Considering Ireland’s weather, perhaps it isn’t surprising that visitors don’t flock to the sea, but there is more to do there than just lying about sunbathing. With one coast open to the Atlantic and the other skirting the more protected Irish Sea, the beaches of Ireland have a variety of terrains to explore -- and each has its own, stunning beauty.

Innischrone, County Sligo

enniscronecreativecommons.org/Eoin O'Mahony

Also spelled Inniscrone and Enniscrone, this small seaside town is popular and has a lot of activities for visitors, despite having only two major hotels. Although the area is peaceful and there is quite a bit to see while wandering around the dunes, the beach is one of the top spots for beginner surfers to learn their craft. The waves are not too challenging and a number of surfing schools have popped up in the area to offer lessons. Summer temperatures are comfortable enough that you can surf in a light shirt and shorts, although the Atlantic is never truly warm.

Bundoran, County Donegal

bundorancreativecommons.org/Dee

Another surfing beach, this one is one of the top surfing areas in the world and it held the world championships in 1997. This beach has been calling to visitors for centuries. Victorian gentry would travel to Bundoran to spend their summers, hiring bathing boxes that allowed them to disrobe and don their bathing costumes without leaving the beach. The wide, gently sloping beach still appeals to visitors who enjoy the stroll along the sand while looking at the protective hills that circle the bay.  The lively nightlife that takes place in the town during the summer more than makes up for the occasionally overcast weather that can limit the view.

Inchydoney, County Cork

inchydoneycreativecommons.org/Adrian Byrne

This is also sometimes known as Clonakilty beach, for the nearest town. Inchydoney is the name of the island that connects to the mainland via two causeways. The beach is stunning and perfect for a long walk in the sand. There are wilder sections of water for those that enjoy surfing and more protected areas for a quick dip in the sea. The town of Clonakilty is as much of an attraction as the beach, especially if you enjoy the feeling of stepping into a postcard. If the historic buildings and ancient monuments don’t get you, the music will. Known as a centre of both traditional and contemporary music, there is a band playing somewhere almost every night of the week. You will also notice that the town is clean – so clean that it has won numerous awards for environmental awareness and in 2007 received the status of “European Destination of Excellence”.

Lahinch, County Clare

lahinchcreativecommons.org/Alison Killilea

There’s a very well known golf club here in addition to being a popular surfing spot, but those take nothing from the fascination and beauty of the area. Several earthen forts from ancient times are easily explored while in Lahinch (also spelled Lehinch) and two ruined castles hearken back to more violent times. Despite its popularity as a resort, the town retains its old-world charm and restful beauty. There is often traditional Irish music in one or more of the bars at night, and sometimes more modern bands are playing.

Banna Strand, County Kerry

banna strandcreativecommons.org/Andrew Bennett

Stretching from Ballyheigue Beach to Barroe Beach, Banna Strand features rolling, rising dunes and a fabulous view of the mountains on the Dingle Peninsula. A monument to Roger Casement, Robert Monteith and Daniel Bailey stands on the sands, honouring their attempt to smuggle arms to the Irish Republicans in 1916. This is a wild and windy spot, where the moods of the Atlantic bring clouds or sunshine with little warning. Surfers brave the waves in the summer, but even cold days have a feral beauty as the wind whips the waves towards your feet. When the sun is shining and the tide is out, a wide stretch of sand is perfect for sandcastles and small feet, running without shoes.

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