By John O’Ceallaigh
I feel like I need to approach Tourism Ireland for an official position as wherever I travel I seem to end up acting as an unpaid ambassador for my homeland. I constantly encourage people to go there and I really do think it provides everything you need for a world-class holiday – incredible scenery, a distinctive identity and culture, the best pubs, and a really welcoming, friendly and funny population who greatly appreciate tourists and the value of tourism. Also, the food is miles better now than when I was a child – that was back in the last century. Since then the country has absorbed so many global influences and also developed a proper appreciation of its indigenous culinary heritage.
So, there are loads of reasons to go – and the hotels have improved immensely too. I stay in luxury hotels around the world, and now that dining, design and service efficiency (in some properties) have caught up with global standards, I do think that Ireland’s best hotels rival the top addresses you’ll find anywhere. To help you decide on where to stay, here’s a list of all the luxury hotels I’ve stayed the night in throughout Ireland, with my take on whether they really deliver. (I’ve titled this ‘The Best Luxury Hotels in Ireland’ as it’s a handy term for SEO and there properties are all marketed at the highest level. But it’s not the case that I think they’re all perfect or recommend them equally. The copy should make that clear.)
More generally, I hope you make the trip over. The weather’s unpredictable, but otherwise I feel confident in saying Ireland reliably delivers a good holiday. If you’re pressed for time, skip Dublin – not one of Europe’s prettiest capitals… – and just head west and journey along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal driving route, where you’ll uncover much of the country’s most dramatic scenery and communities that remain deeply connected to traditional Irish cultural pursuits (music, language, dance, crafts, etc).
LUTE, my creative agency, also books luxury hotels throughout Ireland and the rest of the world, with not-available-online benefits such as complimentary upgrades, late check-out, dining credits, and more. If you’re interested in booking one of these hotels feel free to email email@example.com to see if a deal might be available for you.
And now, in alphabetical order, here’s more on Ireland’s best luxury hotels and resorts.
Adare Manor in Limerick
This is pretty much as good as it gets in Ireland. A proper resort that’s a swift drive from Shannon (Ireland’s second airport) and a gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way, the resort occupies vast private grounds that are threaded by a river and include a truly world-class golf course (which will host the Ryder Cup in 2027).
The hotel itself occupies a former stately home that was a calendar house (the original building featured 365 windows; 52 chimneys; seven pillars and four towers, to represent the seasons). It is packed with incredible architectural details – gargoyles here and there; hulking original fireplaces; the second-longest room in Ireland – and is exceptionally well designed. It looks the business – if you’re really splurging, book the Lady Caroline Suite, which I consider to be the most beautiful signature suite in the country. For special-occasion meals, The Oak Room delivers really finessed Irish fine dining. If you’re more fitness minded, the Padel Club wellness centre includes high-tech golf simulators, padel courts, a fantastic indoor pool and more; outside, there’s everything from cycling to gun-dog training (super interesting and impressive) to archery.
Anantara The Marker in Dublin
I always thought of Anantara as a rural, resort brand, but it’s continuing to take over major properties in European cities – as was recently the case here in Dublin. The Marker occupies an interesting dockside plot that’s relatively central but feels quit suburban. It also overlooks the Aviva Stadium so expect lots of excitement (or pandemonium depending on your disposition) if you’re here on a match day.
The hotel’s design is inspired by Ireland’s geography, with a disjointed facade that is meant to represent Ireland’s topography. Rooms are straightforward but comfy, and there’s a really stylish spa area with a great indoor pool (though I didn’t particularly rate my spa treatment).
Ashford Castle in Galway
The other Irish resort that delivers a hospitality experience to rival anything you’ll experience globally, this incredible historic building dates from 1228 and once belonged to the Guinness family. It stands on the shores of Lough Corrib (the Republic’s biggest lake, which stretches across my home county of Galway) and its sprawling estate incorporates picturesque walled gardens, stables and a falconry centre. There’s also on-site golf and sailing. The hotel’s gregarious Irish wolfhounds visit the lobby in the morning, and it’s sometimes possible for guests to accompany them on their walk through adjacent woodlands.
