How do you fall in love with a country like Ireland? You probably read up on the history, try to learn its language, and listen to its music.
If you want to get a general sense of the people living there, you must plan a visit. For most people, that means coming to Dublin and a handful of other cities in Ireland.
But the way to fall in love with Ireland is one small town or village at a time. Dublin has its charms, as do Belfast, Cork, and Galway. But no city, not even Dublin, cannot claim to represent everything that Ireland is.
25 Towns and Villages In Ireland You Have To See
If you like the Irish culture and people, here are the twenty-five small towns and villages you will fall in love with too and solidify your love for Ireland.
Cape Clear, Country Cork
Cape Clear is an island in County Cork and the southernmost inhabited island in the country. Currently, the island has roughly 125 people who call it home, which is almost a tenfold decrease from the times before the Great Famine.
Cape Clear is an interesting place because it has archaeological sites of pre-Christian and early-Christian Ireland. From marked stones, burned mounds, Neolithic tombs, and standing stones, to a church ruin and other Christian sites, there are plenty of interesting things to see around the island and in its Heritage Center.
If history isn’t interesting to you, Cape Clear is a great place for birdwatching, it has a working goat farm that’s open to visitors, and it’s a stopping place for the Fastnet Rock tour.
There are places that offer accommodation on the island, and you can find a place to eat, drink, and socialize, too. For the people who’d like to witness the Irish Gift of the Gab firsthand, the Cape Clear Storytelling Festival is a great reason to visit the island late in the summer.
Baltimore, County Cork
If you want to reach Cape Clear, chances are you’ll head to Baltimore to catch a ferry. And while Cape Clear has its charms, it won’t hold your attention for too long. But Baltimore, on the other hand, might be worth a longer visit, even if you go there just so you can get somewhere else.
Besides the ferry to Cape Clear, Baltimore serves as the port for ferries that can take you to other places, including the Sherkin Island and Carbery’s Hundred Isles. Baltimore is also a place frequented by deep sea anglers, as it hosts angling and wildlife tours. And that’s on top of the more common activities you can partake in, such as golf.
Dungarvan, County Waterford
One of two Dungarvans in Ireland, the former administrative seat of County Waterford is a port town and one of the jewels of Ireland’s sunny south-east. And because the south-east is so sunny, one of the reasons why you should give Dungarvan a chance is because it has some of the best sunsets in Ireland.
But that’s not all. Dungarvan can be the starting or the ending point of your travel along the Waterford Greenway, one of Ireland’s loveliest biking and hiking trails. It’s also one of the Irish towns that offer incredible gastronomic experiences. If that’s the type of things that make you fall in love with a city, you should visit Dungarvan near the end of the April, when the Waterford Festival of Food takes place in the city.
Dungarvan wouldn’t be a town in Ireland without its own castle. You can find the Dungarvan Castle, also called King John’s Castle (one of a couple castles called that way), near the harbor. If you want to dig a bit deeper into the history of Dungarvan and the surrounding area, the Dungarvan Museum will provide all the information you need.
Enniscrone, County Sligo
“Beach, sun, and fun” isn’t a phrase usually associated with Ireland. It sounds more like California, Australia, or even the southern parts of Europe. On their own, Ireland has all three — there are beaches, there is occassional sunshine, and there is fun to be had in Ireland. Occasionally the three happen at the same time, like when you’re surfing in Enniscrone.
Enniscrone is a town in Country Sligo and a well-established tourist site. It has a great sandy beach, a golf course, as well as a waterpark, a spa, and a place where you can get a seaweed bath. It’s also a child-friendly place with a couple of playgrounds.
But surfing and kitesurfing are two of the more important reasons to visit Enniscrone and fall in love with it. It can be the place where you first started learning to surf because the waters around Enniscrone are beginner-friendly. If surfing is not your thing, don’t worry — Enniscrone is also a good place for fishing.
Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale is not a town you want to visit while you’re dieting. This town in County Cork has a reputation for its restaurants — both their number and their great food — which is why people sometimes refer to it as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. But great food isn’t the only reason to fall in love with Kinsale.
Kinsale is a very picturesque town. It has plenty of brightly-painted buildings, a marina filled with yachts, and a long stretch of the coast. The town lies near two forts — Charles Fort and James Fort, and it has a world-famous golf course. And there’s also a long history, including a famous three-way battle, for visitors to explore.
