12 Top-Rated Weekend Breaks in Ireland

Written by Alison Abbott and Shandley McMurray
Updated Mar 2, 2023
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The romantic image of Ireland painted with green rolling hills, a rugged coastline, and captivating historic castles in reality lives up to the portrait. You'll find endless great places to visit for a weekend break in Ireland.

Small towns are lined with cobblestones, flowers dot the narrow streets, and beyond every hairpin turn there seems to be a medieval castle.

Cobh, County Cork, Ireland
Cobh, County Cork, Ireland

With a burgeoning culinary scene throughout the country, fisherfolk and farmers contribute tasty ingredients to some of the most memorable dishes appearing on menus. In addition, classic hearty fare, traditional music, and views that are breathtakingly beautiful give Ireland a plethora of getaways in all directions that will satisfy every kind of traveler.

For ideas on where to spend your next Irish getaway, see our list of the top weekend breaks in Ireland.

1. Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin

Irish hospitality comes to life in the capital city of Dublin. This modern urban oasis is wrapped in Irish charm and centuries of history. Choosing a location in the central part of the city allows visitors to walk to many attractions. This includes the famous Book of Kells, housed in The Old Library at Trinity College; Dublin Castle; and the 12th-century Christ Church Cathedral.

The traditional Irish restaurants will satisfy cravings for Irish stew, soda bread, and black pudding. Make no mistake, however, the country is in the midst of a foodie revolution, buzzing with hipster baristas and award-winning farm-to-table establishments taking the culinary world by storm.

Finally, take some time to walk by the River Liffey, flowing through Dublin's city center. As the lifeblood of the capital, it will add an exclamation point to your memories and keep you wanting more. For the rest of your sightseeing, the Dublin Hop-On Hop-Off Bus will allow you to experience 33 of the city's most popular attractions while giving your tired legs a break.

2. Galway City

Colorful houses in Galway
Colorful houses in Galway

Galway has a bit of a rough-and-tumble reputation, but this funky Bohemian city is filled with fun things to do for every type of traveler, making it easy to keep busy during a weekend break. Located on the west of the country's coastline, this medieval city is well known for its lively culture, colorful entertainment venues, and vibrant arts scene.

Check the local calendar, as festivals take place throughout the year and contribute to the carefree vibe of the city. Music is well represented, and the city is at least partially responsible for the renaissance in Ireland's culinary scene. Walking around the city provides plenty of opportunity for photo ops near fragments of the original 12th-century protective wall.

The Galway City Museum is an interesting spot to while away a couple of hours on a particularly rainy day, while the River Corrib serves as a pretty backdrop for photos or a picnic.

Eyre Square is where you'll find shops, restaurants, art displays, and plenty of stone benches to take a load off. You'll find Galway Market on Church Lane. This is a popular spot for tourists and locals to buy fresh produce and hand-made crafts.

3. Tralee

Blennerville Windmill, Tralee Bay
Blennerville Windmill, Tralee Bay

County Kerry offers a great area for a family break. Tucked into one of the many scenic coves on the southwest peninsula, Tralee is a good spot to call home for the weekend. Green space is abundant in the spacious Town Park, and both the Dingle Way and the North Kerry Way offer local hiking trails.

Beaches are an easy drive when the weather cooperates. If you still want to explore more of the outdoors, the Tralee Bay Wetlands Ecology Center offers eco-adventures, an observation tower, and interactive exhibits along with a café.

A great escape during inclement weather is the indoor Aqua Dome Waterworld. Kids will love all the activities, including aqua golf. Finally, a show at the National Folk Theatre of Ireland brings the land's folklore alive with engaging performances.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tralee

Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Tralee, Ireland

4. Cork

Blackrock Castle, Cork
Blackrock Castle, Cork

An extremely walkable and interesting city, Cork is a great place to visit for a weekend break. Uniquely located on an island in the River Lee, the city center offers a wealth of coffee shops for recharging between visits, as well as a wide variety of galleries and museums. As a university city, there is a youthful vibe reflected in the music and festivals.

For a great view of the city, make sure to climb the steeple of St. Anne's Church. Visitors can ring the bell, or even play a tune.

The English Market is an enclosed treasure of local produce and artisan goods, a great spot to pick up souvenirs of your trip. Partake in a little retail therapy along St. Patrick's Street, the city's main shopping hub.

