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33 Best Places to Visit in Ireland (Hidden Gems)

33 Best Places to Visit in Ireland (Hidden Gems)

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!).

So, if you’re looking for info on the likes of the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, hop into our guide to the best things to do in Ireland.

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

Although the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher tend to be regarded as the ‘must see places in Ireland’, this is far from a one-or-two-horse island.

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. The Loop Head Peninsula

Kilbaha Cliffs

Photos via Shutterstock

The magnificent cliffs near Loop Head Lighthouse are overlooked by many exploring the Clare coast.

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.

Head for the lighthouse car park – there’s an-often-muddy trail that leads towards the cliffs (listen out for the waves).

If you walk left, you’ll see a massive sea stack. If you walk right, you’ll encounter breath-taking cliff views towards Kilkee.


2. McDermott’s Castle

McDermott's Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

You’ll find one of the more unique castles in Ireland in Roscommon on the beautiful Lough Key.

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.


3. Coumshingaun Lough


Photos via Shutterstock

If you’re wondering where to go in Ireland for great views and a serious workout, head for the Coumshingaun Lake Walk in Waterford.

Now, a disclaimer – this is one of the more challenging hikes in Ireland and good navigational skills are needed!

The full trail takes between 4 and 6 hours to complete and it’s treacherous in places. As you stroll (and scramble!) you’ll be treated to glorious views of the inky lake below.


4. Scrabo Tower

Scrabo Tower

Photos via Shutterstock

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. Ireland’s islands

Garnish Island

Photos by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

There’s plenty of islands off the coast of Ireland and, aside from the likes of Skellig Michael and the Aran Islands, many tend to get overlooked.

Garnish Island in Cork (above) and Arranmore Island in Donegal are two good options if you’re looking for a day trip.

However, the likes of Bere Island (Cork), Inishturk Island (Mayo) and the Saltee Islands (Wexford) are all places in Ireland worth adding to your to-visit list.


6. The Caves of Keash

Caves of Keash

Photos via Shutterstock

Many of the best places to visit in Ireland, in my 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.


7. Dunmore Cave

Dunmore Cave

Photos with thanks to Olivier Bruchez (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.


8. Doon Fort

Doon Fort

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

Doon Fort is situated on private land but (it’s been a few years since I heard of this happening) by all accounts you can rent out boats nearby to get a closer look.


9. Bull Rock

Bull Rock

Photos via Shutterstock

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).

Dursey Island is situated at the southwestern tip of the magnificent Beara Peninsula in the even-more-mighty region of West Cork.

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.

Bull Rock is up there as one of the top places to visit in Ireland when it comes to the sheer uniqueness of the experience.


10. The Inis Mór Wormhole

Worm Hole Inis More

Photos via Shutterstock

Although it’s frequently referred to as ‘the Serpent’s Lair’ and ‘the Wormhole’ the real name of our next stop is ‘Poll na bPeist’.

It’s located on Inis Mor – the largest of the three Aran Islands off the coast of Galway.

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.


11. Spike Island

Spike Island

Photos cCourtesy Spike Island Management via Tourism Ireland

The little town of Cobh is considered to be one of the best places to visit in Ireland by many of the tourists I 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 gaol in the world.

At one stage, the Island housed inmates prior to penal transportation. This is where the nickname ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’ originated.


12. The Lost Valley

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.


13. Largy Waterfall

Largy Waterfall

Photos via Shutterstock

I’d recommend that the vast majority of people shouldn’t visit Largy Waterfall in Donegal.

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.


14. Ballaghbeama Gap

driving Ballaghbeama

Photos by The Irish Road Trip

People often make the mistake of believing that the best drive in Kerry is the Ring of Kerry driving route. It’s a 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.

Note: If you’re driving in Ireland for the first time, take care here as the road is very narrow in places!


15. Marsh’s Library

Marsh's Library

Photos by James Fennell via Failte Ireland

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.

You’ll find Marsh’s Library, the oldest library in Ireland, tucked away behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where it has been since 1707.

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.


16. The Swiss Cottage

The Swiss Cottage

Photos via Failte Ireland

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.


17. The Croaghaun Cliffs

Croaghaun Cliffs

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

The highest cliffs in Ireland are the ones at Croaghaun, and can be found on Achill Island in Mayo where they stand at an impressive 688 metres (2,257 ft).

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.


18. Leap Castle

Leap Castle

Photos by Gareth McCormack/ via Failte Ireland

One of the must see places in Ireland for visiting castle fans 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.


19. The Marble Arch Caves

Marble Arch Caves

Photos via Shutterstock

You’ll find the Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh, in the Marble Arch Geopark which is located within both counties Cavan and Fermanagh (it’s right next to Ireland’s Stairway to Heaven).

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.


20. The Dark Sky Reserve

Dark Sky Reserve

Photo left: Valerie O’Sullivan. Others: Tom Archer (Failte Ireland)

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.


21. The Cloughmore Stone

Cloughmore Stone

© Tourism Ireland photographed by Brian Morrison

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.

It’s finely perched atop the mountainside at a height of almost 1,000 feet and it offers mighty views out over Carlingford Lough and the Mourne Mountains.


22. Gougane Barra

Gougane Barra

Photos via Shutterstock

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. Benwee Head

Benwee Walk

Photo left + bottom right: Gareth McCormack. Top right: Anne-Marie Flynn (via Failte Ireland)

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.


24. Kinnagoe Bay

Kinnagoe Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

Kinnagoe Bay in Donegal is one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. Now, naturally enough it doesn’t always look like it does in the photos above.

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.

It’s located on Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula (home to Malin Head) and you can see it and many other attractions on the Inishowen 100 Drive.


25. Sruth in Aghaidh an Aird

Devil's Chimney

Photos via Shutterstock

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 on the Sligo Leitrim borded 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.


26. Down Cathedral

Down Cathedral

Photos via Shutterstock

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 passed in 461.


27. Kinbane Castle

Kinbane Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

You may have read about Kinbane Castle in our guide to the most unique castles in Northern Ireland.

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.


28. The tourist favourites

Keem Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

So, if you’ve gotten to this point and you’re wondering where the most popular places to see in Ireland are, don’t worry – I’ll stick them in below:

  1. Keem Bay
  2. Valentia Island 
  3. The Kerry Cliffs
  4. Glendalough
  5. Croagh Patrick
  6. Killarney National Park
  7. Cong
  8. Connemara National Park
  9. Kenmare
  10. Howth

And that’s a wrap

pints in a very irish pub

Photos via Dan and Molly’s on FB

And that is a wrap on our guide to the best places to visit in Ireland! If you made it this far, fair play to you – hopefully you discovered some places you never heard of.

And, if you like the look of the bar in the photo above, you’ll find many others like it in our Irish pubs guide. Cheers!

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Divya Sharon

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

This is by far the best blog I've read of all the blogs about Ireland. Very informative and so many new hidden spots. Wow! I've never heard of most of these places (apart from the popular ones of course!). Reading this has made the urge in me to explore the country even more stronger. I'm very inspired. Thank you Keith. :)

Maeve Elliott

Tuesday 26th of April 2022

Bective Abbey a great place to visit never to many people there


Saturday 12th of February 2022

Thanks Keith, I loved reading your guide and we will make sure to go to some of the places you recommended during our next staycation!!


Thursday 16th of December 2021

This has been my favorite post to read in my researching of Ireland. Thanks so much!


Wednesday 21st of April 2021

That's an incredible list! Bull Rock and the steps on Arranmore Island look insane :O

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