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10 Best Coastal Towns in Ireland You Need to See

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Scattered across the coast of Ireland are arguably some of the country’s prettiest towns. We love the Irish countryside and looked at the best coastal regions in Ireland, from Doolin’s colorful streets to the culinary haven of Kinsale. Ireland is often defined by its bigger cities like Dublin and Galway, but the Emerald Isle offers much more.

If you want to venture off the beaten path, the country boasts many idyllic coastal towns stretching across the Atlantic Ocean. There’s much to explore, from stunning cliffs to quaint seaside towns and medieval castles.

Consider adding these coastal towns to your itinerary when planning a trip to this beautiful country.

The Best Coastal Towns in Ireland

Ireland’s coastline spans over 1450 km and offers incredible ocean views and beyond. Each seaside town reflects the country’s storied past with iconic sites that depict Ireland’s fantasy folklore and make for great visits, even if you are planning just a mini-break in Dublin.

Here are the best coastal towns in Ireland to add to your list:

1. Carlingford

carlingford

Carlingford is a charming seaside village located in the East of Ireland. The history of this seaside town dates back to the 13th century when King John built his castle by the coastline, which remains standing today. The town is bustling with activity throughout the year and is among some of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations.

Carlingford is the birthplace of the famous author C.S Lewis, and rumor is that he found his inspiration for the famous novel Narnia in this very town. Enamored with a stunning coastline and medieval structures, this seaside town is straight out of a fairytale.

In addition to its scenic beauty, Carlingford has a lot to explore. Make a stop at King John’s Castle, a ruin that overlooks the coastline and is a major attraction in the town.

Follow this with a journey into Ireland’s fairytale folklore. The Leprechaun and Fairy Underground Tavern claim to have housed the last leprechaun of its kind.

You can end your day with breathtaking coastline views at the Slieve Foye, Carlingford’s highest peak.

For a brilliant base when exploring Carlingford, you can’t go wrong with a stay at Carlingford House Town House. It’s ideally situated close to the beach and a mere 200 meters from Carlingford Castle.

See Related: Most Beautiful Cities in Europe to Visit

2. Dingle

Dingle coastline

Dingle is one of the most picturesque towns in Ireland, with colorful streets surrounded by mountains and a rugged coastline. This coastal fishing village sits on the southwest coast.

Not only does Dingle serve as a true haven for art enthusiasts, from its surrounding islands to its bustling nightlife, this charming spot has a lot to offer to all who visit.

A drive down the Dingle Peninsula that leads to Dingle is said to be one of the most scenic routes in the country. Another drive that provides stunning coastal views would be the Slea Head and Connor Pass loops. The Slea Head drive stretches over 26 miles and is a pure slice of heaven.

You can even take a day tour of Dingle and Slea Head to explore everything this region has to offer. If you want to stay active, you can even cycle down this path. For some truly spectacular views, the Connor Pass will take you to Castlegory, the highest mountain pass in Ireland.

Although, if you want a memorable experience of your time in Dingle, join a Dolphin and Whale watching tour to witness the amazing marine life living off the Irish coast. Starting out within the beautiful Dingle Bay, you cruise out to the Blasket Islands in search of not only wildlife but amazing scenery, looking into Ireland from afar.

Dingle has many charming spots to use as your base during a visit. Consider a stay at the 5-star Emlagh House for a little luxury between exploring the local area.

See Related: Best Places to Get Married in Europe

3. Dunfanaghy

Dunfanaghy

One of Ireland’s best coastal towns is the former fishing port and village of Dunfanaghy. The picturesque town is located in the northern region of Donegal County and offers a much-needed escape from big cities.

From the quaint streets to the hospitality of the locals, Dunfanaghy is a stop you need to make during your travels to Ireland.

National Geographic once deemed Donegal County, the home of Dunfanaghy, deserving of a spot on their ‘Cool List.’ The 4.5-mile loop takes in the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean that stretches out of the surrounding islands to the town’s allure. The movie Star Wars: Episode VIII was also filmed here.

