Imagine biting into a fresh lobster roll on the Wild Atlantic Way. The flesh is pillowy; the sauce clicks with a citrusy zing. Or cycling along the Old Rail Trail between Athlone and Mullingar, breaking for a picnic at a magical heritage park with resident fairies. Or refuelling after a calf-stretching hike up Moylussa, Clare’s highest point, with some speciality coffee roasted in the Burren.
Get ready to traipse through trails and bounce on beaches. Whatever the activity, discover the new generation of Irish food, from a mouth-watering menu of food trucks and takeaways, to delis and local produce. The great outdoors have never looked so good.
Forget soggy sambos, sandy barbecues, and mayo spoiling in the sun. All over the world, people are supporting local producers and businesses – from street seats in Brooklyn or cyclists discovering foodie philosophies like Norway’s kortreist (literally, ‘short-travelled’ or low food miles) along the EuroVelo 1.
Get out, have fun, and raise your picnic game.
This summer, tailor your road trips around some well-known foodie pit stops, like fresh strawberries in Wexford or the fish shacks that dot the west coast. Think of the road as an open-air aisle.
In Connemara, set the sat-nav for the Misunderstood Heron, a superb shack overlooking the Killary Fjord. See why their dishes, such as their seafood and local lamb samosas, inspire queues out the door during peak hours.
At Kylemore Lough, introduce yourself to Dooncastle Oysters' seafood trailer, a bright red shuck truck doing fresh razor clams and mussels as well as its signature shellfish. If you’d prefer to put together your own picnic, start your shopping at Clifden’s Connemara Hamper.
Another foodie truck fast becoming a destination in itself is Chad Byrne’s Hungry Donkey in Killarney, where he’s doing magical things with lamb (ask about “the umami bomb”).
Steer towards the Duck Truck in Emyvale, Monaghan, where Silver Hill Farm are serving delectable duck burgers and ‘quackos’ by their farm shop. Or break up a tour of Lough Ree and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands with a breather at JB’s Pizza Garden, an all-day outdoors area at the Villager Pub in Glasson. From Glenown Farm ice cream to croissants crammed with crab mayo and pickled cucumber, it’s bringing a whole new wow-factor to Westmeath.
Top tip: Popular beauty spots are likely to be crowded this summer. Plan ahead or go off-peak when possible, and call ahead to make sure your planned stop is open (or better still, taking orders in advance).
Picnics are like painting – deceptively simple, but hard to do well (unless you’re plugging for a classic crisp sandwich, of course). Set the scene and pitch your picnic blanket in some of Ireland's most scenic locations, such as Wexford’s Hook Head Lighthouse. Have fun with your food and explore cracking Irish ingredients along the way.
First, some basics. Have you far to walk? If so, swap the fancy basket for a backpack. Load up on resealable containers to keep food fresh, and pack ingredients separately when possible – assembling on site is better than biting into soggy sambos where banana or tomato have turned the bread to tissue paper.
Invest in a decent flask for soup or coffee, bring a few small jars with a little honey or jam mixed with water to distract wasps, and keep things simple. There’s nothing like a sliver of McGeough’s air-dried lamb or Gubbeen salami, or a slice of a sweet, semi-firm, kid-friendly cheese like Offaly’s Mossfield with a simple pinch of relish on a cracker. Yum.
Finally, resist the temptation to pull ingredients from generic supermarket shelves. Uncover the fantastic deli shops that are full of local produce all over the country.
Try the Pudding Row Grocer in Easkey, Sligo or a foodie crossroads like the Milk Market in Limerick or Cork’s English Market.
Top tip: Want to skip the work entirely? Order whole picnics to collect from places like Lily & Wild and the Cliff at Lyons in Kildare.
Is there anything like gliding along a greenway, peddling up an appetite for your next pit-stop? Forget crummy energy bars. Think hot chocolate served in edible cups (yes, edible cups) at Signal Box Coffee on the Waterford Greenway.
Wind up a spin on Mayo’s Great Western Greenway with a feast at Blásta at Teds on Achill Island. From spiced fish tacos with a dollop of house slaw to their signature Blásta burger (there’s a miniature ‘little blásta’ available for junior cyclists too), this’ll slake an appetite the size of the Atlantic.
Discover the abundance of greenway goodies, whether on a short spin like the Carlingford Lough Greenway or on an extended trip such as the Royal Canal Greenway. The Old Rail Trail linking Mullingar and Athlone is another route worth exploring, which splices through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.
