Irish Winter Wonderland: Our 9 Favorite Hotel Features to Keep You Toasty
When it comes to cozy winter charm -- roaring fires, hot (and strong!) drinks, and snug nooks -- it's hard to top Ireland. Though winter is the off season for the Emerald Isle, it can be a magical time to visit (as anyone who has heard the song Christmas in Killarney can probably understand). Plus, hotels can be dirt cheap this time of year. So sure, it'll be near-freezing cold, but fortunately these hotel features will warm you right up on your Irish holiday.
Toasty Feature: The Peat-Burning Fireplace
Peat is as Irish as it gets -- this bog turf has been burned as fuel for centuries in Ireland, and gives off a distinct smell that some people love.
Find It At: Bushmills Inn, Northern Ireland
The quaint Bushmills Inn in Antrim is quintessentially Irish in every respect: There are fireplaces burning peat or wood throughout the property, a fantastic restaurant serving locally sourced cuisine, Irish music performed certain nights at the Gas Bar, which is lit by traditional gaslight, and 41 cozy, cottage-style rooms. The inn has a rich history dating back to 1608, when a coach house and stables stood here, and the actual main inn building dates to the 1820s; the historic character has been carefully and thoughtfully preserved throughout.
Toasty Feature: The Wood-Burning Fireplace
For those not enamored of the smell of peat, plenty of Irish hotels have more traditional wood-burning fires to keep you warm.
Find It At: Ballyanhinch Castle Hotel, Connemara
The 40-room Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is a less formal, more accessible alternative to the more famous Ashford Castle to the east. It has a riverfront location amid the wild, unspoiled beauty of Connemara and decor that's alternately homey and elegant, including lovely fireplaces to cozy up next to in the lobby, the library, The Hunts Room, and the charming Fisherman's Pub. Though the hotel is more of a manor house than a castle, the main structure dates to the 18th century and both the building and the estate are steeped in history. The 450-acre grounds offer a range of activities, including beautiful hikes, woodcock shooting, and fishing. Both restaurants serve terrific gourmet cuisine using fish, game, and mushrooms from the surrounding region.
Toasty Feature: Irish Coffee
There's nothing quite like a hot drink with a kick of whiskey to warm you up after being outside in the cold, and while in Ireland, Irish Coffee is an appropriate (and delicious) choice.
Find It At: The House Hotel, Galway
This intimate, 40-room boutique is one of Galway's best upscale options, and has charm to spare, with a historic stone exterior and bold, quirky interior. There are few features to speak of -- no fitness center, spa services, or dedicated meeting rooms -- but the hotel does feature a hot spot bar that serves not only Irish coffee, but creative cocktails from trained mixologists. Rooms have bright, stylish decor and upscale bathrooms with towel warmers and rainfall showerheads.
Toasty Feature: Cashmere Bed Socks and Hot Water Bottles
Are you the type that always gets cold at night? Are you a cover hogger? Well, the Victorians may have had the right idea when they tucked themselves in at night with hot water bottles, and this age-old trick still works wonders. Add cashmere socks to the equation and you're guaranteed to have a cozy and luxurious sleep.
Find It At: The Merrion Hotel, Dublin
What's not to love about a hotel where guests can request hot water bottles and cashmere bed socks to chase away the winter chills? The Merrion is Dublin's most exclusive luxury hotel, and has a convenient location across from the Government buildings in four 18th-century townhouses. It has fewer rooms than the nearby Shelbourne and feels more intimate and private, though its list of features is still extensive: The hotel has a full-service spa, lovely Roman-style indoor pool, and well-equipped fitness center. The impressive restaurant offering includes Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, the only restaurant in Ireland to receive two Michelin stars, as well as the casual and atmospheric Cellar Bar, housed in the original 18th century wine vaults. It's true that some rooms have unremarkable views of other buildings, the gym is a bit small, and not all rooms have iPod docks, but most will find little fault with this five-pearl gem.
Toasty Feature: The Inglenook
For those unfamiliar with the term, an inglenook is the cozy little nook on each side of a large fireplace. Sometimes they're only large enough for stacking firewood, but when there's enough room to curl up next to the fire -- well, that's an inglenook at it's best.
