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Newbie to Ireland, lots of questions!

My husband & I (early 60's from AZ) are planning a 10 - 12 day trip to Ireland in late June. We thought we'd fly into Shannon (early morn. arrival), & head to Doolin for 2 or 3 nights. From there to Dingle for another 2 nights. Head from Dingle to Kenmare for 2 nights. Kenmare to Blarney Castle & Cork for 1 night. Drive from Cork to Dublin for 3 nights & fly home from Dublin. Our travel preferences are scenery, beautiful, natural landscapes, quaint & charming villages, local pubs, castles & old architecture. We like to hike & walk -- we're not really into museums. Does that itinerary sound good for what we like? Nothing's set in stone, so we're open to other suggestions. In your opinions, what are MUST SEE attractions on this route, & what are some places you consider over rated, & not worth the time? Also, we're planning on renting a car to get from one place to another, but it would be nice to find tours/private drivers to see some of the sites so my husband can also enjoy the scenery & not be stressed with the driving -- any recommendations? Which of the scenic drives would be the most difficult to navigate?

We asked for help last year when we traveled to Italy & Switzerland, & got the best information & tips from this site, so we're hoping you come through for us again!

Thank you in advance!

J & B from AZ

Posted by
78 posts

We are in our 60's as well and spent two weeks in Ireland in 2012. We visited the Wicklow mountains, Kinsale, stayed in County Tipperary for a week and spent 3 nights in Dublin. We have the following recommendations:
Kinsale - We rented a 1 bedroom cottage for 4 days and loved it. Great restaurants and scenery. Be sure to take the walking tour mentioned in the Rick Steves Ireland book. From there we visited Cobh, Cork, and the southwestern coast.
Dingle - worth a visit. Beautiful scenery. Stopped in Adare on the way and felt it was well worth a visit.
Rock of Cashel - highly recommend a visit
Dublin - take the Hop-on-hop-off bus. Kilminham Goal a must.
You will love Ireland and the Irish people! We are returning this summer.

Posted by
7562 posts

Between Shannon and Doolin, be sure to make some time to visit The Burren. There's a Burren Center in Kilfenora, but you don't need visit the museum, just go up to their front desk to sign up for a guided tour. Rick Steves' Ireland book also recommends a specific guide, with details for contacting him.

In The Burren, you'll get to hike in unique topography, with a unique collection of plant life - like nowhere else. That area also includes Lisdoonvarna (we stayed at the Crosswinds B&B) , with an outstanding smokehouse. A woman from Norway immigrated to Ireland years ago and makes the best smoked salmon. The nearby Cliffs of Moher are a top tourist sight, for good reason -- they're spectacular. The visitor center/museum there is excellent, but you can skip the museum and just visit the cliffs. Many people ignore the signs warning not to hike along the cliffs, but one slip or strong gust of wind, and you're going to fall 500 feet before you hit the water. There's now a safety wall, and you can still get in a good walk within the wall.

We didn't make it to the Blarney Castle, but understand that, for many, it's really overrated. Other, more worthwhile, castles abound! Also, I suspect the wettest place in AZ is still drier than the driest place in Ireland - plan on some rain while you're there.

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks so much Bonnie & Cyn! Those tips/suggestions are exactly what we're looking for! We think we'll reconsider & stay in Kinsale instead of Cork, & we were already wondering if the Blarney Castle might be overrated. We contacted a private driver who was recommended on this forum & have already heard back from him, so unless his cost is prohibitive, that's probably the way we'll go. If you think of anything else, please let us know -- we really appreciate your help!

Bob & Judy

Posted by
78 posts

I understand that many Americans are hesitant to drive in Ireland, but want to assure you that it is not a problem. We have driven in Ireland, England, Scotland, France, and even Italy in the last 5 years (all over the age of 60) and have had not problems. We feel the the advantages of having the freedom to go where and when we want far outweigh any perceived difficulties. Many rentals can be purchased with a GPS - we bring our own with European maps installed. Outside of the metropolitan areas in Ireland, traffic is very light.

