Ireland tourism tips


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.

  • Friendly Homes of Ireland – another friend says ‘aka crazy houses of Ireland — terrible webpage, but good accommodation (its also a more attractive guide). We stayed here and loved it.’

  • 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!

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  1. Posted June 5, 2008 at 16:30 | Permalink

    Don’t forget the Waterford coast (once you leave behind Tramore!!), Newtown Cove, Annestown, the Copper Coast cliffs, Stradbally Cove etc.

    For those interested in our ‘built history’, pre-history Newgrange, early-history Glendalough and Rock of Cashel, medieval Kilkenny,(and the oft neglected Munster-plantation Youghal) are worth a visit.

    Or hiring a boat on the Shannon or the Shannon-Erne (my favourite) waterways for those looking for a truly relaxing (if somewhat expensive) holiday.


  2. Posted June 5, 2008 at 16:32 | Permalink

    for a day trip the following route and destinations are very pretty: dublin -> dundalk -> ravensdale -> omeath From omeath one could go to the “silent valley” in the north, or carlingford in the south Carlingford has a good few places to stay overnight.

  3. Posted June 5, 2008 at 17:03 | Permalink

    What a generous blog post! Thank you so much, Justin, lots to consider. I’d be happy to return the favour if you need tips for France. Here’s some links to my old blog posts.

  4. Posted June 5, 2008 at 17:15 | Permalink

    I just did a driving tour of Ireland in May. We got a package deal from for the car and B&Bs and that worked out pretty well.

    I’d suggest adding at least 50% to all of your driving estimates – it always took hours longer than we planned and frequently didn’t make it to our destination until after 9pm only to find most of the restaurants closed and the pubs not serving food. Also, a GPS is nice but the data on ours was a few years old and didn’t have many of the new roads.

    I also saw a brochure for a tour by train that looked interesting if you don’t want to drive.

    One of the highlights of our trip was Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe (that’s what the locals say, anyway, Wikipedia seems to disagree). It is kind of an up-and-coming tourist destination so it wasn’t built-up and crowded like the Cliffs of Moher.

    We also enjoyed Newgrange and the Rock of Cashel that Tom mentions. I’d suggest skipping Blarney Castle but if you must go, check out the interesting gardens they have there.

  5. Posted June 5, 2008 at 17:17 | Permalink

    I almost forgot, the Jaffa Cakes were good too. :)

  6. Posted June 5, 2008 at 20:41 | Permalink

    thanks for the comments guys!

    @Tom: how could I forget Newgrange?! yep, that’s a must-see, IMO.

    @Stuart: I can pretty much guarantee that the rail tour would be a fiasco; regional rail is a mess these days :(

  7. Posted June 5, 2008 at 21:16 | Permalink

    The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle bears mentioning; the best museum I’ve ever seen was the British Museum, and the CBL is number two, is also free, and has fewer visitors. This is high praise, really. Even the native Dubliners, if you haven’t been there, go. Take dates there, if you’re single.

  8. Posted June 5, 2008 at 22:25 | Permalink

    @Aidan: talking of taking dates — actually, I proposed to my wife there ;)

  9. Posted June 6, 2008 at 07:52 | Permalink

    This is great! Vani and I have a long-standing plan of visiting Ireland to see all the green and to visit Tim.


    • ask
  10. Posted June 10, 2008 at 21:30 | Permalink

    If you can’t quite muster up the motivation to go in person you could do worse than reading McCarthy’s Bar, if you haven’t already.

  11. Posted June 13, 2008 at 16:07 | Permalink

    My wife has been retro-blogging our trip to Ireland, if anyone is interested.

  12. Posted June 13, 2008 at 17:05 | Permalink

    Stuart: she ate mexican food in Ireland? brave woman!

  13. Posted June 22, 2008 at 10:19 | Permalink

    Agree with most of the choices above. In regards to the food situation, would add the bridgestone guide to the list of guides more as a back up rather than a bible. They do some areas (cork/west cork) very well.

  14. Posted June 28, 2008 at 00:50 | Permalink

    Interesting post. From the Rock of Cashel I only liked the cemetery and I prefer the little village around Bunratty castle to Blarney gardens, to be honest. Also the Swiss Cottage (Cashel) is pretty nice!

    I have just booked my July holidays and I was thinking on heading north (from Limerick to Connemara, Sligo, Donegal, Derry, Athlone and back to Limerick) in the cheapest way but:

    1.-Hostels are not in the cities, so I’d need to stay in B&Bs

    2.-What you said in the post: nicest things are left on the way if you take the bus and I’m travelling with my camera!

    Any piece of advice/recommendation to visit these places?


  15. Tina
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 03:18 | Permalink

    Wow – great post! I came upon your blog by accident – searching for ideas for my upcoming trip! Thanks!

  16. Posted June 30, 2008 at 10:27 | Permalink

    @Reena — my main recommendation is to go west! IMO, the best parts of your trip are to be found around Clare and Connemara. enjoy!

  17. Posted June 30, 2008 at 13:01 | Permalink

    Actually Clare is quite nice but I don’t want to leave Ireland without seeing Donegal beaches, Derry and Lake Ree! (that’s my lake, everybody call me Ree! :D)

    Or maybe I can go to The Burren or do the Ring of Kerry. I still have time to decide.

  18. Posted June 30, 2008 at 15:47 | Permalink

    If you go to Dingle, I can recommend the An Riasc Bed and Breakfast.