Visiting Ireland is one of the many things on my must-do list. Jody Halsted shares her tips on planning your first visit to the Emerald Isle.
First-time visitors to Ireland can be excused if they think that the island’s small size means that they can “see it all’ in a week-long vacation.
Even though Ireland may be small in size, it is massive in history, spectacular views, and magical experiences. To rush through it, checking off experiences like a to-do list will leave you exhausted and frustrated while visiting Ireland.
Planning Your First Visit to Ireland
How Will You Travel?
In Ireland, your mode of transportation will have a large impact on what parts of the country you can see and how quickly you can do it.
Within Dublin, choose public transportation. It’s quite good, will get you everywhere you need to go, and is easily accessible. As you leave the capital, however, trains and buses will only get you so far. For many of Ireland’s “out of the way” destinations, renting a car is truly the best plan for touring the country.
Deciding What to See and Do
This is more difficult than you would think as even the most fastidious planning can go awry as the road less traveled beckons, drawing you from your planned itinerary.
For this reason, along with the fact that you may get lost once or twice, I recommend visiting two major attractions per day, with plenty of time to explore and allow for impromptu side trips.
Consider sticking to a single area of Ireland; using the historic provinces of Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connaught can be a helpful guide to prevent over-planning.
Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations include the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and Giant’s Causeway. My tip is to pick two or three “must see” sites for your trip, then do a bit of research to discover what lies near to them. Spend a couple days in that area before moving on.
For example, the Cliffs of Moher lie within the province of Munster. Not only can you view the cliffs from the top, but boat tours are also available. From here you are an easy drive to other fantastic regional destinations like Lough Gur with its stone circles, the Burren which is filled with megalithic tombs and Killarney, and the gateway to the Dingle Peninsula. And don’t miss the pubs! The Irish Public House is a family-friendly meeting place where you’re likely to find live music and dancing, as well as a great meal and craic (Irish for fun).
Where Will You Stay?
You’ll not be at a loss for a place to lay your head while touring Ireland. Hotels can be found in larger towns, while castle hotels dot the countryside. My choice for lodging is a family-owned bed & breakfast, which you will find in practically every village. The loveliest part of the B&B, besides the delicious Irish breakfast, is the opportunity to get to know your hosts. From them you can learn local history and legend, get dining advice and even find out where to hear the best live music.
Saving Money in Ireland
While many see Ireland as an expensive destination, it is possible to keep your costs low, with planning.
The very easiest way to cut your costs is to travel “off-season” when demand is lower and flights are less expensive. Because Ireland’s weather is unpredictable, a summer visit doesn’t guarantee sun and a winter visit doesn’t guarantee cold rain, so visit when it is best for your budget.
Food is another big vacation expense. Take advantage of the breakfast served at your hotel or B&B. Filled with whole grains and protein, a full Irish breakfast will keep you going through early afternoon. A light snack will likely hold you through until early evening, when you can grab a bit at a pub or make a stop at a grocery for meats, bread and beverages.
If you plan to see many of Ireland’s historic sites, an OPW Heritage Card will save you money on admission on dozens of sites throughout the Republic of Ireland. For savings in both the Republic as well as Northern Ireland, Heritage Island offers nearly 100 discounted admissions and special deals.
And, finally, if you rent a car, be sure to get the smallest vehicle your family can fit into. Petrol is sold by the litre in Ireland, making fuel over $8 per gallon. A smaller car with higher gas mileage will save you enough money to splurge on a fancy dinner—or two!
All photos courtesy of Jody Halsted.
Jody Halsted is a family travel authority with a mad passion for Ireland. A frequent visitor to the country, she loves nothing more than exploring the country with her husband and two daughters. Jody recently published a series of planning tips for visiting Ireland at her site Ireland With Kids. Jody also plans Ireland itineraries and provides Ireland travel coaching. Get inspired by the Ireland Family Vacations Pinterest boards or follow Jody on Twitter.