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A Local's Guide to the 12 Best Cities (and Towns) in Ireland

Discover the best cities in Ireland to visit. Learn more about things to do, where to stay, and what to eat in Ireland's best cities and towns.
Ireland is a country on many people's travel bucket lists. When people think of the Emerald Isle, the first pictures of Ireland that come to mind might include Irish road trips with stunning views and maybe a sheep or two in the road along with green rolling hills and lots of open space. 

But there is another side to Ireland, that of her cities. In this post, we'll explore the best cities to visit in Ireland. 

Find out more about Ireland's best cities and why you should spend some time exploring urban Ireland on your trip. 

Ireland best cities: Boland's Mill in Dublin

How Big is a City in Ireland?

What is the first thing that comes to my when I say "city"? You might picture skyscrapers and a buzzing metropolis packed with millions of people. 

Ireland's cities are different. The population of the Republic of Ireland is just 5 million people. Aside from Dublin, none of Ireland's largest cities have even close to one million people.

To get a sense of the relative scale, London alone has a population of nearly 9 million people. For purposes of this post, I consider a city to be anyplace that has a population of more than 25,000 people. 

That may sound small, but Ireland's best cities all punch above their weight in terms of things to do, cultural activities, and overall vibe. Let's explore the best cities in Ireland at a glance with a few bonus towns (population less than 25K) for you to consider.

The Best Cities in Ireland at a Glance 

  1. Dublin
  2. Cork
  3. Galway
  4. Limerick
  5. Waterford
  6. Kilkenny
  7. Belfast (Northern Ireland)
  8. Derry (Northern Ireland)

Top Towns in Ireland

  1. Sligo
  2. Westport
  3. Bantry
  4. Kinsale

Map of the Best Cities to Visit in Ireland

Before we dive into the detail of each Irish city, let's take a moment to orient ourselves on the map. Click on the image of the map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps.

Map of the best cities in Ireland to visit

Ireland Best Cities to Visit in Detail

Now let's dive into the best cities in Ireland to visit in more detail. 

For each city, we'll cover its population, the tl;dr: (i.e., too long, didn't read) of why it's a city we recommend, where to stay, 3 cool things to do, 3 ideas for where to eat, 3 day trip ideas and where to go to find more information to help you plan your trip.

1. Dublin

tl;dr: All roads lead to Dublin (and most flights into Ireland too). Dublin is Ireland's capital and largest city and is home to some of Ireland's top tourist attractions. Spend a few days in Dublin before moving on to explore other cities in Ireland.

Ireland best cities to visit: Dublin

Dublin's population: 544,000 in the city, 1.4 million in the Greater Dublin Area

Where to stay in Dublin: 
I can personally recommend the Wilder Townhouse (my husband and I stayed here last year to celebrate our anniversary). The Wilder is a boutique hotel that was once a home for retired governesses. 

It’s situated in a 19th century brick building just a short walk to The National Concert Hall and St. Stephen’s Green. If you walk in the other direction from the hotel, you can take a walk along the Grand Canal. The breakfast at the Wilder Townhouse was outstanding. 

The beds are comfy and the rooms are named after former residents.

3 cool things to do in Dublin: 

  1. Go on a self-guided Dublin doors photowalk (pro-tip: start on Merrion Square). You can even turn your walk into a neighborhood scavenger hunt.
  2. Taste whiskey in a deconsecrated church at Pearse-Lyons Distillery.
  3. Head to Dublin's northside and stop to smell the flowers (and admire the Victorian-era greenhouses at the National Botanic Gardens).

3 ideas for where to eat in Dublin:

  1. Grab a carvery lunch at Bar51 (it's like an American Thanksgiving dinner on any given Sunday afternoon).
  2. Head to Searson's on Baggot Street for rotisserie chicken and a pint.
  3. Enjoy the buffet at Kilkenny Shop. Stop in for quiche and a cup of tea.

