Once a month I get an email or blog comment requesting tips for planning a first visit to Ireland. The most common question I get is “I’m going to Ireland. What should I see?” There are few travel destinations that I like to talk about more than Ireland, so I welcome the inquiries. Here’s a message I got last week from Maria (not her real name). I’ve never met her, but I’ve received hundreds of emails like hers. With Maria’s permission, I share her email here …
We are going to Ireland approximately March 14-20. …We wanted to be in Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We are interested in seeing the must sees like Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Glendalough, etc..My ancestors are from Cork County, Ireland so I would love to see that area. There are so many things but time is limited. We do want to see as much of Ireland as possible but I do not even know the distance or stamina it will take. I guess we need to narrow down a doable six day itinerary March 14-21 either self driven or day tours and pick accommodations.
Understanding distances in a common problem of first time travelers to Ireland. If Maria actually tried to do what she’s listed above it would be like taking six days to go to Philadelphia then over to New York City then to Atlantic City then to Richmond VA then back to Philadelphia. Crazy, I know. And though Americans don’t balk at running the American highways when it comes to travel, the time on Irish roads isn’t calculated the same way.
Could Maria actually do all the things she mentions in 6 days? Possibly. But she’d spend a lot of time driving and the whole experience would be a jumbled blur. It would be like sitting down to a delicious seven-course dinner with all the courses served at once, then trying to take a bit of each course, knowing your only had 60 seconds to eat the meal.
Here are 5 Tips for planning your first trip to Ireland
TIP 1 – LOSE THE IDEA OF “MUST-SEE” SITES
Maria indicates she wants to do the must sees – Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Glendalough and her ancestral home – Cork. Nice places all, but they are “must sees” in her mind because that’s what the travel brochures promote – most of which are funded by the Irish Tourist Board which also sinks big money into building up and improving said sites.
There’s no need to zig-zag the entire country just to see cliffs, beautiful seaside drives and a monastic village. There are many of these and other fabulous sites all over Ireland. Think in terms of what interests you, then pick a region and find your desired sites in that section of the country.
TIP 2 – THINK ABOUT YOUR BEST CHOICE FOR TRANSPORTATION
Do you want to drive a car? If so, consider renting through a travel agent instead of booking on line. Car rental is dicey in Ireland. Prices are up and down and hidden costs abound. As often as I travel to Ireland, I still find that my travel agent who works consistently with Irish vendors gets the best rental car deal for me. Renting a car and driving yourself gives the best option for flexibility and freedom. But if you’re an insecure driver, consider some other options:
HIRE A LOCAL DRIVER – Pick a great city to make your home base – Galway, Westport, Sligo, Cork, Kilkenny – and hire a local driver. Work with the B&B or hotel. They often have names of local people who will drive guests to destinations. You can also sign up for day trips by coach (bus – for Americans) going out from your home base. The local visitor center will have information on day-trips that leave from your home base and return later in the day.
BUS TOUR – Book yourself on a coach tour. I hear many people say that they hate the inflexibility of a coach tour. But consider this. A tour operator with a bus full of people has first priority at venues, hotels and attractions. When you walk into a museum or hotel or restaurant with a group, the local venue wants to take care of that group quickly. Your group frequently gets the best service and is first to be served. Secondly, you have the benefit of a private guide. Not all bus tours have super large groups either. Coaches are a great way to make friends and travel stress free.
TIP 3 – THINK ABOUT WHAT APPEALS TO YOU BEFORE YOU PLAN THE TRIP
Don’t let the adverts dictate what you see. Think about it … what do you like? Do you like castles, scenic cliffs, megaliths, stone circles, pubs, small towns & villages, beaches, mountains, food, golf, fishing, hiking, monastic ruins, music, dance, visual arts, history, museums, literary heroes, agriculture, gardens, manor houses, horse back riding, shrines, secluded islands, churches, festivals? Ireland has all of these. Identify a few things that appeal to you and pick a region. If you love mountains and cliffs and hiking, the North has wonderful options. For a combination of golf, history, museums, food, pubs, visual arts the area around Dublin might serve well. Fishing fiend? Think about Galway and Ballina (in Mayo). You can let your preferences dictate the region you choose, or let the region lead the choices you make for destinations. Either way, you’re a winner in Ireland.
TIP 4 – DON’T BE AFRAID TO CONSULT A TRAVEL BLOGGER
I get tons of requests for advice on where to travel to Ireland or how to put a tour together. I love that my readers feel comfortable enough to ask. Do a Google Blog search for Tour Ireland. You’ll find bloggers there. You can also search on Twitter, on Facebook and YouTube. Most of us love to interact with our readers. Of all the blog pages I have on four different blog sites 10 Tips for Travel to Ireland is my most viewed page. Hundreds of people view it daily. Private bloggers are a popular way of finding information on travel.
TIP 5 – ACCOMMODATIONS – BOOK YOUR FIRST NIGHT BEFORE YOU LEAVE – TRY NOT TO MOVE AROUND TOO MUCH
Unless you’re traveling at peak season or to a region during a popular festival, it’s not necessary to have all your accommodations booked before you leave. But you definitely want your first night booked. Bed and Breakfasts are still a great option for self guided touring. They are affordable and allow the visitor to spend time with the most hospitable people in Ireland. Use an online datablase or travel app like Bed and Breakfast Ireland to find a place for your first night. Then play it by ear for the rest of your trip. Also consider staying at least two or more nights in one location. It’s so tiring to have to schlep all your stuff each day to the next location. Ireland is a small enough country that you could stay in one town and venture out to several areas that are within a 50 mile radius.
So decide what you like, decide how you’ll travel (car, bus, car hire) pick a region, consult a travel blogger, and book your first night’s stay before you leave. Your bound to be able to squeeze every bit of uncomplicated fun out the trip.
TOUR IRELAND WITH US …
Consider traveling to Ireland on our annual Thin Places Mystical Tour of Ireland. Once a year I escort a group of guests on a tour of mystical places in a particular region of Ireland. Take a look at our itinerary.
You might also enjoy reading 10 Tips for Travel to Ireland
Happy travels, Travel Hags.
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