Planning a Trip to Ireland: A Detailed Guide

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Planning a trip to Ireland? The UK country’s top attractions include Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Cliffs of Moher. 

When planning a trip to Ireland, it’s important to have all some must-know information to make your excursion as efficient and enjoyable as possible. 

We’ll take up everything you’ll need to know before arriving in Éire.

Planning a Trip to Ireland: An Outlook

The tourism business in Ireland is booming. In 2017 over 10 million people visited the country and spent nearly €5.8 billion.  

Last year the country reported overseas visitors spiked over 7% during the first half of the year (January to May).

This showed 273,000+ more overseas arrivals vs. the same period of 2017.

This figure included increases in arrivals from tourists originating from different nations. It included a sky-rocketing increase of 12% in arrivals from North America and even a 2.4% uptick from arrivals from England.

Time will tell how much Brexit will affect international travel from Britain to Ireland.

In 2018 Ireland also made it easier for foreigners to visit the island nation by air or sea. That’s greatly due to the number of airline seats especially from Europe and North America. 

This included new flights from Beijing (Hainan Airlines), Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific), and Seattle (Aer Lingus). 

Main Regions of Ireland

Ireland region

When planning your trip to Ireland, you should not only consider individual cities and towns to visit in the country but also regions. Here are the main regions:

East Coast/Midlands Region

This region includes 8 counties including:

  • Kildare
  • Laois
  • Longford
  • Louth
  • Meath
  • Offaly
  • Westmeath
  • Wicklow

It includes rich landscapes and sunny coastlines. You can find a wide range of attractions including Donegal coastline, Sligo surfing, and Inland regions with mountains, lakes, and canals. 

The East Coast and Midlands regions provide a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Northern Ireland

This includes the counties Antrim, Down, Armagh, Londonderry, Fermanagh, and Tyrone. Northern Ireland is famous for its scenic landscape and cities Belfast and Derry are rich in culture/history.

The region’s scenic highlights include the Mourne Mountains, Giant’s Causeway, and Glens of Antrim.

Shannon Region

This includes the counties Limerick and Claire. Limerick county offers rural charm and quiet beauty and a city that’s very rich in history. 

Meanwhile, Clare includes lots of eye-catching sites including Bunratty Castle, Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren region. There’s also a long tradition of Irish music here.

South East Region

The sunny south-east region includes the counties Carlow, Tipperary, Wexford, Kilkenny, and Waterford. Wexford is famous for the Opera festival and seaside resorts. 

Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city and location of the world-famous Waterford Crystal. There’s also the medieval city Kilkenny, Celtic vestiges of Carlow, and the landscape of Tipperary where the Rock of Cashel is located.

South-West Region

This includes two of the country’s most scenic and famous counties: Cork and Kerry. This region includes:

  • Blarney Castle
  • Carrauntoohill
  • Dingle
  • Ring of Kerry
  • Skelligs

The Southwest region includes rural and lovely West Cork and is one of the country’s most popular destinations for visitors.

West Region

This area is located on Europe’s perimeter and includes the counties of Mayo, Galway, and Roscommon. Features include Galway’s unique culture, and rugged coastlines/scenery. 

Some items to include on your itinerary are Croagh Patrick, Connemara National Park, Aran Islands, and Galway city.

Irish Cities/Towns to Visit

Ireland Cities

When visiting Ireland, it’s important to know which cities and towns you should include on your itinerary. Here are some ones you should consider spending at least one day in:

Adare

This small village includes English architecture and colorful houses. Adare is considered one of the nation’s most lovely villages. 

The Irish government designed Adare as a Heritage Town. The town’s top sites include Trinitarian Abbey.

Ardara

This small town is located in Northern Ireland and contains fewer than 800 residents. Top tourist destinations in Ardara include Maghera Falls and Glengesh Pass.

Athlone

This small town is located in the center of Ireland. It includes a castle, many churches, and an old stone bridge. Athlone was founded on the River Shannon’s banks.

Clifden

This small town is located on the country’s western end and has around 2,000 residents. The main site here is Clifden Castle, but you can also enjoy many natural wonders in Clifden.

That includes Connemara National Park that’s located close to the town.

Cork

This is Ireland’s second-biggest city and is located in the southern region. The city contains about 120,000 permanent residents. 

It also contains a port and one of Ireland’s biggest international airports. Cork has become famous for its climate, history, and culture.

Dalkey

Technically Dalkey is part of Dublin but was once a Viking village. Since then it’s become one of the country’s most important ports. It’s the home of romantic streets and Norman Castle.

Dingle

The Dingle Peninsula is part of Ireland and is considered to be Europe’s western-most point aside from Iceland. Dingle includes a rocky coastline with Atlantic Ocean beaches. 

