Ireland & France Summer Travel 2012
December 27, 2011 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Planning a potential first trip to Europe this summer and I'm a little overwhelmed with logistics. We'd be hitting Ireland (because we want to go there) and France (for a friend's wedding).

Potentially flying from the Midwest to Europe for a friend's wedding in France this summer + traveling in Ireland and France. I just took my first trip abroad a year ago, but it was for a conference and only to one country so the logistics were less involved.

-Wedding is 1st weekend in June, about 3 hr train ride from Pairs.
-Thus, we are thinking of going to Ireland for the first leg since we will have Memorial Day weekend in the US and a bonus day of vacation for us.
-Maybe like 5-6 days in each country, with a travel day in the middle.
-As far as activities/tours go, we're more into outdoors, architecture/castle tours, regional history/natural history museums, historic town tours, brewery tours, etc. Maybe less so with art museums, etc.

-What's the best way to get from Ireland to France? Fly? Ferry then Chunnel?
-Where to stay inexpensively in Ireland and France? Are we too old for hostels (30 yr-old lady and 40 yr-old dude)?

The OMG where do I start part:
-Obviously the only thing we have planned is a wedding on one Saturday.
-Where do I begin when planning a trip of this scope?
-Do we rent a car? How is train travel in Ireland and not-Paris parts of France?
-Travel book recommendations?
-What if the Euro implodes?

Last summer when I went to Australia I was kind of overwhelmed when I got there. I know that will probably happen again, but much to my partner's chagrin it's a little tricky to "just wing it" with international travel when time is tight, and I really appreciate any advice from seasoned Europe travelers!
posted by sararah to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are not too old to stay in hostels. Though if you want privacy and/or a non gender-segregated experience, you should look for hostels which offer private rooms (a la a hotel) in addition to the typical dorms.

As for activities, for the most part this does not need to be planned so far in advance. The only exception being if you dream of seeing some important artistic or historical site that requires reservations far in advance (for instance the Last Supper, if you were going to Italy). Most guidebooks will have info about this sort of thing, and most of these things can be booked easily online.

In general, guidebooks are great for what do we want to see, what town is that in, how do we get from there to Paris type stuff. Pick up something like a Lonely Planet or a Rough Guide to each of your two countries. For now, you mostly want to be looking at either what your overall options are ("Oooh, I've always wanted to visit Monet's house in Giverny!" "We have to kiss the Blarney Stone!"), as well as the geography stuff ("The wedding is in the Loire Valley, we should do some wine tasting while we're there!"). The minutia of what ferry to take should come later, closer to the trip.
posted by Sara C. at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2011

What's the best way to get from Ireland to France? Fly? Ferry then Chunnel?

Fly, no question.

Are we too old for hostels (30 yr-old lady and 40 yr-old dude)?

No. Plenty/most hostels have private rooms with bathrooms, too.

Where do I begin when planning a trip of this scope?

Buy a guide book. Make a list to yourself of the things you want to see, and then try to figure out the logistics.

Do we rent a car?

This depends. Some things you might want to see will be off the beaten track and not really accessible by bus or train transit, and here a car will come in handy. On the other hand, you could sign up for a day tour to take you to the places you want to go.

What if the Euro implodes?

Then, score! The dollar will be worth a heckuva lot, and your trip will end up being cheaper.

Travel book recommendations?

I'm a big fan of the Lonely Planet books, and I have had a bad experience using a Rough Guide. I have also heard that the Rick Steves guides to Europe are fantastic.
posted by deanc at 1:26 PM on December 27, 2011

I'd recommend flying from Ireland to France. Otherwise you would have to take a ferry to England, train to the other side, and then another ferry or continue by train through the tunnel to France. Certainly doable, but if you only want one day for travel flying may be better because it will save you a lot of time.

The euro will not implode, and if it is going down it will take every other currency with it. :-)
posted by IAr at 1:26 PM on December 27, 2011

You ABSOLUTELY are not "too old" for hostels. I stay in hostels a whole hell of a lot, and people of ALL ages stay in them -- I'm 41 and stayed in one of the London hostels this summer. Some of the group outings and activities offered BY hostels may gear "young" -- but they are entirely optional, and you are not obligated to attend any of them.

