Ireland's Array of Places to Stay
Ireland is much-loved for its quirks, and the country's idiosyncratic charm very much matches its accommodation options. A visit here would not be complete without skipping the hotel for at least a few nights and giving one of these weird-and-wonderful options a try. Beyond hotels, camping, and hostels, accommodation in Ireland generally falls into one of three categories:
Pubs aren't just about the bar—they often have rooms to rent and are an important part of Irish culture. Staying in a pub is a great way of meeting locals, particularly in the smaller towns and villages. Standards are generally good, with breakfast often included in room prices.
Bed-and-breakfasts can offer similar or even greater comfort than pubs, with the difference being that the rooms are almost always in family homes that have been adapted for the purpose, with breakfast included within room prices. This option is an up-close-and-personal Irish experience, and another great way to glean some local insight.
Finally, "self-catering" accommodation is lodging—typically a house or cottage, but could be anything from a castle to a church, wagon or yurt—with no food or drink provided. Invariably, this will mean bringing your own provisions, as the nearest place to get a meal may not be close by.
Live Like a King in a Real Castle
At over 800 years old, enormous Ashford Castle in County Mayo is probably Ireland's best-known castellated accommodation—and far bigger than most of the country's villages. The lavish grounds are arranged around a lake, and everything from boat trips to falconry, golf, tennis, and even an old-fashioned cinema will back up the website claim that this is Ireland's top hotel destination.
The Black Castle in County Tipperary is a more intimate experience: in this self-catering tower, you gain exclusive run of a 16th-century fortification, which has been faithfully restored to the furnishing style of four centuries back. Guests are supplied with candles to create their own lighting, plus fuel for the fire—although the box of included goodies is distinctly more 21st-century in nature. In County Kerry, refined Ballyseede Castle near Tralee offers one of Ireland's most affordable castle stays, with dinner, bed & breakfast packages.
Stay in a Reconstructed Ring Fort
Those who find themselves in the southeast of Ireland near the Rosslare Europort ferry terminal can treat themselves to a truly one-of-a-kind overnight stay. At the Irish National Heritage Park, a vast open-air museum near Wexford where visitors walk through almost ten millennia of Irish history, you can check in to a replica Irish ring fort similar to those in use 1,500 years ago. The experience, taking place within the park's extensive woods and wetlands, is pretty genuine: guests are given period costumes, animals to look after (in season), and cooking happens over an open fire in the center of the hut. (There's a fridge, too, though it's hidden out of sight to maintain the Middle Ages atmosphere.)
Snuggle Up in a Hobbit Home
Living in the cozy style of Frodo or Bilbo Baggins no longer has to be the stuff of stories. At Mayo Glamping near Castlebar in Co. Mayo there are three stone-built, turf-roofed hobbit houses, full of fine dinky detail down to the round doors and windows, and with firepits outside for toasting marshmallows. It's a communal affair, with several other huts in the complex and shared bathroom facilities, plus a wood-fired hot tub and pizza oven for guest use.
Meanwhile, up in the serene hill country northeast of Glencolumbkille in County Donegal, an even more luxurious hobbit home awaits. The bespoke Airbnb retreat (suitable for two) sits in a glorious tract of countryside famous for its folk culture, with walks into the mountains and a secluded beach within easy reach.
Glamp Out in a Picturesque Pod
Glamping (the glam version of camping) offers an experience in nature without the discomfort associated with sleeping in a tent. Such accommodation offers a fun, safe, and memorable way to stay over in the great outdoors, and is especially popular with families—both because of the novelty factor and the prices, which can work out quite reasonably for larger groups.
Up there with the most striking glamping experiences are the ten pods at Aran Islands Camping & Glamping, facing directly onto a wide, arcing beach on Inis Mór, largest of the otherworldly Aran Islands. Glamping doesn't just mean a pod, either—at Wild Flower Glamping, on a lovely site abutting a slew of loughs (lakes) in County Cavan, glamping options include a yurt and an old wagon. For positively futuristic glamping, the bubble domes at Finn Lough in County Fermanagh give the impression there is nothing between you, your stylish boutique pad and the wild forest outside: particularly magical on a starry night.
Check In to a Self-catering Pub
The world's first self-catering pub certainly wins in the novelty stakes. Conroy's Old Bar near the rural village of Borrisokane in Co. Tipperary has not served a drop of alcohol in 15 years—but the pub, affectionately known as 'the pub with no beer,' is preserved as-was with wood-paneled bar, bar stalls and beer taps now part of a unique holiday let. A maximum of four guests can stay at a time in this family-friendly property, and the rooms themselves are as funky as you might imagine—think original sloping floors that once allowed for the easy transport of beer barrells, and a bed under the low arch of the barrel storage room.
Spend the Night in a Lighthouse
There are several former working lighthouses scattered around Ireland's coastline that have been transformed into incredible overnight accommodations. On its own remote promontory near Clonakilty in County Cork, Galley Head offers self-catering accommodation in the lighthouse keeper's cottage, while at Wicklow Head lighthouse in County Wicklow the holiday accommodation is up in the octagonal tower itself, dating from the 1780s, and standing atop Ireland's easternmost point.