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First trip to Ireland help....

Hi all,

Planning for a future trip to Ireland. We want to see castles, ruins, anything historic, such as the “beehive huts”, Rock of Cashel, Book of Kells, Newgrange, Leap Castle. Dingle peninsula is a must. Giants Causeway?

Prefer staying in the countryside if possible. B&B style places. In Austria we are used to staying in Pensions and Gasthofs.

Want to include a castle hotel stay. This is another must for us.

This will be when it’s safe to travel again. We’ll have a rental car. An automatic. Time of year is flexible. As long as it’s not crazy hot.

Thank you!

Posted by
3316 posts

You omitted how long you’ll have to see everything or which city you intend to fly into. If seeing the Giant’s Causeway you may as well stop at Carrick-a-Rede bridge as it’s very close by. You can see the book of Kells in Dublin, either at the beginning or end of the trip. You don’t need a car in Dublin. You can see beehive huts on the Dingle Peninsula. A couple castles to consider, Trim and Cahir. To me Trim castle was better from the outside and not worth going into. Cahir was nice to visit. It is very near the Rock of Cashel and both can be seen on the same day. When we visited Ireland we drove north after landing in Dublin and stayed at the Old Inn in Crawfordsburn. On our way to the Giant’s Causeway we stopped at Carrickfergus castle but didn’t go in since it was closed when we drove by. Towards the end of the trip we stopped at the Monastic City at Glendalough and walked around there for a while. If you watch any UK television, the old show Ballykissangel was filmed primarily in Avoca, between Glendalough and Dublin. There’s a nice woolen mill there too. It’s a small town on a river and doesn’t take long to see.

Posted by
5093 posts

Paul, it’ll be a great trip, to a great destination. For what it’s worth, on 2 trips so far, we’ve kept each one to just a part of Ireland. The only common denominator locations have been Galway/Inishmore (largest Aran Island) on both trips. Both trips began by flying into Dublin Airport, then immediately catching a bus (coach) to Galway, where we checked into a B&B. Our first trip, going down the west coast from Galway to Dingle, then on to Skellig Michael before turning north to Limerick then the Shannon Airport, was mostly by bicycle, so not moving that fast, and not trying to cover too much ground. Second trip, late September/early October 2 years ago, involved flying to Inishmore after Galway, rather than using the ferry we’d used on the first trip. Flying’s definitely the way to go - faster, and not subject to rough-water delays or postponements that happened for boats both trips. Then on the second trip, we drove clockwise, around then up to Northern Ireland, and around, eventually, to Dublin.

Beehive huts atop Skellig Michael were a treat, reached by a long stairclimb past endearing puffins. This was in June 2011, before Star Wars fans started booking up trips to see the site that appeared in one film. Book your boat trip early, and hope for smooth enough waters to allow crossing out to the island for the day.

Giants Causeway was also fantastic, but so far north that we didn’t include it in our first trip, which stayed farther south. With a car and time, you may have a different itinerary. We stayed at a B&B a bit east, east of Bushmills, and hiked to the Causeway in high winds - thrilling views the whole way. We took the free shuttle bus back to where we’d parked our car for the hike.

We hired local Neolithic expert and noted author Anthony Murphy for 2 days to show us sights including Newgrange, and he added more historical insight, and pointed out more mysterious rock carvings, than we could’ve seen on our own.

Haven’t stayed at any Irish castles, but don’t miss the Hawk Walk experience at Ashford Castle, detailed in Rick Steves’ guidebook (opt for the Extended Walk, which includes their Eagle Owl, too), and the magnificent castle in Trim, a wonderful town for a base while visiting Boyne Valley ancient historical sights.

I don’t believe “crazy hot” ever happens anywhere n Ireland, but you can be assured it’ll rain on some point in your trip.

Posted by
3554 posts

How fun for you to be planning.

We really enjoyed Northern Ireland. We spent one night in Belfast and went to the Titanic Experience which far exceeded any expectations I had. It was quite well done. We then went on to Port Ballintrae and stayed three nights there. We stayed at the absolutely lovely Bayview Hotel. It was an enjoyable walk to Dunluce Castle, Port Royal, Bushmill and the Giant's Causeway,etc from our hotel but if you are not walkers you would find it a short drive.

We went on to Galway which was not our favorite. It just seemed too much like a caricature of what tourists expected Ireland to be rather than Ireland. We spent 2 nights out on the Aran Islands which was quite pleasant and fun to be there after most of the tourists had left for the day.

My sister's highlight of the trip was the Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle. I had great fun watching her joy as she walked and flew "her" hawk. You don't need to be a guest at Ashford Castle to go on the hawk walk, but you did say that you were looking for a castle stay, so perhaps that might be an idea?

We also enjoyed our time in Dublin, but wished we had simply skipped the Book of Kells. It ended up being an underwhelming experience. [Interestingly, I had a far more satisfying experience with ancient illuminated manuscripts on a Rick Steves Tour in Switzerland when the Monastery at Engelburg graciously allowed us access to their library]

We went to Riverdance while we were in Dublin and found that to be a fun experience as well.

