I tend to receive a fair few emails from people asking for advice on where to go in Ireland for a weekend away.
Now, it’d be easy to just say, ‘Ah, sure head to Galway or Killarney. There’s a heap of things to do in both of them’. But, to be blunt, balls to that.
Don’t get me wrong, Galway and Killarney are both great, but there are so many more places to visit in Ireland outside of the better-known cities and towns, with many little villages packing a punch far mightier than their size.
In the guide below, we’re going to show you the most underrated villages and towns in Ireland that are perfect for a weekend away in 2020 when things get back to normal.
1. Ennistymon (Clare)
Many people that visit Clare and never make it past the likes of Shannon and Doolin. Which is a shame, as there is a clatter of other towns and villages in Clare that are well worth nipping into.
One of the best is the town of Ennistymon. This is a gorgeous little market town a stone’s throw from Lahinch (5-minute drive), the Cliffs of Moher (15-minute drive), Doonagore Castle (16-minute drive) and Spanish Point (19-minute drive).
Translation: Ennistymon is one of the best places to base yourself from if you’re looking to explore Clare. Expect traditional shop fronts, buzzy pubs and top-notch restaurants galore.
2. Belmullet (Mayo)
From one great base to another. The little coastal town of Belmullet is a remote Gaeltacht town in Mayo, finely plonked on the mighty Mullet Peninsula.
Like Ennistymon, Belmullet is a lovely base for exploring some of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most unspoiled and underexplored scenery.
You can head off on the Erris Head Loop Walk in the morning, grab a feed in the afternoon, and then take a drive out as far as Doonamo Point in the evening.
3. Strangford (Down)
You’ll find the little village of Strangford at the mouth of the spectacular Strangford Lough in County Down.
Those that stay in Strangford have an endless choice of activities to choose from, with several different walking trails waiting to be conquered and a gorgeous coastline that’s waiting to be explored.
There are also countless great restaurants and bars to nip into and a clatter of castles to have a nosey around.
It’s also less than an hours drive from Belfast and a stone’s throw from the starting point of the brilliant Causeway Coastal Route.
4. Waterville (Kerry)
I chat to a lot of people that are in the early stages of planning a trip to Ireland. Many of them have Kerry on their itinerary, but few opt to spend a night in Waterville.
Which is a pity – yes the Dingle Peninsula is brilliant and yes, Killarney Town is full of life, but places like Waterville are where you’ll get a proper feel for Ireland.
This is a lovely little town that offers mighty views of the surrounding mountains. There’s several great restaurants and pubs and there’s plenty to see and do nearby.
A brilliant friend that’s sadly no longer with us brought me to Waterville in Kerry many years back. It’s a trip that I’ll remember for as long as I live.
5. Roundstone (Galway)
On Connemara’s magnificent west coast lies the often overlooked little harbour village of Roundstone. If you’ve yet to visit this place, you’re in for a treat.
Roundstone is smack bang in the middle of oodles of natural beauty. The mighty Mount Errisbeg provides a spectacular backdrop for the town. Throw in the little harbour and you have a place that looks like something whipped straight from an oil painting.
Spend an evening sauntering along the sand on Dog’s Bay Beach and then enjoy a pint with a view in O’Dowd’s after. Magic. The next time someone asks you where to stay in Galway, point them here.
If you’re looking for a place to kip in Roundstone, the Roundstone House Hotel is a solid option. It’s grand and central and the reviews are top-notch!
6. Inistioge (Kilkenny)
I’ve visited Kilkenny a lot over the years, but I’ve been guilty of never staying outside of the city… actually… scratch that. I ended up staying in a castle there randomly a while back.
What I mean is, I’ve never really broadened my horizons with this county. Which is a disgrace, considering it’s home to places like Inistioge – a historic little village on the river Nore in South Kilkenny.
Those that visit can expect stunning scenery, river walks and woodland hikes, and a plethora of great pubs and restaurants. It’s also a handy 28-minute drive from the city if you fancy having a nosey around.
7. Dunfanaghy (Donegal)
I visited Dunfanaghy for the first time last April and I’ve been trying to wiggle in a return visit ever since. This little town overlooks the sandy shores of the spectacular Sheephaven Bay.
It’s close to several Blue Flag beaches and it’s overlooked by the Derryveagh Mountains, so you can expect golden sand (see above) and endless scenery.