A general note: if you're worried about being "overwhelmed," try narrowing down to just one city or town in a country rather than "the country" -- what I mean is, don't think of it as "visiting Ireland," think of it as "visiting Dublin". Or whatever. Maybe two places at most, if you're only doing 5 days in each country.

Ireland-specific notes:

* Dublin is good for the natural-history/architecture types of things.

* For the outdoors, the further west you go, the more rural the environment.

* Kinsale wouldn't be bad for a couple days -- it's a fairly compact town, with a couple of historic landmarks -- and it's also become sort of the foodie capital of Ireland.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is incredibly cheap to travel around Europe if you're flexible. is a great resource.
posted by k8t at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, don't worry overmuch right now about stuff like the Euro. At this point it's along the lines of worrying about a terrorist attack or a volcanic eruption. There's nothing you can do about it, and if it happens, well, it'll happen. Sometimes people have to cancel trips. C'est la vie.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2011

1) Absolutely, definitely fly, not Chunnel.

2) I'm always amazed how US friends visiting us (I'm in the UK) try and do whole countries in a week. They always seem to enjoy it, though, but for me I'd definitely do a whole city in a week and get to know the place. It would be a crime to miss the west coast of Ireland.

3) French trains between fairly big towns are awesome, but there's a lot of country out there and even if you're near a station the little rural trains can be quaint to the point of dysfunction. You may want to think about hiring a car if your wedding is off the beaten track. It'll be less of a mind bend in France than in Ireland - both places have smaller/faster roads than much of the US, but Irish roads especially out west can be tiny and could be a challenge for the first time driver on the wrong side of the road, certainly to the point of not being relaxing.
posted by cromagnon at 1:43 PM on December 27, 2011

I've not been to Ireland, and only been to Paris and Nice in France, so I'll just speak to what I know:

The trains in France, in general, are fantastic. Go everywhere, relatively cheap, and on time. To me, renting a car, navigating a new place and all of the stress that goes with that seems unnecessary.

You are not too old for Hostels, although I would also recommend looking into monasteries. My experience is that they are cheaper (and cleaner) than hostels, and waaaaay quieter. Also, some Bed and Breakfasts can be surprisingly affordable and give you an intimate view of the local culture that can be attained otherwise.

Also, nthing the Lonely Planet and Rick Steves books. My wife and I (then girlfriend) did a 3 week trip from London to Rome in 2004 and loved those books. Its how we found said accommodations.

Lastly, be flexible. All of the best restaurants, lodging, and attraction we visited were things that we learned about from other travelers (often in the common areas of the establishments).
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 1:44 PM on December 27, 2011

1. Definitely fly. If you need evidence, go online and check train vs. plane prices.

2. You're not too old for hostels by any means, but also check out and I've had great luck with both.

OMG Stuff:
1. Planning and anticipating trips is a big part of the fun of traveling; try not to ruin it with worry about unlikely future events.

2. Begin by getting a guidebook, as everyone else has recommended. Often the library will carry up-to-date editions, which you will definitely want. They publish travel guides 6 months or so in advance so the 2012 editions are already out. Rick Steves is indeed very good for first-timers. He's budget conscious, but maybe a touch into art for your taste? Check one out and see.

3. Don't rent a car - merely another source of worry. You can most likely take the train easily and quickly wherever you need to be. Where is the wedding? Google that town and trains.

4. You can easily fill 5-6 days in Dublin alone with activities addressing all your interests apart from the outdoors one. For that, maybe you could to a day trip to the Wicklow Mountains. For example, the monestary at Glendalough is very popular, and rightly so because it's beautiful and interesting, but it's not really overrun with tourists. You can walk/hike there a bit. And as I said it's close enough to Dublin to be done on a day trip.

5. You might still be a little overwhelmed when you get there. Again, that's kind of part of the fun, and Dublin is a great European city in which to get your bearings. It's different enough to feel foreign, but you'll have no trouble getting around. By the time you get to France you'll be normal-whelmed.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:56 PM on December 27, 2011

1.) Definitely fly. It's really quite a long, nightmarish trip otherwise.

