So, you’re looking for the best hidden gems in Ireland? We’ve have you covered! Ireland is hands down one of the most magical countries in the world to visit. Ireland is known for its breathtaking green and rugged landscapes, quaint towns and villages, fascinating history and the warmth and generosity of its locals. There are so many wonderful reasons to visit Ireland, which is why we keep going back!
Of course, while you are planning your trip to Ireland you will see the usual recommendations of the popular tourist hot spots like the Cliffs of Moher, Dublin, the Blarney Stone, Ring of Kerry, etc. We cover these places in more detail in our Ultimate Ireland Road Trip Itinerary. While there are plenty of well-known places to visit in Ireland, you should consider exploring off the beaten path. There are countless secret places in Ireland that you absolutely cannot miss! We want to tell you all about these magical hidden gems in Ireland you might not see on your usual itinerary.
10 Magical Hidden Gems in Ireland
Bunbeg Beach Shipwreck
One of the most haunting secret places in Ireland, Bunbeg Beach Shipwreck should make it onto your itinerary! Located in the tiny Gaelic speaking town of Bunbeg in County Donegal, you’ll find the colossal wreckage of a ship called Bád Eddie (Eddie’s Boat) on Maheraclogher Beach.
The doomed ship, also known as Cara Na Mara was stranded on the beach in the 1970s due to bad weather and has remained since then as a tourist attraction and one of our favorite hidden gems in Ireland.
County Donegal is in the rugged and beautiful Northwest corner of Ireland and can easily be reached by car or the Donegal County Airport (9 miles from Bunbeg). Visiting the wreckage is easy as you can drive your car right down to the beach to explore, enjoy and take photos. It is one of the best things to do in Donegal and you shouldn’t miss it!
Bunbeg is a small town but if you are staying overnight Teac Campbell Guesthouse is a wonderful option and only a 3-minute drive or 15-minute walk from the wreck. Your room fee includes breakfast, parking, and Wifi in public areas. They can also arrange a bike rental service if it interests you.
Westport House is a beautiful historic estate and tourist attraction situated in County Mayo, western Ireland. It was commissioned, built (and still owned by) the Browne family, who are direct descendants of Grace O’Malley, the “Pirate Queen of Connacht.”
A gorgeous structure amidst beautiful grounds, the house was built on the old foundation where Grace had one of her castles during the 16th century. It amazingly still has it’s contents from when it was built in the 1700s, and you can also see a part of Grace’s original castle in the basement of the house!
Open to the public for visiting since the 1960s, it now offers many amenities to tourists. You can visit the estate, the pirate-themed adventure park, and/or explore the grounds and gardens. There are several places to eat on-site including a Pizzeria/Bistro, a Victorian Tea Room and the “Old Kitchen Cafe”.
After your day of enjoying what the Westport House has to offer, you can even spend the night at Westport’s 4 Star Hotel! They also have a camping and caravan park and you can book directly through their website. Certainly a worthwhile off the beaten path stop during your Ireland trip! If you’re exploring County Mayo, make sure to check out our helpful guide of things to do in County Mayo.
If you plan to head north of the border, Tollymore Forest is one of the best hidden gems in Northern Ireland that you should check out! Located in Newcastle, this huge and magical state forest park has several trails for walking and exploring, and the Shimna river that runs through it can be crossed over by 16 bridges.
You may recognize it from the popular series Game of Thrones, as several scenes are shot here. In fact, we recommend doing a Game of Thrones walking tour if you are interested in seeing all the locations from the show—a lot of them are led by former cast and crew members!
Tollymore Forest is easy to get to from Dublin (2hrs by car), or Belfast (1hr 15 minutes by car) if you are visiting either of those cities on your trip to Ireland. The admission is only £5 per car and parking is plentiful with bathroom facilities on site.
There is so much to see there, we recommend budgeting at least 2-3 hours to enjoy the amazing nature! It’s a wonderful place to spend the day hiking or to bring a picnic and enjoy the tranquil settings around you. For more information on exploring Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland, see our Game Of Thrones Ireland Itinerary.