Features include the region’s nature, history, and culture. Dingle includes features like the Oceanworld Aquarium.

Donegal

Here’s another must-visit town in the northern region of Ireland. This town has a population of about 2,600 residents yet offers a wonderful atmosphere. Popular sites include Donegal Abbey and Donegal Castle.

Dublin

Dublin is the capital of Ireland and provides several places to visit like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Temple Bar district, and festivals and events along the streets.

Galway

The medical city Galway is located on the country’s western end. It’s been selected as one of the world’s top cities and includes exciting architecture and culture. 

The region is loaded with eye-catching streets. Features include the cathedral, medieval city walls, and Connemara National Park in nearby Galway.

Killarney

This town has become a popular tourist spot, and the stores are open until 10 PM. You can find many high-end hotels and restaurants around the hills and lakes surrounding the town. 

There’s also Killarney National Park with the Gap of Dunloe and several lakes.

Kilkenny

This city is located between Dublin and Cork. It’s one of the country’s loveliest medieval cities. Kilkenny includes the impressive castle near the River Nore’s bend. 

Kilkenny’s history dates back to the 1100s when the Normans colonized it. You can find several medieval sights here including a fort.

Kinsale

This small fishing town is located in southern Ireland and is around 30 km from Cork. Kinsale is famous for its narrow streets and is one of Ireland’s most visited summer resorts.

Tralee

The big town includes sites like the town park, Pikeman Monument, and St. John’s Church. These are places to visit when you’re in Tralee although the main attraction is the Rose of Tralee International Festival.

This festival has been held yearly for almost six decades, so it’s worth considering if you’ll be in Ireland during August.

Waterford

This city is located in south-east Ireland and is believed to be Ireland’s oldest city. The Vikings established Waterford in 1853 and are now one of Ireland’s busiest ports. You can visit about one-third of Waterford’s original huge walls.

Westport

As you might guess Westport is located in western Ireland. It includes parks and gardens and is one of the nation’s loveliest cities. Must-see sites include Pirate Adventure Park and Westport House.

Top Attractions in Ireland

Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher

When visiting Ireland, you have a myriad of different attractions to visit but here are some of the top ones to include on your itinerary when planning a trip to the UK nation:

Aran Islands

These islands became famous due to the fiction documentary “Man of Aran” (1934). The Aran Islands have only 12,000 residents, and Gaelic is the main language spoken. 

The islands are rugged and unique and feature towering cliffs, a stone fort, and unique local culture.

Bru Na Boinne

This is located in Boyne Valley and is a symbol of Ireland’s rich history. It includes some of the world’s oldest burial mounds. Three have been opened to the public. 

Visitors can join a tour group that’s organized in the Visitor Centre. It’s open all year but has longer operating hours during the summer.

Cliffs of Moher

This is arguably one of the most incredible sites of Ireland’s western coastline. It’s around 5 miles long and stands high above the Atlantic Ocean. 

When you’re at the top of the cliff, you can visit Twelve Pins, Aran Islands, and Galway Bay. Besides the breathtaking views, the cool breezes will add to your experience. 

This is one of the most popular Irish landscapes and attracts over 1 million visitors yearly!

Cork

Cork is Ireland’s second-biggest city after Dublin. It’s been occupied by England and attacked by Vikings. In 1920 during the Irish Civil War, a big portion of the city was burnt down. 

Since then the city was rebuilt and features the world-famous English market for agricultural and sugary products.

There’s also Blarney Castle which’s located 6 miles north-west of Cork. This is famous for Blarney Stone. It’s believed anyone who kisses the stone is granted the Irish “gift of the gab.”

Dublin

This is Ireland’s capital and home to over one-third of the nation’s population. It has a small-town feeling due to the relaxed environment.

Popular sites include Temple Bar’s pubs, Guinness Storehouse, and Trinity College. Dublin also includes various historic cathedrals like St. Patrick’s.

Guinness Storehouse

This tourist attraction in Dublin opened in 2000 and since then has attracted 4+ million visitors. The building was built in 1902 to function as a fermentation plant where yeast is added to the beer. 

The building was later converted to the Guinness visitor center. The Guinness Storehouse opened to the public in 2000 and was visited by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011.

Ring of Kerry

This is one of the country’s most scenic routes. You can start anywhere including Killarney or Kenmare. The trip takes about 3 hours. 

Features include Atlantic Ocean views, picturesque mountains, incredible islands, and small villages. You can also visit forts or monasteries and enjoy activities like walking, cycling, fishing, and horse-riding.

Rock of Cashel

This is the most visited heritage site in Ireland, and Queen Elizabeth visited it by helicopter in 2011. The site features old buildings like a castle, tower, cathedral, and tower on a limestone rock formation. 

