I suggest considering Ireland as an alternative to the more popular (and crowded) tourist magnet of England. It has just about everything for the European tourist: natural beauty, well-preserved ancient forts and castles, friendly people, hearty food and good infrastructure. We visited Ireland in the month of March, during Spring Break, since it was our son’s high school “graduation trip.” March was a good time to visit, with few tourists and cool but reasonable weather; although the downside is that some sites are not open. We decided to concentrate on southern Ireland. With my love of history, we focused on historical sites and some of the natural beauty of this country. In future posts, I will provide more detail about our tour locations.
Our self-guided tour was counter-clockwise from Dublin and covered a lot of ground in 8 days: We flew into Dublin and drove north to Newgrange (prehistoric site from 3200 BC), on to Trim Castle (used in Braveheart), then to Limerick (Bunratty Castle), Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Kinsale (close to Cork and Blarney Castle), Waterford (think crystal), Cashel, Kilkenny, Glendalough and finally back to Dublin.
Don’t miss the following:
Killarney and Ring of Kerry. A classy town and beautiful setting next to high peaks and the Lakes of Killarney. Killarney is the gateway to the Ring of Kerry, which is loaded with historical spots and natural beauty. The western end of the Ring is the jump off point to Skellig Michael, an island monastery dating to 600 AD. I would have killed to get out there, but boats do not go out to the island until after Easter, and even then only when the seas are calm enough to do so.
Dingle Peninsula. Some of the bluest water I have seen anywhere was along the coast of this Peninsula just north of the Ring of Kerry.
Blarney Castle.While it is too touristy for my tastes, this is a great castle. I refused to kiss the Blarney Stone (at the top of the castle keep), but if you want the “gift of gab” go for it.
Rock of Cashel.This is one of the great medieval sights in the world, bar none. Home to the kings of Ireland for centuries, it sits on a rock outcropping above the town of Cashel in stunning fashion.
Glendalough. I love the combination of history and natural beauty. A pristine setting for the monastery among the valleys and lakes, south of Dublin.
The Book of Kells, at Trinity College in Dublin. This richly illustrated book of the Four Gospels was written by monks in 800 AD and is now preserved in this historic university in Dublin.
Some tips for visiting Ireland:
Get a Heritage Ireland Card. Like English Heritage, this card allows access to many historical sites for one fee. Cards can be purchased at your first site. Visit www.heritageireland.ie for more information.
Cost. Some people are surprised to find out that the Republic of Ireland is on the Euro. It is NOT part of Great Britain (as compared with Northern Ireland). Prices are pretty high in Ireland, although I think the UK is more expensive. Expect to pay about €35 per person for B&B’s. The upside is that Ireland is less visited than Great Britain.
Accommodations. Hotels are few except in the larger cities, and for the most part, Bed & Breakfasts are the norm. We did stay in a couple Travelodge hotels (Waterford and Dublin Airport) with decent, relatively inexpensive rooms. We enjoyed the places we stayed and found the proprietors very welcoming and helpful. Pick a location to work out of for a few days and then move to the next location. Ireland is small, and it’s easy to get many places from one central location.
Transportation. Unless you are part of a tour group, car is the main mode of transportation (driving is the same as the UK, left side of the road). Roads are in good condition, but most country roads are very narrow. There are very few “highways” as we think of them in the U.S. Trains are possible, but only serve major towns and routes.
Weather. With very few mountains to block weather from the Atlantic, we experienced waves of clouds and showers followed by periods of sunshine. Expect every type of weather. We took light rain jackets and rain pants and were glad we did. Umbrellas are almost useless, given the sideways rain showers.