17 Best Cities in Ireland to Visit in 2024

17 Best Cities in Ireland to Visit in 2024

We have had the privilege of visiting Ireland several times, and when visiting the ‘Emerald Isle,’ its cities are some of the best places to embrace Irish culture. Irish cities are magical, full of local history, myths and legends, art galleries, pubs, and friendly locals. Whether you visit Dublin for major attractions like the Guinness Storehouse and the Book of Kells, or you head to Galway for traditional music and street art, you will fall in love with the lively cities in Ireland.

Best Cities in Ireland

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the best cities in Ireland and Northern Ireland. These are the places where you will make lasting memories during your stay.

The best way to get around Ireland is by renting a car. You can compare car rental prices here. We have taken road trips along the Wild Atlantic Way, on Ireland’s west coast, with island day trips, cobbled streets, and live music and along the Causeway Coast to see some of Northern Ireland’s most awe-inspiring attractions. We have explored lesser-visited cities in Ireland and each one is just as memorable as the last.

1. Dublin

Best cities in Ireland Dublin

Dublin is Ireland’s largest city and the capital of the Republic of Ireland. We recommend spending at least three days in Dublin before traveling to the different cities in Ireland. Located on the River Liffey, Dublin has hundreds of attractions at your fingertips.

Top attractions in this popular Irish City are endless including a visit to the famous Kilmainham Gaol, the GPO Museum, Dublin Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse (read more about our experience here).

Dublin Castle is one of the most famous medieval castles in the world, dating back to the 13th century. It is now a government building, but that doesn’t stop tourists from coming to see it.

Best cities in Ireland Dublin Book of Kells

Trinity College, the Book of Kells, and the famous Temple Bar. Dublin is easily one of the best cities in Ireland for history lovers, with stories of the Easter Rising in 1916 to ancient stories within the pages of the Book of Kells. It’s also a city of academia; Dublin is officially Yeats country and houses Trinity College, which educated the likes of Oscar Wilde.

There are so many things to do in Dublin, and if you want to visit Ireland for St Patrick’s Day, you will want to be in Dublin. If you want to escape the city, Dublin is just a hop skip, and a jump from the Wicklow Mountains where you can go hiking or horseback riding.

When visiting Dublin, pick up a Dublin Pass. The Dublin Pass is an excellent way to save money on Dublin attractions giving you entrance to 35 attractions including the Dublin Hop-on Hop-Off Big Bus Tour, Guinness Storehouse, James Joyce Centre, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (where Saint Patrick himself St Patrick baptised Christians) and many more. Details here.

Plan Your Dublin Vacation

2. Cork City

Best Cities in Ireland Cork City on the river Lee

As the second largest city in Ireland, it once had a reputation as the capital of ‘Rebel Country.’ Cork natives sometimes claim they are the real ‘capital of Ireland.’ We love this city located in the South of the Emerald Isle, and others agree, Cork is a much-loved tourist destination.

If you haven’t visited Cork, you are truly missing out. The best things to do in Cork include day-tripping to Blarney Castle to Kiss the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone may be what has attracted tourists to the area for the gift of the Gab, but Blarney Castle is an excellent destination in its own right.

Best cities in Ireland Cork Blarney Castle

In Cork City proper, you can ring the Bells of Shannon, visit the English Market is a fantastic place for organic and locally produced food, and check out the history at Elizabeth Fort, a 17th-century old city fortress. You should also head down to the small towns around Cork Harbour, the second-largest natural harbor in the world. It’s near Cork Harbour, where you’ll find beautiful Cobh, a colorful seaside town and the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912.

3. Galway City

Best cities in Ireland Galway City

Galway City is impossible not to love. If you are looking for the best cities in Ireland, look no further than the fifth-largest city.

Despite its growing size, Galway retains an authentic charm that has inspired the likes of Ed Sheeran to write a song about it. Make sure to add Galway to your Emerald Isle Itinerary to really enjoy traditional Irish music and friendly locals.

The real hive in Galway is its colorful old town, lined with cobbled streets and boldly painted independent shops. The city is undoubtedly the best place to visit in Ireland for creatives or anyone looking to get a ‘small town experience.’

Galway City is split in half by the River Corrib and sits on Ireland’s west coast, overlooking Galway Bay. It is a brilliant spot for an Irish road trip.

