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The Best Towns and Villages in Ireland: 10 to Explore in 2024

The Emerald Isle is full of towns and villages, but do you know the best ones in Ireland to explore in 2024?

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The answer to that could be viewed subjectively depending on what kinds of attractions you are drawn to.

Aside from popular destinations like Dublin, Galway, Cork, and Kerry, there are smaller towns and villages in Ireland that consistently make it to the bucket list of travel writers and photographers.

In this post, you’ll discover some of those popular towns, but you’ll also find other towns and villages in Ireland that are not as well-known and deserve some additional love.

When you're in Ireland, try putting some of these towns and villages on your travel itinerary.

Glenties, County Donegal

Situated northwest of the Bluestack Mountains in County Donegal, Glenties is an attractive town of about 800 people.

It has the proud reputation of winning the Tidy Towns competition five times, in 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1995. It has also received several other awards for its aesthetic qualities.

St. Connell’s Museum & Heritage Centre is the main attraction in the town.

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St. Connell's Museum in Glenties, Co. Donegal. Photo: Josephb1981, Public Domain.

The building houses a number of exhibits on local history, including information on St. Connell, who brought Christianity to the area and founded a monastic settlement on Inishkeel Island, a small island off the coast.

There is also an exhibit on the now-defunct Donegal Railway line.

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The village of Glenties in Co. Donegal. Photo: By Sleepyhead2 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17106010

The town is also famous for being the fictional setting of the play, “Dancing at Lughnasa,” written by Brian Friel and performed in theaters worldwide.

At the Craft Gallery on Main Street, you can purchase Donegal tweeds and handmade sweaters, as well as a selection of beautifully crafted contemporary jewelry from Hannah McGuinness, a local jeweler.

Siopa Lughnasa is a popular gift shop in the village.

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Filligan's Preserves. Photo: Filligan's Facebook.

It carries an array of Irish and locally-made products, including Galway crystal, a range of pottery, the locally-produced Filligans preserves and chutneys, as well as clothing. There’s also a café on site.

Glenties is the perfect stopping-off point on your drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, which is also why it is among the best towns and villages in Ireland.

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The Blue Stack Way in Co. Donegal, with views of County Sligo in the distance. Photo: Louise Price, Creative Commons.

There are plenty of scenic walks to take in the surrounding glens, like The Blue Stack Way from Glenties to Ardara.

The Blue Flag-designated Narin/Portnoo beach is about 10 km/6 miles from the town.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 3-hour and 18-minute journey by car

From Belfast:

A 2 ½-hour drive by car.

Read More: Six Days in Donegal: Exploring the County's Most Spectacular Locations

Clonakilty, County Cork

This West Cork town, another Tidy Towns winner, is a charming town that is full of bright, hand-painted shop fronts, great restaurants, and pubs.

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Clonakilty was the winner of The Great Town Award in 2017. Photo: The Academy of Urbanism, https://www.flickr.com/photos/academyofurbanism/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Take a walk along its winding streets and you can almost imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago, especially on market days when people from the surrounding countryside came to buy and sell their wares.

It is also known as the birthplace of Michael Collins, who served as chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State before he was killed in 1921.

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An exhibit at the Michael Collins House Museum in Clonakilty. The museum's War of Independence exhibition can be viewed until Sept. 30th. Photo: Michael Collins House Museum Facebook.

To learn more about the revolutionary hero, stop by the Michael Collins House on Emmet Square, where you’ll see interactive displays, audiovisual presentations, artifacts, and more.

Guided tours are available.

While nearby Kinsale is a popular culinary hotspot, Clonakilty is quickly catching up, with a host of food producers and trendy restaurants to explore.

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Enjoying beers from the Clonakilty Brewing Company. Photo: The Academy of Urbanism, https://www.flickr.com/photos/academyofurbanism/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Be sure to check out the following places: the Clonakilty Brewing Company, the makers of the Tojo American Pale Ale, the Smuggler Irish Porter, and the Inchydoney Blond Belgian Wit; the Clonakilty Black Pudding, which can be found on the menus of several restaurants in the region and around the country; Clonakilty Homemade Ice Cream, with over 18 delicious flavors to choose from in its shop located in the center of the town, and Scannell's Pub and Restaurant, a popular gastropub in the town.

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The West Cork Model Railway Village. Photo: Ardfern / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Kids will love the West Cork Model Railway Village, a replica of the old West Cork Railway complete with model buildings dating back to the 1940s.

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Inchydoney Beach in Co. Cork. Photo: George Karbus Photography for Failte Ireland.

