The Coastal Destinations You Should Not Skip On A Trip To Ireland, Per Rick Steves

Irish whiskey, leprechauns, and the chart-topping song "Galway Girl" are just a few icons that likely come to mind when envisioning the pretty, pristine landscapes of Ireland. Yet, travel expert Rick Steves finds himself attracted to this delightful European country for the adorable villages, old Irish culture, and contemporary bliss of Ireland's southwest coast. It's hard to find a region in Ireland that doesn't dazzle its visitors, but Kinsale, Kenmare, and Dingle are among the top three of Steves' favorite Irish destinations. 

Describing the stunning southwest coast on his website as "the most mystical, Celtic, spiritual, and rugged region of Ireland," it's unsurprising that all three fall in counties located along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. This winding, untamed voyage through the Irish countryside is a popular road trip route in Ireland and one of the most scenic drives in the world! Steves isn't the only one seduced by these coastal towns. Both the Dingle Peninsula and Kinsale were ranked within the top 10 of U.S. News' best places to visit in Ireland. 

However, by no means does that mean the small aesthetic town of Kenmare is any less deserving of a visit. Its scenic abodes and enviable landscape led to its recognition as one of Europe's most beautiful towns by the Irish Independent. Whether looking for a picture-perfect tiny town for vacation or an exploration into the wild, unruly backcountry, Ireland's southwest coast is a treasure trove of hidden gems that will satisfy every traveler's craving for adventure!

Traveler Blog the wild regions of Kinsale and Kenmare

Home to only 5,000 locals, Kinsale is a tiny yet mighty speck slightly south of Cork. A fairytale-like vision, scattered flower carts add an extra pop of color to the already whimsical streets. Kinsale's history as an ancient port city and maritime town has morphed into a beacon for the affluent with a passion for sports, like yachting and sailing. According to Steves, while it may be small, Kinsale has a history as old as time. This town was first founded in the 12th century and still houses many ancient gems that display its stoic past, like the Charles Fort, James Fort, and Desmond Castle. 

Kinsale's fascinating history is rivaled by its equally impressive culinary scene. Seafood is the main draw in this port town, and residents even host an annual Kinsale Gourmet Festival every October. Seafood and fine wines take center stage at this unique food festival; there's also the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. 

Roughly 60 miles from Kinsale, travelers will find Kenmare perched on the tip of Kenmare Bay. Known for its festivals, like the Kenmare Lace Festival and Halloween Howl, as well as the stunning Ring of Kerry road trip route and scenic landscapes, Kenmare should be nonnegotiable on your travel list. According to Steves, the Ring of Kerry is a 111-mile route that circles the western peninsula and highlights some of the best and brightest of this Irish region, including Killarney National Park, Ross Castle, and Torc Waterfall.

Circle the Dingle Peninsula

Not to dispute the charm of Kinsale and Kenmare, but Dingle is Steves' personal favorite town wedged along the Irish coastline. Rugged cliffs that create a breathtaking backdrop along the westernmost coast, a flourishing music scene, and a community of friendly faces are some reasons this town stands out from its neighbors. A hub of tradition, Dingle has managed to preserve its sacred native culture over the years.

Dingle's colorful streets are lined with pubs that echo the sound of upbeat melodies and lively folk dancing. The Dingle Pub and O'Sullivan's Courthouse Pub sit at the top of Dingle's best Irish pubs, which host some of Ireland's most talented singers and dancers. Of course, it would be a shame to leave Dingle without sampling some authentic Irish-style tapas. Solas is a quaint, cozy dining nook that capitalizes on its organic, homegrown produce and honey from wild bee hives. 

Located just offshore, the Blasket Islands are home to a thriving community of seals and seasonal residents, like puffins and dolphins. Dingle Sea Safari offers guests world-class views of these majestic isles along the West Kerry Coastline. The Dingle Peninsula is a trove of natural beauty, and there are few better ways to experience it up close and personal than along Slea Head Drive. This enamoring road trip route begins and ends in Dingle, circling the western part of the Dingle Peninsula. Notable landmarks along this voyage include the white cross, Dunmore Head viewpoint, and Coumeenoole Beach.