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33 Best Places To Visit In Ireland In 2023 (Hidden Gems)

33 Best Places To Visit In Ireland In 2023 (Hidden Gems)

This guide to the best places to visit in Ireland has a little twist to it.

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, hope 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.

The best places to visit in Ireland

Scrabo Tower

Photos via Shutterstock

Although the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher tend to be on top of many tourists to-visit lists, Ireland has plenty of other attractions that rarely get a look-in.

Below, you’ll find everywhere from haunted castles and hidden caves to some unusual places to go in Ireland.

1. Bull Rock (Cork)

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.

If you’re looking for 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-see’ list.

2. The Serpents Lair (Galway)

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 spot 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.

Mad stuff altogether. Find out more about this natural phenomenon in our guide to Inis Mor’s mighty Wormhole.

3. McDermott’s Castle (Roscommon)

McDermott's Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

You’ll find one of the more unique castles in Ireland in Roscommon on the beautiful Lough Key, not far from the little town of Boyle.

Stretching around 10km across and forming a rough circular shape, Lough Key boasts 30 plus islands scattered throughout its icy 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.

4. Doon Fort (Donegal)

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.

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.

5. The Caves of Keash (Sligo)

Caves of Keash

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

6. The Croaghaun Cliffs (Mayo)

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.

7. Dunmore Cave (Kilkenny)

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 (more info).

8. Largy Waterfall (Donegal)

Largy Waterfall

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

9. Ballaghbeama Gap (Kerry)

Ballaghbeama Gap

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

10. The Marble Arch Caves (Fermanagh)

Marble Arch Caves

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

11. Marsh’s Library (Dublin)

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.

12. The Swiss Cottage (Tipperary)

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.

13. Leap Castle (Offaly)

Leap Castle

Photos by Gareth McCormack/garethmccormack.com via Failte Ireland

You’ll find the haunted Leap Castle 6km north of 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.

14. Spike Island (Cobh)

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 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.

15. 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 2023.

16. The Dark Sky Reserve (Kerry)

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.

Next time, definitely… OK hopefully

17. Priest’s Leap (Cork)

Priest's Leap

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

Love a unique road? Check out our guide to 5 of the craziest roads in Ireland.

18. The Cloughmore Stone (Down)

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.

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. 

19. Gougane Barra (Cork)

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 dead in your tracks.

Places like this are what make Ireland special. 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.

20. The Shannon Pot (Cavan)

The Shannon Pot

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

21. 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.

22. The Knockmealdown Mountains (Tipperary)

The Vee Gap

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

23. Benwee Head (Mayo)

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 May.

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. The Kilbaha Cliffs (Clare)

Kilbaha Cliffs

Photos via Shutterstock

The cliffs near Loop Head Lighthouse are one of the most overlooked places to visit in Ireland. Probably due to the Cliffs of Moher getting all of the attention.

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 visit 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.

25. Kinnagoe Bay (Donegal)

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.

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.

26. Sruth in Aghaidh an Aird (Sligo)

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 (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.

27. Coumshingaun Lough (Waterford)

Coumshingaun

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

28. Down Cathedral (Down)

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 died in 461.

29. Islands galore (multiple)

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 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 worth considering.

30. Kinbane Castle (Antrim)

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.

31. The Spire of Lloyd (Meath)

Spire of Lloyd

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

32. Scrabo Tower (Down)

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.

33. The tourist favourites

Keem Bay

Photos via Shutterstock

I’m updating this guide after we’ve had about 20 moaney 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: 

  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

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. 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.

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Priscilla

Sunday 22nd of January 2023

Thank you for this article! I think you are my new best friend lol. This will be my third time visiting Ireland and I wanted off the beaten path places to visit. Not that I've visited ALL the touristy things, but this time I'd like a completely different experience. I'm bringing a friend who has never been and I'd like them to experience Ireland...and not just tourist stuff. So thank you!!

David O Keeffe

Thursday 29th of December 2022

Would highly recommend Gleninchiquin Park , 10 miles West of Kenmare

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

Valerie

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!!

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