Most EU countries and in particular their cities attract millions of tourists each year. Yet, while Europe is renowned for its diverse landscapes and unspoilt environment, many visitors overlook some of the most beautiful and eco-friendly spots simply because they do not know about them.
The EU’s EDEN initiative is a collaborative network of EU countries exchanging good practice on sustainable tourism in some of the EU’s more remote tourism gems. The network is aimed at promoting sustainable tourism development models across the EU and attracting visitors to some of the lesser-known or hidden destinations across the EU.
Renowned for our stunning scenery and lush landscapes, Ireland is packed with hidden, eco-friendly tourist gems, reflected in some of our award-winning destinations.
The following are some of the destinations across Ireland that have been identified as pioneers of sustainable tourism:
Strandhill is a coastal village on the North West coast of the Wild Atlantic Way. The village is renowned for its surf and seaweed baths. It has world-class surf waves, a unique landscape, a thriving cultural scene and significant heritage sites.
Strandhill is steeped in local history, with many ancient religious sites and a perfectly preserved 19th century stone cottage. The majestic Knocknarea mountain features a prehistoric cairn dating back 5,000 years (older than the Egyptian pyramids) and said to be the grave of the legendary warrior Queen Maeve.
Visitors to Strandhill are spoilt with a choice of activities, from invigorating hikes and scenic walks to indulging in seaweed baths, Ireland’s only indigenous spa therapy. The village is also home to a challenging 18-hole links golf course and a thriving weekly local market, attracting artisans and producers from all over the region.
Recognised for its high level of innovation within the local tourism area as well as its unrivalled natural appeal, Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula was an EDEN winner in the Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage category.
Thanks to its quality fertile soil, Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula provides fantastic produce to local eateries, committed to the “eat local” food movement and high-quality dining experiences. Carlingford is known for its oysters and fresh water flowing from the mountain sides north and south of the lough gives the oysters their distinctive and unique flavour.
Carlingford is renowned for its selection of quaint craft shops, beautiful boutiques and excellent gift shops, making for a truly artisanal shopping experience for any occasion.
Steeped in history and legend, visitors can learn about heroes of Irish myth Cuchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill, or pay a visit to Fairy Hill on the Cooley Peninsula, rumoured to be home to the last leprechauns in Ireland.
With its picturesque parks and vast walking trails for people of all experience levels and form, to its unspoiled waters and rolling green hills, it is easy to see why Cavan won EDEN’s Accessible Tourism award.
By dropping kerbs, installing tactile paving, parking bays and multi-access paths and upgrading key amenities, Cavan has spent a number of years investing in accessibility with visitors’ needs in mind.
Visitors can go paddling on Lough Oughter and visit the serene island castle there, or challenge themselves to a new experience with waterbiking at Carafin Lough, located just outside Cavan town. Adventure-seeking visitors can paddle on the 70km Shannon to Erne Blueway from Belturbet in Cavan to Leitrim Village.
Cavan is also home to numerous walkways and cycle trails that offer ample opportunities to take in the diverse and picturesque landscape the county has to offer. The Cuilcagh boardwalk has been nicknamed the stairway to heaven, weaving through a vast blanket bog leading to a steep climb to the viewing platform on Cuilcagh Mountain. Here, visitors can take in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
For the less advanced walker, or for those looking for a more laid-back experience can take advantage of the Cavan Way, a 26km gentle trail through Geopark landscapes between the villages of Blacklion and Dowra.
Clonakilty is truly one of Ireland’s hidden treasures and was the winner of Ireland’s first EDEN award for Best Emerging Rural Tourism Destination.
Clonakilty was a pioneer in demonstrating how they have grown business in rural communities through education and training, support for and use of local produce, town investments and innovation.
Clonakilty is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland and each one has its own distinct character. From long strand, roughly a 2.4km stretch of sand and dunes perfect for a long walk, to Duneen a small and secluded cove ideal for family picnics, and from Red Strand, a tranquil beach dotted with rock pools to The Warren, a blue flag beach for keen swimmers, Clonakilty and its visitors are spoiled for choice.
Visitors keen to learn more about one of the most influential figures in modern Irish history can visit the Michael Collins Heritage Centre and Michael Collins House, located in Clonakilty town. Both Béal na mBláth where Collins died during Ireland’s civil war and Woodfield where he was born are located in Clonakilty.