But if you’re the practical kind of traveler, you’ll want to know that it’s very easy to reach Kinsale. The Cork International Airport is only fifteen miles away, and Kinsale has a good connection with the rest of Ireland through its proximity with Cork City. If a nice plate of food in a lovely and lively historic town is your ideal way to experience Ireland, Kinsale is the place to have it.
Clonakilty, County Cork
Clonakilty is a town in County Cork, in the south of Ireland, that has more than one thing that put it on the map. If you plan to travel with someone who has autism, or if you yourself are an Autistic person, you will love Clonakilty for the fact that it’s Ireland’s first accredited Autism-Friendly Town. In fact, this might make you love Clonakilty even if you have nothing to do with autism.
The other thing that makes Clonakilty so great is its proximity to so many incredible beaches and villages. You can use the town as a base while you venture out on excursions to The Warren and the village of Rosscarbery. And then there are Duneen, Owenahincha, Dunworley, Inchydoney, and other beautiful beaches you should visit.
Clonakilty is also known as the town near which Michael Collins was born. If you’re not sure who Michael Collins was and why he is such a towering figure in the history of modern Ireland, you will be able to find out in the Michael Collins Heritage Centre. The Michael Collins House is also in the town.
Tramore, County Waterford
Tramore isn’t a resort town, but tourism did play an important role in its development. Its proximity to Waterford City and the Waterford Airport helped. That alone wouldn’t be enough to draw people to visit a small seaside town. But the three-mile beach for which the town was named would.
The town will give you plenty of reasons to stay once the beach has attracted you. For one, it’s a great place to go surfing. You can also learn to sail or kayak in Tramore, or simply swim in the sea. If golf is what you fancy, you can play one round or a few in Tramore. Or you can ride a horse on the beach.
The Tramore Walk will take you to the beautiful cliffs near the town. While you’re at it, you might want to stop by the Metal Man, a giant metal statue of a man standing on a pilon and pointing towards the sea. And if that gets you tired just in time for dinner, you’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from, and plenty of places with live music to entertain you.
Strandhill, County Sligo
In truth, you’ll find more than a few small charming towns in Ireland that offer great sunsets, beautiful beaches, and seaweed baths. There always seems to be a golf course somewhere near, and a couple of surfing schools. Strandhill doesn’t seem to be an exception.
Strandhill Beach is a well-known destination for surfers, even though it’s not swimmer-friendly. The town is close to Culleenamore Strand, where you can occasionally see seals, but also enjoy horseracing. There is a golf course in Strandhill, and you can enjoy the seaweed baths, too. And then, there’s Knocknarea.
Knocknarea is a large hill near Strandhill. It’s famous for being home to Ireland’s second largest cairn, a man-made pile of stones that indicates something important, called Medb’s or Maeve’s Cairn. The real jewel of Knocknarea is The Glen, a microvalley of glacial origin named after the mythological Queen Medb. The flora within will blow your mind.
Dalkey, County Dublin
Dalkey is a small town and a suburb of Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. It got its name from the nearby Dalkey Island which, at various points in time, was home to the early settlers of Ireland, the Vikings, and the early Christians. But that’s not the most significant part of the town’s charm.
Dalkey is, to say it bluntly, a suburb for the well-off. It’s a place where sightings of the likes of Bono, Enya, and Van Morrison are not that uncommon because they all own property in or near the town. The village-like feeling of Dalkey must have appealed to them, as it will appeal to anyone who likes the charm of village life without the actual hassles of living in a small village.
If you’re not into celebrity-spotting, you might want to visit Dalkey for the Dalkey Book Festival, or the Lobster, Crab & All That Jazz festival. While you’re there, stop by the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre and learn about the history of the Viking-founded town.
Rosses Point, County Sligo
Rosses Point is a village and a peninsula in Country Sligo, and just like Strandhill, it’s one of the many seaside towns and villages that has a beautiful beach, a golf course, and some amenities for water sports. But it’s not a generic village because Ireland doesn’t create generic villages.
Rosses Point’s unique and lovely character was molded by the village’s tie with the great body of water stretching out in front of it. There are three lighthouses in or near Rosses Point, including a Metal Man lighthouse. The town is the home of the Waiting on Shore Monument, which perfectly depicts the relationship the Irish of Rosses Point has historically had with the sea.
