Ireland is the land of lush green fields, the land of a thousand welcomes, and the home of leprechauns. But if you are planning a trip to the island and are struggling to decide what to do, then this list of the 9 best places to visit in Ireland is a great starting point for your itinerary.
Planning a trip to Ireland can feel overwhelming because there is so much to see and do on this small island on the western edge of Europe. Whether you like the great outdoors, love history, are a foodie at heart, or have a family or group of friends looking to explore, there is something in Ireland for everyone.
In this article, you will find our top picks of the best places to visit in Ireland to help you start planning your itinerary for a trip to remember. So, let’s get started.
Getting Around Ireland
If you are planning to visit several of the best places to visit in Ireland, you will want to rent a car.
With a car rental, you can explore tons of different amazing places around the country at your own pace. The roads are easy enough to drive and everything is clearly signposted as you head between cities and counties.
The only problem you may have is if you are used to driving on the right side of the road and sitting on the left side of the car. In Ireland, you’ll be doing the exact opposite. However, it’s part of the adventure and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Whenever I rent cars around Europe, I always use Discover Cars. They have the most competitive prices and show you all of the best options. You can read reviews of the different rental companies and you know exactly what you are paying for upfront without any hidden fees. Book a car with Discover Cars here.
9 Best Places to Visit in Ireland
Most visitors to Ireland will arrive in Dublin. It is served by international airports with direct flights from many countries around the world including most of the European countries, cities in the US and Canada, and the Middle East.
Since it is often the point of arrival and departure, many people who plan on exploring Ireland will add a few days in the Irish capital. And it is little wonder it is so popular with so many things to see and do in the city.
Now, Dublin can be notoriously expensive but there are ways to be budget savvy. There are plenty of museums in Dublin City Centre that are free, a host of budget-friendly hostels for accommodation, and you do not need a car to navigate the city.
Some of the most popular attractions in the city include Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison that is now a museum. Top tip: book your tickets 28 days in advance of your visit to avoid disappointment.
For art lovers, there are galleries, some of which are free. And for those who simply enjoy retail therapy, the city has two pedestrianized streets filled with shops of every kind.
There is so much to see and do in Dublin, it can act as a great base for taking day trips from the city to explore the rest of the country if you are choosing not to hire a car, and even if you spend a few days in the city, you won’t see it all.
If you are looking for the best place to go in Ireland for weekend trips that don’t involve Dublin, then Galway is a great choice. Situated on the west coast of Ireland, around 2 hours and 20 minutes by train, Galway is an easy choice for a two-city stop in Ireland without needing a car.
Hailed as the capital of the West of Ireland, Galway is a smaller city in comparison to Dublin, and navigating it on foot is easy. The city has a main central square, Eyre Square, and streets that run from it, mostly westward.
There is a beach town which is a suburb of Galway called Salthill which you can reach on foot from the city center, a journey of around 40 minutes. Or you can take a cab for 12 minutes. There you can enjoy the sandy beach, and stroll along the promenade, or the Claddagh area, where the famous Claddagh ring originated.
Within Galway, you will find museums, the Spanish Arch, narrow cobbled streets with pubs, cafés, and restaurants, and plenty of opportunities to get your Irish gifts.
Galway is also a more relaxed affair than Dublin and has plenty of accommodation options on offer from traditional B&Bs to luxury hotels. If you are looking into getting around Ireland by train and want to combine cities in Ireland, Galway is a great one to add to your itinerary along with Dublin.
One of the top 10 places to visit in Ireland is County Tipperary. Most visitors to County Tipperary come to see one of the major landmarks in Ireland, the Rock of Cashel.
Located in the town of Cashel, the Rock of Cashel is a ruined abbey that sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Tipperary landscape. It rises majestically out of the landscape as you approach the town.
Built in the 12th century on what was once the seat of the King of Munster, the Rock of Cashel is a famous landmark in Ireland that has a roofless abbey, chapel, round tower, and graveyard encased in a wall. It is hugely popular, especially in summer, so booking tickets in advance is advisable.
