How to Wing It in Ireland: 7 Golden Rules for Finding Accommodation on the Fly

I will wholeheartedly admit I am not the most spontaneous of travelers by default.

I am a type-A planner. I’ve got lists and lists and more lists. I like to dream, make plans and, then, see it all come to life.

But over the years of traveling to Ireland, I’ve actually learned that the best moments we’ve ever had couldn’t have been planned even if I tried.

Like when we were staying in the tiny town of Ramelton, Co. Donegal and went to the only pub in town to grab a bite to eat. By the end of the night, we wound up sandwiched between a fiddle player and a guitarist, drinking pints, singing songs and chatting about everything under the sun.

It was a completely spontaneous music session, which we learned later isn’t an unusual occurrence here.

Pub Entrance in Ramelton Donegal

Seriously, the best!

So I can understand when people want to be super flexible with their accommodations in order to have more opportunities to be spontaneous.

You definitely can wing it in Ireland, but before you hop on a plane without a plan at all, here are a few ground rules to make sure you don’t end up sleeping in your car. :-)

Rule #1: Having a rough itinerary

Ireland mountains and bay with old fishing boat

Ha! I know. I know. The whole idea of winging it in Ireland is not to have an itinerary!

Hear me out. :-)

Because some of the following rules hinge upon knowing a little bit about a destination before you get there, with a little pre-planning you can be as flexible as you want once you arrive.

By having a framework to work within, you’ll be so much more successful at scoring amazing accommodations while winging it.

Rule #2: Be flexible

Window overlooking green lawn and lake

The more you are willing and able to be flexible the better you’ll be able to wing it in Ireland.

If you absolutely want to be in town, within walking distance to all the pubs, you may not want to wing it in Ireland.

If you have a large group, big family or small kiddos, you may not want to wing it in Ireland.

If you have significant food or allergy restrictions and you’ll be upset if a B&B is unable to accommodate you, you may not want to wing it Ireland.

If you must have the ‘best of the best,’ you may not want to wing it in Ireland (book those ahead!).

All that being said, the Irish know hospitality.

You are almost always going to get a warm welcome, a clean bed, and a yummy breakfast wherever you go. If you’re able to be flexible then you’ll be great at winging it.

Rule #3: Consider the time of year you want to wing it in Ireland

Beach Dingle Peninsula

June, July and August are the busiest travel months. If you’re going during that time, you may find it more difficult to wing it in Ireland. Outside of the peak season, B&B’s are much easier to come by (and you won’t have to be as flexible) unless you travel over a….

Rule #4: Watch out for holidays & festivals

St. Patrick's Day Parade Dublin with people dress in calla lily costumes and a giant bee float
Photo Credit: William Murphy

It’s easy to forget that the Irish have different holidays than we do in the US and Canada. To make sure you’re not traveling over a busy holiday weekend, check out this page (adjust the date/year to determine the exact date of each holiday when you will be there).

Festivals can be a bit trickier to identify if you don’t have at least a short list of destinations prior to leaving, which is why planning a little bit in advance is smart.

Once you’ve narrowed down the region you’d like to tackle, check the tourism websites in the area. They usually have a calendar of events which should give you heads up.

This is a nice quick list of major festivals in Ireland.

Rule #5: Pre-book Dublin

Trinity College Dublin Entrance

Dublin gets the large number of visitors you would expect for a European capital city and has a matching price tag.

Book in advance to get the location you want and not spend a million dollars on a room. I exaggerate but, for real, it can be quite expensive in the city center.

Rule #6: Pre-book your first and last night

Double bed with flower comforter, pillows and rolled towels

That first and last night is typically much less spontaneous by virtue of it being near your starting and ending points. You know what airports you’ll be flying into/out of and roughly where you’ll be at those times.

Booking these nights will take out all the stress of the often already stressful arriving and departing process.

Rule #7: Know how to book when you arrive

Castle Grove Country House Front Entrance and Atrium Donegal

When you finally get to Ireland and are on the ground deciding where to be each night, there are some great tricks to know if you want to wing it easily.

Tourism Offices:

Tourism Offices will book accommodation for you! This is my favorite because it allows you to simply show up in a town and have someone else call around on your behalf and find you accommodations.

All you need to do is make sure there is actually a tourism office in the town you’re headed and that you get there before it closes.


Both B&B Ireland and AirBnB will allow you to book on the day of. You just need an internet connection.

On AirBnB, you can turn on the Instant Book filter which will give you accommodation options that don’t require the host to approve you to stay there–meaning you’ll get immediate access to the apartment/house/room.

Knock on doors:

You can still knock on the door of a B&B and ask if they have any availability for that night.

