An insider’s guide to top five-star hotels in Ireland including the best for gourmet dining, historic interiors, fabulous spas, cosy bars, tennis courts and outdoor pursuits.
Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo – country’s best hotel
The sort of place the Queen Mother would have loved: lavish, gilded and thoroughly over-the-top Ashford Castle is a grand, castellated stone castle overlooking Loch Corrib, within a 350-acre estate once owned by the Guinness family and used in Fifties film The Quiet Man.
Predominantly Irish, sincerely hospitable staff are palpably proud to work for what is regarded by many as the country’s best hotel: I have never encountered such a dedicated team. Their commitment is a boon for guests, while the facilities on offer mean virtually all tastes are catered to. Within the castle is a cinema, billiards room, children’s game room and tastefully finished new spa.
The theatrical interiors – which now include a cosy billiards room and glamorous red velvet cinema – overlook formal gardens and a new Victorian-style greenhouse, housing a pool and spa.
Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa in Killarney, County Kerry
As the name suggests, it’s on a hilltop site, with wonderful views of Lough Leane, Killarney town and, rising behind, Ireland’s highest mountains, the MacGillycuddy Reeks.
A five-star base in a spectacular setting amid the lakes, where you’ll feel at home whether you’ve booked to unwind in the spa, play golf, fish or explore the great outdoors. The wellness centre is award winning.
Each of the 74 rooms and suites has a view, but some look over garden or farmland, so try to book one on the lake side. Menus in the Lake Room draw on Continental cuisine while making the most of local produce.
Hayfield Manor in Cork
Next in our list “The best five-star hotels in Ireland” is this beautiful place in Cork. Hayfield Manor exudes period-style elegance, and guests can expect a serene and pampered ambience. Despite a new build just 20 years ago, the Scully family owners have retained a period property feel.
The commanding double-wing oak staircase replicates the one from the first house design, while the lobby marble fireplace is original. There is a 16-metre pool that overlooks the enclosed garden with sauna, steam rooms and outdoor hot tub, and a spa using Elemis products.
Thick carpets and rich furnishings in gold and beige with navy and brown accents set a luxurious tone, supported by attentive, yet unobtrusive staff. A pretty, walled garden, inspired by Muckross House gardens in Killarney, can be accessed via the residents’ library/lounge, Orchids restaurant or pool area. The grounds and trees, some dating more than 150 years, have been carefully retained.
Ballyfin in County Laois
Imagine an intact and beautiful 600-acre walled demesne of woods, hills and water in the heart of Ireland – with the neoclassical Ballyfin lying at its heart. It is one of Ireland’s finest country houses, now restored to life with grace, and reopened as a luxurious hotel.
The beauty of the house and its park, and the stratospheric standards of hospitality here, makes Ballyfin a truly remarkable place. Think Downton Abbey: glorious rooms, including a spectacular library and saloon, an intimate Gold Room, and world-class stucco work.
Service is exceptionally good – from the moment members of staff appear on the steps to welcome the approaching guest. Polished, professional, but with a dash of Irish informality: a beguiling combination.
The Merrion Hotel in Dublin
This five-star hotel’s location is unbeatable: the Edwardian pomp of Government Buildings is just across the road, with Merrion Square, the National Gallery and National Museum, and the Grafton Street shopping district all within a few minutes’ walk.
The décor is all Georgian grace and symmetry to the front, with spacious and light-filled Garden Wing to the rear, enclosing pleasant half-acre quadrangle of fountains and manicured greenery. Ireland’s largest collection of private art adorns the walls of the charming ground-floor drawing rooms; and open turf fires offer additional charm.
Don’t come here looking for cheap! The Merrion’s tariffs match the five-star surroundings and service on offer. That said, midweek and weekend deals are usually available. All room rates include breakfast and Wi-Fi access.