A whole generation of people like me were raised on holidaying at home, on annual family escapes and adventures to campsites from West Cork to Wexford and beyond.
Sure, some rainy-season sojourns had flavours of a Father Ted getaway, but there was always an innocent adventure behind the camping holiday: setting up an awning, exploring a jingly new mobile home or sighting the arrival of an exotic French family in some roof-racked Renault.
Over the years, things changed. Budget airlines, affordable overseas travel and, let's be honest, notions saw domestic camping become a tougher pitch. Irish consumers were seeking more exciting alternatives, and the humble camping and caravan park didn't always provide it.
Well, now they do. Across the island, a fresh wave of exciting camping options is emerging: from glamping for romantic getaways to havens for nature lovers and old-time favourites for nostalgia-hunters.
"We've already had a bumper Easter," says Irish Caravan & Camping Council CEO Con Quill, who adds that Irish campsites are gearing up for a record year. "Some campsites have recorded their busiest season yet."
Sales of caravans, motorhomes and tents are up, and Fáilte Ireland says caravans and campsites saw the largest share of domestic visitors of any accommodation sector in 2018 – rising from 52pc in 2017 to 60pc last year.
The appeal is clear. Camping getaways offer an affordable and green getaway. Encouraged by last year's sweltering summer, people are confident to take a punt – and as today's travel special proves, there have never been more places to take it. In truth, nothing makes you feel more at one with Ireland than unzipping your tent on a dewy summer's morning.
Your best holiday could lie right ahead… here's how to find the right pitch.
1. Hidden Valley, Co Wicklow
There's an art to balancing pin-drop serenity with family-friendly fun, and Hidden Valley has it mastered. The beech-blotted park in Rathdrum was voted Ireland's Favourite Small Stay in our Reader Travel Awards 2019, and not only serves as a patchwork for camping, caravans and cabin accommodations, but for memory-packed pursuits like kayaking, laser tag and in-house cinema nights. A Splash Valley Aqua Centre is a thrilling new addition – think water theme park meets a challenge from Ireland's Fittest Family.
Bonus Point: As one of the closest campsites to Wicklow National Park, Hidden Valley is the perfect springboard to discover some of Ireland's wildest landscapes.
Details: irelandholidaypark.com; 086 727 2872; from €16pp or €36 per family.
2. The Apple Farm, Co Tipperary
Want to be a wise apple? Consider a camping holiday in Ireland's secret orchard country. Located on a working farm in the heart of the Munster Vales, The Apple Farm is one of the country's unsung camping settings. Pitches here sit amid a vast acreage of pear, plum and apple orchards, adding such gloriously continental feels, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in the Loire Valley. They also organise local foodie activities, from orchard walks to granola-making.
Bonus Point: Small touches make the difference… guests are welcomed with a bottle of The Apple Farm's award-winning juice (just bring bubbles for morning cider bellinis).
Details: theapplefarm.com; 052 744 1459; from €7.50pp or €25 per family, per night.
3. Jungle NI, Co Derry
Welcome to the jungle! This giant park in Co Derry draws families to its grassy knolls with activities ranging from zorbing and llama-trekking to a kids' Gruffalo trail and its own forest school. There are cosy touches, too. Finnish-inspired BBQ huts are available to rent, making a great setting for some evening family bonding.
Bonus Point: If you're just passing through, the park also offers open family-fun days where you can pay as you go for on-site activities.
Details: thejungleni.com; 0044 28 8674 8881; from €8pp or or €36 per family, per night.
4. Morriscastle Strand, Co Wexford
Long before the Wild Atlantic Way, there was Ireland's original destination brand: the Sunny South East. So it's little surprise that Wexford's beloved shores remain home to one of Ireland's original campsites, Morriscastle Strand Holiday Park. Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, the caravan park has perfected all the classic kids-and-adults amenities, from tennis courts for Wimbledon season to neat clubhouse services; from Pilates classes to a charity bookshop in case you forget your Kindle. The setting of a sandcastle heaven is the main sell, though, where early birds can soak up Ireland's most spectacular sunrises.
Bonus Point: Fancy taking your 99 to the next level? The campsite features its own on-site ice-cream parlour where you can order the infamously creamy-crispy Tayto Swirl.
