If you’re planning your first trip to Ireland, you’re in for a real treat. With its rolling green hills, historic castles, and lovely villages, the Emerald Isle is one of Europe’s most charming destinations. Nonetheless, before you go, there are a few things you need to know to make the most of your visit.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a complete guide on how to plan a vacation to Ireland. To make our recommendations easy to understand, we’ve broken them down into 15 main Ireland travel tips. For example, we’ll review the best time of year to visit the country, airport options, tips for driving in Ireland, and itinerary planning.
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1. Begin tracking flights up to 11 months in advance.
One of our best Ireland tips is to begin tracking flights for your travel dates well in advance. Especially if your trip dates aren’t flexible, start monitoring prices as early as 11 months ahead of time. We always use Google Flights to track flight costs! Remember that, as a general rule, it’s usually cheaper to travel during the week than on the weekend.
Make a plan to analyze how the prices fluctuate over time as you track flights for your travel dates. Likely, the cost will be high 11 months out and then begin to shift up and down once you’re about six months out. For flights to Ireland, we recommend booking at least three months in advance to save the most money (unless you find a great deal close to time!).
2. Dublin isn’t the only airport in Ireland with transatlantic flights.
In order to find the cheapest flights, you also need to be familiar with your airport options. Of course, the Dublin Airport (DUB) is where most tourists enter and exit Ireland. Nonetheless, it’s not the only option for Americans. In fact, the Shannon Airport (SNN) receives direct flights from Boston (via Aer Lingus) and New York (JFK with Aer Lingus and EWR with United).
This airport sits along the country’s west coast, making it an excellent option if you plan to focus on exploring Southern Ireland. If you’ve already been to Dublin before, flying into the Shannon Airport may put you closer to the attractions you’re hoping to see. For example, the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and the Dingle Peninsula are closer to SNN than DUB.
Keep in mind that you also don’t have to arrive and depart from the same airport if you decide to road trip through Ireland. For instance, you could always fly into Dublin and then return to the U.S. from the Shannon Airport in County Clare.
3. Travel in shoulder season to avoid the crowds.
One of the most important parts of planning a trip to Ireland on a budget is choosing the right time of year to visit. While Ireland is beautiful year-round, the weather can be unpredictable. Therefore, it’s crucial to pick a time of year when the conditions are most likely to be favorable.
For this reason, the peak season for tourism runs from June to early September, when you can expect warmer temperatures and longer days. Having said that, we believe April and May are the best months to plan a trip to Ireland. Rainfall is at its lightest on the Emerald Isle in the spring.
So, these months represent the ultimate sweet spot for ideal weather in Ireland with fewer crowds. Just make sure to avoid traveling during the country’s Easter holidays as many local families choose to vacation during these two weeks.
Another option to avoid the high season in Ireland is to travel between mid-September and October. You’ll likely encounter more rain than in the spring but even fewer fellow tourists. You’ll only want to avoid traveling in the fall during the mid-term school break. This week tends to fall around Halloween!
Suppose you follow our Ireland travel tips and plan your trip for the shoulder season (spring or fall). In that case, you can experience the most popular attractions, like Blarney Castle & Gardens, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Guinness Storehouse, without the crowds.
Read More: The Best Books About Ireland
4. Rent a car to see the most beautiful parts of Ireland.
Many visitors opt to rent a car to explore the Emerald Isle at their own pace. In our opinion, it’s the best way to tour Ireland and much more convenient than taking public transport everywhere. Not having a car can be extremely limiting, especially if you’re planning to leave Dublin (and we think you should!).
If it’s your first time planning an Ireland trip, here are a few quick recommendations on renting a car:
- Can you drive a stick shift? If so, you can save lots of money! In general, more manual than automatic cars are available to rent in Ireland. So, automatic vehicles will be significantly more expensive.
- Rental car companies in Ireland typically charge to add an additional driver. Nonetheless, we highly recommend having at least two authorized drivers per vehicle. In particular, if you’re planning an Ireland road trip, you’ll want to be able to take breaks and switch drivers.
- Check to see if your credit card covers CDW insurance before paying for it at the counter. I travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers an auto rental collision damage waiver as part of the benefits. Before going to Ireland, make sure to request proof of primary insurance from Card Benefit Services.
- Choosing a diesel vehicle can save you money. If you plan to drive a lot during your Ireland vacation, you may want to opt for a car that takes diesel. Although it might be more expensive up front, you save money in the long run. Just remember that the diesel pump is the black hose in Ireland.
- The smaller the car, the better. Irish roads, especially in the countryside, can feel pretty snug. With this in mind, we suggest picking the smallest rental car that comfortably fits all your luggage.
