The best beaches in Ireland to watch waves, whales and dolphins

You’ve just checked in to another bank holiday weekend and so we wanted to give you an idea of something fun to do without spending a fortune.


Ireland has over 7,500 km of coastline and the water around our island is teeming with marine wildlife. This rich biodiversity means you might be lucky enough to spot whales, dolphins, or seals when you visit the beach. Of course, you’re never guaranteed to see these and that’s what makes it even more memorable when you do.


We’re going to share with you the best beaches in Ireland to watch waves, whales and dolphins. But what about the waves that shape these beautiful coastlines and provide a home for such diverse marine life?



What Do Waves Do?


Before we dive into the list, let’s talk about what waves do. Waves are not just beautiful to look at; they play a crucial role in shaping our coastlines. They transport energy across the ocean’s surface, erode coastal rocks and cliffs, and deposit sand and sediments to form beaches. Waves also oxygenate the water, which is vital for marine life.


How Are Waves Formed?


Waves are primarily formed by wind. When the wind blows across the surface of the ocean, it transfers its energy to the water, creating waves. The size and strength of the waves depend on the wind speed, the duration it blows, and the distance over which it travels, known as the fetch.


Where Is the Biggest Wave in Ireland?


if you're searching for the thrill of gigantic waves, Mullaghmore Head in County Sligo is the place to be. Often referred to as Ireland’s Nazaré (a famous big wave spot in Portugal), Mullaghmore is renowned for its massive swells that can reach over 60 feet. This spot is a magnet for big wave Irish surfers like Easkey Britton, Conor Maguire and Gearóid McDaid, and it's a spectacular sight for wave watchers.


What Time of the Year Has the Best Waves?


You might be surprised to learn that the winter months often bring the best waves. This is because the waves tend to be bigger and more consistent due to stronger winds and more intense storm systems in the North Atlantic. However, for those who prefer milder conditions, late autumn and early spring can also offer impressive swells. 


How do you know when big waves are due?


Before you head out, make sure to check the surf forecast at Surfline or Surf-Forecast. These websites provide detailed information on wave conditions, tide times, and weather, helping you plan the perfect day of wave watching.



Are Whales and Dolphins Fish or Mammals?


Whales and dolphins are mammals, not fish. This means they are warm-blooded, give birth to live young, and breathe air through lungs. They are fascinating creatures with complex behaviours and advanced intelligence.


How Do Whales and Dolphins Communicate Underwater?


Whales and dolphins communicate using a series of clicks, whistles, and body language. These sounds can travel long distances underwater, allowing them to find mates, navigate, hunt, and socialize. Each species has its own unique set of sounds, and some, like the humpback whale, are known for their hauntingly beautiful songs. So here are the best 10 beaches to watch waves, whales and dolphins starting with the most recent sighting and then onto the most common places based on reported sightings to Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.


1. Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo


As mentioned earlier, Mullaghmore Head is a must-visit for wave watchers and surfers alike. The powerful swells here are awe-inspiring, and while you may not always see a whale or dolphin, the wave watching alone is worth the trip. Just recently on the 27th of May there was a reported sighting of 7 bottlenose dolphins.



2: Portacloy, Co. Mayo


Portacloy offers a serene yet dramatic setting for wave watching. This location is perfect for those looking to escape the crowds and enjoy the natural beauty of Ireland’s west coast. Dolphins are frequently seen in the area, adding to the magic of this secluded spot.



3: Whiddy Island, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork


Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay is only a 10-minute boat ride from Bantry town and has an excellent beach for both wave watching and spotting marine life. The island’s vantage points provide sweeping views of the bay where minke whales and dolphins are often spotted. It’s a peaceful retreat with rich biodiversity. 





4: Kilcummin Head, Killala Bay, Co. Mayo


Kilcummin Head is another gem on the west coast, offering fantastic wave watching opportunities. This area is known for sightings of bottlenose dolphins and, occasionally, whales with a reported whale sighting on just days ago. The powerful waves and scenic landscape make it a favourite among nature enthusiasts.



5: Tullan Strand, Bundoran, Co. Donegal


Tullan Strand is famed for its consistent surf and stunning scenery. It's a hotspot for surfers and wave watchers alike. The beach is also a great place to spot harbour porpoises, especially during the summer months.



6: Slea Head, Co. Kerry


Slea Head offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and is a prime spot for spotting bottlenose dolphins. The waves here are impressive, and the surrounding landscape of the Dingle Peninsula enhances the experience.



7: Muckross Head, Donegal Bay, Co. Donegal

Muckross Head is known for its rugged beauty and excellent wave watching conditions. Dolphins are often seen playing in the surf, making it a delightful location for both surfers and marine life enthusiasts.




8: Dunmore East, Co Waterford


Dunmore East on the Waterford coast is a fantastic spot for whale watching, especially during the herring spawning season. Fin whales and occasionally humpback whales are seen offshore. The area provides various vantage points for enjoying both the waves and the marine wildlife.




9: Beale Strand, Littor Beach, Co. Kerry


Beale Strand, also known as Littor Beach, is a beautiful and expansive beach in County Kerry. It's an excellent spot for wave watching and is less crowded than some of the more popular beaches. The serene environment and occasional sightings of dolphins make it a great place for a peaceful day by the sea.




10: Donaghadee Beach, Donaghadee, Co. Down


Donaghadee in County Down is a fantastic place for wave watching. The area is known for sightings of dolphin species and occasional whale sightings. The combination of historical charm and natural beauty makes it a unique destination.




Marine Wildlife Watching Tours in Ireland


If you prefer, you can book a whale and dolphin watching tour with a number of tour operators like Blacksod Sea Safari & Island Tours based in Mayo and in the spring, it may be possible to see basking sharks. If you’re in Cork, you could take a Whale & Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Tour with Aquaventures. Or, as another option you can take a Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour in Dingle with Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours.


Ireland's coastline offers a unique blend of breathtaking scenery, powerful waves, and diverse marine life that makes it an ideal destination if you love watching towering swells and are captivated by some of the ocean’s biggest mammals. And remember, even if you don’t catch a glimpse of marine wildlife every time, the sheer beauty and serenity of these coastal spots make the journey worthwhile.


And if you need a new outfit for your trip, be sure to check out our new Oxbow and Ripcurl collections online and instore at Westport, Killarney and Galway City.










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