Our search for this month’s top destination leads us to the green shores of Ireland. The Irish have celebrated the legacy of the country’s patron saint, Patrick, since he died on March 17 about 1,600 years ago. But even if you’re not interested in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, March is a good time to go, as the weather and prices converge to offer great value for budget-conscious travelers.
March is a good time to visit Ireland because attractions and accommodations that are closed from November to February tend to open their doors again, while prices haven’t yet begun to climb toward their high-season peaks. And though most people don’t visit Ireland for its climate, March sees an average of about four hours of sunshine per day (compared to six in June), and its typical rainfall of 2.1 inches makes the month among the driest of the year.
St. Patrick’s Day
If you’re interested in catching St. Patrick’s Day festivals, the biggest celebrations are likely to be in Ireland’s major cities. Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Festival events include “music, fireworks, street theatre and dance.” Down south, the city of Cork is expanding its traditional one-day party to a three-day festival with everything from a carnival to traditional music and a parade. Search for events around the island on St-Patricks-Day.com.
If larger crowds don’t suit you, every village should have something planned for the day. And, according to Catherine Gale of Tourism Ireland, you can avoid both crowds and high prices in the smaller towns. Gale also recommends dining at pubs (which should be lively around the holiday). Pubs offer both low prices on often quite good food, along with an introduction to local culture and music.
If you’d rather not take your chances at driving on the left-hand side of the road (and the car), consider an Irish Explorer pass from the national transportation company, CIE. The lowest-priced rail-only pass is 115.50 euros ($152 at the time of publication) and provides train travel throughout the Republic of Ireland for any five days out of a period of 15 consecutive days. Alternatively, bus-only Irish Rambler passes are available for three, eight, and 15 days of travel, and start at 53 euros ($70). To maximize your options, buy a combination rail and bus pass for 176 euros ($232), which gives you access to the entire bus and rail network for eight days of travel out of 15 consecutive days. When compared to multiple single-ticket purchases, these passes can offer great value. For example, CIE lists rates of 52.50 euros for a one-way ticket from Dublin to Cork, so two such trips almost equal the cost of the five-day rail pass. Make sure to think about your likely routes before you buy any tickets or passes, so that you can choose the best deals for your needs.
Ireland’s accommodation offerings are diverse, from castles to farmhouses to conventional hotels. One of the more popular ways to get to know the Irish people is by staying in their homes. If you decide to go the B&B route, The Irish Accommodation Network (IAN) features a free “book-a-bed-ahead” service, whereby your B&B’s proprietor will recommend and reserve your next IAN-affiliated property. This is a good service for those who want to be more spontaneous. If you’d rather plan in advance, you can book all of your B&B accommodations on the IAN website. Another option is the more globally-focused BedandBreakfast.com. For deals on other types of lodging, try TravelIreland.org’s special offers. If you do decide to go around St. Patrick’s Day, be warned that you may find less availability on hotels during the weeks before and after the holiday.