5. Prepare yourself to drive on the left side of the road.
Although the idea of driving on the left side of the road may seem daunting to most Americans, we promise that it’s easier than you may think. All it takes is a little preparation! If you’re particularly nervous about it, we recommend watching videos on Youtube.
Since you’re driving on the left side of the road, it’s important to note that the driver’s seat will be on the right side of the car. Essentially, everything is the opposite. So, the PRNDL will be on your left.
Moreover, if you need to pass a car, you’ll do so by moving to the right lane to pass and then moving back to the left lane when it’s safe to do so. You’ll also find exits off the highway to your left.
Since everything is opposite, Americans will also need to get accustomed to driving in a clockwise direction at roundabouts in Ireland. When renting a car at the Dublin Airport, you’ll immediately encounter a few roundabouts as you exit the airport.
Therefore, we suggest watching a few videos beforehand to get used to the concept. When approaching a roundabout in Ireland, you’ll take the left lane if you’re turning left. If you’re turning right, get in the right lane. Additionally, you’ll get in the left lane if you need to go straight unless the signs indicate otherwise.
Pro tip: Look to your right instead of your left when crossing the street.
6. Plan your driving route around Ireland.
If you’re working on your Ireland road trip Itinerary, there are a few things to keep in mind when mapping out your driving route. First, consider your starting point and make a list of the top places you want to visit.
Be sure to consider historical sites, tours, and other attractions you’d like to see. For example, if you’re starting in Dublin, you may want to head south for bucket list experiences like kissing the Blarney Stone or driving the Ring of Kerry.
Second, Ireland is a small country; however, there’s a lot to see! So, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with its geography. From there, it’s essential to narrow down your list of stops before you start planning your route.
We recommend marking your must-visit attractions on a map so you can understand where they are in relation to your start and end point. Here are some of the most popular places to include in an Ireland vacation (outside of Dublin):
- The Cliffs of Moher: These sea cliffs in County Clare are the most famous tourist attraction in Ireland, receiving over 1.5 million visitors per year.
- The Ring of Kerry: This scenic driving route in County Kerry, southwestern Ireland, passes through the Iveragh Peninsula. Popular highlights include Killarney National Park, the Kerry Cliffs, and boat tours of Skellig Michael.
- Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone: Located in County Cork, Blarney Castle is home to the legendary Blarney Stone. Supposedly, this stone bestows the “gift of the gab” upon anyone who kisses it. The extensive gardens at Blarney Castle are also worth a visit!
- Connemara National Park: Laid out across Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden and the Twelve Bens mountain range, Connemara National Park is a stunning natural space in County Galway, Ireland.
7. Book accommodations in advance.
If you’re hoping to plan a trip to Ireland on a budget, it’s a good idea to book your hotels, bed & breakfasts, or Airbnbs in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the high season. While plenty of lodging options are available, they fill up quickly during the busiest times of the year. Moreover, hotel prices tend to increase closer to your arrival date, so booking early can help you get the best rates.
One of the most popular things to do in Ireland is to stay at a castle hotel for a few nights. In fact, you can find beautiful castle hotels scattered all around the country! However, it’s important to note that many of these properties are boutique hotels with a limited amount of rooms.
So, if you know that you want to stay at a particular castle during your Ireland trip, we suggest booking well in advance. Here are some of the most sought-after properties to stay at on the Emerald Isle:
- Ashford Castle: This 5-star hotel is located in County Mayo, Ireland, and is one of the oldest castle hotels in the country, dating back to 1228. Guests can enjoy luxurious accommodations, fine dining, and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside at this 350-acre estate.
- Adare Manor: Adare Manor is an award-winning five-star hotel & golf resort in County Limerick, Ireland. The manor dates back to the 13th century, and the present-day estate spans over 840 acres, featuring a renowned championship golf course, a luxury spa, and upscale dining.
- Dromoland Castle: Dromoland Castle is one of the finest luxury castle hotels in Ireland. Situated on 450 acres of scenic parkland, this castle dates back to the 15th century and makes the perfect base for exploring the West of Ireland, including the Cliffs of Moher.
8. Limit your time in Dublin to 1-2 days.
Dublin is a great starting point for your trip. Not only is it the capital city, but it’s also home to attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, and the Kilmainham Gaol Museum. Nonetheless, just because you’re flying in and out of the Dublin airport doesn’t mean you should stay in the city for your whole vacation.
When taking a trip to Ireland, we’ve noticed that many Americans will choose to base themselves in Dublin and take day trips. While we think this works for shorter trips–for example, four days in the country or less–we don’t recommend it for longer vacations to Ireland.