3 day trip ideas from Dublin:

  1. Head to the Wicklow Mountains on a tour, by car, or by public transportation and get in touch with nature as well as the 1500 year old monastic site at Glendalough.
  2. Hike the Howth Cliff Walk and then take a boat to Ireland's Eye for birdwatching
  3. Discover things to do in Kildare like visiting the National Stud Farm. This is the place to go if you love horses or horse-racing.

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

2. Cork

tl;dr: Sometimes referred to as the People's Republic of Cork, Cork City has a great vibe and a bit of a rebellious streak with one of the top universities in Ireland at its beating heart.

Best cities in Ireland: Cork

Cork's population: 125,000 in the city
Where to stay in Cork: Stay at the modern and comfortable River Lee Hotel near University College Cork.

3 cool things to do in Cork

  1. Browse the food and gift stalls at the historic English Market in Cork City Center.
  2. Take a self-guided tour of the University College Cork Campus.
  3. Learn more than you ever thought you needed to know about butter at the Cork Butter Museum.

3 ideas for where to eat in Cork

  1. Eat a gourmet vegetarian meal at Cafe Paradiso.
  2. Grab pizza and a pint at Franciscan Well.
  3. Enjoy brunch at Good Day Deli at Cork's Nano Nagle Place (an off-the-beaten-path gem).

3 day trip ideas from Cork

  1. Catch the train to Cobh and explore the town's Titanic History. Cobh has the distinction of being the Titanic's last port of call on its fateful maiden voyage.
  2. Eat your way through West Cork.
  3. Kiss the Blarney Stone and give yourself the gift of gab at Blarney Castle (one of the most popular castles in Ireland).

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

3. Galway

tl;dr: Galway City is another Irish university town located just 2 hours from Dublin on the West Coast of Ireland. Galway will forever be immortalized thanks to the tune Galway Girl.

Ireland's best cities to visit: Galway
Galway's population: 80,000
Where to stay in Galway: Book a room at the Galmont Hotel and Spa for a clean, comfortable room walking distance to the beating heart of Galway.

3 cool things to do in Galway

  1. Visit the NUI Galway Zoology and Marine Biology Museum, home to 4 specimens from Darwin's voyage on the Beagle.
  2. Walk along the water on Nun's Island.
  3. Get lost in Galway's Latin Quarter.

3 ideas for where to eat in Galway

  1. Head to Salthill for burgers and a pint of Galway Bay craft beer at the Oslo Bar.
  2. Grab a fancy hot dog at the Caribou.
  3. Go upscale and enjoy locally sourced seafood (or a steak if you prefer) at Brasserie on the Corner.

3 day trip ideas from Galway

  1. Discover Cong, setting for the famous classic movie The Quiet Man
  2. Go spelunking and see a birds of prey show at Aillwee Caves
  3. Walk the Walled Gardens at Kylemore Abbey

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

4. Limerick

tl;dr: Limerick has an (undeserved) rough reputation. Just two hours from Dublin by train, Limerick features cool street art, bad-ass castles, and an excellent food and craft beer scene.

Ireland's Best Cities: Limerick Street Art

Limerick's population: 94,000
Where to stay in Limerick: Book into the Absolute Hotel Limerick where you'll be walking distance to the main attractions yet far enough away to get a quiet good night's sleep.

3 cool things to do in Limerick

  1. Tour Medieval King John's Castle and learn about the royal intrigue and bloody sieges that took place in Limerick.
  2. Seek out Limerick's street art. You'll find a number of murals gracing buildings near King John's Castle.
  3. Walk along the River Shannon and check out the Treaty Stone which commemorates the Treaty of Limerick signed at the end of the 17th century and ended the war between the Jacobites and supporters of William of Orange concluding the siege of Limerick in 1691.

