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Republic of Ireland: The Best Small Towns and Villages

  • Dalkey (County Dublin): This charming south-coast Dublin suburb has just enough glorious freedom from that city's traffic snarls and frenzy. With a castle, a mountaintop folly, and lovely beaches, there's a lot to enjoy. Dalkey is an upscale bedroom community for Ireland's rich, so it's unsurprising that it also has fine restaurants and welcoming pubs. This is a tempting town to settle into.

  • Carlingford (County Louth): Up in quiet, lazy Louth, little Carlingford is a draw. A tiny medieval village with castle ruins on the bay, its pedestrian-friendly lanes are filled with colorful shops, cafes, and pubs, and its other draws include a scattering of good eateries.

  • Inistioge (County Kilkenny): Nestled in the Nore River Valley, surrounded by undulating hills, this riverfront village with two spacious greens and a host of pubs cries out to be photographed. Its rivers and lakes are swimming with fish and attract hosts of anglers.

  • Dingle/An Daingean (County Kerry): Dingle is a charming hilltop medieval town. Its stone buildings ramble up and down hills, and its small population is relaxed about visitors. It has lots of little diners and picturesque pubs, and a lovely, historic church.

  • Kinsale (County Cork): Kinsale's narrow streets all lead to the sea, dropping steeply from the hills around the harbor, although the crowds of visitors teeming on the sidewalks every summer attest to the fact that the Kinsale secret is out. The walk from Kinsale through Scilly to Charles Fort and Frower Point is breathtaking. Kinsale has the added benefit of being a foodie town, with no shortage of good restaurants.

  • Kenmare (County Kerry): If you're driving the Ring of Kerry, this is the best base you could wish for at the mouth of the River Roughty on Kenmare Bay. The town is picture-perfect with stone cottages, colorful gardens, and flowers overflowing from window boxes.

  • Ardara (County Donegal): On the southwest coast of County Donegal, the tiny town of Ardara looks as if it were carved out of a solid block of granite. Its streets undulate up and down the rocky hills, and are lined with little boutiques and charming arts shops, many selling clothes made of the famed Donegal wool. You can wander its entirety in a few minutes. It's a bite-size place.

  • Athlone (County Westmeath): Sitting at the edge of the River Shannon, its streets curving around a sturdy, fortresslike castle, Athlone is a charmer. Houses are painted in bright hues, and with its small, funky boutiques and spirit of fun, it has the feel of a busy university town. Good restaurants and lively pubs add to its charms.

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