Grab your camera, your fully loaded picnic basket, and get ready to enjoy the most charming towns and villages in Ireland – and there’s a lot! Whether you’re seeking chocolate-box cute, seaside escape, or dreamy village landscapes, any one of these locations will have you mapping out your next adventure.
1. Glaslough (Monaghan)
Perched on the edge of the Northern Ireland border, Glaslough is a quiet grey-stone village that looks like it belongs in the Lakes District – its stern façade hides a tender heart.
For instance, you can explore the Heritage Trail, which wanders from the Famine Monument at one end, to Saint Salvator’s Church at the other, and discover how the Leslie family’s history is intertwined with the village.
Glaslough is also part of Ireland’s Ancient East, with the landscape’s history going back 5,000 years. Or, you can just enjoy a nice cup of tea in one of the cosy nooks.
2. Doolin (Clare)
Doolin sits just southwest of the Burren, and its remarkable limestone beds with several species of orchids, are often overlooked, due to its close proximity to famous sites like the Cliffs of Moher and is the gateway to the Aran Islands; Doolin, the village, is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets as a quaint west coast village.
The village itself is brightly coloured, with many buildings sporting different colours to their neighbours, at least one fantastic proper pub that serves hearty fare, and with the spectacular coastline only metres away, how could you not go and explore the Doolin Cave and its impressive stalactite.
3. Cong (Mayo)
Sat on the shore of Lough Corrib, and on the edge of the Galway border, Cong is one of those villages steeped in unassuming history; a medieval abbey, a monk’s fishing house, and the nearby Guinness Tower are just some of its attractions. Oh, and a statue of John Wayne with Maureen O’Hara from the film, The Quiet Man.
It can be a tourist trap during peak season, as the village is stunning with its stone bridge over the flowing fish trap, traditional thatch-covered gift shop, and cute high street with cafes and shops, but it’s still lovely to explore.
4. Allihies (Cork)
What do copper mines and a mining museum, the spectacular Ballydonegan Beach, an August summer festival, and a dramatic coastline all have in common? The answer is Allihies, and that’s also where you should be heading to see them all in one picturesque location.
Allihies is a small town on the Beara Peninsula of Cork (the ‘ring’ finger of Ireland’ if you like) with roots that go back to the Bronze Age. Brightly painted buildings line its main street, and the town is set amongst the verdant rolling green fields of the peninsula; it’s an absolutely cracking sight to see.
5. Dingle (Kerry)
With a quiet coastal harbour that opens into the North Atlantic Ocean, Dingle’s perched on the southern edge of the peninsula. Known for boat tours and sea safaris, Oceanworld Aquarium, the Dingle Distillery and a thrumming village High Street, this port town is a hub of activity.
The Dingle Peninsula is home to dramatic cliffs and storm-lashed coves, fields of green that only stop when they reach the waters edge, and magnificent scenery everywhere you look. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with sea life, birds, and land-based animals all calling the area home, and all within minutes of Dingle town.
6. Carlingford (Louth)
Halfway along the Cooley Peninsula, on the shoreline of Carlingford Lough, Carlingford is a town that has something for everyone. The gateway to Ireland’s Ancient East, this quaint town with its historic market street (check out the Tower-house, once used as a Mint) and other medieval buildings is a real charmer.
An unassuming town, it’s not screaming from the top of King John’s Castle how cool it is, or parading through the Tholsel gate. But, with a host of charming cafes, dramatic sea views and stunning Slieve Foy towering behind it, Carlingford is surrounded by nature, with the history of Ireland at its heart.
7. Cobh (Cork)
Probably one of Ireland’s best-known and loved towns, Cobh charms everyone who meets its iconic cobbled streets. Not to be confused with its nearby city-cousin, Cobh is on an island in Cork’s harbour. The charming harbour-front captures the imagination with brightly coloured buildings and towering St. Colman’s Cathedral in the background.
But, Cobh also has a poignant past; it was also the last port of call for Titanic as she set sail for America. For Titanic aficionados, there are several memorials and experiences, including the White Star Line ticket office, along with the Cobh Heritage Centre that looks at Ireland’s mass emigrations.
8. Portrush (Antrim)
Next stop, the Hebrides or Iceland, as this seaside resort town looks out across the North Atlantic Ocean. With its handsome one-and-a-half kilometre long peninsula, this old burg captures all the best features of seaside towns from a bygone era; elegant buildings, stunning scenery, and a thriving High Street with everything you could want or need.
