The buzz of Dublin draws many visitors to the Emerald Isle and while there is plenty of charm and character to discover in Ireland’s main cities, what truly makes Ireland special is its small towns and villages that are scattered across the countryside. After singing in Galway’s best pubs or stomping along the Giant’s Causeway, it is well worth building time into your schedule to find small-town Ireland.
These little villages often fall off the regular tourist maps, but those who spend the time and the extra miles to discover them are always rewarded for venturing off the beaten path. Whether you love food, architecture, handicrafts or tranquil local settings, here are the best small towns in Ireland.
1. Cobh, County Cork
The charming seaport of Cobh is infamous for being the last port of call of the Titanic before it sunk in Atlantic waters. These days, the tiny town in County Cork is a seaside getaway with colorful homes and a stunning cathedral. Stop into the Cobh Heritage Center to learn more about the history of the town and the role it played in Irish immigration. Or, enjoy a lunch on the waterfront—Cobh has one of the finest natural harbors in the world.
2. Dingle, County Kerry
At the end of the Dingle Peninsula, the town of Dingle has a beautiful little center and harbor. Dingle is well known for its location along the stunning twists of the Wild Atlantic Way, but the small Irish town itself is also a major foodie destination. It hosts a summer food festival but also has excellent coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and pubs that are open year-round. If you head out on the bay, be sure to keep an eye out for Fungie, the town’s beloved resident dolphin.
3. Carrickfergus, County Antrim
Often considered to be a suburb of Belfast, Carrickfergus is actually much older than the capital city of Northern Ireland. The town is best known for the amazing Carrickfergus Castle, an 800-year-old fort that has played a key role in defending Ireland for centuries. The old medieval town has walls that pre-date Derry’s as well as a well-heeled waterfront.
4. Howth, County Dublin
Howth has its humble origins as a rural fishing village but the small town is now a part of the greater Dublin area. Spend a day eating fish and chips before walking along the Howth Cliff Loop Path. For the best views, head out to Howth Lighthouse, Ireland’s most historic lighthouse.
5. Listowel, County Kerry
The small town of Listowel is sometimes known as the literary capital of Ireland because it has been home to so many playwrights and authors over the years. Set in the green countryside in County Kerry, Listowel has a cheery main street but the best thing to do is visit the Lartigue Monorail, a recreation of a unique railroad which ran between the town and the seaside resort of Ballybunion.
6. Adare, County Limerick
Adare Manor is easily one of the best castle hotels in Ireland, however, the town of Adare itself is an overlooked gem. Full of thatched-roof houses, medieval monasteries, and cozy pubs, Adare wins national awards for its traditional Irish look.
7. Trim, County Meath
Tidy Trim is a small town in County Meath that is best known for its large Norman castle. Trim is an Irish Heritage Town because of its concentration of historic buildings and it is well situated along the River Boyne. It also has a popular horse race track for a day out.
8. Eyeries, County Cork
Eyeries is a quiet, brightly painted village on the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. The trip to the small town is worth it to discover the colorful homes without the tourist crowds of Kinsale, but Eyeries is also ideally located for hill walks in the countryside. The town boasts the pretty ruins of a 7th-century church and has a healthy dose of local folklore tied to the Hag of Beara, who turned to stone while waiting for her beloved God of the Sea to return.
9. Westport, County Mayo
Westport’s town center was designed by architect William Leeson in the 1780s when a wealthy Earl decided to expand his stately gardens, forcing residents of the original town to move. The result is a town full of beautiful Georgian architecture and a lovely Mall along the Carrowbeg River. To ogle the estate, stop into Westport House, an 18th-century manor with a Pirate Adventure Park dedicated to Grace O’Malley.
10. Wexford, County Wexford
Wexford is the county town of County Wexford set on a harbor in southeast Ireland. The old Viking town was the center of the 1798 rebellion against British rule and an Old English dialect was spoken here until as late as the 19th century. Wexford’s long story runs deep, and as part of your explorations, be sure to visit the Irish National Heritage Park to learn more about Ireland’s 9,000 years of human history.