12 Irish destinations for 2012

Another year, another set of resolutions, another travel wish list. I know the drill. I do it myself every year. But 2012 is going to be different. This year, you are going to make time to travel, even if it’s just in your own back garden.

Today being January 12 and all, we thought we’d bring you our picks for the top 12 destinations in Ireland in 2012. We came up with this list based on monthly goings-on around the country, as well as beautiful places you might not have heard of before and other unique corners of Ireland for a getaway. There are also a few musts on the list, so if you haven’t had a chance to see those yet, be sure to set aside some time and a few quid.

January – Dublin

Dublin trad music

Photo: Elizabeth Barnett

You could really visit Dublin at any time of year, but we’ve chosen January for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Temple Bar Tradfest, which has become one of the most prestigious and accessible traditional music festivals in Ireland, is on from the 25-29 of the month. Likewise, visiting in January means escaping all the tourist rabble and enjoying some of the city’s finest pubs in peace.

February – Aran Islands

Aran Islands - beach donkey

Photo: Mark Heard

I know what you’re thinking. The Aran Islands… in February?? Well, if you are as crazy as we are or just want to get as far away from Valentine’s Day as you can, these scenic islands off the coast of Galway offer a great escape. More importantly, though, we chose February because Tedfest 6 will be on from the 23-26 of the month, and what better way to truly escape reality than listening to a bunch of faux priests sing Johnny Cash songs on a fictional island?

March – Co. Clare

Cliffs of Moher - IrishJaunt's Flickr Photostream

Photo: IrishJaunt

If you’re hopeful about spring, Co. Clare is the place to be in March. Even Ireland’s most jaded recession mongers can’t help feel in awe of the beauty at the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren coast. Plus, if you’re up for a little trad music, the Corofin Traditional Festival is held over the first week in March and offers a chance to get up close and personal with some of the country’s best trad players.

April – Belfast

Titanic Belfast

Photo: Damien du Toit

Belfast is constantly making Irish lists of great getaways, and as the northern city gains ground as a destination, so it gains popularity. Which means, if you want to see it before it becomes overrun, now’s the time. One better, this April marks 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic, and so to commemorate that event with undeniable irony, Belfast is hosting a slew of Titanic-related events, including the Titanic Belfast Festival, which will include light shows, musical performances and events, as well as the opening of Titanic Belfast, an exhibition experience about the doomed ship, which was of course, built in Belfast.

May – Killary Harbour

Killary Harbour

Photo: IrishJaunt

If you’ve never experienced the incredible view of Killary Harbour (Ireland’s only fjord!) from atop the Western Way path, you’ve missed one of Ireland’s most spectacular panoramas. May is the perfect time to head this way, as the weather usually lightens up around Leaving Cert time, and the May Bank Holiday weekend sees the opening of the Connemara Mussel Festival right here on the Renvyle Peninsula. Sleepzone Connemara makes for a cheap and cheerful place to stay with perfect views of the harbour, and while you’re here, be sure to pay a visit to Kylemore Abbey, one of the prettiest structures in Ireland.

June – Slieve League

Slieve League

Photo: Flickr user globalreachent

Although the weather in Donegal is never particularly predictable, June offers the best chance of sunny skies over Slieve League – arguably Ireland’s most dramatic sea cliffs. Be sure to pop in to the Sliabh League Cultural Centre for lunch and a peek at the art and archaeology of the area.

July – Coastal Wexford

Lobster Pots - Kilmore Quay - Wexford

Photo: Flickr user mozzercork

The Sunny Southeast is at its brightest in July, a perfect time to hit the sands of Curracloe Strand, one of Ireland’s longest and prettiest sand beaches (and, incidentally, the filming location for the D-Day scenes in Saving Private Ryan). From the 5-8 July, the Kilmore Quay Seafood Festival offers something for everyone (even non-seafood eaters) with a lineup of angling competitions, musical performances, kids’ events, coastal walks and, of course, seafood tastings.

August – Carlow

Carlow Garden Trail

Photo: Keith Dowling

County Carlow doesn’t make too many top destination lists, but exploring the 16 different scenic spots along the Carlow Garden Trail as it winds its way through the lush county makes for a perfect August activity. Aim for the first weekend in August to partake in the annual Carlow Garden Festival, which features nature galore through guided walks, demonstrations, gardening lectures, craft fairs and more.

September – Giant’s Causeway

Giant's Causeway

Photo: Flickr user TS Drown

The strange stone columns that make up one of the most unique and popular attractions on the island of Ireland – Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim – have long been without an official visitor centre, but that is all set to change this summer with the opening of an £18.5 million state-of-the-art visitor centre that a UNESCO World Heritage Site of this calibre deserves.

October – West Cork

Glandore, West Cork

Photo: IrishJaunt

While West Cork is abuzz all summer with visitors, October offers a different perspective on this upmarket holiday haven, providing not only the best chance to see some actual autumn colour, but also a bit of charitable exercise during the Irish Heart Foundation Walking Weekend (6-7 Oct), which sets off from Baltimore, and a yummy reward at the Kinsale Gourmet Festival (12-14 Oct). While you’re in the area, don’t miss the scenic village of Glandore.

November – Enniskillen

Belle Isle Cookery School

Photo: Courtesy Image

When the winter blues are about to set in, it’s time to set off for Enniskillen in Co. Fermanagh, where the Belle Isle Cookery School offers a range of winter cooking classes in November. Courses range from one-day sessions on how to throw a great dinner party to two-day “Game and Winter Wonders” classes, in which you’ll learn how to cook all types of wild fowl and meat. To really splash out, book a room in the 17th century Belle Isle Castle.

December – Galway City

Galway Christmas Market

Photo: Courtesy Image

Galway’s great at anytime of year, but the City of Tribes will particularly draw you in during the holidays with all of that Christmasy cheer. The annual Galway Continental Christmas Market, held in Eyre Square, puts a sweet, hippie bent on Christmas with artisanal foods and crafts made by Galwegians alongside more typical Christmas market fare, such as German-style sausages and lagers.

About Megan Eaves

Travel writer and wanderluster, Megan Eaves is the author of two travel guidebooks and runs the Irish travel website http://www.irishjaunt.com. Having traveled to 25 countries and lived in five, she is an expert on Ireland, China and the American Southwest, where she grew up. She also often writes about her adventures around Europe, especially London, where she is currently living.

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