Off the beaten path Ireland: Unveiling Ireland’s Best-Kept Secrets
Ireland, known for its breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, is a land filled with countless hidden gems waiting to be explored. Beyond the well-trodden tourist paths lie lesser-known destinations that offer a truly authentic and unique Irish experience.
From secluded coastal villages to ancient ruins tucked away in the remote countryside, these off-the-beaten-path Ireland gems beckon adventurous travellers seeking to uncover Ireland’s lesser-explored treasures. In this article, we will unveil some of Ireland’s best-kept secrets, taking you on a journey to discover the country’s hidden gems.
You can explore the regions of Ireland and its off-the-beaten-path destinations on the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Each of these regions has wonderful guides to all the sites in the area and where the hidden Irish gems can be found.
- Off the beaten path Ireland: Unveiling Ireland’s Best-Kept Secrets
- Ireland off the beaten path: 47 hidden secrets of Ireland
- Off the Beaten Path: Donegal the Forgotten County
- County Sligo: Yeats County
- County Clare: Banner County
- County Galway: The Hooker County
- County Kerry: Kingdom County
- County Cork: The Rebel County
- Choctaw Ireland statue
- Tipperary: The Premier County
- County Wicklow: The Garden County
- Waterford County: The Crystal County
- Wexford County: The Model County
Ireland off the beaten path: 47 hidden secrets of Ireland
Off the Beaten Path: Donegal the Forgotten County
Since Donegal is where I live I have dozens of sites that are off the beaten path when Nat Geo named Donegal the coolest place in the world tourism has certainly grown in the area but there are still hidden gems to find.
Slieve League Cliffs: Awe-Inspiring Beauty
Often overshadowed by the famous Cliffs of Moher, the Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal offer a breathtaking alternative. These towering cliffs, among the highest sea cliffs in Europe, provide a dramatic backdrop for nature enthusiasts and photographers. Far less crowded than their counterparts, the Slieve League Cliffs offer an opportunity to connect with the raw beauty of Ireland’s untamed coastline.
Just outside Ardara are the Maghera Caves and the gorgeous waterfall Eas a’ Rance (Assaranca). The road is quite a long way in but keeps going and eventually, you will spot the waterfall. The waterfall is incredibly powerful during the rainy times (which is quite often in Donegal) and folks do swim at the base of it.
Cruit Island is one of the main islands of the Rosses, now joined to the mainland near Kincasslagh. Cruit is one of only two inhabited islands in the Rosses, the other being Arranmore, and Cruit is connected to the mainland at Belcruit by a bridge built at the time of World War II.
Muckross Head is in South West Donegal just two km from the village of Kilcar (where Sarah Jessica Parker and her family live). It is a short drive from Killybegs and the views from here are spectacular.
Muckross Head is a firm favourite with rock climbers as it has an unusual crag of horizontally bedded limestone that has produced overhangs that rock climbers love.
Muckross Head has two beaches one of which has a viscous riptide that comes in from both sides but the surfers love the beach. Trá bán or White Beach is a great safe beach for swimming with the kids.
St. John’s Point
St. John’s Point is a favourite fishing and diving location near Donegal Town. St. John’s Point is a secluded point with a soft sand beach known as Coral Beach. To get to the lighthouse you can drive through the gate that says private property down to the parking lot, from here you can walk down to the diving point.
Dunkineely is a typical Irish village with its small shops and at the edge of the village on the Killybegs side, there is an old church and graveyard at Killaghtee. In the graveyard, there is the Killaghtee Cross which is one of the oldest Celtic crosses in Ireland, dating from 650 AD.
It is believed to mark the grave of Saint Aédh who was an early Irish Christian Bishop and reputed miracle worker. It is said that he is descended from the Celtic High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Inishowen Ireland is a hidden gem, and offers a captivating blend of untamed beauty and cultural treasures, making it an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic Irish experience. From the majestic cliffs of Malin Head to the ancient fortresses and picturesque beaches, Inishowen has something for everyone. Make sure you visit the Doagh Famine Village and explore the history of this region in hard times.
County Sligo: Yeats County
Sligo County is best known for Benbulben Mountain and the place where WB Yeats is buried.
The island of Inishmurray is located 6km off the coast of Sligo it is quite remote and can be difficult to access but it is truly one of Ireland’s hidden gems.
The history of the island dates back to the 6th century when a Christian Monastery was founded – the remains of which are still relatively intact today. In 1588 when three ships of the Spanish Armada were wrecked off the coast of Sligo, the monastery was still inhabited by Monks. The Island remained inhabited up until the 1940s.
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
This is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland and is also among the country’s oldest, with monuments ranging from five thousand to five thousand eight hundred years old. Archaeologists have recorded over 60 tombs of which 30 are visible. A restored cottage houses an exhibition relating to the site.