While visiting the Rock of Cashel, you can enjoy exhibitions and audio-visual shows.

Trinity College

This is Ireland’s oldest university and is located in Dublin. Queen Elisabeth, I founded the school over four centuries ago in 1592.

The college is famous for the Book of Kells, which is always in the exhibition. There’s also the Long Room that inspired the library located in the first Harry Potter film.

Waterford Crystal

Waterford is a world-famous manufacturer of crystal and is owned by WWRD Group Holdings. The company was founded in 1783 then revived in 1947 by a Czech immigrant. 

Most of the company’s products are now made outside of Ireland, but the company’s new facility in Waterford gives visitors the chance to take guided tours of the company’s factory and shop at its retail store that includes the world’s biggest Waterford Crystal collection.

Airports and Flights in Ireland

Irish airport

If you’re traveling to Ireland via an international flight, then you’ll arrive at one of several airports including:

  • Belfast
  • Belfast City
  • Cork
  • Dublin
  • Knock
  • Shannon

Take note that flights into Cork and Knock tend to be pricier since they require you to change planes after flying into Heathrow airport in London.

Dublin airport is the most common destination when flying to Dublin and is well-connected to the capital city through buses including shuttle buses from the airport to hotels.

Transportation Links from Dublin Airport

After arriving at Dublin Airport, you can get to the city center through various means although this doesn’t include trains. The options you have to include:

  • Public Bus (Dublin Bus)
  • Express Public Coach (Airlink)
  • Express Private Coach (Aircoach)

You can find Dublin bus stops right outside Terminal 1’s exit. The bus stop is located to the left of the terminal’s Arrival exit. 

The travel time for the Dublin Bus 41 from the airport is around 40 minutes although the commute can take one full hour during busier times like morning and afternoon rush hour.

Accommodations in Ireland

When traveling to Ireland, you’ll have several options in terms of accommodations. Here are some of the main ones:

Youth Hostels

If you’re on a shoestring budget then this option can save you tons of money vs. hotels and B&Bs in particular. Hostels include communal sleeping areas but several are family-friendly with private rooms.

Bed & Breakfasts

B&Bs are small lodgings typically in residential areas. As the name suggests breakfast is included, and it’s often quite hearty. An interesting option in the countryside is a farmhouse B&B. 

You should certainly consider places that have been certified by Ireland’s Tourism Quality Services.

Self-Catering Apartments/Townhouse/Cottage

Self-catering accommodations are big business in Ireland. These options usually require rental periods of 1+ weeks. 

The main benefits of these options are larger accommodation and the option to prepare your meals. Self-catering lodging is good for families and long-term stays.

Hotels

When traveling in Ireland hotels will be more common in large cities like Dublin and Cork. You should be aware of some possible differences vs. N. American hotels. 

For example, many hotels/B&Bs don’t accommodate king/queen size beds. Besides, rates are often per person/night.

Another interesting difference is in Ireland the “first floor” is one flight above the ground floor. So if you book a hotel room, you might have to lug your luggage up a flight of stairs.

Castle/Tower

If you want a truly unique lodging experience in Ireland, then consider staying in a castle or tower. 

Picking these accommodations will require you to shell out more money, but the experience of (literally) living like a king is priceless.

Money or Banking in Ireland

In Northern Ireland, you must pay in sterling (£), but in south Ireland, you’ll pay in Euros (€). It’s important to pay in these currencies because the other currency will be declined in either region of the country.

Several ATMs are located throughout the country. If you want to save some money, then verify with your bank whether or not it will charge you for doing international transactions.

If you’d like to use a credit/debit card in Ireland, then take note that Visa and MasterCard are accepted nearly everywhere in Ireland. However, Discover and American Express are accepted at fewer businesses.

Tourist Season and Weather in Ireland

Tourist Season

The tourist season in Ireland is basically from April to late October. If you visit the country between October to April, you’ll find a few tourists, but there’s a caveat. 

Many tourist spots could be closed during that time and especially in the winter. You also might have trouble finding buses to certain tourist destinations because they don’t run during the winter/spring months.

The peak season for Irish tourism is the summer (June to August). This is when cruise ships arrive for packages like the Game of Thrones tours.

If you travel to Ireland during the “shoulder months” of April/May and September/October, you’ll have to deal with fewer crowds and save some money in the process.

Weather

If you’re planning a journey to Ireland, then you should expect the weather conditions to change often and even experience different “seasons” on the same day. 

Ireland’s weather is still quite mild compared to the northern regions of North America.

Rain is common and it might snow a little, but the weather is still relatively mild vs. the northern US and Canada, for example. Temperatures can be colder on the coastline and cliffs due to the winds.