If you’d like to go beyond Dublin on your trip to the Emerald Isle, set your course for these secret villages in Ireland. From the steep cliffs of the west coast to the lush hills and historic ruins of the countryside, Ireland is worth exploring. In these small Irish towns you’ll find cozy abodes, peaceful walking trails, and deep history.
Just thirty minutes north of Dublin in the Boyne Valley, Slane is an Irish village recognized for its Georgian architecture, prehistoric sites, and a 300-year old castle known for its high-profile concert and whiskey-making operation. Slane Castle is a sustainable distillery that employs locals, and heat from the active distilling process heats the historic castle. Its lawn has also played host to rock performances by the likes of U2, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and (as of June 2019) Metallica. Although the castle is the town’s biggest attraction, you can also visit nearby ruins or stroll down main street to a local pub like the popular Boyles of Slane.
Where to stay: For a unique experience, go glamping on the castle grounds with Rock Farm Slane.
Near the scenic Wicklow Mountains and among the ruins of Ireland’s Ancient East, Wicklow is a small village with plenty to see and do, like taking ghost tours at an 18th-century prison or hiking to the legendary Mottee Stone. While you’re in town, you can stop for a healthy meal at the Vital Health Café or make a pit-stop in the nearby town of Delgany to try an award-winning pastry at Firehouse Bakery.
Where to stay: Keep things cozy at a bed and breakfast like the Wicklow Way Lodge.
In the county of Cork, Kinsale is a fishing village with a lot of character. Its history dates to twelfth century, but the food in Kinsale has always been ahead of the times. Whether you go upscale at a place like Finn’s Table or indulge in seafood at Fishy Fishy, you’ll eat well in this brightly-colored town. While visiting, you could also brush up on your maritime history at the Old Lusitania Museum or pay a visit to Desmond Castle, which doubles as a wine museum. If you’re hankering for beer, stop by Blacks Brewery for a tour and a pint.
Where to stay: The Trident Hotel offers modern accommodation with gorgeous views of the River Bandon.
If you’ll be driving the ring of Kerry, don’t pass over the adorable village of Dingle. It’s most famous for great surfing conditions and as the bizarre home of an out-of-place bottlenose dolphin named Fungie, and you’ll have plenty of fun meandering through town center. You can also visit nearby attractions like the ancient Gallarus Oratory or grab your boots for a hike up to the viewpoint on Mount Brandon.
Where to stay: Just a walk down the road from the main town, Pax House offers guests a beautiful space to unwind on a visit to Dingle.
On the rugged western coast of Ireland, there’s plenty of culture to be found in this secret Irish village beyond its iconic Westport House. With nearby attractions like the slopes at Croagh Patrick, Rockfleet Castle, the National Museum of Ireland, and Killary Fjord, there’s plenty to do throughout Westport. Considered among the Irish to be one of the best places to live, it’s a three-time winner of the Irish Tidy Towns Competition.
Where to stay: At the family-owned Hotel Westport you can stay in comfort and style on seven acres of private woodland.
Another secret Irish village on the Wild Atlantic Way, Bantry is lively harbor town packed with history. Best known for being surrounded by rolling hills and stunning vistas, the village of Bantry puts on annual Walking Festival; a weekend of organized hikes worth checking out if you’re traveling to Ireland in the spring. In addition to the beautiful surroundings, visit the historic Bantry House, shop at the farmer’s market, or take a boat out to Garnish Island to explore its all-encompassing gardens.
Where to stay: A modern hotel on a large property complete with landscaped gardens, a duck pond, waterfalls, and nature trails, the Westlodge Hotel is a relaxing retreat.
Smack-dab in the middle of Ireland, Birr is a unique Irish town famous for Birr Castle, Georgian architecture, and the Leviathan of Parsonstown—which at one time was the largest telescope in the world. In addition to visiting these nearby attractions, you can also use a trip to Birr to take a foraging workshop or pay a visit to the unique Lough Boora Discovery Park, a sprawling bog that is part nature reserve and part sculpture gallery.
Where to stay: For great hospitality and comfort in Birr, book a bed and breakfast like the Emmet House in the center of town.
With major historical chops like being the site of the first transatlantic radio transmission and the landing site of the first transatlantic flight, Clifden has a lot to boast about. Here you’ll find many Irish traditions are still alive thanks to the region of Connemara’s historical isolation from the rest of the country. Tack on cultural sites like Kylemore Abbey and the Marconi Radio station, or just enjoy the town and take a walk up to Monument Hill for a picturesque view.
Where to stay: Built in the style of a traditional railway building, the Station House Hotel is unique and close to town.
If you’re venturing westward in Ireland you’ll probably be drawn towards Donegal County’s dramatic coast, but no visit would be complete without a visit to Donegal Town. In this small Irish village, you’ll find the remains of 15th-century Abbey and Donegal Castle right in the town’s center. Located on the River Eske, Donegal has been occupied by humans since prehistoric times and there are many unique sites to visit nearby, like ringforts that date back to the bronze age.
Where to stay: Embrace history and spend the night in a castle at the Lough Eske Castle.
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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.