Best cities in Ireland Galway Gateway to the Aran islands

Galway is located directly on the Wild Atlantic Way, with many of the route’s beautiful viewpoints – like the Cliffs of Moher- just a short drive away. You can also use Galway as a base to take day trips to the gorgeous west coast islands. This is also the jumping-off point for the Aran Islands.

Book a cruise to see the Aran Islands here. However, if you can, we highly recommend spending two nights on one of the Aran Islands. We spent 3 days on the Inis Mór – Fun Fact, the Colin Farrell Movie, the Banshees of Inishmore was filmed on the Aran Islands.

Make sure to visit the Latin Quarter, which is Galway’s ‘old town’ and full of cobbles and street art. For those who know their Irish history, it’s also worth stopping by Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church, a 14th-century church visited by Oliver Cromwell. Meanwhile, for less morbid history, you can appreciate the 16th-century city walls by visiting the Spanish Arch.

Finish your days in Galway with visits to its many art galleries, and of course, check out its live music scene after dark.

4. Limerick City

Best cities in Ireland Limerick

Limerick is another of Ireland’s largest cities, but this time, it has a reputation for Viking and Medieval history. It was a walled city established by Vikings, making it one of Ireland’s oldest and current largest. It is located on the southwest coast, near the mouth of the River Shannon.

This location once made it a prime target for Viking settlers. But, for modern-day tourists, its location now makes it a great city break just off the Wild Atlantic Way’s path. Limerick is ideally located for a day trip to natural beauty like the Cliffs of Moher. However, it’s also a solace of urban sightseeing amongst tiny country lanes and five building villages.

Cliffs of Moher near the City of Limerick

Top attractions in Limerick include the Treaty Stone, the Hunt Museum for Art and Archaeology, the medieval fortress of King John’s Castle, and the spectacular International Rugby Experience. To embrace the characteristic Viking history in the city, you can walk the Limerick Medieval Trail, taking you through the medieval buildings of English Town with fifteen different points of historical interest. This self-guided walking tour is a great way to see Limerick through early Viking eyes.

It’s the Viking history that really solidifies Limerick as one of the best cities in Ireland. Limerick is also a fantastic city in the southwest, providing an excellent place to stay on the Wild Atlantic Way for an urban break.

5. Waterford

Best cities in Ireland Waterford

Waterford is another Viking-created city on the island. Founded in 914 AD by Ragnall, Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city and has some unusual claims to fame. It has had its fingers in a few different pots, particularly once known as Ireland’s wine and glass-making capital.

Its coastal location has meant Waterford has remained a trading hub, typical of a port city. It has picked up numerous different industries and has an underlying production-minded subculture. You can still find Waterford Crystal in shops around the city center and at the House of Waterford Museum. As for Waterford wine, you can visit the 15th-century Mayor’s Wine Vault at the Medieval Museum.

Attraction highlights of Waterford include Reginald’s Tower, the Irish Museum of Time, Bishop’s Palace, and Waterford Nature Park. We had to add Waterford to this guide, partly because of its busy production mindset, which makes for some great historical sightseeing, and partly because of its title as Ireland’s oldest city. If you want to learn more about Ireland’s unique production industries and earliest days, Waterford is a compact city you can happily sightsee on foot.

6. Sligo

Best cities in Ireland Sligo

Small Sligo may be a town, but in our eyes, it’s special enough to justify a position amongst the best cities to visit in Ireland. City status means nothing when you check out Sligo’s literature history, and it has tons to offer tourists in the way of sightseeing.

Sligo sits on the Northwest Coast of Ireland, near the magical site of Queen Maeve’s Cairn, a megalithic tomb atop a Knocknarea mountain, and Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery – the largest of its kind in Ireland.

Sligo is an ideal place to stop for a few nights on a road trip, and it’s easy to see why it inspired so much literature. The town is surrounded by ancient architecture, and its pretty town center is scenically sliced by the gentle Garavogue River. You should definitely visit the Yeats Society, Sligo Country Museum, and Sligo Abbey in the town itself.

Sligo is shrouded in ancient mystery, dramatized by its extensive literature history. We love its proximity to some of Ireland’s most beloved megalithic tombs, and it’s a beautiful place to visit in Ireland for an insight into this darker history.

7. Athlone

Best cities in Ireland Athlone

Athlone is a chronically overlooked city to visit in Ireland but trust us, if you stop here, you will love it. Ahlone dates back to the Bronze Age and was even involved in the Jacobite Rising; you’ll find tons of lesser-known historical sites and quiet archaeological sites. It is also a popular stop on bus tours to visit the oldest pub in the world! During our River Shannon Cruise, we parked right in front of Sean’s Bar to enjoy a pint in the world’s oldest pub.

