I’ve lived in Ireland for 35 years and, let me tell ya, many of the best places to visit in Ireland are consistently omitted from shiny tourist guidebooks. Does that make them any less worthy of a visit? Of course not!
With that in mind, this guide has a bit of a twist – it only focuses on hidden gems and unique places to go in Ireland (many of which you’ll hopefully have never heard of!).
If you want to see some of the hidden gems in Ireland that many tend to miss, you should find the below enlightening. Cheers!
The best places to visit in Ireland
Below, you’ll find everywhere from haunted castles and hidden caves to some unusual places to go in Ireland (the map above gives you a sense of where each location is).
1. Coumshingaun Lough (Waterford)
We tend to get a lot of emails from tourists asking where to go in Ireland for the best views. One of the places that I tend to recommend first is Coumshingaun in County Waterford.
It’s on the Coumshingaun Lake Walk that you’ll see the view in the photo above all for yourself. There are a few different walks that you can do here.
The full walk takes between 4 and 6 hours to complete. You can find more info on the walk in our guide to things to do in Waterford.
2. Bull Rock (Cork)
The chances are you’ll have heard of Dursey Island in Cork (yep, it’s the island that’s accessible via a little cable car).
Off the western point of the island stands three rocks: Cow Rock, Bull Rock and Calf Rock. Bull Rock, pictured above, looks like something whipped right from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
If you’re looking for top places to visit in Ireland that’ll make you feel like you’ve stepped into a different world, get Bull Rock in Cork to the top of your ‘to-conquer’ list.
3. The Serpents Lair (Galway)
Although it’s frequently referred to as ‘the Serpent’s Lair’ and ‘the Wormhole’ the real name of our next spot is ‘Poll na bPeist’.
Now, while the finely-cut edges in the photos above look like they were cut with some enormous tool, the Wormhole was actually formed naturally.
Mad stuff altogether. Find out more about this natural phenomenon in our guide to Inis Mor’s Wormhole.
4. Scrabo Tower (Down)
Scrabo Tower in Newtownards in Down was built in the 19th century and it’s what we call a ‘Folly’.
A ‘Folly’ is a structure that has been built mainly for decoration, but its design suggests that it has some other grand purpose.
You’ll find it in Scrabo Country Park and those that climb the hill will be treated to incredible views over Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside.
5. The Kilbaha Cliffs (Clare)
The cliffs near Loop Head Lighthouse are, in my opinion, one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
Few visit the spectacular cliffs at Kilbha. And that’s what makes them that little bit more special. I’ve been 5 or 6 times and it’s rare that you’ll ever meet more than a handful of people.
Places like the cliffs at Kilbaha are up there with the best places to see in Ireland. Visitor numbers mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.
It’s all about the impact the scenery has on you. And the cliffs here pack a big aul punch.
6. Dunmore Cave (Kilkenny)
Dunmore Cave is another of the more unique places to visit in Ireland and you’ll find it tucked away in Kilkenny.
Some of the earliest mentions of this place date back to the 9th-century, where it’s referred to as one of the ‘Darkest places in Ireland’. Dunmore Cave has a history darker than its deepest depths.
Records from the 17th-century Annals of the Four Masters – a series of chronicles of medieval Irish history – state that in 928AD, more than 1,000 people were slain here by Vikings (more info).
7. McDermott’s Castle (Roscommon)
You’ll find one of the more unique castles in Ireland in Roscommon on the beautiful Lough Key, not far from the town of Boyle.
Stretching around 10km across and forming a rough circular shape, Lough Key boasts 30 plus islands scattered throughout its chilly waters.
One of these islands is aptly named ‘Castle Island’ and it’s here that you’ll find the ruins of McDermott’s Castle.
Find out more about how to reach the castle along with the tragic tale behind it in our guide to McDermott’s Castle on Lough Key.
8. Doon Fort (Donegal)
The wonderfully unique Doon Fort in Donegal is a Western Stone Fort at the centre of Loughadoon, near Narin and Portnoo.
The fort has been linked with two families: the Breslin’s and the O’Boyle’s. It’s said that the Breslin’s occupied it from the 5th century, while the O’Boyle’s held it until it fell into disrepair.
Although Doon Fort is situated on private land, during the peak summer season the family that owns the land rent out small boats to those that fancy visiting it.