County Mayo: The Maritime County
County Mayo in Ireland is known for its rugged landscapes, stunning coastline, and rich history. While popular attractions like Croagh Patrick, Westport and Achill Island draw many visitors, there are also hidden gems in County Mayo that offer unique and off-the-beaten-path experiences. Here are some suggestions.
The Céide Fields
The Céide Fields in North Mayo will certainly give you a unique experience. The Céide Fields are the oldest known field systems in the world, over five and a half millennia old. The remains of stone field walls, houses and megalithic tombs are preserved beneath a blanket of peat over several square miles.
Take a ferry to Clare Island, located off the west coast of Mayo. This peaceful island offers scenic walks, ancient ruins, and beautiful beaches. Visit the historic Clare Island Abbey, hike to the summit of Knockmore for stunning views, and immerse yourself in the island’s rich history and natural beauty.
Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park
Discover the wilderness of Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, one of Ireland’s newest national parks and Dark Sky Reserves. This remote and untamed landscape is characterized by vast blanket bogs, mountains, and forests. Explore the park’s walking trails, spot rare wildlife and bird species, and experience the tranquillity of this hidden gem. Nephin is also an absolutely stunning place to go camping in Ireland.
County Clare: Banner County
Venture through the seaside towns in County Clare from Doolin to Kilkee and Lisdoonvarna. Hike hidden trails through stunning landscapes, marvel at the Cliffs of Moher and cruise the majestic Shannon at Killaloe. Enjoy traditional music, legendary pubs, Bunratty Castle and famous restaurants with menus sourced from nearby farms.
Located in County Clare, the Burren is a unique landscape that is often described as otherworldly. The area is made up of limestone pavements that have been eroded by glaciers, creating a series of striking rock formations.
The Burren is also home to an incredible array of flora and fauna, including rare wildflowers, birds of prey, and even a colony of feral goats.
The Loop Head Drive; is a scenic road trip with great photo stops and a limited few other travellers. Watch the waves for dolphins and whales and be sure to stop at the lighthouse and Carrigaholt Castle.
Take a drive or cycle along Flaggy Shore, a picturesque stretch of coastline near New Quay. This area is known for its stunning views, rugged cliffs, and pebble beaches. Admire the ever-changing colours of the sea and immerse yourself in the peaceful atmosphere.
Discover the ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic portal tomb located in the heart of the Burren. This iconic monument dates back over 5,000 years and offers a glimpse into Ireland’s prehistoric past. The mystical setting and the surrounding karst landscape make it a must-visit hidden gem.
Take a short ferry ride to Scattery Island, situated in the Shannon Estuary. This uninhabited island is home to a monastic settlement with well-preserved ruins, including a round tower and church. Explore the island’s rich history, enjoy scenic walks, and spot diverse birdlife.
Kilkee Cliff Walk
Embark on the Kilkee Cliff Walk, a lesser-known coastal trail offering breathtaking views of Kilkee’s cliffs, sea stacks, and natural rock formations. The trail takes you along the rugged coastline, providing stunning vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the opportunity to spot wildlife such as dolphins and seals.
County Galway: The Hooker County
By the way, a hooker is a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay. Well, what can you say about Galway this is the place that every tourist wants to head to and there’s a reason for that. Galway City is the best place to base yourself and then you are free to wander the pubs listen to some traditional music, shop and move out of town when you want to explore the highlights of the County from Kylemore Abbey to Galway City.
Connemara National Park
Explore the breathtaking Connemara National Park, located a short drive from Galway. This rugged and scenic landscape encompasses mountains, bogs, woodlands, and lakes. Take a hike through the park’s trails, go clamping, visit the Visitor Centre to learn about the area’s flora and fauna, and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of this hidden gem.
A Fjord cruise takes only 90 minutes and you can even have lunch on the boat if you want. It is one of three glacial fjords that exist in Ireland and you can see dolphins sometimes swimming around the boat. After that, you can go straight to Kylemore Abbey. The cost of the cruise is €20 per adult and it is an absolutely stunning way to spend 90 minutes.
Discover the beauty of Coole Park, a nature reserve located near Gort. This serene parkland was once the home of Lady Augusta Gregory, a prominent figure in the Irish Literary Revival. Explore the tranquil walking trails, admire the ancient trees, and visit the Autograph Tree, which is inscribed with the names of famous writers who frequented the park.
Escape to Brigit’s Garden, a peaceful and enchanting oasis located near Rosscahill. This beautiful Celtic and Fairy-themed garden offers serene walking trails, themed gardens, and ancient ring forts. Immerse yourself in the tranquillity of the natural surroundings, learn about Celtic mythology, and enjoy the seasonal events and workshops hosted in the garden.
