Now that we are smack bang in the middle of peak holiday time in Ireland, it's time to turn our attention to those of you who will be visiting Ireland in the not too distant future (or even in the distant future!) and especially those of you coming to our beautiful country for the first time. Consider the following points as you ponder your plans ;-))
Where will I fly into / out of?
This will determine where you can easily visit. It also dictates what your route should be. Generally speaking, for a 10 - 14 day holiday you should try to fly into Dublin and out of Shannon or vice versa. This allows you to do a 'natural' U shaped tour of the south or an inverted U shaped tour of the north without retracing your steps. If you have longer than 14 days, this is not such a big issue. The only airports you can fly into from the US are Shannon and Dublin. If you are flying in from the UK and Europe, there are additional airports that can be used, such as Cork, Kerry, Belfast etc.
What month should I visit Ireland?
(June, July, August and September are peak visitor months. Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar. have least daylight hours, but are great from the point of view that they are less busy. November and December are dismal months, only brightened by the prospect of the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Many B&B’s and smaller hotels close for the winter. That is, they close after the October Bank Holiday weekend which is generally the last weekend in October.
Should I hire a car?
The short answer to this is a definite yes, but you can get away without one. Read on. Public transport in Dublin is excellent. (Train, tram, bus, taxi) Unfortunately, outside of Dublin, Public Transport is not as plentiful as locals and visitors would like it to be. The reason for this is that we have a smaller population of Public Transport users outside of Dublin, making regular Public Transportation unprofitable. A car will make you very independent. It will allow you to choose what you get to see. You can spend as much or as little time at a visitor site or off the beaten track as you like. It will take you to places that Public Transport will never get to. If you want to tour the country without a car then you have a few options. 1. Book a guided bus tour. There are a number of excellent tour companies based here. 2. Use Public Transport, but base yourself in one of the cities or towns that have good transport options. Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Belfast to name a few. For County Kerry, Killarney is an excellent base camp which has great tour options also. 3. Book a personal driver. This is becoming quite popular despite the obvious extra cost implications. A number of contributors to Tripadvisor have done this.
Are there any places that I must see?
It is important to have a list of some sights that you really want to visit. You will decide this by hearing feedback from other travellers or by what you have seen on TV, online or in magazines. The reason for this list (no matter how short or long) is that it will keep you focussed while planning your trip, and also during the trip. A very good site to get you started if you have no clue about what you want to see is the Heritage Ireland website. http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/ While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of our heritage sights, it is a great starter sight, and it has a very helpful interactive map. This site is also a good one to give you a feel for what you can do here http://www.discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go
How long should I base myself in a particular area?
If at all possible try and spend more rather than less time at your 'base camps'. Try to avoid one-nighters where possible. At the very least, you should base yourself for two nights in any one place. This will allow you to get to know the place a little better. Get to know your accommodation hosts. Allow you to relax a little and slow down to Irelands pace. Day trips of good distances can be done from most 'base camps'. There is not always a need to base yourself very near a sight that you want to visit. 20, 30 or even 50 miles distance to a visitor sight will make an interesting half day or full day trip, as you will get to see other places of interest on your way.
How many actual tour days do I have?
(It’s best you don’t include arrival and departure dates in your itinerary especially if you have made a long journey. Arrival and departure days are usually ‘non days’ as most of your time is spent, travelling to airport or ferry, packing and checking in at airport/ferry). Arrival days should be used to get to you accommodation, check in, take a deep breath and ready yourself for your trip. If of course your arrival time is early in the day, then yes, go for it, start the adventure.
Here is a list of how your time can be spent depending on the number of actual tour days you have:
5 days - You can base yourself in one of the cities for 2 days, and then take a 3 day trip to one other location, day tripping from there. Or two further trips of 1 and 2 days.
7 days - Whistlestop tour of the southern OR northern halves of the country. Alternatively 3 day city stay, followed by two other two day destinations.
10 days- as for 7 days, but add another 2 day destination.
14 days - You could circumnavigate the island, staying for 2 nights in 7 different locations. This would allow you to visit the highlights. It would be busy and you would need to have a nice tight itinerary, but is doable.
What are my main interests? (eating, drinking, shopping, walking, history, geography, outdoor, photography)
(Some parts of the country are particularly good for certain activities). It can sometimes help if you 'theme' at least some of your holiday here. For example if you are a keen photographer, then there are specific places that are must visits for stunning photographic opportunities. This is generally in the coastal regions. Or if you like history then it is worth considering taking pre arranged guided walking tours in cities/towns where these are available.
What kind of accommodation will I stay in (Hostel, B&B, Guesthouse, Hotel)
Hostels are cheapest while 4 and 5 star hotels are the most expensive. Where you stay depends on your budget. Sometimes you do not have a choice as the area you choose to stay at may not have many accommodation options. The difference between B&B (bed and breakfast) and Guesthouse can be quite subtle or very obvious depending on the property. A B&B - is just that - Bed and Breakfast. After breakfast you are expected to be gone for the remainder of the day, only returning in the late afternoon to use your room again. A guesthouse will have a visitor lounge where you can sit relax, read and watch TV. It is like a home from home. A guesthouse is usually, but not exclusively more expensive than a B&B. Hostels can have private rooms but you may have to share a bathroom. Hostels also have dormitories where there are a number of beds. The hostel management generally provide separate dorms for male and female visitors.
