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You can’t go to Ireland and only spend time in the city. While Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny and Cork have lots of offer, some of the most breathtaking scenery can be found around the nation’s small towns. Spending time in the small towns is also a great way to get to the know locals and nearly every one of them has at least a pub or two for enjoying live music and mingling. For the best of the best, be sure to put these towns on your list of must-visits.
Portmagee is one of prettiest villages in Ireland, located just off the Ring of Kerry on the southwest coast. Its main street along the water is lined with brightly painted buildings in an array of colors, and just a few miles off the coast lies Skellig Michael, the home of preserved monastic settlements that date back to the 6th century. Portmagee is a departure point for boat tours to the island, and it also hosts the Bridge Bar, which happens to be the same spot many of the cast and crew of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” enjoyed a pint while they were filming on the island. It hosts live music many nights of the week along with some fantastic gourmet fare, and perfectly-poured Guinness, of course.
Dingle is a medieval hilltop town on the legendary Dingle Peninsula overlooking a bustling harbor that’s home to a rather famous dolphin named Fungie who enjoys human contact and has been seeking people out for decades, ever since first being spotted back in 1983. Among the stone buildings that spill across the hills in Dingle, you’ll find countless pubs for enjoying live traditional Irish tunes, and just outside of town is the quintessential Irish scenery you came for: vibrant green hills dotted with thatched white-washed cottages and hundreds of sheep, while dramatic cliffs touch down to the cobalt blue waters of the Atlantic.
Located in the heart of Connemara, Clifden is a great place to stay awhile as an ideal base for visiting nearby Connemara National Park, the Twelve Bens Mountain Range and Kylemore Abbey. In town, the streets are lined with all sorts of unique shops selling locally-made crafts and cozy Irish sweaters along with outstanding pubs and multiple live music venues. You can also delve into a rich history, as Clifden was the site where on June 15, 1919, Alcock and Brown arrived after accomplishing their pioneering transatlantic flight all the way from Newfoundland.
This seaside fishing village in County Waterford has won multiple awards for its attractiveness, including the National Title in the Tidy Towns competition. Originally a 5th century monastic settlement founded by St. Declan in 316 AD, reputed to be the very first of its kind in the country, more recently it served as the romantic setting for popular author Nora Roberts “Gallaghers of Ardmore” series. Its round tower, built in the 12thcentury, rises to a height of nearly 100 feet, overlooking the pretty village and its postcard-perfect beaches. Ardmore also has an interesting history as a former refuge for ecclesiastics and the safe keeping of their chalices, books and relics.
Situated along the Glencullen River at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains, Enniskerry is an incredibly scenic town – so much so that it’s been the setting for a long list of movies, including “P.S. I Love You” and “Leap Year.” Its lovely streets are lined with independent shops, tea rooms, adorable cottages and numerous eateries.. With its rich Victorian heritage and famous attractions nearby, like Powerscourt Estate, it’s no surprise that it regularly attracts film and television crews seeking to capture both modern-day spirit and historical charm. While you’re here, take a tour of Powerscourt Estate and its breathtaking 47-acre gardens, and visit Powerscourt Waterfall, the highest waterfall in Ireland at nearly 400-feet tall.
While Wicklow National Park and the Wicklow Mountains are must-visits, you should really take time to stroll through Wicklow town as well. The capital of County Wicklow, it was founded by the Vikings in the late 8th-century, with the Black Castle ruins overlooking the harbor serving as a reminder of the Norman invasion. You can also come in hopes of spotting Sammy the Seal, a young seal who’s been visiting the harbor since 2013, initially following the local fishing boats so that he could feast on throw offs. But he ultimate forged a relationship with the local fishmongers who feed him herring and mackerel and he developed a routine of appearing at 9, 1 and 4, looking for his meal. He’s become so famous, a sign was placed at the spot he always appears.
Adare is truly a picture-postcard town, with its images reproduced alongside hundreds of thousands of “Wish You Were Here” messages. The downside is that everyone knows about it, but by visiting in the off season, or early in the morning when the roads aren’t jam-packed with tour buses, you can come and capture your own idyllic photos. The village is a wealth of scenic beauty with its main street lined with stone buildings, medieval monasteries and ruins. There are many thatched cottages, built back in the 1820s too. Some have been transformed into boutiques, restaurants and arts and crafts shops.
This colorful historical fishing village sits along River Bandon, with its narrow streets lined with charming shops, pubs and galleries. A tranquil oasis away from the hustle and bustle in Cork city, its picturesque harbor and mild climate make it popular for yachting, dolphin and whale watching trips as well as sea angling. It’s also home to a number of historical buildings, like Saint Multose Church, built in 1190, and Desmond Castle, which dates from 1500 and was once a custom house and naval prison.
Just a short drive north of Dublin is Malahide. This charming fishing town with a large marina makes an ideal alternative to a Dublin hotel stay, just a 10-minute drive from the airport. It has a small beach and golf course, but its most popular attraction is arguably Malahide Castle. Built as a private residence and fortress, it was inhabited for nearly 800 years. A tour will bring you into its fascinating, historic past, which includes reports of at least five ghosts, including Lady Maud Plunkett, buried in the castle graveyard, and a 16th century caretaker by the name of Puck.