How to Plan Your First Trip to Ireland

Planning a trip to Ireland can be overwhelming whether you know nothing about Ireland or you've been inundated with information from friends and family. Regardless, a vacation to Ireland should not be stressful therefore we've broken down the steps to make it more manageable and portable to any vacation in the world:

Must-See List

Regardless of your knowledge of Ireland, we highly recommend a good travel book to begin researching what there is to see and do in Ireland. Our favorite is the Eyewitness Guide to Ireland, featuring both the major sites like the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle but also diving a bit further into off-the-beaten-path sites that many first-time visitors would overlook -- like Aillwee Cave or Skellig Michael. Ask friends and family who have visited Ireland for their favorites to help incorporate them into your trip, being mindful that this part can be overwhelming as everyone will insist you put their favorite sites on your list. Make a list of "must see" sites and relegate the others to a secondary, "like to see" list.

If there is a group compiling this list, make sure the "must see" list contains a majority vote for each site to help narrow down your travel scope and ensure the group is in agreement. There will be nothing worse that driving hours out of your way for one person while the rest of the group is bored or unhappy with the excursion. Once you have your lists, you're ready for the next step - turning it into a working itinerary!

Create Itinerary

With your "must see" and "like to see" lists handy, you can easily turn this into an itinerary by plotting them out loosely on a map of Ireland. Rather than purchasing a map right now, you can go online and use Google's map of Ireland, print it and mark it up as you like. Plot out each "must see" site and attractions on your Ireland map with a red dot, returning with your "like to see" list in another color. As you plot your vacation, an itinerary will begin to emerge with a path starting to emerge and overnights jumping out near the dense parts of your map. If your map appears as a Pollack painting, you may need to go and revisit your "must see" list to narrow it down a bit further, refining those sites and determining if you need to see it this trip or you can move it to a return visit.

Transportation

While you already know whether you want to drive, hire a chauffeur or take a group bus tour, your Ireland itinerary will help quite a bit regardless of your mode of transportation.

If you plan on a taking a bus tour, your itinerary will help you find the right bus tour to satisfy your "must see" Irish sites and attractions. While no tour will completely satisfy your list completely, there is typically a tour that will meet most of your needs.

For those who do not find a tour to see all of your "must see" sites or you want more flexibility in your schedule and not have to drive, a chauffeur will likely fit your needs. While expensive, the cost is comparable to a bus tour when four or more travelers split the cost of a chauffeur.

Finally, for those who want complete control over their daily touring, driving is most flexible option -- and easier than most travelers think. Yes, the roads in Ireland tend to be smaller than those back here at home. Yes, you drive on the opposite side of the road and car in Ireland. Driving in Ireland is actually quite simple and once you relax and remind yourself that you've driven a car before... in a city or town unfamiliar to you... you'll be find. Take it slow and easy the first day to adjust and by day two you'll head for the driver's side automatically rather than the passenger's side of the car. If you plan on visiting Dublin at the beginning or end of your vacation, we highly recommend not taking a car into downtown Dublin but rather pick it up or drop it off at the airport during your stay. Driving in any city is difficult, with one-way streets, traffic and pedestrians make it more stressful for the driver and passenger alike. We also find it unnecessary to pay for a car rental, car insurance as well as parking when Dublin city is so pedestrian-friendly. We also recommend starting in Shannon for those who are extremely nervous about driving. Shannon is more rural and the new roads just outside the airport are easy to navigate and drive, allowing you to get accustomed to the car and the left-side of the road.

Accommodations

Now that you know your itinerary for your Ireland vacation, what you want to see and do as well as how you will travel to see each site, it's time to determine accommodations -- and Ireland has plenty of accommodations to choose from. The most cost-effective method of traveling Ireland is the Irish Bed and Breakfast, operated by Irish citizens and dedicating a portion of their home to tourists. You will have a key to the front door as well as your room so you can come and go as you please, though you must be mindful of other guests when coming in at night. A large, filling traditional Irish breakfast is served while American favorites like french toast and pancakes are starting to make their way into many menus. Irish B&Bs are starting to receiving ratings and will be priced accordingly starting in 2012.

Next is the Irish hotel, located in just about every Irish town and village and offering clean, private rooms of every standard. 3-star hotel rates can be comparable to an Irish B&B or slightly higher while 4- and 5-star hotels will obviously cost more while offering more amenities.

Irish Manor House Hotels are unique properties that make you feel like a Lord or a Lady, if but for a night. Each property is known not only for the grand amenities they provide but for fantastic restaurants offering fresh local ingredients each night. While more than a standard hotel or B&B, Manor Homes are affordable to sprinkle throughout your trip to Ireland -- and not break the budget.

Ireland Country Castles are dotted throughout the Irish countryside and are comparable, in price, to the Irish Manors. Everyone we've encountered wants to stay in Ireland for at least one night and our 4-star Ireland Country Castles allow us to provide that at a cost that is affordable to our clients.

Finally we have 5-star Deluxe Castles, including Dromoland Castle, Waterford Castle, Ashford Castle and Adare Manor, each offering unparalleled service and amenities that make any trip to Ireland memorable! We've reviewed each property over the years and can attest that you will want for nothing from the moment your car pulls up to the moment you leave! While expensive, a last night in one of these castles is the perfect last night in Ireland.

Airfare

While it may seem logical to take care of the airfare first, it is listed as one of our "Top Five Ireland Booking Mistakes" and for good reason -- you can fly into one airport in Ireland and out of the other without penalty. Car rental agencies don't charge fees for a different drop location in Ireland either because the island is so small. Everyone has heard of Dublin airport and too often our clients purchase airfare in and out of Dublin only to spend the bulk of their time on the west coast of Ireland, adding a 9-hour round-trip drive. Shannon airport sits on the west coast of Ireland just 20 minutes outside of Limerick and just 2 hours south of Galway, a perfect location to start your vacation. For those who will be driving, it also allows you a more rural start to your trip rather than navigating the city of Dublin while adjusting to the left-hand side of the road. For short vacations of 7-days or less, start in Shannon and end in Dublin or the reverse. For vacations longer than that, and depending on the itinerary, you may save drive times by flying in and out of the same airport.

Enjoy Your Trip

A little pre-planning on your part not only gets you familiar with Ireland but also makes you more comfortable with your plans, making your trip more relaxed and enjoyable. Ireland doesn't disappoint and while we keep telling clients, "You'll return" and they insist that this is their dream trip and they don't think they'll return -- they typically start planning their next trip before they leave Ireland. Enjoy... take lots of photos and while we would like to keep Ireland our own special secret, we think it's nice to share!

Slan Abhaile
Chris Woolson, Owner