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Top-rated cities in Ireland you can visit on the same trip

Dec 20, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

From cozy pubs playing live trad (short for “traditional music”) to landscapes that inspired the nickname “the Emerald Isle,” Ireland’s mix of rich culture, scenic countryside, and friendly locals make this small country a feast for the senses. Whether it’s your first or fourth time on one of our Ireland tours, you’ll find a never-ending amount of things to see and do—like stopping in an off-the-beaten-path village, checking out stunning seascapes and natural wonders, and toasting with a pint of Guinness alongside welcoming Dubliners.

Wondering what are the best cities to visit in Ireland? Dublin is a great place to start, but there are others you should add to your list. And don’t think it’s too daunting a feat to check them off all in one go. When you join us on our Grand Tour of Ireland, you’ll spin around all the best cities in the country, and you can even tack on an extension to Glasgow and Edinburgh if you’re not ready for it to end. “It truly was a ‘grand tour’ of Ireland. We saw so much and LEARNED so much about the history of the island,” said traveler Nancy after returning from the tour. Join us as we take you through seven top cities you’ll visit all on one tour—from Dublin to Derry and the countryside in between.

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1. Dublin

Dublin is one of the most popular cities in Ireland, and you’ll spend a good chunk of time here on our Grand Tour of Ireland. Get acquainted with some guided sightseeing through highlights like Phoenix Park, the Guinness Brewery, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Your morning walking tour ends at The Temple Bar, an Irish music pub that dates back to 1840. Sure, it’s on every Ireland Travel Guide, but for good reason: It’s where you’ll find the biggest collection of whiskies in the country and the largest selection of pub sandwiches anywhere in the world (or so they claim).

Its namesake street is also the heart of Dublin’s nightlife, so you can use it as a landing point before strolling the surrounding cobbled lanes, popping into other pubs for a pint and meeting notoriously friendly Dubliners. What’s more? The Temple Bar is conveniently located near the historic George’s Street Arcade, one of Europe’s oldest city markets. In your free afternoon, you can browse vintage shops or pause for lunch at what’s said to be the city’s best veggie burger bar. Ready to start planning your visit? Check out The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Dublin for everything you need to know about the Irish capital.

Visit Dublin

2. Waterford

This seaport in the country’s southeast may not have been on your radar, but once you start strolling the quays of Ireland’s oldest city, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t visited sooner. Those interested in Viking culture will love the living history lesson: Norse raiders were attracted to this sheltered bay on the River Suir more than 1,100 years ago, eventually helping Waterford become one of the greatest ports in Ireland.

You don’t have to look too far for glimpses of the city’s storied past. On our Grand Tour of Ireland, a local guide will regale you with tales of its start as a Viking settlement as you walk through the Waterford Viking Triangle. Peruse the exhibition tucked inside the thick stone walls of Reginald’s Tower; just out front, there’s a 40-foot replica of a Viking longship. Another can’t-miss: the Waterford Crystal Factory, which you’ll also have the chance to visit while on tour. This is one spot you’ll want to stick around a bit longer to stock up on souvenirs to bring back home. As second-time traveler Kelly said after her trip, “I loved the Waterford Crystal tour, sheep herding demonstration, castles, cathedrals, and nature. It’s fun going with a group of people from all over—we become a group of friends by the end of the tour.”

Visit Waterford

3. Killarney

When you picture Ireland’s rolling green hills, centuries-old stone bridges, and winding countryside roads, you’re probably envisioning the movie set-perfect scenery along the Ring of Kerry. Located on the shores of Lough Leane—and just off this epic driving route—Killarney is one of the best cities to visit in Ireland. Considered the crown jewel of “The Kingdom” of County Kerry, this is a land whose wild natural beauty is punctuated only by the occasional castle or storybook village (and fantastic pubs, of course).

A great base for exploring the area, Killarney is perhaps the most bustling spot to stay in County Kerry: It’s the gateway to Killarney National Park, home to Ireland’s tallest mountain, Carrauntoohil, and Torc Waterfall, a landmark on the multi-stage Kerry Way walking trail. “I enjoyed the itinerary, especially the time spent in the beautiful Irish countryside,” said one traveler after going on one of our Ireland tours. “The Ring of Kerry was definitely the highlight of the trip for me! There were fantastic views, and everything was as green as the pictures always show!”

