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Some thoughts from my recent Ireland trip

I'll do these in short bites rather than a long report.

Posted by
12172 posts

Aer Lingus direct from Dulles, 7 hours on the way. The plane is the same as most flights, cramped seats in a crowded aluminum tube.

The big tip here is if you want to sleep on the flight over (as I do) don't recline your seat. 1 1/2 hours in, the flight attendant poked me in the ribs to have me put my seat back up for the meal service. Before that, I was off to a good start sleeping. Afterward, I dozed, at best, the rest of the flight.

The plane was warmer than any intercontinental flight I've been on. That might be a good thing but I was dressed for a cold flight so was uncomfortable.

Also, the Irish flight attendant spent far too much time talking over the PA during the flight.

Posted by
12172 posts

Finding an ATM at Dublin Airport:

The first ATM's I found were Euronet (which are changers rather than banks). I found a Bank of Ireland in Terminal 2 which told me my card didn't qualify for their express cash service. I found a second Bank of Ireland in Terminal 1 that worked fine.

Downtown, there were tons of Euronet machines. The tip here: watch out which machines you use or you may end up with unexpected fees. I found AIB, TSB, and a couple of bank ATM's to use but you need to look carefully. Also, I ran into other Bank of Ireland ATM's that said my card wasn't eligible for their service. I dubbed Bank of Ireland the "cash Nazi". It relates to a Jerry Seinfield show with the soup Nazi, "No soup for you!" Bank of Ireland was, "no cash for you!"

Posted by
12172 posts

Best local SIM deal ever with "3":

I'm used to paying around 50 euros for phone service on a roughly 2 1/2 week trip, often a little more. Because I traveled all in May. I was able to buy a SIM from 3 (yes, just the number 3) for 20 euros, unlimited everything for one month. This is the best deal I've had to date on SIM service. Their card even worked during forays to UK (Northern Ireland as well as York and Leeds in England).

If I had straddled two months, I would have had to pay another 20 for another month of unlimited service. It still would have been a great deal compared to what I've been getting on the continent - and far better than 10 dollars a day for foreign roaming with a U.S. service.

Posted by
12172 posts

Northern Ireland was exactly what I expected.

We visited Belfast (Titanic museum and Carrickfergus), Antrim coast (Kinbane, Carrrick-a-Rede, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce, Bushmill's and Royal Portrush golf club), and Derry (wall walk plus a few stops in the center).

I wasn't disappointed by anything but not especially blown away either.

We got an interesting reaction at Bushmill's distillery, in Northern Ireland, when we asked a clerk how to spell the Irish name for Whiskey (Oiske Beath?). The girl blurted out, "I don't speak Irish". The other clerk seemed surprised by the volume of her response.

Posted by
12172 posts

Republic of Ireland was somewhat disappointing:

Most places were as expected, including Dublin which I wasn't a fan of after last trip.

The biggest disappointment was Dingle, I found it to be a tourist trap. The slea head route has a few great sights (especially Galarus and St. Brennan's oratories) but also a lot of places that charge admission for "recreated" sights. I drove and tried to get around the loop before the traffic. I was surprised how much Rick's recommended sights would have cost, if they were open. Their hours seem to coincide closely with the main hours of tour bus traffic.

The tip here, skip Dingle (unless the oratories are a top sight for you) and spend the time on Ring of Kerry instead. Outside of the Oratories, I found options on Kerry were better and less touristy than Dingle. Last time I only drove Kerry so didn't really experience the sights.

General disappointments in the Republic:

First, the cost and hours of sights. You might pay ten euro (usually three to five) to visit a sight that wasn't worth more than a 15 minute stop. We agreed the free sights were better than the paid sights. Second, hours seem to be set by the tour bus schedule and are rarely posted. If you aren't coming during the rush, there's a good chance the sight isn't open.

The lack of true "sessions". I'll define a true session as local amateurs coming together to play music in a pub on a given evening. My last trip to Ireland I regularly found trad sessions. This time traditional music referred to a paid performer, or two, playing at a bar to attract a crowd. The best session I attended was in Dublin one night at O'Donoghues in Merrion Row.

