Ireland Itinerary
July 3, 2013 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Please help me narrow down my Ireland itinerary before I go insane with indecision.

My husband and I are going on a 8-day vacation to Ireland. My husband has traveled before, but this is my first trip out of the US-Mexico area and I am freaking out. We are leaving Boise on the 11th and returning on the 21st.
I have an itinerary planned:

12th- Arrive in Dublin, depending on levels of jet lag either spend the day in the hop on-off bus or chill in hotel

13th- Take train to Galway, arrive at bed and breakfast/hotel, rent a bike and walk around Galway city

14th- Take a shuttle bus to Rossaveel and then a shuttle boat (this is hilarious to me for some reason) to Inishmore, tour around in tour vans and walk and repeat shuttles in reverse

15th- Take a tour of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, walk around and drink

16th and rest of the trip-- Check out and then ???????!!

From here I don't know where to go. I have read WAY too many Ireland travel books for my own good. I want to spend at least two days in Dublin and go visit Belfast and the Giant's Causeway, but I have no idea how to tie this part of the trip to what I have already planned. So far I'm using public transportation. We don't really want to drive, but we can rent a car if it'll be worth it. It's worth mentioning that my best friend lives in Carlow and he wants to show us around Dublin, so the visiting Dublin part is a must. I'm unsure of how to deal with the rest. Questions:

-Do we bus/train to Dublin via Colorful Small Towns (ie Limerick, Waterford etc)?
-Do I take the train back to Dublin and then another up to Belfast?
-Should I do away with trains altogether and just drive everywhere?
-Bed and breakfast or hotel?
-How hard is it to get used to driving on the other side of the road?

Things that are set in stone:
-The flight itself (Arrival in Dublin at 11:30am on the 12th, departure 6:15am on the 21st)
-The hotel in Dublin for the first night (Ibis at the Red Cow Roundabout)

Please help me before I go insane! Thanks beforehand :)
posted by cobain_angel to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rent a car and drive through the Doo Lough Valley, you won't be sorry.

I enjoyed my visit to Dingle, lots of music and countryside.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:20 PM on July 3, 2013

Best answer: Dingle. Dingle. Dingle.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:24 PM on July 3, 2013

Oh, also, we've had good luck using the Rick Steves travel books to plan trips where we needed to pad out an itinerary.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:24 PM on July 3, 2013

Skip Belfast this trip. Spend it on Dublin, the south, and the west and do the north another visit.

I'm drooling for Doolin. It should not be missed. Hit up the Cliffs and definitely go to one of the Islands. Claire and Galway and Dublin on one trip is plenty. You could throw some Kerry in, too, but definitely stick to either the north or south. And I think the south is better starting in Dublin.

I also think renting a car is the way to go.
posted by zizzle at 7:28 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, hostels.

Hostels are the way to go in Ireland. Most are cheaper than hotels and just as nice. And most have private rooms.
posted by zizzle at 7:30 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

-How hard is it to get used to driving on the other side of the road?

Not that hard. It is initially harrowing but you'll catch on pretty quick. Within a day, for sure.

I have not been to Ireland (we did our other-side-of-the-road driving in Scotland) but I just want to say: No matter what you end up doing, there will still be more stuff to see. You are going to be missing out on something. So just pick some stuff to do, enjoy it, and pledge to go back again someday to pick up on the things you missed the first time around. Part of the joy of traveling in a new place, particularly when you have the flexibility of your own car, is just driving around and seeing what you see. Since you have not been to Europe before, you could look at this as sort of an exploratory trip in general: try to use it as an opportunity to discover what, specifically, you enjoy the most, which then you can apply to help narrow down itineraries for future trips.
posted by something something at 7:42 PM on July 3, 2013

Ha, your itinerary is essentially the same as mine from 2011. :) I rented a car and drove myself. It was about 4 (maybe 6?) hours from Dublin to Galway by car, a fast drive on a big highway. I adored Galway, you're right there on the Atlantic and it's just lovely.

From Galway I also took a bus tour of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The Burren was suggested to me by a friend as a must-do, and I loved it (although the tour I linked is interesting and has fantastic views, it was a little short).