If you stay in the city the whole time, you miss the chance to immerse yourself in a more authentic Irish experience. Plus, overnight accommodations are significantly cheaper in smaller towns than in Dublin. So, if you’re wondering how to plan a cheap trip to Ireland, we recommend exploring the south of Ireland or the west coast. You can save lots of money by staying in B&Bs or inns outside the city.
Another of our best Ireland travel tips is to save Dublin for the end of your trip. If you choose to go this route, you can pick up your rental car from the Dublin airport and immediately head to your top destinations outside the city. This way, you can play by ear how much time you need to see other areas and then save 1-2 days for Dublin at the end.
9. Make sure to include Northern Ireland in your itinerary.
Northern Ireland is often overlooked as a travel destination. However, we think it would be a mistake not to include it on your trip itinerary. For one thing, it’s home to some of the most stunning scenery in all of Europe. The Giant’s Causeway, the Mourne Mountains, and the Glens of Antrim are just a few natural wonders you can find there.
Belfast, Northern Ireland’s largest and capital city, is also well worth visiting. It was the site of some of the most bitter fighting during the Troubles, and today you can learn about this dark period at places like the Crumlin Road Gaol and the Peace Wall. Another major tourist attraction here is the Titanic Belfast, where you can learn about the history of the Titanic right next to the place where it was designed and built.
And finally, if you’re a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland is a must-visit. Many of the show’s most iconic scenes were filmed here at places like Castle Ward, the Dark Hedges, and Tollymore Forest Park.
You can even take a guided tour to see some of the Game of Thrones filming locations for yourself! Here are some of the most popular Northern Ireland Game of Thrones tours from Belfast:
- Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour from Belfast
- Iron Islands & Giant’s Causeway Game of Thrones Tour from Belfast
- Game of Thrones – Winterfell Trek from Belfast
When traveling to Northern Ireland, remember that it’s technically part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, when you cross the border, you’ll notice the speed limit goes from kilometers per hour to miles per hour. Furthermore, Northern Ireland uses pounds instead of euros!
10. Include hidden gems in your itinerary.
When planning your perfect Ireland itinerary, be sure to include some hidden gems along with the more popular places to visit. For example, see more than just the Ring of Kerry in Co. Kerry by adding the Dingle Peninsula. Or, check out Word Heritage Sites like Brú na Bóinne or Skellig Michael. Apart from a more authentic experience, you’re also less likely to encounter crowds!
Here are some of our favorite off-the-beaten-track attractions to consider in your Ireland trip planning:
- The Dingle Peninsula: This Peninsula in southwest Ireland is home to one of the most scenic drives in the country: Slea Head Drive. Along this route, experience rugged cliffs, sweeping beaches, and even Star Wars filming locations.
- Slieve League Cliffs: The second-highest sea cliffs in Ireland are located in County Donegal along the Wild Atlantic Way. At nearly 2,000 feet high (600 m), they offer stunning views of the Irish coastline.
- The Aran Islands: The Aran Islands are a group of three islands situated in Galway Bay, off the west coast of Ireland. After you reach the islands by ferry, popular activities include cycling, hiking trails, and visiting the beaches.
- Skellig Michael: This island off the coast of County Kerry is best known for its historic Gaelic monastery, dating back to the 6th century. You can only visit on an eco-boat or landing tour!
- Kinsale: This charming fishing town is famous for its colorful streets and gourmet restaurants, including Bastion, a Michel Star restaurant. Don’t miss fresh fish n’ chips near the harbor!
- Adare: This adorable village in County Limerick features thatched cottages, craft shops, Desmond Castle, and a historic Augustinian Priory. It’s also home to the famous Adare Manor, a 19th-century luxury resort hotel.
11. Don’t try to see everything in one trip.
If you’re wondering how to plan a trip to Ireland, this tip is particularly important. Especially if you have a short amount of time in the country, it’s crucial to be realistic about how much you can actually see. For this reason, we previously mentioned mapping out your top destinations early on.
If the places you want to visit look really far apart, and you only have five days, you have some tough decisions to make. The main question to ask yourself is: do I mind being in a rush? If you want your trip to have more of a laid-back vacation feel, you may want to make some cuts.
Plus, keep in mind that driving distances on Google Maps in Ireland can sometimes be inaccurate. We found this to be particularly true in areas with narrow country roads!
If it’s your first time driving on the left side and navigating Irish roads, you’re less likely to feel comfortable going the speed limit. Frankly, on some of roads with unmarked lanes, I don’t know how Irish people feel safe driving very fast!
We know that cramming everything into one trip to Ireland can be tempting! However, we highly suggest making specific goals for each visit. If it’s your first time to the Emerald Isle and time is limited, you may want to stick to day trips from Dublin and Galway.
