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23 No Holds Barred Ireland Travel Tips to Help You Crush Your Trip

Ireland offers 32,000 square miles of castles, coastline and culture. With so much to chose from, planning a trip to Ireland can be overwhelming. No worries, I’ve got you covered. These 23 Ireland travel tips will answer your key questions and guide you to resources that will help you put together your own best trip.

Ireland travel tips: Rock of Cashel in the distance

23 Super Useful Ireland Travel Tips and No BS

I’ve traveled to Ireland many times and I have opinions. This Ireland trip planner is not cobbled together from random Google searches. I’ve made all of the mistakes already– like crashing the rental car in Doonbeg and nearly driving into a marathon in Galway. I unsuccessfully tried to do too much on my first Irish road trip and also failed entirely to understand the historical significance of the Hill of Tara. I stayed in the wrong hotel in Killarney and narrowly averted the vomitorium on a rocky ferry crossing from Wales.

I’ve been there. And I’m going to give you my best advice, so that when you travel to Ireland, you can avoid the mishaps.

When is the Best Time to Visit Ireland?

Spring through fall, or whenever you can slide out of work.

Ireland is called the Emerald Isle for a reason. On any given day, there is a 30-40% chance of rain. The temperatures are also fairly cool all year round. So don’t let weather drive your decision for when to visit Ireland. That said, avoid August if you can, because it’s a very busy tourism month throughout Europe.

Otherwise, just plan travel to Ireland whenever your work schedule permits….and bring a GoreTex jacket.

How Many Days Do I Need for Ireland?

7-10 days is the sweet spot, but it depends upon how much time you can squeeze out of your vacation allotment.

Some people spend a month in Ireland and do the full circuit. Others, just spend a three day weekend in Dublin. The real question you should ask yourself is– “how much time do I have for Ireland… and how do I make the most of it without wearing myself out?”

If you want to see a lot of Ireland, then 7-10 days is the sweet spot. This will allow you to spend a few days in Dublin and then do a road trip loop that could include: Galway, Cliffs of Moher, Loophead, Dingle (and/or Ring of Kerry), and Cashel.

Check out this Ireland itinerary, it will give you suggestions for how to piece together a 5-10 day trip that will give you most of the highlights without exhausting yourself.

Ireland trip: Great Blasket Island Dingle. Woman in red hiking a cliff
Great Blasket Island in Dingle.

What’s it Like to Go Solo in Ireland?

Solo travel in Ireland is safe, fun and far less lonely than you might imagine.

I’ve traveled solo to Ireland three times and I’ve never have a bored moment. Nor have I experienced that “nervous look over the shoulder and clutch your bag” feeling that every solo female traveler dreads. Irish culture is very friendly and welcoming.

My favorite Ireland travel tip for solo travelers– simply pull up a bar stool at the local pub and start talking to the bartender. You can also engage with others by taking walking tours or day trips.

But don’t be afraid to be on your own. I did a solo road trip from Galway around Connemara and experienced a restorative day by getting deliberately lost along the coastline.

Driving in Ireland on the Conor Pass. Two cars on narrow mountain road
Driving Conor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula. This road goes down to one lane for a section… but the view are worth it.

Is it Worth Renting a Car in Ireland?

Yes! Summoning the intestinal fortitude required to tackle Ireland’s tight roads will reward you with tons of coastline.

Look, driving in Ireland can be tricky. Driving on the left with a manual transmission down charmingly tight roads is a nail biter. But if you do it, you give yourself the freedom to drive down that random peninsula, get lost or spend extra time someplace cool.

If you do a bus tour, or even worse, try to see everything as a series of day trips from Dublin, you will miss the point of traveling to Ireland. The tour buses are timed such that they all tend to arrive at the same time. So it’s just you and 10,000 of your closest friends elbowing each other out of the way at the Cliffs of Moher. Frustrating…and kind of dangerous because those cliffs are inconceivably steep.

Follow this guide for how to survive driving in Ireland and you’ll get ten tips for making a rental car work for you.

Ireland Connemara Region Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. Looks like a fairy tale doesn’t it?

Places to See by Train if You Don’t Want to Rent the Car

You can easily get to the following popular tourist cities by train: Galway, Waterford, Cork and Killarney.

