How to plan a trip to Ireland: beginner’s guide
Hello? What’s that? Oh, it’s for you, the Republic of Ireland is calling.
That’s right, the dusky dramatic coasts, ruined castles of a time not so long ago, and charming cobblestone streets are just waiting for you to come explore them. You should probably plan a trip to Ireland soon…
Dreamy and magical things, trips to Ireland are soooo worth your time and not at all as elusive as they may initially seem. Like all travel it takes a dose of planning, a splash of adventure, and a big glug of enthusiasm. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about travelling to wonderful Ireland.
What are the best months to visit Ireland?
Undoubtedly the spring and autumn seasons, especially May, September, and October. These off-season times are the best for travelling in Ireland as the temperatures are just perfect (not too cold, not too hot), the days are long and bright and blue, and there aren’t as many tourists around.
Looking to complete a festive bucket list, anyone? You can also plan a trip to Ireland during the month of March to catch the traditional and iconic celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Or travel during November and December for the brightly-lit and jolly Christmas Markets that take over all major cities!
How many days is enough for Ireland?
If you’re a first-time discoverer of the Republic of Ireland then a week will do you just fine! That’s plenty of time to see the main sights and immerse yourself in the culture and traditions that rule this stunning hilly place. Contiki’s Ireland Trip runs for 8 days and you’ll tour the country north to south, east to west, with a peek into neighbouring Northern Ireland as well!
What should I pack for a trip to Ireland?
The specifics will depend on what time of year you’re visiting, but as a general rule you should have with you these 3 things:
- A good pair of walking shoes – trust there will be many hikes you’ll want to go on!
- An anorak and/or umbrella – the weather is mild and pleasant in the recommended travelling seasons, but this is still northern Europe, expect at least one day of rain.
- A sweater – no matter the season, if you’re walking along those picturesque jutting cliffs, the wind will get ya! So pack a sweater to keep you warm.
For the rest of your wardrobe, be mindful of what kind of activities you’ll be doing. If you’re planning on sticking to the cities and hopping from museums to bars and back again, then pack something fun and breezy. But if you’re planning on hiking and walking and touring some historical areas then we recommend packing some proper gear that you’ll feel comfortable in.
As for accessories, a camera is a MUST. You cannot possibly plan a trip to Ireland and not plan to take as many high quality photos as possible. The scenery is too beautiful and fairy tail-esque. It needs to be celebrated and remembered in the best resolution.
Image source:Mark de Jong / unsplash
You’re in luck. Visa requirements in Ireland are super chilled: as long as you’re travelling for tourism or business you can stay in the country visa-free for 90 days! So, unless you’re going to plan a trip to Ireland for a mega adult gap year, then you don’t have to bother with all that paperwork.
What you do need is a valid passport, and then you’re good to get going!
As with all vacations, we highly recommend getting travel insurance, especially on the expensive bits like flights and accommodation. What will you do if you lose your Gucci luggage in the kerfuffle of connecting flights and baggage claim? Usually while you’re booking these services they’ll give you an option to purchase travel insurance, so it’s a really easy process.
You can also get insurance to cover your health should something happen to you while abroad (fingers crossed it nothing happens though). If you’re travelling with any valuables you can insure those as well. The point is, get your travel insurance, and travel safe!
What can I do in Ireland?
How does frolicking in the fields sound? Or skipping down the street? No, jokes aside, with plenty of cities and towns, castles and ruins, and spectacular scenery, the Republic of Ireland isn’t short on anything to do.
Here are some basic tips to keep in mind when you plan a trip to Ireland:
- Don’t spend all your time in Dublin: it’s lovely! But so is the rest of the country so go see it!
- Don’t try and cram too much into your trip – you want to be able to roam and take your time, and also don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t worry, Ireland will always be here for you to revisit one day…
- Consider booking a group trip or guided tours to really unlock all the secrets and cultural tid-bits you might otherwise miss.
Here are some of the best cities and sights to visit on your stay.
Dublin: The capital of the Republic of Ireland, you simply can’t miss it! Located right on the coast you’ve got gorgeous sea views to flank the cobblestone streets and the cosy classic pubs. Entrenched in history and academia, take a tour of the Little Museum of Dublin, Trinity College, and the Guinness Storehouse for a taste of the iconic brew.
Galway: You may know it from Ed Sheeran’s tune Galway Girl, but we know it for its colourful and vibrant streets, and the meandering rivers that reflect those bright colours right back! Come for the smell of the sea that clings to this harbour town and stay for the live music that regales the streets, the many boutiques and art galleries, and the fresh fish.