9. The Caves of Keash (Sligo)
Many of the best places to visit in Ireland, in our opinion, can be found on Ireland’s west coast.
However, few boast a past like the Caves of Keash in County Sligo. The caves here form an ancient passage tomb cluster that are believed to predate the Pyramids of Egypt by a staggering 500-800 years!
Geological inspections took place during the 1900s that revealed how ‘early man’ used to use and live in the caves at Keash.
Evidence has also revealed that bears, wolves, arctic lemming, and other wildlife have lived here in the past. There are 17 caves in total. Learn more about them in our guide on what to do in Sligo.
10. The Croaghaun Cliffs (Mayo)
A lot of people mistake the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal as the highest sea cliffs in Ireland. The cliffs at Slieve League are the highest cliffs on the island of Ireland.
Interestingly enough, they’re also the third highest in Europe. The cliffs here can be found at the northern slope of Croaghaun mountain and can be admired if you hike around to the summit.
11. Leap Castle (Offaly)
One of the must see places in Ireland for visiting ghost hunters is the haunted Leap Castle near Roscrea in Coolderry.
The castle here is said to be the most haunted in Ireland, with TV shows like Most Haunted filmed here over the years. According to legend, a lady in red prowls the castle with a silver blade after dark.
Another reason Leap Castle is said to be haunted is due to the discovery of a secret dungeon that contained hundreds of human skeletons.
It’s believed that the O’Carrolls would drop people through a trap door onto spikes laid out in the dungeon below.
12. Spike Island (Cobh)
The little town of Cobh is considered to be one of the best places to visit in Ireland by many of the tourists we chat to.
However, few make the short ferry ride to nearby Spike Island. Over the past 1,300 years, the Island has played host to a Monastery, a 24-acre Fortress and the largest convict depot in the world.
At one stage, the Island housed convicts prior to penal transportation. This is where the nickname ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’ originated.
13. The Lost Valley (Mayo)
Although the Lost Valley in Mayo is still a hidden gem, of sorts, I can see it becoming one of the top places to visit in Ireland in the coming years.
If you haven’t come across it, the Lost Valley is a part of Mayo that has remained untouched since the villagers who lived there were evicted during the Great Famine.
The valley is now privately owned by the Bourke family. Before owning it, they were employed by a landlord to farm it and, interestingly enough, before that they were one of the families evicted.
Find out loads more about the lost valley in our guide to the best things to do in Mayo in 2024.
14. Marsh’s Library (Dublin)
Many people that visit Dublin tend to visit one library – the Long Room in Trinity College. However, there’s another constantly missed library that’s just as central and just as, if not more, historic.
Marsh’s holds a staggering 25,000 books and over 300 manuscripts. If you visit, keep an eye out for bullet holes in the bookcases, which were made during the Easter Rising.
If you’re wondering where to visit in Ireland that most tourists tend to miss, carve out some time for Marsh’s.
15. The Swiss Cottage (Tipperary)
Built during the early 1800s by a chap called Richard Butler, the Swiss Cottage in Tipperary was originally part of Lord and Lady Cahir’s estate and was used to entertain guests.
The cottage was carefully restored in 1985, ensuring that its unusual and quirky features remained intact.
A visit to the Swiss Cottage is perfectly paired with a trip to the wonderful Cahir Castle.
You can stroll along the riverside to the Swiss Cottage from the castle in about 45 minutes.
16. Largy Waterfall (Donegal)
Now, although you’ll see Largy Waterfall appear in many guides to the best places to visit in Ireland, few of them provide the necessary warnings.
While Donegal’s secret waterfall looks like a scene from a Jurassic Park movie, it’s vital that you understand how to read the tides, as if you get stuck here when the tide comes in there’s no way out.
You’ll find this hidden gem on the Slieve League peninsula in Donegal. The waterfall is located in Largy, a village nestled between the towns of Killybegs and Kilcar.
Warning: Please read this guide before visiting – care really is necessary if visiting this place.
17. Ballaghbeama Gap (Kerry)
People often make the mistake of believing that the best drive in Kerry is the Ring of Kerry driving route. It’s an fantastic drive, don’t get me wrong, but there are plenty more drives worth doing in Kerry.
