Planning Your Ireland Vacation
So, you’re planning a trip to Ireland? Wonderful! If you are like most travelers, you probably have many questions to answer as you embark upon planning your Ireland vacation. Regardless of whether you are a first-time visitor or have several visits stamped in your passport, you are sure to find useful information here. Let’s answer some of those questions we frequently hear:
When Should I visit Ireland?
Any time is a great time to visit Ireland! Like most places, Ireland experiences peak seasons and off seasons. Peak season is during July and August so if you are planning your Ireland vacation for those months, expect higher airfares and be prepared to book early. The best hotels, tours, and B&B’s all fill up early and many attractions will be crowded.
The shoulder season of May, June, September, and October can be great times to visit Ireland. Many of the crowds are gone and you can probably find some great Ireland vacation packages. While you won’t have daylight lasting until after 10PM at night during these months, you will still have plenty of daylight hours to enjoy outdoor attractions and activities during your trip to Ireland.
Even the winter months can be enjoyable. With darkness falling earlier, you will find yourself focusing more on indoor activities including enjoying the welcoming atmosphere of Ireland’s many pubs.
The weather in Ireland can be wet although it is fairly moderate at most times. Ireland does have four seasons, and by that, we sometimes mean four seasons in the course of a single day! The secret is to dress in layers and bring sufficient rain gear for those times when it rains.
What are the best places to see in Ireland?
We have good news for you, no matter how many times you visit Ireland, you will never run out of things and places to see! For such a small country, this may seem hard to believe, but ask anyone who has been to Ireland multiple times and they will tell you that Ancient Ireland always surprises and reveals a little more of herself on every visit.
When it comes to the best places to see in Ireland, everyone will have their favorites. Ireland is rich in ancient history and many visitors enjoy exploring Ireland’s Ancient East. Others are attracted to the spectacular and breathtaking views of the western coast known as Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. For others, it may be the vibrant cities of Dublin, Belfast, Galway and others smaller towns. Or, perhaps you want to bicycle through the countryside? (You can bicycle from Dublin to Galway as well as along the many rural roads all over the country.) Do you enjoy fishing, golfing, castles, stone monuments, old abandoned ruins? Ireland has all of that too.
For a first time visit to Ireland, we recommend a stop which is a little more than an hour west of Dublin at The Hill of Uisneach. Uisneach is located in The Midlands between Mullingar and Athlone and is known as the sacred center of Ireland. Taking either the mythological or archaeological tour of Uisneach gives the visitor a new perspective on how everything in Ireland is connected and related to each other and the seasons.
We’ve put some of our favorite highlights to consider on your Ireland vacation into a handy eBook which you can download here:
Should I rent a car on my trip to Ireland?
Renting a car and driving can be a wonderful and rewarding experience on your Ireland vacation. There are a few things to consider before you do:
To begin with, driving in Ireland requires driving on the left. This is not hard to do and is easy to get used to. One word of caution here: if you have never driven on the left before, it may not be the best idea to get off an overnight flight, sleep deprived, and start driving for a couple hours to the west. We recommend taking it easy the first day. Consider staying in Dublin on the first day of your trip to Ireland and enjoying a few sites in the city. After a good night’s sleep, pick up your rental either from an in-city location or head back to the airport to get your rental. Flying into Shannon is another option as the airport is smaller and when driving out, you will not have to contend with urban traffic as you do in Dublin.
Most rental cars in Ireland have a manual transmission. If you never learned to drive a manual transmission vehicle, it may not be the best time to learn while at the same time learning to drive on the left. Car rental companies in Ireland do offer automatic transmission rental vehicles, but they are in high demand and cost substantially more. If you need an automatic, be sure to reserve one when making your car rental booking for your Ireland vacation.
Warning! While many credit cards include insurance for rental cars, make absolutely certain that the excess liability is covered as many specifically exclude coverage in Ireland. Sure, it costs a few dollars more to buy down to zero liability, but it is well worth it considering you may be driving on some roads which are narrower than you may be used to as well as driving left. If you do have one of the few credit cards that will cover car rentals in Ireland, be aware that in the event off any damage, the car rental company will charge your credit card for the excess damage and it will be up to you to file a claim and sort the matter out with your credit card company.
Should you rent a GPS? A GPS is a wonderful tool for navigating and particularly so for places such as some B&B’s without a real street address where you may need to enter actual GPS coordinates. Getting them from the rental car company can be expensive though and there are better ways to spend your Ireland vacation budget. We offer the following suggestions:
· If you ever plan to visit Ireland or Europe again, it is a worthwhile investment to purchase a GPS with the Western Europe maps and bring it with you. Purchasing probably equals the cost of the rental, but then you have it to use in the future, cost free.
· Most smartphones these days have GPS functionality. To use them without also using expensive roaming data, you will need to first download offline maps for areas you plan to visit during your trip to Ireland.
· Another option available from car rental companies is to rent a wireless tethering device. This allows you to use wireless broadband during your trip which besides using your phone for navigation, allows you to use thee wireless for email, uploading photos, and other Internet access without the expense off costly data roaming from your cellular carrier during your trip to Ireland.
Unlike the United States, many cars in Ireland use diesel instead of gasoline. Pay careful attention! When you pull up at the pumps, you will notice that the petrol (gasoline) pump is green handled and the diesel pump is black. THIS IS OPPOSITE OF THE UNITED STATES! We have heard many horror stories of jet lagged tourists filling the tank with the wrong fuel. This is one way to spoil your perfect Irish vacation and expensive as well. You will need to have the tank removed and purged, all while losing precious time during your trip to Ireland.