Details: morriscastlestrand.com; 053 913 0124; from €8pp or €25 per family, per night.
5. Castlewellan Forest Park, Co Down
One of Northern Ireland's most popular summer hubs is Castlewellan Forest Park, a stunning historic demesne set in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains. The park's caravan site is an idyllic spot for touring and camping, with a slew of fun activities from orienteering and fishing to unearthing some nearby Game of Thrones locations.
Bonus Point: The park's Peace Maze consists of two miles of labyrinthine hedges – great for kids.
Details: castlewellancastle.org; 0044 28 4377 8733; from €18 for up to four people (e.g. a couple or family of four).
6. Wildflower Glamping, Co Cavan
Love character? There's a campsite in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands which offers it in bohemian bucketloads. Wildflower Glamping, a bucolic haven outside Cavan town, offers a quirky mix of imaginative glamping habitats, all divided by blooming foxgloves and buttercup-crowded pastures. Among them, there's Dotty the vintage caravan, a daisy yurt, and the delightfully trippy hobbit hut. The site is both couple- and group-friendly, with packages available for hen parties looking for a free-range getaway.
Bonus Point: The park is located just outside Killykeen Forest Park, an outdoorsy haven for hiking and kayaking.
Details: wildflowerglamping.ie; 087 257 7718; from €50pps
7. Killarney Glamping, Co Kerry
Nestled on the banks of the scenic River Flesk, Killarney Glamping offers campers swathes of protected Kerry habitat all within strolling distance of Main Street, Killarney. With its couples-only policy, visiting romantics can enjoy peace, tranquillity (and Prosecco, if you upgrade) in all-weather luxury tents, each kitted out with their own outdoor kitchen-cum-BBQ. Come evening, the secluded dark-skies location makes stargazing possible, while electric blankets and a gas stove allow guests to adjust the ambience from open-air to toasty.
Bonus Point: The park has just launched new, self-contained cabins for those still wishing to enjoy the great outdoors – just with a little more 'indoors'.
Details: killarneyglamping.com; 087 975 0110; from €40pps
8. Finn Lough, Co Fermanagh
Welcome to Nordic Ireland! Secluded in the leafy Fermanagh lakelands, Finn Lough has brought a dreamy Scandinavian feel to the wilds of Ulster. The resort's six dome capsules wow with a fresh-off-Instagram look where transparent 'walls' create a seamless window to nature. Luxury comes as standard, too, with furnishings gilded with four-poster bed, Nespresso machine, fluffy robes and a daily breakfast. This does come at a price, but you'll find nothing else like it between here and Lapland.
Bonus Point: With private telescopes in each dome, the stargazing from Finn Lough can be pretty astronomical.
Details: finnlough.com; 0044 28 6838 0360; from £122.50/€140pps per night for bubble domes (book ahead).
9. Lough Mardal Lodge, Co Donegal
In Ireland, it can be difficult to make a Mongolian yurt seem harmonious, but the heathery wilds of south Donegal do this kind of accommodation justice. Opening this summer, Lough Mardal promises a seriously photogenic site fusing luxury comforts with rugged 'scapes. Native fabrics, natural furnishings, sheepskins and tapestries give the sky-domed tents a cover-shoot polish – with a dramatic setting of lake, mountain, and forest views.
Bonus Point: Looking for a dog-friendly glamping? Lough Mardal Lodge also offers one pet-friendly tent – it's available with advanced booking.
Details: loughmardalglamping.ie; 086 173 1813; from €32.50pps
10. Teapot Lane, Co Sligo
Ireland's glamping scene has evolved massively from the days of a tepee with a hot-water bottle to today's new, imaginative hotspots which are reshaping attitudes of the sector. One of the country's original outfitters is Teapot Lane, whose quirky curation of accommodation in the wilds of Sligo made our Fab 50 list of Ireland's 50 best places to stay this year. You can hit the eiderdown in a cosy yurt, a luxury treehouse or the particularly charming and newly renovated 1960s vintage caravan.
Bonus Point: Take advantage of Teapot Lane's prime borderlands location with activities from Sligo food trails to herb workshops at Leitrim's Organic Centre.