The Blue Flag Inchydoney beach is a short distance outside the town and well worth exploring too.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 3-hour, 35-minute journey by car.

From Shannon:

A 2-hour, 26-minute journey by car.

From Belfast:

An almost 5-hour journey by car.

Read More: 5 Heritage Towns That Will Make You an Expert in Irish History

Dalkey, County Dublin

Dalkey is an affluent suburb of Dublin that has a small-town feel to it, even though it is only a 25-minute ride from Dublin city center on the DART.

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A DART train makes its way to Dalkey in Co. Dublin. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland.

If you’re visiting Dublin and you want to take a day trip to the seaside communities outside of the capital, you should put Dalkey on your itinerary.

You won't be sorry that you put it on your list of the best towns and villages in Ireland to explore this year.

In addition to having plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants, the town is rich in heritage, given its importance as a port in the Middle Ages.

No visit to Dalkey is complete without visiting the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre and taking in its Living History Tour, which is provided by costumed actors.

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The village of Dalkey in Co. Dublin. Photo: Picasa for Failte Ireland.

The Writers Gallery within the center is also interesting, with exhibits about some of Ireland’s most famous authors, including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Maeve Binchy, to name a few.

Dalkey, another Tidy Towns winner, has several restaurants to choose from.

Some of the more popular ones include Finnegan’s and DeVille’s, the winner of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence from 2015 to 2019.

If you’re in the mood for a sumptuous Irish breakfast or just a cup of tea and a scone, stop at the Country Bake for some home-cooked deliciousness.

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Get Me There

From Belfast:

A 2-hour journey by car.

Read More: 5 of the Best Day Trips from Dublin

Newport, County Mayo

While nearby Westport gets all the attention, the town of Newport shouldn’t be ignored if you are touring County Mayo.

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The Newport Viaduct. Photo: Suzanne Neumann for Getty Images.

Perhaps Newport’s most striking asset is a beautiful 19th-century red sandstone railway viaduct containing seven arches that span the Black Oak River.

It was built in 1892, part of a rail extension intended to take passengers from Westport to Achill Island.

people on bikes cycling in Ireland
Spectacular views along the Great Western Greenway in Co. Mayo. Photo: Gareth McCormack for Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland.

While the railway line was closed in 1937 due to insufficient use, the ground that it covered can be found on the Great Western Greenway, an off-road cycling/walking trail that follows the exact route of the railway line.

Take a walk down Main Street and you’ll find plenty of shops, pubs, and restaurants to choose from, just some of the reasons why I believe it makes the list as one of the best towns and villages in Ireland.

Some of the popular ones include Kelly’s Kitchen, where you can taste the “Putog,” Kelly’s traditional black pudding based on the family’s secret pudding recipe.

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Kelly's Kitchen in Newport, Co. Mayo. Photo: Kelly's Kitchen Facebook.

In the café next door to the artisan butcher shop you can get the very best in Irish food, including that tasty pudding, along with a generous helping of the family’s homemade sausages and rashers.

The Grainne Uaile (pronounced “Grawyna Whale”) is another popular spot in the town of Newport.

Named after the 15th-century seafaring pirate queen Grainne Uaile (otherwise known as Grace O’Malley), the award-winning pub serves up a delicious mix of dishes made from local ingredients.

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Rockfleet Castle near Newport, Co. Mayo, is reputed to be the place where Grace died in 1603. Photo: Arthur Ilkow, Tourism Ireland.

Speaking of O’Malley, you can visit nearby Rockfleet Castle, one of the places where she grew up as the daughter of the powerful West of Ireland O’Malley family.

It is located about 8 km (close to 5 miles) west of Newport off the N59.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 3-hour, 10-minute journey by car.

From Belfast:

A 3-hour, 45-minute journey by car.

From Shannon:

A 2-hour journey by car.

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Glaslough, County Monaghan

This picturesque little village in County Monaghan, the winner of the 2019 Tidy Towns competition, is the perfect place to spend a few hours.

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The village of Glaslough in Co. Monaghan is one of the 10 best towns and villages in Ireland. Photo: Tourism Ireland.

The village is closely associated with Castle Leslie, owned by the Leslie family for the past 300 years.

The sprawling estate includes a hotel, spa, and equestrian center.

While the estate dates back to the 1660s, where the original castle stood, the building you see today was built in 1870 and fashioned in the Scottish Baronial style.

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Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan. Photo: Tom Archer for Tourism Ireland.