Looking for a little nature to round out your city visit? Fitzgerald Park is a wonderful place to breathe in a bit of fresh air and soak up some very pretty scenery just slightly outside Cork. A skate park, water lily pond, and café are also on-site, making it easy to spend a day here.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cork

5. Sligo

Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo
Mullaghmore Head, County Sligo

As one of Ireland's top surfing centers, Sligo attracts water adventurers ready for wet suits, lessons, and waves. Not a surfer? No worries. Wide, sandy beaches make for great walking destinations for those more comfortable on shore.

The city, located on the island's northwest coast and about 217 kilometers from Dublin, has made a name for itself as a seaweed capital. Spas and restaurants feature the unique (and quite salty) item on their menus in creative ways.

The Model, a contemporary arts center featuring the work of Jack Butler Yeats and additional Irish artists, along with music performances and cinema, will impress art lovers. Their inventive café features local ingredients with a Mexican twist.

Families will enjoy the nearby fairy gardens at Gillighan's World and a water park called Waterpoint.

Its coastal location isn't the only thing Sligo has going for it—the rugged countryside is a highlight for many hikers, walkers, and photographers. This pastoral landscape is also home to the medieval ruins of abbeys, tombs, and churches sprinkled with waterfalls and lakes.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sligo

6. Waterford

Traditional Irish thatched cottage, County Waterford
Traditional Irish thatched cottage, County Waterford

Waterford might be best known for its luxe cut-glass crystal, but there are many additional highlights in Ireland's oldest city.

Founded by Vikings in the 9th century, the southeast port is a cornerstone of Ireland's Ancient East. Visitors can tour the Viking Triangle, a peninsula made up of small, narrow streets. Parts of ancient medieval walls still stand as pieces of living history immortalized in the millions of photos taken by tourists.

To dig a bit deeper, make sure to visit Bishops Palace, the artifact-filled Medieval Museum, and a 12-meter longboat ship replica. After conquering the Viking Triangle, make a stop at the House of Waterford Crystal, located near the historic district. Visitors can wander around the factory and see how the glass is designed and made. We highly suggest booking the factory tour before you go.

Curraghmore House & Gardens lies 30 minutes outside the city. A lavish estate with spectacular gardens, this should be a must-stop on every traveler's itinerary.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Waterford

7. Killarney

Ross Castle, Killarney
Ross Castle, Killarney

The terrain around Killarney makes the area a great weekend escape for adventure seekers. Located near the coast in southwest Ireland, this captivating spot is home to various hiking and cycle trails offering something for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels of fitness.

Killarney's most famous, and highly visited, attraction is the aptly named Killarney National Park. A 26,000-acre natural wonderland, this is where you'll find some of Mother Nature's most precious and ruggedly beautiful gifts—like the McGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Range, Torc Waterfall, and the spectacular Killarney Lakes. Strap on your hiking boots, pack snacks and water, and set off for a day (or three) of adventure in this glorious spot.

For those seeking a bit more of an adrenaline rush, try abseiling, the thrill of sliding down a mountain attached to ropes (a la paratroopers). Some might call it a type of rappelling. Killarney is known for some of the top hotel spas in Ireland; take advantage of a treatment after all the physical activity.

Killarney also provides access to the Ring of Kerry, a massive circular route around the Iveragh Peninsula. This popular drive takes visitors into authentic Ireland—the quaint villages and breathtaking views for which the country is known.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Killarney

8. The Ring of Kerry

Kerry Cliffs along the Ring of Kerry
Kerry Cliffs along the Ring of Kerry

Visiting Ireland without spending time on the Ring of Kerry is like eating macaroni without the cheese. It's just not complete. This spectacular, 179-kilometer route travels past some of the Emerald Isle's most mesmerizing scenery—we're talking vast lakes, majestic mountains, dramatic seascapes, and mysterious woodlands. No wonder it's been deemed one of the best places to visit in Ireland.

Traversing the Iveragh Peninsula, this lengthy loop takes visitors past some of Ireland's most picturesque small towns, like Portmagee, Sneem, Kenmare, Killarney, and Glenbeigh, which offer a lovely glimpse into the region's history alongside charming shops, attractions, cafés, and restaurants.