Ashford Castle also really stands out through its service – so many of the team have worked here for decades and the hotel is the main employer for the local community. The building’s old, protected bones mean rooms can vary, but try to get one facing the lake. The Reagan Suite is among the most impressive options. Afternoon tea here also comes highly recommended; for formal dining there’s the George V Dining Room; you can order pints of Guinness alongside elaborate cocktails at the Prince of Wales Bar. Complementing an impressive existing spa, a new wellness centre with gym and proper-sized pool opened in late 2023.
Ballyfin in Laois
I stayed here back in 2015 or so, so my memories are hazy. And I’m hesitant to recommend the property as friends’ more recent visits have been inconsistent – I’ve heard complaints about dining and service, plus commentary that low occupancy was denting the atmosphere.
Nonetheless, Ballyfin is perhaps Ireland’s most exclusive property. You won’t even be allowed to book a table at the restaurant unless you’re a hotel resident. It occupies extensive walled grounds that overlook a man-made lake where guests can go rowing, and golf buggies are laid out for farther-reaching roaming. The former stately home was previously a boarding school, and some of its present-day staff were former pupils.
Ballymaloe in Cork
This is one of Ireland’s most renowned properties – decades back its founder was one of the first to really insist on recognising the quality of Irish produce and the country’s often lambasted cuisine. A country-house hotel with its own expansive organic gardens, pastures and farm shop, as well as a nearby cookery school carrying the same Ballymaloe name, it’s kind of like a restaurant with rooms in the sense that many people book a stay here specifically to try the restaurant with the added bonus that they can booze away contentedly and then crawl into bed after.
That restaurant is a big, open-plan dining room, that offers a fairly traditional and unaffected menu – you’re encouraged to order as much as you want of everything, and a dessert trolley with treats from pastry chef JR Ryall is rolled out after. Really the focus here is to rock up, eat up, and take things easy, but there’s also a retro-chic outdoor pool and nearby beaches if you fancy some ocean swimming. Another nice touch during my stay here is that many of the diners converged in the drawing room after dinner for boozing and chatting and an impromptu singing session led by one of Ballymaloe’s proprietors. It felt like such a distinctly Irish evening.
Ballynahinch Castle in Galway
This is really close to where my grandmother is from in Connemara, one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and we used to drive by it all the time when I was a child. I love this area. The hotel is surrounded by lakes and mountains – good for hiking, though get guidance from the concierge about where to go as the weather is so changeable here and conditions can become dodgy. A fast-moving river runs through the estate, where guests can go fishing. The hotel doesn’t feature a spa or pool, but it’s pitched as an outdoorsy property so many guests who book a stay here tend to spend their days out and about exploring.
There’s also a lovely, romantic restaurant, The Owenmore, that overlooks the water, and a number of nicely sized rooms feature doors that open out to a shared lawn. Sometimes it’s the simple things that end up being the most memorable, and I spent a very peaceful morning on the garden chairs here, just drinking tea as I watched dawn’s mist rise from the river.
Carton House in Kildare
Occupying a 1,100-acre estate that’s about a 30-minute drive from Dublin Airport (and the same distance again from the centre of the capital) this is a popular resort for nearby city dwellers who want a quick and easy, upmarket retreat. And there’s loads for them to do, with a river running through the grounds, golf on offer, and other outdoor pursuits available including archery.
The hotel is part of Accor’s Fairmont portfolio and I felt it’s a bit confused about its own identity. It features a grand and beautiful centuries-old stately home that holds some of the most ornate and impressive period architecture you’re likely to find in the country. But a long corridor from there leads to a modern extension that’s fairly devoid of character. The former building features a spread of fancy suites; the latter incorporates a broader selection of rooms, including some that are good for families.
I though the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant The Morrison Room was excellent, and afternoon tea is served in the ornate and magnificent XXXXX – highly photogenic, it makes an ideal special-occasion setting. But service wasn’t consistently good while I was there – a couple of staff members were notably rude – and I though the spa area, with its outdated and unattractive pool area and changing rooms, was a real let-down.