Best cities in Ireland Athlone Seans Bar

Athlone is a beautiful city split in half by the River Shannon and located right next to Lough Ree. We loved spending two nights in this historic city and visiting the 6th-century site of Clonmacnoise. Read about it here.

8. Kilkenny City

Cities in Ireland Kilkenny City

Kilkenny is one of our favorite cities in Ireland. It is a treasure trove of historical and cultural riches. Nestled in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East, Kilkenny City boasts a stunning medieval landscape, complete with cobbled streets, ancient stone buildings, and the iconic Kilkenny Castle.

This city is not only steeped in history but also thrives as a center of contemporary arts, hosting numerous festivals throughout the year that showcase the best in Irish craft, design, and music.

The bustling streets of Kilkenny are lined with artisan boutiques, inviting cafes, and traditional pubs where one can savor the local cuisine and enjoy the renowned Irish hospitality. Whether you’re exploring the well-preserved Kilkenny Castle, wandering through the enchanting Rothe House and Garden, or simply soaking up the vibrant atmosphere, Kilkenny offers a uniquely enriching experience that captures the essence of Ireland’s cultural and historical splendor.

Best Cities in Ireland Kilkenny City Castle

There’s also St Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum, Rothe House and Garden, St Mary’s Cathedral, and St Canice’s Cathedral. Smithwick’s Experience is a must, too, guiding you through a multi-sensory tour of how Ireland’s oldest ale came to be formed.

9. Wexford

Best cities in Ireland Wexford

Wexford is easily one of the best cities to visit in Ireland. The major city sits on Ireland’s east coast, which, as you already know, was predominantly founded by Viking settlers. It has an excellent maritime heritage and stunning sandy beaches, many of which are designated Blue Flag Beaches for their cleanliness and safety. It is less industrial than Waterford, with more of a lingering historical atmosphere. You can enjoy condensed culture in its extremely walkable center or use it as a day trip launchpad – more on that in a second.

The best inner-city attractions in Wexford are the National Opera House, Wexford Harbour, and the ruins of Selskar Abbey, where the first Anglo-Irish treaty was signed. Wexford has many medieval lanes and narrow streets in its modern-day shopping quarter. It’s a fun place for some retail therapy with a historical backdrop, one of the main reasons we added it to this guide.

The second reason is Wexford’s day trip potential. It is less than a 10-minute drive from the incredible Irish National Heritage Park, which tells the story of Irish settlement over 9,000 years with recreated houses and costumed guides over 35 acres.

10. Tullamore

Best cities in Ireland Tullamore

Beautiful Tullamore is one of Ireland’s best cities to visit, with fewer tourists than other cities. Located in County Offaly, one of the central counties in Ireland, it has excellent access to the almost tourist-free Slieve Bloom Mountains.

As if this peaceful, off-the-beaten-track setting wasn’t good enough, Tullamore is also known for its whiskey, and you can take guided whiskey tours at the Tullamore DEW Distillery.

The Grand Canal splits the center and has beautiful waterfront views. You should prioritize visits to Shra Castle, Charleville Castle, and the Clara Boardwalk, which treats you to gorgeous views over one of Offaly’s famous bogs. Bogs are crucial to rural culture, historically providing peat to heat homes and that peaty flavor in certain Irish whiskies, like Tullamore Whiskey.

Tullamore is a great place to visit in Ireland to get an insight into rural culture. It provides the perfect springboard for bog tourism and ancient castles, plus, of course, the chance to sample some of the tastiest Irish whiskey.

11. Dingle

Best cities in Ireland Dingle

The small port city sits on the western Dingle Peninsula, you guessed it, right on the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way’s path; so it’s a must-stop-off if you decide to road trip the Wild Atlantic Way. Dingle has an inspiring relationship with nature and is a much quieter version of Galway Bay. We just had to add it to our list of the best cities in Ireland.

Dingle is children’s book worthy, having piggybacked its fame from the tale of Fungie the Dolphin, a famous lone dolphin that used to call Dingle Harbour home. Now, you can still take boat tours to go dolphin spotting or visit the Fungie statue in the harbor – which immortalizes everyone’s favorite Dingle resident.