Inside, you’ll find lots of family heirlooms, paintings, and hunting trophies, as well as the most famous collector’s item of all, Winston Churchill’s christening gown, which is enshrined in a glass case in the drawing-room.

Why not book an afternoon tea at Castle Leslie when you're in the neighborhood. You don't have to be a guest of the hotel to do so. Just email [email protected] to make a reservation.

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Enjoy afternoon tea at Castle Leslie. Photo courtesy of My Sister's Closet Blog,  https://www.facebook.com/mysistersclosetblog

The town itself has a lot to offer in its attractive shops, restaurants, cafes, and pubs.

Be sure to stop by Busy Bee Ceramics on Main Street.

Owned by Brenda McGinn, you’ll find her signature pottery lines, Bragan Blue and Vintage Blue in her store.

All of McGinn’s pieces are made from high-fired stoneware clay and are durable in a dishwasher, oven, and microwave.

You can even take a pottery class if you wish.

If you’re hungry, stop by Ambledown Cottage, which describes itself as a “quirky pizza restaurant.”

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The beautiful Castle Leslie Estate in Co. Monaghan. Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

The restaurant, located close to the main entrance of Castle Leslie, has lots of nooks and crannies inside that make for a really cozy place to dine.

Pair your pizza with the locally brewed Brehon Blonde, a pale golden beer made by the Brehon Brewhouse in nearby Carrickmacross, and you’re good to go.

For a sweet treat, check out Glaslough Chocolate Company, also located in the village.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 1.5-hour journey by car.

From Belfast:

A 60-minute drive by car.

Read More: 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Ireland

Listowel, County Kerry

Brightly colored streetscapes are what you’ll first notice about this attractive heritage town, as well as Listowel Castle, which overlooks this Co. Kerry town of about 24,000 people.

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Listowel Castle was built in the 15th and was the property of the Hare family, the Earls of Listowel. Photo: Public Domain.

Residents of Listowel are particularly proud of their extensive town park, where you can walk along the embankment of the River Feale, with views of the castle and the Listowel Bridge.

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A display in the Garden of Europe in Listowel. Photo: Listowel Tidy Towns Facebook.

The park is also the site of the Garden of Europe, which contains 3,000 trees and shrubs divided into 12 sections representing the member countries of the European Union.

There is also a Holocaust memorial in the garden.

The town’s tragic history during the Famine, an experience shared by so many other communities in Ireland, is remembered in the Famine Graveyard, known in Gaelic as “Teampaillin Ban.”

a church in a town in Ireland best towns and villages in Ireland
St. Mary's Church in Listowel is one of the 10 best towns and villages in Ireland. Photo: Ger Holland for Failte Ireland.

The restored graveyard is the burial place of over 2,500 victims who died between 1845 and 1849.

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The statue of the beloved Listowel native and famous Irish playwright the late John B. Keane. Photo: Paul O'Mahony, https://www.flickr.com/photos/omaniblog/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The town, which won the Tidy Towns competition for two years in a row (2015, 2016), is also notable for its writers, including one of the most famous, John B. Keane, who died in 2002.

Keane wrote numerous plays, including “Sive,” “The Field” (which was made into a film in the 1990s), and “Big Maggie,” among others.

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One of the rooms in the Kerry Writers' Museum in Listowel. Photo: Kerry Writers' Museum Facebook.

Find out more about Keane and other Kerry writers at the Kerry Writers' Museum, a tastefully restored 19th-century Georgian townhouse.

Be sure to visit his pub, too, which is now run by the Keane family.

Plenty of restaurants, bakeries, and cafés all add up to a vibrant town that is definitely worth visiting.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 3-hour journey by car.

From Belfast:

A 4-hour, 37-minute journey by car.

From Shannon:

A 1-hour, 19-minute journey by car.

Carlingford, County Louth

If you’re staying in Dublin, why not take a drive or a bus to Carlingford in Co. Louth?

While not officially known as a “heritage town,” there’s no doubt it is full of history and well worth exploring.

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Views of Carlingford Lough from the Great Eastern Greenway, which is close to the town of Carlingford. Photo: Tony Pleavin, Tourism Ireland.

Located on the shores of Carlingford Lough, it is the main town in an area called the Cooley Peninsula, where the epic tale, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley” is said to have taken place involving the great mythical Irish hero Cuchulainn and Maeve, Queen of Connaught.

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Carlington town center. Photo: Tom Archer, Tourism Ireland.

The town, which still retains its medieval layout and narrow streets, will make you feel like you've stepped back in time.

