Ireland is officially broken up into three “provinces,” but most tourists do not need to understand that legal breakdown. The country is also split into what are called “counties.” You will no doubt have heard of areas of Ireland referred to in this way, such as “County Clare” or “County Kerry.” Some people will want to make tours of a certain county or group of counties, and those people would do well to familiarize themselves with a map of Ireland’s counties. For the rest of you, knowing which cities or sights you want to see during your trip is probably enough. (For more information about the official counties and regions of Ireland, see the lists below.)
Many of Ireland’s towns are not on any tourist’s to-do list (unless you are hunting for family connections), but there are some cities and towns which almost always appear on the hit parade. Here is a selection of some must-see cities and towns, and a few you might not have heard about, too:
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- Cork – Ireland’s second-largest city, in County Cork. Well-known for its lively nightlife and reasonably peaceful days, as well as good pubs, shopping and a few annual festivals.
- Dingle – Small town in County Kerry, well-known for traditional Irish music and the bottlenose dolphin which has made its home in Dingle Harbour.
- Doolin – Small town in County Clare, Ireland’s unofficial capital of traditional Irish music.
- Dublin – Ireland’s capital and most exciting city, full of great pubs and museums and a lively nightlife.
- Galway – City in County Galway in the west, famous for its plethora of summer festivals dedicated to things like Irish music, food and culture.
- Kilkenny – Medieval city in County Kilkenny, with a cathedral and castle and a good nightlife.
- Kinsale – Small town in County Cork with a reputation for great cuisine.
- Limerick – City in County Limerick with a castle and cathedral, and well-known for rugby.
- Sligo – Town in County Sligo, birthplace to poet W.B. Yeats.
- Waterford – City in County Waterford, boasts the title of “Ireland’s oldest city” and is world-famous for its crystal
There are 26 counties in Ireland, and they are listed below:
These counties are then grouped into regions for official statistical purposes:
- Border – Counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, Sligo
- West – Counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon
- Midland – Counties Laois, Longford, Offaly, Westmeath
- Mid-East – Kildare, Meath, Wicklow,
- Dublin Region – city of Dublin
- South-East – Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford
- South-West – Counties Cork, Kerry
- Mid-West – Counties Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary