Last Updated on October 13, 2023
Planning a trip to Ireland? Let me help you! I have just gotten back from an epic vacation in Ireland and share below my top recommendations for the best places to visit in the south of the country.
I’ve added a blend of well-known destinations you simply can’t miss as well as hidden gems and alternatives, so you can pick and choose where you want to visit and get a good overview of what this area has to offer.
If it’s your first time trip to Ireland, I’d recommend you pack layers and be ready for all weather, no matter what time of the year you go – a good raincoat and sturdy shoes are a must!
Also, renting a car will make your trip much easier as many places can’t be visited via public transportation. If renting a car is not an option, you could base yourself in Galway, Killarney, then Cork, and take day tours from there.
Without further ado let’s dive into the best places to visit in Southern Ireland.
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
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Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
One of the most visited sites in Ireland, the majestic Cliffs of Moher are a must-visit in Southern Ireland! There are several ways to see the cliffs, either from above or from below.
Taking a cruise to see the cliffs is one of the most relaxing ways to visit. Departing from Doolin, the cruises last for around an hour, with multiple daily departures. They follow along the coastline providing great views from different vantage points. The ferries run from April to October.
Another option is to hike along the cliffs. The Doolin Cliff Walk is considered one of the most scenic trails in Ireland, running over 10 miles (15 kilometers) from Doolin to Hags Head, with the visitor center more or less in the middle. You can choose to hike all or part of it.
If you head straight to the visitor center (where most tours take you), you can see the cliffs from there without having to walk too much.
Burren National Park, Co. Clare
One of my favorite places in Ireland, the Burren is a land like no other, featuring incredible landscapes and awesome opportunities for hiking. Head to the national park for the best views.
The start of most hikes is at the “Gortlecka Crossroads” where you can park and see the map of trails with length, duration, and difficulty level. I did the Blue Trail, which offers the best views but is quite challenging (still doable if you take breaks). It took us around 3 hours back and forth (it’s a loop).
There are also a couple of easier and shorter trails you can hike if you want something more laid back.
There’s nothing there, so pack enough water and snacks. The park’s Visitor Center is located in Corofin, during the summer months they offer a free park-and-ride service as parking space is limited at the trailheads.
Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry
With a plethora of hidden gems and popular sights, the Dingle Peninsula is one of the best places to visit in Southern Ireland. It’s best visited as a road trip but you can also spend some time in the charming seaside town of Dingle and go on a couple of hikes from there.
The Tralee to Dingle Walk, also known as the Dingle Way, is a popular multi-day hike you can go on if you’re craving a unique and adventurous experience. The walk takes 8 to 9 days to complete passing by stunning landscapes, archaeological wonders, and quaint villages. You can choose to hike only part of it if you’re short on time.
You can also just drive around, following the coastline, for a day or two. Don’t miss stopping by the beautiful Glanteenassig Forest Park, Fermoyle Beach, the longest beach in the country, and Brandon Point.
Make sure to also drive by Conor Pass and the Slea Head Drive where you can stop at Cashel Murphy, Dunmore Head, Clogher Strand, and the Gallarus Oratory.
Ring of Kerry, Co. Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is another of Southern Ireland’s top attractions that you simply can’t miss. Same as for the Dingle Peninsula, it’s better to visit it as part of a road trip, otherwise you can hike, bike, or book a tour.
Following the coastline, you’ll be surrounded by dramatic landscapes and stunning scenery with plenty of places to visit in between.
There are a lot of beaches you can stop at, however, I would recommend not missing Kells Bay and Derrynane Beach, from there, you can cross over to Abbey Island (at low tide) and visit the ruins of the 6th-century Ahamore Abbey. Within walking distance of Derrynane, you’ll also find Derrynane House, the former home of Daniel O’Connell, an important figure in Irish history.
Among the many towns you can stop by for a meal or to spend the night, don’t miss Kenmare, Waterville, and Portmagee, all scenic seaside towns. Valentia Island is also a must-visit, from Bray Head you can get a stunning view over the iconic Skellig Islands.
Other must-sees include the Kerry Bog Village Museum, a living history museum depicting a traditional 19th-century Irish village, and the majestic Skellig Ring leading to dramatic cliffs.
Depending on your schedule, you should be able to tour the peninsula in a day, however, you can plan to spend more time there as there are plenty of things to do, especially if you like hiking.
The Kerry Way is a popular multi-day hike in Ireland. It’s a quite challenging hike as the elevation varies a lot, so you need to be prepared. It’s divided into 9 sections so you can also choose to hike only part of it.
If you’re going to book a tour, I would suggest booking one from Killarney this way you can also visit the park the day before or after. This full-day tour from Killarney is a good option – you’ll also find tours from Cork and Limerick. If you can afford it, do book a private tour.
Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry
Technically part of the Ring Of Kerry, Skellig Micheal deserves a part all to itself. From May to September, spend the night in Portmagee and go on a morning cruise to the island.
Fans of Star Wars will recognize it as Luke Skywalker’s Island Sanctuary on the planet Ahch-To – it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It used to be a Gaelic monastery, founded between the 6th and 8th centuries. Today you’ll use the stairs the monks built to reach the top, where you’ll find the ruins of the monastery.
You can either book a tour including some time on the island, or book an eco-tour where you just circle the island and stay on the boat. If you’re planning on visiting the island, book the cruise as soon as you can as the number of daily visitors is limited.
While there, keep an eye out for gannets, puffins, razorbills, and grey seals.
Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry
Surrounded by incredible scenery, I loved just driving around Killarney National Park and making stops to viewpoints and for short hikes. Most people stick to seeing the main highlights, Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle, and Muckross House, but I highly recommend going on longer hikes and exploring the park further.
The town of Killarney is a great base to explore the park from. There, you’ll find accommodations to fit all budgets, supermarkets, and restaurants.
If driving, make sure to take the scenic road, entering the park (or leaving it) from the west, and driving through the iconic Gap of Dunloe.
You can also rent kayaks and explore the park through its lakes and waterways or go on a boat cruise.
Beara Peninsula, Co. Kerry & Co. Cork
One of the wilder and less touristy peninsulas in the south of Ireland, the Beara Peninsula feels like another world. Featuring rugged landscapes, cute villages, and archaeological sights, the peninsula is a must-see. I just loved the remoteness of it, we barely saw anyone there, even on the road.
It took us about half a day to drive it, including stops, but you can definitely plan to spend more time, especially if the weather is nice enough for some beach time or if you like hiking.
Along the way, you can go for a hike at Gleninchaquin Park, see archaeological sites like the Uragh, Derreenataggart, or Ardgroom Stone Circles, and stop for a meal at quaint villages such as Ardgroom, Eyeries, Allihies, or Castletown.
Don’t miss driving the Healy Pass, heading to the tip of the peninsula to take the only cable car in Ireland, and kayaking to a seal colony in Adrigole.
Sheep’s Head, Co. Cork
If the Beara Peninsula feels remote, Sheep’s Head feels like a world apart. The 43-mile (70-km) loop will take you through spectacular landscapes. Make sure to drive all the way to the tip and see the lighthouse and high cliffs.
Mizen Head, Co. Cork
The last peninsula on this list to visit in Southern Ireland, Mizen Head is often overlooked by international tourists but is well-known by locals. Drive all the way to Mizen Head Station and cross the bridge (on foot) trying to spot seals, dolphins, and whales.
From there, you can also hike to the ruins of Dunlough Castle known for its three towers that withstood time.
You can easily visit both Mizen Head and Sheap’s Head within the same day.
If you’re heading to Cork or Kinsale next, you can stop by the 3000-year-old Drombeg Stone Circle, one of the best preserved in the country, take a whale-watching cruise from Baltimore, and go surfing at Inchydoney Beach.
Gougane Barra Forest Park, Co. Cork
The Gougane Barra Forest Park is a popular place to hike among locals looking for an escape from the city. The forest is beautiful and peaceful with several trails for all levels. You can walk through the forest and around the lake or go up the mountains for stunning views.
On your way there, there’s a hotel with a restaurant and a shop if you need something. Once in the park, there’s nothing, just restrooms. Some people park before the entrance to not pay for parking, but then you have to walk for a while before reaching the beginning of the trails.
While I loved hiking there, if you’re short on time, I would say you can skip it. It’s a nice stop if it’s on your way and you have some extra time, but I wouldn’t necessarily say you HAVE to see it.
Kinsale, Co. Cork
Kinsale is a popular coastal town known as Ireland’s culinary capital. It’s a nice place to go for a stroll through the historic streets and, of course, to enjoy a meal. From a Michelin-starred restaurant to unpretentious eateries, you’ll find plenty of options.
You can plan to spend a few days there and just enjoy the laid-back vibes, maybe taking a few day trips to explore the area, or just pass through. A few hours are enough to see everything.
Make sure to tour the Kinsale Museum housed in the 16th-century Town Hall and, a bit outside of town, Charles Fort.
Some people think Kinsale is overrated, and that there are better coastal towns to visit, while it might be true, I still enjoyed walking around, seeing the colorful buildings and paved streets. However, I would say you can skip it if you’re short on time, but it ultimately depends on the type of places you like to visit, it is a charming town after all.
Cork, Co. Cork
Cork is a busy historic city with plenty to offer. Start by strolling around the downtown area, passing by the English Market, the Butter Museum, St Anne Church, University College Cork, and St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
This should take you a couple of hours, but you can also choose to base yourself there for a few days and take day trips from there. It’s also a good option if you don’t have a car, as there are plenty of day tours you can take from Cork.
