A visit to the land of IRE is simply glorious. The country is amongst the greenest I’ve seen and truly gives sore eyes a reason to simply relax. Add to that, the coziest, most welcoming bed and breakfasts around the countryside and laid back, fun loving and hospitable people and you have a fantastic and beyond satisfying travel experience.
Before you gallop off though, there are some things you should know while planning your travels and I’ve done my best to list them in a top 10 below.
Rent a (compact) Car as your main mode of transportation. This is the best – I repeat – absolute best way to see the country. From North to South West and back East to Dublin, renting a car throughout the country side will not disappoint you. Of course, you’ll be able to see the touristy sights through a tour company on coach bus or train (Irish Rail), but to really get off the beaten path and enjoy the hidden sights not known to many, you have more luck if you have the independence of driving yourself.
Make sure to get the extra car insurance they offer from the rental car company–especially if this is your first time traveling there and you’re not familiar with the routes or driving on the left side of the road. Don’t assume that your credit card company will provide you extended coverage for free. I confirmed that the majority of the credit card companies do NOT cover you in Ireland. I tried asking Capital One, American Express and Chase. Nada.
Ireland drives on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right. The roads are super narrow and many are one lane freeways.
- Packing: The Irish will always tell you that the weather is a ‘mixed bag’ and that the only thing predictable about the climate is that it’s unpredictable, so bring layers and pack comfortable (and possibly rain resistant) walking shoes and a rain resistant hooded jacket.
- Stay at Bed & Breakfasts or a Castle (yep, Ashford Castle in county Mayo is supposed to be beautiful) over hotels. These quaint, cozy homes not only have so much more character and support the local economy, the Irish hosts are by far the most welcoming, warm and accommodating people ever. Did I mention the beyond delicious breakfasts which are served with lots of friendly chatter to accompany? Just make sure that if you’re checking in later (evening hours), that you give the owners a shout to let them know the approximate time of arrival.
- Download an offline Google map of Ireland on your mobile phone when you have Wifi connection. Google is the most accurate mapping system we came across for Ireland. It never got us lost and it is FREE. Don’t worry about having a ton of cash on you at all times. Even though it’s a safe place, credit cards are widely accepted and conveniently located ATM’s will give you back up Euros or Pounds when necessary.
- Pre-check Restaurant Hours or better yet, just go early (especially for dinner). Pubs serve food later than restaurants, but we were surprised at how many places we’d find closed when we were finally ready to grab a bite around 8-9pm. Also, the Irish are very laid back. Smaller shops and restaurants close their doors if there’s no patrons.
- Visit Tourist Sites Later in the Day to avoid the coach buses filled with people on the road (you may get stuck behind one) or on the sight. Specifically, while driving the mystical Ring of Kerry, drive clockwise instead of counter, so that you can avoid these aforementioned coaches.
- Add Leisure Time Buffers in your Itinerary where you’re not driving. A majority of the visitors to Ireland rush their trip because they think it’s a small country and they can ‘cover’ it in 5 days. While this may be partially true, your experience will be limited and you’ll quite likely only stick to the most tourist heavy attractions. To go off the beaten path, give yourself a little extra time to just wander and get lost in lush nature. You won’t be sorry!
- Hike, Walk and Cycle your Heart out. It’s the most satisfying way to see the country (and you’ll squeeze in exercise so that you don’t feel an ounce of guilt when downing that pint!). While driving will get you efficiently from stop to stop, your feet will allow you to get outdoors and truly enjoy the beautiful nature trails where cars cannot go. Many of the sights have walking and hiking trails and they are clearly marked. Also, bikes are easy to rent everywhere! You’ll see that though the roads are narrow, there’s always a biker pealing through with you. Rental cars also have built in bike racks. Just ask. Just note to use caution and common sense when biking on more challenging roads especially those shared with cars.