When you’re planning a trip to Ireland, especially for the first time, you’ll likely want to know where you should visit. There are so many small, charming towns that it’s impossible to pick them all, which is why I’m focusing on the best cities to visit in Ireland to help you decide. While you would probably love to spend a month or longer there, you likely are on a set schedule.
I’ve been to Ireland multiple times and always go to new towns each time, but I also like to visit some of my old favorites when I’m there. For example, while everyone knows about Dublin, you might not know what exactly there is to do there or where you should stay. When you plan on visiting multiple cities, you want to make the most of your time there so you can see as much as possible.
That’s why this article breaks down some of the best cities in Ireland to visit and provides a mini-guide for each area so you can put it on your Ireland road trip itinerary or decide to skip it. Make sure to check out how to drive in Ireland before you go for a smoother vacation. And don’t worry if you can’t fit them all into this trip – you can always come back again!
A list of the best places in Ireland to visit would not be complete without mentioning Cork. Founded in the early 7th century, this south coast escape has a vast historical and cultural significance embedded in its structures. With scenic Irish drives and thought-provoking folklore, you’ll have the time of your life exploring the hidden secrets of the area.
Where to Stay in Cork
Encapsulated with a small-city charm and joyful spirits, Cork is the place to be. If you wish to stay a few nights in this magical city, there are ample accommodation options to choose from for where to stay in Cork.
Budget option: Located within a 0,38-mile radius from the Cork City Hall in the city center, The Townhouse will astound you with its restored Georgian architecture.
Mid-range option: With modern interiors and a delightful restaurant, the Maldron Hotel South Mall Cork City will be sure to cater to all your traveler needs.
Top-tier option: Ready to live like royalty? The Hayfield Manor will provide a fairytale-like charm to your trip to Cork.
Top Things to Do in Cork
From thought-provoking museums to Irish folklore structures, Cork has ample activities to sink your teeth into. Delve into the intricate interior of this Irish city’s best sights and attractions to experience some of the top places to go in Ireland.
Stroll Through the English Market
The lingering smell of freshly baked bread, the salty tint to the air from freshly caught fish, and the soft murmur of a lively atmosphere – this market is simply bliss and is only one reason why Cork is one of best cities to visit in Ireland.
Known as a culinary haven in Ireland, Cork’s wonderfully sweet and savory treats are sure to make any foodie swoon. From organic produce to homemade jams, you’ll have ample opportunity to fill your baskets with a multitude of delicious goodies.
Wander the Paths of Blarney Castle & Gardens
Although the Blarney Castle & Gardens is technically located outside Cork city, you’ll be remiss if you don’t add the marvelous medieval stronghold to your trip itinerary. Constructed nearly six hundred years ago, this fortress is one of Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions.
The castle features some intriguing attractions to immerse yourself in the bewitching history of Ireland fully. Visit dark dungeons, a mythical Witch Stone, and a poison garden – you’ll have a blast exploring the eeriness of this national treasure.
Ready for the kiss of a lifetime? Legend has it that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone, located below the castle’s battlements, will receive the gift of persuasiveness and eloquence.
You’ll love adding this to a 6 day Ireland road trip.
Visit the Cork City Gaol Museum
What once held 19th-century prisoners now stands as a heritage center open to the public to study relics of the past. This museum has a Gothic architecture with a castle-like fortress. You’ll feel an ominous presence in the air where incarcerated individuals once roamed.
An unsettling history accompanies this steadfast structure, such as the infamous ‘Execution Drop’ centered over the entrance gate. The first execution took place in 1828 and was a public event that was said to have disastrous effects. The hanging man allegedly took around 15 min to stop his kicks of impending death.
So, if you find yourself looking for the spooky side of Cork, this is definitely the place to feel your hair rise from the ghostly presence of its troubled history.
A top contender for the best place in Ireland, Galway is a garland of green pastures and buoyant spirits. Nestled on the west coast, this beloved city is the perfect seaside escape. This city is also known as the City of Tribes, which refers to the tribes that once ruled this space.
Where to Stay in Galway
Staying in this harbor city will get the color back in your cheeks from sheer enjoyment. From sweet Bed and Breakfast retreats to medieval fortresses, Galway is the best place to stay in Ireland, and there are many Galway bed and breakfasts to choose from.
Budget-friendly option: A 5-minute drive from Galway city center, The Huntsman Inn is a boutique hotel worth staying a few nights. Get ready to have an exquisite hearty meal at the restaurant on the premises.