Then I drove down to Killarney (with a quick stop at Bunratty Castle) and drove around the Dingle Peninsula, which is as amazing as everyone says. From there I drove back to Dublin, but along the way stopped in Cork and Kinsale, which is home to the historical Charles Fort. I should have spent the night in Cork, I would have loved to explore that city more. But I spent the night outside Kilkenny in a generic hotel (otherwise I mostly stayed at guest houses booked through,, and and then back to Dublin the next day.

The total cost for the rental car for 7 days (with GPS, and surcharge for an automatic since I can't drive stick, and I probably sprung for insurance or roadside assistance or something although I didn't need it) was like US$925. Average hotel/guest house cost was about 60 euro per night. If you want to make sure you have a private bathroom, look for rooms that offer "en suite" bathrooms.

I would have liked to visit the Giant's Causeway and Belfast, but I just couldn't fit it in. I am the type of traveler who likes to have a chill time, so I keep my itineraries fairly light. Usually I make a big long list of everything that I think I would like to see, and then narrow it down to the things I think I would be disappointed if I *didn't* see. Any kind of weird/interesting/novel natural sites are my thing, which is why I loved the Burren and Dingle. Charles Fort was awesome because I was like the only person there exploring this ancient fort, and you can look out and see what feels like the whole ocean. I love love love to just explore, so I loved Galway and Cork and Dublin because I could just walk around forever and be endlessly entertained, or sit in a cafe and people watch when I got tired. YMMV, but I hope you enjoy your time there!!
posted by sarahnade at 9:20 PM on July 3, 2013

Also, re: driving, the cars and roads are well marked with "Drive on the left" decals and arrows. I picked it up pretty quick (the roundabouts are a little tricky, though). the weird part is, I can distinctly remember getting in on the wrong side of the car a couple times, but when I picture myself driving in Ireland, my mind reverses it and I can really only picture myself driving on the right, like we do in America. Your brain just kind of adapts.

One more thing: Should you find yourself in Killarney, on High street, meander down the lane next to O'Connor's pub. If the question is "CAKE?", the answer is "Heck Yeah!!"
posted by sarahnade at 9:25 PM on July 3, 2013

Best answer: -Do we bus/train to Dublin via Colorful Small Towns (ie Limerick, Waterford etc)?

Limerick & Waterford, though each have their charms, are decidedly not "Colorful Small Towns". By our standards they are large towns, and not massively colourful ones compared to many of the options around and in between.

Getting a bus/train to Limerick from Galway, on the way home to Dublin, is not a great way to see the country. We have larger arterial motorways and roads and you'll spend most of your time on those roads and then in those larger nodes, which are not the best things to see on the west coast (Galway perhaps excepted).

You will have a marvellous time and see exceptional scenery if you rent a car, drive to Galway and work your way down along(ish) the coast to Dingle. It will take a few days to drive this and see everything you want to see (although you could drive it in one day). (Research the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, Clare, the Dingle Peninsula). It'll take 6-7 hours to drive back to Dublin from Dingle town. I'd also drop Belfast on this trip. It's just too far outside Galway's loop, requiring a long trip west then back to Dublin and a long trip north and back to Dublin—too much scenery-less travel on a short enough trip.

If you're getting over to Galway as soon as your itinerary suggests, there's time to be back in Dublin for two days before you head home. And, as Zizzle says, there's well enough to see in Galway and Clare if going as far south as Kerry begins to look like too much for the time you have.
posted by distorte at 12:58 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do not bother with Waterford. And especially not to the loss of the Dingle area. The giant's causeway is lovely but without a car- crazy I think. I would definitely get a car for Ireland. Much of what is worth seeing is fairly remote.
posted by jojobobo at 1:54 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to pick up on the driving time to Galway: allow 3 hours, you'll probably do it in 2:30. It could have taken 4 hours back in the day, on a bad day; nowadays there's a traffic-free motorway the whole way between the two cities. Just watch for the point where the M6 (Galway) branches off from the M4 (Sligo), and you can't go wrong.

