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.
County Galway's exuberant namesake city – the only major urban centre on the Wild Atlantic Way – is a swirl of colourful shop-lined streets filled with buskers and performance artists, enticing old pubs that hum with trad music sessions throughout the year, and an increasingly sophisticated food scene that celebrates local produce.
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.
County Clare combines spectacular windswept landscapes and vibrant Irish culture. Along the Wild Atlantic Way, the ocean relentlessly pounds Clare's coastline year-round, eroding rock into fantastic formations, and fashioning sheer cliffs including those at the iconic Cliffs of Moher and at ends-of-the-earth Loop Head.
Counties Limerick & Tipperary
From marching ditties to rhyming verse, the names Tipperary and Limerick are part of the Western lexicon, but both counties 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.
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.
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.