Biggest disappointment:

I had made a reservation to land on Skellig Michael but it was canceled because they hadn't completed dock work on the island. I was there on May 21st and they cancelled trips until Friday the 24th so I wasn't able to experience it. Instead I went to a couple of ring forts and the cliffs (my pre-planned back up) then headed to Dingle.

Nicest surprise:

The weather was, in a word, glorious. Last time was in May and really nice too. This time, I would have been better off without a rain coat and packing sunscreen instead. There was only a tiny bit of rain that never interfered with any plans. Unfortunately, if I tell people to go in May (usually the driest month), you will go and get rained on incessantly - and blame me.

Posted by
12172 posts

That said, favorite sights visited (more in chronological order than order of preference):

Archaeology Museum in Dublin
The Whiskey Museum in Dublin
Titanic Museum in Belfast
Bushmill's distillery tour
Carrickfergus and Castle Cahir for castle visits.
Dunluce and Kinbane castle for ruins. In the south, most of the ruins were off limits to even walk around.
Clonmacnoise, Hore Abbey, Sligo Abbey, Seven Churches (Inismor), Rock of Cashel and Cong Abbey for ruined religious sights.
St. Canice's cathedral in Kilkenny and Christchurch in Dublin for historical churches.
Best ancient ring forts: Grianon of Aileach, Cahergall and Lecanabuaile on Kerry.
Best round tower: St. Canice because you can climb it.
Best viewpoints: Kerry cliffs, Kinbane castle, Carrick-a-Rede.
Bike riding on Inismor.
Hawk Walk at Ashford castle.

I toured Newgrange with Mary Gibbens tour. Last time I went with Bus Eireann. I ended up booking Mary's tour at the last minute because I wasn't certain whether Bus Eireann still offered them. I checked at the bus station three times (where I purchased my tickets last time) and the info booth was never open. Mary Gibbens tour was okay (really just okay). I felt the Bus Eireann tour was better and a better value. Mary's tour includes Newgrange and Hill of Tara. Bus Eireann included Newgrange, Hill of Tara, Battle of the Boyne and Trim Castle and costs less. Neither tour gives you a guided tour of the sights, which would have been the only reason I could see to pay more for Mary's tour than Bus Eireann.

I also took, and enjoyed, a guided walk of Dublin and a guided hike of Howth as well as the student guided tour of Trinity College.

Posted by
12172 posts

Also flew to Leed's for a weekend on Ryanair. Thoughts on Ryanair:

Everything was as expected. It's steerage class, which is true of every airline today. You have no more or less room than other airlines. Pricing is a la carte, if you don't need services (luggage, seat preference, meal, drinks), it's very affordable. I'm a light traveler and comfortable with their limits. I paid $46 roundtrip Dublin to Leeds for a weekend to see friends there. No hidden costs sprung up. It was a holiday weekend for them so might have been cheaper If I had picked a different weekend.

Posted by
1097 posts

Thanks for the report, Brad. We went to Ireland twice in the early 2000s, early February both times, to both north and south. These trips were our introduction to Rick Steves books and travel style and I can only assume it was the time of year and pre-boom times but our experiences were so different than what I've read about recently. Dingle was amazing, we didn't pay to see anything and could walk right up and touch everything. We never encountered another soul in most places on the Dingle peninsula, and across the island, the cities had few tourists. Our weather was as you'd expect, but most of the rain was "soft" and we were prepared for it. Getting wet was a good excuse to cozy up next to a peat fire and have a few pints with the locals. I'm not sure I'll go back to Ireland again because it seems to have changed so much. Maybe February is still more like we experienced.

Posted by
12172 posts

Yes, It may be that Ireland is a victim of it's own success.

Last time I smelled a lot of peat. This time not a whiff. I saw people farming and drying peat in Connemara but no one seemed to be burning it in hotels or pubs.

I did see some thatched roofs, ironically in new construction, in Connemara area.

Posted by
12172 posts

Best food was seafood in Ballycastle UK and Roundstone IR both based on recommendations of our B&B hosts.

Posted by
88 posts

I've decided to avoid some sites that RS recommends, because the prices rise and all you ever see are people walking around with RS guidebooks! I went to Dingle and enjoyed it, but won't go back. The same for Rue cler in Paris. Lots of other sites to find yourself, if you travel with Rick's Europe thru the Backdoor mentality!