City breaks and coastal trips are often a big attraction to those holidaying in Ireland, but with such a deep history, there are so many stunning towns around the country just waiting to be explored (and explored for the first time in many cases). Much of early Ireland has been shaped by the middle ages, with castles, monastic sites and town walls commonplace in many towns across the country.
While many of these sites have seen better days and in some cases, nothing but old ruins remain today, there are still many wonderful medieval towns in Ireland to get out and explore. Some counties like Meath, Kilkenny and Tipperary are famed for their medieval heritage, and below we look at seven picturesque medieval towns around Ireland to set off and explore during the year.
7 Great Irish Medieval Towns To Visit
1 Athenry, Galway
Surrounded by the famous fields of Athenry, this medieval town is still well preserved and has so much for visitors to the area to see and do. The highlight of any trip to Athenry has to be a visit to the magnificent 13th-Century Athenry Castle, of which you can enjoy a tour from April to October. Other places to visit in Athenry to get a sense of the town’s medieval past are the 13th-Century Dominican Friary, while the town’s Heritage Centre takes you back in time to medieval times, allowing you to dress up as a knight and try your hand at some archery.
You can also enjoy a guided tour of the town in which you will come across many historic sites including Ireland’s only in-situ market cross, at which a local farmers market takes place every Friday. A 30-minute drive from Galway City, Athenry is a great town to explore for a day as you travel through Galway.
View the latest Galway hotel deals today and plan your trip to medieval Athenry today.
2 Carlingford, Louth
Perfect for a weekend break, the medieval town of Carlingford in the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth is one of the most picturesque medieval towns in Ireland. Nestled at the foot of Slieve Foye, and with a land that is steeped in history and folklore thanks to the tales of Cúchulainn and Finn McCool, Carlingford is a town with so much to explore. While the town offers some wonderful walking trails, countless pubs to frequent in and a raft of activities to enjoy, it’s the medieval history that attracts so many to the area every year.
A town of Carlingford was occupied by the Normans in the 12th Century although there are many who believe they may have even invaded Carlingford much earlier than this, as the name itself translates in Scandinavian as ‘Fjord of Carlinn‘ with many historians suggesting this is due to the fjord-like appearance of Carlingford Lough. The Carlingford Heritage Centre is a great place to start your trip to Carlingford as you can find out more about the medieval past of the town. From here, join the Carlingford History Tour, a guided walking tour of the town that takes you face to face with many of the towns most famous medieval buildings including King John’s Castle, the Mint, Taaffe’s Castle, the Tholsel and the Dominican Friary.
Once you’ve finished your walking tour of this historic town, make your way to one of the many popular pubs in Carlingford where you can enjoy a beer inspired by many of these medieval buildings, with brews like King John’s Stout, Friary Pale Ale, Tholsel Blonde and Taaffe’s Red a hit with many locals and visitors alike.
3 Carrickfergus, Antrim
One of the most impressive and imposing castles in Ireland, Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim has dominated the landscape for over 800 years, dating back to 1177. The town of Carrickfergus has been shaped by the stunning Norman Castle, one which has enjoyed quite a chequered past, besieged by the Scots, English, Irish and French over time. One of the best preserved medieval structures anywhere in Ireland you can enjoy a tour of the castle and the grounds all year, with the 17th-Century cannons, in particular, making for a great photo moment.
The 12th-Century St Nicholas’ Church is also worth heading along to when visiting Carrickfergus, while you can also enjoy a popular walking tour of the town where you can visit historic sites including the library, the famous town walls and gates, the Governor’s Place and the Old Courthouse. You can discover more about the long history of the area by visiting Carrickfergus Museum, while the nearby Carrickfergus Marina is well worth taking a walk around. A 25-minute drive from Belfast, Carrickfergus is great for a day trip out of the city, allowing you to enjoy a night out in Belfast once you have soaked up all the heritage of this famous Antrim town.
