These are hotels that will make you feel pampered and special and lucky in locations you are quite likely to visit on a tour of Ireland. Naturally they all have the great accommodation, service and facilities but they also have that extra ‘something’ that makes a good hotel a truly great one.
Main image: Bedroom at the Dylan Hotel
If you can push your budget to book even one night in one of these hotels – and it is well worth keeping an eye out for deals – you’ll be adding a very special experience to your stay in Ireland. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford to build a whole tour around them, well, can I come too?
Hotels are listed in no particular order.
1. The Cliff House, Co Waterford
The renowned Michelin starred restaurant at the Cliff House makes it a must on the list of any true foodie visitor to Ireland, but there is so much more to enjoy. The hotel is perched on a cliff with dramatic sea views from almost every window. Rooms are luxurious and modern and most have balconies overlooking the sea. There is an excellent hotel spa and swimming pool and a bracing walk along the the cliff is the perfect way to work up a good appetite for dinner.
The restaurant is the central focus though. With Dutch chef Martijn Kajuiter (@Kajuiter) at the helm, the menu is built around seasonal local ingredients cooked with enormous skill and perfectly presented.
The tasting menu is a real adventure, with sublime flavours and wonderful surprises complemented by carefully chosen wines. At well over €100 per person (less without wine) it seems expensive but is really a very modest price for a gastronomic experience you will remember for a very, very long time.
A myriad of activities are available locally, including diving, fishing, kayaking, wind surfing and rock climbing. This stretch of the Irish sea is a great place to spot whales and dolphins and boat trips can be arranged locally.A myriad of activities are available locally, including diving, fishing, kayaking, wind surfing and rock climbing. Those who make it here come back again and again, drawn by the beautiful coastline, the pretty village and of course the food. Oh the food!
2. Gregans Castle Hotel, Co Clare
Another beautifully located hotel with an amazing restaurant, this time in the heart of the Burren in Co Clare. It is a very peaceful place, set on the side of a hill with all 20 bedrooms looking out over large and beautifully tended gardens to the rolling hills of the Burren. The hotel is owner managed with a friendly and informal atmosphere and if some of the fittings and furniture show a little wear it just seems in keeping with the private house feel of the place.
The restaurant, with Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen (@Stove28) in charge, would be outstanding anywhere and it is well worth making a special trip to this remote place just to enjoy dinner. The ingredients are fantastic, locally sourced, fresh and top quality, but it’s the inventive and imaginative cooking that makes every single morsel you taste here special, memorable and delicious.
It’s sophisticated food but not pretentious and the beautiful presentation is definitely not at the expense of flavour.
The initial shock of bedrooms with no television is offset by carefully selected books to lose yourself in and CDs to play on the Bose sound system. Kids love it, ask for a room that opens directly to the gardens and they can run free exploring the gardens, seeking out the hotel cats and visiting the resident donkeys. The hotel closes from mid-November to mid-February.
3. Hayfield Manor Hotel, Cork
Hayfield Manor pulls off the incredibly difficult trick of providing a luxury hotel experience at the highest level without being in the least bit formal or stuffy. Set in secluded grounds close to Cork city centre this is, despite appearances, a relatively new and purpose built hotel. Rooms are very large, luxurious, beautifully and individually furnished and have spectacular bathrooms and there is a good spa and pool.
Surprisingly for a top end hotel Hayfield is very family friendly, with small fluffy bathrobes, bed time cookies, special menus and a staff who know how to keep smaller guests happy. Even the family pooch can enjoy a luxury kennel – walks are provided and
room kennel service is available from a gourmet doggy menu!
Orchids Restaurant is among the best places to eat in Cork, no small compliment in a city where there is a much good food available, and the less formal bistro is also excellent.
It is the staff who really make Hayfield special however, they are unfailingly cheerful, friendly and helpful and make each guest feel as though they are the most important person staying in the hotel.
4. The Merrion, Dublin
Dublin has no shortage of good hotels but The Merrion is at the very top of the pile. An unbeatable location, within walking distance of museums, shopping areas and restaurants, wonderful service and real luxury are part of the reason. More impressive however is the comfortable and relaxed, even homely, feeling that is created partly by the warm decor but mostly by exceptional staff who genuinely care about their guests.
All the facilities you expect are there – large luxurious bedrooms, a spa and pool, and a range of bars and restaurants.
The main restaurant, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, has had two Michelins Stars since 1996 and offers probably the best dining experience in Ireland. The Cellar restaurant and bar serves food all day, and there are perfectly prepared cocktails (or mocktails for junior guests) in the club-like No 23.
Add the best concierge service ever and it’s the complete package – if you can afford it, and deals are available, this is the only place to stay in Dublin.
5. Carton House Hotel & Golf Club, Co Kildare
This huge Georgian house was built in the mid-1700s and is one of the most splendid houses ever built in Ireland. It may not be to everyone’s liking that it is now in commercial use, but there is no doubting it does make a fabulous hotel.
If sport and outdoor pursuits are your thing, especially golf, this is paradise. There are cycling and walking trails for exploring the 1000+ acres of the estate, tennis, pike and trout fishing, and two championship golf courses.
For the more intrepid, adventure days with high rope courses, forest treasure hunts, archery or extreme 4×4 driving can be arranged. A high end sports training facility along with full size playing pitches has seen the Irish Rugby team and the soccer stars of Real Madrid among others use the hotel as a training getaway – so you never know who your fellow guests may be!