The waters north of Rosses Point are the final resting place of three ships of the Spanish Armada. Rosses Point is also home to the Shanty Festival, which takes place in June every year. That might be the best time to visit the village and enjoy what it, and the sea, have to offer.
Clifden, County Galway
Connemara is a region in County Galway that’s known for two things: a strong presence of the traditional Irish culture, and breathtaking landscapes. As such, it’s a place people who want to experience traditional Ireland must visit. And if you want to visit Connemara, Clifden is the usual choice for a base.
You will probably hear that people call Clifden “the capital of Connemara.” As the largest town in the region with just over 2,500 residents, it is the region’s tourism center with an undeniable cosmopolitan charm. But it’s really Clifden’s location you’ll appreciate because it is the perfect place to stay while exploring the beauty of Connemara.
Some of the things you might want to see on your Clifden holiday include the Inishbofin Island, the Ballynahinch estate, the Connemara National Park, the Inagh Valley, and the Kylemore Valley. The Roundstone Bog is a must of conservationists and nature lovers in general, too.
Cong, County Mayo
Cong is a village on the border between Country Mayo and Country Galway. Cong’s major claim to fame is the filming of the 1952 John Ford movie The Quiet Man in and around the village. Even today, this connection keeps bringing tourists to Cong. If you’ve fallen in love with Cong while watching the movie, you will find it equally as nice in person.
For those who prefer history to the cinema, Cong is an appealing destination. Cong Abbey, or the Royal Abbey of Cong, is a ruin of an old monastery that might have been the place where the last High King of Ireland died. The Ashford Castle is another great place you’ll want to visit. It’s a medieval castle turned into a 5-star hotel that has, among other amenities, a falconry school.
Sneem, County Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a tourist route that runs for more than 110 miles through County Kerry. Following the Ring is probably the best way to experience the great variety of activities and landscapes in County Kerry. But even though you can drive along the Ring in a single afternoon, it’s best to do it slowly, in stages, with planned stays in towns and villages along the way.
Sneem, a village with a funny name that means “knot,” is one of the Kerry villages through which the Ring of Kerry passes. This village with a population of less than six hundred is a perfect place to stop for a day or two and enjoy the slow country life of Ireland.
For example, you can enjoy the Blueberry Hill farm — it’s good for adults, but it’s awesome fun for kids. The Staigue stone fort is one of the best ruins of ringforts in Ireland. Sneem has its own sculpture park, as well as a coral beach, which isn’t a usual sight in Ireland.
Adare, County Limerick
It takes guts for a village to call itself the prettiest one in Ireland. But no matter how many of the lists of prettiest villages in Ireland you go through, Adare will probably be on all of them. And if you go there, you’ll see that the County Limerick village really fits the bill.
Truth be told, Adare had a long time to develop into the lovely village it is today. The Desmond Castle on the north bank of the river Maigue was built in the late 12th century. The nearby village developed into a market town with a priory and two abbeys. The Adare Manor, which was added later, was the center of the Dunraven estate, of which the village was a part.
Today, Adare is a mix of the Irish traditional and the English village architecture styles, which gives the city much of its charm. You can enjoy live music events in Adare, look for faeries on Knockfierna, fish, watch horse or greyhound races, or enjoy in falconry or archery. Do all of that, and you’ll still have a couple of days’ worth of fun left in Adare.
Leighlinbridge, County Carlow
There’s nothing that demonstrates a prideful small town more than the title of the Best Kept Town in Ireland. Leighlinbridge in County Carlow got that honor back in 2015, and it was a welcome recognition for the town that likes to keep tidy. And that’s surely something to fall in love in.
Leighlinbridge lies on the River Barrow, and it makes perfect sense that a pretty small town would have a pretty bridge, in its name and over the river. There’s also a castle, called the Black Castle, that’s seen better days. Its ruins, however, really bring that historical feeling to the whole town.
Leighlinbridge is also a very sporty town. It has three clubs that play Gaelic sports — a hurling club, and two football clubs. The Vale Wanderers is the local soccer club. You can catch a game if you time the visit right, but you can also travel to nearby towns and root for Leighlinbridge’s teams there. Being a sports fan of one of Ireland’s tidiest towns sounds just lovely.
