The Bridges of Ross, on the north side of Loop Head, is one of the prime autumn bird-watching sites in Ireland, especially during northwest gales, when several rare species have been seen with some consistency. The lighthouse at the tip of the head is also a popular spot for watching seabirds.
The Shannon Estuary is home to about 70 bottlenose dolphins, one of four such resident groups of dolphins in Europe. Two-hour cruises run by Dolphinwatch leave daily May to September from Carrigaholt. Advance booking is essential (tel. 065/905-8156; www.dolphinwatch.ie). Fees start at €24 for adults, €12 for children ages 4 to 15, and €6 for children 3 and under. They also run 4-hour sunset cruises (€40 per person), although these are usually adults-only events.
Doonbeg Golf Club, Doonbeg (tel. 065/905-5600; www.doonbeggolfclub.com), has links designed by golf pro Greg Norman in a breathtaking setting. The magnificent 15th hole ends in a funnel-shaped green surrounded by sky-high dunes. With a helipad and a complex that includes a country club, hotel, and cottages, Doonbeg has quickly become a haunt for the moneyed set, so it should come as no surprise that greens fees are a hefty €160 to €190 per person.
Also famous, and just as pricey, is Lahinch Golf Club, Lahinch (tel. 065/708-1003; www.lahinchgolf.com). It has two attractive 18-hole links courses, and the "Old Course" -- the longer championship links course -- is the one that has given Lahinch its far-reaching reputation. This course's elevations, especially at the 9th and 13th holes, make for great views, but it also makes wind an integral part of play. Watch the goats, Lahinch's legendary weather forecasters; if they huddle by the clubhouse, it means a storm is approaching. Visitors are welcome to play, especially on weekdays; greens fees are €165 for the Old Course, €83 for a 9-hole game. On the newer Castle Course, however, the rate is a much more affordable €55.
If you've always wanted to try it, here's your chance: Lahinch Surf School (tel. 065/708-2061 or 087/960-9667; www.lahinchsurfschool.com) is set up in a hut on Lahinch promenade, and they specialize in getting people suited up and out on the waves -- whether you surf every weekend or have never hit a board in your life. They're friendly and know their stuff; besides, surfing is good for you, apparently. Wet suits, surfboards, and lessons included. Private lessons cost around €100 to €140, depending on the time of year; group lessons cost around €40.
The area around Doolin is well known among cavers for its many intriguing potholes and caves. The area is riddled with them -- the ground underneath your feet may look solid, but it's really like Swiss cheese. If you're interested in joining the spelunkers, you can stop by the tourist office and pick up brochures from local caving guides, as well as maps.
The most extraordinary single cave is Poll na gColm, just northeast of Lisdoonvarna. This is one of Ireland's longest caves, and its caverns wander for miles through underground passageways, vaults, and natural wonders.
For divers, there's a cluster of underwater caves just north of Doolin's harbor called the Green Holes of Doolin that are said to be simply extraordinary. You can get a peek at what divers will see at an area known as "Hell," where the roof of a cave has worn away, and the water rushes through an open cavern into a series of undersea pathways.
Novices should definitely not go caving on their own without training or guides. To get one or both of those, check out www.caving.ie.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.