Imagine winding your way through narrow country roads, the smell of salt air whisking around the car, green pastures on either side with the churning sea beyond. The Republic of Ireland (which occupies most of the island) and Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.), are home to some of the world’s most idyllic coastal towns and villages. Some are smaller than others, but all are unarguably picturesque, and offer both delicious local food and drink as well as ample opportunity to explore the stunning countryside and waters surrounding Ireland by way of Blue Flag award-winning beaches.
Our top picks for Ireland’s most beautiful coast towns, below.
The sparkling seaside town of Bangor, located in the Ulster province of Northern Ireland, is the largest marina in all of the country. It’s a perfect place to stop for a seafood dinner (try Nelson’s at the waterfront Marine Court Hotel), and watch the sunset over the picture-perfect harbor. Don’t miss a stroll through the Walled Garden and Ward Park, truly lovely green spaces in the little town.
Both families and surfers will delight at a seaside stay in Lahinch. Situated at the head of Liscannor Bay, this little resort town is bustling with energy, boasting a gorgeous golden beach known around the world as a top surf location. You’ll find a great restaurant and bar scene here, adorable inns, two pristine golf courses, and a beautiful promenade (which features both a pool and a playground, which will make the little ones very happy).
Located on the southeast coast of Ireland, Rosslare takes the cake for being the sunniest spot on the whole island. Come for the unique sand-and-stone beaches and fresh seafood (check out The Lobster Pot Pub and Restaurant), and stay for the Rosslare Golf Club, which is nestled between the Irish Sea and Wexford Harbor.
The little market town of Clifden, snuggled between the Twelve Bens mountains and the vast Atlantic, is located in the western district of Connemara. The town has a laid-back vibe, and is known fondly for the lush surrounding landscape, sandy beaches, charming local pubs, and the nearby Connemara National Park. Opportunities for water activities and hiking abound, and the town hosts several lively heritage festivals annually, like the Traditional Music Festival every April.
With bountiful opportunities for adventure on both land and sea, Westport is one of Ireland’s premier coastal vacation destinations. Whether you come for a pilgrimage hike to the storied peak of Croagh Patrick, you’re interested in posting up on one of the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way beaches, or you’d like to explore Westport’s historical sites (think castles and neolithic monuments), there will be no shortage of discovery on your trip to this bustling and iconic coastal town.
Nestled into the heart of County Cork in the south of Ireland, Clonakilty is known as one of the best resort towns in the country. The town boasts some of the south’s best beaches (both secluded and well-known), like Inchydoney, Long Strand, the Warren, and Duneen Beach. The town lends itself to both families, couples, and solo travelers, and the activities to book are dynamic, like whale watching tours, surf schools, distillery tours, and more more. Clonakilty also happens to be an ideal place from which to take an island excursion to one of the many surrounding islands.
Vibrant green fields kiss the award-winning beaches of Ballybunion in the lush County Kerry, making it one of Ireland’s prettiest destinations, full stop. You’ll have a hard time leaving the stunning stretches of sand, but we suggest you do so to check out the nearby Cliff Path Walk, Ballybunion Castle, play a quick round of golf, and dine at one of the town’s many restaurants (check out Strollers Bistro, for one, which serves up fresh-caught seafood daily).