12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

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Ireland’s beautiful villages and small towns, with their clusters of whitewashed cottages, mossy churchyards and low-rafter pubs that still sell groceries along with a pint of stout, are living time capsules of the past. Some have only a single street lined with neat rows of slate roofs, rich lime render and solid sash windows, where locals gather in pubs that have had the same family names hanging over their half-doors for generations.

Dingle, Roundstone and Inistioge draw film crews from Hollywood, while Dalkey is awash with famous locals – from rock band U2 to temporary lockdown resident, actor Matt Damon. As remarkable for their setting as their character, they are often discovered around the bend of a road over a high plain or at the foot of a hilly lane, shimmering against the ocean after a summer shower or in the folds of a valley.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Kinsale, County Cork

    Kinsale’s narrow, cobbled lanes, 19th-century architecture lacquered in dazzling colours and sturdy-beamed old-world pubs evoke the very essence of a pirate’s enclave. In fact, Daniel Defoe’s inspiration for Robinson Crusoe (Alexander Selkirk) set sail on his misadventure from this handsome port in 1703. Today, Kinsale’s location as the trailhead for the Wild Atlantic Way, its seafood offerings such as the succulent lobster at quayside Fishy Fishy, craft stores and hillside setting draw year-round visitors.

    Find out which other towns feature alongside Kinsale on our list of the most beautiful villages in the UK and Ireland

    The 20 most beautiful villages in the UK and Ireland

  • Roundstone, County Galway

    Close your eyes – and picture the perfect Irish village in your mind. Chances are it’ll have ocean views, a vibrantly painted streetscape and bobbing fishing vessels in its harbour. Throw in a backdrop of the Twelve Bens mountain range and Connemara’s awe-inspiring landscape and you’ll have visions of Roundstone in Galway. The main street straddles a steep hill overlooking the Atlantic, where visitors linger to drink in the view with a bowl of chowder or glass of creamy stout at O’Dowd’s Seafood Bar.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Inistioge, County Kilkenny

    The 19th-century Irish village square was the marrow of rural commerce and Sunday-morning gossip in its time, and the handsome buildings that line Instioge’s green are perfectly formed edifices from that time. The setting has enticed Hollywood – providing a rustic Georgian background for films such as Widow’s Peak (1994) and Circle of Friends (1995.) An elegant 10-arch limestone bridge spans the River Nore and links the village to its farmland surroundings.

    12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Doolin

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    Doolin, County Clare

    Set on a limestone plateau at the point where the Cliffs of Moher plunge into the ocean, this brightly painted ribbon of thatched buildings has borne the brunt of the Atlantic’s force for centuries. These days summertime visitors clamour beneath the low-hanging joists of Gus O’Connor’s on Fisher Street to hear traditional music. In shoulder season, the village regains the rhythm of a fisherman’s port as ferries dart to and from its pier to the Aran Islands.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Adare, County Limerick

    With its neat rows of thatched cottages, Adare could be lifted straight from a John Constable painting of a county shire. The River Maigue weaves its way through the village, and lying by its banks are the ruins of Desmond Castle and a Franciscan Monastery – and the decadently refurbished Adare Manor, one of Ireland’s most opulent hotels. The main street is crammed with cafés, craft shops, pubs and restaurants.

    Read our full review of Adare Manor

    Adare Manor, Limerick

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Baltimore, County Cork

    This west Cork village dips and glides down narrow lanes flanked by Victorian cottages with sash windows and sandstone walls. Its shorefront is a hive of activity, with a cluster of small pubs and 13th-century Dún na Séad Castle. Take a whale-watching tour from the harbour, or idle at Casey’s of Baltimore hotel to eat mussels and drink home-brewed beer while looking out at the white sailboats speckled against the cobalt sea.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Dalkey, County Dublin

    While Dublin City has absorbed other bordering towns into its suburban sprawl, Dalkey has retained its independent, seaside-village vibe, attracting A-list residents. The centre has remained medieval in character, with rambling narrow lanes that lead into Castle Street, the main thoroughfare. Two Norman castles and an appealing tapestry of granite and redbrick pubs and restaurants line the street. The village tumbles east, towards the sea – while its hillside has panoramic coastal views.

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  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Dingle, County Kerry

    This town’s dramatic oceanfront setting near the southern tip of a peninsula, and its comely streetscape, have drawn visitors for decades. Yet its provincial charm remains, due partially to the fact that Dingle is a designated Irish-speaking region – or Gaeltacht. Its terraced pastel buildings wrap around the pretty port, where trawlers dock daily to supply chefs, such as the crew at seafood restaurant Out Of The Blue, with fresh catch.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Cashel, County Tipperary

    This quirky, lamplit settlement lies in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel – a medieval ruin set on a colossal limestone outcrop. More than 1,000 years ago it was the palace of Ireland’s High King, Brian Boru. Below, the village’s narrow, twisting streets are a mishmash of an architectural timeline. There’s The Cashel Palace Hotel, a crimson-bricked Palladian mansion; lots of Georgian fanlights; Victorian houses; and compact 15th-century Kearney’s Castle, wedged tightly between 19th-century terraced buildings.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Dunmore East, County Waterford

    Snaking around its amber-shaded sandstone coastline, which twists and turns past pristine beaches and secluded coves, Dunmore East’s streetscape is like a pinball ramp that finally plateaus by its Doric column-esque lighthouse on the pier. Dotted along the way is Ireland’s finest collection of thatched cottages, and the uninterrupted view across the harbour bay to another lighthouse – the world’s oldest functioning, on County Wexford’s Hook Head – is spectacular.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Westport, County Mayo

    With its neat planned Georgian streets and octagonal marketplace, Westport seems to have been designed with ambitious growth in mind. Luckily, it remains pint-sized in scale, with a mini grid layout that’s defined by the Carrowbeg River. Handsome, cheerfully painted buildings, drenched in flowers, lure visitors to a number of fine-dining options, or to experience the traditional music scene at Matt Molly’s Pub. Westport is the trailhead for the Great Western Greenway – an ocean-view walking and cycling trail that links the town to magnificent Achill Island.

  • 12 of the most beautiful villages and small towns in Ireland

    Birr, County Offaly

    This miniature Midlands hamlet has many grand edifices and architectural influences, from its Gothic castle to its neoclassical town hall. Every building appears as though it has been carefully placed by a porcelain collector, each emanating from the village square. The grounds of Birr Castle Demesne curve along the village walls and the River Camcor, and visitors can explore the castle’s past as a centre of astronomy by visiting its 19th-century telescope.

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