We only had two weeks, so we didn't make it to the southern part of Ireland. We saved that for another trip.

Posted by
5093 posts

Adding to Carol’s input, when we did our Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle, we were directed to park where day visitors park, close to the cafe and WC’s. The Hawk center was a bit of a stroll from there, through pretty woods. They’d had a windstorm recently, and a couple of key signs had blown down, so it took us a couple of wrong turns to find it - well worth the effort, however!

Based on the Bentleys and Jaguars for people staying there, parked out in front of the main Ashford building, I’m guessing that a room for the night is more than just a few Euros, but you can verify their rates. For the price, though, you could be Lord and Lady of the Manor, and you could hardly find more magnificent surroundings.

Posted by
5093 posts

And we did like Galway so much, we went there twice! It was a delightful town for us, just the right size, and a very practical jumping-off point for getting to the Aran Islands, as well as for picking up our rental car on Trip 2. Our first trip, we stayed at B&B in Salthill, along the coast a bit west. Second time, we had a B&B just east of downtown. June was a bit before high tourist season, and late Sept. was a bit after, so it didn’t seem like an overdone theater scene either time, and the setting is sublime.

If this helps, a few more memorable places we stayed:

Trip 1 - after returning from Inishmore and making a stop on Inisheer, we landed with our bikes near Doolinand pedaled up to Lisdoonvarna for a few nights. That was an ideal base for exploring The Burren and historical sights on the south side of Galway Bay. Further south, on the way to or from Dingle, don’t miss Tralee.

Trip 2 - after flying back from Inishmore to the tiny airport, where we’d parked the rental car, we motored to Clifden, a small town and a great base for doing scenic drives, getting to the Hawk Walk, and seeing the sadly historic Doune Valley. North and roughly clockwise from there: Leenaun, Achill Island (connected to the mainland via long bridge), Sligo, Dunfanaghy way up north, and then into Northern Ireland - (London)Derry, Bushmills, The Causeway, Belfast, and again, Trim, back in The Republic.

Don’t forget, speed limit signs suddenly change from numbers representing Kilometers per Hour to Miles per Hour, depending on which side of the border you’re on. Monitor your speedometer accordingly. At least the traffic is supposed to stay on the left side of the road, either side of the (currently) unmarked border.

Posted by
3548 posts

First things first. There are plenty of ideas and information already on this website. Starting your research with the Explore Europe menu will give you a basis for asking more productive questions and a frame of reference for to consider answers:

Posted by
1888 posts

OMG Ireland !!! Awesome for you. Go for as long as possible especially if you intend to see so much. Also the first day can for some people be a little of a blur with jet lag so you may not get to see much and the last day doesn't count because most flights to US for home leave in the morning and with Ireland having US preclearance you really need to get to airport three hours before departure. I seem to remember that somewhere on this site Rick has mapped out suggested routes for different lengths of stay. Try to find that and also get his Ireland book. Then you have something to start with. Next list your must see sites and prioritize them. At that point you are ready to come back with specific questions. Ireland may look small but the driving once off the motorways is slow going at best. Best time of year we think is spring or fall.we have been there in all seasons but those two to us are the best. Best of luck and let us know how you are making out.

Posted by
5703 posts

Obtain and read the RS Guide to Ireland. Great and practical intel.

I’ve driven from Belfast to Dingle in 4.5 hours. So you can see both countries if you desire. You’ll use Pounds Sterling in NI and Euros in Ireland.

Driving will be on the opposite side of the road. Mileage is calculated in kilometers.

Where are flying from to Ireland? What time of the year?

My most enjoyable & memorable travel experience was an early November day hiking part of the Gap of Dunloe. Returned to my small vehicle and drove over the Gap of Dunloe to return to my B n B on the outskirts of Dingle. The foliage colors were gorgeous. That day I’d never been happier anywhere on the planet.

It’s a gorgeous country. As far as where to stay if you haven’t researched and made reservations as you drive look for B n B signs. If memory serves brown in color. May say guest house as well.

You’ll have a wonderful time but be prepared for tiny one lane roads with hedges so plan drive time accordingly and remember day light hours are shorter in Fall and Winter.

Posted by
107 posts

If your timeframe is totally open, I'd recommend late May to June. It's a sweet spot where the weather is often good, there are no midges, and the crowds haven't gotten too thick at the attractions or in the bars. Skellig Michael will be covered by Puffins, Gannets, and Shearwaters (although you won't see the latter). The downside is that the pub live music is on a sparser schedule until July 1 or so - still around, but harder to find in smaller towns.

Don't worry about it being "crazy hot". We were there in May of 2016 and had twelve days of 80F and sunny, and the locals thought the world was ending. Not normal...

Posted by
2703 posts

Thank you again. I just ordered Rick Steves Ireland book. We may have this one trip only and want to see and get a feel for the Irish countryside and we both love historic sites, not so much art and such, but castles and medieval sites and small quaint villages and towns. We’re not much for “nightlife”, as prefer quieter, local places for dinner. I’ve been to Austria, Bavaria and the Dolomites a dozen times and love staying in the peaceful countryside, yet close enough to old cobblestone towns. Castles and natural “wonders” are tops on our list.

