St. Patrick's Day is the perfect time to mention that if you're looking for an affordable international vacation this spring or summer, Ireland might be just the ticket.
Airfare and vacation package sales combined with a good exchange rate make Ireland a budget travel hot spot right now. Ireland's famous bed and breakfasts offer great value, and many of the most spectacular sights are free.
Not sure where to go in Ireland? Here are recommendations and tips I collected from the avid travelers here in the SmarterTravel office.
In and Around Dublin
Zak Patten, who was born on the Emerald Isle, says that a visit to see the Book of Kells is a must: "It's well worth it. Just being in Trinity College's old library is cool." If you're looking to venture outside Dublin, Patten recommends a day-trip to Newgrange, a 5,000-year old Megalithic tomb. He also suggests hopping on the DART train and heading to the small coastal town of Howth for a fun and easy jaunt out of the city.
The West Coast
Based on the sheer number of recommendations, Ireland's West Coast—including counties Galway, Clare, and Mayo—seems to be a SmarterTravel favorite.
Galway is among Ireland's largest cities, and there's plenty to see and do. Patten recommends stopping in for a pint at The Quays pub. And Chris Stasonis calls the SleepZone hostel one of the best he's ever stayed at. Not only is it cheap, but there are "private rooms, laundry facilities, and tons of free computers with internet access."
Ninety minutes by boat from Galway are the rugged Aran Islands. Josh Roberts, writer of the American Adventurer column, says that "renting bikes and riding around the island of Inishmore is a great, inexpensive day trip from Galway. The remains of Inishmore's Iron Age fortress, Dun Aenghus, are among the more impressive ruins I've ever seen. Walled on three sides, the fourth side is wide open, with nothing but a sheer three-hundred-foot drop between you and the Atlantic."
County Clare is home to dramatic scenery that makes a major impression. The Cliffs of Mohr (also spelled Moher) came up time and again when I asked for suggestions. Nearby, the Burren (also spelled Buren), a rocky landscape known for unusual plant-life, is also home to caves and 6,000-year old relics. For Dave Macgugan, who spent time exploring the Burren by car, "one of the highlights for me was when we happened upon a crumbled old church and a small grave yard in the middle of a cow field! To add to the charm, we found it literally almost at the end of a rainbow!"
Sarah Pascarella gives thumbs way up to County Clare: "It's hard to top the spectacular scenery of County Clare (and I'd say that even if my ancestors weren't from there). From its gorgeous portion of the Ring of Kerry with its craggy cliffs, sweeping ocean vistas, and rolling farmlands, to the cozy pubs and very friendly locals, it's a memorable place worth adding to your itinerary."
The Southwest Coast
County Kerry, Cork, and Waterford ring the southwest corner of Ireland and offer visitors spectacular scenery and memorable activities.
Josh Roberts counts Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of County Kerry as, "one of my favorite places I've ever been." He liked it so much he devoted an entire column to it, called Ireland's Most Amazing Secret.
Elsewhere in County Kerry, Christine Sullivan loved staying in the traditional-music rich fishing village of Dingle. She recommends a stay at the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast and a boat trip to see Fungi the dolphin.
Megan McGrath, who stayed at her fair share of B&Bs during her travels to Ireland, says her favorite is Ballyguiry Farm in Dungarvan, County Waterford: "It is a working farm, and Kathleen, the woman who runs it, is delightful. When we arrived, she sat down and had a cup of tea with us, and chatted with us. The breakfast was delicious! We didn't have a car rental, so they drove us around here and there and gave us a number to a cab."
Here are a few more tidbits to make an Ireland vacation great:
- "I think when you go to Ireland you HAVE to stay in B&Bs! You really get the whole Irish package when you do!" Megan McGrath
- "If you're in Northern Ireland, don't miss the Giant's Causeway, an incredibly beautiful geological formation." Zak Patten
- "When we drove from Dublin to Shannon, we took the M50. They do not collect tolls, but they do indeed CHARGE for tolls. I suggest anyone driving be aware of this." (More details on the toll system) Dave Macgugan
- "Go to a Seisiun (gathering of traditional Irish musicians) at least once. You can even hit a different Seisiun every night at a different pub—the Irish music is such a huge part of the culture and this is something you shouldn't miss!" Megan McGrath
- "Kylemore Abbey is beautiful, but you can see almost everything from the top of the mountain at Connemara and from the road and not have to pay the admission fee." Amy Tripodi
- "I did a self-drive tour of Ireland through Sceptre Tours that was a great deal. We paid one price and got round-trip airfare on Aer Lingus, a rental car, and vouchers for six nights' accommodations at participating B&Bs around the country. There were hundreds of B&Bs to choose from, and you could either plan in advance, or if you're the spontaneous type, just show up last-minute and hope for availability. We were able to explore at our own pace and had a blast." Sarah Pascarella
Do you have more recommendations for places to go, things to do, and where to sleep in Ireland? Share them with other readers in the comments section below!