All magical coastlines and rich green expanses, it is no wonder Ireland has earned the nickname of the Emerald Isle. This island nation - just the size of Indiana - boasts nearly 2,000 miles of coastline and is awash in quaint towns, lively cities, and idyllic natural expanses that harbor all the adventure one could imagine. Together, these elements set a breathtaking backdrop for sipping traditional Irish whiskey or diving into history in unexpected locations. Walk through castle ruins or along the tops of dramatic cliffs whose views are only part of the attraction. Find yourself surrounded by enthralling Irish lore as you walk cobbled streets and past structures built centuries ago. Your options are limited only by your time and location, and luckily, there are fantastic locations that cater to all your wishes for your Irish adventure. Narrow your search for the perfect locale with this list of the best cities in Ireland to visit on your next vacation.
First on our list is Ireland's largest city and the nation's capital, Dublin. Located on the east coast at the mouth of the River Liffey, Dublin has layers of history that began with Viking settlement in the 9th century. Since then, the city has grown and transformed to become the hub of Irish culture the world has grown to know and love. It is a place where Guinness flows freely, and traditional music, dance, and fare are right around every corner at local pubs.
Visitors can tour the Guinness Storehouse to learn more about the beer's brewing process and taste freshly made drams of the black stuff. Dublin is home to Ireland's oldest college, Trinity College, whose breathtaking library is home to the medieval masterpiece that is the Book of Kells, and Europe's largest park, Phoenix Park, which encompasses more than 1,700 acres of land. History buffs appreciate the opportunity to visit 13th Dublin Castle, explore Kilmainham Gaol, or delve into the details of the Irish diaspora at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Visiting Dublin is your chance to immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere for which Emerald Isle is known.
Venturing south into the Irish countryside, County Cork harbors as much culture as it does natural beauty. This county is the largest in Ireland, filled with remarkable attractions and destinations, including a city by the same name. The city of Cork is one of the best cities in Ireland to visit if you are a foodie. Its English Market - the largest of its kind in Europe - brims with local artisanal products cultivated mainly on the west coast, including duck, farmhouse cheeses, and handcrafted butter. St. Patrick's Street is the city's central shopping district and is home to myriad shops and historical treasures. Cork's cathedrals, art galleries, and parks, including beautiful Fitzgerald Park, paint the city beautifully.
Moving out of the city limits and into the bucolic countryside, County Cork offers an outstanding taste of Ireland. Travelers can visit Blarney Castle, where you are invited to plant a smooch on the stone of eloquence, explore the gardens, and tour the well-preserved 15th-century interior. Cobh, the Titanic's final stop, is also located within the county, and visiting can bring the ship's harrowing history to life. Cork Harbor, at the mouth of the River Lee, is the second-largest natural harbor in the world, trailing only behind Sydney's. Of course, travelers to Cork can also drive the Wild Atlantic Way for remarkable scenes of the ocean and tiny coastal villages. County Cork truly has something for everyone.
Three major lakes, a 26,000-acre national park, and fantastic city amenities greet travelers in Killarney. This city is nestled on the shore of Lough Leane, and its scenic County Kerry backdrop makes it one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. A gem of the country's southwest, Killarney presents so much history and natural grandeur to explore. Fifteenth-century Ross Castle is perhaps the most well-known historic building within the city limits; however, several other historical structures, such as Muckross House and St. Mary's Cathedral, are within reach.
Killarney sits at the cusp of Killarney National Park, a vast parkland where waterfalls, hiking trails, craggy cliffs, and impressive mountains abound. The Gap of Dunloe, Killarney's Lakelands, and McGillycuddy's Reeks - Ireland's tallest peak - are among the most beloved sights within the park. The region's beauty extends far beyond Killarney, though, wrapping along the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula on the ever-scenic drive known as the Ring of Kerry. Killarney is a highlight of this awe-inspiring route. Whether traveling for the town site's history or the gorgeous landscapes beyond, there is much to discover in Killarney.
Few places speak to the culture and unique cuisine of western Ireland like the bustling city of Galway. This coastal city is the country's festival capital and is beloved for its epicurean contributions - namely oysters and seafood fresh from the Atlantic. There is a thriving art scene punctuated by the renowned Galway International Arts Festival and incredible opportunities for nightlife and dining throughout the city. In fact, there are nearly 500 pubs to choose from! Colorful Quay Street is a mecca for all these things and more.
Visiting Galway brings an opportunity to wander through interesting museums, such as the Galway City Museum, and explore the vast and varied offerings beyond the city limits in Galway County. Kylemore Abbey and Dunguaire Castle are just some of the offerings. Even more enticing, Galway makes a wonderful base from which to explore Ireland's rugged natural wonders, including the dramatic Cliffs of Moher in nearby County Clare and the stunning Aran Island. This destination is iconic in the world of Ireland travel.
Also located in Galway County, Connemara sits alongside the Atlantic and epitomizes the wild heritage of the nation. It is one of the best cities in Ireland to visit for an authentic Irish experience filled with lore, traditional language, and untouched landscapes. Oscar Wilde once described Connemara as having "savage beauty," and this description could not be more accurate. Between the sheep farms and tiny coastal villages, the Connemara region features peaty bogs, beautiful mountain scenery, and golden sandy beaches. It is no wonder the area has been the setting for many Hollywood films, including "The Quiet Man" and "Tristan & Isolde."
Visitors to Connemara can see one of the last remaining Irish crystal factories, Connemara Celtic Crystal, and visit sheep farms where traditional practices are still in place. Clifden Castle and Aughnanure Castle, home to the O'Flaherty clan since the 1500s, are within reach. The bewildering terrain of Connemara National Park also attracts explorers. Finding a natural paradise on the Emerald Isle - check.
A visit to Ireland is unlike any other trip. This small country has incredible diversity, highlighted through its food, stories, and even its amazing landscapes. Whether you hope to explore its cuisine and culture or want to see the best of Dublin and the Emerald Isle, we can take you there. Choose from a variety of escorted and independent Ireland vacations that explore all the dimensions of the Republic of Ireland. You won't need the "luck of the Irish" to ensure an enchanting expedition; you have Vacations By Rail.