20 of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland

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Traditional and oh so scenic, Ireland is also known as Emerald Isle due to the lush green fields that cover the countryside. Here you are guaranteed of stunning surroundings, a warm welcome, and a perfect pint of the black stuff. Dublin is a very popular city to visit, but to make the most of the unique and gorgeous landscapes Ireland has to offer you’ll have to explore a little further afield. Originally from England, I’ve lived here now for many years now and fallen completely head over heels for the place. Aside from its lively capital, here are my favourite 20 of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland (in no particular order)…

Kerry, Munster – one of the most beautiful and scenic counties to visit in Ireland

Arguably the ultimate Irish destination and a must-see place to go in Ireland, this unspoiled region is one of the most naturally beautiful and striking places in the world. You will find County Kerry located within the province of Munster in the peninsular southwest region of Ireland, and it’s known for its pockets of traditional Gaelic speakers and also its magnificent terrain.

Journeying past rugged coastline and towering mountains, the Ring of Kerry is a popular scenic driving route skirting the edges of the Iveragh Peninsula filled with folklore and dramatic scenery and is best explored independently by car. At 110 miles, it’s a long journey but it provides an excellent opportunity to take in the beautiful views from the coastal road. It’s also a great area for outdoor activities especially cycling, golf, walking and water sports.

The main town in this area is Tralee, but the most significant is Killarney. The Lakes of Killarney are an area of outstanding natural beauty and can be found in the mountainous Killarney National Park.

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My must-do highlights of Kerry…

  • Hire a car and tour the incredible Ring of Kerry – one of the most beautiful natural areas in Europe. The ‘ring’ will you around the Iveragh Peninsula, past beautiful Atlantic views, cute traditional towns and lovely beaches.
  • Eat at Croí Restaurant – a fabulous cosy restaurant in Kerry that prides itself on using local ingredients sourced from local suppliers. 
  • Visit O’Conners for live Irish music and to experience a great traditional Irish pub.
  • Go on a 3-Hour Eco Cruise and Star Wars Tour around the Skellig Islands where you’ll see ancient history, where an episode of Star Wars was filmed and also the chance to see whales, dolphins, basking sharks and over 22,000 Gannets.
  • Drive down Dingle Way to see stunning coastal views and their cute – and friendly – resident dolphin.
  • Visit Ross Castle a 15th-century lakeside castle.
  • Visit Banna Strand for a beautiful beach backed by lovely sand dunes.
  • Do the Slea Head Drive, one of the most scenic drives in Europe. It’s a circular route, forming part of the Wild Atlantic Way, beginning and ending in Dingle.

A video of the beautiful Ring of Kerry by 4k drone…

My cool and unusual hotel pick for Kerry Ireland – The Dunloe Hotel & Gardens

Cork, Munster – a small but fun Irish city that packs a big punch in arts, food and enjoying the craic!

Cork is the southernmost and largest county and like its rival, Kerry is also in Munster. The area is known as “The Rebel County” after the role Cork played in the Irish War of Independence. Cork itself is Ireland’s second-largest city but has the feel of a small friendly town.

It’s one of the best places in Ireland to enjoy the craic (traditional Irish fun) and also packs a big punch when it comes to art, history, and culture and makes a fantastic place to spend a few days. It’s also becoming known as a gastronomic haven so don’t forget to try a few restaurants out while you’re here.

Ilnacullin (Garinish Island) is also a very popular tourist attraction in Ireland that is known for its natural beauty and scenery. Here you will find wonderful tropical plants, beautiful Italian gardens, and the distinctive Martello Tower.

My must-do highlights in Cork…

  • Kiss the world-famous Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle.
  • Eat at Greene’s restaurant – an upscale global cuisine served in a stylish, converted 18th-century warehouse with high ceilings.
  • Step back in time at Cork City Gaol Museum.
  • Wander St Patrick’s Street – the city’s main shopping street which has twice won the award as Ireland’s best shopping street.
  • Go for a pint of Guinness at the Mutton Lane Inn – a great cosy and traditional pub and one of the oldest in Cork.
  • Catch live music Counihans Bar every Sunday night at 9:30pm. Here, the band Arundó, an original four-piece group based in North Cork, play an exciting mixture of traditional and contemporary Irish music.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Cork

My cool and unusual hotel pick in Cork – Oriel House Hotel

The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim – a famous Game of Thrones location which has become of Ireland’s most popular attractions

Trees are not always an attraction, but in Ireland, one set of trees is not only a top tourist attraction but was featured in Game of Thrones. The Dark Hedges is an area in North Ireland that has been made famous for the scene in Game of Thrones where Arya dressed as a boy in order to escape King’s Landing ultimately saving her life and leading to her Night King slaying destiny.

This striking and enchanting row of beech trees has become among Ireland’s best photo opportunities!