Ireland’s casual food revolution is the perfect excuse to picnic along the route, too. In Mayo, don't miss Kelly's sausages or Carrowholly Cheese; in Waterford, try the creamy Knockanore cheese, and treat yourself to thirst-quenching glass of Crinnaughton apple juice.
Top tip: Remember the Greenway Code – cycle on the left, pass on the right, use your bell and bring your litter home!
Is there anything better than a simple sambo?
No, there is not. Spots like Meltdown on Dublin's Montague Street have taken the classic toastie and transformed it to bring new creations to the fold. Try out their famous "Ribmelt" toastie, with BBQ pulled pork, red cheddar and indulgant macaroni and cheese, served beautifully smushed between two slices of sourdough bread. Order your lunch in advance and enjoy your toastie while lounging in St Stephen's Green.
Or include Loughrea in Galway on your travels and stop by Slow Roast. Savour their incredible toasties, made with locally sourced sausage and hickory bacon that is slow-cooked for eight hours to deliver that much-loved smokey flavour. Grab your toastie, a coffee to-go and saunter through the heart of the town.
To make your own great sambo, set the foundations with bread from a local bakery like the Firehouse in Delgany, Wicklow or Arbutus in Cork. Lather on a great Irish butter like Cuinneóg, Glenstal or Glenilen, a layer of fresh leaves, and a simple, local filling from wherever your travels take you. Killeen Goat’s cheese from Galway, or West Cork’s Ummera smoked chicken, for instance. Finish out with a relish, pesto or tapenade to match, a pinch of seasoning, and there you have it.
Top tip: Order the makings of a top sambo to your door, thanks to The Cheese Press in Ennistymon, Clare. It can include organic bread, Coolattin cheddar and homemade tapenades and pesto.
Walking is another sure fire way to work up an appetite. Fresh air, catch-up chats, phones in pockets and a stretch of the calves - hunger truly is the best sauce. Follow a short walk on the 5km Cahore Point Trail in Wexford with a wood-fired pizza topped with fresh herbs and West Cork mozzarella at the Strand Cahore Bar.
Or plan some birdwatching at the East Coast Nature Reserve in Wicklow, followed by a bap-tastic full breakfast special at the The Gander in Kilcoole.
In Waterford, find one of the best lobster rolls in the land at the Cliff House Hotel’s Pantry, along Ardmore’s glorious cliff walk. Cycle or walk trails along Offaly's old bogland in Lough Boora Discovery Park and find the perfect picnic spot, or grab a snack at their café and take a seat on the outdoor deck.
Meanwhile, the short-and-sweet Cliff Walk in Ballycotton, Cork returns you to a treat at Trawler Boyz – their chowder with homemade brown bread will reboot any flagging walkers.
Or prep your picnic basket with a shopping trip to a local deli and go from there. Peter and Mary Ward’s Country Choice in Nenagh is an old favourite, for one, and there’s no end to the great trails in Tipperary.
Top tip: On longer walks, pack light and prepare sturdy grub that can keep for hours and won’t taste awful when squished. A firm cheese like Hegarty’s Cheddar or a slightly fruitier Killorglin is a great base layer. It may hold up better than you do, too.
There’s nothing like wandering around a sizzling city with an ice cream in your hand, or biting into a hot toastie on the hoof, with a world of shops, galleries and museums to explore. Pop into Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny or Waterford for some urban buzz and taste the flavours of the city.
Try a falafel with a difference from The Gourmet Offensive in Galway, with its plant-based street food packed with goodies from Fuinseog Farm. Or pick up a local feast of picnic supplies at McCambridge's on Shop Street. In Dublin, nab your sourdough hit from Bread 41, fillings from the Toonsbridge Dairy on Serpentine Avenue, before taking that blanket to Phoenix Park or the Iveagh Gardens.
Finally, did you know Dublin has an urban farm? Wander down to the Overend family's estate in Dundrum and experience all that's on offer at Airfield Estate. From animals and gardens, to vintage cars and a café that pumps out sweet and savoury treats, the Airfield Estate has cleverly transplanted a piece of the countryside and brought it to the city. Complete the rural adventure at their weekend farmers' market and bring the kids to see the cows being milked and eggs being collected.
For an island nation, it took us a while to fall in love with seafood but now, it's hard to say no to the delicious treasures that come from our vast coastline.