The town's 15th-century Thosel building, which acted as a toll gate for people coming into the town, is still in remarkably good condition.

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The Thosel in Carlingford. Photo: Andrea Petroni for Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland.

Be sure to walk through the historic town gate and on to Carlingford’s pedestrianized area, where you’ll come across an array of colorful pubs and shops.

Any visit to this pretty town in Ireland’s smallest county should include King John’s Castle, The Mint, and Taafe’s Castle.

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King John's Castle in Carlingford. Photo: Richard Browne, https://www.flickr.com/photos/richardbrowne/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

You can take a self-guided tour of King John’s Castle, built by Hugh de Lacy, an Anglo-Norman landholder and royal officeholder.

Historians say that King John of England even stayed in the castle during the early 1200s.

Walking tours of the town are available, in addition to tours of the area outside Carlingford.

There’s plenty of entertainment in Carlingford.

A popular pub with locals and visitors alike is John Long’s Pub, which has been in business since 1757.

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John Long's pub in Carlingford. The original sign hangs above the door. Photo: John Long's Facebook.

While the original building was burned to the ground in 1996, the original pub sign was salvaged and still hangs above the door.

Be sure to stop by for a traditional Irish music session and a pint of Guinness!

In the town center, you’ll find PJ O’Hare’s, an award-winning gastropub that is known for its delicious oysters.

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One of many oysters that can be found in the grade-A waters of Carlingford Lough. Photo: Jeremy Keith, https://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Carlingford did a sizeable oyster trade during the Middle Ages and the town is still associated with that. The original bar and grocery store still remain and make for a popular attraction.

For gifts, Carlingford Design House in the heart of Carlingford contains a variety of items, including ceramics, wall art, prints, textiles, jewelry, wood, candles, and more, all from Irish artists.

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Some of the beautiful gifts you'll find at the Garrett Mallon Design House, formerly known as the Carlingford Design House. Photo: Garrett Mallon Design House Facebook.

The store was set up by Garrett Mallon, a local goldsmith, who is known for his 3D jewelry combining different metals and finishes.

He also runs a jewelry school from the shop, which these days is known as the Garrett Mallon Design Shop.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 1-hour, 15-minute journey by car

From Belfast:

An hour’s drive by car.

Clonmel, County Tipperary

There’s history around every corner in this lively town, the largest one in the southeast of the country and certainly worthy of being on the list of the best towns and villages in Ireland.

a town from a distance best towns and villages in Ireland
A view of Clonmel from afar. Photo: Getty Images.

The town is situated on the River Suir and surrounded by the Comeragh Mountains and Slievenamon.

It is known for resisting Oliver Cromwell in his attempt to invade it in 1650.

The residents of this Tipperary town bravely fought back, inflicting heavy losses on Cromwell’s army of 8,000. They (the Clonmel defenders) were eventually forced to surrender.

Its heritage trail covers 5 main attractions in the town, including The Main Guard, Hearns Hotel, The West Gate, The Jail Gate, and Old St. Mary's Church.

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a ruined building best towns and villages in Ireland
The ruins of an old church at St. Patrick's Well in Clonmel. Photo: Artur Bogacki for Getty Images.

It starts at the town hall, which was built in the 17th century on the site of a private mansion, and then proceeds to Dowd’s Lane, an area of the town known for its commercial cider making.

This is where the popular Bulmers cider brand is made, known in countries outside of Ireland as Magner’s cider.

a large building with columns best towns and villages in Ireland
Clonmel's Main Guard building. Photo: Bernie Goldbach, https://www.flickr.com/photos/irisheyes/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

You won’t go hungry while visiting Clonmel as the town has a variety of restaurants and cafes.

Hickey’s Bakery is known for its delicious “barmbrack,” a fruit loaf normally associated with Halloween in Ireland.

many loaves of bread best towns and villages in Ireland
A variety of bread is baked daily at Hickey's Bakery in Clonmel, a Lonely Planet favorite, including its popular barmbrack. Photo: Hickey's Bakery Facebook.

Lonely Planet’s 2018 “Ultimate Eats” book lists it among the top 500 best eats in the world.

The bakery was established in 1900 by Eamonn Hickey, and four generations of the family have been making the signature bread since then.

For dinner, be sure to consider Chez Hans, a restaurant located in a converted Victorian Gothic church that is owned by German native Hans Peter and his wife, Derry Matthaei.

a building with a sign on it best towns and villages in Ireland
The Gothic church in Clonmel houses the Chez Hans restaurant. Photo: By Olivier Bruchez – https://www.flickr.com/photos/bruchez/6124515237, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48221495

The building was constructed in 1861 as a public lecture hall, later serving as a chapel for the local Church of Ireland parishioners.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 2-hour journey by car.