Mid-range option: The St. Judes Lodge B&B is situated in the city center, offering a hassle-free way to get to some of Galway’s best attractions.
Top-tier option: Always wanted to live in a medieval fantasy? The Glenlo Abbey Hotel’s castle-like building will undoubtedly satisfy your wildest dreams.
Top Things to Do in Galway
This slice of Irish green paradise will be sure to leave a lasting impression with its lovely cobblestone streets and arty atmosphere. Be sure to add some of these top sights and attractions to experience Galway in the best way.
Visit the Galway City Museum
Located beside the Spanish Arch, a pre-medieval surviving relic, a tapestry of learning experiences and captivating exhibitions await. This museum focuses on collecting pieces associated with Galway City and its historical and cultural significance.
Take time to visit the Sea Science Wild Atlantic Exhibition and marvel at the wondrous unknown depths of the sea. This includes an educational experience and focuses on bringing awareness to the hardships of the marine environment. It’s a great winter activity in Ireland when you want to stay warm and dry.
Experience the Majesty of Galway Cathedral
This Roman Catholic cathedral is a stunning addition to the Galway skyline. Known as the youngest great stone cathedral in Europe, this magnificent structure is a sublime spectacle regardless of your religious beliefs.
Adorned with a copper dome (which has transformed into a light green over the years) and light gray exterior walls, the Galway Cathedral is easy to spot. With illuminating stained glass furnishings and detailed mosaic artwork, this holy place is a spellbinding sight to behold.
Go on a Walking Tour of the City
The best way to fully capture what a city is all about is by walking through its streets. Viewing Galway’s compelling architecture and sights by foot is an enriching experience and allows an exclusive look into the magical city’s nooks and crannies.
With various Galway walking tour options available, you’ll have a handy guide and hear the intriguing background of the city’s most famous sights. From Quay Street to the Lynch Memorial, you’ll add a variety of perfect backdrops to your Ireland vacation photos.
Top tip: Galway is known for providing the best festival experiences. This includes the Galway History Festival in March and the Galway International Arts Festival in July in Galway. These marvelous events are scattered throughout the year, so be sure to do some research.
Need more to do? Head south to visit the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s best natural attractions!
Known as the capital of Northern Ireland, this diverse city will add a sense of magical wonderment to your vacation. The city’s name is derived from the Gaelic Beal Feirste, which means ‘mouth of the sandy ford.’ Filled to the brim with historical sights and exciting activities, there are abundant things to do in Belfast.
Many people consider this one of the best cities to visit in Ireland due to the number of museums you can visit to learn about the history of the area. The city is also a great jumping-off point to go on a tour to see Game of Thrones locations in Ireland.
Make sure to book your car rental in advance! I love using Discover Cars when I travel.
Where to Stay in Belfast
This eclectic city will be a token piece to your vacation in Ireland. Staying a few nights in Belfast is necessary to experience the great activities and sights this city offers fully. It’s also easy to stay here with no car in Ireland.
I have an article on the best places to stay in Belfast, but here are a few other recommendations.
Budget-friendly option: 9 Kingscourt House is the perfect guesthouse if you’re looking to pinch some pennies. The modern and simplistic furnishing provides understated elegance to your stay.
Mid-range option: Behind an electric blue door, the enduring Brackenberry guest house awaits. Equipped with a buffet breakfast and rustic fittings, you’ll simply love the old-school feel.
Top-tier option: The opulent feel of The Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast is the ultimate luxury getaway accommodation. This hotel features a chic cocktail bar and an exceptional restaurant on the premises, so you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth.
Top Things to Do in Belfast
From the mesmerizing architecture to its awe-inspiring landmarks, you’ll never have a dull moment in Belfast. Be sure to put walking shoes on your packing list for Ireland, as this city offers some of the best places to visit in Ireland.
Feel Cultured at Ulster Museum
If you’re looking for an educational experience in Belfast, this is definitely the place to be. With a seemingly endless variety of exhibits and collections from all over the globe, you’ll be able to explore the world in less than a few hours.
Whether you’re looking for art, history, or natural sciences, the museum provides different color-coded routes to ensure you have the best experience.
Explore the Titanic Belfast
One of the most heart-wrenching stories in history, the Titanic Belfast is the most significant visitor experience commemorating the sad history of this well-known tale.
Belfast is known as the building site of the iconic ship. This attraction takes visitors on an in-depth visualization from its origin to its ultimate demise.