Not everyone hangs no vacancy signs out these days, so it does pay to knock if you see a place that looks appealing.

You should know that most B&B’s do check-in between 3 and 6 PM, so if you plan on knocking on doors, shoot for this time frame to ensure the hosts will be home (and that you’re not encroaching on other work or family time).

Before you take the keys, you may to ask to see the room and negotiate the price (or simply ask for the best rate they can offer).

Get recommendations:

If you’ve stayed at a really great place, but you’re about to move onto another destination. Ask your current host if they have any recommendations for your next location.

I find that really good B&B’s often recommend other really good B&B’s. Most are even willing to call for you in advance, so all you have to do is show up!

In the same light if you knocked on the door of a B&B but they are all booked, see if they have any recommendations of places you might want to check out next (again they might even make a call for you).

Make a short-list:

This option is great for winging it in Ireland if you have a rough itinerary outline, but you don’t want to commit to a particular number of nights in each town.

Make a list of B&B’s in the areas you are headed. Grab the name, phone number and email of each one and have it handy (I’d sort it from most favorite to least favorite, but again I like lists!).

Call each one until you hit the jackpot. If you run out of luck, again don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.

Who’s got a great winging it in Ireland story?

With two kiddos in tow, we’re likely a few years away from winging it in Ireland anytime soon, but I’ve got the itch to do it again.

Have you done it? Love it? Hate? Dish. I want to know. :-)

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  1. Hey Stephanie! Congratulations on new baby Hugo!
    I’m not ready for the live planning session you’re having this month, but wonder when the next one is. Hubby turns 65 next year and would Love to take him to Ireland in the fall of 2020. I just started my Ireland vacation fund!
    Will baby step my planning for a few months by finding out what he’s interested in seeing vs what calls out to me.
    Thanks for your informative and lovely site. I always enjoy reading it.
    Susan Foy

    1. Love, love, love that you are planning a year+ in advance! You are going to have the such a wonderfully thought out plan (so you can build in time for all the spontaneity which makes a trip special!). Not sure when the next live planning session will be, but keep your eyes on this page in the next month or so and I’ll update the date. So glad to have you join me!

  2. we are taking a cruise to Ireland in 2 weeks and are scheduled to stay a few extra days… we need to find places to stay in Kilrush area (want to find family history) flying home from Dublin… also I use a walker…
    any suggestions? thank you for your help.

  3. I know this is a late reply, but I wanted to share my story. I went at the end of October 2018. The only concrete, pre-booked places were the first three nights and the last three nights. The first day and a half was all wedding and jet lag. Then once the wedding was over, we (my mother, brother, and I) were “free” and on our own. It was terrifying and amazing.

    We had to miss a few important places in order to get to where we needed to be.

    Each morning we’d wake up and figure out what we wanted to see and figure out the the “goal” for the day. “Let’s do Cashel and see how close to Kinsale we can get!” (ended up skipping and ending up near Kenmare – the Kerry peninsula was a priority). We ended up despising the Ring of Kerry, had a miserable day of just rain and exhausting roads. Then we hit Inch Beach.

    We fell in love. Spent the entire day in Dingle and watched the sunset at Dunquin. The rest of the trip went smoothly, as we were picking up the tips and tricks you mention in this post. (Wish we had this then!)

    We ended up at our lovely lovely lovely cottage for three nights near Liscannor. It felt like home and peace and it was a flawless way to unwind and enjoy our final days with treks to Burren, Bunratty, and of course, the Cliff of Moher.

    My mother’s best friend died the day before we had to leave, so we were at the Cliffs the day after missing her funeral. Left a purple ribbon tied around the posts, and my brother left a memorial bracelet for his friend who died tragically. We cried a lot, and sat and watched the sunset. I don’t mean to get too deep, but Ireland helped us heal. The final day we went to Bunratty as a “practice drive” to Shannon Airport. We felt a lot better that day and had so much fun finding skill the nooks and crannies and spending more than we should’ve in the gift shop.

    My entire life has been “winging it” trips that had a very, very rough outline. October 2020, I make my return. This time with my mother and grandparents. I’m so, so excited and I have to say that with Ireland, you have to be flexible. Weather, roads, and not understanding that travel time estimates aren’t reliable means you may miss things and see things you never planned that you adore. We never meant to go to Powerscourt, the Dingle Peninsula, or Bunratty, but they were possible our favorite spots!

    Okay, my essay is over. :)

    1. Love this Britni! I am so sorry about your loss–that’s a lot to endure. I am glad to hear that your travels helped you heal a bit. I have heard that a few times and I don’t doubt the healing in that place.

      It sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the next one too!

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