What to Know When Planning a Trip to Ireland

In September of 2018, my husband and I, along with our 13 year-old son and my father-in-law, traveled to Ireland.  It’s a place none of us had ever been, and after seeing a great deal on plane tickets pop up, we decided to plan a trip.  Ireland is a country rich in heritage and history and was every bit as magical as it appears in movies and photographs.  Here’s some commonly asked questions I’ve received:

Did you plan your own itinerary or use a tour group?

We planned our own itinerary. We flew into Dublin and decided to take one day at the very start to head up to Northern Ireland (if you were unaware, Ireland and Northern Ireland are different countries) and then basically make a large loop driving around the whole country, starting and ending in Dublin. Google searches and online travel guides will easily show you all of the popular things to do and see and from there we made a bucket list of all the things we’d like to prioritize and started making a route. One thing I recommend you buy right now is the Rick Steves Guide Book. Sometimes people feel books are old-fashioned and why not just google?? I’m telling you right now this was THE most helpful thing we had on our trip. It was extremely accurate and full of information. Using your phone can be unreliable when service is spotty and it eats up your battery. I love having an actual book I can write in and mark up and the Rick Steves books are the best out there. We loved it.

One more note on this topic. Ask around, but do what you want.  If you talk to other people who have traveled to Ireland they will always tell you you HAVE to do a certain thing.  People seem to be convinced everyone else’s trip must be just like their own trip.  Don’t be afraid to do your own thing.  We decided not to drive around the whole Ring of Kerry.  We skipped the Antrim Coast and Waterford.  Unless you’re staying for a month you can’t possibly see everything.  So pick and choose and make YOUR perfect trip.  You don’t need to copy anyone else’s! 

How did you get around Ireland?

We rented a car and drove ourselves. My tip for choosing a car is to get the absolute smallest car that’s large enough to actually fit your party and your stuff. You will be driving on some extremely tight roads. This isn’t America and you won’t see mini vans and suburbans and trust me you don’t want one! You’ll feel like you’re on a game of Mario Kart and more than once I screamed and just closed my eyes in the passenger seat. Because the car will be small, you’ll also want to pack light in small bags because there won’t be a lot of room for luggage. We all packed for 8 days in carryon suitcases. Keep in mind that the driver sits in the right side of the car, and stick shifts are common, so you’ll be shifting with your left hand. They also drive on the opposite side of the road than we do. It was VERY strange at first, but my husband got the hang of it very quickly and did a great job!

Where did you stay in Ireland?

We used Air BnB and worked our way around the country, staying at each location for 1-2 nights. We enjoyed using Air B&B because the local hosts were so accommodating and helpful giving local advice of the best things to do and see and favorite places to eat, etc.

When’s the best time of year to visit Ireland?

I mean, I’ve been there one time so I’m no expert, but from what I’ve researched, both spring and fall are really nice because you miss the busy summer tourist season. We went in September and I didn’t feel like it was crowded with tourists at all. In fact, often we felt like the only ones!  

What weather should I prepare for in Ireland?

Rain. First and foremost, rain. I’m from Seattle and knew to expect a very similar gray, overcast, and drizzly climate in Ireland. It definitely adds to the feeling of mystique it seems to have. That being said, by some miracle we experienced the most amazing weather while we were there. I never pulled out my umbrella even once! I only had to even pull out my jacket one time! The rest of our week was pleasant with moderate temperatures (as in, I normally just wore a sweatshirt each day) and while we had some overcast days, we also had lots and lots of blue skies and sunshine. In terms of packing (at least during the spring and fall, since that’s what I experienced) I’d bring layers, and definitely a compact travel umbrella. I also enjoyed having my Irish wool hat and scarf the one day we visited the Cliffs of Moher, and also took a boat ride because anything near the coast was fairly windy and cool.

Did you take photographs with your phone or your “Real” camera?

I choose my camera depending on the style of trip I’m taking. For example, last summer when I trekked across the East Coast with my kids I took all my photos exclusively on my iPhone because we were trying to pack as light as possible, and take care of kids and tour big cities, etc. For Ireland, I took my DLSR because we spent lots of time driving in our car, had plenty of room for my things, and I didn’t have to carry it long distances.

Is there anything you would recommend bringing to Ireland?

Yes! Make sure you have electric adapters. We had 3 adults on our trip and each of us had multiple electronic devices (phones, tablet/laptops, cameras, apple watches, etc.) There won’t be a ton outlets for use so we really loved having these big adapter boxes with lots of import options (plugs, usb, etc.) You’ll want to make sure it’s specifically listed for use in Ireland (many European countries are different). These are the ones we bought, and in addition we brought several of these smaller, single ones which came in handy when I wanted to plug in a curling want in the bathroom or something.  

What’s your best piece of advice when traveling to Ireland.

I say this with zero hesitation: don’t over plan. And if you do, leave time in your itinerary to run off the beaten path. While you will research and plan out a million things to do, you cannot possibly fathom the number of things and places and little roads that you never knew about. There are over 30,000 castles in Ireland. THIRTY THOUSAND! There will be signs everywhere you go. Some of our most favorite experiences came from those unplanned moments where we just turned off a road unexpectedly to follow a little sign. Also, talk to the locals. Everyone was so kind and accommodating and had great tips and advice (and stories!) about everything.

This was definitely a trip we’ll remember for a lifetime! Click Here for part 2 of this series where I outline the places we visited and share lots of photos.

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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Hi we are going to be driving from kilkenny to the cliffs of moher. What city did you sleep over in in order to see cliffs of moher?
    Thank you

    1. Well it really depends on what route you’re taking- we came from a different direction, but we stayed in Galeway.

  2. Such great advice here! I spent a summer with my grandmother in Ireland when I was 10, and finally achieved a life-long dream of taking my three boys there last June.
    I love your point to not over plan, and to take other people’s “must-see” advice with a grain of salt.
    We skipped the Blarney Castle but loved Newgrange—I was happy you visited there as well. We loved riding bikes along the coast in Co. Mayo and stayed a few days at an alpaca farm we found via glamping.com. Ireland had a heatwave while we were there so we had little rain and great beach swimming—something we would never had expected! Outside of Dublin we didn’t experience crowds, and can’t wait to go back!

  3. I’ve been to Ireland twice – in 2000 and 2004 – but I would go back in a heartbeat. So beautiful, the people were truly so friendly, the ambiance was right up my alley (born and bred Oregonian, but still, the green is more intense I swear!), just wonderful. Our second trip we *didn’t* overplan and like you, had the most fun experiences when we spotted the sign and made the turn. = )