In addition to dolphin spotting, you should also check out the Dingle Distillery and Kingdom Falconry. And if you have time for day trips, take a boat tour to the Blasket Islands.

12. Adare

Best cities in Ireland Adare

What Adare lacks in city status, it makes up tenfold in character. Its buildings are so aesthetic and it holds so much culture that we just had to include it. It is so beautiful that it is a designated heritage town, with a mixture of colorful traditional terraces and white-washed cottages with thatched roofs. Adare is no hidden gem, but if you can visit off-season, you won’t find it overcrowded. It is like a time capsule, whisking you back to 12th-century Ireland.

When visiting, you must see the thatched cottages, now turned into gift shops like Lucy Eridge, and restaurants like the gorgeous Blue Door Restaurant. You should also visit Adare Castle and the Augustinian Friary. Adare is all about atmosphere and stunning traditional aesthetic.

Adare is the ideal addition to a city break in Limerick. If you have a long weekend, we suggest spending a night there before driving back to Limerick for its airport and major city amenities.

13. Donegal

Best cities in Ireland Donegal

Introducing Donegal: one of the most popular cities in Ireland. Donegal is set in its same-named county, County Donegal, nicknamed Ireland’s Forgotten County. Dramatic sea cliffs and barren moorland surround the city, and it’s where to visit if you want plenty of day trips into nearby wilderness. Donegal is a brilliant stop-off for a few nights if you follow the Wild Atlantic Way’s route down the west coast.

Donegal Castle and the Railway Heritage Museum are other must-visits in the city. However, Donegal is far from surrounded by natural beauty and happy-go-lucky history. It’s also a harrowing city to learn about the impact of the famine. The Great Famine hit in the mid-19th century and led to the death of approximately 25% of the Irish population. A visit to Donegal’s Famine Graveyard is a must to help comprehend the tragedy of the conflict-driven famine.

Donegal is a great place to visit and experience a huge spectrum of Irish history, culture, and nature in a tiny area. With a beautiful location and lots to teach tourists, it is an easy addition to our list of the best cities to visit in Ireland.

14. Killarney

Best cities in Ireland Killarney

Killarney is beautifully located on the outskirts of Killarney National Park in County Kerry. County Kerry is located smack dab in the middle of two of Ireland’s most iconic scenic drives: the Wild Atlantic and the Ring of Kerry. It’s the perfect base to go on horseback rides or explore waterfall trails and forests on foot in the Killarney National Park, heading back for a cozy pub dinner in Killarney in the evenings. And if you want to experience Ireland’s ‘deep south’, this is your choice.

Killarney National Park

Killarney itself has a neo-Gothic architectural style and a small center. You can take a tour by horse and carriage, visit Killarney House and Gardens, and test your tastebuds at the Irish Whiskey Experience. Killarney is also ideally located on a day trip to some unique things to do along the Wild Atlantic Way, like Skellig Michael.

We love its strong sense of character and profoundly traditional atmosphere, and its proximity to the national park is just the ultimate addition.

Best Cities in Northern Ireland

Of course, the island of Ireland is split into two countries: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. While Northern Ireland is much smaller, it has some fabulous cities to visit, so we had to give it a special mention in this guide.

Visiting both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in one trip is super straightforward – you can just drive across the border or catch a shuttle service, especially if you’re traveling between Belfast and Dublin. If you can, combine the two in a single trip. These are some of the best Northern Irish cities that should definitely find a way onto your itinerary.

15. Derry / Londonderry

Best cities in Northern Ireland Derry Londonderry

Derry / Londonderry is a city that goes by two names. You can find out why here, but in short, it is because of sectarian tensions. Protestants referred to the city as Londonderry, while Catholics called it Derry. Nowadays, you can usually use either without controversy; to be polite, when talking to Northern Irish people, you can just take their lead in how they reference the city.

Best cities in Northern Ireland Londonderry

It goes without saying that a city with such a backstory behind its name makes for a fascinating tourist destination. There’s tons of political and social history to unpack behind Derry City, and you can stop by attractions like murals and the Museum of Free Derry and walk the Derry Walls. Derry is compact and walkable, making it a great city break. And for any Derry Girls fans, you can spot plenty of filming locations, which is a fun extra.

We had to add Derry City to this list, as it is one of the most complex and interesting cities in Northern Ireland. If you like your history, Derry is a must-visit.