Posted by
8802 posts

Same age category but travel solo. Agree that the freedom you have with a car rental is a wonderful way to see Ireland.
Drove the entire island in 97 and returned last year to drive from Belfast to Dingle. Now consider myself the Queen of round a bouts. If you find the cost private car hire cost prohibitive do consider a car rental. Yes, roads are small and you'll find sheep, cattle, bikers, hikers, buses, etc. but hi ways are big and well signed. With a rental you'll be able to set your own pace and itinerary. Trust me you'll find charming spots to stop in route to planned destinations. I'd drop one night in Doolin and add the night to Dingle. I'd add taking a trap ride through the Gap of Dunloe which is between Dingle and Killarney. If you like National Parks, Killarney's is gorgeous and you could visit the stellar Muckross House. Day trip from Dingle. If you haven't booked in Dingle yet, can't get better the John and Angela's B and B, From Dingle I'd head to Kilkenny. Stay there and visit the Rock of Cashel and Jer Point Abbey. Then off to Glendalough in route to Dublin. The beauty of Ireland is everywhere. Slow down and enjoy it.

Posted by
81 posts

Two trips to Ireland in the last 3 years and after understanding how easy it is (for me) to get lost, I actually love driving there. Here's few road pointers when you are looking at maps and determining driving directions. There are signs everywhere that read "Speed Kills" - with reason. Most Irish drive like their hair is on fire.

M = Interstate - divided 4 lane
N = 2 lane road
R = wide enough for 1 car - with very few pull outs to avoid an oncoming car. I highly recommend staying off R roads at night.

As far as your itinerary goes, my only comment is WEST COAST! You really only need one night in Doolin. Besides The Burren and Cliffs of Moher, that's pretty much Doolin. I would add an extra night in Dingle. Dingle is the only Irish location to make National Geographic's 2013 Top Ten list. You must do the Slea Head drive around the Dingle peninsula which takes 3 - 4 hours with all the stops.

Can't speak to Kinsale or Cork but know that Rick really likes Kinsale.
Rock of Cashel is a MUST see. You can do this on your way to Dublin.
2 nights in Dublin is also sufficient. 2 Days in Dublin will get most of the major highlights. A 3rd day should be out of the city. Newgrange and Hill of Tara are to the north and Powerscourt is just to the south of Dublin in the Wicklow Mountains.

Be sure you get Rick's Ireland book. He does a great job highlighting in detail all the major sights.

I'm ready to go back but my wife has left her heart in Murren, Switzerland so that's where we are heading in October.

Posted by
15640 posts

I have a question for those who recommend renting a car in Ireland - Did you take a manual transmission? I think I could get used to driving on the "other side" but I don't think I could get used to shifting gears with my left hand AND driving on the "other side" AND in a foreign country. From what I've seen in Europe, the rental fees on automatics are almost double the fees on manuals. Am I misguided here?

Posted by
2388 posts

Agree with only one night in Doolin and add a night to Dingle. We also stayed at Cilli Breach B&B in Dingle, only planned one night and stayed two, ask for room in front to wake up to the bay. They have a lovely porch where you can make tea in your own room and sit out and enjoy the sights. As to automatic versus shift, have rented shift twice and automatic the rest of the times and much refer automatic even though it costs more, we found it too hard to try to go around roundabouts and shifting at the same time even though we have driven shift sticks for years. If you do go to Kinsale, take the ferry across to Cobh via ferry, lovely view of harbor from St. Colemans up on the top of the hill and you can see where Titanic left and also where Lusitania sank but don't bother with the Titanic Museum, too expensive and don't remember seeing even one artifact. Kilmainhaim Gaol was the highlight of Dublin.

Posted by
1994 posts

I'd suggest considering an automatic transmission if you can. I found it relatively easy to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road, but I was unprepared for the speed at which people try on very narrow roads. I'm not sure would've wanted to be dealing with shifting at the same time. And I'm very used to challenging roads; I drive California's Highway 1 through Big Sur at least once a month... Yet I found driving in Ireland to be intimidating.