Killaloe, County Clare
Killaloe in County Clare is a town on the western bank of the River Shannon. Its twin, Ballina, is on the opposite bank and in a different county — County Tipperary. Killaloe was the birthplace of one of the famous High Kings of Ireland, Brian Boru. Brian ruled the whole Ireland from Killaloe, which technically made it the capital of Ireland, if only for a brief time.
Killaloe is a part of what they call Ireland’s Ancient East. If you want to learn more about the history of Killaloe, the region, and Ireland in general, the Killaloe Heritage Centre will be able to help. You can take a field trip to see the remains of Brian Boru’s fort, or visit one of Killaloe’s churches, or the cathedral.
You’ll never be far away from history in Killaloe. At the very least, the narrow streets and the charming old houses will remind you that you’re in a town that’s been here for a while. Apart from the history, people like to visit Killaloe because of Lough Derg, the lake in the Shannon River Basin. That’s where you can swim, windsurf, sail, fish, or kayak.
Aughrim, County Wicklow
Aughrim, the one in County Wicklow, isn’t all about the looks. But its looks will catch your eye. The city was once a village of granite miners, and to this day, many of its buildings are made from granite, giving the city a very distinctive aesthetic. The forge, the town hall, and the granite houses set the tone for the town.
To some extent, that is, because the surroundings do their part in making Aughrim such a lovely little place. The town lies on the Aughrim River, but very close to where the Rivers Ow and Derry meet to form it. The whole valley where the town lies is very scenic. Aughrim is also the starting point of the Sean Linehan Walk, a beautiful nature walk that will keep you busy for an afternoon.
Finally, it’s the people who will steal your heart in Aughrim. The way they care for their small town got them the title of Wicklow’s tidiest town for eleven years in a row. Aughrim was Ireland’s tidiest small town in 2006. But then again, once you see how pretty Aughrim is, it’s hard not to want to do something to help it stay that way.
Dingle, County Kerry
Dingle is the only town on the peninsula of the same name in County Kerry. It’s a harbor town where people still speak the Irish language, meet at the pub for music and drinks, and occasionally spot bottlenose dolphins off the coast. It’s as Irish as towns in Ireland get, and that alone would be enough to make you want to spend some time in Dingle.
But then, there’s the whole peninsula-worth of things you could be doing while staying in Dingle. Dingle is also quintessentially Irish in its mixture of historical heritage and natural beauty. There are around 6,000 years of human presence on the peninsula, attested by over 2,000 preserved monuments. And you can only imagine the myths and the tales you can hear about times long gone in westernmost part of Ireland.
The natural beauty surrounding the town provides a steady stream of tourists who come to enjoy it. Whether you want to watch the dolphins, surf in the Brandon Bay, or go horseback riding, you can do all of that against the backdrop of the dramatic landscape.
Kenmare, County Kerry
Kenmare in County Kerry is a town with two names. The one we’re familiar with, Kenmare, is the anglicized form of Irish words that mean “head of the sea.” The town is, after all, situated at the head of the Kenmare Bay. The other, Irish name of the town is Neidin, and it means “little nest.” And that’s all you need to know if you’re planning to visit.
Kenmare is a small town that will make you feel like you’re in a nest. Its ways will slow you down to a lovely, calm pace. The accommodation in the town will make you feel warm and cared for. And there will be more than enough of tasty choices for staving off hunger.
And if you want to burn those calories off, Kenmare and the surrounding area will give you all the opportunity you need. You could visit the Bonane Heritage Park, see the stone circle, ringfort, and some standing stones that witnessed over 5,000 years of history. Or you can go to a seafari or play a round or two of golf at the Ring of Kerry Golf Club. Also, the Ring of Kerry passes through Kenmare, so why not walk it a bit.
Inistioge, County Kilkenny
Inistioge is County Kilkenny at its most romantic. The village is small, with just over 250 inhabitants. It’s been featured in a couple of movies, including Widow’s Peak and Circle of Friends. The village green, the Inistioge bridge on the River Nore, and St. Mary’s church are among the main attractions in the village.
The best view of Inistioge and the surrounding area is from the Woodstock Estate above the village. There, you can find the remains of the old house, as well as the gardens and woodlands with many lovely footpaths. The gardens have recently been restored, so you’re in for a treat if you’re a fan of walks in nature.