Those eager to learn more about Irish cuisine can visit Clonakilty Black Pudding Visitor Centre, to discover the story of the secret recipe for Ireland’s favourite black pudding. The recipe dates back to the late 1800s and remains the same to this day.
Dramatic cliffs, diverse marine and bird life and delicious sea food are just a few of the charms of the Loop Head in Co Clare.
It is not hard to see why the Loop Head won EDEN’s Aquatic Tourism award. The cliffs of the peninsula are one of the few places in the world where geologists can study the 340 million year-old carboniferous sedimentary basin by sea and land.
The Loop Head has been blessed with some of the finest sea food Ireland has to offer. While traditionally, fishermen caught white fish and mackerel in the waters off the north and west of the peninsula, it is also a haven for shellfish including crab, crayfish, lobster and oysters.
Visitors can walk, cycle or drive along the coast to take in the breath-taking scenery, and there is always the chance of spotting wales, dolphins and seals in the sea.
For the more aquatic-inclined visitors, the Loop Head is a paradise for snorkelling in natural rock pools, wind-surfing, paddle boarding, sailing or surfing at one of the numerous beaches, reefs and point breaks.
After a decade of community-led regeneration, Mulranny was a flagship example of EDEN’s category for ‘Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites’. Mulranny was greatly impacted by the development of roads in the 1930s.
The last train ran in 1937, just 42 years after the line opened, seeing to the decay of the town’s once robust railway heritage. Following a community-led initiative, the town was given a new lease of life 73 years after the closure of the railway line, which re-emerged into the Great Western Greenway cycle trail.
The trail offers stunning panoramic views of the vast seascape of Clew Bay, Bellacragher Bay and the vast Nephin mountain range. Stretching 42km, it is the longest off-road walking and cycling trail in Ireland and is perfect for the adventurous, families and solo-travellers alike.
By walking or cycling the Great Western Greenway, visitors are taken through some of Ireland’s most quaint towns each with their own distinct character and charm. These include Newport, Westport, Mulranny and Achill, which is home to the Atlantic Drive and Secret Garden, the most westerly public garden in Ireland.
Complimented by some of the most spectacular landscapes and seascapes in Europe, the Great Western Greenway is a unique experience for those eager to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Winner of EDEN’s cultural tourism award, Scattery Island is located just 2km off the coast of West Clare and 50 minutes from Shannon Airport. Scattery Island is a monastic island, considered by many to be West Clare’s hidden gem.
Once home to medieval saints, Irish chieftains and Vikings, the island hosts a wealth of historic sites, including five churches and a cathedral of the ancient Celtic monastery founded by Saint Senan in the 6th century. The island is also home to an impressive round tower, Napoleonic War Artillery Battery and an operational lighthouse.
Visitors can tour the island’s deserted village where islanders once lived. Scattery Island is also believed to be the only place in Ireland that was not affected by the famine and the great potato blight.
As the island is now completely uninhabited, visitors can enjoy a tranquil trip to explore the island’s numerous historic sites in their own way, through one of the many tours on offer from the island or to enjoy a peaceful family picnic and a swim.
The Burren is located on Ireland’s west coast, mid-way on the Wild Atlantic Way and taking in the majestic landscape from the edge of the Burren, it is not difficult to see why the region has been awarded the UNESCO Global Geopark status.
Yet the Burren was also winner of EDEN’s award for Local Gastronomy and is home to the Burren Food Trail, offering a unique foodie experience which aims to uncover the path our food takes from field to plate.
With a passion for growing and producing their food locally, members of the Burren Food Trail network are committed to building a sustainable future for tourism in the region as well as providing some of the best gastronomy experiences Ireland has to offer.
Each member of the network has achieved recognise standards and quality awards and can provide visitors with an oasis of information on local events, festivals and markets, as well as comprehensive knowledge of the regional produce and its origins, enabling visitors to mentally and physically link their food to the landscape from which it came.
Visitors can simultaneously take in the breath-taking landscape, enjoy extensive walking and hiking trails, guided cave tours or go wild food foraging on Wild Atlantic Coastline.
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