It’s also close to many of Donegal’s best attractions, like Horn Head (10-minute drive), Glenveagh (22-minute drive) and Fanad Lighthouse (45-minute drive).
8. Glasson (Westmeath)
The charming little village of Glasson in Westmeath is another place that tends to get overlooked. It’s a stone’s thrown from Athlone Town (perfect if you want to visit the oldest pub in Ireland) and it’s not far from the shores of the stunning Lough Ree.
Although not home to the oldest, Glasson village is home to some mighty old-world pubs, with Grogan’s (in my opinion) being the pick of the bunch.
If you’re looking to get out and about, the Portlick Millennium forest walk is an 8-minute drive away, the Dún na Sí Amenity and Heritage Park is a 15-minute spin and Athlone Town with its fine aul castle is a 14-minute drive.
9. Lismore (Waterford)
You’ll find our next town, Lismore, in the west of Waterford, at the foot of the wonderful Knockmealdown Mountains. The town can trace its origins way back to 636AD and is one of a handful of designated heritage towns in Ireland.
Lismore is surrounded by a clatter of the gorgeous countryside that’s ideal for a bit of exploring. You can give the Lady Louisa’s Walk a bash in the morning, head for a saunter around Lismore Castle in the afternoon and kick-back with food and a pint in the evening.
It’s also a handy 23-minute drive from Dungarvan, for any of you looking to cycle the Waterford Greenway from Dungarvan to Waterford City.
10. Allihies (Cork)
One of my favourite solo weeks away in Ireland involved stopping off in Allihies for a night. This is a tiny town that’s so ridiculously scenic you’ll never want to leave.
In fact, I remember sitting in the pub in the village (O’Neill’s) with a pint and a pair of wet socks, browsing through Daft.ie trying to suss out home much a place here would cost.
This corner of Ireland possesses the unique ability to make you feel like you’re the only person left on earth. It’s just you, the mountains, the wind and the waves.
11. Killaloe (Clare)
I was in Killaloe recently and it really is one of the most beautiful little villages in Ireland. You’ll find it in Clare on the western bank of Lough Derg.
Killaloe is one of those places where I could see myself living. On the day that we visited, the sun was shining, boats were driving along the lough, and we managed to get lunch a stone’s throw from the water.
Interestingly enough, Killaloe is known as the birthplace of Brian Boru – the High King of Ireland. If you visit, make sure you nip into the Brian Boru Heritage Centre to learn more about the history of the town and Ireland’s High King.
12. Kilfinane (Limerick)
Kilfinane is a proper hidden gem. It’s a small market town and it’s also the highest town in Limerick, thanks to its fine location (it’s nestled within the dazzling Ballyhoura Mountain range).
Kilfinane is the perfect base for those of you looking to explore by foot. The Attychraan Loop Walk and the Ballinaboola Loop are two brilliant nearby walking trails that you can conquer.
It’s also not a million miles from Limerick City (49-minute drive) and the gorgeous little village of Adare (40-minute drive).
13. Graiguenamanagh (Kilkenny)
The picture-perfect town of Graiguenamanagh in Kilkenny can be found on the River Barrow, right at the foot of Brandon Hill.
If you read our guide to the best places to visit in Kilkenny, you’ll have come across Brandon Hill already – it’s from the summit of Brandon that you’ll catch a magnificent panoramic view that rivals many in Ireland.
If you visit Graiguenamanagh in the warmer months, get stuck into some watersports (sea kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing) or if you prefer to keep your feet firmly on land, nip into the historic Duiske Abbey.
14. Baltimore (Cork)
A lot of people pass through Baltimore when they’re exploring West Cork, but many that I chat to don’t bother stopping for the night.
Baltimore is an ideal spot for those of you looking for a base for an active weekend away at the heart of some of the islands best scenery.
This little village is a handy spin away from Cape Clear Island (you’ll see Fastnet Lighthouse on the ferry over), Mizen Head (60-minute drive), Brow Head (48-minute drive) and plenty more.
15. Leenaun (Galway)
Leenaun is hands-down one of my favourite little villages in Ireland. It’s small, has a lively atmosphere from all of the tourists and locals milling about the place (during peak season) and the views out over the Killary Fjord are nothing short of sensational.
If you’re looking to surround yourself with an endless amount of unspoiled landscape, pop Leenaun at the top of your list. It’s the perfect base for exploring the nearby Doolough Valley and Connemara.
