Rick Stein once marvelled, “Can you believe Ireland has more than 40 shades of green?” as he travelled across the country on an exciting adventure to introduce the audience to the country’s unique and sumptuous cuisine. We believe you, Rick Stein. Ireland’s green landscape is a masterful work of art that we can’t get enough of. Besides the country’s greenery, Ireland has a heart-throbbing history, modernity, cobblestone-lined streets, and majestic historical buildings.
Every traveller has Ireland on their travel bucket list, and those who visited can’t recommend the country enough. We’re here to bring you the best places you can visit on a quick city break to our beloved Ireland.
The Best City Breaks in Ireland
Ireland needs more than just a weekend to roam across its stretching green fields, walk along its naturally-crafted cliffs, and fill your soul with its thriving historical and multicultural scene. However, sometimes a weekend is all you’ve got for a quick getaway from life’s entangled responsibilities. So, here are our recommendations for your refreshing city break in Ireland.
The Irish capital city is entangled with the River Liffey, where bridges, both modern and historical, take you from one riverbank to the other. Dublin has been a settlement for the Gaels since the 7th century when the Vikings took over, followed by the Anglo-Normans and the British Empire. The city’s architectural landscape reflects these intertwining cultures.
To capitalise on your time in Dublin, we recommend staying downtown, where you’ll be a few feet away from notable landmarks. Dublin Castle, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, St Stephen’s Green, the Spire of Dublin, and the famous Temple Bar represent only some of the historical places that will surround you. You can visit the National Museum of Dublin, check out the Book of Kells housed in the Old Library of Dublin’s Trinity College, and you might even run into a gig or art performance as you walk around this UNESCO City of Literature.
There are far more landmarks and interesting spots to explore around Dublin, which is why we recommend you book a Dublin Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour. The tour will take you around Dublin and will allow you enough time to marvel at each of more than 30 visit-worthy spots. For a relaxing time, bistros, bars, and tea gardens decorate the city, and definitely, a walk along the River Liffey for mundane watching is always enjoyable.
Galway City, County Galway
The River Corrib navigates through the Irish lands until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, making its way through Galway City in County Galway. Along the river banks and the ocean’s rugged coast, a cheerful display of colourful buildings stands facing the waters. With a history that dates back to the 12th century, Galway City was once a walled city and a lively port. This medieval city combines subtle modernity with refreshing tradition, where the sound of traditional music drifts to your ears from every corner.
In 2020, Galway City earned the European Capital of Culture title after earning the UNESCO City of Film title in 2014, which reflects the city’s multicultural and artistic landscape. However, the city has been the Irish cultural heart for years due to the number of festivals, art exhibitions, and workshops it hosts every year.
Our Galway City recommendations include checking the city’s main square, Eyre Square, where local restaurants, pubs, and shops dot every corner, a visit to the multi-architectural style Galway Cathedral, and a leisurely walk, the Long Walk, along the city coast. We also highly recommend either checking the local festival calendar before travelling to the city or asking the locals when you get there to surprise yourself with the current festival. The last three spots we believe you should check out are the St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway City Museum, and the Cliffs of Moher.
Cork City, County Cork
The once-walled city of Cork was a monastic settlement in the 6th century on the River Lee, which the Vikings later invaded and expanded to establish an essential Norse port. The city centre straddles the River Lee today, where you can find remnants of the old city along the main streets. There’s an interesting variety of shops, cafés, pubs, and restaurants in the city’s centre, which meets up with the English Market, the historic market from the 18th century.
From our perspective, Cork City’s main advantage is you can get around on foot easily, and the city’s main landmarks aren’t far from each other. We recommend finding some souvenirs at the English Market or heading for some shopping on St Patrick’s Street, followed by some fresh air and relaxation at Fitzgerald Park. The Church of St Anne is Cork City’s main church, an 18th-century church with a magnificent church tower. It is located on a sloping hill, perfect for climbing and getting a full view of the city and the River Lee.
Another spot we know you’ll like is the Red Abbey, a 14th-century medieval abbey made from red sandstone. The sliver of sunshine that appears from behind the abbey enhances its red colour. Architecture around Cork City combines Victorian, Georgian, and modern styles, such as Our Lady’s Psychiatric Hospital—now a housing complex—, the Cork City Hall, and the spooky Women’s Gaol.
Killarney, County Kerry
Killarney Town in County Kerry is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland. The town’s historical, religious, cultural, and modern history continues to draw in tourists from around the globe. Killarney’s heritage has a foundation of religious settlements that date back to the 7th century and stretches forward to the 17th century.
The town is studded with historical, natural, and religious landmarks, including Ross Castle, a 15th-century castle, St Mary’s Cathedral, the town’s church built in the 19th century, and the three Lakes of Killarney, a breathtaking work of nature. Perhaps Killarney’s most visited attraction is its National Park, which includes both Ross Castle and the Lakes of Killarney, alongside flora and fauna unique to the town’s location.
Killarney’s National Park is an as-long-as-you-make-it adventure; you can either take one day to explore a few spots in the park or take your time over several days to wander around. After an adrenaline-filled hike through Killarney’s National Park, a relaxing treatment at one of the local spas is a must. The town is famous for its luxurious and refreshing treatment centres, which will help you unwind and start afresh.
The Ring of Kerry is a main contributor to Killarney’s natural heritage; it’s a 179-kilometre circular route that begins in Killarney and passes through more than five villages before returning back to the town. If time is your alley, driving along the Ring of Kerry is a must during your time in Killarney; the breathtaking lakes, marvellous seascapes, and great mountain ranges along the way will forever be engraved in your heart. You can also take a more suitable route for walking, called the Kerry Way, which offers the same scenic landscape as the Ring of Kerry.