Image source:Chan Hyuk Moon / unsplash
Cork: Pastel houses, hills and greenery, a port with adorable boats docked. What more could you want from a city? Cork is the Republic of Ireland’s third largest city and it has so much to offer. Head to the English Market to pick up some specialties like drisheen and pigs’ trotters for a taste of Cork, and then stroll to St. Anne’s Church. The red and white limestone of the church is said to have inspired Cork’s sporting colours!
Limerick: Sadly, this is not the birthplace of the delightful limerick poem, BUT it is on the waterfront, home to Georgian-style houses, with many castles and ruins in the surrounding areas. Come for the day and enjoy a comforting meal at the pub before taking a historical trek through Glenstal Abbey, Desmond Castle Adare, Foynes Museum, as well as enjoying some nature hikes through the lush Irish greenery.
Sligo: Fans of history, literature, and poetry unite in Sligo! This town is a true commercial and cultural hub of Ireland, with Medieval Sligo Abbey which is home to impressive carved tombs and an ornate 15th century altar; a museum holding memorabilia from classic poet W. B. Yeats, as well as paintings from the ages and even Stone Age artefacts!
Image source:Mark de Jong / unsplash
Rock of Cashel: Located in County Tipperary in the Golden Vale (what a romantic name), the Rock of Cashel is a castle that has withstood the test of time. Also known as Patrick’s Rock, this impressive structure served as the seat of the Kings of Munster for hundreds of years before the Norman invasion. It’s infused with that lingering regal energy, it’s hard not to feel like a king or queen of old when roaming between these limestone walls.
Glendalough: A beautiful valley with a wide river running through the centre, reflecting the vivid colours of the hills flanking either side. Glendalough is an idyllic and magical location – if fairies are real they definitely live here. Take yourself for a picturesque walk or hike, visit the monastic ruins, and wander into the Wicklow Mountains National Park for some even more jaw-dropping views. One for nature lovers around the world and aspiring National Geographic photographers.
Image source:Colin C Murphy / unsplash
Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden: This Gothic Benedictine nunnery is a sight for sore eyes. A majestic manor set in the lush rolling hills or Ireland, on the shore of a glassy river – this place is straight out of a storybook. The Abbey has been restored with the utmost care, as have the Victorian gardens, flower beds, and herb patches. A true oasis to escape the mundanity of the 21st century and pretend like you live in your favourite period piece.
Lakes of Killarney National Park: Donated by the Muckross Estate in 1932, Killarney National Park was the first National Park in Ireland, and stands as one of the most beautiful ones to this day. With a smattering of lakes and greenlands, a visit here is one of the best ways to capture the raw beauty of the Republic of Ireland. Catch a glimpse of the elusive Red Deer that populate the area if you’re lucky, and check out some of the fabled heritage sites such as Killarney House and Gardens, Ross Castle, and the Copper Mines.
Cliffs of Moher: Feel the wind dance through your hair as you stand (safely) on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, breathing the salt air into your lungs. The cliffs stretch for 14km with the ocean below beating against the rockface. It’s dramatic, it’s iconic, it’s everything a trip to Ireland is cracked up to be. Fun fact: this is where a scene in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was filmed – you know the one.
Kilmainham gaol: Pronounced ‘jail’, Kilmainham Gaol is exactly what it sounds like it is. A prison that held men, women, and even children for over 100 years, a visit here will take you through an extensive history of the Republic of Ireland. Many people imprisoned here were part of the Irish resistance for Independence, as well as people implicated in the Anglo-Irish war of 1919 and the Irish Civil War.
Ring of Kerry: Head to the Ring of Kerry for a pleasant and scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. This is a circular route which will give you a taste of that true rugged Irish wilderness. If the weather allows you can take a boat out to Skellig Island and visit an abandoned 7th century monastery – or head over in bad weather for those spooky vibes!
Image source:K. Mitch Hodge / unsplash
Should I travel solo or with a tour company?
Should you plan a trip to Ireland solo or with a group? Let’s break it down by pros and cons shall we?
Solo in Ireland:
Pros – you can really live the vibes of 2010’s rom-com Leap Year and hopefully meet a brooding but secretly cheery Irish man of your own (even though actor Matthew Goode is actually British…)
Cons – You may not meet a brooding but secretly cheery Irish man of your own and instead wind up getting lost. If you’re a first time solo traveller, the winding roads and vast peaks and valleys might be a little disorienting.
If you do choose to go fully solo then 100% recommend booking a rental car so you can take yourself anywhere you please – just remember to drive on the left side!
Group travel in Ireland:
Pros – you won’t get lost because your trustee Trip Manager and Trip Driver have the whole itinerary in hand and under control, so while you’re cruising blissfully along you can make new friends in the group and discover the Republic of Ireland stress free!
Cons – there are obviously no cons to this option.
Psst… Did you know that you can join Contiki as a solo traveller? Kind of seems like this option is the best of both worlds… Check out our trips to Ireland and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!