But that is not all you will find in this landlocked county of Ireland. In the town of Cahir, you will find one of the best-preserved castles in Ireland, Cahir Castle. There are several towers to explore, and it is a great place to visit with kids if you are a family exploring Ireland.
Less than 10 minutes from the castle is the stunning Swiss Cottage, an ornamental cottage that was built by a former Lord of Cahir. Guided tours allow you to enter the cottage to discover how it appeared in the 19th century.
Tipperary also has many other castles to visit, mountains for walking and hiking, religious sites such as Hore Abbey and Moor Abbey, and the Mitchelstown Caves.
If you are traveling south from Dublin towards Cork or County Kerry, plan an overnight stop at Cashel or Cahir to see some of the sights of Tipperary.
One of the most unspoiled and beautiful places in Ireland to visit is County Donegal. Known to be rugged and wild, Donegal is tucked into the northwest corner of Ireland and shares a border with Northern Ireland and County Leitrim in the Republic.
Donegal is one of the least-visited places in Ireland and is also home to the start/end point of the Wild Atlantic Way at Malin Head. As well as the beautiful, rugged coastline you will find plenty of beaches for a stroll or for surfing if that is your sport of choice. The waves can be wild in this part of the country so do take care.
Along its coastline you will also find the Slieve League cliffs, standing at heights taller than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, while inland you will find lakes to enjoy water sports or walks.
Ireland’s second largest national park can also be found in County Donegal, the Glenveagh National Park where you can enjoy walking and hiking along trails as well as visit Glenveagh Castle and see the Glenveagh waterfall.
Donegal is a 3-4 hour drive from Dublin depending on whether you are driving through Northern Ireland or not, but it is worth adding to your itinerary if you want to explore one of the most unspoiled and most naturally beautiful parts of Ireland.
One of the best places to visit in Ireland for a weekend is arguably Kilkenny. This medieval city is located one and a half hours drive south of Dublin or two hours by public transport and makes for another great location to combine with Dublin.
The city is well known for its castle, built in the 13th century which visitors to tour either via guided tours or self-guided. There are a large number of rooms open to the public including the stunning Picture Gallery with its high vaulted ceiling and red walls. Outside the grounds are beautifully landscaped as well as having parklands.
Kilkenny is also famous for its pubs and live music venues, as well as its many festivals which include the Kilkenny Tradfest, Kilkenny Arts Festival, and the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.
The city has a museum, a cathedral, and a round tower and there are walking tours of the city which will visit these and other points of interest.
If you are looking for one of the best places to visit in Ireland outside Dublin to stock up on your souvenirs, then I highly recommend Kilkenny. There are lots of shops selling handcrafted gifts and other items that you will enjoy once you get home. Try the Kilkenny Design Centre.
Kilkenny is one of the most loved cities in Ireland for the locals to enjoy a weekend away in and you won’t be disappointed if you add it to your itinerary.
One of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland is County Antrim, the county in which you will find Belfast. Conveniently, Belfast has direct links to Dublin Airport and Dublin city center, so if you want to visit both cities, it is easy to do so whether you have a hire car or not.
Antrim is one of the top places to visit in Northern Ireland thanks to both Belfast and the fact that it is home to the Causeway Coastal Route, which runs from Belfast all the way to Derry/Londonderry and takes in some of the most breath-taking coastal parts of Northern Ireland.
It is along this that you will find the iconic Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and the seaside town of Portrush with its beautiful beaches.
Belfast is a city with lots of offer visitors including botanic gardens, a castle, museums, and of course, the Titanic Quarter where the ill-fated liner was built. Visitors can learn about the Titanic through the Titanic Museum and can even stay in the Titanic Hotel located in what was the headquarters of the Harland & Wolff shipbuilders.
If you are traveling by public transport, you can use Belfast as a base and take day trips from the city to visit the Giant’s Causeway or even the filming locations for the popular TV series, Game of Thrones.
Whatever your interests, if you’d like to visit Northern Ireland, put Belfast and County Antrim on your to-do list.
