When faced with the task of choosing the best five towns to visit in Ireland, many aspects must be considered. In an area containing dozens of equally desirable towns in a country renowned for its historic beauty and charm, it's difficult to decide. Each one of the locations must possess aspects that serve to separate it from the others, using the unforgettable backdrop of the Emerald Isle to its best advantage. Passing over the usual go-to choices of Dublin or Cork, a few distinguish themselves not by their size, but the caliber of their pure Irish character.
The town of Killarney is in the southwestern portion of Ireland on the northeastern shore of an area known as Lough Leane in County Kerry. It rests on the grounds of a 25,000-acre national park of the same name, and this lush wilderness only adds to the town’s already powerful allure. The time line of its origins can be traced back over eight centuries, yet central to Killarney’s success is its balance of history and modern accommodation. It was named Ireland's "Best Kept Town" in 2007, awarded to the town with the highest standards of cleanliness. While representing all the richness characteristic of Ireland’s roots, Killarney offers several five-star hotels and restaurants and sporting opportunities like fishing, golf and hiking within the nearby national park. Overall, its enduring appeal has been drawing visitors for 250 years.
Also in County Kerry, Kenmare is another remarkable Irish town possessing historic significance. Surrounded by mountains at the inland end of Kenmare Bay, the town maintains a great deal of the rustic ambiance it has become known for since its founding in 1670. One of its most popular attractions is the Ring of Kenmare, a captivating 115-mile drive that passes through the rugged open countryside of Killarney National Park. This fabled route is studded with numerous must-see landmarks, such as the Ross Castle and Torc waterfall. Kenmare's restaurants are quite popular with gourmets, since many of the ingredients that go into the preparation of the cuisine are grown locally. Kenmare also bears the distinction of being the first Heritage town in County Kerry.
When it comes to harmonically integrating with the breathtaking scenery that Ireland is known for, the picturesque fishing village of Kinsale, in County Cork, takes top honors. Built directly on the water at the mouth of the River Bandon, it began as a medieval fishing port. Today, its intimate streets maintain a timeless air of antiquity. Kinsale is highly regarded for its excellent locally caught seafood and hosts an annual gourmet festival in which all the local restaurants participate. With all that Kinsale has to offer to visitors, its best feature lies in the magical elements that constitute a quintessential Irish coastal hamlet.
Another robust fishing town wielding enormous charisma is County Kerry’s Dingle. Alone on a finger peninsula facing a natural harbor, Dingle’s isolation accentuates its natural aesthetic. Like so many other towns in the area, Dingle’s evolution has been going on for hundreds of years, dating back to the 13th century. Its eateries are widely known for their freshly prepared seafood and locally raised livestock. Because of the town's remote location, it offers unique accommodations, like lodging at country homes and farmhouses.
Away from the coast, closer to the geographical center of the island, lies the engaging town of Athlone, in County Westmeath. Another location in proximity to a water source, this time the River Shannon, Athlone is one of the most populated towns in the region, attracting a regular stream of university students with its blend of cultures, old and new. The town has several diverse activities available to the visitor. There's plenty of water-related fun, with sailing, kayaking and diving. You can attend a play at one of the town's three theaters, visit an art gallery or experience a festival. Whatever the diversion, Athlone has many facets to explore..
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