Want to take in some stunning views of cliffs in Ireland that don’t have the massive crowds of the Cliffs of Moher and also pack in some Irish history? Look no further than this hidden gem, Downpatrick Head! You can find this epic along County Mayo’s rugged coastline, part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
When you arrive at the site, a view of majestic cliffs against the Atlantic greets you. As you stand at the edge you will also have a great view of Dún Briste, a “sea stack” made of several layers of multicolored rock jutting out of the ocean. This combined with the cliffs, ocean, and swooping sea birds make for a truly breathtaking sight.
The area is also home to historic ruins, including the church that is, according to legend, the original church of Saint Patrick himself! There is also a stone statue of Saint Patrick that stands inside the ruins. In addition, you can visit the “Blowhole,” a hollowed-out space in the grassy area adjacent from Dún Briste. Here you can observe the Atlantic below, as well as the stone “EIRE 64” relic lookout post from WWII. While driving along the Wild Atlantic way, be sure not to miss this great hidden gem!
Dunluce Castle is another one of the most amazing hidden gems in Northern Ireland! Perched dramatically on the edge of a cliff in County Atrim near the more popular Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce castle also deserves your time and attention. Built in the 13th century, the castle has a long and complicated history. It was ultimately conquered and overtaken by the MacDonnell Clan who lived there between the 16th and 17th centuries.
The castle, which is now in ruins, was said to have met its end in 1639 when its kitchen literally fell into the ocean during a storm! Of course, this is only according to the local legend but it makes for a great story. After that, it’s said, the structure was abandoned and it continued to deteriorate over the years.
You may recognize the castle when you see it, as it has since featured in film and TV productions, most notably as House of Greyjoy/Castle Pyke in Game of Thrones! You can access the castle via a footbridge and explore the grounds for a small admissions fee. This is a unique place to add to your Ireland itinerary and you will not regret it!
Glencar Waterfall is one of the most beautiful spots in Ireland and a great place to stop on your trip. Surrounded by gorgeous scenery and Glencar Lake, you can find this hidden gem along the Wild Atlantic way in County Leitrim, near the town of Manorhamilton. Follow along the N16 until you spot the sign for Glencar Lake and Waterfall. There is free entrance to the site, restrooms, a picnic area, and even a tea room!
From the parking facilities near the lake, there is a wooded path you can take to the waterfall itself. The waterfall is quite short, a quaint 50 ft high cascade from mossy stone. It’s very a very peaceful place to take in the beauty of Ireland and enjoy a few hours in nature. If you want to climb to the top there are steps and it’s only about a five-minute climb.
The surrounding area is also very lush and scenic. There are even a few other waterfalls nearby, but we think this is the best one! If you are planning to explore other waterfalls on your trip, don’t miss our guide to the prettiest waterfalls in Ireland.
To add to the magic and history, this waterfall features in W.B. Yates’ poem, The Stolen Child, which is about an Irish tale in which fairies who enchant a child to come away with them. If this doesn’t make you believe in magic, I don’t know what will!
Deck Of Cards Houses In Cobh
The Deck of Card Houses are a color lover’s dream! Situated on a steep hillside in Cobh, County Cork these iconic houses are right out of a postcard and make a great picture! The 23 houses got their name because of how they appear to be stacked on top of one another as they ascend the hill. The joke is that if one of them fell, the rest of them would tumble, just like a deck of cards!
You can find this amazing view by heading to this location. From here you can climb up the hill to get the iconic framing of the colorful houses with St. Colman’s Cathedral in the background. To get more in your shot we recommend using a very wide lens. You can even venture further up the hill to get more of the houses and the ocean in the background. It’s such a great photo op and should definitely not be missed!