My cool and unusual hotel pick for staying near the Dark Hedges – The Bushmills Inn Hotel

Galway – a scenic city which is one of the best places to visit in Ireland with old-fashioned pubs, canals and excellent restaurants

Galway is a medieval town on the west coast of Ireland which sits on the River Corrib between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland and has enjoyed quite a bit of fame recently thanks to that Ed Sheeran song!

Once voted one of the world’s sexiest cities, Galway is known for its ancient architecture and also for its vibrant art and cultural scene and certainly packs a punch! Make sure you spend at least a couple of days here soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the craic. One of the best ways to explore the area is by boat.

Try the ‘Corrib Princess’ which departs from Woodquay for a relaxing 90-minute cruise with an added commentary. Just outside the city of Galway is the Connemara National Park where you’ll find scenic mountains, vast expanses of bogs, heaths, woodlands and Connemara ponies.

My must-do highlights in Galway…

  • Explore Quay Street – a great street with a lively atmosphere, street performers and excellent pubs and shops.
  • Sample the best of the Galway organic food scene at Cafe Kai
  • Discover Galway’s Latin Quarter one of the most beautiful parts of Galway City. Home to cobbled stone streets, great restaurants, fab boutiques and very rich in culture.
  • Catch live Irish music at the cosy traditional Tig Coili pub.
  • Go on the fantastic Micil Distillery Experience.
  • Start the day with genuine Irish hospitality and a late breakfast at the Cupán Tae tea rooms on Quay Lane.
  • See the historic Medieval City Walls.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Galway

 

My cool and unusual hotel pick for Galway – The g Hotel

Giants Causeway, County Antrim – Northern Ireland’s first UNESCO Heritage Site, a geological wonder and home to myth and legend

If you visit County Antrim in Northern Ireland you cannot miss Giants Causeway  – 40,000 natural basalt columns formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. One of the best and most popular places to visit in Ireland, the site was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and also a National Nature Reserve. An area surrounded by mythical tales, the most enduring is the legend of Finn McCool. The Irish giant Finn is said to have created the Causeway after an argument with the Scottish giant Fingal. Other attractions in the area include a steam train that takes a journey to the Old Bushmills Distillery where you can sample some traditional Irish whiskey.

Our cool and unusual hotel pick for near Giant’s Causeway – Bushmills Inn Hotel and Restaurant

Kilkenny, Leinster – a charming medieval town and a fabulous place to visit in Ireland with well-preserved churches and monasteries

Kilkenny is a popular tourist city and one of the best places to visit in Ireland and its numerous pubs have hosted many a Stag and Hen event over the years. If you are fond of a pint or two, try taking a tour of Smithwick’s brewery – it’s an interesting visit in a town famous for its beer production. In the centre of Kilkenny, you’ll find the large stone castle which has been a focal point of the City for over 800 years.

The city is also regarded for its vibrant cultural scene and the annual summer Arts Festival consisting of theatre, dance, literature, music, and visual arts shouldn’t be missed.

My must-do highlights in Kilkenny…

  • Visit the historic Kilkenny castle built in 1195.
  • Explore the Medieval Mile a trail that links Kilkenny Castle to St. Canice’s Cathedral. The journey is filled with shops, pubs, restaurants, picturesque alleyways and a whole lot of history!
  • Eat at the several times winner of National ‘Pub of the Year’ Langton’s The 67 bar is a buzzing environment where you can enjoy authentic traditional Irish food in relaxed and stylish surroundings!
  • Head to Kyteller’s Inn for traditional music and cosy pub surroundings. 
  • Kilkenny is a scenic city best explored on foot take the Canal Walk, one of the prettiest walks you can take. 

Our cool and unusual hotel pick for Kilkenny – Lyrath Estate

Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim (aka the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones) and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – two incredible places to explore in Ireland

Later episodes of Game of Thrones show a lot of the Iron Islands which is an interesting looking place, albeit, a little dark. Fans of the show track to Ballintoy Harbour to see the famed filming location, but this is not the only attraction Ballintoy Harbour has to offer. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is an exciting and a little hair-raising attraction for tourists, especially if it’s windy! Definitely a great place to visit in Ireland!

If you happen to visit this area during Easter, you can enjoy one of the dawn services located on the coast. You will likely be in very small company as the village boasts less than 300 residents, but since the filming of Game of Thrones has wrapped, Ballintoy Harbour has certainly seen an influx of new life into the area.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Ballintoy Harbour

Dunluce Castle, Ulster – used as the House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones and a popular place to visit in Ireland

The Iron Islands may have been filmed in Ballintoy Harbour, but that coast is devoid of an actual castle. One of the best places to go in Ireland for GoT fans, the shots of House of Greyjoy located in the Iron Islands on Game of Thrones was Dunluce Castle.

