Ireland is one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Europe, with spectacular coastline, jaw-dropping mountains and rolling green countryside. But while the landscapes might be breathtaking, it’s the towns and villages that are the country’s real charm.
The best part about visiting Ireland is the chance to experience small-town life. You’ll be enchanted by the friendly locals, traditional pubs and taverns, and the ramshackle, colourful streets found all across the Emerald Isle.
With so many destinations to visit, how do you know which ones to choose? To inspire your adventures, here are our favourite towns to visit in Ireland!
Found on the Dingle Peninsula on Ireland’s western coast, the small seaside town of Dingle is a delight to visit. There’s a resident population of just over 2,000 people, but in the height of summer it’s guaranteed to be packed out with tourists looking to experience the best that the town has to offer.
Dingle is a colourful affair, with quaint streets lining the Marina that looks out over Dingle Harbour. If you call into Murphy’s, then you can find some of the best ice cream on the west coast, while the many pubs and cafes in town offer excellent food and drink.
Dingle is surrounded by great scenery from rugged cliffs to long beaches, and it’s the perfect place to get outdoors. You can kayak in the harbour, take boat tours along the coast and out to the remote and uninhabited Blasket Islands, or go hiking in the countryside.
The town is also known for its marine life. Call into the Oceanworld Aquarium to learn more, or watch out across the harbour for Dingle’s friendliest local – Fungie the Bottlenose Dolphin – who has been living here since 1983.
Lahinch is a wonderful town to visit on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. As well as being a great place to stay, it’s the perfect base from which to explore such iconic sights as the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren National Park.
Lahinch gets busy in the summer months because this seaside town has one of the best beaches on the west coast. Lahinch Beach stretches for almost two kilometres along the coast from town, and it’s lined with perfectly golden sands and marvellous surf.
As well as being a great place for a stroll or to relax when the sun is out, Lahinch Beach has become a hit amongst surfers. In town, you’ll find an ever-growing number of surf schools and surf shops catering to visitors arriving from all over the world who are looking to hit up the waves.
Along the coast here, you’ll find that there are a huge variety of surf conditions, and you’ll see both pros and absolute beginners in Lahinch, making the most of the different waves.
Another great town to visit along the Wild Atlantic Way is Westport, which is found in the heart of County Mayo. With a population of 7,000, Westport is comparatively large for an Irish town, but you’ll still find that welcoming small-town Irish feel everywhere you go.
A beautiful river runs through the centre of the town, and you can cross over on the historic Doris Brother’s Bridge, while the market square is wonderfully authentic and surrounded by heritage buildings dating back to the Victorian era.
Westport House on the edge of town is a large stately home, and one of the most famous tourist attractions in Ireland. The estate dates back to the 1730s, and today the house and the grounds are open to the public.
Across the town, you can find a lively pub scene, with many traditional taverns serving up excellent Irish dishes and offering live music and entertainment through the week to visitors. Hence Westport is a fantastic place to spend a night or two when you are touring through Ireland.
On the southwest coast of Ireland you can find Kinsale, one of the country’s most picturesque towns. Kinsale is in County Cork, and it’s often visited on a day trip from nearby Cork, which is Ireland’s second-largest city. Kinsale though is deserving of more time, and it’s a great place to stay, especially if you want to avoid the day trip crowds and have the place to yourself once the rest of the tourists have left for the day.
Kinsale is a small port town with a rich history and a colourful outlook. You can enjoy the busy harbour and learn more about the town’s strategic importance in Irish history by visiting the imposing forts that overlook the bay.
The narrow streets of the town centre are brightly coloured, and you can find some of Ireland’s best restaurants here. The town is known for its food and even plays host to an annual culinary festival, which celebrates all things food.
Cobh is another great Irish town also found in County Cork. It’s just a short drive away from Cork city, and it’s easily one of the most charming towns in Ireland.
Cobh is often named as one of Ireland’s most beautiful towns by big travel publications and often makes it onto lists of the most beautiful towns in Europe too, giving it a lot to live up to. Luckily, Cobh easily fulfils any expectations – before drastically exceeding them.
This is a harbour town located on an island in the bay that leads from Cork towards the ocean. It’s in spectacular surroundings, but its location has also made this one of Ireland’s most important seaports. Cobh was the last port of call for the Titanic before she sank in the Atlantic, and for many millions of Irish immigrants who left the country for America in the 19th century, it was also the last port of call in their home country.
The town is filled with history, colourful streets and unique heritage, making this not just a beautiful place to explore, but an intriguing place to uncover too.
Killarney is one of Ireland’s most famous tourist destinations because this town in the heart of County Kerry is surrounded by national parks and is the gateway to the popular Ring of Kerry, a travel route that takes in some of the west coast’s best scenery.