When renting and returning a rental vehicle at Dublin airport, you most likely will need to traverse the M50 motorway which is like a beltway around the city of Dublin. Tolls on the M50 are all handled photographically by license plate. Failure to pay the toll by the next evening will result in fines which the car rental agency will charge to you. Once you head out away from Dublin, stop at a service area or petrol station to pay the toll and purchase two trips. This way, you will avoid the fine and be covered for your return journey to Dublin airport when leaving Ireland at the end of your Ireland vacation.
What about using public transportation?
Public transportation is available all over Ireland and it is possible to get to most places using rail or bus. If you plan to use public transportation during your Ireland vacation, Transport for Ireland has both online as well as indispensable apps you can use for journey planning and real-time updates. See the Transport for Ireland website for more detail and to download the app.
Which Ireland Tours are best?
Ask two people and you are likely to get three different opinions about which Ireland tours are best. Tourism is a big part of the Irish economy and there is even a national agency, Failte Ireland, setup to promote tourism and visits to Ireland. Failte Ireland even has an office in Dublin airport so when clearing customs, turn right toward thee restrooms at the far end of the terminal (Terminal 2) and you will find them on your right after passing the restaurant on your left.
You will find many different types off tours in Ireland to choose from. There are package tours, which are discussed in the next section, as well as day tours, hop on tours, local site tours and private guides for hire. In addition, many attractions have audio guides for rent which are useful and informative for self-guided tours off the attraction.
With tourism being such a big industry in Ireland there are large, international tour operators as well as locally based tour operators. While there is nothing against using a large, international operator, many are quite good, we recommend working with an Irish guide or operator. Who else knows Ireland than the local Irish? Local Irish operators can make the difference between a great Irish vacation and a magical Irish vacation.
Should I book an Ireland vacation package?
Booking an Ireland vacation package for your first trip to Ireland can take a lot of stress out of planning your Ireland vacation. Even if this is not your first trip to Ireland, booking a package vacation and tour is still an excellent value allowing you to get the most out of your trip to Ireland leaving the details to the tour company to handle. When selecting a package tour, you will have many options to choose from so it is important to select a tour which matches your style and vacation objectives.
Vacation packages often share a few things in common:
- · Airport transfers in Ireland
- · Lodging
- · Transport between tour destinations on comfortable vehicle
- · Knowledgeable tour director
- · Professional driver
- · Luggage handling
- · Snacks and water on the bus
- · Some tours may include Wi-Fi access on the bus
- · A support telephone number for any issues or emergencies during your stay
- · Breakfast
- · Either lunch or dinner (A few will offer both)
- · Admission to local attractions which are part of the tour itinerary
- · Step on guide (local expert) for some attractions
- · Advice and recommendations for optional activities during free time or extended stays at the end of the tour package
Items usually not included in the package:
- · Admission fees to optional activities
- · Meals not listed as included in the tour itinerary
- · Alcoholic beverages
- · Incidental hotel charges
- · Tips to driver and tour director
When researching potential Ireland vacation packages, you will likely encounter several types of tours and packages on offer:
Escorted Coach Tours:
An escorted coach tour is usually with a group of 35 or more persons on a full-size motor coach. These packages can be relatively inexpensive and represent good value because the tour operator can accept slimmer margins because of the larger number of passengers. Lodging options are usually limited to hotels with the capacity for provide rooms for over 35 persons which rules out the smaller boutique Inns and B&B’s. The guides are usually knowledgeable and professional, although access to your tour guide/director may be limited with the larger number of participants. Some tourists have expressed the view that these larger escorted tours can feel rushed.
Private Chauffeur and Charters
A private chauffeur is the opposite end of the spectrum from the large, escorted coach tour. When selecting this option for your Ireland vacation, expect to pay a higher price. For the most part, a private chauffeur will transport you in a comfortable sedan with the driver also service as your guide. The choice of itinerary can be either one which your driver recommends or can be completely customized. Selecting a private chauffeur has all the flexibility of a self-drive tour without the hassle of driving and without the rigid schedule of the escorted coach tour.
If you have a larger family group of 6, 10, 16 or more people, this can be a very viable and cost effective option.
Mid-Sized Escorted Coach Tours
Some tour package operators cater to smaller groups than a full-size coach. Often, you will find these packages on vehicles limited to 16 persons. Many of the same characteristics of the escorted coach tour apply here as well, although you will likely get a little more individual attention from the tour director and perhaps feel a little less rushed. The tour director often, but not always, doubles as the driver. By operating a smaller vehicle, these tour packages can include destinations which might be difficult, because of limited roadways, for the larger, full size motor coach to reach. Selecting a mid-sized escorted coach tour can represent an excellent compromise although cost a little more than the full-sized coach tour.
Small Escorted Van Tour
A small, escorted tour very well may be the best of both worlds. Some companies will focus on serving groups of four to eight persons which offers a very intimate experience with plenty of time to interact with the guide. Your guide will also be your driver with this type of package. Most likely, the tour operator will offer this package with preset itineraries. However, you may be able to convince the operator to run a custom itinerary if you have a group of at least four. In other words, you can achieve all of the benefits of a private chauffeur at a price point which may be only nominally higher than the escorted coach tour. This can be a very nice option for a family or group of four or more.
Where to From Here?
Hopefully, you will visit us in Ireland soon! Once you do come to Ireland, we are certain you will keep coming back to this magical place again and again.
If there is anything that we here at Ancient Ireland Tourism can do to help you in planning your Ireland vacation, please call or email us.