From Dublin to Belfast there are 11 cities in Ireland (five in the Republic of Ireland and six in Northern Ireland). Here’s everything you need to know about how many cities there are in Ireland.

Divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the island of Ireland is home to 11 cities. These cities offer a fascinating study of contrasting histories, with those in the Republic of Ireland rooted in royal charters and Irish legalities, and those in Northern Ireland finding their origins in British norms and royal decrees.

Together, Ireland’s cities not only highlight the contrasts that exist across the island but also a window into what brings both nations together: namely, their shared cultural, geographical and historical legacies. From the ancient streets of Waterford, the Republic of Ireland’s oldest city, to the modern urban sprawl of Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, in this article, I explore what it means to be a city in Ireland. Keep reading, to find out how many cities there are in Ireland.

How many cities are in Ireland?

There are a total of 11 cities across the entire island of Ireland. There are five in the Republic of Ireland and six in Northern Ireland.

It’s important to remember that for now, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are two distinct political entities, each of which has different requirements for city status.

I’ll explain these distinctions in more detail shortly, but first, here’s a list of each of the Irish nation’s ‘official’ cities:

Cities in the Republic of Ireland

Here’s a list of the five cities in the Republic of Ireland:

  1. Dublin
  2. Cork
  3. Limerick
  4. Galway
  5. Waterford

Read more: How Many Counties in Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

Cities in Northern Ireland

Here’s a list of the six cities in Northern Ireland:

  1. Belfast
  2. Londonderry (Derry)
  3. Lisburn
  4. Newry
  5. Armagh
  6. Bangor

Here’s a map showing the locations of all 11 cities in Ireland:

Read more: How Many Counties in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

What is a ‘City’ in Ireland?

The designation of ‘city’ status in Ireland (covering both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) is rooted in historical tradition, legal frameworks, and, in contemporary instances, governmental decisions.

The process and criteria for an area becoming a city differ notably between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, reflecting their distinct administrative and legal systems. Here’s a quick rundown:

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, city status has traditionally been granted by royal charter. This method dates back to historical precedents set when Ireland was under English (and later British) rule. For example, Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland, was granted its charter by King John of England in the 12th century. However, in the modern era, the granting of city status is a legislative action or government decision rather than being based on specific statutory criteria such as population size, economic activity or infrastructure.

The Local Government Act 2001 in the Republic does not define what constitutes a city but allows for the government to confer city status on a town if it deems it appropriate, often as part of national celebrations or recognitions. For example, Kilkenny retains its status as a city due to a historical charter, despite functioning more like a town by contemporary standards and not being typically included in lists of official Irish cities.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, city status is granted by the British monarch, typically on significant national or royal anniversaries, following a bid by the local council.

The criteria for city status in Northern Ireland have evolved to be more aligned with those in the rest of the UK, focusing on a combination of factors including population size, historical significance, local identity, and administrative capabilities.

The most recent examples include Lisburn and Newry, which were granted city status in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, and Bangor, which received city status in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities in Scotland? Everything You Need to Know.

A quick guide to the Republic of Ireland’s five cities

From Dublin to Waterford, the Republic of Ireland’s five official cities are packed with history, culture and great pubs.

If you’re interested in learning more about Northern Ireland’s six cities, then check out my earlier article which answered the question: ‘How many cities are in Northern Ireland?’

Here’s a quick guide to the Republic of Ireland’s five cities.

1. Dublin

Dublin is the capital and largest city in the Republic of Ireland (and the largest city on the island of Ireland!). Established by the Vikings in the 9th century, Dublin’s historical narrative is deeply intertwined with the broader story of Ireland, from the Norman invasions to the English rule, before the city played a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early 20th century.

The city’s landmarks speak volumes of its past. Dublin Castle, dating back to the 13th century, was the seat of English, then British rule in Ireland for centuries. The iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral stand as testaments to the city’s medieval heritage. The Book of Kells, displayed in Trinity College, showcases Dublin’s contribution to medieval European art and culture.

Dublin is not just about history; it’s a city alive with culture, arts, and entertainment. The Temple Bar area, known for its raucous nightlife and cobbled streets is a must-visit. The Guinness Storehouse offers a deep dive into the history of Ireland’s most famous beverage, complete with panoramic views of the city from the Gravity Bar.

The Temple Bar, Dublin. Photo by Matheus Câmara da Silva on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities in England? Everything You Need to Know.

2. Cork

Cork, located on the southwest coast, is better known as the ‘Rebel City’ due to its significant role in Ireland’s fight for independence. Cork’s origins trace back to a monastic settlement founded in the 6th century on Spike Island, with the city itself taking shape as a Viking trading port around the 10th century. Cork’s strategic location on the River Lee has contributed to its prominence as a maritime hub, enriching its cultural and commercial vitality through the centuries.

The city’s history is palpable in its narrow lanes, historic buildings, and the remnants of medieval walls. The heart of Cork lies in its city centre, where the renowned English Market offers a feast for the senses with its array of local and artisanal produce, reflecting the city’s gastronomic excellence. Cork’s commitment to culture is evident in its numerous art galleries, theatres, and museums, including the Crawford Art Gallery and the immersive Cork City Gaol, which offers a glimpse into 19th-century life.

Not to be missed is St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a striking example of Gothic revival architecture, and the historic University College Cork, whose picturesque campus is home to the tranquil Fitzgerald’s Park and the striking Glucksman Gallery. Cork also serves as a gateway to the scenic landscapes of County Cork, including the rugged beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way and the colourful charm of the nearby towns of Kinsale and Cobh.