From history fanatics to film buffs, this interactive experience will be sure to captivate all who enter this gateway to the past. You’ll get to see artifacts that were recovered from the ship and learn about the entire history of this tragedy.
I spent the entire morning here when I visited because I was fascinated with everything there was to see. This museum is a Northern Ireland attraction you won’t want to miss during your trip.
Take a Day Trip to the Giant’s Causeway
A little out of the way from Belfast, this otherworldly dreamscape will be sure to create unshakeable memories and a popular Belfast day trip. The Giant Causeway is among the most famous Irish landmarks to experience and makes the area one of the best cities to visit in Ireland.
This UNESCO World Heritage site was formed millions of years ago and consisted of an intricate network of hexagonal basalt rock formations and columns.
Legend has it, a giant named Finn McCool threw the rocks in the ocean during a heated fight. Although, the more scientific reason is that this unique structure was formed through ancient volcanic activity.
It’s no surprise that many people consider the best city to visit in Ireland dashing Dublin. Known as the largest city in Ireland, Dublin has a seemingly endless supply of hidden gems to discover within its streets. In this city founded by Vikings, you’ll experience the energetic and joyful spirit of Ireland with flair whether you’re spending 1 day in Dublin or visiting Dublin for 3 days.
Where to Stay in Dublin
Unsure where to stay in Dublin based on your personal preferences? Known as one of the best cities in Ireland, you’ll have plenty of accommodation options in this lively region based on your needs.
Whether you prefer staying close to the merriment of pub crawls or looking for a serene place featuring stunning architecture, Dublin has it all.
- Budget-friendly option: Simply dripping with old-school flair, Harding Hotel is an excellent pick if you’re looking for centrality.
- Mid-range option: Iveagh Garden Hotel is a 4-star establishment with a sense of sophistication embedded in its walls.
- Top-tier option: Situated in the Grand Canal Square, no one does luxury quite like The Marker Hotel. Equipped with a spa and cocktail bar, you’ll have plenty of time to relax after a day of exploring one of the top places in Ireland.
Top Things to Do in Dublin
Bespeckled with historic buildings and landmarks, Dublin is a treasure trove of captivating relics from the past. Listed below are some of the must-do activities that make this city one of the best places to go in Ireland.
Have a Pint at the Guinness Storeroom
If you visit Ireland without having a Guinness, you haven’t really traveled to Ireland. Known as the most iconic drink of the Emerald Isle, this dark stout beer will provide you with a taste of the essence of Ireland.
The Guinness Storeroom is a seven-story building that provides a deep look into the history and significance of this famous alcoholic beverage. From product testing to the 360-degree views from the upstairs gravity bar, you’ll have an authentic Irish experience like no other. This is also one of the best Dublin winter activities to stay warm.
As you probably guessed, there are many other pubs in Dublin to visit for a drink if you want to continue your tasting of Ireland’s beer in one of the best cities to visit in Ireland.
Save up to 50% off attractions with the Go City Pass! It’s a great way to save money if you plan on visiting multiple sights in Dublin.
Explore the Old Library Exhibition
Located on the premises of Trinity College, the magnitude of this space will create a bewildering silence of awe (very fitting for a library). The college itself has been home to exceptional literary geniuses, such as Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. I recommend putting it on your list of places to visit in Ireland in December, as it’ll be much less crowded than in the summer.
The top attraction within these impressive halls is the Book of Kells, one of the oldest surviving manuscripts that depict the four gospels of Western Christendom. Decorated with Celtic designs and intricate illustrations, perusing this medieval text is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Taste the Excellence of Irish Whiskey at Jameson’s Distillery Bow St.
The name ‘whiskey’ finds its origins in the Irish unisce breatha, which means water of life, so you know Ireland takes its whiskey very seriously.
This fine establishment opened its door in 1780 and has since been converted into an exhibition center of the most famous liquors in the world. Known as one of the top places to visit in Ireland, a tasting experience at this historic landmark will be sure to tickle your fancy.
If you’re looking for the full experience, you can delve into the rich tapestry of the Jameson Distillery Guided Tour. Getting a glimpse into the whiskey production process while sipping on premium triple-distilled Jameson products, you’ll have the ultimate way to taste the spirit of Ireland.
Final Thoughts on the Best Cities in Ireland to Visit
You should now have a better understanding of what each of the best cities to visit in Ireland offers and get excited about planning your trip! Leave me a comment and let me know what city you’re looking forward to seeing most.