Boasting 120 hectares, Derrynane House & Park is found just outside the tiny village of Caherdaniel. Visitors are treated to multiple winding trails that lead through sand dunes to the ruins found on Abbey Island, which can be reached by foot at low tide.

The Gap of Dunloe will pique your camera's interest with its breathtaking scenery. On a calm day, the landscape's reflection can be seen on the still surface of the River Loe separating Killarney National Park's Macgillycuddy's Reeks Mountain Range from the Purple and Tomies Mountains.

9. Connemara

Sheep at sunset near Connemara
Sheep at sunset near Connemara

Connemara county lies not far from Galway and allows visitors access to a calm and interesting section of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,600-kilometer route that runs along Ireland's west coast (from Kinsale in the south to Derry in the north). The roads here are less populated, and often drivers will see more sheep than cars.

Hiking in Connemara National Park is a must, and a drive along the rugged coastline is beautiful in its isolation. It spans roughly 2,000 hectares of a captivating landscape that includes towering mountains, undulating heath, magical woodlands, sandy beaches, and mysterious bogs.

Golf, tennis, and trout fishing spots are numerous and offer outdoor enthusiasts a bevy of activities to enjoy.

Kylemore Abbey and its spectacular walled Victorian gardens will have gardeners green with envy. The nearby Killary Adventure Center is a good spot to check out cycling tours in the area.

Connemara is comprised of multiple scenic villages. Clifden, Cashel, Ballynahinch, and Kylemore are particularly inviting.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Connemara

10. Donegal

Malin Head
Malin Head

Sitting at the mouth of the River Eske and backdropped by the Blue Stack Mountains, county Donegal is vast and filled with some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland. Extreme weather can blow in quickly, so be prepared with the proper gear.

A picture-postcard setting introduces some extraordinary beaches, like Culdaff Beach. Dramatic cliffs and rolling hills seem to continue forever into the distance. The Wild Atlantic Way is very dramatic for this stretch of driving.

Be sure to leave time to stop and enjoy the views and small towns that dot the path to Donegal. While you are here, visit Glenveagh National Park and the castle or Malin Head, the Northernmost point of Ireland. Here you can walk, fish, swim, or just take in the local wildlife.

Hikers will want to make sure to cover a piece of the International Appalachian Trail, which just happens to end at the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal. After all, how many people can say they have walked a trail that starts in the US and ends in Ireland?

If you are visiting Ireland in winter, Donegal is a good place to see the northern lights.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Donegal

11. Wicklow

Powerscourt Estate
Powerscourt Estate

Wicklow is a great spot to experience the many faces of Ireland during a weekend break. Outdoor adventure is at your feet with hiking; discover both the isolated Glenmacnass and Powerscourt waterfalls. Often nicknamed the Garden of Ireland, Wicklow is home to Mt. Usher Gardens and the area's most visited attraction, Powerscourt Estate. For a taste of the famous woolens, stop at Ireland's oldest active mill and see the artisans weaving at Avoca Handweavers.

Surrounded by two lakes, the ruins of Glendalough Monastic site are one of the most important in Ireland. Take in the solace St. Kevin found so appealing when he founded the monastery in the 6th century. The area is also known for its range of organic restaurants featuring local ingredients on creative menus.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wicklow

12. Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny has a reputation as a top weekend break escape, and with good reason. The abundance of activities and historic sights provide something for every type of visitor. The landmark Kilkenny Castle is one of the top attractions.

History buffs can visit St. Canice's Cathedral and the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey. Artisans at Nicholas Moses pottery produce excellent crafts. The deer park at Jenkinstown, as well as the Woodstock Gardens and Arboretum near Inistioge, deliver green refuge and outdoor space.

Kids of all ages can zipline, learn archery, or test their balance at the Tree Top Adventure Walk during a visit to the Castlecomer Discovery Park, a favorite of families. All this, along with numerous festivals and delicious eateries, can be found in this 12th-century city, about 120 kilometers from Dublin.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kilkenny

Map of Weekend Breaks in Ireland

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Castles and Fishing: If a rod and reel are part of your weekend gear, look to these top fishing spots around Ireland for inspiration. And if you really want to set your sites on castles, see our article on the Top Castles in Ireland.