After a drive around the coast, walk down the sandy beaches of Killahoey Beach or Dunfanaghy Beach to enjoy the cool coastal breeze. You can even take a boat tour of the Donegal Coast.

There are also several places to grab a bite, such as Muck’ n’ Muffins or Patsy Dan’s, where you listen to some traditional Irish music. End your day at one of the town’s many pubs like Molly’s or the Oyster Bar.

Just a short walk from the beach sits the highly rated and sustainable Goose & Gander Downings. With a top-tier restaurant and bar on-site, it makes for a great relaxing evening after a coastal drive.

See Related: Best European Palaces to Visit

4. Adare

Adare

Known for being one of Ireland’s prettiest coastal towns, Adare is a heritage town that sits on the River Maigue. Built back in the 13th century, Adare is known for its medieval cottages and picturesque ruins. The best way to get around Adare is on foot so you can take in everything this enchanting destination offers.

The focal point of Adare is the Desmond Castle, which features a ring fort built in the 13th century. This castle was once a fortress during the war but now stands alone as a stunning ruin. Visitors can also take a tour of the Adare castle.

From there, you can take a short walk to the Trinitarian Abbey, a monastery that once housed monks from Scotland. Since then, it has been converted to a Roman Catholic Church.

Once you’ve learned the town’s history, head to downtown Adare to explore the colorful streets. Little stone homes painted in bright colors dot the streets of Adare.

This walk will take you to the town’s River Bank, which has incredible views. End your day with a meal at restaurants like The Good Room or The Wild Geese.

A little outside of Adare, you’ll find Hazelwood Country House. Enjoy an exceptional breakfast on-site, then take the short 15-minute drive to see what this lovely little coastal town has to offer.

See Related: Best Castles to Visit in Wales

5. Lahinch

Lahinch

Lahinch is considered one of the best coastal towns in Ireland because it has a lot to see and do. From cliffs to waterfronts and an array of gastronomy, Lahinch has it all.

Water sports enthusiasts can head to Lahinch Beach for a surf lesson with the pros. It is one of the most popular surfing destinations in Ireland. This small seaside town also has a rich history reflected in the historical attractions, like the surrounding fortresses and ruins.

Head to the Doolin cave, the longest free-hanging structure in the Northern Hemisphere, built in 1952. The trail took nearly 70,000 years and is one of Ireland’s natural wonders.

The tour takes you through the cave and ends with a beautiful view of farm animals and fauna. Follow this with a trip to the Lahinch Art Gallery, where you can learn about traditional Irish garb.

Lahinch has a number of restaurants with cuisines from different parts of the world, like Randaddy’s and Tasty Station. The town is just a short trip from the Cliffs of Moher, so you can even take a 5-day tour to explore the entire Southwest region.

If you’re visiting one of the best coastal towns in Ireland, you might as well stay beachfront! The Wild Atlantic Lodge Bed & Breakfast is a promising sustainable property a stone’s throw away from the beach, so is a perfect shout for making the most of those lovely sea views.

See Related: Best United Kingdom Beaches

6. Clifden

Clifden

The seaside town of Clifden is just a short drive away from Galway City in the western region of Connemara. Given Clifden’s central location, the town is nestled between the Twelve Bens mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, offering spectacular views of the land and sea.

The town is known for its relaxed vibe and is a refuge from Ireland’s bigger cities. The best way to enjoy Clifden’s incredible views is to stay at one of the town’s many houses. The Sea Mist House, the Dolphin Beach House, and the Mallmore country house are great places to stay. While Clifden offers little in the way of sightseeing, the stunning views are the main highlight.

Head to the harbor to watch the ships sailing across the calm blue sea with a backdrop of the Twelve Bens mountains.

You can even drive or walk down Sky Road for panoramic views of Clifden Castle and Downtown Clifden. End your day with a meal at restaurants like Darcy Twelve or Mannions and a pint of beer at Central Bar.

