The Most Picturesque Small Towns in Ireland

Ireland isn’t famous for its mega cities, but what it lacks in major metropolises, it makes up for with an abundance of sweet, picturesque towns. The Emerald Isle swaps densely-packed skyscrapers for rows of colorful houses, beautiful ruins, castles, monasteries, atmospheric pubs, and mountain backdrops. So the next time you stray from Dublin, consider these eight idyllic small towns in Ireland.

1. Cong

Grounds at the Ashford Castle/Oyster

Grounds at the Ashford Castle/Oyster

A beautiful town that lies between County Mayo and County Galway, Cong is as famous for its beauty as it is for providing the setting for John Wayne’s 1952 movie, "The Quiet Man." As such, along with low-slung cottages with thatched roofs, monuments, and ruins of Cong Abbey, there’s the Quiet Man Museum, which runs tours of filming locations in and around the small town. A little removed from the town, Ashford Castle sits on the shores of Lough Corrib and offers spectacular views.   

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2. Kilkenny

psyberartist/Flickr

psyberartist/Flickr

One of Ireland’s most famous towns, Kilkenny attracts a large number of tourists from Dublin for its awesome beauty. Gray stone block buildings represent the town’s medieval origins, while the well-preserved Kilkenny Castle, which overlooks the the town, is a must-visit attraction. Aside from the castle, Kilkenny has a number of churches and monasteries that reflect its deep religious roots. The largest town on the list, Kilkenny still has the feel of an intimate community, thanks to its narrow, cobbled streets and welcoming atmosphere. 

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3. Clifden

Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

Surrounded by the Twelve Bens mountain range which is accompanied by big, dramatic skies, Clifden, in County Galway, is a town whose natural surroundings are as much a part of the appeal as the charming place itself. For a small town, Clifden has an abundance of great pubs and restaurants, and makes a lively -- not to mention, picturesque -- base from which to explore the surrounding national park. 

4. Adare

Cyril Doussin/Flickr

Cyril Doussin/Flickr

Undeniably one of Ireland’s prettiest and most picturesque towns, Adare, in County Limerick, features stunning stone buildings, medieval remnants, churches, monasteries, and thatched cottages, all vying to be immortalized on postcards. Designated as a Heritage Town by the Irish government, the town has protected status. Visit on a Friday for the weekly market that features local stallholders trading in anything from food to fashion.  

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5. Cobh

Conal Gallagher/Flickr

Conal Gallagher/Flickr

Known as Queenstown until 1920, Cobh is a coastal port town that’s renowned for its colorful cottages that line the waterfront. Luring visitors with its history of transatlantic migration and links to the most infamous ship in the fleet of the historic White Star Line, the town also features the Titanic Experience, an attraction that takes visitors on a fascinating trip into the past. The attraction details the facts of the ship’s last European stop in Queenstown/Cobh before its doomed journey. 

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6. Kinsale

h2v/Flickr

h2v/Flickr

If cute, charming, and quaint is what you’re after, then Kinsale is the town for you. Located in County Cork, the narrow, winding streets of this small fishing town are famous for their colorful facades, behind which sit an array of pubs, restaurants, and tiny independent galleries. The town is famed for its seafood (we recommend indulging at Max’s restaurant) as well as for its all-Ireland chowder cook-off, a surefire way to win over any New England native. 

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7. Birr

jemartin03/Flickr

jemartin03/Flickr

Another Irish Heritage Town, Birr is located in the heart of Ireland, in County Offaly. Well-preserved, Birr’s Georgian buildings -- some of which are painted in eye-catching pastel colors -- date back to the early 18th century. Historically owned and occupied by the Earl of Rosse, Birr Castle is a must-visit attraction. Its sturdy ramparts look almost as good today as when it was built. Explore the bucolic grounds and you’ll discover the six-foot telescope commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Rosse. Fun fact: It was the world’s biggest telescope up until 1917. 

8. Carlingford

Nico Kaiser/Flickr

Nico Kaiser/Flickr

The charm of Carlingford (located in County Louth, Ireland’s smallest county) lies in the beauty and history found in the remnants of its Viking heritage. Much of the town has kept its original medieval street layouts, which make for winding, atmospheric lanes to explore. The town also presents pretty views of its harbor, the Carlingford Lough, a 12th-century castle, and more.

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