I’m sure you know already that there’s more to Ireland than its capital Dublin.

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a city at night 7 historical attractions in Dublin
An aerial view of Dublin at night. Photo: MediaProduction for Getty Images Signature.

While there’s plenty to see there, most people who visit Ireland are happy to spend a couple of days in Dublin and then head to the countryside, either in a rental car or by public transportation.

Even though it’s a small country, Ireland has a diversity of sights and scenery for the visitor to see.

Malin Head in Co. Donegal along the Wild Atlantic Way. Photo: Chris Hill for Tourism Ireland.

From the sunny southeast to the rugged northwest, Ireland is a country worth exploring.

There are 4 official provinces on the island of Ireland.

They include Ulster, which incorporates much of Northern Ireland – technically part of the United Kingdom – as well as Connacht in the western half of the country, Munster in the south, and Leinster in the east.

map of Ireland
Photo: Kucele for Getty Images Pro.

The origins of these provinces can be traced back to Medieval times when Ireland was divided into several kingdoms, which were in turn divided into smaller entities.

However, from a tourism perspective, Ireland is now divided into broader regions that include the following:

The Southwest Region

This includes Counties Cork and Kerry, both of which are high on the list of destinations for most newcomers to Ireland.

the ocean and green fields exploring the Dingle Peninsula
A Dingle Peninsula sunset. Photo: Mustang_79 for Getty Images Pro.

Some of the region’s most popular attractions include the Ring of Kerry, The Dingle Peninsula, Skellig Michael, The Beara Peninsula, and Blarney Castle, among others.

The Shannon Region

This covers Counties Clare and Limerick. Clare is by far the more popular county, given its claim to the popular Cliffs of Moher, the Burren region, and Bunratty Castle.

The UNESCO Global Geopark in County Clare. Photo: Brian Morrison. Copyright: Clare County Council.

Limerick has its own charm, with The Hunt Museum in the city and Adare, the prettiest village in Ireland among its popular attractions.

The Southeast Region

Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, and Wexford make up this region, which is otherwise known as The Sunny Southeast because it gets more sunshine, and it is generally drier than other parts of Ireland.

The infamous Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. Photo: Tourism Ireland.

The highlights for tourists in these counties include the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary, the Viking Triangle, part of the Waterford Treasures in Waterford City, along with tours of the world-famous Waterford Crystal, Kilkenny Castle, the bucolic countryside of Carlow, along with its many historical and archaeological attractions, in addition to Wexford’s Hook Head Peninsula.

The West

Expect rugged scenery in this region, which is home to Counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

The Aran Islands are by the far the most popular attraction off the County Galway coast, in addition to Galway City itself, as well as Connemara, where Clifden and Kylemore Abbey are highlights.

a sea stack Ireland's must-see attractions
Downpatrick Head in North Mayo along the Wild Atlantic Way. Photo courtesy of Daniel Struk for Getty Images.

The sea stack known as Downpatrick in County Mayo is a sight to be seen, and The Ceide Fields in rural Mayo are a reminder of Ireland’s distant past. Croagh Patrick is another popular attraction near Westport, and Roscommon is proud to call The National Famine Museum its own, as well as the popular Lough Key Forest Park.

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The Mideast Region

This area of Ireland includes Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow. It is home to one of the largest Palladian-style mansions in Ireland, notably Castletown House in Kildare, as well as Ireland’s most treasured archaeological attraction, Newgrange.

The Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. Photo: Sonder Visuals, Failte Ireland.

Wicklow is a county known for its beautiful gardens of which the Powerscourt Estate, House & Gardens is the most famous, as well as the ancient monastic site of Glendalough.

In Louth, expect to explore the Boyne Valley, which includes attractions like the medieval town of Carlingford, the Battle of the Boyne historic site and Mellifont Abbey.

The Midlands Region

This area consists of Laois (pronounced “leash”), Longford, Offaly, and Westmeath.

Expect to see plenty of lakes, waterways, and canals, including Ireland’s longest river, The Shannon.

Photo: Liam Murphy, Failte Ireland.

Some of the popular attractions in this region include the Rock of Dunamase in Laois, the Corlea Visitor Trackway, a piece of ancient Iron Age roadway in County Longford, the beautiful monastic site of Clonmacnoise in Offaly, and plenty of castles and historic houses in Westmeath, including Tullynally Castle and Belvedere House Gardens and Park.


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The Northwest

Comprising of Counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo, this is a region known for its small villages, rugged coastline, mountains and scenic walkways.

stones in a field regions of Ireland
Trails and walks at the Cavan Burren Park. Photo: Brian Morrison, Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland.

Cavan is home to its own Burren region, while over on the west coast Donegal has beautiful beaches that make it one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country.

Sligo is known as Yeats Country and there are plenty of reminders of the famous poet, including Lissadell House and his final resting place at Drumcliff, as well as a new Yeats Trail.

a large mound of stones in a field regions of Ireland
Carrowkeel, an ancient burial site in Co. Sligo. Photo courtesy of Carrowkeel Megalithic Complex.

Sligo has a rich archaeological history, too, and you’ll find that in places like the Carrowkeel megalithic complex. In Leitrim, there’s the opportunity to explore that county’s blueways, and in Monaghan, you’ll find the beautiful Carrickmacross Lace Visitor Centre.

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Northern Ireland

While technically part of the U.K., it is quite easy to cross over to Northern Ireland from the Republic. Lots to explore in this region, including the beautiful Coastal Causeway route, which is primarily in Antrim and Derry.

Some of the more popular attractions along that route include The Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Belfast has its own charm too, with Titanic Belfast being its most popular attraction.

In Derry, you can see where the popular TV series Derry Girls was filmed but more importantly, learn about that city’s rich history as you walk along its historic walls and later see the impact of The Troubles on Derry in the Bogside areas.

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A view of the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

The Mountains of Mourne are another beautiful area to explore in Northern Ireland, and in this region, you’ll find Downpatrick where Saint Patrick founded his first church on the island of Ireland.

Getting Around the Various Regions of Ireland

Getting around the regions of Ireland can be accomplished by public transportation or rental car. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but if you want to explore Ireland at your pace, renting a car is probably the best way to do it.

Public transportation will get you to many places, but it takes a great deal of planning. However, it is doable if you have the time and the patience to put into it.

Ireland By Train

a train regions of Ireland
Photo courtesy of Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail Facebook.

The main hub is Dublin, and it is where I suggest everyone start if they are thinking of traveling around Ireland by train. Book your tickets on Irish Rail.

Ireland By Bus

a bus regions of Ireland
Photo: Creative Commons.

You can hop on a bus anywhere in Ireland. The main provider is Bus Eireann, but there are private bus companies providing transportation to specific areas of the country too.

For more information, read the guide to transportation in Ireland.