To maximize the opportunity to enjoy stunning sea views during your stay at Clifden, you could look to book a room at Clifden Bay Lodge B&B. Wake up in bright rooms, the waft of the sea creeping in, and venture down for a full Irish breakfast before you spend the day exploring the local area.

7. Kinsale

Kinsale

The town of Kinsale sits in County Cork. This small seaside town only has a population of 5,500 but attracts numerous tourists all year round.

The town is known for its harbors lined with sailboats that flow into the River Bandon. With narrow streets and colorful houses, people visit Kinsale for the authentic Irish experience.

If you consider yourself a culinary fiend, Kinsale has some of the best gastronomy in the country. The town hosts the annual Kinsale Gourmet Festival, which features some of Ireland’s delicacies.

In addition to the stunning sites, you get to satisfy all your cravings on a trip to Kinsale.

On a trip to Kinsale, visit The Charles Fort, a 17th-century fortress built during the Spanish invasion. The ruin now juts out into the sea, harmoniously creating a magnificent view of the land and sea.

Other sites of interest include the Kinsale Regional Museum and Black’s Brewery, where you can try a wide range of IPAs. You can even take a 3-day tour of Kinsale and its surrounding regions. While there is a lot to do in Kinsale, keep in mind that it is not a budget-friendly destination.

Kinsale isn’t short of great places to rest your head after a day of exploring. Sat in an idyllic setting right in the heart of the port is Perryville House. This 4-star option isn’t too far from the beach or the restaurants and other attractions in the area.

See Related: Cheap Castle Hotels in Ireland

8. Cobh

Cobh

Cobh is one of the best coastal towns in Ireland, known for its picturesque views—the most famous being the Deck of Card houses. Colorful houses are stacked up a hill, with a gothic church as the backdrop.

The town also holds significance to the famous Titanic because it was the last port of call before the ship set sail. In those years, Cobh was a major port for Irish immigrants.

Given its historical significance, the coastal town of Cobh offers a lot to explore. Visit the Heritage Centre to learn the history of migrant workers making their way to the New World in search of fortune. 

From there, you can head to Spike Island to see a military fort transformed into a prison to house inmates from Australia. The small town also offers a Titanic Experience so visitors can learn all about the famous shipwreck.

End your day with dinner at one of the town’s restaurants like The Quay’s Bar or Gilbert’s Bistro. You can even get a drink at one of the local pubs and watch the people of Cobh go about their lives.

Consider taking a 3-hour tour of Cobh to learn more about the culture and history of the town. A stay at the Bella Vista Hotel & Self Catering Suites will provide a comfortable stay in Cobh, if you want to spend some more time. Most ideal for families, this property features all the amenities you’ll need to make for a memorable and easy visit.

See Related: How to Cruise the Grand Union Canal

9. Waterford

Waterford

Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city located in the Southeast region. The city center is known for its more relaxed vibe and is great for a quick away from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. The town was once a Viking settlement, a history highlighted in many attractions like the Quay Reginald’s Tower and the Waterford Medieval Museum.

Waterford was also a major hub for glass manufacturing, but while it no longer holds this title, you can learn about the Irish artistry at the Waterford Crystal Factory. The Waterford crystal is well-known worldwide and was even featured at the Oscars and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. You can buy a crystal to take home as a souvenir.

Moreover, the city center of Waterford is only a 2.5-hour bus ride from Dublin. So, due to its proximity, Waterford city makes for a brilliant day trip from Dublin.

When visiting Dublin, consider combining a visit to Waterford into your travel plans for a rest bite from the hustle and bustle of city life. A stay at Dooley’s Hotel offers a budget-friendly respite not too far from the riverside.

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10. Doolin

Moher cliffs- Dingle

The enchanting town of Doolin is just a short trip away from the famous cliffs of Moher, and while there are only so many things to do in the coastal town, its scenic beauty makes the effort for a visit worthwhile. The town features vast expanses of green trough with the Allie River that flows through it and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Doolin has a lot to offer, both on and off the land. Your first stop in this idyllic town has to be the iconic Cliffs of Moher, which offers some of the best coastal views in the world.

