Before you plan your vacation to Ireland, consider these questions.
- What time of year are you thinking of going to Ireland?
- What parts of Ireland do you want to visit / what tourist attractions do you want to see?
- How are you going to get around Ireland?
- Where are you going to stay?
What time of year are you thinking of going to Ireland?
During peak tourism periods – June, July and August – flight and accommodation prices are highest. The surrounding ramp-up and ramp-down tourism periods of April / May and September / October offer cheaper prices and better availability. In late spring, summer and autumn months, daylight in Ireland begins early and lasts long into the evenings. In late June, dawn arrives before 4am and daylight on clear days stretches past midnight (conversely, during the winter holidays, darkness arrives by 4pm).
Weather and Clothes
The weather during spring / summer months is unpredictable. Ireland has a mild climate, which does not reach extremes either in winter or summer. Temperatures in summer are typically around the 60s Farenheit / 15 to 20 Celsius. But nothing is predictable. Sometimes they reach the high 80s or 90s Fahrenheit / 30s Celsius – and a run of dry, warm weather can go on for a week or two, or more. When this happens, the Irish people you meet are in good spirits and the “fine weather” becomes the opening topic of conversation everywhere. More commonly, Irish summers are dogged by a pestering wind and rain showers. Often cloudy skies, breezes and showers spoil what had been a promising day. The rain is more prevalent along the west coast of Ireland – counties such as Limerick, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Clare, Sligo and Donegal. The capital city Dublin, on the east coast, gets more dry days than the rural west. Counties Wexford and Waterford get statistically more sunshine, and are nicknamed the sunny southeast. Being an island, nowhere is far from the coast, at the Atlantic winds interfere with summers days. The breeze that comes directly off the sea, can feel both choppy and chilly, even on a mild day. You’ll feel this sort of breeze if you get close to the sea, perhaps on a beach, a marina or a coastal walk. For these activities, you may need to pack an extra layer of clothing, like a cardigan or a jacket, that you can throw on if required. On a rare warm day, however, that sea-breeze may be just what you needed to cool you down. See also: What should I pack on a trip to Ireland?
Ireland in the Off-Season
You can save a lot of money by visiting Ireland during off-season months – October, November, December, January, Febuary, March. Prices are a lot cheaper, both for flights and accommodation. Some visitor attractions offer discounts during this period too. On the flip side, a small number of visitor attractions are closed, or operate on reduced hours, during the low season. While Irish winters are not extremely cold, the short, dark days of December, January and February are unpleasantly damp, windy and chilly. Warm and water-resistant clothing is essential. Irish weather is unpredictable, of course, and sometimes late autumn and winter produces weeks of clear skies, producing a beautiful backdrop for visitors attractions such as castles, old churches and other scenic places. The winter light can be magical, and many of the best photographs of Ireland have been taken during this time. Personally, if I was visiting during the off-season from the US/Canada, I would choose mid October, when there is still a chance of warm weather, but flight prices have dropped significantly. Another nice time to visit Dublin is during mid December, the run up to Christmas, when people are in high spirits and a raw buzz hangs the air. Most airlines have a summer schedule and a winter schedule. The summer schedule begins in mid March and ends in mid October – at which point the number of flights/routes in and out of Ireland are dramatically reduced. The transatlantic flight prices also significantly tail off as they get into late September/October. See also: How to plan a vacation to Ireland on a budget | How to visit Ireland on $90 a day
What parts of Ireland do you want to visit / what tourist attractions do you want to see?
To begin answering this question, you must do some research – and make a wishlist. Eventually, you’ll have to start whittling your wishlist down into, and putting an agenda around it – in other words, creating an itinerary.
Take a look at this site! At the time of writing, there are over 500 Irish visitor attractions on this site, but I’m only getting started. There are hundreds, arguably thousands, more attractions about which I haven’t yet written. Anyway, here are some of the questions that might help you start thinking about what types of places you should go. I’ve places links to various sections of this site that may help you with your research.
- Do you want to visit Ireland’s old castles?
- Want to cram as many attractions as you can in a week?
- What about ancient Ireland – Celtic sites and 5,000 year old megalithic stones?
- Inspired by beautiful green landscapes and romantic scenery?
- Looking for live traditional music sessions, in local Irish pubs, in the heart of old Ireland?
- Attracted to hidden gems – lesser known attractions off the beaten tourist track?
- Maybe you just want to go shopping?
- Interested in checking out Ireland’s main towns and cities?
- How about interesting visitor attractions in general?
- And what are the main things to see in Dublin in a day?
If your list of want-to-see attractions grows to 30 or more, for a one-week vacation, it’s time to start paring back. Aim for no more than three major visitor attractions per day. So, if you’ve got a 7-day itinerary, 21 attractions is plenty. If using public transport, you may not even achieve 21 attractions. Certainly, it’s possible to see more -- popular routes like the Ring of Kerry are dotted with major and minor attractions. But when you look at the map of Ireland, it’s easy to assume one attraction is reasonably close to another as the crow flies. You’ve got to factor in Ireland’s narrow and winding country roads. A good way to plan an itinerary is to use the driving directions feature on Google Maps. But even Google Maps is sometimes ambitious when it comes to Ireland’s minor routes. Maybe it doesn’t account for the occasional sheep blocking the road! Tip: take a look at Itineraries that other people have made on Tripadvisor’s Ireland forum, and the advice locals have given them. This will give you some good ideas.
How are you going to get around Ireland?
This is a decision you must make before arriving in Ireland. Your mode of transport will limit the attractions that you can see.
