10 of the best campsites ever … says who?
Campsites just like tents, motorhomes, caravans and campervans come in all shapes and sizes. One size does not suit all. Beauty, even when it comes to campsites, is in the eye of the beholder.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Best of lists.
I like them for a few reasons. To see if I agree with the choices, to see if my favourite places are included, to see how many of the other spots I have visited, to see what good locations I have missed out… and to see which selections with which I would thoroughly disagree.
Seriously though, it’s all just a bit of fun and a great conversation starter.
Take the top 20 beaches in Europe as announced last week by the reputable Lonely Planet.
What did you do first? Go looking for what beaches in Ireland are included?
I was chuffed to see Keem Beach in Achill listed at number 18 on a beauty pageant line-up of beaches which extended from Norway to Sicily, from Scotland to Montenegro, Wales and everywhere in between.
Keem Beach is stunning. A special place. But we could list off others too. Busy beaches, surfing beaches, secluded hideaways, long stretches of sand as far as the eye can see or rugged coves with wild and unpredictable outcrops surrounded by stunning scenery.
That’s why when it comes to Best Beaches top 10 or 20, I take them with a pinch of salt. One size does not suit all. It’s a subjective opinion to give us a taste of what’s on offer and the option of making an informed choice for ourselves.
|It can be an uphill struggle on a bike to make it to Keem Beach but it’s well worth the trip.
It’s the same when it comes to campsites. One size does not fit all.
For instance if you have a serious attachment to the family mutt and it goes everywhere with you, well then a campsite that doesn’t take dogs is never going to feature in your top ten.
Some campsites don’t take kids, so hardly suitable for that family summer getaway. There are campsites which are quiet, peaceful and secluded with a riverside walk the extent of all the exertions expected of you. Then there are those who like the bustle of a lively stand, close to town and their favourite tavern.
Campsites just like tents, motorhomes, caravans and campervans come in all shapes and sizes. Beauty, even when it comes to campsites, is in the eye of the beholder.
|A small pop-up tent can be as much fun as a fancy motorhome if you are into the spirit of camping and the great outdoors.
So with that in mind and in no particular order – you can discuss and argue and decide later for yourselves – here are my recommendations of some of the best sites for this summer’s camping season, which is already simmering with heavy advance early bookings.
Campers everywhere are chomping at the bit to get going again with the indications that it could be June at the earliest before we can hit the road.
When we do get going here’s ten good ones to choose from.
Says who? Says I…
Clifden Eco Beach Camping, Galway
If location is the key to great camping then Clifden Eco Beach Camping is world class, and it is. Everything you’d want, hope for and dream of in a great campsite. Well managed, amazing rugged shoreline location in the heart of Connemara. While it is extremely well organised the pitches are more ad hoc and informal than the standard style of marked-out box-like pitches which gives it that more organic, authentic camping feel, all with a strong emphasis on sustainability and a healthy eco-vibe based on best environmental practices.
Stunning views and sunsets are fitted as standard at this secluded camping paradise with direct access to its own beach. No hurdy-gurdies or gimmicks here. This is back to nature at its best and you make your own fun. Kayaking is a thing at Eco Beach. Pets are welcome.
And it’s just out the road from Clifden which has a cool Arts Festival and the Connemara Pony Show. You also have the Connemara National Park nearby. This is oyster country too, so do make time for an oyster picnic in Letterfrack.
Tent/Car 1 adult €14 to €15; Unit and 1 adult €18 to €20; Unit plus 2 adults €22 to €24; 2 adults and 2 children €28 to €32
|An aerial view of the magnificent Clifden Eco Beach Camping by Pat Nevin. Every room has a seaview.
Sleepy Hollows, Donegal
If I was to look for a place to save my soul or mend myself it would be Sleepy Hollow in Donegal. For no particular reason that I can point to, Sleepy Hollows just has a good feel to it, and makes you feel good too.
It may have something to do with Nicola and Ian who clearly put their heart and soul into running this oasis of calm and it rubs off.
Last year they were one of the few spots taking tents and to their credit pulled out all the stops with hard work to maintain a site with all services including the campers’ kitchen, showers and toilets fully operational, despite all the restrictions and protocols, which saw most other sites retreat to restricted services for self-contained units only.
Important to note that this is an adults only site, so that may have something to do with the calm around the campfires. There’s so much to do, explore and enjoy in this area you’d need the whole summer to put a dent in it with surfing, kayaking, pony trekking and lots and lots of music. Leo’s Tavern, the home place of Clannad and Enya is litterly a five minute walk up the road.
I just love Donegal and they love dogs at Sleepy Hollows.
|Sleepy Hollows, a special place.
|Riverside walk at Sleepy Hollows.
The Apple Farm, Tipperary
In the interest of balance, if I don’t include the Apple Farm my granddaughter Kayla would kill me.
It’s one of our favourite spots which we return to each year and is unusual in that respect as it’s not on the coast.
Being from a landlocked county, we head for the coast every chance we get, with one eye also on the surf conditions as a bonus.
