Counties Wexford, Waterford, Carlow & Kilkenny
Counties Wexford, Waterford, Carlow and Kilkenny are (along with the southern chunk of Tipperary) referred to collectively as the 'sunny southeast'. This being Ireland the term is, of course, relative. But it is the country's warmest, driest region.
Everything good about Ireland can be found in County Cork. Surrounding the country's second city – a thriving metropolis made glorious by location and its almost Rabelaisian devotion to the finer things of life – is a lush landscape dotted with villages that offer days of languor and idyll.
Counties Mayo & Sligo
Despite their natural wonders and languid charm, the counties Mayo and Sligo remain a well-kept secret, offering all of Ireland's wild, romantic beauty but without the crowds. Mayo is the more rugged of the two, with scraggy peaks, sheer cliffs, heather-covered moors and beautiful offshore islands where life is dictated by the elements.
Counties Limerick & Tipperary
From marching ditties to rhyming puns, the names Tipperary and Limerick are part of the lexicon, but both are relatively unexplored by visitors. County Limerick is closely tied to its namesake city, which has a history as dramatic as Ireland's. In a nation of hard knocks, it seems to have had more than its fair share.
Diverse County Waterford harbours: seaside resorts of all flavours along its sandy coastline; historic churches, cathedrals and castles; a warren of walking trails in the beautiful Nire Valley, concealed among the Comeragh and Monavullagh Mountains; and lively Waterford city, with its maze of medieval lanes and well-preserved Georgian architecture.
Arty, bohemian Galway (Gaillimh) is renowned for its pleasures. Brightly painted pubs heave with live music, while cafes offer front-row seats for observing street performers, weekend parties run amok, lovers entwined and more. Steeped in history, for sure, but the city buzzes with a contemporary and cultured vibe as students make up a quarter of the population.
Mayo has wild beauty and haunting landscapes but you'll find few tourists here, which means there are plenty of untapped opportunities for exploration by car, foot, bicycle or horseback. Life here has never been easy and the Potato Famine (1845–51) ravaged the county and prompted mass emigration.