If I didn’t convince you with my treatise on why you should rent a car, then there are alternatives. I’m still not a fan of the glass bottom bus bus tours, but you can use Irish rail to get to some pretty cool places. Here are my tips for Ireland travel without a car:

  • From Cork: You can easily take a train or bus to the cute coastal towns of Kinsale and Cobh. You could also stay local and take a 1/2 day whiskey and food tour.
  • From Waterford: You can enjoy touring the crystal factory, great food and beautiful beaches.
  • From Galway: You can take a full day tour to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, and/or tour Connemara and Kylemore Abbey. In town, you can pub hop and hear some fantastic trad music.
  • From Killarney: You can do the Ring of Kerry as a day tour, or take a guided hike through Killarney National Park.

What doesn’t work well by train is the Dingle Peninsula. The nearest train station is an hour away in Tralee. There are day trips available from Killarney for Dingle but you’ll spend two hours of the seven hour trip just getting there and back.

Giants Causeway Rick Steves in Northern Ireland
Quiet morning on the Giant’s Causeway.

Can I See it All in One Trip?

Absolutely not and you shouldn’t try to. You are better off going to fewer places and spending more time in each than rushing from one place to the next.

Even if this is your once-in-a-lifetime Ireland trip, you are better off doing fewer things slowly rather than racing to fit in everything. In Ireland, distances aren’t far as the crow flies, but road speeds are slow and you don’t want to spend more time in the car than out of it.

Here are four Ireland travel tips that I hope will convince you to slow down and spend that extra night somewhere:

  • Near Galway: If you do the overnight Connemara trip that I mentioned earlier, you can visit beautiful Kylemore Abbey and spend the night in the charming little harbor town of Cliften. Offbeat options in the area include a bog hike (I swear, you won’t get stuck) and the Sky Road which has epic views stretching all the way across the pacific.
  • Near Dingle: An extra night in Dingle will give you time to take the boat out to Great Blasket Island. It features an abandoned village and is a windswept paradise for sea lions, sheep and hikers.
  • Near Doolin: If you overnight in Doolin you can have an evening of great beer and trad music. Then you can get up early and hit the nearby Cliffs of Moher without the crowds.
  • Near Giant’s Causeway: The Causeway park is open all of the time…but the parking lot isn’t. If you spend the night in one of the B&Bs up the hill, you can walk down early in the morning (or after 5pm) and have the park all to yourself.
Ireland's Dingle Peninsula scenic road with islands in the distance
Taking the interior road to Dunquin on the Dingle Peninsula.

Which is Better: Dingle Peninsula or Ring of Kerry?

Absolutely the Dingle Peninsula.

The Wild Atlantic Way covers 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) of craggy coastline and crazy cliffs, including both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. So, there is no shortage of awesome coastline to feed your eyeballs. But, if you take my advice to slow it down, then you may have to choose between visiting one peninsula or the other.

I prefer Dingle for its compact distribution of ancient sites and friendly town vibe. There are a number of pubs that have regular trad music sessions with the requisite craic. Driving over Conor Pass on a clear day will delivery some of the best views in Ireland, hands down. There is a string of ancient forts, beehive huts and ruined churches that are both interesting and easy to access.

The last time I was there, we loved it so much, that we added on an extra day at the last minute.

Killarney is fine as a base of operations for the Iveragh Peninsula. However, I feel that it has few too many tourist shops selling Irish kitsch. There are hundreds of articles answering the question of “which way to drive the Ring of Kerry”, all offering advice on how to avoid the crush of tour buses. That alone should tell you that you need a serious strategy for tackling this over touristed spot.

Ring of Kerry Ireland Derrynane beach. Rocks and sand dunes
Derrynane on the Iveragh Peninsula.

Where Can I Find a Quiet Patch of Coastline?

Everywhere. Just drive down nearly any random peninsula off of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Even if you drive the popular Iveragh Peninsula and Dingle Peninsula routes, you’ll only cover 262 of the 1,500 kilometers of the Wild Atlantic Way. There is plenty of coastline remaining for a quiet spot. So, load up your car with a hunk of Irish cheese and some bread and plan to pull over for a picnic.

