15 Best Places to Visit in Ireland

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Ireland is a small country with a huge variety of places to visit.

In the East, Dublin and Belfast are modern cities built on deep histories, both within driving distance of some breathtaking scenic views.

The West retains an ancient feel, with its wild cliffs, defiant castles and pounding Atlantic coastline.

If you are looking for charming villages, traditional music and Ireland’s green fields, head South and South-west to find culture deeply embedded in everyday local life.

There’s only one problem. With so many choices, how do you work out the best places to visit in Ireland? With over 20 years as a travel writer who lives in Ireland, I’ve selected the best places to stay that should suit (almost) every preference.

1. DUBLIN CITY

BEST PLACE TO START/END YOUR TRIP

Most visitors will start or end their Irish trip in Dublin, and should include a visit to the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, the Guinness Storehouse, the National Museum of Ireland (the best free thing to do), or simply enjoy a picnic on St Stephen’s Green.

There’s no need to bring your car rental, as Dublin is easiest to manage on foot. Two nights is the perfect introduction to Dublin. For drinks, wander through Temple Bar, but be sure to visit The Brazen Head, and eat at Wilde.

If you’re using Dublin as a ‘hub’ location to visit places like Howth or Glendalough, you’ll want to read my hand-picked day trips beyond Dublin.

Dublin is also the top pick in Ireland for LGTBQ+ visitors. Pay homage to Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, on the short walk to his statue in Merrion Square before heading to The George, Ireland’s oldest open gay bar. You’ll want to visit Pantibar and Pennylane, owned by famous drag queen, Panti Bliss. Pride in Dublin is mahoosive and both GAZE (film) and Dublin Gay Theatre Festival are vibrant celebrations of Irish LGBTQ+ culture.

Photo by Patrick Hughes: St Stephen’s Green Dublin

2. COUNTY CLARE: CLIFFS OF MOHER & DOOLIN

BEST PLACE FOR NATURAL BEAUTY AND IRISH MUSIC

County Clare is in the West of Ireland and is one of the most visited locations because of the Cliffs of Moher and Doolin Village.

Nature is the leading reason most people come to Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher get over 1 million visitors every year. The Cliffs of Moher coastal walk has over 20km (12.4 miles) of hiking track, from easy to difficult, but if you don’t have the time (or hiking boots!), just drive to the Cliffs of Moher parking zone, head to the Visitors Centre and enjoy the amazing sea cliff views.

Nearby is Doolin Village, best known for its traditional music. You’ll love the music in its pubs, particularly McDermott’s or Gus O’Connors. The good news is that Doolin Pier is the jumping off point for the Aran Islands (see more below), and is where you can pick up a cruise of the Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Moher
Photo by Patrick Hughes: Cliffs of Moher

3. GALWAY CITY

BEST PLACE FOR IRISH ARTS & CULTURE

Galway retains an independent and arty vibe, and sits on the River Corrib where it flows to Galway Bay. I have to confess Galway is one of my very favourite places in Ireland, and not only for its very walkable cobblestone streets.

One thing I love is that Galway is a destination itself, but also the perfect gateway if you want to visit Connemara, the Aran Islands, Kylemore Abbey or Derrygimlagh – many of which you’ll have spotted are in my Best Places to Visit list!

I love to spend an hour in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop on Middle Street and you should check out what’s happening in one of Ireland’s most important cultural venues, the Druid Theatre.

This harbour city has a proud culinary tradition that you’ll want to get your teeth into. My personal favourite is the brunch at Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, but check out their seafood menu for dinner. Other wins are Neo for Thai food, Woozza for wood-fired pizza, and Ruibin for contemporary fine-dining.

STAY: The Galmont Hotel

4. KYLEMORE ABBEY

BEST PLACE TO EXPLORE FORMAL GARDENS

I admit it, Kylemore Abbey was somewhere I’d heard of but never been until recently. I had in mind this was a convent (it is, in fact, owned by Benedictine nuns), but the site is more than that.