The one place I'd suggest you get a driver/guide is the Dingle Peninsula. We hired someone recommended in the Rick Steve's guide and I was very glad we did. It would've been very hard to see the scenery was driving. Sorry but I'm not finding his name right now. She just check the current book.

Posted by
11 posts

Judy and Bob - we just spent 8 full days in Ireland and loved it! On the west coast, I heartily recommend walking around the Burren (we did not have a guide, just a very detailed map with markers for ruins and other points of interest). We also loved the Cliffs of Moher. We spent several hours walking from one end to the other (some of the trail is on private property but you are allowed to pass through). The views are gorgeous. We did not see puffins in the afternoon, but they are supposed to be there in the mornings. Since you'll be in Doolin for several nights, I recommend making a day trip to Inis Mor and taking a tour around the island by bus. It's a very large island and although the thing to do is to bike it, we decided that we wanted to spend more time exploring the sights rather than getting to them.

On the south end, we actually enjoyed the Slea Head drive on the Dingle peninsula more than the Ring of Kerry drive. Maybe because there were fewer cars on the road? Note that some attractions along the Slea Head drive are closed or under renovation due to a huge storm from last winter. Same goes for the tetrapod attraction on Valentia island (on the Ring of Kerry drive). The path leading there was damaged and the tourist office recommended seeing the quarry grotto instead (very interesting).

Further to the east, we loved Trim Castle, the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, and Newgrange. The tours at each place were great - we soaked up all that history like a sponge. As for Dublin, people told us not to expect much of it. We spent one day there and we felt that was enough. I thought the highlight there was not the Book of Kells but St Patrick's Cathedral.

Chani - we did not find manual to be a problem (we are from the US). It took my husband a day to get accustomed to shifting gears with his left hand and of course, driving on the left. He did overcompensate keeping too far to the left for a few days - I must have said "too close!" at least 10 times a day for maybe 2 days before he figured out where to situate himself nicely in our lane. I also noticed that the Irish drive very fast - we would be driving 120 kph (75 mph) on roads with speed limits of 100 kph, while they were driving well above that. We let a lot of them pass us.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you everyone!!! You have all been so helpful & believe me, we're paying attention & taking your advice! We've hired a private driver -- not the way we'd like to go & pretty pricey, but Bob's dealing with a few side effects left from a medical situation a couple yrs. ago while in his 50's, & I'm afraid the added stress of driving would take from his enjoyment. He's doing great & would not hesitate to drive anywhere here in the states (including Big Sur, Sherry, which we love (-: & Going to the Sun Road in Glacier). So now you might wonder why I'm not driving -- honestly, that would stress him out even more!!! The driver we've hired sounds like a great guy, & we'll still have the freedom to go wherever we want & do anything we want, whenever we want. He'll pick us up at the Shannon airport on June 26th & bring us to Doolin where we'll spend the 26th & 27th at Ashbrooke Lodge. He's unable to get back with us until the 29th, but said he could arrange for someone else to bring us to Galway?? or maybe Adare?? or, maybe we should just take the ferry on our own from Doolin to Dingle for that extra night. Your thoughts? Here's our tentative itinerary. Some lodging is arranged, but we still have the ability to cancel & make changes without penalty.
Day 1, 6/26 -- Doolin (The Burren before we check in, & maybe walk the Cliffs late afternoon/early evening as the sun sets)
Day 2, 6/27 -- Doolin (Arran Islands - Inishmore)
Day 3, 6/28 -- Open - Adare, (stay at Adare Castle?) Galway?, or just head to Dingle either with driver or by ferry on our own?
Day 4, 6/29 -- Dingle (Slea Head drive for sure -- could use more suggestions here)
Day 5, 6/30 -- Dingle (Killarney St. Park?)
Day 6, 7/01 -- Kenmare (getting there via Ring of Kerry)
Day 7, 7/02 -- Kinsale via Blarney Castle? (skip this for a trip to Cobh, or do we have time for both?)
Day 8, 7/03 -- Open - We could do Adare or Galway before Dingle, & add this as our 3rd day to the back end of Dingle, or we could spend an extra day in either Kenmare or Kinsale, or head to Dublin for an extra night via Rock of Cashel, or ?? (your help here).
Day 9, 7/04 -- Dublin via Rock of Cashel (some site seeing or tour of Guinness or another brewery or pub)
Day 10, 7/05 - Dublin (St. Pat's Cathedral, Trinity College, etc.)
Day 11, 7/06 -- Dublin (music crawl & more sites, & pubs of course)
Day 12 -- Fly home )-:
As you can see, we have 2 open days -- one before Dingle, & one somewhere after Dingle & we'd love to hear your suggestions on how to best use these! We have other places & things written down to do along the way, but like to allow time to be spontaneous & just hike down to a beach for a picnic if we want.
Thank you again for your help -- you guys are awesome!!!

