8 Small Towns You Must Visit on an Ireland Road Trip

Big on charm, small in size.

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Molly Miller

Photo By: Mustang_79

Take in the Emerald Isle

Ireland's natural beauty is unmatched. From verdant pastures spotted with sheep to medieval towns with cobblestone streets, there's plenty to see. However, these eight towns along the Southern coast stand out as exceptional examples of Ireland's hospitality, beauty and historic past.

Hop in a car (on the right side of the road!), and let's go for a ride.

Drogheda

Located 40 minutes north of Dublin, Drogheda is one of the oldest towns in Ireland. The city itself is fascinating with numerous historic sites, restaurants, pubs and shops. Walk along the River Boyne, venturing off to see Saint Peter's church, the Highlanes Gallery and Millmount Museum at Martello Tower. This medieval town's storied past makes it a great destination to immerse yourself in Ireland's rich history.

But, as with most Irish cities, the real magic happens outside of the city center. Just a short drive away from Drogheda stands two of Ireland's most famed historical monuments, the Hill of Tara and Newgrange. Newgrange is a prehistoric passage tomb more than 5,000 years old. It was constructed not only as a burial tomb but as a territorial marker, a temple for worship and place to honor the deceased. But perhaps most remarkable thing about Newgrange is the Winter Solstice event when the sun's beams illuminate the chamber for 17 minutes. An intentional design by the Stone Age farmers, no doubt. The Bru na Boinne visitors' center provides tours of Newgrange and even allows you to enter the tomb.

Drogheda

The Hill of Tara is an ancient inauguration site for Ireland's High Kings and was considered a passage to an otherworld. Legend has it, the stone would roar in approval if the rightful king was inaugurated. Tara's historical prominence dates back to the Stone Age when pagan rituals took place on the hill. Like Newgrange, Tara has its own passage tomb, dating back to 2500 or 3000 B.C.

Glendalough

Nestled in County Wicklow, Glendalough is truly a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of town. Its main draw is Wicklow National Park and the various 11th- and 12th-century monastic sights in the area. With just one hotel in town, it's best to visit Glendalough as a day trip from Dublin. Luckily, all of the attractions are within walking distance from each other.

Glendalough

Plan to spend a couple hours, if not four or five, in Wicklow National Park. There are many hiking options for every skill level, each offering spectacular views of the Upper or Lower lakes. In the park, you'll hear and see all kinds of wildlife, from goats to hawks to deer. Walk through the ruins of a 19th-century mining village on your way up to the peak.

Kilkenny

An hour and a half south of Glendalough is the sleepy little town of Kilkenny. Situated on the River Nore, Kilkenny offers local shopping, medieval sights, artisan markets and food festivals. Spend the day stuffing your face with local fare and stout pints at any one of Kilkenny's acclaimed restaurants and pubs. Browse the Kilkenny Design Centre for handcrafted gifts from Irish craftspeople.

Kilkenny

Don't miss the impressive 12th-century castle standing in the heart of downtown Kilkenny. It's completely restored with period-accurate furnishings and preserved wallpaper. The grounds boast a lovely rose garden and expansive front lawn.

Waterford

This medieval Viking town is renowned for its crystal production. In addition to its eponymous and most famous crystal retailer, Waterford also offers great shopping and lovely river views. Check out Hibernian Gifts for all kinds of Irish goods.

Dive deeper into Waterford's past at the Viking Triangle. Here, a collection of galleries, museums and cathedrals stand within walking distance from each other, making it easy for visitors to learn about Waterford's significant cultural and historical events.

Grab a bite to eat at Momo for locally sourced, healthy dishes or pop into Revolution for craft beers and cocktails.

Blarney

Quaint and unassuming, Blarney is actually a popular destination due to the famous Blarney Stone. But the town itself deserves more attention. Just off the square stands Blarney Woolen Mills, a massive store/hotel/dining warehouse. Here, you'll find every kind of Irish good imaginable, from wool sweaters and linen shirts to blankets and souvenirs. There's not much else in the way of shopping here, but this store alone is worth a trip to Blarney.

Blarney

The shining star of Blarney, is, of course, its famed castle. But almost more impressive than the castle itself are the castle grounds. Grab an Irish coffee and get lost amongst 8-foot-tall ferns, poisonous plants and pagan relics. One thing you shouldn't do? Make plans, because this garden is one of the most enchanting spots in all of Ireland. You'll need every bit of six hours plus to take it all in.

Killarney

Killarney is fun and all, but the real beauty of this town lies outside of the city center. Killarney National Park is a treasure trove of ethereal Irish landscapes and romantic trails along Muckross Lake. Plus, if you plan to drive the Ring of Kerry, the park falls directly on the route.

Killarney

Stay in the Brehon or Victoria House Hotel for nearby, upscale accommodations. Plan to spend an entire day in the park exploring the Muckross House, Ross Castle and beautiful nature trails around the lake and by waterfalls. End the day with a pint of Guinness at The Jarvey's Rest.

Dingle

Experience instant relaxation in this picturesque waterfront town. Fresh seafood and extraordinary views abound in Dingle. Stroll along the shore or down the pier for a sweeping look at the distant hillsides. Stay at Heaton's Guesthouse, which overlooks the harbor and serves the best breakfast in town.

For even more seaside views, drive down Slea Head Drive. Stop to see the prehistoric Beehive Huts and get a look at the breathtaking craggy, Dingle peninsula coastline.

Dingle

Dingle is somehow even prettier on horseback. Drive 10 minutes to the nearby town of Ventry and hop on an Irish Cob at Long's. Opt for a two-hour ride through the countryside and along the beach for an unforgettable experience and stunning views.

Dingle

Back in town, Dingle offers wonderful shops with local artisan crafts. Shop for gifts at the Dingle Candle Company, The Weaver's Shop, Crinkle and the Kerry Craft Center. Additionally, Dingle boasts numerous art galleries, antique shops and clothing stores.

Take advantage of Dingle's incredibly fresh seafood at Doyle's, the Marina Inn and the Boat Yard. Not into seafood? Try the burgers at Dick Macks. Pop in The Bean for a cup of coffee, and sip on a pint at O'Sullivan's Courthouse Pub or Curran's. The pubs usually have live Irish music and, if you're lucky, the locals will show off their Irish step dancing moves.

Adare

Just outside of Limerick lies the lovely little town Adare. Nicknamed "The Prettiest Village in Ireland," Adare boasts exquisite scenery, ample walking trails, medieval structures and thatched roof cottages. Try to plan your stay towards the end of the week so as not to miss Adare's popular Friday Market.

Start off at the Adare Heritage Centre for dining, shopping and tour information. Visit the Desmond Castle, Augustinian or Franciscan Friary, Village Park and the Adare Manor.

Upscale boutiques, like Isobel, and restaurants, like 1826, give this small town a big city feel. Speaking of the city, Limerick is only 30 minutes away, if you're interested in a day trip.

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