Ireland’s coastline covers over 3,000 km and is dotted with idyllic seaside towns where history, natural beauty, and culture collide. Each of these communities has something different to offer, but all contain friendly people who have a deep-seated connection to the land.
It’s hardly surprising that the country’s tourism industry is booming, attracting over 10 million visitors each year. Many of these will flock to the main hubs of Belfast and Dublin, but many more seek out the adventure and authenticity Ireland’s seaside destinations have in spades!
Ireland’s coastline evolved over millions of years, and today’s seaside settlements are steeped in history. The remnants of old volcanoes provide some epic hiking opportunities, while ring forts tell of a time when faeries ruled the land.
Whether you’re looking for a cultural or culinary adventure, want to challenge yourself with an adrenalin-fueled experience, or place yourself at the mercy of the great Atlantic Ocean, the coastal towns of Ireland have it all.
Key Points from This Article:
Ireland’s coastline features many picturesque seaside towns that offer natural beauty, cultural attractions, and exciting activities.
You should book in advance, consider traveling during the off-season, and be prepared to rent a car to explore beyond the beaten path.
Useful tips for when you plan to visit, including when to visit, how to book accommodations and attractions, the benefits of having your own transportation, and the importance of not trying to cram too much into one trip.
How We Chose the Best Seaside Towns in Ireland
With so many picturesque towns to choose from, scenic beauty was only one of the criteria we used to separate the wheat from the chaff, although there are few coastal towns I’d describe as chaff!
There are very few ugly towns on Ireland’s coastline, and many offer breathtaking views of rugged cliffs, rolling hills, and crashing waves. Some enhance this natural beauty with their cultural attractions, while others attract those addicted to adventure and adrenalin.
For some, the ideal seaside town has an abundance of artisanal shops, while others seek out destinations that offer luxury accommodations and tastebud-tantalizing gastronomic delights.
We’ve gone out of our way to find seaside destinations that combine all these elements to create an unforgettable experience for everyone.
The Top 10 Seaside Towns in Ireland
#10 Enniscrone, County Sligo
Situated on the west coast of Ireland, Enniscrone is one of the country’s top family resorts. Its sandy beaches and gentle breaking waves draw in sun lovers and surfers alike, while those seeking a more relaxing experience can indulge themselves at Kilcullen’s Bath House, where seaweed baths are said to restore and heal.
Enniscrone has plenty to offer, including horse rides along the beach, hikes through the rugged hills, stand-up paddle boarding, deep-sea fishing adventures, and a world-renowned golf course.
Accommodation ranges from family-friendly campsites and B&Bs to luxury hotels like the Waterfront House & Restaurant Hotel. The culinary delights of Enniscrone won’t disappoint either, with traditional Irish fare on offer alongside international dishes like curries and biryanis.
#9 Portrush, County Antrim
Portrush has been a popular holiday destination since the Victorian times, with its long sandy beaches, historic buildings, and world-famous golf course.
Nearby attractions include the famous Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the Bushmills distillery, while inside the town of Portrush itself, you’ll find some of the best blue flag beaches in Ireland.
Golf isn’t the only activity Portrush has to offer – you can also explore the waterways via kayak or challenge your balance and bravery at the Portrush Surf School.
For gourmands and epicurists, there are a host of local eateries offering everything from paellas to pizzas. Enjoy a relaxing meal in a traditional Irish pub, or treat yourself to a locally sourced beef roulade at 55 Degrees North Restaurant Bistro Cafe.
Budget accommodation is available in the form of nearby campsites and self-catering cottages dotted around the town, while the Portrush Atlantic Hotel offers luxurious rooms a stone’s throw from the beach.
#8 Clifden, County Galway
The so-called Capital of Connemara is nestled in the shadow of the Twelve Bens mountains, overlooking Clifden Bay, where the Owenglin River flows into the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
The Sky Road is one of the main attractions, providing 20km of breathtaking scenery and taking you past fine, sandy beaches, ancient standing stones, and through the spectacular Inagh Valley.
Clifden itself is a thriving cosmopolitan town where outdoor activities compete with traditional musical and cultural events.
Fishing, sailing, golf, and walking are all popular activities in the town, but many visitors come simply to enjoy the convivial atmosphere and wander through this picturesque market town.
Pop into one of the many cafes or delis for a quick bite, or sample the best local seafood at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The local pubs offer more than just a pint of Guinness, with their live music performances and traditional Irish fare.
#7 Tramore, County Waterford
Tramore is one of the original seaside resorts on the southeast coast and has been a popular family holiday destination since Victoria times.
You can still enjoy traditional seaside fairground rides and indulge your sweet tooth with candyfloss and ice cream, although locals say it’s becoming “much more of an outdoor activity destination.”
You can spend the day learning to surf, galloping along the beach on horseback, or splashing in the Guillamene swimming cove.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can grab a snack from one of the food trucks or enjoy a Waterford Blaa, or white bread roll, at Molly’s Cafe on the seafront.
#6 Carlingford, County Louth
The fishing town of Carlingford is a magical place and one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Ireland.
Standing in the shadow of Slieve Foye mountain, Carlingford is famous for its green-finned oysters and medieval architecture.
Historians can explore the medieval ruins and King John’s Castle has been standing since 1190 and is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
For the more energetic, the Carlingford Adventure Centre offers a range of activities from kayaking to rock climbing, while those seeking some relaxation can head to the Luxe spa for seaweed baths and hot stone massages.