B & J

PS Jerry, we were in Murren last year & loved, loved, loved it! We stayed in Wengen, but spent the day hiking there & have decided that's where we'll stay if we go back. We also loved Gimmelwald!

Posted by
7562 posts

Our 2011 trip started in Galway, where we picked up bikes and cycled our way down to Dingle, using a ferry to carry us to Inishmore for parts of 2 days + 1 night (would've liked more time there), then another ferry to Doolin for the ride thru Lisdoonvarna then down to Dingle. At least the shifters on the bikes were on familiar sides, but hugging the left side of the narrow roads while big tour buses and trucks whizzed by was a bit unnerving at times. Having a driver will allow you to enjoy the scenery and not stress out on the roads/traffic. Galway was a pleasant visit, but if we had to pick between a day in Galway or an extra Dingle day, Dingle would win hands-down. Having a night to spend on Inishmore (and to stay at the Man of Aran B&B for their setting, rooms, and dinner!) would be worth considering, if you could fit it in. We were in Dingle for a week, same time of year as you're planning, at the end of June. It seems the Dingle tourist season really doesn't fully kick off until July 1, as there were some boat trip options that weren't available while we were there, and weren't going to be starting up until July 1, just after we'd left. It may or may not be suddenly more crowded after June 30, but you might have a few more sightseeing/activities options if you were in Dingle for an extra day or two. Too bad about the Valentia Island tetrapod site; it was fascinating and I hope it gets restored, and that the tracks weren't damaged after surviving for millions of years!

Posted by
26 posts

I agree with the others about not missing Cliffs of Moher. They are absolutely breathtaking. I also would agree with renting a car and driving yourself around. Half the fun of Ireland is learning to drive on the other side and getting into mishaps on the way. You also have the flexibility of stopping in little towns and pubs along your drives. Another beautiful location to visit near the Burren is Kylemore Abbey. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
1265 posts

Judy & Bob, I'd skip the Guinness tour. Not worth the time or money. I'd include the Book of Kells in your wanderings in Dublin. Our family went on a Literary Pub crawl in Dublin and had a great time.

Posted by
40 posts

On the 28th head to Dingle - if you go to Galway then you have to back track to go to Dingle. Which will put a lot of time travel time to get to Galway & then to Dingle. The ONLY ferry between Doolin & Dingle is across the River Shannon - the Kilmer-Tarbert ferry. Head south from Doolin towards the River Shannon. This ferry is easy to get on and off of - traveled this many visits. The trip from Doolin to Dingle is lengthy especially with all the lovely views & vistas along the way - just an FYI: there are LAY-A-BYS in the strangest areas - just when you think dang that view is amazing but no where to stop - then around the corner a lay-a-by - SORRY got distracted - you could stay in Tralee that night, but I would suggest Listowel... Your driver can meet you there ... Enjoy your trip! I'm off to the ould sod in August.

Posted by
40 posts

PS: if you have never been to Kinsale - you will fall in love with this town. I'd opt for Cobh over Blarney, however, at this point in your trip you may be better to decide to stay local in Kinsale - there is a lot to do and see & must have lunch at : Fishy Fishy Cafe (not to be confused with the restaurant on the pier) - they are only opened from Tuesday to Sat from 12:00 noon to 4:30pm... Yummy yummy