Pick up a prawn cocktail croissant (yes, you read that right) at Baily Bites at Kish on Dublin’s Howth Peninsula. Or see the full potential of what a spice box could be at Catch, the Armada Hotel's food trailer in Spanish Point, Clare. Taste the freshness of their Atlantic red prawns with fresh chilli, onion, rocket, and lime and citrus dressing for yourself.
Whether it's the chowder at Killybegs Seafood Shack in Donegal, or the barbecued lobster and "sexy sauce" at Julia’s Lobster Truck at Bell Harbour in Clare, everyone has their top seafood spot.
Why not learn a few key tricks to help you become the chef in charge? “If you can cook a sausage, you can cook a fish,” as Martin Shanahan of Kinsale’s Fishy Fishy says. Buy fish fresh off the boats at a harbourside shop like Fishermans Catch at Clogherhead, Louth, or pick up seafood for self-catering along your travels. Think of velvety salmon from the Burren Smokehouse or Frank Hederman's magical smoked mackerel pâté in Cork. Become your own kitchen hero.
Top tip: Don't forget the islands. Take a day trip to Inishwallah on Inishbofin and devour their pork dumplings and panko-breaded pollack tacos, all served from their vintage double decker bus. “Crazy beautiful food” as one happy camper put it.
We all know the benefits of being in green spaces. Well, the same could apply to ‘blue’ spaces. The European-wide BlueHealth research project has looked at the links between water-based environments and wellbeing, and found that short but regular time spent in blue spaces (even 20-minute walks) can help our health and wellbeing. But we already knew that, didn’t we?
Explore Ireland's network of stunning blueways that run on and alongside some of the country's most idyllic lakes, canals and rivers.
Take the Shannon-Erne Blueway in Leitrim, where you can walk on a floating boardwalk on Acres Lake before dropping into Drumshanbo’s Shed Distillery – home to the legendary Gunpowder Gin. Dine in its Jackalope Café or browse their ‘at home’ menu and order one of their takeout plates, including their buttermilk chicken burger and their beef and Guinness stew.
Sail along the River Shannon and stop off at West Lake Coffee on the shores of Lough Derg at Twomilegate, Clare and indulge in their ice cream and speciality coffee that's roasted by the Burren’s Anam Coffee. Leave the boat behind and walk up Moylussa to capture stunning views over the water. You might even spot a white-tailed sea eagle.
Top tip: For more on Ireland’s network of blueways, including maps, itineraries, bike hire and activities, see bluewaysireland.org.
There are going to be amazing smells coming from the gardens of Ireland this summer, as the best picnic spot may well be the lawn just outside your door. With self-catering in high demand too, expect to see local goodies whizzing around holiday hotspots all over the island.
Forget frozen pizzas and supermarket sausages. Get creative and cook up a storm with local produce at some of Ireland's best campsites and chic forest resorts like Cabu by the Lakes, Cavan or Center Parcs, Longford. Bring your grilling skills to forest parks decked out with BBQs, such as Avondale in Wicklow or Curragh Chase in Limerick. Turn outside into the new dining room.
For the best BBQ toolkit, visit your butcher to get tips on the top cuts, burger mixes and marinades for back garden feasts without the burns. See how a bespoke mix of Irish beef, special recipe sausage or marinated local chicken can give even the best pit boss a pick-up. Turn the kids into your mini sous-chefs with cook-ins, barbecues and meal kits.
For other tasty, local treats, try the new FHB trailer in Gorey, Wexford. Taking a 'farm to fork' approach, its 'Buffalo Cluck’ burger is made with hand-reared chickens and is topped off with Tara Hill honey, juicy bacon, mustard slaw and oozing with Wexford cheddar, of course.
Venture to West Cork and discover the mobile Curly Stu pizza trailer. See how local hero Stuart Bowes puts Michelin-star experience to great use in Neopolitan-style pizzas with Irish ingredients (think Ardsallagh goat’s cheese, or Toons Bridge fior di latte mozzarella), whipping them up in under 90 seconds.
Top tip: If you’re self-catering, search ahead for local farmer’s markets like those in Midleton, Cork (Sat. 9am-1.30pm) or Galway’s Church Lane (Sat/Sun). Your holiday larder will thank you.
Ireland has some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, creating the perfect backdrop for outdoor dining. We all need to play our part in protecting that landscape and travelling sustainably.
Remember to plan ahead, bring bags to take your rubbish home, respect wildlife and keep Ireland as green as you found it. Follow the Leave No Trace principles when exploring our incredible country.
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