04/08/2014 13:09 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Ireland City Guide

If you think you need to travel to somewhere like New Zealand or South Africa for an adrenaline-fuelled activity holiday, it's time to look closer to home. Just an hour's flight from the UK, the west coast of Ireland has everything from surfing and paragliding to easier beginner options like water-skiing, riding, kayaking and mountain biking.

Throw in some stunning scenery in the Killarney National Park, fabulous food and the bars of Cork city, and it's enough to get anyone's heart racing.

Just because you're roughing it during the day, doesn't mean you need to skimp on luxury overnight. Base yourself in the city of Cork and in Killarney, County Kerry, to be within driving or walking distance of some of Ireland's top activities, as well as getting a taste of both sides of the country.

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The Clarion hotel on Lapps Quay in Cork is a few minutes from the city's shops and only a short walk from some great bars. There's two restaurants on site, as well as a spa, while the bedrooms look out to the river Lee or at the oversized gold ball sculpture dominating the atrium. Rooms start from £100.

Or The Malton in Killarney mixes old-fashioned country house charm with some seriously quirky touches – silken lamps which look like mushrooms, velvet chairs, and splashes of colour brightening the chandeliers and marble. There's also two restaurants and a spa. Rooms start from £74.45.

Starter for 10: Ireland adrenaline

The city of Cork boasts 22 bridges across the river Lee, helping it pick up the name the 'Venice of Ireland' along the way. With grand old Georgian buildings, twisting alleyways and streets built over the river like the Grand Parade, there's plenty to explore in the compact centre.

Starter for 10: Ireland adrenaline

But one of the most fun ways to enjoy the city is from the water, by kayaking along the river. Although there are daytime options to choose from, there's something special about paddling along after dusk, seeing the city's buildings lit up for the night. Atlantic Sea Kayaking offers leisurely two and a half hour tours for around £40 per person. Starting at Lapps Quay, it's perfect for complete beginners as they'll bring all the kit you need, as well as giving you the background on the city as you pass by.

Starter for 10: Ireland adrenaline

If kayaking doesn't get your blood pounding fast enough, there's more excitement to be had on the water. The west coast of Ireland has some great surf beaches for beginners and experienced surfers, including ones in County Cork and Kerry. But for something closer to the city itself, head to Cork Powerboat and Waterski Club where you can learn to waterski or wakeboard with Irish National Waterski Champion Barry Galvin.

With a specially adapted pole hanging off the side of the boat, the endlessly patient and supportive Barry talks you through getting from the water to a standing position, graduating onto a rope behind the boat. Chances are you'll have at least one unplanned nose-dive at some point, but the feeling when you find your balance the first time as you whizz across the lake is almost unbeatable.

The water might not be the warmest, except during the summer, but with the adrenaline flowing and a wet suit, you won't notice until you're back on the dock. And, thankfully, there's a small sauna in the changing rooms, so you can defrost with a huge grin on your face. A beginner session, including gear and equipment, costs from around £55. The centre is open between April and October.

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Venture further north from Killarney and Cork to the Ballyhoura mountains, just outside Charleville. The slopes, looking down across endless fields, are stunning to walk through but even better from the saddle of a mountain bike.

If you're a novice, don't try this without a safety briefing, unless you like the idea of broken limbs! Joe Costello at Ballyhoura Bike Hire will fit you for a bike, provide a helmet and talk you through how to stay in one piece before you hit the trails. Then start off gently on the Green Wood loop trail, one of five loops around the mountains. Around 6km long, there's a steep hill to navigate before you hit the single track trail, where you'll skid and slither through puddles before zooming over bumps at speeds that partly make you want to slam on the brakes and partly make you want to scream with sheer exhilaration.

Bike hire costs from around £26 and charges for guides are available on request. You need a valid photo ID to hire the bikes. For more information on the trails, visit

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Boasting Ireland's highest mountains, as well as 26,000 acres of stunning scenery, from woodlands and lakes to waterfalls, Killarney National Park is the perfect place for a hike, whether you'd prefer a gentle amble or something a bit more energetic.

There's maps available from the visitor centre – start with the trail to Torc Waterfall, around 4.5 miles from Killarney town. After reaching the 20m high falls, you can climb up to get a view out over Middle Lake, and it's a starting point for several other circular walking routes, as well as part of the Kerry Way route.

You can also book walking tours with

Starter for 10: Ireland adrenaline

On the banks of the River Lee in Cork, The Boardwalk Bar & Grill might conjure up images of an American beachside hamburger joint, but you couldn't be further from the truth. The cosy bar, with its green leather sofas, is great for a quick drink before your meal – the extensive wine list has some unusual choices – before you tuck in at the restaurant.

Start with the Iced jumbo shrimp cocktail, around £12 but worth every penny. Arriving in a martini glass of sweet chilli sauce and ice, the prawns are draped over the side, so it looks almost too good to eat, while the Confit of Pork and black pudding, £6.50, is mouth-watering. But it's the Angus steaks that are the high point. From the 11oz ribeye, at around £22, up to a 20oz whopper, £31, as well as fillet and T-bone, the meat is cooked to perfection in a charbroiler to sear the outside while keeping the inside juicy.

Starter for 10: Ireland adrenaline

Ireland is renowned for its Guinness – although Murphy's and Beamish are the local drinks in Cork – but if you'd prefer a cocktail, the city won't let you down. Among the pubs on Washington Street, Long Island Bar at number 11, has twice been named cocktail bar of the year, staff who know their way around a shaker and plenty of choice on the menu.

If you're looking for something more traditional, Washington Street is a great place to start, and locals recommend Rearden's for the 'craic' – it's heavy on the sport but there's live music at weekends.

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Horse riding in Ireland conjures up images of galloping through the surf, but for a gentler walk swap the beaches for the Killarney National Park where the horses at Killarney Riding Stables, just outside the town centre, couldn't be more placid.

The trails takes you along the shores of the lake as far as Ross Castle, past herds of black Kerry cows and even red deer. For novices, an instructor will talk you through the basics (although the horses seem to know what to do regardless) as well as trying your hand at rising trot. There's one, two and three hour trails, plus longer trips of up to five day for more experienced riders. Prices start from around £30.

Starter for 10: Ireland adrenaline