Sligo Town, County Sligo
Boasting and surrounded by historical sites, Sligo Town goes back to prehistoric Ireland. The first building dating back to the establishment of the current Sligo Town is Sligo Castle, a 13th-century medieval castle that no longer exists. Today, Sligo’s landscape combines rural charm, historical buildings, extending sandy beaches, and emerald blueish waves.
Sligo offers you exciting adventures along its streets, alleys, and seashores. If watersports are your preferred time-spending activity, then suit up and hit the daring waves. For a cultural adventure, you can marvel at the ruins of Sligo Abbey or head over to St John the Baptist Cathedral. The nearby Knocknarea Mountain is an ideal spot for hiking and nature exploration.
Outside Ulster Bank in the town stands William Butler Yeats’ statue, which denotes the effect of Sligo on the writer’s and Nobel laureate’s life, as well as his brother’s, Jack Butler Yeats. Sligo’s streets buzz with live music several times throughout the year, with annual music festivals, such as the Sligo Jazz Festival in July and the Festival of Baroque Music at the end of September.
Ireland’s northernmost county possessed some of Ireland’s most powerful Irish rulers in history, the Clann Ó Domhnaill or the O’Donnell dynasty, from the 13th century onward. The county is rich in prehistoric monuments that testify to its ancient roots, such as Grianan of Aileach, a fortress from the Iron Age.
Donegal has the Glenveagh National Park, a nature reserve with lakes and flora that extend as far as your eyes can see, with a grand backdrop of multiple mountains. Among these mountains stands Glenveagh Castle, a 19th-century castle with an interesting Scottish Baronial style of a rectangular keep. The area surrounding the castle is wonderous on its own, with deep woods, glens, and even a flock of red deer.
The county’s landscape boasts lively beaches, welcoming tourists all year round. However, the weather can be unpredictable due to the county’s location, so we recommend you always come prepared with proper clothing. Donegal has a cultural advantage unlike any other Irish county; the county’s dialect resembles Scottish Gaelic and attracts young people from all over Ireland and the world interested in learning the local dialect.
County Wicklow is an in-land county surrounded by its sisters from all sides, except the east, where the Irish Sea gives it a magical seashore. The county is affectionately referred to as the “Garden of Ireland” for its scenic landscape, meadows, trails, historical ruins, and refreshing beaches. County Wicklow’s roots suggest it has a Viking background; the county’s name literally translates to Vikings’ Meadow in Old Norse.
Perhaps Wicklow’s most reputable monument is Glendalough, the 6th-century monastic valley founded by St Kevin. Glendalough has two glens or loughs, where remains of the monastery, churches, St Kevin’s Cell and Bed still stand today. The site is a peaceful nature reserve, surrounded by a wide range of flora and offers many activities. Glendalough is considered one of the holiest spots in Ireland.
On the other part of the county, we see some of Wicklow’s famous filming locations. Ashford Studios hosted much of the hit TV show Vikings, and its spinoff, Vikings: Valhalla as well. Some scenes from Vikings were shot at the majestic Powerscourt Estate, a 13th-century castle, and Powerscourt Waterfall. Into the Badlands and Fate: The Winx Saga were both shot in various locations around County Wicklow.
Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny
Kilkenny roots run back to the powerful medieval Irish Kingdom of Ossory in the 6th century. With the River Nore dividing the city in two, Kilkenny’s landmarks, cultural activities, and tourist attractions stretch on both banks of the river. Additionally, the city has a thriving arts scene, with design and craft workshops dotted here and there and annual music and arts festivals such as Kilkenny Roots Festival and the Kilkenny Arts Festival.
The 12th-century Castle of Kilkenny is the city’s most prominent landmark and stands overlooking the colourful buildings on the River Nore. Religious landmarks fill Kilkenny’s corners; there’s the 13th century Black Abbey, the 18th century St Mary’s Cathedral, and the 13th century St Canice’s Cathedral, just to name a few. Kilkenny also harbours many townhouses, built to serve different purposes, such as the Shee Alms House, a 16th-century shelter for the poor, Rothe House, which was a merchant’s house from the 16th century, and Butler House, the 18th-century Dower House turned into a 4-star hotel.
There’s something exciting that awaits families and children in Kilkenny. The Discovery Park in Castlecomer offers many activities suitable for all the family, such as ziplining and balance-testing games. If you wish to have some quality time surrounded by serene nature, you can head to Woodstock Gardens and Arboretum, which surround the Woodstock House. Although the 18th-century house lies in ruins today, the gardens represent a peaceful escape.
Westport, County Mayo
The heritage town of Westport in County Mayo won a competition by the Irish Times of Ireland’s best towns to live. Westport’s downtown has a magnificent Georgian architectural style, and the banks of the River Carrow Beg are lined with promenades, with stone bridges crossing from one bank to the other. Cathair na Mart, a 16th-century castle, is believed to mark the beginning of Westport, while the current town is believed to date back to the 18th century.
Westport lives true to its heritage, with relaxing scenery, restaurants, pubs, and the town’s proximity to many natural wonders, such as Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick, and Connemara of County Galway. The town’s 18th-century Westport House offers visitors a chance to wander around its gardens and try golfing in either of its two golf courses.
If you wish to soak in the town’s atmosphere, you can plan your visit to any of its renowned festivals. The multi-genre Saltwater Festival in May brings music gigs and artistic and cultural performances. You can also join the walking festival of Croagh Patrick, seen more as a spiritual festival, held every June.
Our time hopping between Ireland’s counties, cities, and towns has come to an end. We’ve tried to pick different locations around the country to bring you unique experiences with each spot, and we hope you’ve enjoyed our picks.