The town of Cobh itself also has a very interesting history, as it is the last place the Titanic stopped before its ill-fated voyage to America. This combined with the Deck of Cards and charm makes Cobh a great off the beaten path stop on your Ireland trip! We would recommend 1-2 nights if you can swing it. Cobh is about a 30-minute drive or a 30-40 minute bus ride from Cork City in the south of Ireland. If you’re looking for other things to do on your trip to Cobh, check out our guide to things to do in Cobh, here!
Dunlewey Ruins in Poison Glen, Donegal
This next secret spot sounds quite ominous but actually got its due to a translation error! You will find the Dunlewy Ruins in Poison Glen in Donegal at the base of the beautiful Mount Errigal. The story goes that the glen was originally called the “Heavenly Glen” by the locals but when an English cartographer was putting it on the map he mistook the Gaelic word for heaven (neamh) with the word for poison (neimhe). Ever since then it’s been unfortunately known as “Poison Glen.”
At the site, you will find ruins of a 19th-century church, the “Old Church of Dunlewey”. With all its walls intact but no roof or glass in the windows, the structure is hauntingly beautiful. This combined with Mount Errigal in the background makes for quite an iconic view and photo op! Many legends and stories surround the glen and church, including that of the Green Lady, the glen’s resident ghost.
You can reach the glen & ruins by way of the R251 by driving about 2km past the sign for Dunlewey, the closest town, and turning down the tiny road that leads to a walking path where you can explore the site. Even though you can see the church from the road, we recommend visiting on foot to get the best views and photos. You can also check out the nearby Dunlewey Center, a museum and cultural center with a restaurant and tea room, guided boat and walking tours and local craft shop.
Looking to visit a gorgeous castle that’s also one of the best hidden gems in Ireland? Claddiebawn Castle is actually a private residence in County Sligo near the village of Mullaghmore, meaning you can’t go inside. Even so, the surrounding views of Mullaghmore Head, the ocean and the castle exterior are enough to add this secret spot to your itinerary!
It was originally a country estate for the Viscount of Palmerton, a member of the British Royal Family. During the 19th century, the Viscount started the expansion of the house into the large more castle-like structure you see today. Sadly he died before the renovation was completed, and the castle was passed down through his family for many years. During the Irish Rebellion, it was used as a barrack and after this, it remained empty from 1916 – 1950.
It was then inhabited by the Mountbatten (direct descendants of Lord Palmerton) family from 1950 onward. Lord Mountbatten had ties to the British Royal family as the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1979 when his boat was blown up by the IRA. The castle was purchased by Hugh Tunney in 1991 and is still owned by his estate.
Because the castle is private property, you cannot enter past the gates. However, it’s definitely worth visiting because you can still get amazing views of the castle and the sea. It’s a great place to take in the history and scenery as well as get some beautiful photos.
Dunquin Harbour is at the very end of the Dingle Penninsula in West Kerry. It is a one of the best hidden gems in Ireland with incredible views you can’t miss! Of course, the Dingle Penninsula itself is one of the most beautiful and unique spots in Ireland and a Dunquin Harbour visit will be the highlight of your visit there.
The harbor is within the settlement of Dunquin, which is the most westerly town in Ireland. From here will find excellent views of the Blasket Islands, which are uninhabited but can be reached by ferry. If you’re doing the famed Slea Head Drive around Dingle, this is one of the stops. At the water’s edge, you will see the rugged cliffs jutting out from the sea providing gorgeous views and photo ops! It’s truly unbeatable and the most beautiful part of Dingle.
The famous Dunquin Pier is only reachable on foot. You can get close in your car by taking the R559 from the town of Dingle and follow it until you reach signs for the Blasket Ferries. There are no parking lots so you will have to park alongside the road where you can. Just don’t try to drive down the narrow path leading to the pier! The best view of the pier is from the cliff directly above it. Here you can take in the pier, cliffs, ocean and Blasket Islands.
So, there you have it: 10 of our most favorite hidden gems in Ireland! From North to South, there’s no shortage of beautiful scenery, haunted castles, and gorgeous nature. We hope that this is helpful in planning your trip and that visiting these off the beaten path spots make your trip to Ireland all that more memorable.