Details: glampingireland.ie; 087 934 0341; from €55pps
11. Legan Castle, Co Kilkenny
— Legan Castle (@legancastle) April 11, 2019
Give the camp stove a break! What's unique to Legan Castle, cosying around the remains of a 16th-century ruin near Thomastown, is its food story. Fresh gourmet breakfasts are a highlight, with guests treated to mouthwatering creations from poached eggs and avo' to deliciously fresh waffles. As for the accommodation? As another inclusion on our Fab 50 for 2019, you can expect luxury, fairy-lit bell tents made all the prettier with a setting alongside pastures of Connemara ponies.
Bonus Point: If you bring the kids, your host will be happy to teach them all about country living, from collecting kindling to gathering freshly laid eggs.
Details: legancastle.ie; 056 781 1024; from €85pps
12. Glamping Under the Stars, Co Laois
While the glamping boom in Ireland has seen many outfitters use off-the-shelf pods that lack sparkle, Glamping Under the Stars prides itself on offering a little more magic. The site, nestled near Cullenagh in Co Laois, includes a spread of boutique accommodations (think bell tents, wood cabins and a shepherd's hut) – none quirkier than their handcrafted Sunset Lodge.
Bonus Point: Family-friendly glamping? A Shephard's Hut sleeps up to six and features a triple-decker bunk bed. Hen parties can book out the site for a two-night weekend, too.
Details: glampingunderthestars.ie; 086 065 1485; from €60pps
13. Clissmann Caravans, Co Wicklow
Nothing says slow tourism like the clip-clop of a native Irish pony through the Garden of Ireland. A unique camping holiday, Neasa Clissmann's fairy-tale outfit invites guests to explore the Wicklow countryside partnered with their own horse and Wanderly Wagon-style drawn carriage. Come evening, camp up at charming designated spots en route – idyllic farmsteads in the shadows of Glendalough, for example. Novices welcome; hay provided.
Bonus Point: Donkey walking experiences are also available, where a loyal donkey will accompany you on a scenic trek.
Details: clissmannhorsecaravans.com; 0404 46920; from €45pps; horse caravans from €580 for three nights.
14. Lazy Days Campers, Co wicklow
If you're thinking of embarking on the great Irish road trip, campervan holidays are emerging as an increasingly popular niche. Lazy Days Campers started business with a fleet of old-school VW Kombi vans, but have since upgraded to a fresher (and more reliable) fleet of VW Transporters – retaining the appeal of 'das Auto'. Vans are kitted out with every camping necessity, from coffee plunger to Scrabble boards, and unlike bulkier motorhomes, these low-guzzle machines mean you'll spend less time on the petrol station forecourt and more time off-roading.
Bonus Point: Do the math! With rates from €100 per night, the car rental and accommodation combo might be more attractive than you thought.
Details: lazydays.ie; 087 288 5771; from €50pps
15. Eagle Point, Co Cork
There's something magical about driving west in Ireland – and Eagle Point, located on its very own private peninsula in Bantry Bay, makes for one of the most spectacular end destinations. Views are king here, with spectacular panoramas overlooking Beara and Hungry Hill, while the site's seven pebble coves mean you'll always find a spot of solitude for your deckchair. For water babies, the park's sheltered waters are ideal for swimming and kayaking as well as fishing if you're already planning supper.
Bonus Point: Bantry Bay's rugged inlets make a perfect habitat for seals – take a trip to nearby Garnish Island to see them basking in glory.
Details: eaglepointcamping.com; 027 50630; from €12pp or €33 per family, per night.
16. Anchor Caravan Park, Co Kerry
Often, the top criterion for a holiday is proximity to a beach. So when you've a caravan park which sits right on one, you've struck gold. Anchor Caravan Park, near Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula, is located along the sugar-sanded Aughacasla Strand, with the dramatic Slieve Mish Mountains as a backdrop. On-site, simple but spick-and-span amenities lend an old-school appeal to this site, whose guestbook now spans four generations.
Bonus Point: The Maharees are what beach horse-riding was made for, so take a trek with local outfitter O'Connors, who offer all-level experiences.
Details: anchorcaravanpark.com; 066 713 9157; from €9pp or or €22 per family, per night.
17. Blackstairs Eco Trails, Co Carlow
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