Twinned with nearby Portstewart, the two towns border some truly stunning scenery, captivating history, and pleasurable beach locations. Don’t forget to check out Whiterocks and West Strand beaches, or dramatic Ramore Head and Dunluce Castle while you’re visiting Portrush.
9. Adare (Limerick)
Known worldwide as one of Ireland’s most picturesque villages, this heritage-designated town is utterly charming. Take a stroll down the High Street and count the different colours, stop at any one of the numerous cafes, pubs, or bars for a drink and something to eat, or head into the Heritage Centre to learn more about the village and its history.
Just outside the village, there are several sights you can also visit; the ruins of an Augustinian Friary, the romantic ruins of a medieval castle and ring fort, or the Adare Franciscan Friary, all of which are lovely spots for a picnic and ramble.
10. Inistioge (Kilkenny)
25kms northeast of Kilkenny, the picturesque small village of Inistioge sits on the River Nore. Entrances don’t come much more dramatic than the 10-arched stone bridge that leads you into Inistioge, which isn’t surprising as the rest of the village is just as impressive.
With tree-lined roads and a charming village green, it’s easy to understand why this Co. Kilkenny village has been used several times by Hollywood as a filming location. Also within the village are several popular eateries, including cafes, pubs, and bars, a pretty little church with stained glass windows, and a lovely woodland walk.
11. Dunmore East (Waterford)
South of Waterford, right on the edge of the North Atlantic, Dunmore East is an old fishing village turned popular tourist village. It has strong ties to its Viking and Norman past, with its roots firmly bedded in the Iron Age.
The village still benefits from the fishing industry, with a busy harbour that sees many angling charters take to the seas. On top of that, there’s a nearby cliff walk, two stunning public beaches, and a lovely family-friendly park with a children’s playground. Head to the High Street for all your conveniences, or beyond to explore Portally Cove beach.
12. Baltimore (Cork)
Often breezed through, with most traffic headed for Yokane and the ferry to Cape Clear Island, Baltimore has quite a bit to offer the slower traveller. A bevy of eateries and bars will get you refuelled before heading off on an adventure; wildlife and whale watching, or perhaps a yacht charter, or maybe explore ruined Dun na Sead Castle; there’s so much to and do.
Nearby, the Baltimore Beacon protects seafarers of the incredibly dangerous rocks of the promontory, and just south of Baltimore you’ll discover Spain Tower and its spectacular views across the promontory and back towards the village.
13. Killaloe (Clare)
By the shores of beautiful Lough Derg, and on the banks of the River Shannon, Killaloe sits like a jewel in the crown of Co. Clare. The village has ties to the Irish High King, Brian Boru. In fact, you can still visit the site of his famous hill fort as it’s just outside Killaloe.
This riverside village boasts spectacular scenery along the Shannon, with many photo opportunities for some true postcard memories. There are many boutique shops, cosy cafes and pubs to while away some time, or you can always go angling like a king on the river itself.
14. Westport (Mayo)
Far to the northwest on the Irish coast, you’ll find the small Georgian town of Westport. Filled with charm, like stone bridges, a Georgian crescent with typical spa-town housing, several tree-lined promenades along the beautiful Carrowbeg River, and a quaint central village square, there’s more to this town than first meets the eye.
The village is also connected to the legendary pirate queen, Grace O’Malley. You can also join the Western Greenway here, and cycle or walk along to Achill Island. Further afield, a 16th-century tower house, Rockfleet Castle, and the ruins of medieval Burrishoole Friary also await exploration.
15. Kinsale (Cork)
As the River Bandon winds its way inland from the North Atlantic Ocean, it first encounters the quiet dominance of Kinsale. Its splendidly painted old town with more colours on show than in the rainbow, along with a whole host of quaint cafes, old school pubs, and stylish harbour-front restaurants, meaning you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to nibble and natter.
Kinsale also has many cultural sights, like Desmond Castle, two 17th-century harbourside defences James Fort and Charles Fort, and the Kinsale Regional Museum with its displays on the tragic WWI 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania.
16. Clifden (Galway)
Due west of Dublin, as far as you can go, is Clifden in Co. Galway. A small coastal town with a rich history, and absolutely breathtaking scenery, Clifden is often referred to as the capital of Connemara. There’s a lot to see and do here; including the museum, and several tasty eateries.