Add excellent rooms, a wide range of restaurants and bars and a luxurious spa and swimming pool , and really you might see no reason to leave the estate, but with its location just 14 miles from Dublin and the main motorway network just minutes away, this is a good base for touring also. Very keenly priced deals are almost always available.
6. The Twelve, Co Galway
This quirky and unique boutique hotel has a stylish and funky feel but at the same time is welcoming and comfortable. Good trick. Unlike many swish boutique hotels this place is very family friendly too, mainly because of the consistently excellent staff.
The Pins Bar serves food all day and from dangerously tempting breakfasts to terrific pizzas, bread and pastries fresh from the in-house bakery, everything served uses top quality ingredients and it shows.
The more formal West Restaurant serves an exciting menu that lives up to its motto – True to The Region, True to The Season – with really imaginative dishes using local seasonal fish and meat. It has one of the best wine lists in Ireland and a staff with the knowledge to guide you through it.
Bedrooms are large and decorated in muted tones and a contemporary style. Guests can enjoy a wide range of in-room spa treatments, including magically reviving seaweed baths. This is not a very expensive place to either stay or eat and there are always excellent value packages available which make it even more affordable. That the bar and restaurants are packed with locals as well as visitors is testament to both the quality and value on offer and means it’s a lot of fun too!
7. The Dylan, Dublin
The Dylan is right on a busy city street yet is peaceful and serene; it is decorated in a flamboyant, even slightly decadent, style but somehow seems like home.
Bedrooms are very luxurious – people rave about the beds, there is excellent free wi-fi, Bose iPod docks (iPods are available if you don’t have one) and huge marble bathrooms with rainfall showers. Kids are looked after well, with a special welcome pack and even your dog is welcomed with a doggie treat on arrival.
The restaurant menu is strong on fresh seasonal ingredients, there is a particular strong vegetarian section and everything is beautifully prepared and served in generous portions. A more casual menu is served all day in the bar, which also has a fantastic cocktail menu. Don’t miss afternoon tea – it’s a feast of delicious canapes and indulgent sweet treats with a choice of excellent coffees or teas.
This is five star luxury and priced accordingly but it’s worth checking the website for regular special offers that make it a lot more affordable. Both the bar and restaurant are popular with a trendy Dublin set and this hotel is often used by visiting celebrities (Kylie was a recent guest), so there’s no telling who you might meet over a drink!
8. Aghadoe Heights
If your idea of a holiday is short bursts of activity interspersed with long periods of languorous indulgence, this is the place for you. The location and views – over the lakes of Killarney – are unbeatable and even the smaller bedrooms are the size of a decent apartment and made for relaxation.
The real draw here is the spa. It is a huge and beautiful space and with a very wide range of treatments, an extraordinary thermal suite, wonderful pool and expert staff it’s just impossible not to emerge feeling like you’ve had a body transplant.
You can indulge your new body further in the Lake restaurant where fish has pride of place on a consistently excellent menu focused on local ingredients.
Aghadoe is run by its owners and it shows in the service, which is personal and friendly with a genuine desire to make your stay as perfect as it can be. If you manage to drag yourself away from the hotel it is ideally placed for touring Kerry and West Cork and there are lots of activities available locally.
9. Rossleague Manor, Co Galway
This is a small hotel, just 20 bedrooms, in a beautiful regency manor house full of character where the personal welcome and relaxed (but very efficient) service can make it seem as though you are a guest in a private house.
This is a place to relax and unwind, to curl up with a book in a comfortable armchair by a roaring fire, stroll though the gardens to the lake shore or relax on the terrace with a pre-dinner drink as the sun sets over the mountains.
The restaurant makes great use of Connemara lamb (renowned for its quality) and locally caught seafood cooked in an unpretentious style with the emphasis on flavour.
There are no leisure facilities and really none are needed when you are in one of the most ridiculously beautiful parts of Ireland – you are likely to spend your days touring and there is no more perfect place to come home to in the evening. There is nothing showy or trendy about Rosleague but they do what they do to perfection and that makes it a very special place to stay.
10. Rathmullen House
It takes a bit of effort to get to Rathmullen, a quiet coastal village in the Northern part of Donegal, but it’s well worth it. This is a big welcoming country house, where families are welcomed and kids very well catered for, but without in any way spoiling the peace and tranquility which is the essence of the place.
The beautifully restored walled Victorian kitchen garden supplies organic fruit, vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, and along with carefully sourced artisan ingredients makes for a really exciting menu. The kids menu is without question the best in Ireland and breakfast at Rathmullen is justly famous.
There is plenty to do, with tennis courts, a lovely indoor, acres of gardens and a long sandy beach literally steps away, and Rathmullen is well located for touring the north coast. There is a rolling programme of events throughout the season with cookery demonstrations, writing workshops, walking weekends and even theatre in the garden. I love this place, if I was forced to pick just one favourite of all the hotels listed here, this would probably be it.
Hotel Location Map
Another luxury hotel in Ireland that is worth mentioning is the Fota Island Resort in Cork. This 5 star hotel is situated on its own private island just minutes from Cork City and boasts luxury spa and championship golf courses that have hosted the Irish Open in years gone by. A family friendly resort, Fota Island also offers self catering lodges as well as hotel accommodation.