Now, if you visit Leenaun in the winter or during the off-season, expect to find many places closed – we were here for an afternoon in April and couldn’t find a spot for a bite to eat or a coffee.
16. Dunmore East (Waterford)
Waterford’s Dunmore East is hands-down one of the best Irish towns for a weekend away during the summer.
Boasting Golden beaches, a lively fishing harbour and a town that’s full of great restaurants, Dunmore East is the perfect place to set up shop for a couple of days.
I spent a night in Dunmore East last summer and it was easily one of the best nights away that I had last year. When the sun’s shining, there’s nowhere like it!
17. Portmagee (Kerry)
So, a lot of people visit Portmagee when they’re exploring Kerry, but many just pass through it on the way to the Skelligs.
I’ve stayed here several times over the years and it’s a solid little base, with heaps of things to see and do nearby.
Those that visit have easy access to the incredible Valentia Island, the Kerry Cliffs, the Skelligs, the Skellig Ring drive and lots more.
18. Portrush (Antrim)
You’ll find the gorgeous little seaside town of Portrush in County Antrim where it’s known for its three gorgeous beaches, the Royal Portrush Golf Club (which hosted The Open in 2019) and its proximity to many of Antrim’s top attractions.
It’s a handy 8-minute drive from Dunluce Castle, a 12-minute drive from the Bushmills Distillery, 17 minutes from the Giants Causeway and 25 minutes from the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge.
If you’re in search of a spot by the sea with great pubs (the Quays and the Harbour Gin Bar are brilliant), even better restaurants (Ramore and Neptune and Prawn are top-notch) and a tonne of things to see and do nearby, get yourself here.
19. Duncannon (Wexford)
Duncannon is a little fishing village in southwest Wexford. It tends to make many Ireland itineraries thanks to Duncannon Fort, which was built in 1588 (it’s now home to a maritime museum along with a cafe and craft shop).
Fort aside, Duncannon is a great little base for exploring Wexford. It’s a handy 15-minute drive from the most haunted house in Ireland, under 20-minutes from the historic Hook Lighthouse and 13 minutes from the beautiful Tintern Abbey.
The village is also home to several great pubs and restaurants that are perfect for a post-adventure pint and a feed.
20. Birr (Offaly)
The heritage town of Birr in Offaly was developed around the iconic Birr Castle. Now, Birr Castle is brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but there’s plenty more to this place than its main attraction.
The town of Birr boasts beautiful Georgian architecture, tree-lined malls, elegant old house that date back to the 1800s and a heap of history and culture. T
here are also several walks worth conquering, like the Birr Town Trail and the Riverbank Walk. Nip into our guide to the best things to do in Offaly for more.
Ardara is a brilliant little town in Donegal. Myself and a friend called Mayo Declan spent a night here a few years back, and I’ve been hoping to get back ever since.
If you’re in search of a place that’s close to loads of great scenery, home to brilliant pubs (Nancy’s is deadly!), great restaurants and lovely people, make a beeline for Ardara.
The only issue we had was when it came to accommodation – we booked a B&B 5 minutes away from the centre, down many a dark narrow road… stupidity on our part!
What underrated towns and villages have we missed?
Is there another town or village in Ireland that doesn’t get half enough credit (or visitors) that you want to recommend?
I’ve left the comments section open below – pop your recommendation in there!
Tuesday 16th of March 2021
Castlegregory, Co Kerry. Absolutely beautiful part of Ireland, gorgeous beach, watersports, fantastic little bars and restaurants, friendly locals, lovely walking trails, fishing - it has it all!
Sunday 13th of September 2020
Have a look at Mullaghmore Co. Sligo . The Wild Atlantic Coast with views of the beach , the views of Classiebawn Castle and of course the beauty of Benbulbin .
Monday 27th of July 2020
Castletownsend, Co. Cork. I was blown away when I visited at the start of July. The locals were incredible friendly and passionate about their village. It is incredibly beautiful, from buildings to scenery. Great pubs too.
St Mullins, Co. Carlow. Perhaps THE hidden gem of Ireland. I won’t even describe it, discovering it for yourself is an amazing feeling.
Monday 27th of July 2020
Carlingford is great. Mountain walks, watersports, cycling, great nightlife, food, pubs. and Leprechuans
Saturday 27th of June 2020
Drumshanbo, county Leitrim. Beautiful lakes, hiking, music festival, outdoor pool, children’s playground, magnificent blueway, water park, and much more!! And the nicest people in Ireland of course!!!