From Belfast:

A 3-hour, 33-minute journey by car.

From Shannon:

A 1.5-hour journey by car.

Doolin, County Clare

The quaint little village of Doolin in County Clare seems to offer something for everyone, which is why I think it should be on everyone's list of the best towns and villages in Ireland.

many house among the fields best towns and villages in Ireland
The village of Doolin in County Clare. Photo: Getty Images.

Not only is it the hub of traditional Irish music, but it also caters to a growing art and crafts community, with shops and cafes displaying some of the best products made in Co. Clare, including jewelry, textiles, artwork, and more.

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The Cliffs Of Moher in Co. Clare. Photo: Getty Images.

The village is situated on the edge of the Burren, an area shaped by glaciers that occurred during the last Ice Age, and is within miles of the Cliffs of Moher.

Doolin is the perfect place for walking and exploring the Clare coastline.

Local man Pat Sweeney is happy to take tourists around and show them the sights he’s been looking at his whole life.

For the more adventurous, there’s the opportunity for scuba diving off the coast.

Caroline Hartigan, a Dutch native and Doolin resident, accompanies divers and compares the underwater environment to the Burren landscape that she has come to know and love since moving to Ireland 25 years ago.

Nighttime is when all the fun starts in Doolin. While there are plenty of places to choose from, Gus O’Connor’s is by far the best known for its trad music and delicious food.

a house with a black sign on it best towns and villages in Ireland
Gus O'Connor's Pub in Doolin, a popular place for traditional Irish music sessions. Photo: Martin Sillaots, https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinsillaots/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Traditional sessions take place seven nights a week from February until November and on weekends year-round.

packets of smoked ham best towns and villages in Ireland
Products from the popular Burren Smokehouse brand. Photo: Publicis for Tourism Ireland.

Don’t leave the village of Doolin without checking out some of the great stores in the village.

Some include the Ekotree Knitwear Studio and Visitor Centre, the Burren Smokehouse Visitor Centre, The Clare Jam Company, and much more.

See all of the shops in Doolin here.

Get Me There

From Dublin:

A 3-hour journey by car.

From Shannon:

An hour’s drive by car.

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Greyabbey, County Down

Greyabbey is a small village on the eastern shores of Strangford Lough region of County Down that is often associated with the antique industry.

a lake at night best towns and villages in Ireland
Sunset over Strangford Lough in the Ards Peninsula. Photo: Johnny Donnan for Getty Images.

The town is located in a region known as the Ards Peninsula, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This alone makes it worthy to be on the list of the best towns and villages in Ireland.

One of the primary attractions for tourists is the ruins of the beautiful 12th-century Cistercian Grey Abbey founded in 1193 by Affreca, wife of the Norman knight John de Courcy.

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The ruins of Greyabbey. Photo: Getty Images.

A walking guide of the area will give you a good idea of what’s to see in and around the abbey.

The guide suggests you start at the abbey, then proceed to the Physic Garden, a reconstruction of a garden containing 40 herbs and plants that the Cistercian monks would have planted for medicinal purposes.

Grey Abbey House & Gardens is also on the guide.

Constructed in 1762 by the Montgomery family, it is believed to be the finest Georgian house of its kind on the island of Ireland.

a large house, best towns and villages in Ireland
Grey Abbey House is the private residence of the Montgomery family. Photo courtesy of House and Heritage Facebook.

The house and gardens are private, but you can certainly explore the area around it.

When you’re in Greyabbey, be sure to walk through Hoops Courtyard, where you’ll find all sorts of interesting shops, many of them antique stores, cafes, and other specialty stores.

The Old Courthouse is a popular stopping-off point for antique lovers.

Transport yourself to another time by browsing the many collectible items in the store, including local linens, antique giftware, and more. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s still a fun activity to do! 

For some quality pub fare, be sure to stop at the Wildfowler Inn, a former coaching inn.

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Mount Stewart in Co. Down's Ards Peninsula. Photo: Brian Morrison for Tourism Northern Ireland.

Just outside Greyabbey, you’ll find Mount Stewart, once the home of the Marquesses of Londonderry (the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family).

The house and its extensive gardens are now owned and run by the National Trust.

Get Me There

From Belfast:

A 36-minute drive by car.

From Dublin:

A 2-hour, 20-minute journey by car.

Let me know if you’ve been to any of these towns and villages in Ireland in the comments below.

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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