The best place to visit in Ireland for Viking history outside of Dublin is Waterford. Waterford City was established as a city by the Vikings before Dublin, making it the oldest city in Ireland.
Remnants of the Vikings can be found in what is known as the Viking Triangle which includes Reginald’s Tower and the Medieval Museum. There is evidence of the old city walls still standing. This part of the city is small and easy to explore on foot.
You will also find Bishop’s Palace Museum in this area where you can experience 18th-century Ireland through guided tours with costumed guides.
Waterford City also has a cathedral which those who enjoy architecture may find interesting and it is also home to the House of Waterford Crystal where visitors can take guided tours to learn about the famous glassworks.
County Waterford, for those with a hire car, has a few castles to visit including Waterford Castle (now a resort and golf course), and Lismore Castle with its stunning gardens. There are also religious and monastic sites to visit in the county, and Waterford has some amazing beaches for those who love the sea.
Being located just over 2 hours south of Dublin by car, Waterford is another great place to visit in Ireland.
One of the top 5 places to visit in Ireland is County Kerry. Famous for its national park, long stretches of coastline that are part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and it’s Star Wars filming location, County Kerry is one of the natural wonders of Ireland.
Situated in the southwest corner of the island, many visitors come to Kerry to enjoy its natural beauty. It is a popular destination for Irish weddings as well. Killarney and Kenmare are the major towns for accommodation in County Kerry and are ideally located for exploring the Ring of Kerry and the Killarney National Park.
The Ring of Kerry is a 179km (111 miles) circular driving route that typically starts and ends in Killarney. It travels through part of the national park and stops along the route including Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, Ross Castle, the Torc Waterfall, Valentia Island, the Gap of Dunloe, and Ladies View, to name but a few.
The Killarney National Park is split roughly in two by the Ring of Kerry and is home to Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil. Many of the points of interest along the Ring of Kerry are located within the national park.
Kerry is also home to the popular town of Dingle which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year. The Dingle Peninsula is a popular driving route and Star Wars fans can visit Skellig Michael, a filming location, during the summer months on guided tours. As it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, numbers are limited so book early.
If you are looking for a county that has it all when it comes to beauty, County Kerry is one for your list.
And finally, one of the best places to visit in Ireland for families in County Wexford. Located in what is known as the Sunny Southeast, County Wexford gets some of the best weather in Ireland and is very family-friendly when it comes to some of its attractions.
Wexford is less than two hours from Dublin and is not a county overrun with visitors. It is popular with locals who flock to its beaches during summer to enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.
Wexford has many places to visit including the Hook Lighthouse, which is over 800 years old and one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world.
In Wexford, you will also find Johnstown Castle, home to the Irish agricultural museum, and several abbeys including Dunbrody and Tintern Abbey. The Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross is a fascinating place to visit, and kids will love it. Close to New Ross are the JFK Homestead and the JFK Arboretum, a beautiful place for a walk in the sunshine.
Another great family-friendly place to visit in County Wexford is the Irish National Heritage Park. This open-air museum brings visitors through a journey in Ireland’s history over more than 9000 years. Kids will love going inside the crannogs, mining for gold, and boarding a Viking longship.
If you are traveling as a family and looking for somewhere to spend a few days exploring, then you won’t go wrong with a visit to County Wexford.
Final thoughts on the best places to visit in Ireland
So, if you have been wondering what are the best places to visit in Ireland, this list of 9 of the best places will help you start to narrow down exactly where to go in Ireland.
Some of the places mentioned will require hiring a car, but others are easy to reach from the Irish capital and can be easily combined with Dublin for a great and memorable trip to the Emerald Isle.
Whether you visit one, two, three, or all of these places, you will find plenty in each place to fill your cup with the wonders of Ireland.
About the Author
Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her family. They return to Ireland every year to visit family and explore more of the island with their young son. Through her website, Travel Around Ireland, Cath shares her local’s knowledge and experience with her readers to help them plan their perfect trip of a lifetime to Ireland.