So what keeps bringing us back to the Apple Farm?
I did have this thing for robbing orchards as a boy so maybe it’s something deep down to dwell among the rows and rows and rows of ripe red apples and resisting that temptation…
The Apple Farm campsite is slap bang right in the middle of a working orchard with a strong emphasis on environmentally friendly cultivation.
We love to go during the harvest and share the early autumn atmosphere with the sheep dogs, donkeys and rabbits that hop between the rows of apple trees in this adorable Traas family run camping location. (Important to note no dogs allowed here either).
Instead of struggling to find a TV signal I much prefer to pop open a bottle of Con’s Cider one of the specialities of the site.
If you like it here then we’d also recommend Parsons Green in Clogheen, Tipperary and Nore Valley Park, Bennettsbridge, Kilkenny as all three are really great for children.
The Apple Farm www.theapplefarm.com Adults €9, children €6, electricity €2.50 (No dogs allowed & no extra charges) Closed Monday & Tuesday. 5 night packages available commencing Wednesdays each week.
Nagles in Doolin is easy to recommend.
This well-established family run concern is perched up on the edge of the Atlantic. Tantalisingly close enough to see the ferries pull away from the pier as they head for the Aran Islands and to catch a glimpse of the Cliffs of Moher, yet safe and secure in all seasons.
It’s just a short walk into the village itself with all its musical and other charms and a great staging post to explore The Burren, the rugged coastline and the delightful villages of west Clare.
The facilities here are top notch and the spacious pitches make it a popular stop off for Irish, UK and European tourists alike.
This year your neighbours are more likely to be the cows peering over the stone walls.
We always have an interesting time here and a handy spot in which to have a bike for short trips and recon purposes. Strongly recommend a trip out the road to Kilfenora and the Poulnabrone Dolmen.
Plenty of other camping options in these parts too with the more compact and more central O’Connors Riverside Caravan, Camping and Glamping inside in Doolin village itself.
|Nagles of Doolin is an excellent staging post for visiting the Burren or the Aran Islands, where you can hire a bike (below) to tip around.
Goosey Island, Kerry
Goosey Island is an airestyle camping facility on the Ring of Kerry in the picturesque village of Sneem.
I could leave it at that and simply suggest you go and see for yourself as words fail me to do justice to this magical place in the Kingdom.
It’s the sort of spot you could simply hang out all summer or if the humour takes you, there is that spectacle that is Kerry to be delved into and explored.
People have been known to visit here and never leave and I can perfectly understand why.
The scenery is breath-taking, the landscape is stunning but there’s something about the pace of life here, the atmosphere, the people and their ceád mile fáilte that sets Sneem apart as a special place again.
It’s safe to say Goosey Island left an impression and is etched in our hearts forever. Was it that glorious evening kayaking out into Kenmare Bay; picking those plump blackberries from the brambles on the boreen; the luxurious scent of the wild dog roses from the hedgerow; the fresh brown trout we were gifted for our barbecue by a fellow camper, Laddie, who didn’t know us from Adam, or the wonderfully weird man with the amazing puck goat on a lead and we staring at them and their matching beards…
Again Kerry is spoilt for choice when it comes to camping with Mannix Point in Cahirsiveen, Wave Crest in Caherdaniel and Anchor Caravan Park in Castlegreory all superb options.
Goosey Island Contact 087 6710106. €10 per vehicle per night, €5 extra for electrical hook-up (EHU) if required.
|Goosey Island, Sneem. We’re smitten.
The Beach Bar Camping, Sligo
The Beach Bar Campsite in Sligo saved last summer.
We arrived up there on a wing and a prayer towards midnight last August, half in hope, and half in desperation.
The next morning the sun rose and didn’t set for a fortnight as we tucked in to our little parcel of paradise with Ben Bulben waving over at us from the shore across the bay.
We had landed on our feet in an out of the way Aughris Head and this easy-going, fend-for-yourself facility was the perfect antidote and cure for all post lockdown blues.
We had such a glorious, fun and interesting sojourn at the Beach Bar Camping that it will forever be engraved in our hearts as a special memory and never off our list of places must you go to before you die, and go to heaven.
It’s an ideal spot for children, no problem with pets if you want to bring the family mutt along and one evening a troupe of traditional musicians just struck up a seisiún on the wall along the shoreline, uileann pipes and all. Sure where would you get it?
Plenty of interesting places nearby for other camping and activity options too in Strandhill and Easkey in the opposite direction. The Beach Bar Camping email@example.comUnit €15 per night plus €5 for EHU. No tents. No bookings. First come, first served. Metered showers.
|The Beach Bar Camping saved the summer.
Achill Seal Caves, Mayo
You haven’t really gone camping in Ireland until you have experienced Mayo and Achill in particular. Achill is sound for so many reasons and it really is a haven for camping and outdoor pursuits.
For my money Achill is best enjoyed all day every day by either hiking or cycling but you need a good base.