How many are in the group?
This will impact your transport options, and lead to arguments if the itinerary does not appeal to everyone. If you are travelling with a group, say more than 4 people, then it will be very wise to print an itinerary prior to the trip and make sure each member has a copy and is in agreement with it. You can always change the itinerary by agreement once you get here. Also remember that a group will travel slower than two.
Will there be children travelling with me?
With kids travelling with you, you may have to be more flexible about what you include in your itinerary. Make sure your kids know what to expect from a trip to Ireland before you travel. It's not Disneyland! Make sure that they know that. Make sure that they know there will be lots of walking and outdoor stuff when you get here. Tell them about your itinerary well before you leave, include anecdotes about our Geography and History. It doesn't have to be a thesis, but a brief outline will set their expectations and create some excitement. There are lots of books for kids on all kinds of Irish subjects. This really doesn't apply to toddlers who will just be glad to be with mum and dad and are more manageable (aren't they?!)
How energietic am I? (Can I do a lot of walking or prefer motorised transport)
If you are an energetic person you will find that walking is a wonderful way to see Ireland properly. Some sights require that you get out of the car and walk. All cities and most large towns, and even some smaller ones have a local bike hire shop. It is well worth considering this activity even if it's only for one day during your holiday. Kayaking is also very popular here and most coastal towns will have a local Kayak Hire company, though in this case it may be necessary that you take a guided tour rather than go it alone. If this is the case, the reason is for health and safety. If you like hiking - try to include at least one hike into the hills here. Every county has at least one 'spot height'. If you want to do extended hiking, you must have a map and compass/GPS but more importantly KNOW how to use them.
Do I like to visit cities or prefer more rural locations?
If you do not like cities, then consider excluding the large Irish cities from your itinerary. These include, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny,Galway, Belfast etc). However, a visit to Ireland would not be complete without visiting at least one of our fine cities.
Do I want to include shopping as part of my holiday?
If you want to shop, then you should include a major city or two on your itinerary). All our cities have the usual 'high street' chains but more importantly a lot of locally owned and run shops too. Dublin and Cork are particularly good shopping cities. Dublin airport has the best shopping options, all the others much less so. If you are looking for a specific item to buy, check it out online before you travel for suppliers or ask a question about it on TripAdvisor.
Tips on getting advice on itineraries.
One of the most asked about questions on TA is to do with proposed itineraries. We can help you better if you follow these guidelines when looking for help with your itinerary:
1. Have some idea as to where you will fly into and out of.
2. Tell us whether you will hire a car or not. (That makes a big difference)
3. Have an idea of where you want to go. This will involve looking at an online or paper based map and try to figure out some kind of route.
4. Have a go at drafting an initial itinerary. It doesn't matter how crazy it might seem. We can help you sort it out and "perfect" it
5. When listing your itinerary, list it this way so that we can easily and quickly follow it and help tweak it for you for example:
- Sunday 12th June Arrive Shannon, hire car, drive to Ennis
- Monday 13th June, Leave Ennis drive to Cliffs of moher, overnight Doolin
- Tuesday 14th June, Ferry to Aran Islands, overnight Doolin
etc, etc etc.
It is very helpful for us to know the days of the week you are travelling, so include them. Travelling on Saturday and Sunday here is very different to travelling on a week day.
Feedback after your trip to Ireland.
If you ask a question on TA about Ireland and it is answered, please give a little time after your trip to tell us how you got on. That way we can pass the information on to other visitors. This can be in the form of a full trip report, or just a few lines to update us on the question that you asked.
Eating and Drinking
Check out restaurant menus before you eat there. Some restaurants display their menus outside. Alternatively ask for recommendations at your accommodation
'Early Bird' menus (generally to be ordered before 7pm) are usually good value. However sometimes they are just a skimpy version of the later menus.
Pub food can be slightly cheaper than restaurant. Before you eat there check the pub out by going in, order a drink and check out the menu and the food that is being served.
Alcohol prices vary from County to County and from pub to pub but not by a lot. Hotels are generally more expensive. Soft drinks are very expensive in both pubs and hotels. While they are legally obliged to display drinks prices at the bar, some do, some don't and those that do make them difficult to read !
The country is full of mini-markets and supermarkets. The majority of these sell excellent picnic style food. Save yourself a lot of money by picnic-ing when you can for lunch especially. Some bread, cheese, meat, fruit, soft drink and water can be purchased much cheaper in a supermarket then in a restaurant. All good supermarkets/minimarkets/petrol stations have self service take coffee/tea machines.
Not sure about that pub?
A good irish pub should feel warm and welcoming and the staff should be friendly and efficient.
Here is brynos tip on how to 'check out' a pub.
Go into pub, if you get a good vibe and the first impression is good, order a drink.
If you like what you see, stay there, if not, move on.
If you are unsure about it when you go in, order a 'small drink' first. This will give you the opportunity to drink up quickly and get out of there!
Beer and lager are purchased in pints and half pints. "One pint of beer/lager please" or "A half pint of beer/lager please" Shorts are either ordered like this: "Jameson (or whatever is your favourite brand) whiskey please" Few drinkers will order 'doubles' but if you want one, then you ask for "Double Jameson please" There you go, the whistlestop tour of the Irish pub.
Enjoy your planning and have a great trip.