Cashel Palace Hotel in Tipperary
Occupying a centuries-old and grand former archbishop’s residence, this hotel enjoys an unbeatable position beside one of the most incredible attractions in the country: the Rock of Cashel. These remarkable elevated ecclesiastical ruins feature a traditional Irish round tower, a beautiful old church and ancient graveyard – it’s incredibly atmospheric and romantic but missed by so many tourists because it’s in the relatively unexplored centre of the country.
The original house is attractively finished, and packed with art (much of the collection is formed of replicas of the property owners’ original artworks). A more modern extension doesn’t have the same aesthetic impact, but its rooms and suites are bigger (though a bit plain when it comes to their interiors). You’ll get an excellent made-to-order breakfast and a passable rather than impressive lunch in the Queen Anne Room. I thought The Bishop’s Buttery restaurant was exceptional – it melds French and Irish cuisine and culinary techniques and is of an exceptionally high quality. The Residents’ Cocktail Bar is only for overnight guests – it’s a cute little snug with great drinks served in generous quantities. The hotel is also proud of its spa area, which features outdoors seaweed baths alongside a plunge pool and Jacuzzi. I was less keen: it’s stylish, but felt too small for the property, with an inadequate number of loungers and an annoying ban on the use of mobile phones (apparently in respect of other guests’ privacy but they could simply prohibit photography) despite not offering any reading material on the vicinity.
Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Galway
This hotel is a few kilometres outside of Galway City centre, my hometown, and it’s marketed as the area’s most upmarket property. It occupies an old abbey, as you’d expect, and its grounds slope downwards towards Lough Corrib – an on-site golf course offers superb views.
Unfortunately I was disappointed by both of my stays at this property. Breakfast is bad (messy presentation, not especially tasty) and service isn’t of a proper five-star standard. I just see so much unrealised potential here. Facilities, beyond the golf course, are also quite limited – there’s no gym, no pool – so it doesn’t really function as a resort yet it feels a bit of a schlep to easily enjoy all that’s on offer in the city. However, the Pullman Restaurant (pictured above) is lovely. It occupies a salvaged and renovated Orient Express rail carriage and the relaxed dinner I had here was highly enjoyable.
The Merrion in Dublin
Alongside The Shelbourne, which I’ve yet to stay in, The Merrion is the luxury hotel in Dublin. It occupies a series of Georgian townhouses and features a large outdoor garden and excellent art collection. Rooms are spacious, with traditionally styled interiors and strangely dated, residential-feeling bathrooms (specifically the integrated rectangular tubs are just like the kind you’ll find in 1980s Irish housing developments like my own family home).
There’s a nicely sized basement pool too, and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is well-regarded. Service is personable and efficiently delivered. This is often the chosen abode for celebs visiting the city, so people-watching can occasionally be interesting…
The River Lee in Cork
Cork is a great, compact city, well worth a visit on its own merits if you’re looking for an alternative weekend break somewhere easygoing and welcoming in Europe. On a tiny little island that’s surrounded by the River Lee, this Doyle Collection hotel has a bit of a dual identity. It features nicely designed and social dining spaces and bars that are popular with locals.
They’re youthful and upbeat and feel accessible but fashionable, whereas the rooms are fairly dated and anodyne (tellingly, if you go into the ‘gallery’ section of the hotel’s website it doesn’t feature images of the accommodation). Think of this as a convenient place to stay with a competent F&B offering, but fairly perfunctory bedrooms. If you’re interested in a swim or using a gym, you can avail of complimentary access to the adjacent fitness centre.
If you’re looking to book a stay at a luxury hotel in Ireland or beyond, LUTE can provide additional privileges and benefits to enhance your holiday (think upgrades, complimentary dining credits, and more), at the best-available room rate. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to make a booking.
LUTE is a luxury-travel consultant and content agency that works with hotel groups, tour operators, tourist boards, airlines and more. You can learn more about LUTE here. For frequent luxury-travel updates, follow LUTE and LUTE founder John O’Ceallaigh on Instagram.