Despite looking like a well-preserved medieval building, Kylemore Abbey was built in 1868 and was a private home until the 1920s. That means it’s in really great condition and you can tour the interior and the gorgeous Victorian walled gardens.

The romantic story of the owners, and their tragic downfall, will captivate you. This is a perfect outing from Galway (you’ll need max 2 hours to explore). Read my detailed guide of Kylemore Abbey here, including how to book.

STAY: Read my article 7 Best Hotels in Galway City Centre

5. CONNEMARA

BEST PLACE FOR UNTOUCHED NATURE

Connemara is one of Ireland’s six National Parks and should be on top of your planning list if you love untouched nature.

The park is over 2,000 hectares in size and is bisected by the N59 route, making it ideal for a road trip.

Stop off at the so-called “Capital of Connemara” – the town of Clifden which I think is the ideal small harbour town for an overnight stay.

Drive to the Connemara National Park Viewpoint, or hike the nearby Lower Diamond Hill Trail. One of my favourite stops is Derrygimlagh Bog, where the first ever transatlantic flight touched down. And a stop at Kylemore Abbey on the way towards Galway is a must.

STAY: Clifden Station House Hotel

6. ARAN ISLANDS

BEST PLACE FOR RUINS & TRADITIONAL CULTURE

When you arrive on Inishmore, Inishmaan or Inisheer, you’ve stepped into another world, the unique landscapes and history of the Aran Islands.

The islands can be reached by ferry from Doolin, and are perfect for a day trip. I did a cycling tour of Inishmore on my last visit and spent time at the prehistoric fort, Dun Aonghasa.

The islands are a very special place: you can’t take a car, the people running tours are people who really live the island life, and many locals still speak Irish as their first language.

STAY: Aran Islands Hotel in Kilronan, Inis Mor

Photographer: “Islander”, ©Fáilte Ireland

7. CAUSEWAY COAST

BEST PLACE FOR HIKING

The Causeway Coast skirts the top of the island of Ireland and is studded with geological and historical sites for you to discover.

As I’m from the North, I’d strongly recommend you visit the Giant’s Causeway for its unique rock formations, and – close by – take time to visit the ruins of Dunluce Castle, take a hike around Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and taste a wee dram of whiskey at Bushmills.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, the sensational Dark Hedges is just a few miles away from Carrick-a-rede and – as it’s been damaged by storms – now might be a good time to get to see it! Not quite on the Causeway Coast, the Game of Thrones studio tour starts at The Boulevard (near Banbridge, County Down).

STAY: Malmaison Hotel, Belfast

8. BELFAST CITY

BEST PLACE FOR HISTORY

Belfast is a busy and attractive city just two hours drive North from Dublin Airport and served by two airports of its own (alas, not directly from the US or Canada).

Belfast has developed quickly in the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement brought the era of the Troubles to a close. Get a sense of Belfast’s past with a black taxi tour, and take in the artistic murals that speak to the identities of this city.

Explore the excellent Titanic Museum, walk around the red-brick Queen’s University, and stay in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter where you’ll find some really great modern Irish cooking at places like Ox and the Muddlers Club (a personal favourite).

The cocktail bar at the Merchant Hotel is a must if you enjoy classic cocktails (the Bramble is excellent).

STAY: Merchant Hotel, Belfast

9. CORK CITY

BEST PLACE FOR URBAN WALKS

Cork City is the second-largest city in Ireland and is very walkable, with a mix of landmarks, markets and a strong cultural scene to keep you entertained.

I love a food market and Cork might have the best in Ireland, with the English Market which has been running since 1788 (this Cork culinary tour stops there too). Expect local and slow food options, including artisanal cheeses and local seafood.

Walk along St. Patrick’s Street, which is the main shopping district, but look out for the independent shops you won’t find anywhere else. Stop by Cork Opera House as it’s a bit of an iconic venue.