Here are a few of the top beaches in Ireland:

  • Cork: Inchdoney Beach
  • Iveragh Peninsula: Derrynane Beach
  • Dingle Peninsula: Inch Beach
  • Antrim Coast: Ballycastle Beach
  • Donegal: Marble Hill Beach and Ballymastocker
  • Achill Island: Keem Bay
Ireland in 7 days: The Cliffs of Moher. Cliffs and stacks on the ocean
The Cliffs of Moher. They really are inconceivable.

How Do I Beat the Hordes at the Cliffs of Moher

Get there by 8:30am or after 4pm.

Most of the tour buses stopping at the Cliffs of Moher take about two hours to arrive from either Galway or Dingle. They won’t get there until between 10am and noon. Stay in nearby Doolin or Lahinch and you’ll arrive at the cliffs before everyone else.

If you arrive right at 8:30am, you can spend an hour or so walking the cliffs and then head into the visitors center. Another alternative is to hike in from Doolin on the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Trail.

Ballintoy Harbour
Pyke on the Iron Islands, or rather Ballintoy Harbor on the Antrim Coast.

How do I Find Game of Thrones Filming Locations?

There’s an app for that.

The Game of Thrones production single handedly sparked a major boom in tourism for Northern Ireland. If you want to self-drive the sites, stop at the tourist information desk at the Belfast airport and they’ll give you a map and guide to Northern Ireland.

Then, download the Game of Thrones app from the tourist bureau. It will give you a detailed map for finding all of the filming sites along the Causeway coast.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I used the app to find what I thought was the Dark Hedges (Kings Road). But I was in the wrong spot and took pictures of some lovely trees, which were not the right trees. Oops.

If you want to avoid taking pictures of the wrong trees, or you’d like something more experiential, this tour is a day trip from Belfast, which include dress-up costumes and swords.

Ireland's Loop Head Peninsula cliff tops with ocean view
The Force awakened on the Loop Head Peninsula.

How do I Feel the Force at Irish Star Wars Filming Locations?

There more Star Wars locations than just Skellig Michael.

What the Game of Thrones did for the west coast of Northern Ireland, Star Wars is doing for the west and south coasts of the Republic of Ireland. The force awakened with Luke and Rey delicately perched on Skellig Michael.

You can visit Skellig Michael as a day trip from the Iveragh Peninsula, but only in the summer, only if you book ahead, and only if the weather cooperates.

Other filming sites include the Loophead Peninsula (pictured above). Loophead is worth visiting because it is way off the tourist trail and it hosts the oldest running lighthouse in Ireland.

Other shooting locations include Malin Head in County Donegal, Sybil Head in Dingle, and Mizen Head and Brow Head in County Cork.

Ireland travel: Quays Bar Dublin Ireland
Quays bar in Dublin.

Do I Really Need to Visit the Guinness Storehouse?

Meh. Only if you are truly interested in the history of Irish beer making.

Somehow, the Guinness Storehouse has become the top attraction for people traveling to Ireland. I’m a contrarian traveler and usually avoid visiting the super-touristy stuff so it wasn’t until my third visit to Dublin that I actually made it to there. The Storehouse takes you through a multi-story history of the beer and how it is made. They offer a class on how to pull your own perfect pint and at the end, you get a glass of beer at their rooftop bar.

But at €17.50-25, the experience is expensive. So if you just like to drink beer, but don’t care about how the malt gets turned into mash, then just visit some cool historic pubs, like the Quays Pub shown above.

Ireland by Car: Rock of Cashel. Stone castle ruin with gravestones
The Rock of Cashel.

Do I Really Need to Kiss the Blarney Stone?

Absolutely Not! Gross!

Here’s an Ireland travel tip for you– do you really want to hang out a four story window to kiss some slutty castle wall? I’m distantly related to Robert the Bruce, who received the stone in 1314, but I’m still not going to make out with it.

Go to the nearby Rock of Cashel instead. It began as the seat for the Munster kings through the 12th century. The land was later donated to the Catholic church and chapel was constructed in 1127. The evocative cathedral grounds loom over the landscape, a moody reminder of Ireland’s long history.

Famous libraries: Dublin Longroom library Trinity College. Domed wood ceiling and bookshelves
The Long Room Library at Trinity College.

