There is really something special about the numerous small towns and villages that dot the Irish countryside. There seems to be a formula to be considered one of the best small towns in Ireland, just the perfect mix of charm and quaintness. Here are just 7 of our favorite, mostly in the south and the east. We will be updating our list as we explore more.
What To Expect From The Best Towns To Stay In Ireland
Yes, there is almost a formula of what to expect in small towns and villages in Ireland. The big cities, like Dublin, Galway, Cork, and even our home city of Limerick have much of these as well – along with chain stores and the like. But there are certain elements that make a small town special, and worth the drive to.
For starters, there’s always a pub. You can’t be an Irish town, big or small without a pub. Next, add in some brightly painted buildings. You won’t pass through any small town in Ireland without seeing eye-catching shades of yellow, blue, and of course green. And finally a church. Together, all of these elements make for a perfect little Irish village.
We’ve been traveling to Ireland for 20 plus years and feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface with the number of Irish villages we’ve visited. Now that Ireland is home, we are hoping to get out and explore more of these villages in Ireland. In this post, we’ve written about a few of the best small towns in Ireland we’ve visited over the years.
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Dungarvan (County Waterford)
Dungarvan in Co. Waterford is one of those tiny Irish towns tourists dream of visiting. Tucked snuggly into a quaint harbor, it clicks off all the “requirements” needed to qualify as one of the best small towns in Ireland. There’s a 12th Century castle, less than 10,000 year-round residents, and it’s easily explored on foot.
The main draw for visiting is the Waterford Greenway. The greenway is a 46 km long cycling and walking path which connects Dungarvan to Waterford. Snaking along parts of the Irish coastline, the greenway offers a chance to stretch your legs while taking in the natural beauty of Co. Waterford. Dungarvan is truly one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
Where To Stay And Eat In Dungarvan
After you’ve built up an appetite exploring the greenway, Dungarvan offers several options to enjoy locally sourced Irish ingredients. The Moorings Dungarvan offers award-winning bistro-style food served by some of the friendliest staff in Ireland. The Tannery and its seasonal menu brings an elevated approach to Irish cuisine. Both restaurants are very popular and bookings are recommended.
After you’ve enjoyed the local food, head over to the Dungarvan Brewing Company to sample some local Irish craft beer. The brewery offers guided tours of the brewery which end in a tasting of their beers. Their taproom is available if you just want to wet your whistle. Accommodations vary in and around the town from the 5 star Cliff House Hotel outside of Dungarvan to glamping and self-catering sites.
Kilkee (County Clare)
About 90 km west of Limerick and an hour south of the Cliffs of Moher, sits the quaint coastal town of Kilkee in Co. Clare. We’ve been going to Kilkee since our first trip to Ireland in 1999, so it’s no surprise we feel Kilkee is one of the best small towns in Ireland.
A hidden gem along Ireland’s famous Wild Atlantic Way, Kilkee is a popular summer destination for residents of nearby Limerick. Beginning in the 1820s and thanks to the expansion of rail service to the Irish coast, the town’s popularity as a seaside getaway grew.
What To Do In Kilkee
Situated on the west coast of Ireland, it’s most notable feature is its horseshoe-shaped bay. The bay is protected from rough Atlantic waves by Duggerna Reef. The reef consists of three natural rock-enclosed formations more commonly referred to as “pollock holes.” The pollock holes are very popular natural swimming pools used by local residents and visitors.
After a refreshing dip in the sea, walking along the unspoiled cliffs is a must. Stretching out along the length of Kilkee, the cliffs, while not as tall as the more famous Cliffs of Moher, are stunning. Best of all, they are virtually devoid of tourists. Follow the Loop Head Way, an 8 km trail that begins at the pollock holes. The cliffs provide breathtaking views of the Irish countryside and the Atlantic Ocean.
Where To Eat In Kilkee
In addition to its natural beauty, Kilkee serves up an authentic Irish experience at its handful of pubs and restaurants. Naughton’s Bar is a family-run restaurant serving up classic gastropub fare. While Hickie’s Bar inside the Bay View Hotel serves up classic Irish dishes using locally sourced ingredients. For a great pint, visit O’Mara’s particularly on a sunny afternoon for its outdoor seating.
