Ireland – The Practical Stuff
I feel like I’ve been recapping our Ireland trip f-o-r-e-v-e-r. But we packed a lot of stuff into 10 days and it was amazing and I just like sharing.
Also, as I mentioned before, I was very nervous going into this trip because of our aggressive agenda – staying at a new place almost every night, trying to cram in too many sights – and of course, driving on the other side of the road. A lot of planning went into this trip so if I can make someone else’s vacation preparations a little easier, well…
Here are some practical tips for travel to this beautiful green land.
In case you missed it, here are the Ireland recaps: Intro is here. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.
Tickets to Dublin are cheap right now compared to the rest of Europe. Flying slightly off-peak times (we flew out on a Thursday night and returned on a Saturday morning) also helps bring the price down. We met a lot of folks in Dublin who were just there for a long weekend or were doing a stop-over from other areas of Europe. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to get around the countryside, Dublin is a fantastic city and is worth seeing in its own right.
When planning vacations, it’s always a balancing act between getting to all the places and doing all the things you want to do with limited time and funds, while still being relaxed and enjoying the experience. Ever hear the phrase that you need a vacation from your vacation? Well, I always try to avoid that.
Summed up, we did the following places in 9 days:
- Dublin (2 nights)
- Blarney/Cork (1 night)
- Dingle (1 night)
- Galway (3 nights)
- Back to Dublin to fly out (we stayed in Swords) (1 night)
It was a lot of moving around, but I think a few things were in our favor such as going slightly off-season (early October), having relatively good weather for most of the trip (making the driving easier), and keeping a steady pace. Eric and I are similar in that we like to go to a lot of places but don’t feel the need to spend hours in each place (reading every sign, seeing every sight, etc.). Unless I’m totally enthralled with a certain destination/attraction, I am fine with spending a few hours, getting a taste of it, and moving on. Further, Dublin and Galway are relatively small cities and I felt like I got a good taste for them in the time we allotted.
Lodgings and Car
We booked a self-drive tour through CIE tours. These tours are popular around Ireland and it seems to be as hands-on or hands-off as you want. You could do a full tour (where your itinerary, accommodations, and transport to different locations are completely planned and arranged) or something like what we did, which was only pay for the car rental and accommodations in one set price. It was a very flexible package and included all taxes, fees, and most of the car insurance. After booking the package, CIE sent us vouchers in the mail. We booked our Bed and Breakfasts through B&B Ireland ahead of time (many of Ireland’s B&Bs are registered through this site) then presented the voucher to the host when we arrived. You could wait and book the B&Bs each afternoon if you want a really flexible itinerary, but you are not guaranteed space at the B&Bs of your choice – something to consider in the high season. Our package included 3 and 4 star accommodations (we could have booked 5 star but would incur additional costs). This was awesome for us because we usually stay in really crappy places. With the exception of one, I booked all 4 star B&Bs and they were phenomenal!
A Note on Accommodations
Outside of Dublin or major cities, the primary type of accommodation are Bed and Breakfasts. It is helpful to read reviews on Trip Advisor before booking. I found all of our B&Bs to be extremely comfortable, private, and safe. By far the best part of staying in a B&B are the hosts. I was BLOWN AWAY by the kindness and generosity of the B&B owners. They were all extremely helpful in providing directions and things to do. They also made sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed. Lastly, a legit breakfast is provided every morning (hence the ‘breakfast’ part) and they were always, without exception, fantastic.
We stayed at the following B&Bs, and I can’t recommend each of these enough:
- Lanesville B&B (Blarney)
- Dunlavin House (Dingle)
- Almara House (Galway)
- Abbeyglen Cottage (Swords, near Dublin)
The thing I was most nervous about leading up to this trip was the driving. I read that not only do they drive on the left side of the road, but the roads are very narrow, not well marked, there are a ton of roundabouts, and you may run over a sheep and/or drive off a cliff. The week before we left, I had a nightmare that we drove off a cliff (for real).
But you know what? It was fine. We were absolutely fine. If you are a competent driver, give yourself some time to get used to the roads, learn about the road signs, laws, etc. (enter roundabouts clockwise, traffic in the circle has the right of way), you will be ok. Go slow, be respectful of other drivers. Stay on the left side of the road. Pull over to let a car pass. Maybe because I am used to NY driving, but I found Irish drivers very nice. Tailgating was rare and people were generally considerate. It’s considered polite to wave to someone or flash your lights if they let you go or pull over to let you pass. Eric mentioned that having someone else in the car to navigate was very helpful because there are A LOT of roundabouts and small turns, especially through the towns and cities.
Our only shaky moment was in a touristy area when someone else was going the wrong way! Luckily there was decent sight distance ahead when we realized that the car was coming at us head on. Eric honked loudly and the car came to a complete stop. The poor driver looked terrified. I feel bad for the locals who probably have to deal with this on a regular basis.
A Quick Note on Customs
When leaving Ireland, U.S. citizens go through customs at the Dublin airport instead of going through customs upon arrival in the U.S. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and through all the lines. Best part is, you don’t have to go through customs after a long trans-Atlantic flight.
This Must Be Said
Ask anyone who has been to Ireland and they will all tell you a similar fact: Irish people are the some of the nicest, most welcoming people on the planet. Everyone from the B&B owners and waiters (I understand that they are in the hospitality business, so you expect them to be courteous), to people who went out of their way for no reason other than to be friendly and welcoming – parking lot attendants, store clerks, random people on the street asking us if we needed directions, movie theatre employees, etc. I believe that how you are treated while in a country has a great effect on your perception of it and the people of Ireland made me love this place even more.
I read your Ireland Ireland and was interested to find out that you used a CIE Self-Drive tour.
We are planning to use a CIE self-Drive tour as well — I have had some major concerns about the use of vouchers — this process seems to receive a lot of negative reviews.
It appears that you had no problems using them at B$Bs. — I am hoping we will not have any problems as well.
Any additional information you could provide on the use of vouchers would be much appreciated.