Moreover, another option is to book a multi-day guided tour of Ireland. This way, you can see as much as possible–even in a short amount of time! Plus, a guided tour will keep you on a quickly moving schedule. Another advantage of going this route is that you won’t have to worry about driving.
12. Maintain some flexibility in your Ireland itinerary.
When visiting Ireland, there may be a few destinations you feel strongly about seeing. Well, remember when we mentioned Ireland’s unpredictable weather earlier? The local climate means you’re likely to encounter at least a little rain or fog on your trip.
Unfortunately, sometimes bad weather happens the one day you planned to go to that must-visit attraction. With this in mind, we urge you to maintain some flexibility in your Ireland itinerary. At the very least, budget extra time at your bucket list locations.
For example, let’s say you really want to experience the Cliffs of Moher. Plan to stay the night in Doolin for the best chances of seeing the cliffs without rain. This way, you can try to visit in the evening one day. Then, if you encounter bad weather, you can try again the next morning.
We’d give similar advice for the Ring of Kerry. If driving this route is a priority for you, allot two days in your itinerary to do so. In the best-case scenario, you have two sunny days to drive around the loop leisurely. In a worst-case scenario, you have more time to wait for the rain and fog to pass.
We think that the ideal amount of time to explore Ireland in depth is 10-14 days. It’s also a lot easier to maintain some flexibility in your schedule when you have more time in the country. Nonetheless, we know that a vacation longer than a week isn’t possible for everyone!
For this reason, it’s key to create specific goals for each trip to Ireland. Ask yourself: do you want to see the main highlights, or do you want to have a more intimate experience? With prior planning, you can cover a lot of ground–even with 5-7 days in the country!
13. Purchase a SIM card to stay connected.
One of the easiest ways to save money when traveling around Ireland is to purchase an Irish SIM card for your phone. A SIM card will allow you to stay connected with your loved ones back home and use social media like normal. Most importantly, you can access maps and other important information while on the go. Frankly, it’s much more convenient to use your phone than a GPS!
While it’s possible to use your phone’s data plan while traveling, this option can be pretty expensive. We do recommend at least checking how much an international data plan would cost with your provider. Nonetheless, it’s almost always more costly than purchasing a SIM card while in Ireland. For example, during my last visit, we paid only €20 for unlimited data and internet.
To be able to use an Irish SIM card with your foreign phone, you’ll need to double-check with your service provider that your device is unlocked. If it is, you’ll have no issue receiving a signal once you swap out the SIM cards. Regarding providers in Ireland, we found Vodafone and 3 to be the most budget-friendly. You can find storefronts for both of these companies in the Dublin City Center.
When buying a SIM card in Ireland, note that it includes free roaming throughout the EU. So, your phone will still work if you plan to visit Northern Ireland (when you’re technically in the U.K). After crossing the border, you just need to ensure that your data roaming is turned on in your settings.
14. You’ll want to pack clothing that you can layer.
Ireland is a beautiful country with a lot to offer tourists; however, as we mentioned above, the weather can be unpredictable. For this reason, it’s important to pack layers that you can take on and off as the temperature changes throughout the day. For example, a light jacket or sweater is a good idea for cooler mornings and evenings, even in the summer.
Moreover, if you’re traveling during the winter, you’ll need to add a heavier coat and thick sweaters to your Ireland packing list. If you’re planning on doing any hiking, make sure to pack comfortable shoes with good traction. We also suggest bringing chapstick for windburn!
When traveling Ireland, you’re likely to encounter at least some rain. So, be sure to pack an umbrella or raincoat that you can carry with you to attractions. But don’t let the weather deter you from enjoying all that Ireland has to offer. With some planning, you can have a great trip no matter what the forecast says!
15. Purchase travel insurance.
While travel insurance is not required to visit Ireland, we always recommend purchasing it for your vacation in case of an emergency. There are many different types of travel insurance, so choosing a policy that best suits your needs is essential. For example, if you’re planning to participate in any adventure activities, such as hiking or biking, you will want to make sure that your policy covers these activities.
There are several reasons why buying travel insurance can help you enjoy your trip with peace of mind. First, if you need to cancel your trip for any reason, travel insurance will often reimburse you for non-refundable expenses. Secondly, if you get sick or injured while on vacation, travel insurance will cover the cost of your medical treatment (the amount depends on the policy you choose).
Finally, if your luggage is lost or stolen while you’re in Ireland, specific travel insurance policies will reimburse you for the cost of replacing your belongings. When it comes to vacations, it’s better to be safe than sorry. That’s why purchasing travel insurance is always a bright idea!
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Thursday 8th of September 2022
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