Posted by
991 posts

The Cliffs of Moher are definitely worth a couple of hours and Doolin is a great little town nearby. The Aran Island of Inisheer is a great day trip from Doolin's port if the weather is good and the seas aren't too high for the ferry. We also enjoyed Ennis and the beach town of Lahinch. The Rock of Cashel is a good 2-hour stop but we didn't explore the town. We were in Kilkenny for a half day and enjoyed it. Other than the Waterford attraction we didn't see much of that city - a mistake. The Book of Kells is part of the Trinity College Library and also has the Long Room and Brian Boru harp - well worth an hour or two. While you're in Dublin walk through Temple Bar. Hope this helps!

Posted by
581 posts

For historic castles consider Trim Castle outside of Dublin and Cahir Castle near the Rock of Cashel. Trim is somewhat unique in that it has been "restored" as sort of a cross-section to explain how its use has changed over the centuries. It was used as a movie set for Braveheart. Within easy walking distance of Trim Castle are abbey ruins and the Yellow Steeple. If by castle you mean manor house consider Kilkenny Castle or Malahide Castle, the latter is accessible from Dublin via public transport. If you are departing for the US from Dublin Trim could be a good location for your last day and night. It's an easy 30 minute drive to Dublin airport.

A PP mentioned a private guide for Newgrange and other Neolithic sites. If a private guide is not in your budget consider the Mary Gibbons tour. It's recommended in the RS book and I thought it was money well spent. The Book of Kells can be underwhelming and overrun with people. If you go first thing in the morning or at the end of the day your experience will be improved. If you want to see additional illuminated manuscripts visit the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. It contains a number of manuscripts from Asia and the Middle East. The Library is very close to Dublin Castle which had been the administrative seat for the British. It still has an original Norman Tower and if you take the tour, you will see part of the original Norman Wall.
The Archaeology Museum also has illuminated manuscripts and provides historical context for Newgrange, and the Rock of Cashel.

To understand 20th Century Irish history visit Kilmainham Gaol, the Dublin GPO, and 14 Henrietta Street.

Posted by
2703 posts

Thank you for all the fantastic suggestions! I’m making notes :)

Posted by
2846 posts

We enjoyed our stay at the Abbeyglen Hotel near Clifden. It was somewhat castle-like and is in the same area of the country as the must-do Hawk Walk . We thought both the Book of Kells and Trim Castle were underwhelming(we didn't go inside the castle), as was Dublin itself. We enjoyed Glendalough.

Posted by
18 posts

Chances are it won't be hot in Ireland. I'd also contend that though the countryside is beautiful, Dublin is a very wonderful city and is worth a visit.
The number of locations depends on how long you stay as you don't want to have a Hired Car Holiday. How long do you hope to stay?

Posted by
327 posts

We had 10 days to spend in Ireland and we flew into Shannon and out of Dublin. We saw the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Dingle Peninsula, and Skellig Michael on the west coast, spent a few nights in Kinsale, went to Dublin for a few nights, and the rest was the Antrim Coast. The Antrim Coast has become my favorite place on the island, and we have returned to it 3 more times. So YES - spend a few nights so you have one full day to explore Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede bridge, Bushmill's distillery, and Dunluce castle. B&Bs are fabulous but book early. I've never stayed in a castle so I can't speak to that.

We've returned to see Galway, Derry, and Donegal. Derry is probably one of my favorite places in Europe. Love the ancient walls, the history there, the murals in the People's Gallery, and all the stories there.

Posted by
2846 posts

We enjoyed the Burren Walk with the local man mentioned in Rick's book. Since I don't like heights, we saw the Cliffs of Moher from a boat trip.

Posted by
375 posts

On a typical summer day in the East, 75-80 F would be considered "hot." In the West - where the best scenery, Irish-speaking pockets and trad music dominate - daytime highs around 55-60 F are the norm.

Posted by
38 posts

Hi Paul,

Spent a few weeks driving around Ireland and Scotland in June of 2019. Definitely wasn’t hot, I wore short sleeves with a light sweater most every day.

Our most favorite place that we stayed was
Lough Eske Castle In Donegal. Don’t know if you’re planning to be in Donegal but if so I highly recommend this lovely place. Beautiful hotel, lovely grounds, delicious food and a very nice afternoon tea..

Check it out!

Enjoy your trip..


Posted by
7999 posts

Suzette, looks wonderful. I’m afraid if I stayed there I’d never want to leave!

Posted by
1 posts

slight correction needed someone posted that Northern Ireland and Ireland drive in kilometres this is incorrect
whilst the Republic of Ireland drives in kilometres Northern Ireland (which is a part of the United Kingdom) like the rest of the UK drives in Miles per hour also the currency in Ireland is the euro, but in Northern Ireland is the Pound do not be fooled by places in NI that accept euro they will rip you off just change your money crossing the border