County Kerry: Kingdom County
My absolute favourite place to stay in Kerry is charming Killarney. From here you can explore the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle peninsula and take a boat trip out to the Skelligs from Port Macgee and explore the Killarney National Park. Don’t forget to take a jaunting cart around the Ring but if you drive it go counterclockwise so you don’t get stuck behind a bus.
Valentia Island is a picturesque island that offers magnificent coastal walks, historic sites like the Valentia Island Slate Quarry, and the chance to witness stunning sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.
Escape the crowds and head to Derrynane Beach, tucked away in a remote corner of the Ring of Kerry. This unspoiled stretch of golden sand and crystal-clear waters is surrounded by lush greenery, making it a paradise for nature lovers and beach enthusiasts.
County Cork: The Rebel County
Cork is high on everyone’s list and of course, a visit to Cobh where the Titanic left on its fateful voyage is a must-do. I wouldn’t stay in Cobh though as it is a very short drive from Cork. Cork is a really vibrant town with lots of trad music pubs and a great foodie scene.
Ring of Beara
The Ring of Beara is a stunning circular drive in southwestern Ireland, lesser-known than the Ring of Kerry just to the south. The trail around the Beara peninsula begins in Kenmare and takes in some beautiful panoramic views.
At the end of the Beara Peninsula is Dursey Island & Ireland’s only cable car, which connects Dursey Island (County Cork) to the mainland. You can visit the Island via cable car and you can find the opening times of Dursey Island Cable Car here.
Choctaw Ireland statue
A beautiful memorial sculpture was commissioned in 2014 to commemorate this great debt owed to the Choctaw Nation. Alex Pentek, the sculptor has created an incredible piece in the shape of an empty bowl signifying the ‘soup pots’ that were the only food relief given to the Irish during the famine surrounded by Eagle Feathers as a symbol of the Choctaw Nation. The Sculpture can be seen at Bailic Park, in Midleton, Co Cork.
Tipperary: The Premier County
Tipperary Ireland is a must-do when in Ireland. There are many hidden places to visit in Tipperary which sits at the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East and includes some amazing heritage sites such as the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey.
One of the best things to do in Tipperary Ireland is visit an ancient castle and Cahir (which is pronounced as care) is a unique Medieval town with an astoundingly beautiful castle situated on a tiny island in the Suir River.
It was built in the 1100s and is one of the largest castles in Ireland. There isn’t much furniture in the castle but it is a fascinating tour and you can see things like the old portcullis and its mechanism and go up to the higher floors and see out to the town and across the river
One of the most historic places in Tipperary hidden down a little road is the place that sparked the revolution of Irish independence.
“Seventy-eight years ago on a quiet Tipperary roadway, the first nationalist revolt against the British Empire this century was started by a small band of armed men from townlands and villages—Donohill, Solohead and Hollyford—in the vicinity of Tipperary Town. The Soloheadbeg ambush shook British rule in Ireland and sparked a controversy which can be heard to this day.” The memorial is on an unnamed road that is signposted on the road to Limerick.
Legend has it that the devil took a bite out of the mountain during a fight he lost with Saint Patrick and broke off a tooth while doing so, the Rock of Cashel was created. The summit of Devil’s Bit Mountain stands at 478m and you can enjoy views of eight surrounding counties from the top.
Cahir is also home to the Swiss Cottage which was built in the 1800s as a country retreat as the style is known as “Cottage Orne” which really means ornamental. It is believed to have been designed by the famous architect John Nash. The cottage is quite lovely with its thatched roof and climbing flower trellises. It was left to rack and ruin for years but has been renovated and refurbished in the 1980s.
Ahenny High Crosses
A splendid example of early Christian art and craftsmanship, these 8th-century High Crosses are ornately carved with intricate Celtic designs. The base of each cross has carved figures depicting Biblical scenes including Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Adam naming the animals.
Built in the 13th century as a Cistercian Monastery, Hore Abbey practically lies in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel–but unlike the Rock of Cashel, it is both free and uncrowded to visit.
Holy Cross Abbey
Holy Cross Abbey Tipperary is only 15 km away from the Rock of Cashel and it is truly one of Ireland’s hidden gems. It is far less crowded than the Rock and has been a principal place of pilgrimage in Ireland for over 800 years. Holycross Village where the Holy Cross Abbey is found is a tranquil, and picturesque medieval village straddling the River Suir in the middle of County Tipperary.
The name Holy Cross comes from the relic of the ‘true cross’ or ‘holy rood’ that was believed to be gifted to the Abbey by the Plantagenet Queen Eleanor of Aquitane, widow of King John, in return for the monk’s kindness in burying her son who was murdered nearby in 1233.
County Wicklow: The Garden County
County Wicklow on Ireland’s east coast, is known as the “Garden of Ireland.” And with good reason. It’s one of the most beautiful regions in the country, offering rolling mountains, a national park with the Monastic ruin of Glendalough, high waterfalls like the one at Powerscourt that featured in the Vikings TV series, beautiful sandy beaches, and dramatic, untamed scenery.
Escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the tranquil surroundings of Lough Dan. This picturesque lake, nestled in the Wicklow Mountains, offers breathtaking views, peaceful hiking trails, and opportunities for wild camping. It’s an ideal spot to reconnect with nature and enjoy the serenity of the Irish countryside.
Venture into the secluded Glenmalure Valley, one of Ireland’s most remote and unspoiled locations. Surrounded by towering mountains, this hidden gem offers incredible hiking trails, including the challenging ascent of Lugnaquilla, the highest peak in Wicklow. The rugged beauty and solitude of Glenmalure make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Discover the serenity of Blessington Lakes, also known as the Poulaphouca Reservoir. This scenic area offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and lakeside walks. The peaceful surroundings and stunning views of the Wicklow Mountains make it an ideal spot for relaxation and tranquillity.
Waterford County: The Crystal County
Waterford County, located in the southeast of Ireland, is a region that boasts not only a rich history including the Viking triangle, ancient history and folklore but also hidden gems off the beaten path. Here are some suggestions for exploring the lesser-known destinations in Waterford County.
Embark on an adventure in the Comeragh Mountains, a stunning range of rugged peaks and deep glacial valleys. This unspoiled landscape offers breathtaking hikes, tranquil lakes, and cascading waterfalls, such as Mahon Falls. The Comeragh Mountains are a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and provide a peaceful retreat away from the crowds.
Copper Coast Geopark
Discover the beauty of the Copper Coast Geopark, a UNESCO Global Geopark spanning the coastline of Waterford. This hidden gem showcases dramatic cliffs, hidden coves, and fascinating geological formations. Explore the coastal trails, visit quaint villages like Bunmahon and Stradbally, and learn about the area’s rich mining heritage.
Curraghmore House and Gardens
Visit Curraghmore House, a historic mansion set amidst expansive gardens and woodlands. This magnificent estate is the seat of the Waterford family, one of Ireland’s oldest noble families. Take a guided tour of the house, stroll through the beautifully manicured gardens, and discover the hidden treasures that lie within this grand estate.
Wexford County: The Model County
Wexford County, located on the southeast coast of Ireland, offers a range of off the beaten path destinations waiting to be discovered. Here are some suggestions for exploring lesser-known gems in Wexford County:
Journey to the Hook Peninsula, a scenic and historic area that extends into the Irish Sea. Explore the rugged coastline, visit the iconic Hook Lighthouse (one of the oldest operational lighthouses in the world), and discover hidden coves and beaches such as Dollar Bay and Booley Bay. The tranquillity and natural beauty of the Hook Peninsula make it a perfect off-the-beaten-path destination.
Johnstown Castle Estate
Visit the picturesque Johnstown Castle Estate, located near Wexford town. This enchanting estate features a Gothic Revival castle surrounded by beautiful gardens, lakes, and woodlands. Take a leisurely stroll through the peaceful grounds, explore the museum within the castle, and appreciate the idyllic setting of this hidden gem.
Step back in time and explore Tintern Abbey, a stunning medieval Cistercian abbey nestled in the countryside near Saltmills. This atmospheric ruin is surrounded by woodlands and provides a serene and evocative setting. Take a walk along the nearby trails, immerse yourself in the history of the abbey, and enjoy the tranquillity of the surrounding nature.
Irish National Heritage Park
Immerse yourself in Ireland’s rich heritage at the Irish National Heritage Park, located just outside Wexford town. This open-air museum brings Ireland’s past to life with reconstructed historical sites, including prehistoric dwellings, early Christian monastic settlements, and Viking structures. Explore the interactive exhibits, participate in workshops, and gain a deeper understanding of Ireland’s ancient history.
Hook Peninsula and Lighthouse
Set at the edge of the already-offbeat Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, Hook Lighthouse is considered to be one of the oldest operational lighthouses in the world.
Dating back to the 13th century, the lighthouse has been open to the public since 1996 and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding coastline.
While Ireland’s well-known attractions capture the hearts of millions of visitors, the country’s hidden gems offer a distinct and intimate experience of Irish culture, heritage, and natural beauty. From the remote islands of Sligo and their traditional way of life to the culinary delights of Kinsale, each hidden gem provides a unique glimpse into Ireland’s soul. The awe-inspiring Slieve League Cliffs and the tranquil beauty of Ireland’s Dark Sky Reserves present nature’s unspoiled treasures that inspire and rejuvenate the spirit.
Whether you’re an intrepid adventurer, a history buff, or a culinary enthusiast, Ireland is a country that is famous for its stunning landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture. From the bustling cities to the rolling countryside, there is no shortage of off the beaten path things to see and do in this beautiful country.
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