2.) You can find tons of hotels for around 100 euros in France, slightly less in Dublin on all the last minute hotel sites. I wouldn't stay in a hostel if you can afford a hotel room-- IMO hostels are kind of annoying the older one gets.

3.) The Guinness Storehouse tour in Dublin was heaven for my bf.

4.) Visiting Versailles was the highlight of my trip to France. It's accessible on the RER train from Paris.
posted by devymetal at 2:23 PM on December 27, 2011

If you like driving I would consider renting a car in Ireland, and driving west to Connemara, County Clare, or Kerry. You will enjoy the landscape, pretty villages, and many ruins, and could go wherever you like. I very much doubt you could do a similar trip without a car. You do have to be prepared, though, for driving on the left in narrow roads.

In France, in particular, one week is very little. Stay in the area where the wedding is would be my advice. Again I would personally rent a car to be able to travel as I want between villages, chateaus, etc.

Flight logistics: check flying with aer lingus to France (enabling you to do Ireland as a stopover). Alternatively, fly return to either Dublin or a destination in France, and then fly to/from the other country. As k8t noted skyscanner is a great resource. You can also check Ryanair for a flight map, remembering that you can fly to places all over France and Ireland --- not just Dublin and Paris.
posted by Hediot at 2:24 PM on December 27, 2011

First of all, where is this "three hours outside of Paris" exactly. That describes a lot of different places, and if we have more info, we can give you more direct suggestions! Of awesome things! That you should do/see/experience!

Training-it in not-Paris-France is very easy and you should be able to move around very effectively that way. Here are a few things to remember about that process, though:

- Buy your ticket early. The last time I arrived at a station with about an hour to spare, the departure I wanted was fully booked. It was a two hour Orangina-flavored boredom romp for me, while I waited for the next train. (That's a lie. I made the best of it, wandered into the center of town and found a place that would serve me a café gourmand. First rule of your trip: If there is a café gourmand on the menu, you MUST order it. There's some UN treaty about it. I swear.)

- I have no idea if the Rail Europe iPhone app is even working at this point, but when I was trying to use it to prepurchase my ticket, it wouldn't let me input any credit card information, so I was stuck having to buy in person. That's when the above happened.

- Watch what folks are doing with their tickets. There was an automated punchy-ticket machine which you had to feed your ticket into in precisely the right direction (I swear there are 42 directions that you can feed it in, and I tried 41 before someone very politely took my ticket and turned it in the proper direction...). This is not a huge deal, but most of the folks that will be riding with you will be pros! Watch and learn!

- All that said, I would suggest that you fly into Paris, rent a car and then drive off to explore "la autoroute less traveled." If you're interested in exploring some castles, then you'll really need to get out into the countryside and to be quite frank - on a 5-6 day trip, your time is precious and you don't want to spend half of it waiting for buses or trains. You want to be able to zip!

- You know about gites, right? Right? Gites? It's French for "awesome." I think. Anyway, if you're thinking about exploring one particular region of France, and you'll be in that area for a week, a gite can be an excellent "home base" to operate out of. You rent the place. You set up shop (some are catered like a bed and breakfast, some are self-catered so that you can choose to eat in or eat out), and you come and go as you please. It is great to be able to plan day trips out of somewhere like that if you're reasonably close to a bunch of interesting things... and you have a car. They come in all shapes and sizes and "characters."

- Also, for accommodation, check out I found an apartment on Ile Saint-Louis for less than $100/night when I was in Paris, which I was able to rent for only three nights. I arrived, threw open the windows, connected to the wifi, and as I skyped my dad to let him know that I had arrived safely, the bells of Notre Dame started ringing and somewhere, in the distance, softly, an accordion played. No, seriously, it was amazing.
posted by jph at 2:30 PM on December 27, 2011

You can also check Ryanair for a flight map, remembering that you can fly to places all over France and Ireland --- not just Dublin and Paris.

And remembering also that Ryanair is the GoDaddy of air travel, and regards its passengers as gullible scum who'd gladly pay to use the toilets in exchange for cheap(ish) up-front fares. If your transatlantic airline will give you a stopover, take it; otherwise, check Aer Lingus and Air France before seeing what Ryanair has to offer.

France's cities are very accessible by train, but a car gives you room to roam, if that's what you want: as jph says, it depends a huge amount on where the wedding will be, given that 'three hours from Paris' can now mean 'Marseille'.

