I get a lot of emails from people planning their first trip to Ireland. Almost everyone asks for Ireland travel tips.
I thought it might be helpful to not only offer a few tips, but also to tell you how these tips have helped us travel Ireland.
Ireland Travel Tip #1: Pick a Zone
When looking at a map it seems that Belfast isn’t that far away from Blarney Castle. But it is. The biggest mistake travelers make is trying to cram everything into a week-long trip. Select a zone around “pillar places” that you absolutely must see. This will allow less time rushing from place to place and more time to soak in the sites and the culture.
No matter what you do, you can’t see all of Ireland in one week (or even two). If you acknowledge that during the planning stage, when you are actually in Ireland you will have a much more enjoyable time. Know that you won’t be missing out. Rather, you can absorb everything that is around you. You have space to be present in the moment.
Why? Our very first day in Ireland we decided to take the supposedly two-hour and forty-five minute drive to Dingle from the Shannon airport. After a wedding and a transatlantic flight (and my first time out of the country—Ooh, stop here!), we drove almost the entire day. It was not a good idea to drive that far. We were exhausted. When we finally arrived, I had to nudge (read: kick) Joe every few minutes to keep him from falling asleep at dinner (it was very romantic).
The next morning after a fitful sleep, we realized our debit card was not working. Our time in Dingle town was spent waiting to call the bank in the US. We did not see much except the inside of a phone booth before we had to start on to our next destination. It was a rough beginning and I wish I could tell you the rest of the trip was relaxing and well-paced. The truth is, had we heeded the solid advice to not “do” all of Ireland in one trip we certainly would have enjoyed it more.
Ireland Travel Tip #2: Travel Slow(er)
Excluding the first and last night of your trip stay two nights in every location. This prevents long days in the car, promotes spontaneity and allows for an afternoon recharge if necessary. This doesn’t mean that your days won’t be jam packed with things to do. Because you have built in more time in one area, you can experience the activities you planned as well as explore suggestions from locals and other travelers.
Another advantage to traveling slower is a having full days between dashing off to check-in at the next B&B. Also, you will have more chances to take part in fair-weather only activities, like hill walking.
Why? (example 1): We were in Killarney for a two nights on our second trip. The sun was shining with blue skies and big fluffy white clouds. We had just finished visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral (gorgeous stained glass windows!). All of a sudden, I got a terrible headache. All I wanted to do was to continue strolling down the streets and walk into the National Park. But nope, my body had other plans. I was so glad that we could go back to our B&B and rest. After some meds and an hour or so nap, we were back out exploring. But, oh man, I was so glad we had a place to come back to that afternoon.
Why? (example 2): After our quick experience in Dingle the first time around, Joe got it in his head he wanted to climb Mount Brandon. Legend has it that St. Brendan the Navigator had connections to the mountain before his voyage to seek the Isle of the Blest. It was really important to Joe and we knew clear skies were required for a safe climb so we planned for three days in Dingle.
The first day we arrived on the peninsula, the entire mountain was shrouded in clouds. The second day we woke up to more clouds and drizzle (and I woke up to a very disappointed Joe). Third day—perfection! We had amazing weather. We still talk about the walk, the view, and the feeling of accomplishment hiking to the top of the mountain.
While the first two days in Dingle started off cloudy, they ended up being two of the best we’ve ever had in Ireland. We went to the Blasket Islands off the coast of the peninsula, the Blasket Experience museum, Gallarus Oratory, walked Dingle town, ate Murphy’s ice-cream, drove Slea Head Drive, etc. While waiting on the weather, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the Dingle Peninsula.
Ireland Travel Tip #3: Stay in a B&B
Irish Bed and Breakfast hospitality is unmatched. It simply feels like home (a nicer and cleaner home than mine). Hosts will chat with you about your trip, your interests and your favorite Irish sites. You will meet travelers from around the world and learn what they experienced in the area. Oh and at breakfast, you are fed like kings and queens!
Why? We rave about our Irish B&B accommodations for a variety of reasons. Some of the most memorable interactions we’ve had in Ireland were around the breakfast table. Conversations with a newlywed German couple, English grandparents, and middle-aged hitchhiking cyclists top the list.
Our hosts have never steered us wrong–sending us to fantastic dinners, traditional music (Trad) sessions and historic sites. Then there’s the breakfast! This massive feast usually tides us over until mid-afternoon. Then snacks (or in my case, dessert) get us to dinner, saving money in process.
Ireland Travel Tip #4: Just Ask
This is a pretty simple directive and you may not have any trouble asking or talking with locals. However, if you find yourself to be a little shy, step out of your comfort zone. You will be glad you did for the Irish are gregarious, hospitable and just a joy to be around.
Why? (Example 1): On our very first trip, I hardly talked to anyone. Being somewhat introverted and in a foreign country for the first time, I was intimidated. I thought to myself, “What if I don’t understand the accent? What if I get the directions wrong? What will they think of me?” It may sound silly, but I didn’t want to be a dumb American tourist.
But whoa! I was so wrong and so glad I purged those thoughts. Once I started asking questions and talking to locals, I learned so much—history, attractions and all sorts of fun tales.
Why? (Example #2): We were at a tiny pub for dinner and the place was packed for a Trad session. Our options were to stand and eat our dinner or to squeeze in with the musicians on a bench. Comfort zones be damned, we cuddled right up with the band. Even though the fiddler almost fiddled right in my soup, in between songs, we talked about traveling, politics and life. The evening ended with an invitation to hang out the next day. This memorable night would not have happened had we not decided to shed our timidity.
Ireland Travel Tip #5: Don’t worry about the weather
Ireland had a rare heat wave for several weeks this summer. It can happen, but not very often. Good weather can’t be guaranteed any time of the year. You won’t melt. Just pack a rain jacket and hope for the best. Don’t let weather stop you from going to the places you want to see. If you have stayed more than one night in one place (ahem, Ireland Travel Tip #2), then you can adjust your plans with indoor and outdoor activities. Wear layers, shedding them when needed and adding them just the same.
Why? I am kind of a control freak, particularly when it comes to a carefully planned and much anticipated trip to Ireland. However, I know I can’t control the weather. Therefore, I always expect that it will rain and be windy the entire time we are in Ireland. That might sound like a Debbie Downer approach, but I find it works really nicely for me. I have never been disappointed in Ireland, but I know people who have and it was because of the weather. Since I plan on rain, anytime that it isn’t raining is a fantastic treat. And…without rain you can’t have Irish rainbows like this–