The 17th-century castle depicts the outside of House of Greyjoy for Game of Thrones enthusiasts. History shows that Christians, as well as Vikings, have made their mark on Dunluce Castle as it was originally the site of an earlier Irish Fort. Today, visitors to Dunluce Castle must traverse its connecting bridge to gain access as it is the only thing connecting the small island to the mainland.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Dunluce Castle

 

Murlough Bay, County Antrim – another scenic Game of Thrones filming location

This area of Ireland can be difficult to get to but it offers some truly stunning Irish countryside. The road leading to this small seemingly cut off piece of the country is difficult terrain. However, travelers still manage to make it to this small bay for some of the best views of the Ireland coastline and photo ops at some of the Game of Thrones filming sites. Murlough Bay, located on the Causeway Coast is known for the site where Theon and Yara ride away on horseback the Sir Davos’s post-battle of Blackwater Bay shipwreck.

The above cliffs were used for the parlay between Renly and Stannis during Season 2. If you intend on visiting Murlough Bay, many travelers feel it is easier to trek on foot from Ballycastle, but be careful of the slippery rocks along the well-beaten paths between the two areas.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Murlough Bay

Glendalough – a stunning glacial valley to visit and explore in County Wicklow

Located in a glacial valley beside tranquil lakes, Glendalough countryside is truly beautiful and very photogenic. If you appreciate history or architecture then visit the ancient two round towers of St Kevin’s Church and a ruined cathedral.

Nature lovers can also simply enjoy the walks along the trails and around the lakes. There are various trails on offer – shorter ones for those looking for a gentle stroll or 10-mile hikes across mountains for more serious walkers.

 

My cool and unusual hotel pick for near Glendalough – BrookLodge & Macreddin Village

Donegal, Ulster – a true Irish gem and once named the coolest place on the planet 

Donegal is an exceptional county filled with friendly communities, gorgeous Irish countryside and breathtaking views. Many visitors mention Donegal as their favourite area in Ireland and people travel from all over Ireland to explore the naturally beautiful surroundings. Dongeal town itself is a very scenic place and was once voted ‘the coolest place on the planet!’.

Another one of the county treasures is Glenveagh National Park which covers 170 square kilometres of beautiful woodland and mountains and is one of Ireland’s finest natural attractions. Here you will find rugged mountainous landscapes, sandy beaches, clear lakes and the wonderful late Victorian folly, Glenveagh Castle.

My must-do highlights in Donegal and County Donegal

  • For the best craic in town head to the old-school pub the Reel Inn, down Guinness and catch live Irish music sessions every night.
  • Discover Donegal’s Craft Village where you can buy showcases pottery, ironwork, handwoven fabrics, glasswork, jewellery and more.
  • Visit the beautiful Slieve League Cliffs.
  • Drive the scenic road at Glengesh Pass.
  • Go for a hike in Glenveagh National Park, the second-largest national park in Ireland.
  • Walk along Marble Hill Strand at sunset.
  • Gaze out at the waves from the Tra Na Rossan viewpoint.
  • Visit Ballymastocker Bay – one of the best beaches in Ireland.
  • Eat at Creevy Pier Hotel at Ballyshannon has to be one of Donegal’s best-kept secrets; it is perched overlooking Creevy Pier down a driveway on the way from Ballyshannon to Rossnowlagh and the views from the restaurant are just stunning!

My cool and unusual hotel pick for Donegal – Lough Eske Castle

Carnlough Bay, County Antrim – a picturesque harbour which was once a Game of Thrones filming location

A visit to North Ireland would not be complete without a visit to Carnlough Bay and this is a fabulous place to visit in Ireland. This area was once just a small fishing village, but has recently been updated to accommodate larger vessels.

Visitors are encouraged to walk along the picturesque coast of the bay and even this beautiful part of Ireland was featured in the Game of Thrones. Not the bay itself, but Carnlough caves is the shooting location where Melisandre gives birth to the shadow creature.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Carnlough Bay

Ballycastle – the birthplace of Game of Throne actors Conlyth Hill (Lord Varys) and Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) and a gorgeous place in Ireland to visit

Quaint seaside villages are found throughout Ireland, but for the most beautiful among the lot, Ballycastle holds great esteem. It is located in the very northeastern tip of the country and roughly 6,000 people currently call this area home. Ballycastle maintains a spectacularly wonderful small-town feel, but it too has been touched by Game of Thrones.

No scenes were actually shot in the area, but actors Conlyth Hill (Lord Varys) and Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) were both born and raised in Ballycastle.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Ballycastle

County Wicklow, South of Dublin – home to some of the most scenic landscapes and countryside in Ireland

You’ll find Wicklow in County Wicklow. This area is filled with illustrious coastlines, a sprawling mountain range, and picturesque woodland. Wicklow, although not the smallest town in Ireland, is among the smaller ones as its population has maintained under 15,000 people, so walking around and meeting people is an absolute joy.

