Today’s post comes from my friend, Jody Halstead, an expert on Ireland vacation planning. Since I haven’t been there yet, my advice might not be quite as good. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland soon, I think this will help! (We are using her advice for a 2019 trip!)
When families begin considering their first European vacation, Ireland is often near the top of their list. A land of magic and mystery, history and hauntings, faeries and friendly people; with no (or very little!) language barrier, Ireland is tailor made for families!
But an Ireland family vacation, despite the country’s small geographical size, can prove an overwhelming trip to plan. There is just so very much to see and do! (I am planning my family’s 9th trip and we still haven’t ‘seen it all!’) After planning dozens of Ireland itineraries I’ve developed a few key tips to help you plan your own magical Ireland vacation.
7 Expert Tips to Plan Your First Ireland Vacation
Your first two steps in Ireland vacation planning are obvious: choose your dates and purchase your flights. But after that point, options get a bit more difficult. City or country? Train, bus, or car? Ring of Kerry or Giant’s Causeway? History or adventure?
Taken one step at a time, these tips will help you plan the perfect Ireland vacation for your unique family.
Tip 1: Rent a car
DO rent a car. Yes, I know it’s a bit scary to think about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But it is really quite easy to manage if you have a good navigator and have a rough idea of your route beforehand.
Know that most cars in Ireland are a manual transmission (ie: ‘stick shift’), so if you can’t drive one be sure to reserve an automatic transmission (costs are usually higher). Also, auto insurance in Ireland is mandatory and a bit tricky as most credit cards do not offer coverage, and some that do offer coverage are not accepted in Ireland. Learn about the Collision Damage Waiver and car rentals in Ireland before you rent a car.
If you just can’t imagine driving in Ireland, look into hiring a driver guide from a company like Ireland Chauffeur Travel. Or consider staying in larger cities like Dublin, Galway, and Killarney and taking day trips from there.
Tip 2: Don’t try to see all of Ireland in one trip
Don’t try to ‘see it all’. The one thing that will ruin your vacation is too much driving and not enough doing. You will not miss places you didn’t see- but you may always regret leaving a location too soon, before you really had a chance to discover it.
Ireland is not a country made for zipping from site to site. Point A to Point B may only be 100 miles apart- but those miles include narrow, winding roads through mountains, small villages, and picturesque farmland edged by stone walls which hug the road. Explore, enjoy, and embrace slow travel to get the best of what Ireland has to offer. Don’t be a ‘snapshot tourist’.
Tip 3: Pick your “must see” sites and plan your Ireland vacation around those
DO choose a few ‘must visit’ sites and plan your itinerary around those. Choose activities and destinations based on what your family enjoys- not what others say you must see. Yes, the Cliffs of Moher are incredible, but if your family enjoys science over scenery you may find that Birr Castle is a better option.
Not sure how to decide what to see? Begin by determining your family’s goals for the trip and interests. Then use the interactive map on Ireland Family Vacations to discover attractions around Ireland.
After deciding on your ‘must visit’ sites, find other fun activities in the area to pad your itinerary, always keeping in mind that you may not experience everything.
Tip 4: Visit touristy attractions like Killarney National Park, Dingle Bay or the Blarney Castle
Don’t skip an attraction or activity because it seems ‘too touristy’. I’ve been guilty of this myself and have regretted it. Tourist sites and activities are popular because they are good. Does that mean they are all the right fit for your family? No. But just because someone else says it’s ‘touristy’ doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.
Prime examples of this are a jaunting cart ride in Killarney National Park, the boat ride to see Fungi the Dolphin in Dingle Bay, and a visit to Blarney Castle. All these activities are wonderful – but not ‘musts’ for every family.
Tip 5: Spend an evening at the local Irish pub
DO spend an evening in the local pub. Ireland and pubs go together like fish and chips. You really can’t fully experience one without the other. Of course, Irish pubs and fish and chips go together quite nicely, too.
Travelers tend to see the Irish pub as an adult experience, but it is a place your entire family is welcome and can enjoy. The Public House (or pub) is a community gathering place. A place to relax, enjoy the craic, and (hopefully) catch some live music.
Practice good pub etiquette: choose a table near to the bar, but far enough away that your family won’t be in the line of food and drink delivery. Know that few pubs have table service, you’ll be ordering from the bar. And always ask if there is a time kids need to leave. Most village pubs will leave that to you – as long as children are well behaved they can stay as long as you like.
Tip 6: Consider B&Bs and cottages for lodging in Ireland
Don’t shy away from B&B’s, hostels, or self-catering cottages. Lodging options in Ireland are as varied as the landscape. We usually mix & match our lodging – choosing a comfy B&B one night, followed by a self-catering cottage or family-friendly hostel for a few days to save money, then splurging on a 5* resort or castle stay for a night or two.
Much like choosing what to see, there are many options to help you choose where to stay. Use this quick Ireland lodging guide to lead you to recommended lodging and booking options.
Tip 7: Try new foods. Irish food is better than its reputation
DO try new foods. Irish food had a bit of a bad reputation for many years, but that has changed. You can expect fresh, hyper-local ingredients nearly everywhere- from the small village B&B to the most lauded restaurants in Dublin.
Each area of Ireland has its own flavor. Independent butchers will have their own recipe for black and white pudding, for example. Buttered eggs are a specialty in Cork. And each restaurant serves local goats’ cheese differently. Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. Encourage your kids to do the same. You may be surprised by what you really enjoy.
A truly magical Ireland vacation is a very personal thing, not a ‘one size fits all’ itinerary cobbled together by a stranger. Even if you do use a planning service, be active in that planning and make that trip your own as much as possible. Follow the road less traveled and discover the magic of Ireland.
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About the author
Jody Halsted has been traveling across Ireland for over a decade with her own children, discovering the most family friendly sites and activities on the tourist trail and off. Dedicated to Ireland family travel, her website Ireland Family Vacations, provides exceptional advice for a magical Ireland vacation. For families looking for a perfectly tailored Ireland vacation, Jody offers Ireland vacation coaching, working with your family to help you choose the perfect lodging, destinations, and activities to fit your budget, interests, and expectations.