Hiring a Car
There are many advantages to hiring a car in Ireland – you have freedom to go where you want, when you want. You don’t have to keep to your itinerary. Most of all, you can access lesser-known, rural visitor attractions, often hidden gems, such Glencar Waterfall (to take just one example). To many, the idea of driving in Ireland can be daunting. Driving in Ireland is not all that different to driving in the US. There are three main differences:
- In Ireland, people drive on the opposite side of the road -- this is not as scary as it may seem. You get used to it very quickly. Your brain just does a sort of “flip”.
- Irish roads are much narrower than US roads – you may find this hard to get used to. It helps to hire a small
- Most people in Ireland drive shift-stick cars. That doesn’t mean you have to. But it does mean you will pay extra to hire an automatic.
See also: Tips for driving in Ireland
Private driver / Private bus hire
If you prefer the idea of having your own driver, who can talk to your group and is knowledgeable about Ireland -- or just because you don’t want to drive -- consider hiring a private bus company, who will supply a private bus with a personal driver. There are several private bus companies that offer private cars, mini-buses, or coaches for hire, depending on the size of your group. Try a Google search for “private bus hire Ireland” or “private driver hire Ireland” or similar. Get in touch with one or more of these private companies in advance by email, and give them your proposed itinerary, and number of travellers in your group, and they will give you a quote. If you are unsure, ask for recommendations for other travellers, or details of previous customer who you can email/call.
Private Scheduled Coaches
Several coach tour operators run scheduled day-trip routes – you get on a timetabled bus with other passengers. These are (mostly) not public service vehicles, and are usually luxury coaches, with free wifi and toilets. With a private coach, you can base yourself out of one location, usually Dublin, and take day trips to many other attractions. These scheduled day-trips typically take in around three or so attractions. Ireland is a small island, so you can reach a lot of different places in a day-trip – no one place is more than 4 and a half hour journey from Dublin. While this option is more affordable than hiring a private driver, you will have less freedom – as with any scheduled bus service, you arrive at the bus stop at the time of departure, get taken to the visitor attractions, then duly return as per the schedule. You can’t make any special requests of the driver, or create your own itinerary. Private scheduled coaches run daily from major urban centres such as Dublin, Cork and Limerick to big visitor attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. For example, one operator runs a day tour from Dublin city centre to the Giant’s Causeway, making stops at Dunluce Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Belfast City. The downside is the day is a little gruelling, starting at 6.30am and returning to Dublin at 8pm. An Irish person would probably never undertake this journey! But many US visitors want to pack as much into their days in Ireland as possible. I’ve known visitors who made this trip, then returned to Dublin city centre and still went to a traditional music session in an Irish pub after! A quick Google search will find various scheduled coach services providing day-trip services to visitor attractions.
Trains in Ireland, while a nice way to travel around the country, are compartively expensive. For example a group of four adults could expect to pay around $40 dollars each for a mid-week return journey between Dublin and Galway – that’s $140 total. The same journey in a small car would cost about $60 in petrol. There’s a motorway (highway) the whole way between Dublin and Galway, so the road is actually a quicker option. If you want to use public transport, buses are a good option. They are cheaper, and often quicker than trains. On the express routes between the large urban centres, also serving Dublin airport, the fleets are luxurious -- with wifi, toilets, and USB chargers. Most journey times are just a couple of hours.
If you don’t intend to use a car, Getthere.ie is a great FREE site for finding out the best route to take, and determining your options I love Gethtere.ie because it offers you different choices of transport public bus, private scheduled coach and train. Note: I am not endorsing Getthere.ie , nor (sadly) am I receiving any commission. It’s just a site I find useful :)
Where Are You Going to Stay?
Perhaps a better question is “What type of accommodation to you want to stay in?” If you want to stay in a 3, 4 or 5 star hotel, the process of booking a hotel is the same as it would be in the US/Canada – go to whatever hotel booking site you normally use and use the method that works best for you. Note: by this stage, you will hopefully know where in Ireland you want to stay. You will need to plan your itinerary before booking accommodation.
Castles and other Unique Accommodations
If you want are looking for something different – for example, maybe you want to stay in an (affordable) castle for a night, try searching on AirBnb. They list, among other things, small (but authentic) old castles that people have renovated and are now making available on a bed and breakfast basis You can also find 5-star castles to stay in of course. Check out my article on Ireland's top castles.
Sites Irish People Use to Find Deals
If you are wondering “what sites do Irish people use to book their hotels?” Well, Irish people mainly use the same sites US people do -- hotels.com and booking.com are particularly popular. Irish people also book directly through hotel websites a lot. Deal sites such as Groupon and Livingsocial have become a popular way to book hotel breaks. But some hotel deal sites that are popular in Ireland would not be known in US. For example, Lidlbreaks.ie is run by a German supermarket chain with branches on the outskirts of every town in Ireland, and many other European countries. Lidlbreaks.ie offers decent Irish hotel deals, especially if you book well in advance, as the best offers get snapped up early. Personally, no matter whom I book with, I read lots of reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor before booking any hotel I have not previously stayed in. I use my common sense antenna to try to determine which reviews seem genuine and which reviews seem to good to be true. I find the user photographs feature of Tripadvisor useful -- I like to look at genuine photographs of the property taken by real customers. Note: I am not endorsing any of the other sites listed above, nor (sadly) am I receiving any commission from these sites -- they are just sites that I find useful :)
Hostels are a good option if you're looking to save money/ read more in my article: How to visit Ireland on $90 a day
I hope you have found these tips useful, and are ready to start planning your vacation to Ireland. If there is something you did not find useful, or if there is something you want to add, please contact me, or feel free to click “no” to the question “Did you find this useful?” below (I won’t be offended), then add your comment.
Aer Lingus flight. Image by David Montiverdi.