So, Nelson is apparently contemplating a trip to Ireland, and was looking for tips. Since he’s not the first to ask, I thought I’d do some research among my friends on things to do and good places to stay and eat in our native country. Here’s the result.
First off — it’s worth noting that we’re all thirty-somethings, so backpacker stuff and heavy boozing is no longer on the menu. If you’re after that, though, head for Temple Bar in Dublin ;) This is mainly nice hotels, good food, and interesting things to look at.
To start with, I’d recommend driving as a means of getting around. Lots of the good stuff can’t be reached any other way, and the roads are generally pretty good nowadays (if a little narrow).
Prepare for rain.
Things to do: Connemara and Kerry are stunning; in my opinion, they’re unmissable, if you’re coming to Ireland in search of natural beauty. Clare and West Cork are pretty good too. Generally, the west coast is the place to go.
A friend recommends the Skelligs: ‘the best thing I’ve seen in Ireland. If its sunny. If its raining it sucks so don’t go.’ (I’ve never been — appalling, given that my great-grandfather wrote one of the definitive works on them, I need to fix that.)
Stuff to avoid: Dublin’s not too hot, unfortunately. Over-priced and hard to get around due to traffic. I mean, it’s quite nice, especially to live in, but as a tourist destination compared to other cities around the world I don’t quite get the attractiveness. Also, the south-east corner of the country, while full of nice friendly people, is exorbitantly expensive in my experience (even pricier than Dublin!), short on good stuff to see, and a bit of a washout, so I say skip it. (I have no idea why it’s so expensive, BTW. my theory is that it’s a traditional in-country holiday venue for Dubliners, and the Wexford inhabitants love to fleece us, so we got fleeced. whatever.)
In general, I’d say the larger towns aren’t too exciting; stick to the country.
The Lonely Planet guide to Ireland, while frequently backpacker-oriented, is pretty good for non-backpacker stuff as well. If you’re driving around, it’s a good source of offbeat stuff to check out. I used it a lot when driving around Connemara last year. They also do a great book of hikes which I can recommend.
Next, places to stay… that friend again: ‘if you’re doing the Ring of Kerry, I strongly recommend diverting to Valentia and staying in Glanleam House (beautiful grub, beautiful gardens, cheap) and doing a day trip from there to the Skelligs.’
Temple House in Sligo also comes recommended: ‘a classical Georgian mansion set in an estate of 1,000 acres, overlooking a 13th century lakeside castle of the Knights Templar.’
There are lots of useless hotel/B&B sites in Google, making it hard to tell crap from quality. But these sites come recommended:
Ireland’s Blue Book – ‘luxury accommodation in Irish Country House Hotels, Manor Houses and Castles. Also listed are Ireland’s finest gourmet restaurants.’ This is high-end stuff, but it’s pretty reliable, as far as I can see.
Hidden Ireland – ‘a unique collection of historic private houses which provide the very best and most stylish country house accommodation available in Ireland – great Irish hospitality at an affordable price. Our houses are not hotels and are very much more than ordinary guesthouses. They all offer a rare opportunity to experience the lifestyle of a bygone age – a special and fascinating alternative to conventional tourist accommodation.’
Irish Landmark Trust, if you’re interested in self-catering stays at heritage houses.
Georgina Campbell guidebooks are apparently quite good.
Finally, scams and rip-offs are few and far between, so that’s not something to worry about. Crappy service and mediocre food, however, is more likely to be the source of problems. At least you can now get decent espresso pretty much everywhere!
Hope that helps someone ;) Got tips of your own? Feel free to add comments!