5 Best Small Towns and Villages Across Ireland

Dating from the 17th century, Charles Fort was garrisoned until 1921. Anthony Woods
By Christi Daugherty & Jack Jewers

The new Ireland Day by Day hits all the highlights of Ireland and tells you how to see them in their best light. From the Giant's Causeway, Newgrange, and Glendalough, to the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park, and Cliffs of Moher, you'll find out the best ways to see all the top sites. You'll also get off the beaten path to undiscovered ruin sites, unsigned prehistoric tombs, and gorgeous isolated beaches.

Here are five small towns that embody the best of Ireland in their own special ways.

Photo Caption: Dating from the 17th century, Charles Fort was garrisoned until 1921.
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Street scene in Carlingford. Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jodastephen/3138808351/" target="_blank">Stephen Colebourne/Flickr.com</a> Stephen Colebourne
The ancient name for Carlingford -- easily the prettiest town in Louth, Ireland's smallest county -- is Cuan Aighneach, which translates as "Haven of the People with the Perfect Reputation." The Irish folk hero Cúchulainn, for one, is said to have single-handedly defeated the armies of Ulster in an epic battle waged in the surrounding hills. Today the original medieval street patterns are still intact, at the edge of glassy Carlingford Lough, and a stern 13th-century castle presides over the townscape.

Photo Caption: Street scene in Carlingford. Photo by Stephen Colebourne/Flickr.com.
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Arches over the River Nore in Inistioge. Anthony Woods
If you experience a sense of déjàvu while strolling through this village near Kilkenny, it's probably because it's one of the most photographed -- and filmed -- places in Ireland. On the banks of the River Nore, where a nine-arched stone bridge curves through seemingly endless green hills and sprawling woodland, Inistioge was an important monastic center in early Christian times. These days the only pilgrims it attracts are those in search of a rural idyll and beautiful photos. Walk through the tree-lined square, past the remains of a Norman castle, and then head out of town to the peaceful Woodstock Gardens.

Photo Caption: Arches over the River Nore in Inistioge.
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The star-shaped Charles Fort was constructed to keep foreign navies from entering the trading harbor of Kinsale. Anthony Woods
A short drive yet a world apart from busy Cork City, this fishing village draws a sophisticated crowd with its bounty of excellent restaurants. Of course we come to eat but also to watch the white sailboats bobbing gently in the shimmering blue harbor; or to wander Kinsale's handsome, well-kept old streets and breeze through a few boutiques and galleries; perhaps even to check out the town's small but stalwart selection of historic sites.

The star-shaped Charles Fort was constructed to keep foreign navies from entering the trading harbor of Kinsale.
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Irish oysters are the specialty at d'Arcy's. Anthony Woods
It's easy to fall in love with this colorful 17th-century town on Kenmare Bay surrounded by mountains. It is home to several elegant hotels and good restaurants, so it makes a great base for exploring the Ring of Kerry and Killarney National Park. You can browse the open-air market in the town square on Wednesdays for crafts and locally sourced wares. There's even a Bronze Age stone circle hidden away at the back of the square. No admission fee -- just you and ancient history, together in a paddock by the side of the road.

Irish oysters are the specialty at d'Arcy's.
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Dingle has many colorful pubs. Anthony Woods
At the foot of steep hills and on the edge of a breathtaking stretch of coast, this brightly colored town is one of our favorite stops in County Kerry. It's a peaceful place, miles from anywhere, and the drive to Dingle from Tralee is spectacular. The most famous resident is a dolphin who adopted the place years back and has been attracting visitors ever since. Peak season is in August, when the Dingle Races draw crowds from throughout the area to watch the horses run every other weekend.

Photo Caption: Dingle has many colorful pubs.
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