There are a variety of good camping options available and Seal Caves Caravan and Camping at The Strand in Dugort is ideal. A meticulous and hands-on family run Seal Caves making it in turn ideal for families. Nestled between Dugort Hill and Slievemore Mountain with the Dugort blue flag beach literally across the road.
Achill is paradise for hiking and hill walking, you won’t get a better spot for water sports like surfing and windsurfing with plenty of hire options. I’ve even spent a grand evening picking wild field mushrooms for my supper while out for an aimless stroll near the Deserted Village.
Keem Beach is that world class view boasting turquoise waters and sometimes basking sharks which dare to bask in the shallow waters in the one-time whaling station. The Aquarium on the island is ideal for children to explore.
If you fancy a livelier spot more in the heart of the action then Keel Sandybanks Caravan and Camping Park might be more your bag, where every ‘room’ is a sea view as you awake to the Minaun Cliffs and the lapping waves along the 5km Keel Beach.
Hidden Valley Resort, Wicklow
It would be tantamount to sacrilege to compile a best of camping and not include the Garden of Ireland. Wicklow was designed with camping in mind and so too was Hidden Valley Resort the award winning family-friendly campsite that has earned all the accolades and plaudits.8
Kids love it here, pets love it here, so parents love it here at Hidden Valley. Set against a backdrop of mature forest along the cascading Avonmore River a ten minutes stroll into the village of Rathdrum it’s no wonder so many families swear by Hidden Valley, and return time and time again.
The full gambit of camping is catered for here from tents, caravans, motorhomes, mobile homes and glamping lodges available for hire.
Just in case the natural attractions, amenities and nearby sites are not sufficient to keep the clan happy, Hidden Valley have dug deep to give nature a hand out with playground areas, an aqua park, football pitches, boat rides, cinema nights, laser games, kayaking and a long list of other fun things to do for a memorable stay. What about teenagers you say, well there’s free Wi-Fi and fishing on site.
Hidden Valley is a great spot and if you are the adventurous type don’t forget you’re right in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains with places like Glendalough, Avoca, Powerscourt, the Wicklow Gap, Brittas Bay, the Wicklow Way and Avondale House right on your doorstep. On yer bike!
Hidden Valley Resortinfo@irelandholidaypark.comwww.irelandholidaypark.com Hiker/Cyclist €13 to €14 per person; Unit plus 2 adults €26 to €32; 2 adults and 2 children €36 to €42. Mobile Home Rates (6 berth) €375 to €750
|Family friendly Hidden Valley has the awards and accolades to prove it.
Kilmore Quay Camping, Wexford
Although it only opened five years ago Kilmore Quay Camping has already earned a special place of admiration for seasoned campers and motorhome community. Much of that is down to the boundless energy and effort of Alice O’Connor who has pioneered this much needed facility in this idyllic corner of the sunny South East.
The campsite is perched up in the heart of the village with everywhere within walking distance, the pier, the harbour the beach, the local hostelries and taverns.
There is of course The Little Saltee Chipper just around the corner from the campsite and that’s worth the trip in itself. Be prepared to queue.
The village itself is a gem with its familiar friendliness, craft shops and even an RNLI station and shop worth supporting.
I have memories of 99 ice cream cones to rival any on the island (including Teddy’s).
And for that special day and that once in a lifetime memory you can take the half hour boat trip out of Kilmore Quay Harbour to the Saltee Islands where in season you can disembark and respectfully view and photograph the nesting colonies of gannets and puffins. Delighted to have marked that one off my bucket list.
Kilmore Quay Holidy and Camping Park firstname.lastname@example.orgUnit plus 2 adults €25 (all inclusive).
|Kilmore Quay, worth visiting for The Little Saltee Chipper alone.
Sexton’s Caravan and Camping, Cork
Cork is only mighty camping country. I could readily recommend Eagle Point in Bantry but they’re most likely booked out the door with regulars and season pitches.
Great campsites too in Drimoleague, Glandore, Skibbereen, Barleycoveand Glengariff.
Desert House Campingon a working dairy farm is still situated within a short walk of the bustling Clonakilty and the famed Incydoney Beach just out the road.
We’re going to opt for Sexton’s Caravan and Camping Park in Timoleague.
Sexton’s is a family run caravan and camping site and it has that friendly welcoming family feel to it. They also know what they’re at as they have been doing it in their sleep for over 50 years.
Its facilities are only second to none including a disabled access wet room, laundry and free Wi-Fi, playground and football pitch and a Campers Kitchen. Fresh local produce is available on site in season.
It’s a beautiful cosy spot with 30 pitches and some of the finest beaches in Ireland just down the country roads, along by the fuchsia adorned hedgerows. Kinsale is less than half an hour away and Clonakilty, as they say, just in the road where you’re sure to stumble on some good tunes.
Note: Some campsites levy extra charges for awnings, additional occupancy, electricity and metered showers.
A version of this article was previously published in the Sunday Times Travel Section on February 28th, 2021.