Visit Killarney

4. Galway

If you had to pick one Irish city to define “teolaí” (the local word for “cozy”), it would be Galway. Spending 48 hours in Galway adds to the charm factor on our Grand Tour of Ireland. You’ll head north after cruising the Ring of Kerry and pause at some of Ireland’s most iconic sites. Walk along the coastline of the impressive Cliffs of Moher, which have inspired artists and musicians for generations, before passing through the wildflower-laden limestone landscapes of the Burren. Once you reach Galway, check out the city’s main attractions—like Lynch’s Castle and Galway Cathedral—or stroll around the still-standing medieval walls and Spanish Arch, which once housed soldiers keeping watch.

Traditional Irish music is found in nearly every corner of the city, but if you want to take in a full performance (by world-champion step-dancers, no less), book an optional three-course dinner with a show choreographed to Gaelic tunes. For something more regal, feast like royalty in a nearby castle, where you can sip from a goblet of mead before sitting down for an evening of stories and songs. “From Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral to the Cliffs of Moher to the delicious dinner we had in Galway—and everything in between—the tour was fantastic and memorable,” said first-time traveler Lisa, who went on one of our Ireland tours with her adult children and their partners.

Visit Galway

5. Sligo

Irish poet William Butler Yeats declared the coastal town of Sligo “the land of heart’s desire”—and it’s not hard to see why. The sheer slopes of Benbulbin are reminiscent of Cape Town’s Table Mountain; the waterfront is as scenic as the French city of Strasbourg; and stone cairns suspended over the sea have become folkloric legends. It’s no wonder this landscape inspired the writer, and has served as a backdrop in TV series like the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s book Normal People.

Snap photos of some of the natural beauties Yeats mentioned, like the Glencar Waterfall and the uninhabited island in Lough Gill, which inspired his most famous poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Set right along the Wild Atlantic Way driving route, Sligo is one of the few cities in Ireland where you can hit the waves. Head to one of the popular surf spots between Strandhill in the south and Mullaghmore in the north, or soak up culture another way—by visiting historic sites like Temple House, a Georgian manor overlooking a 13th-century lakeside castle of the Knights Templar. “My mother grew up in Belfast, and so I have been lucky enough to travel to Ireland many times throughout my life. But every time I return, I see more than I did before and fall in love once again with its rolling hills and never-ending green,” said third-time traveler Sharon Elaine about one of our Ireland tours. “We decided to take a tour to experience much of Ireland that was unknown to both of us, and it was a total blast.”

Visit Sligo

6. Derry

Northern Ireland’s second-largest city is steeped in history, and surrounded by it, too. Derry’s walls—which have never been breached, earning the settlement the nickname “The Maiden City”—date back more than 400 years and tower nearly 20 feet high and wide. Exploring the mile-long oval, you’ll take in the usual 17th-century sites (bastions, watchtowers, and gates), plus a newer addition: the Walled City Brewery, where you can post up with a craft brew in its taproom. “The Northern Ireland tour part was sobering, but well worth it,” said traveler Deborah of our Grand Tour of Ireland. “The tour guides explained with great compassion and care what the Troubles were all about so we could appreciate their struggles and sacrifices. I came away with a deeper appreciation of these hardy, skillful, and resourceful folks, and the beautiful land they inhabit.”

Take in some of the city’s striking street art or head to the Craft Village, a reconstructed 18th-century street with craft stalls, coffee shops, and restaurants that often hosts art exhibitions and theater performances. If your visit falls around the end of October, you’re in for a treat: The town throws one of the largest Halloween celebrations in Europe, dubbed Derry Halloween.

Visit Derry

7. Belfast

The main draw to Northern Ireland’s political and cultural capital is Titanic Belfast, built on the site of the Harland & Wolff shipyard where the legendary vessel was built. Interactive galleries trace the ship’s history and include everything from artifacts like a frozen-in-time pocket watch to cabin recreations. But don’t call it quits just yet: After checking off the Titanic exhibition, visit some of the cutting-edge galleries in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, try one of the hip new pop-up restaurants, or hike up Cave Hill for a panoramic shot of the city. On our Grand Tour of Ireland, you’ll get a local’s perspective on Belfast’s history, from its origins in the Bronze Age to its role as an international seaport and its struggles during the sectarian conflict of the Troubles. During a free day, take an optional excursion to the Giant’s Causeway—one of the best things to do in Northern Ireland—where you can walk on 60-million-year-old hexagonal basalt columns which, legend goes, mythical giant Finn McCool built to cross the sea to Scotland.

Visit Belfast

Ready to start planning your trip to the Emerald Isle? Shop our Ireland tours now.

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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