#5 Westport, County Mayo
Westport holds a special place in my heart because of its connection to the Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, but there’s a lot more to it than the historical sites of Rockfleet Castle and Burrishoole Abbey, where O’Malley once lived.
This vibrant, colorful town overlooks the turquoise waters of Clew Bay, while Croagh Patrick provides a breathtaking backdrop.
In the tree-lined streets of Westport, you’ll find historical bridges tucked in between cozy bars offering a selection of traditional Irish music and entertainment.
#4 Skerries, County Dublin
Just outside the bustling city of Dublin, you can escape to a world of natural beauty and ancient history.
The fishing town of Skerries has been providing Dubliners with a coastal retreat for hundreds of years, drawing them in with its long sandy beach and windblown islands.
Ancient windmills dot the skyline, while the Mourne Mountains stand proud on the horizon.
Adrenaline junkies can try their hand at kite surfing, while the less adventurous enjoy a kayak trip along the flat waters of North Beach.
Quench your thirst at one of the numerous bars or cafes, or stop in at the Potager restaurant for a Sunday lunch complete with razor clams and suckling pig.
#3 Dingle, County Kerry
Situated on the Dingle peninsula, this pretty fishing town is a colorful and creative place, full of galleries, artists, fine foods, and artisan shopping experiences.
Its brightly colored buildings nestle in the sheltered calm of the natural harbor, providing locals and visitors with a never-ending flow of gourmet outlets and fine-dining experiences.
Activities include whale watching boat trips, geology trails, watersports, and horse riding activities. If none of that appeals, why not try visiting each of the town’s 52 pubs or sample the fare at one of its many restaurants?
#2 Lahinch, County Clare
The small, friendly town of Lahinch is a busy coastal resort and one of the best seaside destinations in Ireland. The blue flag beach stretches alongside the village and beyond, providing perfect conditions for swimming and fishing.
In recent years, Lahinch has become known as one of the best surfing spots in Ireland due to its strong currents and sizable waves.
The golf course also draws visitors to the area, as do the nearby Cliffs of Moher.
There’s no shortage when it comes to the culinary experience either. Lahinch has everything from casual eateries to fine-dining establishments where you can sample traditional Irish delicacies like pan-fried monkfish and sea trout.
#1 Dunfanaghy, County Donegal
The small town of Dunfanaghy is surrounded by Blue Flag beaches where you can surf, swim, or (if you’re lucky with the weather) just soak up some sunshine.
Nearby historical sites include the mysterious Bridge of Tears, the 16th-century Doe Castle, and the thought-provoking Famine Graveyard, where those who died at the Dunfanaghy Union Workhouse were laid to rest.
Despite its size, Dunfanaghy is home to some top-notch restaurants, including Arnold’s Restaurant, which offers breathtaking views over Sheephaven Bay.
Surfing, rock climbing, and fishing are all popular activities in the area, although many people choose to visit Dunfanaghy during the festival season when singing and dancing is the name of the game.
Other Seaside Towns Worthy of an Honorable Mention
Clonakilty, County Cork
Clonakilty is one of Ireland’s top gourmet destinations and the place to be if you want to sample freshly caught fish or feast on Clonakilty sausages.
Cobh, County Cork
This pretty seaside town was the Titanic’s last destination before it headed off on its disastrous ocean crossing.
Howth, County Dublin
Visit the resident seal colony in Howth and allow yourself to be charmed by the village’s magic, history, and beauty.
Greystones, County Wicklow
This coastal town and seaside resort is home to two Blue Flag beaches, a stunning cliffside walkway, and more eateries and pubs than you can shake a stick at.
Portmagee, County Kerry
Portmagee is the ideal location for exploring the Skellig Islands and Kelly Cliffs. The small but perfectly formed village also packs a punch when it comes to pubs and eateries!
Tips for Visiting Ireland’s Seaside Towns
People flock to Ireland’s top seaside towns during the summer months, when there’s a better chance of seeing some sunshine, but you’ll probably get more out of the experience if you aim for spring or fall, when the crowds have thinned out a bit.
You should always book early to avoid disappointment, especially if you want to stay in the center of your chosen town, where demand for accommodation is high. It’s also a good idea to book popular attractions well in advance.
Although you can access most of these coastal towns by public transport, relying on it can be very restrictive. There’s no chance of discovering gems off the beaten track if you don’t have your own transport, so most visitors hire a car when they arrive at the airport.
If you’re traveling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, remember you’ll need to swap your British pounds for Euros along the way, although paying with a credit or debit card is generally easier than using cash.
Many of the top coastal towns in Ireland are quite small, but don’t let that fool you – there’s plenty to do! One of the biggest mistakes people make when visiting Ireland is trying to cram too much into a single trip.
Instead, pick out one or two activities or attractions that you don’t want to miss and play the rest by ear. That way, you’ll have the time and space to relax or indulge your spontaneity.
Before You Go
Whatever you’re looking for in a seaside town, Ireland’s got one that will not only meet but surpass your expectations.
Whether you want to explore the rugged coastline on foot, challenge yourself with a new activity, or simply soak up the atmosphere in one of the many pubs, there’s an Irish seaside town waiting for you.
Tramore is ideal as a family destination, while Lahinch is a must-see for surfers. Portrush is perfectly situated for exploring some of the country’s most famous landmarks, and Clifden is a great destination for those with a taste for Irish culture and cuisine.
There are historical, cultural, and sporting activities for all the family to enjoy, and we hope this article has helped you pick the perfect seaside destination for your next holiday.
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"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.