Cork is known for its potato pies which have nothing to do with what you can imagine, it’s actually breaded and fried mashed potatoes formed into a ball, usually served with French fries. You’ll find the best ones at Jackie Lennox’s, where I discovered that white vinegar on fries is actually quite good.
Nearby, you can tour the Jameson Distillery and sample rare whiskeys in Middleton, there’s also a weekly farmers market held in the town every Saturday morning. People who want to learn more about the Titanic can head to Cobh, its last port of call, where you’ll find 2 museums with exhibits centered on the iconic liner and its sinking.
Blarney Castle, Co. Cork
Not far from Cork, Blarney Castle is one of the best places to visit in Southern Ireland, and kissing the Blarney Stone is a must-do! Try to visit it at opening time, especially if you want to kiss the stone, as the line can get quite long. The stone is believed to grant you the gift of gab if you kiss it.
The castle was entirely rebuilt in the 15th century on the ruins of an older castle. The gardens are definitely worth a stroll – don’t miss the Arboretum with its trees from all over the world and the mysterious Poison Garden.
If you like historic castles and estates, in the area, you can also visit the 16th-century Blackrock Castle, Fota House, known for its painting collection and gardens, and Doneraile Estate.
Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary
One of Ireland’s best-preserved medieval castles, the Rock of Cashel is a must-visit in Southern Ireland. The castle is over 1,000 years old and was a symbol of power for kings and priests for centuries.
Sitting on top of a hill, there are several viewpoints from which you can see the castle, make sure to go to at least one to get a nice overview. There’s one easily reachable on the main road, at the Circle K.
Once inside you can tour the castle on your own or book a guided tour if you want to learn more about its architecture and history. Note that to visit Cormac’s Chapel, one of the highlights of the castle, you’ll need to go with a guide – guided tours have a set schedule so make sure to check it out first.
If you don’t have a car, you can take a bus to the town of Cashel – from there, a 5-minute walk will take you to the castle.
In town, you can also stop by the Cashel Folk Village to learn more about Irish history (visits by appointment only during the off-season), and check out what’s happening at the Brú Ború Heritage Centre.
Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a popular destination in Ireland even for locals, usually looking for a weekend escape. There are plenty of fun things to do while there like taking a brewery tour and tasting at the Smithwick’s Experience or checking out the activities at Castlecomer Discovery Park.
Don’t miss touring the castle too and learning more Irish history at St. Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum. The historic Rothe House & Garden is also worth checking out.
The town’s historic center is an ideal place to go for a stroll, do some shopping, and enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many pubs.
If you’re on a tight schedule, half a day is enough to visit but you can also base yourself here for a few days and visit the surroundings.
Copper Coast Geopark, Co. Waterford
A UNESCO geopark, the Copper Coast in Southern Island is a beautiful place to visit with pretty beaches and dramatic cliffs.
Start with an easy hike to Mahon Falls, then rent a bike at O’Mahonny’s Pub and cycle the Waterford Greenway which follows the coast.
You can take as long as you want, especially during summer, when you might want to spend some time at the beach. Otherwise, you can make it into a short trip and continue on along the southern coast.
Waterford, Co. Waterford
Waterford makes a great base to explore all that the county has to offer. Founded in 914AD by Vikings, the town is the oldest one in Ireland and definitely a must-visit on its own.
Don’t miss the Viking Triangle, Reginald’s Tower, the Medieval Museum, and the Bishop’s Palace.
The town is also known for producing some of the best crystal in the country – head to Waterford Crystal to tour the main factory.
Saltee Islands, Co. Wexford
The Saltee Islands are a paradise for birders with many Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, and Razorbills being spotted frequently, depending on the season.
Take a ferry from Kilmore Quay. Saltee Ferry offers daily departures from April to September. You get around 3.5 hours on the island where you can just stroll around and enjoy the views and abundant wildlife.
Pack a picnic and bring enough water, as the islands are mostly uninhabited.
Be ready to get wet on the boat and to get your feet in the water when disembarking (there is no pier on the island).
Wexford, Co. Wexford
County Wexford is known for its beautiful beaches, historic towns, and its wide array of outdoor activity options. The town of Wexford is a great base, worth a visit as well. Don’t miss the ruins of the 12th-century Selskar Abbey, strolling around the historic district, and catching a show at the National Opera House.
A bit outside of town, don’t miss the Irish National Heritage Park, a living history museum with costumed guides and reenactments. In the opposite direction, the Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens is also worth checking out.
If you like hiking or birding, spend some time at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve before hitting beaches like the famous Curracloe Beach, featured in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, or Rosslare Beach, great for water sports.
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