Also, I'd agree with spending a full day or two in Dublin at the start or end of the trip and otherwise concentrating on the west coast rather than trying to fit in the Giant's Causeway and Belfast all in one trip. Galway, Aran Islands, and down through Clare to Kerry sounds right. Enjoy!
posted by pines at 1:54 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Rick Steves' book. It got us all the way through.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:26 AM on July 4, 2013

I would very strongly recommend renting a car. Rick Steves' books are a great tip for North Americans visiting Europe.
posted by bimbam at 2:45 PM on July 4, 2013

Also, the Irish Times ran a series recently on the "Best Place to Holiday in Ireland"
posted by bimbam at 2:48 PM on July 4, 2013

-Do I take the train back to Dublin and then another up to Belfast?

Yes. The train journey from Dublin to Belfast is in fact the second prettiest in Ireland in my books. From Belfast, there are a depressing number of tourist buses each day to the Giant's Causeway, you won't need a car. I would then return to Dublin and rent a car to head out.

As has been pointed out, Limerick is a shithole and Waterford is meh. You can drive to Kerry from Dublin in half a day now. You can see bog ponies and stay in Cahirdaniel overnight, halfway around the Ring. It really is an adorable Irish town, with two fantastic pubs with lovely food, and a gorgeous beach at Derrynane with a pub in the landlady's livingroom.

From there you can work your way back up, perhaps via Dingle and the Burren. By all means strike out for Galway if you like, but it's not my favourite - I think it's very McIrish touristy.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:20 PM on July 4, 2013

I'm a USian who just got back from my first trip to Ireland. My experience was different because I biked the entire trip and stayed in B&Bs along way. Therefore, my advice may not be directly relevant to you but here it is:

My observation was that the public transportation infrastructure of Ireland was lacking relative to other European counties. The further out you get, the less I would count on trains and buses to get to point B. Rent a car.

It took me a couple of days to get the hang of the left side of the road (on a bike). The only spots where there was an 'oh shit' moment were at the roundabouts. Take it slow.

In general, more than trying to check off all the photo ops on a touring brochure, I recommend putting yourself in situations that get you talking with the people of Ireland. These are some of the most good natured, conversational and smart people I have ever had the fortune of encountering. Go to pubs. Ask the bartender for one Jameson and one Bushmills. That always draws some interest.

Side note: I stayed two days in Inishmore and had the most severe allergic reaction to the local flora that I've ever had to anything. And I don't have allergies to anything here in the States. Bring antihistamine.
posted by quadog at 1:13 AM on July 5, 2013

DarlingBri is (as usual) spot on for Irish tourism advice. Just to confirm & clarify - Waterford town is indeed very meh - i'm only back from a weekend there, and meh is a polite way of putting it. The rest of the Waterford coast is beautiful though, with fantastic beaches - go for a walk on Ardmore strand then eat in the Cliffhouse Hotel overlooking it, you wont regret it.

The other advice about deciding to do North or South and sticking with it is also very good in my book. My vote would be do the South. You'd have a ball around Clare, Kerry, even west coast of Cork. If you manage to get to work your way around the coast to Cork city then the train to Dublin from there only takes 2.5 hours these days.
posted by kev23f at 4:12 AM on July 5, 2013

Waterford town is indeed very meh

True. But, dinner at Waterford Castle is not to be missed. Very expensive, but not to be missed.
posted by John Borrowman at 12:47 PM on July 5, 2013

Best answer: Adding to the Dingle recommendation. If you're there, I'd definitely recommend a day trip to Skellig Michael,, assuming you've no issues with boats, vertigo, and are reasonably surefooted..