Cork City. Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash.

3. Limerick

Limerick is situated on the west coast of Ireland by the River Shannon, and it’s a city steeped in over a thousand years of history. Established as a Viking settlement in 812 AD, this historic city (the third-largest in Ireland) blends its medieval past with a lively contemporary cultural scene, making it a fascinating destination to visit.

At the heart of Limerick’s historical narrative is King John’s Castle, a 13th-century fortress offering panoramic views of the city and the river. The castle’s interactive exhibitions provide insights into medieval Limerick, making it a must-visit landmark. Nearby, the Treaty Stone symbolises the city’s pivotal role in the 1691 Treaty of Limerick, marking the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

Limerick’s rich literary and cultural heritage is celebrated in the Hunt Museum, home to one of Ireland’s greatest private collections of art and antiquities. The city’s dedication to the arts is also evident in the Limerick City Gallery of Art, showcasing both historical and contemporary works.

The city is not just about historical sights; it’s also known for its dynamic food scene, exemplified by the Milk Market, a weekend market offering the best of local produce and artisanal crafts. The University of Limerick, with its beautiful riverside campus, contributes to the city’s lively atmosphere, hosting a range of cultural and sporting events throughout the year.

Limerick Castle. Photo by Michael Starkie on Unsplash.

Read more: What Are the British Isles? Everything You Need to Know.

4. Galway

Galway is the ‘Cultural Heart of Ireland’, and this lively city on the west coast of Ireland embodies a perfect blend of history and contemporary vibrancy. Founded in the 12th century by Anglo-Norman conquerors, Galway flourished as a thriving trading port in the Middle Ages, a history still evident in its well-preserved medieval city walls and narrow streets.

Pivotal to Galway’s history is Eyre Square, a central town square surrounded by shops and traditional pubs that echo the city’s rich past. The Spanish Arch, part of the ancient city walls, and the Claddagh area, famous for its traditional Irish rings, further highlight Galway’s deep historical roots.

Galway’s reputation as a cultural hub is well-deserved, with its calendar packed with festivals, including the renowned Galway International Arts Festival and the Galway Film Fleadh, attracting artists and visitors from around the globe. The city is also a gateway to some of Ireland’s most scenic landscapes, including Connemara and the Aran Islands, making it a perfect starting point for exploring the natural beauty of the west coast.

Galway. Photo by Rory Hennessey on Unsplash.

5. Waterford

Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, having been established by Viking traders on the southeast coast in 914 AD. At the heart of Waterford’s historical narrative is the Viking Triangle, a compact area filled with narrow streets, medieval architecture, and significant landmarks.

Reginald’s Tower was part of the city’s original Viking defensive walls, and it now serves as a museum displaying artefacts that tell the tale of Waterford’s Viking and medieval past. This landmark is the oldest urban civic building in Ireland, offering insights into the city’s foundation and growth over the centuries.

Waterford’s medieval prowess is further showcased in the Bishop’s Palace and the Medieval Museum, which houses an impressive collection of medieval artefacts, including the Great Charter Roll of Waterford, dating back to 1373.

Waterford. Image by Dmitrijs Bojarovs from Pixabay.

Read more: How Many Cities in Wales? Everything You Need to Know.

FAQ: How many cities are there in Ireland?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many cities are in Ireland?’:

Q1. How many cities are there in the Republic of Ireland?

There are five cities in the Republic of Ireland: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford.

Q2. How many cities are there in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland has six cities: Belfast, Londonderry (Derry), Lisburn, Newry, Armagh, and Bangor.

Q3. What makes a place a city in Ireland?

In the Republic of Ireland, city status is traditionally granted by historical precedent, such as a royal charter, or by a government decision. In Northern Ireland, city status is conferred by the British monarch, often based on significant anniversaries, following a bid process by the local council.

Q4. Can new cities be created in Ireland?

Yes, new cities can be created. In the Republic of Ireland, this would typically involve a legislative action by the national parliament or a decision by the government. In Northern Ireland, new cities can be created through a formal bid process to the UK government, subject to approval by the monarch.

Q5. Is there a specific population size required for city status in Ireland?

No, there is no specific population size required for city status in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The designation is based more on historical significance, administrative capacity, and other qualitative factors rather than quantitative measures like population size.

Q6. Are there any recent examples of towns being granted city status in Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, Lisburn and Newry were granted city status in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. In the Republic of Ireland, city designations are less frequent and typically based on historical entitlements rather than recent decisions.

Q7. Does the city status in Ireland come with any special benefits or responsibilities?

City status can enhance the prestige of a place and may help attract investment, tourism, and government funding. The specific benefits or responsibilities can vary, including greater administrative autonomy or eligibility for certain types of funding and development projects.

Q8. How does the process for becoming a city in Northern Ireland compare with that in other parts of the UK?

The process in Northern Ireland is similar to that in the rest of the UK, involving a bid process and consideration of various factors such as population, history, and community identity, with the ultimate decision made by the monarch on significant national occasions.

Q9. How are the cities in Ireland distributed geographically?

Ireland’s cities are distributed across the island, with Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford in the Republic of Ireland covering the eastern, southern, and south-western regions respectively, and Galway to the west. In Northern Ireland, Belfast is in the east, Londonderry (Derry) to the northwest, Lisburn and Armagh to the south, Newry to the southeast, and Bangor to the east, near Belfast.