could lose you an entire day with its thermal suite, 20m crystal-lit pool and gym.
Where: Co Mayo
Clew Bay is said to have an island for every day of the year. The best place to base yourself to explore this stunning seascape is Westport, a trim Georgian town that is home to this cracker of a four-star. Castlecourt rooms are a cut above other hotels of this price, with canopied four-poster beds in some rooms, and the facilities are excellent – there’s even a 20m indoor swimming pool. The spa has a thermal suite and tons of treatments, while the Orchard restaurant is an elegant place for dinner, with Irish meets Gallic dishes and a great selection of steaks.
Some of Ireland’s finest Lakeland scenery surrounds Killarney and the country’s highest mountains, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, towering to above 1,000m, are just a few miles away. No wonder then that this resort town developed in the Victorian era – and that one of Ireland’s best hotels is right at its centre. The Killarney Park Hotel has classic rooms that cry out for you to slip into a robe and relax, and afternoon tea can be taken by the fire or in the drawing room. There’s also a sunny terrace for post-walk drinks and the chandelier-decked Park Restaurant for fine Irish dining.
Where: Co Meath
Less than an hour’s drive north of Dublin is this Palladian-style mansion turned luxury hotel. You’re within easy reach of the UNESCO-listed 5,000-year-old passage tomb at Newgrange, but the countryside hereabouts is pretty spectacular too—borrow some wellies and go for a romp through fields. Back at base there’s fishing, horse riding, clay pigeon shooting and an outdoor hot tub. The bedrooms are all different, but have high ceilings, wooden floorboards and vintage furniture in common. Many of them have lovely views over the countryside and some have bathtubs large enough for two.
Where: Co Donegal
The Wild Atlantic Way could well be Europe’s best road trip, and this family-run boutique hotel in Ardara, Donegal, is ideally located for exploring it. It’s just a 45-minute drive to Slieve League, arguably Ireland’s most epic cliffs, and only 35 minutes to the picturesque town of Glencolmcille, through the dramatic Glengesh Pass. Back at the Nesbitt Arms Hotel, the recently revamped rooms are simple but stylish and the Ramblers Bar has great pub food and plenty of atmosphere – not to mention an excellent range of craft beers, gins and whiskies.