Killarney was one of Ireland’s first real tourist destinations when travellers began visiting in the Victorian era in search of waterfalls, charming Irish towns and villages, and a sense of adventure, history and nature. Tourist numbers have increased a lot in the last 200 years of course, but Killarney and the surrounding area have managed to retain exactly those reasons why people first visited.
On the edge of town, you can visit the extensive grounds of the Killarney National Park, where you will find crashing waterfalls hidden in the forest and some wonderful hiking routes. You can boat across the three lakes found here, and even visit the ancient ruins of medieval monasteries and castles that lay crumbling on the edge of the water.
Kenmare is a small town on the southern coast of the Iveragh Peninsula, and it’s an important stop on the popular Ring of Kerry route that leads from Killarney. Overlooking the Kenmare Bay, this is where the peninsula really begins, and it’s an excellent introduction to this wild, western part of the Irish coast if you are travelling from Killarney.
Visit the Kenmare Heritage Centre to learn more about the town’s intriguing past, before heading to the edge of town to see the historic Kenmare Stone Circle that’s stood here for thousands of years.
You can relax in the local pubs and restaurants after exploring the town, as Kenmare has some excellent local dishes to try and a quality dining scene.
Portmagee is another wonderful, small town that’s found on the Iveragh Peninsula and that’s part of the Ring of Kerry. Portmagee is located on the far western edge of the peninsula, overlooking the stormy Atlantic Ocean. With a population of just over 100 residents, this almost feels like the end of the world.
That description isn’t far off either, because this is one of the most westerly points, not just in Ireland, but in Europe. From Portmagee, you can take a short boat journey across to the Skellig Islands, which are the most westerly point on the entire continent.
The Skellig Islands are the best reason to visit Portmagee, as from the town you can join tours heading out across the windswept waters to these remote and isolated islands. Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are uninhabited, but the rocky cliffs and dramatic peaks are one of the most iconic sights in Ireland.
The islands were recently made famous by the Star Wars movies, as they served as a key filming location for the franchise’s latest instalments. The films featured the centuries-old monasteries that used to be occupied by monks and hermits looking to escape the rest of the world, and that are now some of the best preserved medieval ruins in the country.
Away from the admittedly spectacular Irish coastline, few towns in the interior of the country ever seem to get much mention, despite being just as beautiful as their coastal counterparts.
One of these great towns to visit is Athlone in central Ireland, in County Westmeath. Athlone is both beautiful and historic, and it’s a fantastic place to spend a few days exploring.
Athlone is almost exactly in the geographical centre of Ireland, and it’s built on the wide banks of the River Shannon, where the town’s imposing castle has stood guard for centuries. Athlone Castle dates back to at least the 12th century AD, and in the past few hundred years both the town and the castle have played important roles in Irish history.
Athlone is a town that’s filled with heritage. Aside from the castle, tourists will want to visit Sean’s Bar, an ancient pub with over 1,000 years of history, which claims to be the oldest in the world.
Up in the north, Donegal is a small town that gives its name to the wider County Donegal. The town is found overlooking Donegal Bay, with mountains rising behind and the ocean ahead. It’s a perfectly picturesque setting, and Donegal is a great place to venture into the outdoors.
The Bluestack Mountains are a rugged area of hills and small peaks that are perfect for hiking, while Lough Eske is one of the most aesthetic lakes in the country. You can explore the rugged coastline, join boat tours along the river and out into Donegal Bay, and you can enjoy some excellent food in the local pubs.
Donegal also has a lot of historic sites to see. You’ll want to visit Donegal Castle, a restored, 16th-century fortress, and you won’t want to miss the ruins of Donegal Abbey, where in past centuries rebellious Irish leaders would plot their revolts.
Back in the south of the country, Lismore is a marvellous little town in County Waterford that’s packed with heritage. The town dates far back to around the 7th century AD, making this one of the oldest continually inhabited towns in Ireland.
Lismore has had a long association with religion. The most important site in the town is Lismore Abbey and Castle, which has for centuries dominated the area. The gardens of the castle are beautiful to wander around, and you’ll find them to be a peaceful and tranquil escape from the rest of the world.
The castle itself was built where the original abbey stood, and the current fortress was built in the 18th-century by the local, noble family that ruled over Lismore. It’s a marvellous example of Georgian-era architecture in Ireland.
Once you’ve delved into Lismore’s history, take the time to enjoy the small town atmosphere and sit back in the pubs with a drink or two while sampling some local dishes.
Our small group tours of Ireland pass through many of the Emerald Isle’s charming towns and villages, giving you the opportunity to experience them in person. To find out more, see Overland Ireland’s superb range of tours or contact us to discuss your Irish adventure.