12 of the Best Small Towns in Ireland
With its ragged, weaving coastline and ancient, mist-covered mountains, there's a wind-whipped majesty to Ireland's landscapes. Yet within this sparse beauty lies some of Europe's most delightful small towns. Often just a stone's throw from a seductive shoreline or crumbling medieval castle, these colorful destinations are full of warmth, character, and Irish hospitality.
From Dingle's dramatic oceanfront setting in County Kerry to the thatched cottages and riverside charm of Adare in County Limerick, here's a look at 12 of the best small towns in Ireland.
Dingle, County Kerry
Clinging to the southern coast of Kerry's Dingle Peninsula, Dingle is a charming port town with a generous amount of pubs considering its tiny population of about 2,000. Its pastel streets attract creatives from around the world, drawn to the region's beauty and quirky institutions like Foxy John's, a hardware store that doubles as a traditional Irish pub. Dingle is also an ideal starting base for exploring the peninsula's wild scenery, most notably the twisting 30-mile Slea Head Drive, taking in stunning coasts and ancient hills.
Adare, County Limerick
While the cafes, craft shops, and traditional pubs of Main Street are pleasant enough, it's the neat rows of 19th-century thatched cottages that really give Adare its distinct character. Built by the Earl of Dunraven for the men constructing the imposing Adare Manor nearby, the whitewashed cottages are impossibly quaint and a few are available to rent throughout the year. Follow the snaking River Maigue along the north side of the village and admire the stately ruins of Desmond Castle and Adare Franciscan Friary.
Doolin, County Clare
While Doolin's probably most famous as a gateway to the Cliffs of Moher, it's full of scattered charm in its own right. Evenings are for whiling away with a few pints of Guinness amid the energetic sounds of live Irish music at Gus O'Connor's or McDermott's Pub. And when morning comes, it's not just the famous cliffs that are nearby. Doolin is not far from the ethereal form of Doonagore Castle, the mysterious Burren National Park, and the ferry zipping you out to the beautiful offshore Aran Islands.
Kinsale, County Cork
Though this was a busy fishing port for more than 300 years, Kinsale's colorful, cobbled lanes look like they were built exclusively for postcard scenes (or, dare I say it, Instagram). The rustic pubs and quirky stores filling these winding streets have made this small town in County Cork immensely popular with the summer crowds, and it's also the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way trail. While many will want to hit the trail, stick around in Kinsale first to sample some of the region's freshest seafood at Martin Shanahan's excellent Fishy Fishy Restaurant.
Westport, County Mayo
With handsome Georgian streets and elegant bridges combined with a superb gastronomy scene, it's clear why Westport in County Mayo has become such an alluring location in the west of Ireland. Centered around the historic clock tower, its octagonal town center is delightful, and there are plenty of colorful pubs and fine restaurants flanking the pretty Carrowbeg River. Westport is also just a 15-minute drive away from Croagh Patrick, the 2,507-foot mountain considered to be Ireland's holiest.
Dunmore East, County Waterford
There are few better locations in Ireland to spend a languid summer evening watching the sunset than at Dunmore East's picturesque waterfront. With an alluring coastal road that gently rises and falls with the shore's sandstone cliffs, it's a town of secluded coves and immaculate beaches. Further south, the spectacular Dunmore East Cliff Walk offers clear views of County Wexford's Hook Head Lighthouse — one of the world's oldest-operating lighthouses — across the bay.
Roundstone, County Galway
With Errisbeg for an imposing mountain backdrop and the lumpy outline of the Twelve Bens range in the hazy distance across from Roundstone Bay, Roundstone is a quaint fishing village that's in dramatic natural company. And it's that remarkable surrounding landscape that makes this tiny destination in County Galway ever more seductive. Stroll the gently meandering Monastery Road and finish with a pint of stout and a plate of fresh hake and chips at O'Dowd's Seafood Bar and Restaurant.
Kenmare, County Kerry
While Kenmare attracts plenty of visitors thanks to its proximity to the spectacular Killarney National Park, its buzzy, colorful streets are captivating in a different sense and packed with lively pubs like PF McCarthy's on Main Street. But ancient curiosities are never far away in this weather-beaten land. In fact, just a short walk from the town lies Kenmare Stone Circle. Thought to date back to the Bronze Age (2,200 to 500 B.C.), the 15 heavy boulders in an ellipse-shaped circle are one of the region's more unique attractions.
Inistioge, County Kilkenny
Not for nothing were Inistioge's handsome Georgian streets chosen by Hollywood as the setting for films such as "Widows' Peak" (1994) and "Circle of Friends" (1995). Nestled within the rolling hills of County Kilkenny and dominated by the 10-arch limestone bridge spanning the River Nore, Inistioge's tree-lined square is also the picturesque setting for long summer afternoons in the sun. Find a table outside the Woodstock Arms, enjoy a pint of creamy stout, and take it all in.
Howth, County Dublin
Almost 30% of Ireland's population lives in Dublin, but only a fraction of those reside in Howth. The tiny town, built around a lively harbor, is a side to Dublin that few tourists see, but those who do will be glad they made the journey. With a vibrant stretch of sublime restaurants and casual seafood bars populating the harbor's western arm, it's a perfect little spot to return to after taking in the sweeping vistas of the Howth Cliff Walk.
Baltimore, County Cork
A lively gateway to the Atlantic, Baltimore's narrow lanes almost tumble into the ocean and are particularly vibrant in the summer months. Boat tours out to the enchanting island of Cape Clear and whale-watching excursions bring enthusiastic visitors down to Baltimore's shores every year, though there are also plenty of good reasons to remain on land. Along with the colorful cluster of pubs around the harbor, the town sits in the shadow of the 13th-century Dún na Séad Castle and now welcomes a newly crowned Michelin-star Turkish restaurant, Dede at the Customs House, to its culinary scene.
Cashel, County Tipperary
Located in Tipperary's Golden Vale with the grassy Galtymore mountain rising in the hazy distance, Cashel's ethereal surrounding scenes haven't changed in centuries. Dominated by the imposing shape of the 12th-century Rock of Cashel, this town is a perfect spot to take in one of Ireland's more underrated landscapes. Busy Main Street is packed with cafes, pubs, and hotels, while the handsome blue canopy and white lace curtains of Mikey Ryan's hide a superb restaurant that features a beautiful back garden for the summer months.