When it comes to planning my holiday itineraries there is always a common theme amongst the places I visit. I love the different architectural styles throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe and always find myself in towns and villages that could easily be described as coming straight from the pages of a child’s storybook.
It’s probably not surprising then that when I think about planning a trip around the Emerald Isle, there are plenty of charming villages to visit in Ireland that I just have to include in my itinerary!
Of course I will visit some of Ireland’s most popular sights like the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in my Irish itinerary but I also really want to be able to experience ‘real’ Irish villages.
When I travel I do like to have my itinerary planned out in advance so one of CIE Tours’ self drive holidays in Ireland would be ideal. My husband and I will have the freedom to travel at our own pace and stay longer in the smaller towns and villages that take our fancy.
The beauty of these independent packages is that our accommodation and car hire costs will be pre-paid before we leave home.
If you prefer to have someone else to do the driving, you should really consider joining an escorted coach tour of Ireland with CIE Tours. They have over 85 years experience in organising tours in Ireland and are a great way to meet like-minded travellers, too.
Where to visit
Most visits to Ireland will start in the capital Dublin, where there are plenty of things to see and do. After experiencing Dublin’s highlights, we will then hit the open road and start discovering rural Ireland.
5 charming villages in Ireland I really want to visit
Kinsale (County Cork)
The first destination I’d head for is Kinsale, known as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. This seaside town in County Cork is home to just 2,000 residents and is easily recognisable by its brightly coloured shops and houses.
Kinsale has been declared an Irish Heritage Town and features narrow winding streets, old fortifications and a long waterfront. It sounds like the perfect place to experience some of Ireland’s best gourmet treats, too.
With the pretty harbour town of Cobh just 47 kilometres away, we could easily include a visit to Titanic Experience or the Cobh Heritage Centre to learn more about the infamous ship whose last port of call was Cobh.
Heading further west are three more charming villages I’d include in my itinerary - Kenmare, Sneem and Dingle. This part of Ireland is home to two of the country’s loveliest drives - the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara - and can easily be visited even if you can only manage a 5-day road trip from Dublin.
Kenmare (County Kerry)
A picturesque village (population 2,000), Kenmare was awarded the title of Kerry’s first Heritage Town by Tourism Ireland thanks to its historical, cultural and environmental significance.
Located beside a deep bay, and with mountain ranges on either side, Kenmare’s setting looks to be magical.
The village is situated on both the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara, two famous driving routes along the Atlantic ocean.
The Kenmare Stone Circles (known locally as The Shrubberies) are one of the sights in town I’m keen to see. Dating back to the Bronze Age, this circle of 15 heavy boulders (think Stonehenge on a smaller scale), is the largest in south west Ireland.
Three kilometres west of town, the ruins of Dunkerron Castle also sound like they are worth a look. The castle dates back to the 16th century and was once the stronghold of the O’Sullivan clan - a name very common in Kerry.
Sneem (County Kerry)
Midway between Kenmare and Waterville is the village of Sneem. It’s possible to walk between Kenmare and Sneem - a distance of 25 kilometres - via the Kerry Way walking path.
Like its neighbour Kenmare, Sneem is nestled between the coast and mountains and the surrounding area provides plenty of opportunities for photos.
The immaculately kept village is home to traditional Irish pubs - including the original Dan Murphy’s Bar, according to my friend Richard - craft shops and restaurants, all housed in brightly coloured buildings.
With just 600 residents, we aren’t likely to get stuck in any traffic jams in Sneem so there will be ample time to really explore the village and meet the locals.
TIP: When in Sneem, why not take a boat trip to the Skellig Islands where you can see puffins (in season) and a well-preserved 6th century monastic settlement?
Dingle (County Kerry)
Just like the other villages I’ve already mentioned, Dingle’s main street - Quay Street - features an array of brightly coloured buildings and looks really attractive.
The village of Dingle (population 2,000) is the only town on the Dingle Peninsula and is a major Irish fishing port.
We’ll drive the Slea Head Loop, a circular route of 42 kilometres that follows the southern coast of the Peninsula, to enjoy the spectacular views and dramatic scenery of County Kerry.
As you’d expect in an Irish village, there seems to be no shortage of traditional pubs in Dingle where you can enjoy an ale whilst listening to great music.
Something less expected though is Dingle’s resident dolphin, Fungie. The lone, wild dolphin was first spotted escorting the town’s fishing boats to and from port in 1984. Since then, he is regularly seen in the bay and boat tours are available to watch Fungie at play.
After visiting County Kerry, we’ll head north to County Clare as I really want to visit the Cliffs of Moher. On our way north there’s another village that I’ll be calling on.
Doolin (County Clare)
The village of Doolin is probably most well-known for its natural wonders. It is situated on a harbour on the Wild Atlantic Way and is close to the historic area known as the Burren. This moonscape-looking landscape is formed from glaciated karst and is quite different to the rugged coastline around Doolin itself.
Another natural wonder I’d like to visit is Doolin Cave where a 7.3 metre stalactite was discovered in the 1950s. The locals claim this is the longest stalactite in the Northern hempishere.
If I have time - and the Atlantic is calm - I’ll also consider taking a boat trip to the Aran Islands or to the base of the Cliffs of Moher.
After visiting the five villages mentioned above, I’ll probably head north to Cong in County Mayo. This is where the magnificent Ashford Castle is located and to stay here for a night is a something I’d really love to do one day.
I’ll then continue on my road trip to Northern Ireland before returning to Dublin.
Now that I’ve got my itinerary mapped out, I just need to make it happen! Can you suggest any other charming villages in Ireland I should visit?
This post is sponsored by CIE but all words and opinions are my own.
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