Ireland: Your essential travel guide to the Emerald Isle

Thinking about visiting Ireland in 2021? Excellent, you’ve made a grand choice. In this article, you’ll find a comprehensive Ireland travel guide, with everything you need to know before you go. Tips include: how much to budget, advice on safety and when’s the best time of year to visit. After one quick read you’ll feel like you’ve known the Emerald Isle for years.

With dramatic coastlines, a rich history and lively arts scene, Ireland will charm you quicker than you can say céad míle fáilte. Discover the buzzing streets of Dublin, before heading to the cultural capital of Galway. Marvel at the mighty Cliffs of Moher and set your toes tapping to trad music in Dingle. Feeling lucky? Kiss the stone and get the “gift of the gab” at Blarney Castle. It may be small, but boy does Ireland pack a powerful punch.

Ireland cliff faces on a sunny day

When to visit Ireland?

We recommend visiting Ireland in the shoulder seasons, you’ll get the best of the weather but avoid the crowds. The ideal time to visit Ireland is May to June or mid-September through to mid-October, you’ll have pleasant weather with high temperatures averaging around 17°C. Ireland is luscious and green year-round, however, there is the possibility of heavy rain in any month.

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Budgeting tips for Ireland

Ireland often has a reputation of being one of the most expensive countries in Europe. But with a little planning and smart thinking, it can be one of the most affordable countries to visit for a holiday.

There is so much to see and do in this green little isle and certain activities can start to add up. If you’re planning on visiting lots of sites in Dublin, it’s definitely worth getting a Dublin Pass. It includes skip the line entry to over 30 attractions, hop-on hop-off bus access and a number of other discounts. As the most expensive city in the Republic of Ireland, this will certainly help your budget.

Overall, how much money you need for Ireland really depends on what type of holiday you are after. If you have booked onto a Trafalgar trip, the majority of your food, accommodation and activities are included. But here is a simple guide to follow if you plan on eating well, doing as many Optional Experiences as possible and buying a moderate amount of souvenirs:

  • Lunch + drink = €20
  • Dinner + drink €30
  • Optional Experience per day = €20 average*
  • Souvenirs = €25
  • Total Per Day = €95

*This can vary.

street view of Dublin - Ireland travel guide

Things to do in Ireland

Starting in Dublin and ending in Kilkenny City, this is an easy to follow Ireland travel guide that loops nicely around the country. From dolphin watching in Dingle to star-gazing at the Ring of Kerry, here’s our top pick of the best things to do in Ireland.

Start off in Dublin

It makes sense to begin your Irish journey in the country’s capital of Dublin. Steeped in history, with more than 1,000 pubs across the city and home to locals renowned for being the greatest hosts in the world, Dublin certainly knows how to have fun. Take your pick from exploring Dublin Castle, Guinness tasting at the Guinness storehouse or getting cultural at the magnificent Trinity College Library.

Head west to Galway City

Next up is Galway City, Ireland’s cultural heart and a must do on any trip to the Emerald Isle. Its energy and creativity have seen it designated the European Capital of Culture for 2020. You could argue its lively atmosphere is thanks to the students who make up 20% of the population, but whatever the secret ingredient is, you’ll quickly fall for its brightly painted pubs buzzing with live music, medieval streets brimming with boutique shops and Galway Bay’s delicious oysters.

Check out Connemara

Head further out to Connemara jagged stretch of coastline on Ireland’s west coast. Imagine: towering peaks, vast wetlands and white sandy beaches that would give the Caribbean a run for its money. While you’re there, be sure to visit Kylemore Abbey. Originally built in 1868 by a wealthy businessman and politician, this now Benedictine monastery, features a magnificent Victorian Walled Garden, pottery studio, craft shop and tea rooms which are open to visitors year round.

EXPERIENCE THIS ON: Amazing Ireland

Cliffs of Moher - Ireland travel guide

Meet the Cliffs of Moher

Jaw-droppingly beautiful the Cliffs of Moher are 214m high cliffs with an entirely vertical drop. Definitely check out the high-tech visitor centre where the history of these inspiring cliffs is brought to life at the “Atlantic Edge” exhibition, a 19th-century lookout tower and a wealth of walking trails. We highly recommend visiting at sunset, the views are breathtaking as the sky turns a kaleidoscope of colours.

EXPERIENCE THIS ON: Irish Highlights

Head on down to Dingle Town

Dingle Town sits on the edge of the Dingle Peninsula, on the southwest coast of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. It’s a charming fishing port that has been winning over visitors from around the world, giving this town a cosmopolitan feel. Take your pick from dolphin watching, listening to Trad music (Irish traditional folk music) at O’Flaherty’s Bar, or feasting on a hearty breakfast at Pantri Cafe. Dingle Town will quickly win your heart.

Kick back in Killarney

One of our favourite spots on our Ireland travel guide, Killarney has been welcoming visitors for more than 250 years. Situated in some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes, Killarney is home to glimmering lakes, picturesque waterfalls and is surrounded by 1000m-plus peaks. Spot deer in Killarney National Park, take a boat trip from Lord Brandon’s Cottage to Ross Castle on Lakes of Killarney and admire the beauty of Torc Waterfall.