Find It At: Ashford Castle, County Mayo
Ashford Castle embodies the fantasy of the Irish castle hotel, featuring a massive historic stone facade, complete with towers and turrets; gorgeous, manicured grounds; a stunning setting on a huge lake; and common spaces that are truly grand, with rich wood paneling, chandeliers, antique furniture, and of course, quaint inglenooks for cuddling up. George V Dining Room offers excellent, formal fine dining (jackets are required in the evening), and drinks and tea can be enjoyed in the graceful drawing room with lake views. The wide range of estate activities includes falconry lessons, boat tours on the lake, golf on the 9-hole course, clay shooting, and archery.
Toasty Feature: Cozy Library
Snuggling up with a book by the fire is one of the best ways to spend a winter day, especially when the fire is blazing in a charming, clubby library with tufted leather green sofas.
Find It At: Sheen Falls Lodge, Kenmare
Sheen Falls Lodge is arguably the top hotel in County Kerry. The 300-acre estate belonged to the Marquess of Landsowne in the 18th century, and the hotel -- opened in 1991 -- feels like a country manor house, complete with a library boasting an impressive literary selection that isn't just for show -- the books are well-used by guests. The lodge has a stunning setting on both Kenmare Bay and Sheen River, which has, as the name suggests, gentle tumbling waterfalls. The 66 rooms have classic country decor -- crown molding, cheerful prints (plaids and florals among them, in moderation), and soft yellow walls; all but one have water views. Estate activities range from clay pigeon shooting to fishing to tennis, and more traditional luxury hotel features include a lovely indoor pool, spa, and small fitness center. Formal fine dining is offered at La Cascade restaurant, while (slightly) less expensive dishes are served at the classy Restaurant Lounge. The sommelier hosts daily tastings in the wine cellar.
Toasty Feature: Afternoon Tea
The Irish love a good cuppa just as much as their English neighbors, and having a traditional tea is a lovely way to spend a cold afternoon.
Find It At: The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel
The 265-room Shelbourne, built in 1824, is one of Dublin's best-known luxury icons, with a grand entrance right on St. Stephen's Green and an impressive roster of famous past guests (Bill Clinton, Julia Roberts, and Liam Neeson have all stayed here, to name a few). Rooms have elegant traditional decor, though some are quite small and standard Queen Rooms lack bathtubs. Still, the ornate common spaces, hot spot bars and dining venues (including Lord Mayor Lounge which is a perfect place for a proper tea), luxury spa, and historic cachet combine to make this one of Dublin's premier options.
Toasty Feature: Hot, Hearty Breakfast
A filling, hot breakfast is the best way to prepare yourself for a day of sightseeing in the cold.
Find It At: River Lee Hotel, Cork
The River Lee is one of the top luxury hotels in Cork, and is part of the upscale Doyle Collection mini-chain. The hotel's hot breakfast buffet items include sausages, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, black and white pudding, and eggs. In addition, there are breads, yogurts, meats, cheeses, fish, fruit, pastries, and even honeycomb. Contemporary, understated decor, a restaurant and bar that are among the city's best, a small trendy spa, and an impressive fitness center and indoor pool (run by an outside company) define the experience. The location is just outside the city center, but within walking distance of both the English Market and the shopping hub of St. Patrick's Street.
Toasty Feature: Gas Lamps
There's nothing like cozy gas lighting to get you into the winter spirit. They may only provide figurative rather than literal warmth, but gas lamps create a warm, quaint vibe that offers a reprieve from blustery weather outside.
Find It At: Bushmills Inn, Northern Ireland
Bushmills Inn has served many different functions over the years -- including stints as a boarding house and bicycle factory -- but it began as a 17th century coaching inn, and was reopened as an inn once again in 1987. With cozy nooks lit up by peat fires and many traditional details throughout, guests may feel as though they have stepped back in time. Plus, The Gas Bar is still lit with traditional gaslight. If the lighting doesn't do the trick, the bar's extensive selection of Irish whiskey should help bring a glow to your cheeks.