3 ideas for where to eat in Limerick

  1. Head to Curragower Bar for a pint of Treaty City craft beer and a pot of mussels
  2. Browse The Milk Market on a Saturday morning and grab 'The Cure' from the Country Choice Stall. The Cure is loaded with sausage, black and white pudding, and an optional fried egg and is a perfect hangover cure.
  3. Grab a coffee and brunch at the Green Onion Cafe

3 day trip ideas from Limerick

  1. Spend a day exploring Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. You can get to Bunratty Castle from Limerick City on public transportation.
  2. Head to Foynes and learn all about the history of 'flying boats' in the lead up to World War II.
  3. Explore the grounds of Dromoland Castle and perhaps play a round of golf.

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

5. Waterford

tl;dr: Waterford is Ireland's oldest cities and was founded by Vikings in the 9th century. Located in Ireland's Sunny Southeast, Waterford is rich in history, and crystal of course!

Best cities in Ireland: Waterford

Waterford's population: 53,000
Where to stay in Waterford: Book into Faithlegg Hotel, an 18th century manor house turned luxury hotel located about a 15 minute drive from Waterford City.

3 cool things to do in Waterford

  1. Tour the Waterford Medieval Museum for a fascinating self-guided tour of the city's history with highlights including 15th century gold cloth vestments
  2. Cycle the Waterford Greenway, a repurposed train line that runs from Waterford to Dungarvan
  3. Visit the Waterford Crystal Museum

3 ideas for where to eat in Waterford

  1. Enjoy an elegant dinner in a posh setting at  The Roseville Rooms Restaurant at Faithlegg
  2. Grab some caffeine at Arch Coffee
  3. Book in for the 10 course tasting menu at the Old Couch Cafe

3 day trip ideas from Waterford

  1. Experience the raw power of the sea at Hook Lighthouse
  2. Go birdwatching at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve
  3. Visit the John F. Kennedy Arboretum and Homestead and explore the U.S. president's ancestral roots.

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

6. Kilkenny

tl;dr: Kilkenny has fantastic energy and seems much larger than it actually is. Featuring rabid sports fans and amazing festivals, Kilkenny is easily accessible from Dublin in about an hour and a half.

Ireland best cities: Kilkenny

Kilkenny's population: 26,500
Where to stay in Kilkenny: For a luxury experience with Michelin Star dining options, book a room at Mount Juliet Estate, a 20 minute drive from Kilkenny City.

3 cool things to do in Kilkenny

  1. Walk the grounds of Kilkenny Castle and get lost in the forest
  2. Tour Rothe House and Medieval Garden nestled in the heart of Kilkenny City
  3. Embark on the Smithwick's Brewery experience

3 ideas for where to eat in Kilkenny

  1. Pick up a sausage roll and a cup of tea at the Kilkenny Design Centre Food Hall
  2. Enjoy an Italian feast followed by a nip from the largest collection of grappa in Ireland at Ristorante Rinuccini
  3. If you have a sweet tooth, grab a coffee and a homemade peanut butter marshmallow at CakeFace Patisserie

3 day trip ideas from Kilkenny

  1. Hike to Kells Priory and the enchanted cottage, a photographer's dream
  2. Visit Jerpoint Abbey, the only example in Europe of a highly decorated Augustinian Abbey
  3. Check out the stunning vistas and follies at Heywood Gardens

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

BONUS! Cities in Northern Ireland

Up until this point, I've exclusively discussed cities in the Republic of Ireland. However, the island of Ireland is also home to Northern Ireland, one of the four countries that are part of the United Kingdom. If you have the time, I recommend adding Belfast or Derry to your Emerald Isle itinerary.

7. Belfast

tl;dr: Belfast is worth a visit if you have an interest in the Titanic (she was built here) or Game of Thrones

Northern Ireland Cities: Titanic Museum in Belfast

Belfast's population: 293,000 (the second largest city on the island)
Where to stay in Belfast: The Belfast Hilton is a great centrally located option. Hotel Europa is your choice if you are interested in history. This hotel is notorious for being Europe's most bombed hotel.