Visit Cork City Gaol (happily now a museum), enjoy a walk through Fitzgerald’s Park and stop off at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral if you’re interested in historical stained glass windows. Read about my favourite tours of Cork here.

You’ll find some pretty interesting spots to eat in Cork, too. I’m a fan of Market Lane for a lunch time special, and Greenes Restaurant has been popular for a long time for good reason!

STAY: Maldron Hotel South Mall

Photographer: Patrick Browne, ©Fáilte Ireland

10. DINGLE

BEST PLACE FOR SCENERY

Dingle has grown and grown in popularity simply because of the charm of Dingle Town and the peaceful atmosphere arising from its slightly remote location on a peninsula.

The landscapes here are stunning and Dingle is the starting point for the Slea Head Drive, a circular route that is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll see the Blasket Islands and Skellig Islands on the Drive and maybe even stop off for a tour.

Note: the local tourist board advises that it’s easiest to drive clockwise to help you avoid oncoming tour buses.

Dingle is a great hub location to stay a night or two – try out the Dingle Skellig Hotel. If you’re staying in town, there’s a lot of boat trips that leave from Dingle Harbour (some of which started as ways to see Fungie, the famous resident dolphin who sadly has now gone).

Dingle’s streets are full of colour with small independent shops and busy pubs. Try out Dick Mack’s pub for traditional Irish music and a decent pint. Local restaurant Out of the Blue is known for fresh local seafood.

STAY: Dingle Skellig Hotel

Patrick at the statue of local celebrity dolphin, Fungie, at Dingle Harbour.

11. KILLARNEY

BEST PLACE FOR NATURE

Killarney has for decades been the gateway to some of Ireland’s most spectacular natural attractions and is a popular hub for visitors to explore the South of Ireland. It’s the starting point for the renowned Ring of Kerry, which sweeps around the Iveragh Peninsula, taking in both natural views and fascinating buildings.

Start with Killarney National Park for access to lake views, mountains and forest. You can hike parts of the Park or better still take a bike. Visit Ladies View for the perfect photograph and explore the beautiful Muckross House and Gardens.

I’ve never done it, but visitors love to take a jaunting car ride with plenty of craic from the local drivers (the horses and carts are known by some as jarveys). The Gap of Dunloe (which is a narrow mountain pass) is a highlight on the Ring and can be hiked.

Killarney itself is a charming town to visit. Try Bricín for a modern take on Irish food (try their boxty), or enjoy the Lake Room restaurant in the Aghadoe Heights Hotel, which has stunning lake views.

If that’s not your vibe, head into town and get a drink at O’Connor’s pub for live music and a bit more craic (food served upstairs).

STAY: Killarney Heights Hotel

Photographer: Fiona Fitzgerald – ©Fáilte Ireland – St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney.

12. COBH

BEST PLACE FOR MARITIME HISTORY

Cobh may be the most picturesque town in County Cork, and that’s saying something. This port town is rich in maritime history and the views across the water are fabulous (particularly in the evening).

Start a visit at Cobh Heritage Centre, to learn about the town’s emigration history, particularly as it was the last port of call for the Titanic. If you visit the original White Star Line Building, you can enjoy the Titanic Experience Cobh, a deeper look at the ship’s ill-fated journey.

The view of Cobh is dominated by St. Colman’s Cathedral. Walk the colourful streets around town (also perfect for photographs). Take a tour of Spike Island (via ferry), a former monastery, fortress and prison – the guided tour is very well done.

When your feet are sore, take a seat in Kelly’s Bar for some seafood or local dishes (it’s highly rated and doesn’t take reservations).

STAY: WatersEdge Hotel

Photographer: Chaosheng Zhang, ©Fáilte Ireland

13. KINSALE

BEST PLACE FOR GOURMET IRISH FOOD

Kinsale is a coastal town only 30 minutes drive from Cork City and is well-known as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. I’m going to focus on food here, but if you want a bit of history first, go to Charles Fort, then wander through Kinsale’s charming streets.