Check out the latest Belfast hotel deals and begin to plan your Carrickfergus day trip.
4 Cashel, Tipperary
One of Ireland’s best-known medieval towns, Cashel is famous for the Rock of Cashel, and although there is so much more to see and do in the area, the Rock of Cashel is the best place to start. The Rock of Cashel is a stunning collection of medieval buildings dating back to the 12th Century. These buildings include the spectacular castle, the 13th-Century Gothic Cathedral, and the 12th-Century High Cross, Round Tower and Romanesque Chapel. Take time to explore the grounds of the Rock of Cashel as you enjoy great views over the town of Cashel and indeed wider Tipperary.
Continue your exploration of the history of Cashel by visiting Brú Ború, a heritage centre at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. Brú Ború offers you a unique Irish cultural experience with concerts and exhibitions across the year. The Cashel Heritage Centre and Cashel Folk Village will also provide you with great insight into this historic town, while other historic sites in and around Cashel to explore include Dominic’s Abbey, Kearney’s Castle and Hore Abbey.
The town of Cashel also has you well-placed to set off and explore some of Tipperary’s other famous heritage towns with Cahir, Clonmel, Fethard and Thurles all less than a 30-minute drive.
View the latest hotel deals in Tipperary and plan your trip to one of Ireland’s most historic counties today.
5 Kilmallock, Limerick
Kilmallock is one of the best preserved walled towns remaining in Ireland with much of the medieval walls around the town still intact today. A walk around the town’s famous walls is a great way to explore the area, with the remains of the 15th-Century John’s Castle one of the most iconic areas of the town. Indeed, many of the narrow streets in Kilmallock today have remained fairly unchanged since the 15th Century.
The 13th-Century Dominican Friary, the Collegiate Church and the site of Friars Gate are other key sites to explore, while Kilmallock is located within Limerick’s Heritage Hub in Ballyhoura Country, leaving you well placed to explore areas like Lough Gur, Murroe and Adare. Kilmallock is only 35km from Limerick City, where you can continue exploring famous medieval sites in the area including King John’s Castle and St Mary’s Cathedral.
Check out the latest hotel deals in Limerick and plan your break to Kilmallock today.
6 Trim, Meath
Home to some of the most impressive medieval ruins anywhere in Ireland, the town of Trim in County Meath is home to the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland with the 12th-Century Trim Castle attracting visitors from all over the world. This stunning medieval castle impressed the directors of Braveheart so much that they chose the town of Trim as a location for the movie. It also made our list of 10 Irish Castles with amazing views.
Trim Castle is located near to both the towns Tourist Information Centre and Visitor Centre, and a great base to start exploring the town. Take time exploring the grounds of Trim Castle or alternatively set off on foot to explore the towns Historic Trail. Some of the historic sites you can visit along the trail include the Victorine Friary, Newtown Church, St. Mary’s Abbey and the Yellow Steeple.
Plan your trip to Trim today by checking out the latest Meath hotel deals.
7 Wexford Town, Wexford
With Viking influences through the town, Wexford Town is a quaint town with many narrow streets providing a rather intimate feel to the area. Shops, pubs and restaurants are plentiful along these streets, with Main Street a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike. When it comes to the medieval history of Wexford, locations like the West Gate Tower and the Selskar Abbey are worth exploring, while the popular walking tour of Wexford Town will take you up close and personal with many of the town’s most iconic landmarks (these tours run daily from March to October).
On the outskirts of Wexford Town, the Irish National Heritage Park tells the story of the first settlers in Ireland right up to the medieval period and the Norman invasion of the 12th Century. A must visit when in the area, and another great way to get an understanding of the medieval history of Wexford. Other ancient medieval sites to visit in Wexford include Tintern Abbey in the Hook Peninsula, Dunbrody Abbey and Enniscorthy Castle, all less than one hour from Wexford Town.
Check out the latest Wexford hotel deals and plan your trip to Ireland’s south east today.
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Images via Fáilte Ireland