1. Adare, Co. Limerick
Adare’s prettiness is no accident. This quaint village grew up around the Georgian-meets-Tudor-revival, Adare Manor, whose landlords, the Earls of Dunraven, beautified their estate’s village by lining its main street with thatched cottages and neat Arts and Crafts style houses. This is the heart of golf country, so tee off at one of the two courses; alternatively, visit the thirteenth century Desmond Castle – for more historic castles to visit in Ireland read this list of the top 10 turrets in the land.
2. Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny
Bucolic Inistioge (pronounced “Inisteeg”) sits on the River Nore, around a scenic eighteenth century stone bridge. Lush hills surround the village, its tree-lined green the starting point for a walk up the steep lane to the Woodstock Desmesne, a Georgian mansion surrounded by Victorian gardens. Walk between the monkey puzzle trees to find the arboretum, rose garden and some of the best views in the southeast of Ireland.
3. Howth, Dublin
So close to Dublin, this vibrant fishing village is considered by some as part of the capital, but what separates Howth from other city suburbs is its superb seafood restaurants. Watch the fishing trawlers in the harbour and gaze out over the very waters your lunch has been hauled out of at Aqua, before walking it off with a hike over Howth Head, looking back towards the city. Find out about some more breath-taking walking, hiking and biking route in Ireland here.
4. Carlingford, Co. Louth
Come hungry to Carlingford, home to what are arguably Ireland’s best oysters. Farmed on the loch, these plump beauties are best served with a slice of lemon and a pint of Guinness in the Carlingford Arms, or as part of a proper home-cooked feast at renowned local hotel and restaurant Ghan House. This medieval village also has plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, as well as the remains of medieval King John’s Castle and the fifteenth century fortified Mint.
5. Cong, Co. Galway/Co. Mayo
Few villages are more beguilingly situated than Cong, balanced on a thin neck of land between two lochs, the Connemara Mountains of County Galway on one side, the emerald green fields of County Mayo on the other. Check out the kitschy Quiet Man Museum (the 1950s Oscar-winning movie was filmed here) and the extensive medieval ruins of Cong Abbey, its stone vaulted archways and Celtic crosses an atmospheric setting for a stroll.
6. Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
Dunmore East’s crescent of buttery yellow sands might be its main draw, but the village is also home to a lively fishing harbour – and, subsequently, a smattering of seafood restaurants. Pop into the Bay Café for a crab sandwich or sit overlooking the water in the restaurant of the Strand Inn for seasonal seafood from mussels to wild prawns. Get out on the water afterwards with Dunmore East Adventure Centre, which offers kayaking, windsurfing and sailing.
7. Killeshandra, Co. Cavan
This tiny village with its population in the hundreds, is a great base for exploring the County Cavan countryside. Nearby Lough Oughter is an angler’s paradise, with no permit required to catch everything from pike and perch to carp, bream and eel, while Killykeen Forest Park has a network of woodland trails and a swimming area on the lough. Don’t miss a visit to the thirteenth century castle on the lough too, only reachable by boat.
8. Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare
A cluster of white and cream houses cling to the wild Atlantic coast, their backdrop the otherworldly limestone landscape of the Burren. This is Ballyvaughan, a mecca for outdoor sports, with rock climbing and mountain biking in the Burren, surfing and kayaking in Galway Bay. Be sure to check out Ailwee Cave, carved out by glacial meltwaters some two million years ago. Save a few euros buying your tickets online in advance (adults €10 instead of €12, children €5 instead of €5.50).
9. Arthurstown, Co. Wexford
More of a hamlet than a village, Arthurstown is a quiet spot to sit and contemplate, the waters of Waterford Harbour estuary sliding out into the Celtic Sea. Come for sunset – and dinner at Dunbrody House, an 1830s mansion house and home to one of Ireland’s leading cookery schools. The restaurant here has a garland of awards, and an eight-course tasting menu for €80 per person.
10. Portmagee, Co. Kerry
It’s not just the scenery that is jaw-dropping on the drive out onto the Iveragh Peninsula and Portmagee, it’s the road itself too, winding inexorably out along this sinewy rocky finger towards the Atlantic. The neat, colourful buildings of Portmagee’s seafront stare straight out over St Finian’s Bay and mark the jumping off point for Valentia Island, home to the oldest fossilised footprints in the northern hemisphere (some 400 millions years old).
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Written by Helen Ochrya for Skyscanner.