As you make your way across the Emerald Isle you will find unspoiled beautiful little towns and villages that show how the Irish way of life continues to thrive even in this day and age. Except for a few major cities in southern Ireland like Dublin, Cork, and Galway most of the country is an open road paradise of majestic landscapes. Steeped in Irish history from a single town square, the locally owned meat deli, the must-try traditional Irish foods, and of course, family-run pubs lasting the past several generations. This kind of culture continues to push back against the corporate big-box lifestyle that we have all but become accustomed to.
We all have our favorites here in Ireland and you really can’t go wrong with anywhere you choose. Any of these places would be a perfect add-on to your Ireland itinerary. Here in this list are some of these places where you can get a feel for the local atmosphere.
The Irish Countryside
This hillside market town located in County Roscommon under the Curlew Mountains is a relaxing Irish countryside location that seems to be underrated for what it brings to the table. This is the kind of place to put up your feet and just take in the landscape. Here you can take daily walks through the town and stop at the cafe for some tea and snacks.
Main Attraction: Take a short walk outside of the town and you will find the ruins of a medieval 12th-century monastery of the Order of Cistercians. It’s one of the best-preserved abbeys in Ireland even with its bloody history of occupation by military forces. Now considered a national monument, you can visit the exhibition in the restored area for an inexpensive admission of only 3 Euros. If you are a fan of archaeology, you can find out more about monastery life with its simplicity and structured schedule.
Recommended Stay: One of the highlights of a holiday in Ireland is being able to stay in an ancient Irish castle. Kilronan, Markee, and Lough Rynn are just some of the castles a little over 30 minutes by car outside of Boyle. Originally ancestral homes of Ireland nobility they have been renovated for hotel needs while still keeping the historical motif alive. You will find them surrounded by acres of forest, and pastures, and are perfect romantic getaways.
Located in Western Ireland in County Mayo, Knock gives off the atmosphere of a small village with its rolling hills, and a singular main street with all its gift shops and quaint cafes, but its religious history has made it an international destination and sets it apart from others as one of the most visited sites in Ireland. And the town has thrived because of it.
Main Attraction: The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock or Knock Shrine as it is mostly known, is a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site and monument. The supposed viewing of an apparition in the year 1879, has brought religious visitors from all four corners. But even if you are not deeply religious it’s still pretty interesting to see how much a site like this can affect people. This is something you can do as a simple day trip, with the closest town being Westport. There is a large garden around the church so it’s nice to take a break on the bench and get some people watching in or just admire the views.
Inside the church, you will find a stunning mosaic of tiles depicting biblical moments. It’s a nice place to take a period of reflection even if you are not deeply religious or spiritual.
Recommended Stay: There is only one hotel in the area next to Knock Shrine but you will find several Bed & Breakfasts here instead for your accommodations. Most of these are family operated and you’ll find the hosts friendly and ready to show you around town to all the local spots and special events. All of these have stellar reviews and are perfect for couples spending their time here.
Belleek is what small-town Irish life is all about. Off the beaten track with a population of only a few hundred, it’s almost eerily quiet here. It is mostly established as a farming community here in the valleys with multiple farmhouses. The main center of town has several pubs and restaurants along with some nice boutique shops. If you keep walking north past the main street eventually you will reach the singular church and then the residential neighborhoods. It’s a nice way to casually walk around the town and takes around 30 min from one end to the other.
Main Attraction: The main draw to the small village of Belleek is their Pottery Museum & Visitor Center. It seems to be what keeps tourism coming through and maintaining the vitality of the surrounding area. Belleek pottery has continued to be popular even now both locally and globally. The museum since established in 1857 shows how pottery has been a part of the history of Belleek in terms of Irish culture and the financial success of the county. You’ll see the fine craftsmanship that goes into every piece with some of the same tools and techniques still being used today in generation-to-generation training.
With your tour guide, you can also meet some of the craftsmen and get a step-by-step instructional process. Finish up with a nice cup in the tea room and see the gift shop if you want to buy something for your dining room. Within walking distance of the main street in the city center, once you are done you can head over to take a look at the boutique shops and head a little farther to the church and residential neighborhood.
Recommended Stay: If you’re looking to stay in the center of town and also want a full Irish experience, book your stay at Moohan’s Fiddlestone. It’s a pub that also doubles as a cozy Bed & Breakfast. You will find basic accommodations but it’s the fun of a lively night in the pub with a pint of Guinness and being able to just walk upstairs to bed that sells it. Don’t forget the full Irish breakfast you will receive the next morning.
A top tourist destination and county, Donegal contains some great backdrop views of the mountains and a harbor at the end of town with some serene views of the waters as it links to the Atlantic Ocean. Its location is the meeting point of the roads connecting West Donegal, Derry, and Sligo it has a lot of tourist foot traffic. You can find the marketplace here thriving and plenty of dining options around the town square or The Diamond as it is known with both sit-down and takeaway. The town gives off a combination of both old-world and modern charm that makes it stand out here.
Main Attraction: Another castle in Ireland that you can enjoy in the Irish countryside. Originally built by the O’Donnells led by Red Hugh O’Donnell as a fortress it was conquered and seized by the English where improvements and renovations were made to the castle and surrounding property. It fell into disrepair over the centuries and underwent a massive repair in the 90s. It became a fully restored castle in the center of Donegal Town, with it being self-guided with an information map given at the entrance and plenty of plaques giving details. Just another one of those fun activities in Ireland you can find.
Recommended Stay: With Donegal being such a popular tourist destination you will have plenty of options on where to stay in town. The Abbey Hotel, The Gateway Lodge, and Mill Park Hotel are 4-Star locations. There are also guest houses and cottages you can rent if you prefer a more rustic feel during your stay. All are within the town limits and easy to get around just by walking.
A definite highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way path on the west coast of Ireland, Westport has it all. Already deemed the “Adventure Capital of Ireland”, it’s a popular destination on this side of the Isle with welcoming locals, plenty of traditional Irish food to keep you well satiated, and a great scenic drive of beautiful scenery to just keep you here without a second thought to the rest of your trip.
The Carrowbeg River is a special favorite for a stroll along the town promenade. Clew Bay has wonderful beaches if you want to head just a little bit out of town. Or take in a very enjoyable theatrical production at the town hall. For golf players, there are some excellent courses just a short distance away.
Recommended Stay: High-end boutique hotels surround Westport. Most of these have terrific views of the countryside, water, and town. Some like The Wyatt Hotel and Castlecourt Hotel also have live music every night for the guests. There is fine dining if you prefer to eat inside the hotels if you don’t feel like finding a restaurant in town. You will find a mix of both modern and old-world appreciation here.
These enchanting places of the Irish countryside are just some of the choices on your trip to Ireland where you will find the heart of the country and local denizens. You can find your way here on your own with a rental car and a roadmap or even part of many small group tours that focus solely on going from village to village. It’s perfect to add to any tour of Ireland or top places where you can work remotely or even retire if you choose to stay in Ireland. Go to Ireland! This country will continue to be a worthwhile destination as long as the simple pleasures are still remembered here. Sláinte!