24 Hours in Ireland’s Second Cities

Malin Head, in County Donegal, is just one of the natural highlights on the island of Ireland
Malin Head, in County Donegal, is just one of the natural highlights on the island of Ireland | Courtesy of Ireland Tourism
Hannah Summers

Sure, a trip to Belfast or Dublin is a good time guaranteed, but beyond the two capital cities is an island full of epic weekends away. Whether you’re keen to tour castles, devour dishes from some of the finest chefs, or spend entire days and nights listening to live music, you can do all that – and plenty more – on the island of Ireland.

1. Galway, for a foodie-friendly getaway

Natural Feature

© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Combine a smattering of historical sights with a weekend checking out top pubs and restaurants on a trip to Galway, arguably the finest foodie city in Ireland. Head to Kai for lunch, where freshly made soup is served with big hunks of bread, before a post-lunch pint at any one of the 475 pubs that Galway proudly claims to be home to. Later on, slide into a booth at Tigh Neachtain for oysters and Guinness before heading to the Crane for live music. Daytime sightseeing here is best done while strolling the cobbled streets, spotting gargoyle-strewn churches, to Lynch’s Castle – now a grand old bank – and dipping into pubs as you go.

2. Donegal, for a deep-dive into the Ireland of old

Architectural Landmark

Donegal Castle Ireland.
© Paul Mayall Ireland / Alamy Stock Photo

If history’s your thing, Donegal certainly delivers. First up is Donegal Castle, built in 1474 on the mouth of the River Eske. It’s an impressive structure comprising towers and restored fireplaces – take a guided tour for a full run-through. Continue the theme with a walk and lunch at Lough Eske Castle, or if you fancy something a bit more relaxed, then Old Castle Bar in town is great for freshly caught seafood. Donegal’s location on the Atlantic calls for a boat trip, so book on the Donegal Bay Waterbus for views of the seal-dotted coast. Finish your day with Guinness and live music at the Reel Inn.

3. Derry/Londonderry, for a fun-filled holiday in Northern Ireland

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Peace Bridge Derry City Northern Ireland Foyle. Image shot 03/2016. Exact date unknown.
© scenicireland.com / Christopher Hill Photographic / Alamy Stock Photo

You don’t have to be a superfan of Derry Girls – one of Channel 4’s most-watched comedies – to enjoy this city in Northern Ireland. But if you do love the show, a trip here should start at Badgers Bar, where you can grab a picture in front of a huge mural of the cast. Next take a stroll along the city walls – Derry/Londonderry is the only remaining walled city in Ireland, and the last to have been built in Europe. Wander across the Peace Bridge and finish with craft beer and burgers at the Walled City Brewery. For a longer walk, tackle the 6km (4mi) ramble up Binevenagh mountain for views of Lough Foyle.

4. Cork, for festival vibes and nights out

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Shops and cafes on Cook Street with Holy Trinity Church in the distance, Cork City, County Cork
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Food is one of the reasons people flock to the second-largest city in Ireland. Music is another. Whether you’re catching rock acts like Springsteen on a world tour, watching a band in Coughlan’s pub or dancing until 3am at Cyprus Avenue, you’ll soon see that this is a city with a big musical spirit. Fuel up with loaded pancakes at the Good Day Deli, towering sandwiches for lunch at Jacques and perfectly cooked meat and fish at Elbow Lane Brew and Smoke House for dinner, all before taking in the best Rebel City venues. Relax during the day, strolling along Georgian avenues and 17th-century alleyways, popping into cathedrals and galleries as you go.

5. Dingle, for a family-friendly holiday on the coast

Pub, Irish

view towards cliffs called red cliff from Inch Beach blue skies Dingle Peninsula County Kerry Ireland sand spit sandy beach
© RM Ireland / Alamy Stock Photo

A trip to Dingle, a small town on the southwest coast, guarantees fun for family members of all ages. Make the most of the location with a sea safari – a thrilling speedboat ride where you can spot dolphins as you go. For something tamer, try the Oceanworld Aquarium where you get to see otters, penguins and sharks up close. You could also check out Kingdom Falconry, where you can call hawks and owls to your gloved hand in the pretty grounds of Milltown House, on the edge of Dingle Harbour. If that’s not for you, then sampling single malts at Dingle Distillery may well be.

6. Waterford, for the perfect blend of relaxation and thrills

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark, Hiking Trail

Theatre Royal, Waterford, Ireland
© Imagebroker / Alamy Stock Photo

The small city of Waterford is spot on if you’re after a relaxed city break that perfectly combines culture with outdoorsy fun. Start early with a cycle along the Waterford Greenway, a 42km (26mi), traffic-free path that takes in countryside, cafes and pretty gardens. Hop on a bus back to the city before settling in for a long lunch of just-caught fish, local lamb or perfectly grilled Irish beef at Everett’s, housed in a cosy 15th-century building. Don’t miss an evening out at the Theatre Royal; it’s an immaculately restored Victorian building that’s seen the likes of Oscar Wilde lecture from its stage.

Start planning your adventure in Ireland today.

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