Last year, pro surfer Conor Maguire did something amazing. The Red Bull athlete surfed Ireland's biggest ever wave on record, taking advantage of a tropical storm close to his Sligo home to ride a 60ft slab of aquatic steel. He summited his personal Everest.
Tropical storms and freakish currents aside, there is some next level surfing around Ireland's rugged coastline for all level and abilities, with shops and surf schools providing everything you need.
Better yet, to ensure you make the most of it this year, Conor has put together a personally-tailored road trip like no other: packing detail about the best waves, the coolest locations for sightseeing, the most mouth-watering food, and, naturally, the best nightspots to unwind at following a hard day on the waves, it's all the reason you need to embark on a summer trip for the ages.
1. Whiterocks Beach
Where: Portrush, Country Antrim
"Let’s start this trip up on the north coast at Portrush, a beautiful little seaside resort bustling with tourists in summertime. All the beaches around here are picturesque. Whiterocks in particular has pretty consistent waters in summer. The waves aren’t too heavy, rather nice and rolling, making them ideal for beginners, while there are multiple left and rights on the sandbars at the northern end of the beach."
Other things to do:
"First off, you have Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which joins a headland to a sea stack. It’s a really awe-inspiring and a great location to hang out at. Then you’ve got the Giant’s Causeway, arguably the most famous natural landmark in Northern Ireland. Both spots are about half an hour east of Portrush, but still worth throwing into any road trip."
2. Killahoey Beach
Where: Dunfanaghy, Donegal
"Arching around the top of the country, it’s then into North Donegal for our next stop. The region is really remote, almost untouched. The scenery is unbelievable and so is the surfing. There are heaps of beautiful beaches in the area, including a little beach in a quaint village called Dunfanaghy where you’ll find Killahoey beach. The waves there are really fun."
"The Narosa Surf School can take you to the best beaches on the day. These guys are really friendly, have a nice little surf shop, and know the best places inside out.
"If Killahoey is busy, you can always head to nearby Downing, another popular coastal spot which is a bit more chill and has a few surf schools dotted around. There’s also an amazing seafood restaurant there called FISK, which is ran by my friend. It’s only been open a couple of years but has won awards all over the place - he’s killing it."
Other things to do:
"Mt Errigal, which is about a 25-minute drive south and slightly inland, is a spectacular place to go for a sunrise hike. Overlooking all these beautiful little bays where islands are dotted like pebbles in the water, it’s arguably one of the best views in Ireland. To make sunrise you’d need to set off early, as it takes about 50 minutes to make the summit. The colours in summer and autumn are spectacular.
"If you’re planning on pitching up tents or sleeping in a camper van, you'll also be glad to know there are loads of cool Airbnbs and cosy wee cottages around this region. You know, in case you want to mix it up."
3. Tullan Strand Beach
Where: Bundoran, Donegal
"Moving further south, but still in the same county, is the town I live in, Bundoran, a super cool and touristy place with loads of great bars and a sick place to spend a few nights with friends. The hinterland is otherworldly here — the Dartry mountain range backdrops one of the most breath-taking drives in Ireland, and wherever you go around here you'll likely find mountains looming in the background.
"Bundoran’s beaches are perfect for surfing. We have a beach break here called Tullan Strand, and that’s where I surfed growing up so it’s close to the heart. Take it from me, you can learn a lot on those waves. A short drive away you can find the Peak in Bundoran, one of Europe’s premier performance waves, a first-class reef break. Maddens Bridge Bar overlooks the Peak and has great food and music. It couldn’t be a better location to spend an afternoon that potentially rolls into a late evening."
"Most surf schools are located in the town on a street known as the Golden Mile, a mile-long street with everything on there. There are loads of good places."
Other things to do:
"On the way down from Dunfanaghy be sure to hit Slieve League and take a walk around these giant sea cliffs. You’ll get a real indication of the power and beauty of the Atlantic. You can do fishing tours there too.
"In Bundoran, there are yoga classes that take place on the beach. Though perhaps coolest of all you can go horse riding in the sand dunes thaks to Dongegal’s Equestrian Centre, which caters to all ages and abilities. We have some of the largest sand dunes in Europe on that beach, and it stretches really far back."
4. Strandhill Beach
Where: Sligo, County Sligo
"Continue south to Sligo and you’ll be looking at the Atlantic Ocean the whole way. It’s a beautiful drive. Sligo, as many will know, is a big town with a city vibe to it, and arguably the trad music capital of Ireland.
"About 15 minutes from Sligo, you have Strandhill, a superb little beach for a surf. The waves are good year-round and fun for beginners, intermediates and advanced alike. A solid all-round beach.
