Should we travel to Donegal from Belfast for the weekend?
October 8, 2011 10:14 PM   Subscribe

Where should my wife, baby and myself go for a weekend away from Belfast? Donegal?

My wife and baby (3 months old) will be in Belfast for a week in November. We've got three spare days between the conclusion of my work in Belfast and a few days in London before we head back to Los Angeles, where we live.

Where should we spend our free weekend? We've been thinking about Donegal, which is my (Belfast-born) stepmother's favorite place, but I have a bit of concern about logistics (renting an automatic, bringing a baby seat, crossing the border, that kind of thing). That said, I've been invited to tour one of the last hand tweed mills in Donegal, which is actually of interest to me, and like I said - stepmother's favorite place in the world.

We could also try and do something less ambitious.

So... specifics from folks who've traveled to Donegal or live there, or other ideas are welcome.
posted by YoungAmerican to Travel & Transportation around Donegal, Ireland (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Focusing on logistics: car rental firms are set up to deal with this -- and with the needs and concerns of Americans, who represent a huge proportion of their business.

There's no real border control: you'll just pay a rental supplement to drive on both sides. (The main difference is that distances and speed limits go from miles to metric.) Automatics are available, but the model selection is limited: if you go with Hertz or Avis, you'll have slightly more choice, but even Budget has two models. The bigger firms, however, are probably a little better set up to handle the baby seat.

The distances aren't great for Americans, but the roads can get narrow when you get off the beaten track.
posted by holgate at 10:49 PM on October 8, 2011

I think Donegal would be possible (and beautiful, and friendly), and holgate's advice on logistics sounds good. If you're ok with driving on roads that aren't fantastic, have a look at this route planner for some time estimates - barring severe weather conditions or something else, they're usually a good approximation. I'm guessing it's the mill at Ardara and I'm sure your stepmother can suggest places to stay, so this is probably unnecessary, but: don't stay in Bundoran, it's a seedy, depressing shithole of a resort town.

If you decide it's too much, Armagh is quite a pretty cathedral city (town-sized!) about an hour away, or you could go north through Carrickfergus and the coast (but that's landscapey, driving-based). Derry's a really interesting walled city worth visiting but I find its history looms very heavy and probably would be looking for less, not more, of that after a week in Belfast as a family. Also, Dublin's about two hours away by train or by car, much closer than Donegal.
posted by carbide at 4:44 AM on October 9, 2011

May I recommend Sixt for your rental. You can pick up w/child seat in central Belfast and drop off at Aldergrove airport if your flying to London. While the name may not be familiar to you they are streets ahead of other rental firms. The border should be a breeze. NW Ireland is beautiful.
posted by Dr.Pill at 5:15 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you take carbide's suggestion of a landscapey trip north, it's probably worth turning it into a drive around the (very pretty) Antrim coast and going to see the Giant's Causeway. You ought to be able to find a decent place to stay (eg around Portrush), since the north coast is one of NI's main tourist attractions, and it's out of season now; you should also be able to do it as a (longish) day trip.

That said, Donegal is a gorgeous and unbelievably picturesque part of the world. I used to go on holiday there (specifically here, very scenic but possibly a bit out of your way) as a child and loved the gorse-covered rolling hills, smell of peat in the air etc etc. I would be a bit surprised if you even noticed the point at which you cross the border; there aren't usually any checkpoints.
posted by doop at 6:09 AM on October 9, 2011

Argh. Specifically here, sorry.
posted by doop at 6:11 AM on October 9, 2011

I'm a US citizen. I spent a semester in L'derry and never had problems crossing the border, although I never did this in a rented car. I did do it in private automobiles, buses, and on foot. As long as you have your passport (which I never had to show), you should be fine.

Seconding Giant's Causeway for sure -- it was awesome, and shouldn't be a problem even with a small baby. Driving along the coast is an excellent suggestion. If you're up for it and the weather is nice, I would recommend a walk around Derry to see the old city. It has intact walls with some gorgeous views over the Bogside, the Foyle, and the old buildings in general. The Museum of Derry is also cool and well-done (and has a bunch of Spanish Armada stuff), but I'm not sure how museum-friendly babies are.

I've spent more time in Derry than in Belfast, but I thought that the history in Belfast loomed a lot more heavily than the history in Derry did.
posted by naturalog at 11:38 AM on October 9, 2011

You don't need a passport to cross the border. The effectively isn't one and there is no, absolutely no, passport control. Seconding Giant's Causeway, so perhaps visit Giant’s causeway and drive to Enniskillen. If you want to hire a car, I would suggest Dan Dooley's over Sixt if that's an option in the north. Here are some discount codes for various car hire options.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:09 PM on October 9, 2011

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