16. Bangor

Best cities in Northern Ireland Bangor

Beautiful Bangor is a small Northern Irish city just a 30-minute drive outside Belfast. It is a seaside city with sandy beaches and a great place to experience the coastal pace of life in Northern Ireland. In summer, Bangor comes alive with a slightly cheesy seaside resort atmosphere. But if you catch it out of season, it has a really romantic, wistful appeal and a much slower pace.

You can walk the 10-mile Holywood to Bangor section of the North Down Coastal Path or just enjoy having beaches like Ballyholme Beach at your beck and call. Bangor’s waterfront is scenic, an attraction in itself, lined by colorful terraces painted blues, greens, and pinks. Stroll along the water and stop by independent coffee shops like the quirky cafe The Bearded Goat. If you want to get historical in your sightseeing, head to the North Down Museum.

17. Belfast

Best cities in Northern Ireland Belfast

The Northern Irish capital of Belfast is a fascinating mix of friendly locals and a web of complex history. Belfast is a modern city with a gritty undertone, with city maps still segmented into sectarian neighborhoods despite its now – mostly – blended communities. It’s most famed for its Troubles, a period of political unrest that lasted from 1968 to 1998 before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. For history buffs, the opportunity to learn about this unrest is a huge draw, usually through black taxi tours of the murals and Peace Wall.

This singular stereotype of Belfast and the tourism it offers is reductionist, though. There’s everything from cozy pubs and bars in the buzzy, cobbled Cathedral Quarter to the Titanic Belfast museum and a trail commemorating the east Belfast-born singer Van Morrison. It’s also a fantastic place to use as a launchpad to visit the Mourne Mountains, Dark Hedges, or the Causeway Coast.

Best cities in Northern Ireland Belfast Castle

If you want to understand Northern Ireland, head to Belfast. Northern Ireland has an entire culture of its own. Belfast will introduce you to the politics, subcultures, and traditions behind that – all while situated in an ideal place for a day trip to areas of natural beauty.

Best Cities in Ireland: FAQs

Now you know which cities to visit in Ireland, we need to help narrow down your new collection of choices. After all, it is a tough choice. How do you pick between Galway City and Dingle? Or Limerick and Cork? Or Belfast versus Derry? In this section, we’ll look at the most commonly asked questions to see if we can help you pick your top two or three cities in Ireland.

Where is the most beautiful city in Ireland?

The most beautiful city in Ireland is undoubtedly Galway City. The old town is the most authentic place to experience local culture, and out of all the Irish cities, Galway retains a rustic, windswept settlement quality.

What are the 5 largest cities in Ireland?

In the Republic of Ireland, the five largest cities are Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Galway, and Waterford. The largest cities on the island of Ireland, including the Republic and Northern Ireland, are Dublin, Belfast, Limerick, Galway, and Derry/Londonderry.

What is the main town in Ireland?

Dublin is the capital city of Ireland and

I don’t think I would agree with this. I would say it is Dublin. Can you re-write this.

What is the best city to go to in Ireland?

It is a tough call, but Galway is the best city to go to in Ireland. We’d suggest Galway because it is closest to the Wild Atlantic Way and has easy day trip access to the striking west coast islands like the Aran Islands, Skellig Michael, and the Inishmore Islands. It also has the most authentic character, and while Dublin is incredible if you want a luxury hotel, formal museums, and buzzy drinks at Temple Bar, Galway offers more of an immersion into traditional Irish music and culture.

Cities in Ireland We Love

Cities in Ireland we love

Wherever you choose to visit in Ireland, you’ll find an amazing string of cities offering a different experience and outlook. You can head to Northern Ireland for the brilliant city of Belfast or the sleepy seaside town of Bangor with all its sandy beaches. You can head to Ireland’s west coast for the iconic cities along the Wild Atlantic Way, like Killarney and Galway City. The central cities along the River Shannon, like Athlone, are surrounded by the beautiful bog country. The south offers intense culture in cities like Cork and Limerick city, while the east coast houses Dublin and Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford.

There are some awe-inspiring cities in Ireland. These 17 best cities in Ireland should keep you well entertained during your stay.

Remember to check out some of the smaller towns and villages in Ireland as well. It isn’t known as the ‘Emerald Isle’ for no reason – heading out into the countryside will give you some amazing experiences and perspectives of Ireland. Start in the best cities in Ireland and then branch out to its smaller treasures. Have an incredible stay.

Plan Your Next Trip to Ireland With These Resources

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