Go stargazing in the Ring of Kerry

This circular route is one of Ireland’s most enchanting landscapes. It’s a 120-mile stretch of stunning coastal views, you’ll pass pristine beaches, medieval ruins, mountains and loughs. A highlight of the ring is its centre. In 2014, the ring’s centre became the 700-sq-km Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve. Definitely take the chance to view the stars in the only Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere. It really doesn’t get much better than stargazing to the sound of the ocean in Ireland’s pristine dark skies.

Enjoy the craic in Cork

Giving Dublin a run for its money, Cork is a thriving metropolis, home to food markets, historical monuments, lively pubs, art galleries and an opera house. While you’re there definitely make the trip to Blarney Castle. Built by the King of Munster in the 15th century, see if you can “get the gift of the gab” by kissing the Blarney Stone, found on the castle’s machicolations. According to tradition the stone grants its kissers the gift of eloquence and persuasiveness.

View of Blarney Castle through a peep hole

Welcome to Waterford

Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, its history can be traced back to Viking times and in 2014 it celebrated its 1100th anniversary. The city is still in touch with its Norse roots at the Viking Triangle, a cultural hub home to three museums which tell the story of Ireland’s Middle Ages better than in any other city in the country.

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End your trip in Kilkenny City

Kilkenny City is picture-postcard Ireland with its ‘Medieval Mile’ of narrow lanes and historic buildings, along the bank of the River Nore. We recommend visiting Kilkenny Castle, an Anglo-Norman stone castle that sits majestically over the Nore River. In the castle basement, you’ll find the Butler Gallery, one of Ireland’s most important art galleries outside of Dublin.

Where to stay in Ireland

As part of our Ireland travel guide, we’ve found three of the coolest places to stay in Ireland, so if you’re looking for somewhere a little different to rest your head, then look no further.

1. CroPod

Glencolmcille, Co Donegal

Feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of the Lord of the Rings with a night’s stay at this charming little hobbit house. Cropod is an underground shelter with spectacular views over Glencolmcille. It’s designed to have a low impact on its natural surroundings and to make the most of a compact space. So sit back, relax and just take in those views.

2. Ashford Castle

Cong, Co. Mayo

Enjoy an evening of royal splendour at 5 star hotel, Ashford Castle. This 800 year old castle is truly unique, it’s a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, it features on Forbes’ 5 star 2020 travel guide and was once the former home of the Guinness family. Situated in a sprawling 350-acre estate, take your time to admire the exquisite interiors and treat yourself to an afternoon tea. It really is the perfect blend of luxurious pampering with traditional Irish hospitality.

STAY AT ASHFORD CASTLE ON: Iconic Ireland and Ashford Castle

3. Ballyknocken Farmhouse & Cookery School

Glenealy, Co. Wicklow

Catherine Fulvio outside Ballyknocken Farmhouse & Cookery School

Tucked away in the tranquil Wicklow mountains on a 350 acre farm, you’ll find the quaint Ballyknocken Farmhouse & Cookery School. Thought to be one of Ireland’s first farmhouse Bed & Breakfasts, this family fun Victorian farmhouse is now run by descendent and Irish TV chef Catherine Fulvio. Be sure to take part in a cookery lesson at Ballyknocken’s state of the art award winning cookery school.

EXPERIENCE THIS ON: Irish Highlights

Where to eat in Ireland

Renowned for its fresh and seasonal produce, Ireland is one of the most underrated foodie countries in Europe. Here’s our pick of the best places to eat in Ireland:

1. Tartare, Galway

This unpretentious restaurant in Ireland’s cultural capital of Galway proves that great food doesn’t need to come with a side of formality. By day, this is the coolest little cafe serving artisan coffees and freshly baked pastries, by night, Tartare transforms into an organic wine bar with a menu of beautiful small plates made from the very best Irish ingredients.

2. Terra Madre, Dublin

Terra Madre is a small independent cafe/restaurant producing some of the best Italian food in Dublin. They pride themselves on sourcing seasonal ingredients from family-run farms and small-scale food producers, many of which use traditional skills and modes of food production. If you visit here, definitely order one of their pasta dishes, expertly-sourced from a hilltop village in Italy’s Le Marche region.

3. Restaurant 1826 Adare, Co Limerick

Built in 1826, although this quaint restaurant with its thatched roof looks old, chef Wade Murphy’s cooking techniques are anything but. Seasonal local produce is the foundation of Wade’s food philosophy, with signature dishes that include warm chicken liver salad with bally greens, and a head to tail free range pork tasting plate.

A elegant plate of fish from an Irish fine dining restaurant of Irish food

How safe is Ireland?

Ireland is a very safe country to visit, compared with other European countries its crime rate is relatively low. However, like any other country it is always important to be careful. Here are a few tips for staying safe in Ireland:

  • Carry the minimum amount of valuables with you. Leave jewellery, tickets, credit cards, passports and cash in the hotel safe if possible.
  • Carry your passports, credit cards and money separately. In the highly unlikely event of a theft, this means you are likely to lose only one.
  • Stick to well-lit, busy areas when walking at night and avoid walking alone.
  • Keep your bag close by when in pubs or restaurants.
  • If driving, park your car in well lit areas, preferably in designated car parks or multi-storey car parks.
  • Never leave any valuables visible in your parked car.

Well there you have it, our comprehensive Ireland travel guide. Thinking about adding Ireland to your bucketlist? Then take a look at our Ireland destination guide, it has everything you need to know, from what to pack to which Trafalgar trip to take. Have you already visited Ireland? Let us know what it was like in the comments below.

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