Is Ireland on your travel wish list? Some visitors come in search of their ancestry, while others just want to soak up the history, culture and scenery. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.
When to Visit Ireland
One Dubliner described the weather as “consistently miserable.” This means that you can expect temperatures between 42 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and rain almost daily throughout the year. (C’mon, why do you think it’s so green?) Be sure to have a rain-resistant jacket with a hood; an umbrella won’t be much use in the blustery winds. Count on more wind along the coastlines, less in Dublin. You’ll see more crowds in the summer months of June, July and August. I visited in one of the shoulder seasons, in late September and early October. Benefit: no crowds, plus good choice of hotels and vacation rentals.
Where to Stay in Dublin
Your trip is most likely to start or end in Dublin. Irish friends advised us to avoid the party-packed Temple Bar area. Don’t even think about trying to drive a rental car in Dublin! We found a delightful two bedroom apartment with all the mod cons just a block from the Guinness Storehouse and within easy striking distance of most attractions by foot or cab. The 13 or 40 bus stopped across the street and whisks you to center city in minutes for 2 euros per person. To get started looking on Airbnb, with a discount for your first stay, click here.
Save Money with the Dublin Pass
Plan ahead by clicking on this link to purchase the Dublin Pass. Not only will you save a ton of money on entry fees. At most attractions you’ll get to skip a long line to buy tickets. You can have it mailed to you before your trip for a fee, so you won’t waste vacation time picking it up. Using the pass also requires some advance planning. Keep in mind:
- Your pass is activated the first time you use it, for one, two or three consecutive days. So if you take the included Aircoach transfer from the airport at 9 am on a Saturday, your first day will be used up at midnight and a second day begins.
- Museums like the National Gallery aren’t open on Mondays and are mostly free on the days when they are open. But if you want to cash in on a free gift or tour, plan to visit with your pass on another day of the week.
- A few major sights like the Book of Kells and the Kilmainham Jail are not included in the pass. Plan to see those on days when you are not using your pass.
- Don’t confuse the Aircoach with a competing service called Air Link. The transfer included with your pass is only good one way: from Dublin airport into the city.
- How much did we save? To see the sights below we would have paid about 135 euros per person without the pass. We spent about 85 euros per person for each three-day pass including pre-trip shipping to the USA. Savings: about 50 euros per person, for a total of 150 for our family of three. Not waiting in line anywhere? Priceless. And there are many more included attractions and discounts that we didn’t have time for. Opening days and times for each attraction are listed in a helpful booklet that comes with the pass.
Three Days in Dublin
Once your pass is activated, the race is on to pack in as much sightseeing as you can. We found the included hop-on-hop-off City Sightseeing bus to be fairly useless. It never seemed to go where we were headed and took forever to get there. The commentary was interesting and it’s worth doing if you’d like to spend a few hours riding around the circuit for an orientation to the city.
Dublin Castle: For 700 years this was the home of a viceroy who carried out the bidding of Ireland’s British rulers. Since self-rule began in 1922, it’s been the scene of official state visits and other government functions. Enjoy the restored rooms and ponder how the English ruling class looked the other way during times of famine and hardship. From there it’s a short walk to:
Christ Church Cathedral: An Episcopal house of worship in a Roman Catholic Country, this feels like a religious-themed tribute to British rule. Don’t miss the creepy crypt with its mummified cat and rat.
Abbey Theater: It’s easy to buy tickets online to reserve your place at Ireland’s National Theater. Nearby, our friends at the national tourism authority Failte Ireland recommended Talbot 101 for a pre-theater dinner with the hip culture crowd. We found the idea of James Joyce’s Ulysses on the main stage a bit daunting, so we opted for a smaller festival production about the fabled son of Shakespeare, Hamnet. That’s not a typo; he was one letter away from the greatness of Hamlet. Strong performance by the talented young lead actor, along with a puzzling bit of adult male nudity. Whatever’s on at the time of your visit is likely to be worth seeing.
EPIC: the Irish Emmigration Museum: If elaborate multimedia displays are your thing, you’ll love this place. The nicely restored wharf warehouse celebrates the accomplishments of those who left Ireland for a variety of reasons, and their descendants. There’s a very inclusive definition of who’s Irish, including Barack O’Bama whose great great great grandfather emigrated to the US in 1850. Kids will enjoy getting their “passport” stamped in the different themed rooms.
Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and Famine Museum: A fascinating look at the recreation of a ship that safely transported immigrants to new lives in North America, and a contrast to the coffin ships on which many passengers died. Still, the cramped journey below deck was not easy. As you walk toward the ship, don’t miss the moving Famine Sculpture on the riverbank.
National Gallery of Ireland: A small collection of European masters and a whole bunch of interesting Irish painters for you to discover. If museum-going is your thing, there are several others included with the pass, covering everything from archaeology to rock and roll.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral: This imposing Episcopal megachurch reserves a place of honor for Jonathan Swift, its most famous rector and author of Gulliver’s Travels. There’s also a moving Peace Tree dedicated to victims of conflict and the Door of Reconciliation where two feuding 15th Century families reached out to end their disputes. You won’t be admitted when services are going on, so fortunately you can pass the time tasting whiskey a few blocks away at…
Teeling Whiskey Distillery: The enthusiastic guide on our tour of the only working distillery in Dublin was quick to point out why the barrels are legally required to age elsewhere: the 1875 Whiskey Fire, which claimed the lives of only those who tried to guzzle down the flaming booze as it flowed through the streets. Ireland’s entire whiskey industry collapsed in the early 20th Century, due to USA prohibition and other political difficulties. The Teeling family has brought this place to life again. The 15 euro tasting was included with our Dublin Pass, but you can pay extra for a more extensive selection.
Dublin Writers’ Museum: Present your pass to get the audio guide. The commentary will have you peering into the glass cases of memorabilia from the storytellers who shaped Irish history, often defying religious and political censorship. The restored townhouse was once home to one of the Jameson brothers. And speaking of Jameson…
Jameson Distillery, Bow Street: No longer a working distillery, this recently refurbished attraction will hold your interest as the talented guides work their magic on visual displays. The included tasting allowed for comparison of Jameson’s whiskey with similar blends from Scotland and the USA’s Jack Daniels. Plus a coupon for a cocktail in the spacious bar.
Guinness Storehouse: Unless you really care about the details of how Guinness stout is brewed, skip the line with Dublin Pass, claim your ticket and then sprint to the top floor for your free pint or soft drink. It can be crowded on the weekends, but on a Monday afternoon we had no trouble finding seats near the windows. Be aware that the last admission is at 5 pm. For a delicious reasonably priced meal nearby, walk a few blocks to Arthur’s Pub. It’s located on the edge of the massive Guinness property.
Beyond Dublin: Itinerary for a 14 Day Trip
Arrive at Dublin airport. Rent a car, drive to Galway and plan to spend about three days. Check out some highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way, including where to stay and eat, in this post. You’ll also enjoy the charming village of Spiddal, hub of a growing TV and film production industry.
Travel Day to Portmagee, where you will spend one night and plan to visit Skellig Michael the next morning. Reservations are a must. As this post explains, weather may prevent you from setting foot on the ancient monastery island where two Star Wars films, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, have been filmed. But you’ll find lots to do nearby before moving on.
Travel always involves choices, and we opted for the Ring of Kerry rather than the equally scenic Dingle Peninsula. I was in Killarney to attend a blogger conference called TBEX Ireland, but as this post explains, my family and I found plenty to do for three days in the area around Killarney and Kenmare. For an upscale splurge, check out the gorgeous Sheen Falls Lodge. But there are plenty of hotel choices in all price ranges.
Winding your way back to Dublin airport, you’ll want to take in a slice of Ireland’s Ancient East. We loved our stay at Joy’s Rockside B & B at the foot of the Rock of Cashel. Bailey’s Hotel offers tasty pub food in its Cellar Bar. Staying two nights allowed us to also check out the medieval history of nearby Kilkenny. From there, we returned the car back to Dublin Airport and activated our Dublin Pass for the Air Coach ride into the city, for our final three days of sightseeing as described above.
Terry’s Travel Tips
Renting a car in Ireland is complicated, and not just because you’ll be on the left-hand side of the road. I found the best package through Auto Europe. You’ll need to pay extra for automatic transmission if you don’t want to try shifting with your left hand. CDW insurance is required and expensive, but the extra charge for a zero deductible bought peace of mind, especially when we were on tiny roads with no room for error. Get the smallest car that will fit your entire group and their luggage. Despite the nail-biting moments, having a car allowed us to go where tour buses won’t fit.