Sitting on the banks of the Owenglin River, just before it flows into Clifden Bay, the village is a popular rest stop for those exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, as it travels through the village. Nearby are the dramatic ruins of Clifden Castle, and then scenic Eyrephort Beach with its white sands and turquoise waters.
17. Kenmare (Kerry)
Stone circles, a famous bridge, and a dramatic waterway all claim Kenmare as their home, and this small country town should definitely be on your list too! Kenmare Bay and Lough are both spectacular, with an abundance of native fauna and flora, all of which can be experienced when exploring the village.
Laid out in a triangular fashion, the village streets operate on a one-way system, as they’re narrowed with parked cars that line the colourful roads. There’s no shortage of renowned shops, inviting cafes, upmarket restaurants and bars, or any number of cultural activities with museums and breweries here too.
18. Leighlinbridge (Carlow)
Filled with narrow winding streets and grey limestone malthouses, the ruins of an early Norman castle and tower, and accessed by a 14th century stone bridge, Leighlinbridge is a historic gem just waiting to be discovered. Several small cafes and takeaways occupy the west bank of the town, with a sculpture garden providing a nice respite.
There are no bells and whistles here, it’s a quiet and ‘Tidy Town’, with a picturesque river crossing, over the River Barrow, the village makes for a great central base to explore the nearby sights like Ballymoon Castle, Milford Mill, Shankill Castle, and Ballyknockan Church.
19. Enniskerry (Wicklow)
Only a short drive south of the nation’s capital, this quaint village with its Y shaped centre, is a hub of activity. Practically humming with well patronised cosy cafes, boutique shops, upmarket restaurants, a country market and the eclectic Enniskerry antique gallery, there’s no shortage of things to do or experience.
Of course, all of this is overshadowed by the nearby Powerscourt Estate, which you’d be forgiven for mistaking for Ireland’s Whitehouse. The area also boasts some nature walks, the Victorian Knocksink Bridge, and Powerscourt Distillery where you can try a dram or two of fine Irish whiskey.
20. Ennistymon (Clare)
Having grown from just three small houses since the mid-18th century, the village now sprawls a considerable distance, and standing silently on the hill are the ruins of Church Hill, with its view over the village and out towards the rugged coast and North Atlantic Ocean.
One of Co. Clare’s most stunning market towns, Ennistymon straddles the slow-flowing River Inagh with the picturesque cascades headlining the performance. Only a stone’s throw away from several great golf courses, Aran Islands and numerous beaches, and the superb Irish west coast, Ennistymon village is captivating with its winding High Street and an array of cute shops.
21. Ardara (Donegal)
Almost at the top of Ireland, Co. Donegal’s village of Ardara’s claim to fame is rightly deserved; in 2012 the Irish Times named the village with the title of ‘best village to live in’, presumably owing to its sense of community and hospitality, and its unfettered access to some of Ireland’s most stunning natural scenery.
The village’s location makes it ideal for exploring the outer rims of Donegal, specifically the Sheskinmore Nature Reserve, Tramore Beach and Ballinreavy Strand, Assaranca Waterfall, Owenwee River Waterfalls, and the beach and Caves of Maghera, as these are all only a short drive from Ardara.
22. Strangford (Down)
Perched at the mouth of Strangford Lough, the village of Strangford sits silently guarding the entrance to this massive lough as it has done for centuries, which is most likely why the impressive medieval Strangford Castle was built; to guard those valuable waterways. The village has ample parking whilst you wander the High Street, and there’s plenty to keep you occupied with shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Nowadays, the thriving village is a ferry crossing to Portaferry and a harbour for cruise boats after indulging in lough cruises. Of course, the village is also ideally located for those wanting to explore Audley’s Castle or the filming location for Game of Thrones ‘Winterfell Castle’.
23. Dalkey (Dublin)
One of Dublin’s more affluent suburbs, and poised at the south-eastern fringe of the city, Dalkey is filled with hidden treasures, like the Vico Bathing Place, the ‘Cat’s Ladder Steps’, Dillon’s Park and the Dillon Holy Well.
The village has been around since ‘Dublin’ was in its infancy, with Dalkey also being a Viking settlement, and it grew to prominence in the Middle Ages when it was used as a sea-trading port. In the 21st century though, it’s a quaint seaside town with a thriving High Street and a castle in the middle of town; just what you need for a fun day out.
Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories!