It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining on an Irish beach. Bundle up, fill a flask and head out to explore some of Dublin’s best stretches of coastline.
If your idea of a beach is dependent on sun-soaked palm trees and sparkling water warm enough that you won’t freeze in a swimsuit, Ireland’s coast might not be for you. Dublin’s beaches might not be a tropical paradise, but they have their own beauty. They’re wild and windswept, with cliffs and long, isolated stretches of sand giving way to bitingly cold seas. Brave the chill to meet seals, gaze out over tiny islands and enjoy some of the world’s greatest fish and chips on the Irish capital’s spectacular beaches.
Known as the Velvet Strand, Portmarnock is an eight-kilometre (five-mile) expanse of golden sand just 30 minutes away from Dublin’s city centre. Come when the tide is out to walk over the vast flats and admire the views of Howth Harbour and the imposing mountains in the distance. Afterwards, head to the nearby town of Malahide to refuel in one of its traditional Irish pubs.
Strewn with pebbles and scattered rock pools teeming with seaweed, Killiney Beach is more suited to a brisk walk and a swim than relaxing with a picnic. But it’s worth visiting for the views alone. In the distance, you’ll be able to spot Dalkey Island – uninhabited save for the seabirds circling the cliffs and the goats that climb below. These waters are also a great space to go seal-spotting, so if you’re on the shore, taking a swim or kayaking, keep your eyes peeled for their distinctive, sleek heads rising above the waves.
It’s safe to say that Sandycove is Dublin’s most famous beach; it sits at the foot of the Martello tower that was immortalised in the opening scene of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The tower, where the writer once stayed, is now a museum dedicated to his work; however, Sandycove is worth visiting on its own merits. Though smaller than some beaches surrounding Dublin, it’s no less beautiful. It’s also home to the Forty Foot swimming spot, a promontory that was reserved for men alone until a group of women refused to obey this order and took to the waters themselves in protest. Today, anyone can plunge into depths, so long as they’re brave enough to face the chilly Irish sea.
Tower Bay Beach looks like a bite taken out of the coastline, rocky cliffs giving way to a stretch of soft sand. A Martello watchtower stands guard; it’s been converted into a residential building but can still be admired from the outside. Relaxing on the beach, you can just about catch a glimpse of Lambay Island in the distance across the water – this small crag of land is home to a large group of wallabies that were introduced by the owners of the island in the 1950s, as well as a colony of seals and deer.
A wooden bridge over the water from Clontarf brings you to the man-made Bull Island; it’s here that you’ll find one of Dublin’s favourite local beaches. Dollymount Strand is just 20 minutes out of the city centre and offers a vast stretch of sand that’s perfect for paddling, flying a kite, having a picnic or simply taking a walk, looking back at Dublin Bay and Howth Harbour.
If you only visit one seaside village in Dublin, make it Howth. Easily accessible on the DART, it’s home to the serene and scenic Claremont Beach. Take a walk along the long pier leading towards the lighthouse and gaze out at Ireland’s Eye, a tiny uninhabited island close to the shore. There’s a cluster of upscale seafood restaurants along the coastline, but for a meal on the beach, visit one of the quaint fish-and-chip shops dotted along the harbour. Eat straight from the packet while sitting on the sand and having the salty sea wind whip through your hair. Remember, it’s not really a day out on an Irish beach until a seagull tries to steal your chips.