Also, drive through the Gap of Dunloe and Black Valley, amazingly isolated, spectacular scenery.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 2:05 PM on July 6, 2013

I'm a Canadian living in Ireland for 5 years. But I'm pretty shit at being a tourist, so I haven't seen a lot of the country. What I can contribute:

A car will make your trip a lot better. I haven't driven here, because I'm too poor to afford a car, but my sister and her husband came to visit and they rented a car. There were only a few mishaps. One was when he cut off a car entering a roundabout, and the other was pretty much all of Dublin City. That is not a good place to drive when you're unfamiliar with roads and trying to remember to stay on the left! So many streets in Dublin are one-way that it can be really frustrating trying to find where to go. So if I were you, I'd land in Dublin, check out the city for a few days, and then rent a car when you're going to check out the rest of the country. Bus Eireann and Irish Rail have both increased their prices quite a bit over the past few years, so it might even end up being cheaper to rent a car.

Places I've been:
Dublin: check out the Chester Beatty library. It's free and is really interesting. I'm not a museum person normally, but I loved it. Also Grafton street for shopping (upstairs in the shopping centre, there's a nice store that sells authentic, and reasonably priced Irish clothes, like wool hats, silk scarves, Aran sweaters, etc). Temple Bar is full of tourists doing their best Michael Flatley impressions. Get properly drunk before hitting the bars in that area, or you'll just end up irritated. I think it was Merrion Square Park we were at that had an outdoor art festival. If you're beer drinkers, tour the Guinness Brewery. Or skip the tour and just get a Guinness at a pub. It *apparently* tastes different than Guinness in North America.

Westport: I've only been in the town briefly for the Music & Food Festival, but it seemed pretty good. We camped at Westport House, which has extensive grounds. Close by (about 10 minute drive) is Croagh Patrick. It's a few hours up and down (budget 4-5 hours total to be safe), so is a great half day activity. Bring a walking stick. Or do what I did and collapse on a rock and have fitter people take pity on you and give you their sticks.

Knock Shrine: If there are religious people in your family, go to knock shrine and get them some holy water. Right out of a hose.

Galway: Went there for the Christmas market. Best part was eating corn dogs. Stayed at the Pillo Hotel, which was amazing. It's also nice to walk along the water. Galway also has hot yoga, something the rest of the West has never heard of.

Cork: Check out Blarney Castle, just because you have to, and let the old man at the top hold your legs while you lie on your back and shimmy backward over the ledge to kiss the Blarney stone. The Cliffs of Moher are also just a quick car ride away. Watch out for the wind, and don't be the person who jumps the fence and gets blown over the edge.

Places I haven't been to but have heard are good: Wexford, purely for the beaches. Dingle for the Dingle Dolphin. Donegal for surfing. Sligo for shooting air rifles.
posted by fruitopia at 6:15 PM on July 6, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, based in your recommendations I snipped Belfast, but I ended up with an extra day.

We're still attempting to include some trains in there to minimize the time spent driving. If I'm being unwise PLEASE TELL ME OMG.

Revised continued schedule:

Fri 16 / Dingle
Drive to Dingle
Get a B&B room
Go on Peninsula tour (either self guided or w tour bus)
Bike/walk around Dingle

Sat 17 / Dingle to Cork to Dublin
Check out
Drive from Dingle to Cork (~3 hr)
Return car
Take train from Cork to Dublin (~3 hr)

Sun 18-Mon 19-Tue 20 (Dublin)

I would still like to see the Giant's Causeway. Can I do that on a day trip with the extra day I have or should I use that one day to explore Cork/Dingle?
posted by cobain_angel at 7:29 PM on July 6, 2013

If you're driving from Dingle to Cork, and have a day spare, i would use your extra day to stop and spend a chilled out day/night in any of the west cork coastal towns or villages that take your fancy - skibbereen, baltimore, bantry, etc. If you really take your time with that part of the coast you wont regret it. You'll soon be back in the hustle and bustle of Dublin city so enjoy the relaxed pace while you can? Have a great trip.
posted by kev23f at 4:01 AM on July 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great ideas. We had a fantastic time...WE MUST BE BACK! We didn't go to the Giant's Causeway, but it didn't feel like such a large loss now that we are planning to go back sometime.

If anyone's looking at this for advice... DO. NOT. MISS. DINGLE.



Seriously. We ended up staying an extra day there. The weather wasn't even that great. Still worth it.
posted by cobain_angel at 5:25 PM on October 7, 2013

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