"While you’re riding waves you’ll also have views of Knocknarea, which is a mountain steeped in history. There’s a tomb on top of it that you can see from miles away. They say that Queen Maeve, who is part of Irish folklore, is buried there, and that if you go up there you’ve got to throw a stone on her grave to keep her under because she’s a bad lady. It’s just over an hour’s walk away and the views are class."
"Shells is a lovely little cafe right on the waterfront at Strandhill, with great views of the bay, while Stoked is one of the best restaurants in the entire region. Seriously, it's one of those places you have to eat at. It’s also handily located above The Strand Bar which allows you the added bonus of carrying pints of beer upstairs to enjoy with your meal."
"Sligo Surf Experience is a great surf school in Strandhill run by extremely experienced and competent local surfers."
Other things to do:
"My friend has a kayak tour business in the town — Sligo Kayak Tours —which go around these beautiful little islands and Lough Gill. I’ve done the tour a few times, and it’s unbelievable, such a unique and calming experience. If you’re able to book in with him then you should do it.
"Closer to the centre of Sligo itself, Sweet Beat is a phenomenal little vegan cafe that is must if you're after a healthy lunch following any surf or activity. Meanwhile, on the other side of the culinary spectrum — literally just a few paces over the river in fact — is Flip Side, an unreal burger joint with an amazing veggie option also. My favourite bars for music and pints would be Hargadons. and Shoot the Crows.
5. Lahinch beach
Where: Lahinch, Munster
"Unbelievable! That’s the only way to describe the surf at Lahinch. Naturally, it’s a bit more ferocious in winter, making it perfect for high intermediates, but it’s user friendly the rest of the time. Just over to the left of the beach there are some fun little point breaks, which are classic to Lahinch, really dreamy setups that are super cool for intermediates and advanced surfers."
"Lahinch Surf Experience is the place to go for beginners as the guy who runs it has grown up on this part of the coast and he’s really supportive.
"They’ll run 10am lessons all the way up to 3pm. Basically, whatever time you think your hangover is lifting... Different breaks are better at different times, however, so always ask the locals and the guys in the surf shop to gauge when is best to hit the waves at that time of year.
"Ollie's Surf Academy runs intermediate to advanced surf coaching for young surfers and is a great option for any young one wanting to take the next step whilst also being introduced to a little crew to surf alongside.
"Though if you just want a board and to be pointed in the right direction, Green Room is a great place to go. They also run a surf school, but these guys know all about rips and currents in Lahinch, which can be quite dangerous if you don’t do your homework. The same goes for any other beach anywhere in the world."
Other things to do:
"There are other beautiful towns in the area. Not least Doolin, which is perched just north of Lahinch. In fact, between these two towns you can find the Cliffs of Moher, which are some of the biggest sea cliffs in Europe, straight vertical, full of bird life and a really cool place to visit.
"Most visitors will go straight to the tourist office and pay an entry fee to look over the cliff, which is cool because it supports local tourism, but there’s a lesser-known spot at the start of the cliffs further south called Hag’s Head, offering a really nice view looking back at the whole rockface. On a summer’s day when the place can be wedged, it’s typically less busy.
6. Stradbally Beach
Where: County Kerry
"A couple of hours' drive south, passing through Limerick into Kerry, you can enter the world famous Dingle Peninsula for some other epic beaches. The water isn’t as ferocious as it is in the north, but the coastline still gets battered enough to have forged some breath-taking landscapes down there. The swell doesn’t hit too hard in summer so it’s ideal for beginners. Intermediates and beyond will normally stay on the west coast and not stray too far south but there are still some nice places to catch waves here."
"Down near Stradbally Beach, you can get kitted out at the Jamie Knox Surf Shop, a very popular spot for surf lessons and, come to think of it, for everything from windsurfing to SUP to foiling as well."
Other things to do:
"Naturally, there are few better places in the world to take a road trip than around the Dingle Peninsula. The Conor Pass — and I'm not just saying this as it's named after me — is especially unreal, with a road as wide as a car, and numerous steep cliffs with unrivalled views.
The Skelling Islands, which recently featured in the most recent Star Wars movies, are also a must-visit. You can get little boat tours out there and it’s about 14 miles off the coast. Seemingly hovering in the middle of the bay, like holograms, or pyramids with the craziest bird life on them, they look like they shouldn’t be there. Don't be surprised to see dolphins in the area, either."
"Understandably the surf isn’t as good on the east coast of Ireland as it is in the west, but there are still some good waves around if you want to continue this surf roadtrip. If so, head south east from Lahinch toward Cork before dropping down onto the southcoast towards Inchydoney, which has some stunning coastline.
From here, there's a nice three hour drive hugging the coast around the south east all the way up towards Brittas Bay in County Wicklow. The waves are generally pretty small but it’s a pretty fun spot to hit.
Then of course you've also got the nearby Wicklow Mountains, which is full of things to do, such as kayaking or hiking, and you're also not far from Dublin. Where better to wrap up any big road trip?"