For lunch, have seafood at Fishy Fishy which serves locally-caught seafood. For dinner, try out Bastion, a higher-end and highly-rated fine dining spot on Market Street.

Get out for a walk after dinner along the Scilly Walk, a coastal path that gives you great views of the harbour, or sit at Kinsale’s marina to watch the boats.

If you’re staying overnight, end your day with a drink at the Spaniard Inn, a historic pub with a warm, welcoming atmosphere and excellent views of the town.

STAY: Kinsale Hotel & Spa

14. SLIGO

BEST PLACE FOR LITERARY HERITAGE

I think Sligo is a bit overlooked. At just 3 hours from Dublin Airport, it’s known for stunning landscapes and literary connections and Sligo Town is a bustling smaller county town with good food and shopping.

Begin your visit with a trip to Benbulben Mountain (see my photo below), a must-see location which inspired many WB Yeats’ poems. If you enjoy Yeats poetry, visit the Yeats Society Sligo and Drumcliffe Cemetery where his grave is located.

Sligo town has plenty of cafes for lunch. Park along the Garavogue River and take a walk through town. Afterwards take a spin out to Strandhill for a wee ice-cream. Strandhill is a beach village known for its surfing. Stop off for a seaweed bath at Voya!

For dinner, try Eala Bhán for fine dining, or Hargadon Bros for more casual Irish food served up with a pint or two.

STAY: The Glasshouse Hotel

15. INISHOWEN PENINSULA

BEST PLACE FOR COASTAL VIEWS

The Inishowen Peninsula sits at the very northern tip of the island of Ireland, considered a little bit remote but all the better as it’s known for stunning coastal views and a strong sense of Irish culture.

The Wild Atlantic Way starts at Malin Head with dramatic sea views and some challenging local hikes.

Visit the ancient Grianán of Aileach, a circular stone fort that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. To understand some Irish history, stop at the Doagh Famine Village for an hour and take a guided tour with the owner (it’s fascinating).

Take a walk on Tullagh Strand, a gloriously-quiet Donegal beach and stop off in Buncrana for lunch. You might enjoy a bowl of seafood chowder at Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffin to round off your day.

I think the best thing about Inishowen is the friendliness of its people.

STAY: Inishowen Gateway Hotel

16. COUNTY DONEGAL

BEST PLACE FOR WILD IRISH ADVENTURES

County Donegal is located in the northwest corner of Ireland, and takes (at least) 3 hours to reach from Dublin Airport. The drive is well worth it.

Start in the North with Inishowen (see above), before heading to Glenveagh National Park, full of lakes, mountains, and forests. A good focal point is Glenveagh Castle, in the heart of the park, where you can take a guided tour.

Head to Slieve League, some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, with hiking trails that feature breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

For more ideas on where to go in County Donegal, read my 3 day driving itinerary of Donegal.

Expect hearty food in Donegal. The Olde Castle Bar in Donegal Town is known for seafood, while the Lemon Tree in Letterkenny has more of a fine-dining vibe and is VERY highly regarded locally.

I could advise you to visit over 100 pubs in Donegal, all of which will have a warm welcome and maybe some great music. But if you go nowhere else, visit Leo’s Tavern in Crolly, which is where Irish band Clannad originated (and Enya too), and where I’ve had the chance to sing along with some fantastic live music.

Patrick pictured at Slieve League cliffs in County Donegal

Summary

I’ve chosen 15 of my favourite places to visit in Ireland this year. The simple truth of the matter is that I could pick 15 more and they would also be good places to go!

As I said at the start, the challenge to building any itinerary for 7, 14 or even 21 days is how to structure your trip. Use this list to find out what you’re drawn to and start to pencil in a route that includes the places you want to see. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start booking where to stay in Ireland, for the simple reason the best places get booked up so quickly in high season. Enjoy your planning!

I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

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