3 cool things to do in Belfast

  1. Visit the Titanic Museum and Dry Dock to immerse yourself in the tragic history of this "unsinkable vessel"
  2. Shop St. George's Market for crafts and some of Northern Ireland's best homemade treats
  3. Explore the difficult history of Northern Ireland with a tour of Falls Road murals

3 ideas for where to eat in Belfast

  1. Have lunch at the Drawing Room of the Titanic Hotel. Eat in a historic room where some of the greatest ships in the world were designed.
  2. Splurge on a Michelin-starred experience at Deane's Eipic including the Incredible Edible Book for dessert
  3. Molly's Yard offers high-end flavors in an intimate setting. This is a great place to down a G&T with your dinner.

3 day trip ideas from Belfast

  1. Head from Belfast to Bangor for a seaside walk and a spot of birdwatching
  2. Visit the Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of giant hexagonal stone steps that makes it look like a giant once emerged here from the sea.
  3. Take a drive along Carlingford Lough and the Mourne Mountains. The region is full of literary history. Rostrevor is believed to be the inspiration for C.S. Lewis' Narnia

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

  1. 20 Fun Things to do in Belfast on a Weekend Break from Dublin

8. Derry

tl;dr: Derry is famous as the setting for popular TV show Derry Girls. You'll find a rich and complicated history to explore.

Northern Ireland Cities: Hands across the Divide in Derry

Derry's population: 85,000
Where to stay in Derry: Check out the Merchant's House, an atmospheric Georgian Bed and Breakfast in Derry City.

3 cool things to do in Derry

  1. Check out the annual Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival. This was one of the coolest musical festivals we ever went to across both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
  2. Walk the 17th Century city walls
  3. Explore the political history in Derry's Bogside neighborhood

3 day trip ideas from Derry

  1. Visit Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge for stunning views and an adrenaline rush
  2. Explore the ruins of Dunluce Castle perched precariously on a cliff jutting out into the sea 
  3. Downhill Demesne is another great spot for a hike along the sea in a more elegant setting

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

Top Towns in Ireland

While Ireland's cities are fantastic, there are a number of big and small towns in Ireland that are most definitely worth visiting. 

Some towns you'll need a car to access, while others are among the top destinations to visit in Ireland by train.

9. Sligo

tl;dr: Visit Sligo on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way if you want to get away from the tourist crowds. Sligo features friendly locals, some of the best food in Ireland, and echoes of poet W.B. Yeats.

Top towns in Ireland: Yeats Street Art in Sligo

Sligo's population: 19,200 (one of the largest towns in Ireland)
Where to stay in Sligo: Book a room at the Riverside Hotel in the heart of Sligo Town.

3 cool things to do in Sligo

  1. Shop for crafts at Sligo Airport Market in Strandhill
  2. Walk the beach and walled gardens at Lissadell House and then explore artifacts from Irish Freedom fighter Constance Markievicz. Lissadell House was her ancestral home.
  3. Visit the grave of W.B. Yeats at Drumcliffe Cemetery

3 ideas for where to eat in Sligo

  1. Eat imaginative and elegant dishes made with the freshest Irish ingredients at Eala Bhan
  2. Enjoy a Sunday lunch at Cawley's Guesthouse in Tubbercurry
  3. Savor award winning gelato at Mammy Johnston's in Strandhill 

3 day trip ideas from Sligo

  1. Hike from Court Abbey to Knocknashee with Wild Wet Adventures
  2. Make a pilgrimage to Lough Gill and The Lake Isle of Innisfree and pay homage to W.B. Yeats
  3. Visit Carrowmore, one of the most extensive megalithic burial sites in Ireland with a variety of ritual stones and dolmens spread out over the countryside

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

10. Westport

tl;dr: Westport in County Mayo is a fantastic home base if you love colorful pubs and some of the best scenery in Ireland. 

