Visiting Ireland

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.

Rock of Cashel

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.

visiting ireland, live music in clifden

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.

visiting ireland, irish breakfast

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.

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  1. Good tips. Im from Ireland myself and this gives a good overview of what to do. Its hard from the inside to see it sometimes!

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  2. Oh, how I loved the Irish breakfasts when I visited Ireland during my year living abroad in France. The French don’t do much beyond croissants & cafe creme for breakfast, which is delicious but sometimes a hearty plate of Irish goodness is what you need!

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    • It sure looks quite tempting! I’m with you on the French breakfast. It just isn’t enough to hold me over until lunchtime usually. I much prefer a heartier brekkie.

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  3. Fabulous! I’m really looking forward to exploring the countryside and especially for that Irish breakfast!

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  4. fantastic tips! i could never do 2 attractions a day – i get waylaid by the most interesting things… 🙂

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    • There are times that 2 attractions a day are too many… but so many people try to “see it all”, so I offer a limit. 🙂

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  5. Ireland is high on my list… I’m bookmarking this for future reference 🙂 Maybe a spontaneous trip this year, now that Morocco didn’t work out 🙁

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  6. Great post. I’m really hoping I can make it to TBEX in Dublin in October. I’d love to spend a week or two driving around the countryside and visiting distant relatives. 🙂

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    • I hope we can get a housesit when we’re ready to hit that area. Would love to spend some solid time in Ireland.

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    • I’m planning to be at TBEX in Dublin, too. But directly after, we’re heading out to the countryside!

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  7. Makes me long for a trip back to Ireland. As awesome as it might be to see the Cliffs of Moher from the “top” it is expensive to park there and you don’t see the cliffs – you see the ocean and the Aran Islands. I’d totally recommend the boat tour – fabulous view of the cliffs, and a stop at Inish Island where I had my first taste of Guiness from the cutest bartender. I also highly recommend a couple of days on Dingle. If you stay at the Millstone (Milstone?) with Barbara and Michael, you’ll get little tips on where to see Bee Hive huts for cheap and what not to waste your time on such as Limerick. Next time I go I’m arriving and departing in Shannon. The Blarney Castle was so cheesy touristy that we very nearly didn’t do it..but caved and did it. We had a better time at the woolen mills. I hope to do the Ring of Kerry next time – weather didn’t cooperate last time and we only got as far as Ladies View, but, we saw an old, old church where we pulled over to get pictures and incidentally found a small creek/river which provided some great pictures and saw a couple of goats hiding in a tree-filled area above where we were parked. I could go on and on and on. We also stayed at Ballyseede castle – real castle as in no elevators, bell hops, and two of the best behaved dogs ever. Sigh….Ireland is calling me home.

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    • Sounds like you had some pretty incredible experiences there! I’m quite envious.

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    • Bonne- it does sound like you had a great trip! Though I do have to say that I was disappointed in the Ring of Kerry and much preferred Dingle. If you enjoyed the woolen mills, you might really like to visit a glass blowing shop. Absolutely amazing to see!

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  8. I’d love to go back. Our longest trip to Ireland was 3 weeks. If I ever get to go back there, it will be a week in Dublin, then Cork, Kerry, and Donegal (3 weeks total), then a final week in the Belfast area.

    We spent a wonderful afternoon in the Irish National Gallery in Dublin and I’d love to go back there.

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    • That is so cool. I’ve seen some really awesome housesits over there. I hope to find one when we’re ready to return that direction. Would love to go there, Scotland, and Wales.

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    • Maria- Ireland is wonderful. 🙂
      As I look at your future plans I’m curious. Do you plan for a 3 week trip, or 5? If it’s 3 you might have to drop Donegal from that plan as to visit Cork, Kerry & Donegal in one week is really a lot to try to do.

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      • Sorry to confuse, Jody – I’m not actually planning a trip, but IF I could go back, it would be for at least 5 weeks. 🙂

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        • 🙂 Yes, 5 weeks would be perfect for that itinerary. If you DO go back, I’m happy to help in any way.

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