One of my favourite drives in Kerry takes a road through the wonderful Ballaghbeama Pass. The road here cuts across the mountains in the centre of the beautiful Iveragh Peninsula.
The road takes you along a wild scenic route where you’ll meet little traffic and plenty of sheep. You’ll also have the chance to soak up an endless number of mountain views.
18. The Marble Arch Caves (Fermanagh)
You’ll find the Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh, in a borderless Park (the Marble Arch Geopark) which is located within both counties Cavan and Fermanagh.
The Marble Arch Caves are a series of natural limestone caves found near the little village of Florencecourt.
At around 11.5 kilometres in length, the caves form the longest known cave system in Northern Ireland.
Visit our guide to the best places to visit in Northern Ireland for more things to do in this neck of the woods.
19. The Dark Sky Reserve (Kerry)
So, there’s a gorgeous little corner of Kerry that is a designated International Dark Sky Reserve and one of only 3 Gold Tier Reserves on the planet.
This means that on a clear night the sky in this part of Kerry (known as the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve) is scattered with astronomical sights that you can admire with the naked eye.
Now, although this has been on a bucket list of best places to visit in Ireland that I’ve been attempting to tick off for a while, every time I’ve visited the sky has been packed with clouds.
Next time, definitely… OK hopefully…
20. Priest’s Leap (Cork)
The pictures above give you a little insight into what you can expect if you spin along the Priest’s Leap.
This drive (or cycle) takes you through one of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland. Those that spin along this road will be taken on a spectacular trip over Ireland’s highest mountain pass.
You can kick-start the spin in Bonane in Kerry and you’ll be brought to your finish point in Coomhola in Cork.
Priest’s Leap is a steep, bendy and narrow mountain road that treats those that take it to magnificent mountain and wild landscape views.
Warning: If you’re driving in Ireland for the first time, avoid this place. The road is extremely narrow. Avoid altogether in poor weather.
21. The Cloughmore Stone (Down)
You’ll find the Cloughmore Stone in Kilbroney Park near Rostrevor in County Down – a place that’s also home to a viewing point called ‘Kodak Corner’.
Referred to locally as the ‘big stone’, the Cloughmore Stone is a massive granite boulder weighing in at around 50 tonnes.
Although you’ll rarely see this one in guides to the best places to visit in Ireland, it, and much of County Down, never fails to disappoint.
22. Gougane Barra (Cork)
There are certain places in Ireland that tend to rock you a little. You’ll have seen pictures or videos while you were planning your trip and you’ll have built an image of the place in your head.
But it just doesn’t prepare you for the real thing. The sights, smells and sounds that immerse you when you visit Gougane Barra in Cork have the ability to stop you in your tracks.
Places in Ireland like Gougane Barra imprint themselves upon your mind. The large valley and lake at Gougane Barra are enveloped by the rugged rock face of the mountains, which rise up to an impressive 370 metres.
23. The Shannon Pot (Cavan)
The Shannon Pot in Cavan is where the mighty Shannon River begins. There’s a lovely bit of Irish folklore behind how the Shannon Pot first started.
According to legend, it’s all linked to the legendary Finn MacCool. The story goes that Síonnan, the daughter of a chap called Lodan, came to the Shannon Pot to search for the Salmon of Wisdom.
When the great salmon noticed her, it was furious. It was so enraged, in fact, that it caused the pool to overflow. As the water surged dangerously, Síonnan became trapped and drowned.
The surge of water caused the River Shannon to form and the river still bears Síonnan’s name to this day.
24. Crag Cave (Kerry)
If you’re looking for things to do in Kerry when it’s pouring down, get yourself to Crag Cave. This cave here was discovered by divers in 1983 and it’s thought to be a whopping 1 million+ years old.
Crag Cave is an ancient fossil system that was once filled to the brim with water, which eroded the rock into a beautiful maze of tunnels and chambers.
It’s easy to visit Kerry and to stick to the old reliables – if you’re planning a visit, try and carve in some time for the less-visited (but no less impressive) attractions, like Crag.
25. The Knockmealdown Mountains (Tipperary)
The Knockmealdown Mountains border counties Tipperary and Waterford. While they’re a fine spot for a weekend adventure, what makes them unique?