Hike to the edge of the cliffs and enjoy the calming salty breeze. Follow this with a walk down the rocky terrain of Burren or the Burren National Park.

However, you don’t have to stay in Doolin to see the cliffs of Moher. If you’re short on time on a fleeting visit to nearby Dublin on a city break, you can easily join a day trip. Doing so will still allow you to glimpse this stunning and iconic landmark of Ireland!

Doolin also offers a rich dose of Ireland’s history, so visit the Aran Islands. It’s only a short ferry ride from the mainland. A magnificent shipwreck and medieval castles are the highlights of this town. End your day at one of the many Irish pubs that line the streets of Doolin.

Doolin isn’t short of charming cottages to rest in during your visit. Among the best of them, Radharc na Mara is a mere 11km from the famous Cliffs of Moher. It’s situated on a nice quiet street with beautiful garden views to really plonk you in the heart of the countryside.

Summary

Location Description Popular Activities
Carlingford A charming coastal town with medieval roots. Hiking in the Cooley Mountains, water sports, exploring Carlingford Castle.
Dingle A picturesque town on the Dingle Peninsula. Scenic drives along Slea Head, dolphin watching, visiting ancient sites like Gallarus Oratory.
Dunfanaghy A coastal village in County Donegal. Surfing at Tramore Beach, horse riding, hiking in nearby Glenveagh National Park.
Adare A charming village in County Limerick. Exploring Adare Manor, playing golf, visiting Desmond Castle.
Lahinch A popular seaside resort town in County Clare. Surfing at Lahinch Beach, playing golf at Lahinch Golf Club, exploring the Cliffs of Moher.
Clifden A coastal town in Connemara, County Galway. Exploring Connemara National Park, visiting Kylemore Abbey, hiking the Sky Road.
Kinsale A historic port and fishing town in County Cork. Visiting Charles Fort, enjoying seafood at local restaurants, exploring Desmond Castle.
Cobh A charming town with a rich maritime history. Visiting the Cobh Heritage Centre, exploring Spike Island, taking a harbor cruise.
Waterford Ireland’s oldest city with a Viking heritage. Exploring Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre, visiting Reginald’s Tower, walking along the Viking Triangle.
Doolin A small village famous for traditional Irish music. Visiting the Cliffs of Moher, taking a boat trip to the Aran Islands, enjoying music sessions in local pubs.

FAQs

What are the key sights along the Irish coast?

You really can’t go wrong with a visit to the iconic Cliffs of Moher or the Giant’s Causeway for a first-time or fleeting visit to the Irish Coast. Moreover, if you’ve got more time on your hands, a road trip around the Ring of Kerry in County Kerry is a great shout. It offers a memorable experience with the chance to visit the uniquely stunning Killarney National Park.

What is the best time to visit the Irish coast?

If you want longer days and generally pleasant weather, book your trip during the summer months from May-September. Just keep in mind this falls within peak tourist season for Ireland, so be prepared for greater chances of crowds and hiked prices. However, visiting during summer will ensure you have longer days and ample opportunity to make the most of the timeless beauty of the Irish landscape!

In saying that, shoulder seasons are still a great option. They offer lower prices, fewer crowds, and greater opportunities to enjoy the peaceful scenery, especially in coastal towns! If this sounds tempting, opt to visit Ireland during September-October or April-May.

How can one get around Ireland’s coastline?

Renting a car will be the most flexible option for getting around Ireland’s coastline. The road network within Ireland is well-developed, with top-notch connections between its best coastal towns to help for as hassle-free a road trip as possible.

Don’t want to hire a car? No worries! Public transportation in Ireland is frequent and reliable. From extensive public and private bus systems to regular train services, public travel within Ireland is a breeze! Even ferries and other boat services are scattered throughout coastal areas to take you out on an Irish island-hopping adventure.

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