For Ireland, car rental is definitely advantageous if you want to see the country, and the distances are comfortable for most Americans (Dublin-Galway in three hours) as long as you're comfortable driving on the left. I'd suggest, however, that you make Dublin your base and take day trips by public transport.

Anyway, 5-6 days is borderline territory between "extended city-break" and "regional trip".
posted by holgate at 2:49 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try not to get overwhelmed by your choices. Know that you will not see everything on this trip. I agree that you should look through some guide books and see what three or four things pique your interest, then plan a trip around those things. You can fill in other things as you go along, depending on your mood, your remaining funds, and the weather.

I have done the train/bus thing in Ireland but frankly it's much easier and quicker to sightsee with a car. Beware of narrow roads and sheep crossings, and get the rental insurance.

Avoid flying into Beauvais when flying to Paris if you can afford to do so. Beauvais is a long bus ride from the City Center, and if you miss the bus there is no second chance. To make matters worse, the airport is more like a bus depot in terms of amenities. Aer Lingus to CDG FTW!
posted by slmorri at 2:59 PM on December 27, 2011

I'm Irish. Sitting at home by the fire in Wicklow at the moment actually.

1) Flying is the only really easy option, Air Lingus does good flights to Paris but be incredibly wary with Ryanair, they make huge amounts of money by charging for overweight luggage, so make sure that if you go with them, you pack sparingly.

2) Air B'nB is awesome and widely available around Dublin.

3) I'd say see Kilkenny if you want to go South, Galway if you want a good laugh and Cork/Kerry if you want to see sights.

4) Dublin as a city is practically a museum of points of historical and architectural interest. Outside of Dublin there are a lot of huge Country Houses open to the public. Powercourt is about a 45 minute drive to the South and is lovely.

Ask me anything. Happy to help.
posted by rudhraigh at 5:11 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I will echo several of the posters. Fly between destinations but do not fly Ryan Air/Easy Jet or other discount airlines. They are fine for short business trips, weekend visits, students and the experienced flyer. They are not for the uncertain tourist with luggage. Have a wonderful time and do not do to much. Enjoy where you are and do not fret about not getting to all the places you think you should visit. BTW, start by developing a realistic budget, book you transatlantic flight, conform your lodging in France, conform your first night lodging in Ireland and last night before your return and go from there. Assuming your return flight will be an early AM/noon flight I would strongly encourage you to stay close to the airport the night before returning. It is wise to be in the airport three hours before departing to the US. If you by chance leave from Ireland to the US you will need to go through security and US immigration before leaving Ireland.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:25 PM on December 27, 2011

Also in Ireland. My suggestion would be to fly to Dublin, take the train to Cork, rent a car, do the Ring of Kerry, and drop the car either in Cork or Dublin before flying to France. That will give you plenty of time to see Dublin, see Cork and West Cork, do the Ring and get a nice mix of Ireland (and bog ponies!). I highly, highly recommend for planning your trip to Ireland - absolutely everything from itineraries to car rentals to train travel to B&Bs to specific restaurants in specific towns is covered, and if you post your specific itinerary, they will review it for you and make suggestions.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:20 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will get more details on the location of the wedding (invite is at home, I'm not). I want to say it is Southwest of Paris.

Thanks all for the great tips so far. I did do a fairly good job of just going with the flow in Australia, and found that I could spend entire days just walking around and taking pictures.
posted by sararah at 7:03 AM on December 28, 2011

Any follow up yet on where in France you'll be headed?
posted by jph at 9:02 AM on January 3, 2012

Sorry, dropped the ball here over the holiday. Wedding is in Vouvray.
posted by sararah at 2:28 PM on January 3, 2012

Oh, lovely. That's one part of France where you really need to hire a car -- you're 10km from the nearest station, in Tours -- and doing so will open up access to the chateaux and vineyards of the Loire valley.
posted by holgate at 7:38 PM on January 3, 2012

If you're anxious about costs and want to only hire a car in France, it is possible to do a tour of Ireland by train, with bus excursions or just a day of car hire. You will need to book your train tickets well in advance to make this cost effective, though!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:56 AM on January 4, 2012

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