Should I Visit Trinity College?

Yes, but be sure to visit a few of Dublin’s other beautiful libraries too.

The Book of Kells and the Long Library at Trinity College are the fourth most popular attraction in Ireland—and worth it. The library houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. The light streaming in from the windows illuminates row after row of books, all connected together by a beautiful curved ceiling. I’m a nut for beautiful libraries and this one is a stunner.

That said, there are also some other lovely libraries in Dublin, including the National Library and the Marsh’s Library. Check out this literary tour of Dublin for more info.

Should I Take the Hop on Hop Off Bus in Dublin?

Absolutely not, unless you’d like to pay a premium to spend all day on a bus.

I’m not a fan of the HoHo buses. They cost a premium and are never the most efficient way to get from A to B. For instance, to get from the Guinness Storehouse back to central Dublin, the bus runs a 25 minute loop through Phoenix Park. The normal bus takes just 12 minutes. So take the bus or an Uber. It’s cheaper.

Furthermore, most of the most popular things to do in Dublin are easily walkable from the center of the city.

How do I get From Dublin Airport to Central Dublin?

Take the 747 or 757 city bus line. It’s cheap, fast and not smelly.

The bus is by far the best way to get into Dublin. It’s a hybrid between a shuttle and a city bus route. It costs €7 one way and only takes about 25 minutes in normal traffic. You can catch either the 747 or the 757, depending upon your destination. The bus stops are right outside the main terminal and have clearly marked maps.

Ireland Travel: Rock of Cashel Interior
Finding a quiet moment at the Rock of Cashel.

Tragically Practical Ireland Travel Tips

What is the Currency in Ireland?

Well, that depends upon where you go. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and they use the Pound. The Republic of Ireland is in the EU and they use the Euro.

Should You Tip in Ireland?

Not too much. You are not expected to tip for cab rides or bar service. If you have restaurant or bar table service, 10% is fine. But check first and make sure that they didn’t already add a service charge to the bill.

How to Get Mobile Data in Ireland

Don’t try to travel to Ireland without mobile service. If you are driving, you are definitely going to need the mapping services.

If you are in the US and on T-mobile, you are good to go as international service is included.

If you don’t have T-mobile but do have an unlocked phone (one that isn’t on a plan), then just pick up a €20 sim card at the airport. If you don’t have an unlocked phone, consider paying off your phone and then having it unlocked. Because, international plans out of the US are a terrible deal and can cost $140 for a two week trip.

Getting to Ireland

There are five cities with major airports: Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Shannon and Knock. They are serviced by major airlines such as Aer Lingus, American, Delta, British Air and United. Low cost carriers such as Ryan Air, Flybe and Eurowings also service Ireland.

Flying to (or through) Ireland from North America is often much cheaper than using gateways like London or Paris. Check alternative routing to try to score a cheaper fare.

Set an alert on Skyscanner to find the best deals.

Tips for Booking Accommodation

Unless you are traveling in August and/or on a summer weekend, lodging will be fairly easy to get in Ireland—outside of the major cities, that is. It’s worth it to pre-book the major cities, or if you want to do a splurge stay at a castle. Otherwise, give yourself a bit of itinerary flexibility and leave some nights open to chance.

I like using Booking.com for accommodation in Europe because they are more likely to have the smaller hotels and B&Bs that I like.

Dublin hotels are expensive for what you get, so it’s best to book ahead there. Galway and Belfast don’t have a lot of hotel inventory so consider AirBnB or a hostel for those cities. If you’ve never used Airbnb, you can use my special link to get $40 off your first stay.

My best Ireland travel tip for accommodation is to simply be flexible. There are so many smaller B&Bs dotted all over the country, you can often simply roll up and find a bed for the night. And if that particular B&B is full, they will often call around for you and help you find a bed.

Packing Essentials for Ireland

Ireland has a chilly, rainy climate so you’ll want to pack for the elements. But if you don’t want to overpack, check out this packing list for the UK & Ireland. It’s a carry-on only list that will give you three weeks of clothes for sightseeing and outdoor adventures. Here is a short list of essentials for walking around Dublin.

More Resources for Planning a Trip to Ireland

Here are some additional resources to help you plan your travels to Ireland

General Advice

Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland

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