Apart from that, there’s not much else to do in Inistioge. It’s a village where you go to get away from the city bustle. Kilkenny is close if you ever need some extra noise in your life. In Inistioge, you’ll enjoy the peace and quiet of a small Irish village. Or, you can spend your nights at the pub. It’s in Ireland, after all.
Birr, County Offaly
Do you know what the Leviathan of Parsonstown was? It was forty feet tall, seventy-one feet long, and on clear nights, it would turn its six-feet eye to the stars in search for hidden knowledge. Sadly, people started taking it apart when it was a bit over sixty years old, even though it was, for quite a while, the biggest of its kind.
The Leviathan of Parsonstown was a telescope located in the Birr Castle in Birr, County Offaly. Today, you can see its replica if you decide to visit the town. People who come to Birr tend to pay the Leviathan a visit because, well, the castle is one of the best things about the town. It is occupied, however, so you can’t wander it freely, but some of the grounds and gardens will be the perfect place for a walk.
Birr is a heritage town, and its many Georgian buildings are very well preserved. The town is also home to a well-known theater, an equestrian center, a pet farm, and a couple of lovely restaurants, cafes, and pubs. Come for the telescope, stay for the charming buildings, nice food, and pleasant surroundings.
Lismore, County Waterford
There are heritage towns, but then there are heritage towns that were founded fourteen hundred years ago. Lismore in County Waterford is one of the latter. Saint Mochuda founded the city before he died in 637, and he served as the first abbot of Lismore.
Some 550 years later, the Lismore Castle was built by Prince John, and it was a silent witness to the changing relationship between the Irish and the English. It’s still a prominent feature on the landscape today, or at least its rebuilt version is.
Over the years, Lismore has seen plenty of scholastic activities, and the 15th-century Book of Lismore is a prime example. All these things are just one part of what makes Lismore so great. You’ll be able to learn about them from the town’s Heritage Centre, while also having the chance to soak in all that makes Lismore lovely.
Cobh, County Cork
Ireland’s history has always been tied to the sea. That’s the way it is with islands — the sea is what brings food but also conquerors, and it’s where people go to escape misery. This kind of a relationship is obvious in many of Ireland’s port towns. And that includes Cobh.
Today, you’d fall in love with Cobh because it’s very much its own town, with its own views of how colorful its buildings should be. The tower of St. Colman’s Cathedral is always trying to pierce the sky, and it’s a perfect backdrop for the town that was always looking towards the sea.
It was in Cobh that the Titanic had its last European stop. Between the middle of the 19th and the middle of the 20th century, Cobh saw two and a half million people set off from its shores in search of a better life in America. It also witnessed the people deported to Australia. So if its unique personality attracts you to it, Cobh’s presence in the history of Ireland is what will make your stay.
Gweedore, County Donegal
Gweedore is a curious little village in County Donegal. It’s the most densely populated village in Europe with the world’s smallest harbor. Gweedore is a part of the Donegal Gaeltacht, the area in County Donegal where Irish is the primary language. And people call Gweedore the cradle of Irish culture because it still hosts old customs and culture.
Gweedore is located between the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Errigal. Out of the two, it’s the ocean that provides more opportunity for fun. The beaches in Gweedore are many and unspoiled — the coastline is jagged and the whole area is remote, keeping the many beaches and coves in pristine shape.
Gweedore is a great place to go fishing, but the reason people visit it has more to do with its traditional culture. Falling for the popular renditions of Irish culture is one thing. Coming to the source is a completely different experience.
Carlingford, County Louth
Vikings are just one of the many peoples that invaded, or tried to invade, the Emerald Isle. They were at it in the 9th century, and one of the places they conquered was — Carlingford. It’s in the name, after all, as Carlingford means “fjord of Carlinn.” But the Viking invasion wasn’t the only ordeal Carlingford, and other towns around Carlingford Lough, endured.
You can learn all about the history of the area when you visit the Carlingford Heritage Centre. You can also go to King John’s Castle in Carlingford, or visit the Dominican Priory, or the Kilwirra Church ruins. There’s plenty to see and do around the lough and the peninsula.
If you’re into leprechaun-themed activities and sights, Carlingford is one of the more important places for you to visit. It is the home of the last leprechauns of Ireland, apparently.
You can also enter a leprechaun and fairy underground cavern and see how these creatures would have lived if only they existed. But if you have kids, or you’re in touch with your inner child, it doesn’t get much better than a town that has both Viking stories and a leprechaun cave.