Popular spots for the locals, the pubs offer an opportunity to talk with locals about Kilkee and the surrounding area. It’s a welcome change from the touristy pubs found in Dublin and other major tourist destinations in Ireland.
Foynes (County Limerick)
Once the epicenter of aviation in Ireland, Foynes in Co. Limerick is a charming village on the banks of the Shannon River Estuary. Compared to most towns and villages around Ireland, Foynes is fairly “new.” The village only dates back to 1837 when surveyors began looking for a location to build a port along the Shannon River.
Nearly 100 years after its founding, the village was at the heart of trans-Atlantic travel. The advent of air travel, specifically “flying boats,” helped put Foynes on the map. If you love aviation history, Foynes is one of the best small towns in Ireland to visit.
What To Do In Foynes
Today, visitors can learn all about Foynes’s role in connecting travelers between Europe and North American in the Foynes Flying Boat Museum. As a self-proclaimed #AvGeek, let me say that the Foynes Flying Boat Museum is one of the best aviation-focused museums in the World. This is due in part to its full-size replica of a Boeing 314 flying boat.
Another claim to fame is being the home of the Irish Coffee. Invented in Foynes back in 1943, Irish Coffee is easily one of the most famous Irish drinks. While at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, pop into their coffee shop and try one.
Foynes is only a 45-minute drive west of Limerick and makes for the perfect day trip. The drive along the Shannon Estuary is dotted with spots to pull and enjoy the beauty of the Shannon River.
Kinsale (County Cork)
Kinsale is arguably one of the most charming towns in Ireland. Situated on the River Bandon in Co Cork, its colorful buildings and narrow lanes just scream “adorable.” With its close proximity to Cork City, only a 30-minute drive, many visitors come just for the day. Big mistake. Both on the land and on the sea, the town offers a wide range of things to see and do.
One of the must-see attractions is Charles Fort. Dating back to the 17th Century the fort was built to protect Kinsale and the nearby harbor from invasion by France and Spain. For those travelers looking to break a sweat, there’s loads of hiking, cycling, and running activities. The Compass Hill Loop Walk is only 3 km long but guides you to a scenic overlook with stunning views of the town and harbor.
Where To Eat In Kinsale
In addition to having a reputation for being one of the most adorable places to see in Ireland, Kinsale is also renowned for its food and drink. With the sea at their fingertips, restaurants like Fishy Fishy and Bastion serve up some of the freshest seafood in Ireland. If there was an award for the best small towns in Ireland for food, Kinsale would win every year.
Food And Drink Activities In Kinsale
Kinsale is also home to several producers of Irish craft beer, spirits, and mead. Blacks Brewery produces excellent Irish craft beer as well as rum, gin, and whiskey. Visitors can book tours of both the brewery and distillery.
Also located within easy walking distance of town is the Kinsale Mead Company. Mead is an ancient Irish alcoholic drink made using honey. This forgotten drink is making a big comeback in Ireland thanks to companies like Kinsale Mead. They offer guided tours at their meadery explaining how mead is made, ending the tour with a tasting.
A few days exploring around one of Ireland’s most picturesque towns is a must. There are several charming hotels and guesthouses located nearby. Two properties worth checking out are The Pier House B&B and the White House Kinsale.
Killaloe (County Clare)
Located on the River Shannon at the southern end of Lough Derg, Killaloe is one of those quaint Irish towns you’d miss if you blinked at the wrong time. And that would be unfortunate.
It’s because of where Killaloe is located that makes it one of the best small towns in Ireland. Killaloe is the perfect location to explore Lough Derg. The third-largest freshwater lake in Ireland, Lough Derg simply put, is stunning.
Once used to transport goods across Ireland, today you’re more likely to see pleasure boats, sailboats, and kayaks on the lake.
What To Do In Killaloe
From Killaloe, you can board one of the guide boats that navigate up and down Lough Derg. Cruises are usually an hour-long, packing in loads of stunning scenery along the way. Once back on land, head across the Killaloe Bridge from Co.Clare into Co. Tipperary and the “twin town” of Ballina.
If you are hungry, check out Flanagan’s on the Lake. Set just back from the River Shannon, the restaurant serves up traditional Irish gastropub flare. With loads of outdoor seating, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a pint of Guinness while taking in the fresh lake air.
Killaloe is easily explored on foot. The Killaloe Cathedral and Brian Boru Heritage museum offer insight into Killaloe’s history. Killaloe is a 30-minute drive from Limerick and approximately an hour from Tipperary City.
Cashel (County Tipperary)
If you like your history served with a side of cheese, then Cashel in Co. Tipperary is the place for you. At the heart of this small town of 4,500 is the 200-foot tall limestone outcrop known as the Rock of Cashel. The outcrop has stood witness over a 1,000 years of Irish history with visits by King Aengus, Brian Boru, and of course St. Patrick.
A cluster of buildings and towers has occupied the Rock as far back as the 12th century. The most predominant of these buildings is St. Patrick’s Cathedral which still stands today.
That’s the history, now the side of cheese. The British have their Blue Stilton and in Ireland, it’s Cashel Blue. Made from cow’s milk, the semi-soft, mild blue cheese traces its origins to a dairy farm in Co. Tipperary.
The cheese was given the name Cashel Blue in honor of the Rock of Cashel which overlooks the nearby pasture. If you want to taste cashel cheese at the source, Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers is only a 15-minute drive from the center of town. They offer visits to the dairy as well as an on-site shop. Cashel is a two-hour drive west of Dublin.
Lismore (County Waterford)
With only around 1,500 residents, Lismore definitely qualifies as a small Irish village. Located in Co. Waterford along the Blackwater River, the village is dominated by one feature, its castle. Dating back to the 12th Century, Lismore Castle was built by Prince John of England, who later became King.
Over the years, the castle has played host to numerous notable names in history including Sir Walter Raliegh, Robert Boyle, and President John F. Kennedy. Today visitors can explore its magnificent gardens, enjoy afternoon tea or world-class meal, and even spend the night in the castle.
Things To Do In Lismore
Fortwilliam Fishery located 2km outside the village, is home to salmon and trout fishing on the Blackwater River. Set on the Fortwilliam Estate, there are over 3.5 miles of double bank fishing grounds. Also located outside of Lismore in Ballyduff is Blackwater Distillery.
Producers of award-winning gin, whiskey, and vodka, the distillery takes its name from the nearby Blackwater River. The distillery offers tours and master cocktail-making classes. Ballysaggartmore Towers, apart from having a great name is worth checking out. The towers are architectural follies dating to the 19th Century.
Clonakilty (County Cork)
Located an hour’s drive from Cork City, Clonakilty is the gateway to stunning West Cork. Dating back to the 17th century, Clonakilty was honored in 2017 as the Best Town in Europe. Today, Clonakilty continues this excellence and is a must-visit for any traveler to County Cork.
For a town of around 5,000 residents, Clonakilty has a lot to offer. It’s home to the world-famous Clonakilty Black Pudding. Produced by the Twomey family since the 1880s, visitors to Clonakilty can do a self-guided tour and enjoy a sample of their famous puddings and sausages. If you enjoy Irish whiskey, head over to the Clonakilty Distillery. Here you can tour this ultra-modern distillery to learn how they make Irish whiskey, gin, and vodka. Tastings of all three spirits are available to the distillery. For the kid in all of us, Clonakilty is home to the West Cork Model Railway Village. Opened in 1994, the Village recreates several towns along the historic West Cork Railway Line.
Despite its small size, Clonakilty is worth an extra day to explore the stunning West Cork coastline. In terms of accommodations, there’s only one choice. Located only 10 minutes drive from the center of Clonakilty, Dunmore House is a 4-star family-run hotel that’s been welcoming guests since 1948. Perched on a hill, the hotel features breathtaking views of the West Cork coastline. For a taste of something local, head over to Oak Fire Pizza, yes a pizza place, in the center of Clonakilty. Their “Carnivore” pizza features locally made Clonakilty Black Pudding. And yes, it totally works. To wash it down, make sure to try a local craft beer from Clonakilty Brewing Company. The brewery produces four different beers using only the finest locally sourced grain and water from their own well.
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