The beautiful Irish town is located between Dublin and Wexford linked by road as well as a railway network. Wicklow is full of charm and beauty that can only be appreciated in person.

My cool and unusual hotel pick for County Wicklow – Powerscourt Hotel

Cooley Peninsula, County Louth – one of Ireland’s most scenic and beautiful driving routes and a must-see place to explore

Ireland is certainly full of beautiful countryside areas, but Cooley Peninsula is considered the number one scenic drive in Ireland. However, driving is not the only way to appreciate such a beautiful place. Tourists and locals alike enjoy walking along the almost deserted coastlines of the Cooley Peninsula for the best views of the Mourne Mountains.

The stunning area is home to ancient ruins including Proleek Dolmen, Gallery Grave, and Slieve Foy. Also include a visit to Carlingford, a town on the Cooley Peninsula, which is full of historic buildings. Bring your camera and a good pair, or two, of walking shoes as you will want to see it all along this impressively beautiful coastline.

The Cliffs of Moher and County Clare – striking sea cliffs which are one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland

Ireland’s most visited natural attractions seem to capture the heart of all her many visitors. The Cliffs of Moher tower 700 feet over the foamy waves of the Atlantic Ocean and make up some of the most ruggedly beautiful coastlines in Europe. Here surfers brave the chilly waves below, nesting seabirds thrill wildlife watchers and enthusiastic walkers make the most of the unspoiled natural scenery.

Also, take your time to explore the rest of beautiful County Clare where the cliffs are located. This is the place where a strong traditional Irish culture flourishes; explore the many pretty villages, Stone Age monuments, ancient churches, 15th-century castle and stop in one of the many charming pubs to get your fix of traditional Irish music.

My cool and unusual hotel pick near the Cliffs of Moher – Falls Hotel & Spa

Tollymore Forest, County Down – used as a Game of Thrones locations and offers beautiful walks and stunning scenic country views

Tollymore Forest is among the most beautiful parks to visit in Ireland. Historically, it is also where wood for the Titanic and other White Star ships were harvested from. As for our Game of Thrones fans, it is one of the first locations seen in the series. While out in the woods during the first episode, the Stark children and younger Theon come in contact with their Direwolf pups.

When visiting Tollymore Forest, bring a camera for certain, but also some camping gear as camping in the forest is a welcomed activity for weary travelers.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Tollymore Forest Park

Aran Islands, west coast of Ireland – known for wild landscapes, knitted jumpers, and pretty thatched cottages

If you want to visit somewhere a little different in Ireland this is a great choice! The Aran Islands are a collection of three islands that are nestled at the mouth of Galway Bay. The beautiful and isolated islands have attracted and inspired many Irish artists and poets over the years (including the leading artists Seán Keating and Liam O’Flaherty).

Aside from the unique weather-battered landscapes other notable attractions include several Iron Age forts and Teampull Bheanáin which is considered to be the smallest church in the world.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Aran Islands, west coast of Ireland

Sligo, Connacht – a lovely coastal town known for its literary heritage and rugged countryside

The scenery surrounding the county town of Sligo is extraordinarily beautiful, especially the coastline. The Knocknarea Mountain dominates the landscape and here you will find a 40 foot high stone cairn which is the mythical burial place of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connaught.

Make sure you include a visit to Carrowmore – the largest stone age cemetery in Ireland and the village of Drumcliff which is the final resting places of the famous poet W.B.Yeats. Sligo is also a great area to try out some surfing – the Irish way!

My cool and unusual hotel pick for Sligo – Markree Castle

Mountains of Mourne, County Down – a spectacular granite mountain range in Ireland and a stunning place to visit

The Mountains of Mourne are a remarkable sight to be seen in Ireland. It is known as the largest mountain range in the country and also maintains a distinctive granite facade. Located in County Down, the Mountains of Mourne tower at 850 meters above and has been getting a lot of attention in recent years.

The unmatched beauty of the Mountains of Mourne have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Environment and Heritage Service in 2002 commissioned the site be established as a national park. It has yet to take place but surely deserves the honor.

Hotels and Self-Catered Vacation Rentals in Mourne Mountains

Of course, it’s impossible to mention all the beautiful places to visit in Ireland in a list like this. Still, want more? Also try the scenic unspoiled coastline of the Connemara Peninsula or the Skellig Islands – a UNESCO heritage site off County Kerry’s coast which boast’s some of Ireland’s most important religious monuments, amongst many, many others!

Enjoy the beautiful Emerald Isle, I promise you won’t regret a visit!

You may also want to check out our other posts…

  • Cool and unusual hotels in Dublin
  • The best places to visit in Dublin
  • The most beautiful places to visit in the United Kingdom
  • The most beautiful places to visit in Wales
  • The most beautiful places to visit in Scotland
  • The most beautiful places to visit in Northern Ireland

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