Every year, between May and June, sections of the mountain are covered in a beautiful blanket of pink and purple rhododendrons
There are several trails, a couple of which are up there with the best hikes in Ireland, that you can head off on here, peaking at Knockmealdown itself and the famous Sugarloaf mountain.
26. Benwee Head (Mayo)
If you’re wondering where to go in Ireland to escape the crowds, head for North Mayo along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Many people completely miss the North Mayo coastline when exploring Ireland. Which is a shame, as the coastline here is some of the most rugged that Ireland has to offer.
It’s also home to the magnificent Benwee Head. You can nearly hear the whistle of the wind and the crash of the waves from the photos above.
There’s a 5-hour loop walk that you can head off on here that follows a bog trail and takes in cliffs, ocean, and incredible coastal views.
27. Kinnagoe Bay (Donegal)
However, I’ve been here on a dull winters day and it was still excellent. If you want to get the view seen above, you’ll find a spot to safely pull in on the road above.
If you’re debating visiting this part of Ireland (which you definitely should), dive into our guide to the best Donegal attractions to whack onto you ‘to-see-sharpish’ list.
28. Sruth in Aghaidh an Aird (Sligo)
Our next spot is one of the top places to visit in Ireland when it’s raining. Why? Well, you can only see this waterfall when it’s lashing rain, or right after heavy rainfall.
At a whopping 150m, Sruth in Aghaidh an Aird (also known to as ‘the Devil’s Chimney’ online) is Ireland’s highest waterfall.
There’s a 45-minute moderately strenuous walk that’ll take you up to see it in action. See more of this place in our guide to the best things to do in Sligo.
29. Down Cathedral (Down)
You’ll find Down Cathedral standing proudly on the Hill of Down where it overlooks the historic town of Downpatrick.
Down Cathedral is easily one of the best places to see in Ireland for those of you looking to visit sites that are heavily linked with St. Patrick.
It’s here, in the Cathedral’s grounds, that St. Patrick, Ireland’s Patron Saint, is buried. Although the stone that marks his grave wasn’t erected until 1900, it’s thought that St. Patrick died in 461.
30. Islands galore (multiple)
31. Kinbane Castle (Antrim)
Kinbane Castle was built on a small rock promontory known as Kinbane Head on the Antrim coast in 1547. The promontory extends out into the sea, making the location delightfully dramatic.
Those that visit can expect Isolated ruins, jagged cliffs and gorgeous coastal scenery. Make sure to visit if you’re driving the Causeway Coastal Route.
32. The Spire of Lloyd (Meath)
Randomly enough, the 30m (100ft) Spire of Lloyd is actually an inland lighthouse that can be found on the summit of the Commons of Lloyd in County Meath.
It’s said that the spire was used to view horse racing and hunting during the 19th century. Inside the Spire, you’ll find a 164-step spiral staircase that leads to the top.
On a clear day, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the surrounding countryside out as far as the Mountains of Mourne in County Down.
33. The tourist favourites
I’m updating this guide after we’ve had about 20 moany emails saying something along the lines of, ‘You can’t have a guide to the best places to visit in Ireland and not mention X, Y, Z etc…’.
If you were debating firing on one of those emails, too, pleeeease… don’t. The idea behind this articles was to give you a sense of where to go in Ireland to see some unique attractions.
However, I’ll list off some popular places to go in Ireland for those of you looking for tourist favourites:
- Keem Bay
- Valentia Island
- The Kerry Cliffs
- Croagh Patrick
- Killarney National Park
- Connemara National Park
What unique places to go in Ireland have we missed?
Although we’ve coined this as a guide to the best places to visit in Ireland, I have no doubt that we’ve missed some great ones.
If there are any unique places to go in Ireland that you’d like to recommend, shout in the comments section!
FAQs about where to go in Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are some funky places to see in Ireland during winter?’ to ‘Where to go in Ireland for dark history?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received about the best places to visit in Ireland. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Where should tourists go in Ireland?
This is an almost impossible one to answer as a heap of factors come into play. Take your arrival point, first, and then determine your ‘must-dos’. From there, plot a route that suits you!
What are the best places to visit in Ireland?
If you want the tourist favourites, the Cliffs of Moher and Killarney tend to top many lists. For unique escapes, aim for West Cork, the North Mayo Coast or one of Ireland’s islands.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.