Top Villages in Ireland: Westport

Westport's population: 6,000
Where to stay in Westport: Stay in Augusta Lodge, a golf-themed bed and breakfast about a 15 minute walk into Westport Town.

3 cool things to do in Westport

  1. Listen to bluegrass music at the pub during the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
  2. Sip craft beer at tiny Toby's Bar
  3. Tour Westport House and grounds

3 ideas for where to eat in Westport

  1. Enjoy coffee and homemade truffles at Christy's Harvest
  2. Dine al fresco at The Towers Bar and Restaurant on Westport Quay
  3. Appreciate fresh local ingredients over dinner at Sage Restaurant

3 day trip ideas from Westport

  1. Cycle the Great Western Greenway between Westport and Achill Island
  2. Go on a hawk walk at Mount Falcon Estate
  3. Take a forest walk at Lough Key 

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

11. Bantry

tl;dr: Bantry is located at the very far reaches of West Cork. For an off-the-beaten track adventure, spend a couple days here exploring the town and its surroundings.

Top towns in Ireland: Bantry in West Cork

Bantry's population: 2,700
Where to stay in Bantry: Grab a room with a view at The Maritime Hotel.

3 cool things to do in Bantry

  1. Explore the elegant gardens and sea views at Bantry House and Gardens
  2. Browse the weekly market on Fridays on Wolfe Tone Square
  3. Walk the Beicin Loop for beautiful views and you'll definitely spot a sheep or two

3 ideas for where to eat in Bantry

  1. Order a picnic lunch at Bantry House and Gardens
  2. Indulge in Wharton's Fish and Chips
  3. Enjoy artisanal sandwiches at Manning Emporium

3 day trip ideas from Bantry

  1. Drive to colorful Allihies at the end of the Beara Peninsula
  2. Visit Mizen Head, the southwesternmost point in Ireland
  3. Take the ferry to Garinish Island to walk the 19th century gardens

For more information to help you plan your trip:

12. Kinsale

tl;dr: Kinsale is the foodie capital of Ireland. Located in East Cork, you'll find some of the freshest seafood and best restaurants on the planet. If you love photography, Kinsale is also one of the most Instagrammable places in Ireland.

Best Towns in Ireland: Kinsale

Kinsale's population: 5,300
Where to stay in Kinsale: Check into the Trident Hotel on the harbor and within easy walking distance of the main sights in Kinsale Town.

3 cool things to do in Kinsale

  1. Photograph the colorful buildings in town
  2. Take a walk along Kinsale Harbour
  3. If it's raining, head inside the Kinsale Museum which is located in the early 17th century courthouse and nose around the array or artifacts to explore local history.

3 ideas for where to eat in Kinsale

  1. Try some fine local cuisine like lamb at Bastion
  2. Attempt to get a reservation at Fishy Fishy to taste the local seafood
  3. Check out Koko Kinsale for silky smooth truffles and filled chocolates

3 day trip ideas from Kinsale

  1. Check out 17th century Charles Fort, one of the largest military installations in Ireland
  2. Test your driving mettle and make your way to the Old Head of Kinsale
  3. Go birdwatching at Harper's Island Wetland Centre

For more information to help you plan your trip: 

  1. How to Embark on an Excellent Adventure from Dublin to Kinsale

Summing up the Best Cities in Ireland to Visit

There you have it: the best cities (and towns) in Ireland. As you can see, Irish cities offer unique things to do, awesome places to eat, and plenty of day trip ideas. 

Add these places to your next Irish road trip or take the train for a weekend adventure.

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Top Cities in Ireland to VisitA Local's Guide to the Best Towns in Ireland

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: A Local's Guide to the 12 Best Cities (and Towns) in Ireland
A Local's Guide to the 12 Best Cities (and Towns) in Ireland
Discover the best cities in Ireland to visit. Learn more about things to do, where to stay, and what to eat in Ireland's best cities and towns.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog