It’s worth treating every guide to the best small towns in Ireland with a healthy does of scepticism… even this one.
These kind of guides tend to be peppered with the writers own experiences… which is the case with this one, but bear with me.
I’ve spent a good chunk of my 33+ years living here travelling around the island and have been fortunate enough to spend time in many big and small towns and villages in Ireland.
In this guide, I’m going to show you my favourites, from Inistioge and Cobh to everywhere in between.
The best small towns in Ireland
Right – a quick disclaimer – although I’m coining this as a guide to the best towns to visit in Ireland, it’s in no particular order.
Below, you’ll find everything from picturesque Irish villages tucked between valleys to lively Irish towns that make a great base to explore from.
1. 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? They all call Allihies ‘Home’.
Allihies is a little village on the Beara Peninsula in Cork. Brightly painted buildings line its main street, and the village is set against rolling mountains, which make it look more like a painting than a real place.
This is one of the better known off-the-beaten-path Irish villages as it tends to go viral online every now and then. Nearby Eyeries in just as colourful.
2. Cong (Mayo)
Sat on the shore of Lough Corrib, and on the edge of the Galway border, Mayo’s Cong is one of the most famous small towns in Ireland, thanks to it’s appearance in The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
The first evidence of the film is the statue located in the centre of the town. However, film fans will spot several places from the film, like The Quiet Man Bar (Pat Cohan’s Pub).
Head into the finely manicured parkland and get an eyeful of The Monk’s Fishing House and Cong Abbey or simply saunter along it’s narrow streets take it all in.
Note: As this is listed as one of the best towns in Ireland in many tourist guidebooks, it gets packed during the summer months.
3. Adare (Limerick)
Adare is arguably the most postcard-perfect of the many small towns in Ireland thanks to the thatch cottages that are dotted along it’s streets.
Adare, which is a stone’s throw from Limerick City, is a designated heritage town and it’s a joy to ramble around at any time of year.
Home to one of the finest 5 star hotels in Ireland, Adare Manor, and the ruins of Adare Castle, it’s a great base to explore from.
4. Dunmore East (Waterford)
Dunmore East is one of the lesser-known small towns in Ireland amongst visiting tourists, but the town is a firm favourite for ‘staycations’.
You’ll find it south of Waterford City, right on the edge of the North Atlantic. Dunmore East is an old fishing village turned popular tourist destination thanks to its picturesque setting.
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 cliff walk, two popular beaches and some great pubs and restaurants.
5. Glaslough (Monaghan)
Located in County Monaghan on the edge of the border with Northern Ireland, Glaslough is one of the quieter Irish villages in this guide.
However, it attracts plenty of visitors as it’s home to Castle Leslie – one of the most popular castle hotels in Ireland for weddings.
Visitors can tackle the Heritage Trail, which takes you 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 cafes.
6. Doolin (Clare)
Doolin is another spot that’s arguably one of the best towns in Ireland, especially for those of you that like trad music.
You’ll find Doolin southwest of the Burren National Park. It makes a great base to explore the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher.
The most photographed corner of Doolin is called ‘Fisher Street’ and it’s here that you’ll find a sweater shop and the lively Gus O’Connor’s Pub.
7. Dingle (Kerry)
Dingle is one of the busiest small towns in Ireland come the summer season, with tourists pouring into it’s many hotels and guesthouses.
The town itself, although always popular, has gone from strength-to-strength in recent years and it’s now a ‘foodie’ hub, of sorts.
If you’re looking for lively small towns in Ireland where you can explore by day and kick-back to trad in buzzy pubs at night, look no further.
8. Carlingford (Louth)
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.
Behind it, stands the towering Slieve Foye Mountain, which is a popular spot for a hike while in front of it are the lively waters of the lough, where water sports regularly take place.
The towns streets are lined with pubs and it’s arguably one of the best towns in Ireland for a hen or stag weekend.
9. Cobh (Cork)
Next up is another of the best towns in Ireland if you like to go off of tourist guidebooks… I don’t, but I do love Cobh.
Cobh is located on a little island that sits in the busy harbour of Cork, a short spin from the bustling Cork City (one of our favourite cities in Ireland!).
Cobh has a poignant past; it was 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.
10. Portrush (Antrim)
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 the area.
11. Inistioge (Kilkenny)
Inistioge is one of the most overlooked villages in Ireland, in my opinion. In fact, a good chunk of counties Carlow and Kilkenny tend to get missed by most visiting Ireland.
Located 25km northeast of Kilkenny City, the picturesque 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 place 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.
12. Baltimore (Cork)
There’s a lot to like about Baltimore. It makes a brilliant base for exploring West Cork and it’s the departure point for the Cape Clear ferry along with several sea safaris.
A handful of eateries will get you fuelled up before you head off on an adventure while Bushe’s Bar is perfect for a pint after you’ve tackled the Baltimore Beacon walk.
The town has a busy little harbour and, if you visit in the summer, there’s a great bit of seating in the centre of town where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
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 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 postcard memories.
There are plenty of boutique shops, cosy cafes and pubs to whittle away some time, or you can always hop on one of the popular Killaloe river cruises.
14. Westport (Mayo)
Arguably one of the best towns in Ireland for a weekend away, Westport in Mayo combines endless nearby attractions with a great pub and restaurant scene.
Visitors to Westport can expect busy streets, stone bridges, a Georgian crescent with typical spa-town housing and several tree-lined promenades along the beautiful Carrowbeg River.
One of the reasons that it’s one of the more popular small towns in Ireland is due to the volume of things to see and do nearby, from Croagh Patrick and Achill Island to the Great Western Greenway, you’ll never go bored here.
15. Kinsale (Cork)
Kinsale is one of the most colourful little villages in Ireland and it’s a Mecca for visiting tourists.
Grab a coffee and start strolling and you’ll soon be rambling along streets that look like something from a Dulex advert.
Kinsale also has plenty of things to do, from James Fort and Charles Fort to the Kinsale Regional Museum, the Old Head of Kinsale and more, there’s lots to see and do close by.
16. Clifden (Galway)
A small coastal town with a rich history, and absolutely breathtaking scenery, Clifden is home to a clatter of lively pubs and plenty of great places to eat.
Sitting on the banks of the Owenglin River, just before it flows into Clifden Bay, the town is a popular rest stop for those exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Nearby are the dramatic ruins of Clifden Castle, the outstanding Sky Road and a whole host of breath-taking beaches.
17. Kenmare (Kerry)
It makes a great alternative to nearby Killarney and, although much quieter, it still boasts plenty of great hotels, pubs and restaurants.
The streets here are a joy to ramble around and the one of the left in the photo above has a bit of a Diagon Alley feel to it.
From Kenmare, you can kick off the Ring of Kerry Drive and you’ll soon be immersed in the scenery that Kerry is famous for.
18. Leighlinbridge (Carlow)
Leighlinbridge in Carlow is one of the lesser-known towns in Ireland but it has a fine bit of charm and character to it.
Boasting narrow streets, 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 from.
19. Enniskerry (Wicklow)
Enniskerry is one of the best towns in Ireland to base yourself in if you’re looking for a trip packed with hikes and scenery.
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. Ardara (Donegal)
Ardara in Donegal was crowned the ‘best village to live in’ by the Irish Times in 2012 and it’s a popular base to explore the county from.
Although the buildings don’t have the same jazzy appearance as some of the Irish villages mentioned above, it boasts some great pubs and restaurants, like Nancy’s.
You’ll find the likes of Glengesh Pass, Silver Strand and the towering Slieve League Cliffs all a short spin away.
21. Dalkey (Dublin)
Last and by no means least in our guide to the best towns in Ireland is Dalkey in South County Dublin.
One of Dublin’s more affluent suburbs, Dalkey is filled with hidden treasures, like the Vico Baths, Sorrento Park and Killiney Hill.
The village has been around since Dublin was in its infancy, with Dalkey also being a Viking settlement. It grew to prominence in the Middle Ages when it was used as a sea-trading port.
Fast forward to 2023 and it’s one of the more popular day trips from Dublin City, with plenty to see and do dotted around the town, like Dalkey Castle and the nearby Dalkey Island.
What small Irish villages have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant villages and small towns in Ireland from the guide above.
If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about the best Irish towns
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are the most picturesque villages in Ireland?’ to ‘What are the cutest towns in Ireland?’.
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.
What are the best towns to visit in Ireland?
In my opinion, Kinsale, Cobh, Inistioge, Dalkey and Clifden are the best small towns in Ireland, however, each of the places mentioned above are worth checking out.
What villages in Ireland are off the beaten path?
Glaslough, Inistioge, Baltimore and Leighlinbridge are four gorgeous Irish villages that lay a little off the main tourist trails.