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A fly-drive (or "self-drive") holiday in Ireland is a great way of exploring the country and discovering areas that aren't easily accessible by public transport: e.g. Beara Peninsula, Donegal, Dingle Peninsula, the offshore islands.
It takes time to plan - but the planning can be fun: researching locations, looking for ideal accommodation, maybe ftting in some sporting activity or a visit to a sporting event, festival or concert.
Maybe you have family connections and you wish to spend time in the area your ancestors came from. Do as much research as possible before you arrive and try to make contact with genealogical societies in Ireland before you visit. If you turn up for a day with just a name and a date, very little will be achieved!
Where To Start?
First of all, get a map and a guide book of Ireland and familiarise yourself with the geography and location of the international airports. The two biggest airports are at opposite sides of the country: Dublin on the east coast, and Shannon on the western side of the country, in southern co. Clare. Many visitors prefer to fly into one and out of the other to maximise their time.
(If you don't wish to purchase any books, you should be able to borrow them from your local library).
The "Ordnance Survey Official Road Atlas Ireland" is recommended by many posters on the Irish forum, together with the "Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide to Ireland". and "Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland".
Some Useful Web-Sites:
This is the official web-site of Tourism Ireland:
This web-site details information on all the heritage sites in Ireland under the protection of the Office of Public Works (OPW); you will find prices, maps and opening times:
"Heritage Island" is a marketing group for a number of tourist attractions in Ireland; together with a map and opening times you will find details of special events and special offers:
How Much Time Do You Have?
Decide how much time you would like to spend in Ireland; remember, your first day may be a bit of a washout after a long overnight transatlantic flight. Jetlag can hit at any time: don't plan too much for your arrival day. In particular, it is inadvisable to plan a long drive your first day in an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads.
And remember that most transatlantic flights leave Ireland (Dublin or Shannon) in the morning, so you will probably need to spend your last night in the country very close to one of these airports. Both the Dublin and Clare forum pages have options listed in "Top Questions" on the right-hand side of the page.
Planning the Route
The biggest error people make when planning their trip is underestimating how long it takes to travel around the country. Although there are motorways connecting the major cities, in some areas, the "national" roads are still single lane (in each direction) and traffic can be very slow moving. In rural areas (e.g. Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Burren, and Connemara) roads can be extremely narrow (single lane in some cases) and not very well maintained; expect to drive at an average speed of 35-40km/hr.
You can plot any given route, together with "via" places on this web-site and it will give you distance and journey time. However, please note that the journey times tend to be a bit optimistic, as they're based on "ideal" driving conditions, and don't take into account roadworks, diversions, traffic jams - even farm animals on the road. Add 15% to the drive times and you should have a fairly accurate figure, which will also factor driving on unfamiliar roads:
Distances and Approximate Drive-Times between Dublin and Major Cities and Popular Tourist Destinations (15% added to times) :
Dublin - Cork : 255km; 3hrs, 20 min
Dublin - Dingle: 346km; 5hrs, 15 min
Dublin - Galway : 218km; 3hrs
Dublin - Killarney: 302km; 4hrs, 20 min
Dublin - Limerick : 195km; 2hrs, 45 min
Dublin - Sligo : 208km; 3hrs, 15 min
How Much Time In Each Location?
You will discover during your research that many locations have a variety of places to see and things to do in the area; try to spend 2-3 nights in some places which will give you 1-2 full days to enjoy excursions and the charms of your chosen town or village. And this will give you time to relax and savour the many delights of Ireland: checking in/out, unpacking/repacking every night can be a pain, and will eat into valuable "seeing" time.
Where To Stay?
There is a wide range of accommodation to choose from, ranging from 5-star luxury Castle Hotels, to cosy and friendly family-run bed and breakfast farmhouses and homes. In between: country house hotels, motels, guest houses and hostels. Some useful web-sites:
Note: Accommodation Vouchers - you might be tempted by offers of accommodation vouchers, where you pay "up front" for your accommodation and are given vouchers and a booklet before you travel to Ireland.
Please note that not all guest houses and b&bs accept vouchers; indeed many of the most popular and centrally located establishments don't accept them. It is just as easy and often more economical to research and book your own accommodation direct by reading reviews here on Tripadvisor and contacting via email.
You might like to consider renting a house for a week (self-catering), which will give you time to explore a locality, go shopping at farmers' markets, pop back to a favourite pub for a 2nd or 3rd visit . . .
Here are some recommended web-sites - and don't forget to check out those properties listed here on Tripadvisor:
Are There Any "Must-See" Sites/Places or Things to Do in Ireland?
Well, that very much depends on your interests; what may fascinate one person may very well bore another person to tears!
But, Ireland does have some unique sites and areas:
many visitors wouldn't dream of visiting Ireland without spending a night or two in its vibrant capital city. You may like to start your visit in Dublin, where you won't require a hire car (rental car), but will be able to rely on efficient public transport. Driving in Dublin is not recommended; traffic is heavy, you won't find names and signs on every street corner, and parking is very expensive.
Have a look at Top Questions on the Dublin forum for a wealth of information on things to see and do in the city, places to stay and eat, and transport.
Newgrange, co. Meath:
this megalithic passage tomb is over 5,000 years old and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Its structure is unique, the most fascinating aspect being the shaft of light that floods through the "light-box" above the entrance to the chamber and fills it with light at dawn on the winter solstice. Note: visitor numbers are restricted and entry is on ly possible via the Visitor Centre at Brú na Bóinne. Recommendation: arrive as early as possible to guarantee a place on a tour to the chamber, as visitor numbers are strictly controlled. Expect to spend min. 2hrs at the Visitor Centre and Chamber. Day-tours can be prebooked from Dublin:
Glendalough Monastic Settlement, co. Wicklow
south of Dublin city, in the Wicklow mountains you will find Glendalough nestled in the hills. It has some very fine monastic buildings including a round tower, plus beautiful walks between the upper and lower lakes. Day-tours can also be booked from Dublin:
Rock of Cashel, co. Tipperary:
this lump of volcanic rock, crowned by a round tower and monastic buildings is one of the most impressive heritage sites in Ireland. There is a carpark at the base of the Rock, and then it is a fairly steep, but short walk to the entrance. Plan for 1.5-2hrs visit:
Cliffs of Moher, co. Clare:
these virtually sheer cliffs rise over 210m from the shore, and stretch for 8km, starting just south of the little village of Doolin. There is a Visitor Centre with full facilities (disabled access, restrooms, cafe, gift shop) and parking nearby (fee).
Slieve League Cliffs, co. Donegal
not as well known as the Cliffs of Moher, the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal are actually higher than the Cliffs of Moher, rising 600m from the sea:
The National Parks of Ireland:
there are six national parks in Ireland, where you can enjoy breathtaking views and envigorating walks:
The Castles of Ireland:
Ireland has some magnificent castles which are open to the public; here are a few of the most popular and interesting:
Bunratty Castle, co. Clare; Trim Castle, co. Meath; Ross Castle, co. Kerry; Blarney Castle, co. Cork; Cahir Castle, co. Tipperary
The Islands of Ireland:
there are dozens of islands scattered around the coastline of Ireland: some are inhabited, some lie deserted. Many can be visited from the mainland for a day excursion, others deserve an overnight stay.
The Pubs of Ireland:
Even if you don't enjoy a pint of Guinness, a night in a pub with pleasant company and hopefully some traditional music is a highlight of a trip to Ireland.
Some Gentle Hints
You can't drive around Ireland in 14 days and see "everything".
Most folk who come back with trip reports comment that they wished they'd stayed longer in certain areas and not moved on every 1-2 nights.
If you have 7-8 nights, choose 2-3 different locations; maybe you want to spend a couple of days in Dublin, combined with time in the countryside. For a 12-14 night duration, it is recommended that you visit either "top half" or "bottom half" of the Island, drawing a line from Galway on the west coast to Dublin on the east coast. To maximise your time in Ireland, consider flying into Dublin, departing from Shannon, or vice versa.
Take your time; don't try to plan to a rigid schedule. This just doesn't work in Ireland for a number of reasons: traffic delays on the road; underestimating drive times; chatting to someone in a shop, restaurant or pub . . . and realising you've been there for 30 minutes! ; spotting something interesting from the car window (a ruined church, prehistoric standing stone, beautiful beach . . . ) and taking a short diversion to investigage . . .
Ireland is best seen and enjoyed at a leisurely pace . . . you can always come back to see more - and you'll more than likely want to return!
Do read some trip reports; they make for good reading and will help you with your planning.
Hope this helps you plan your trip to Ireland; please do look at the other "Top Questions" on the Irish forums: a wealth of helpful information at your fingertips. If you can't find the answer there, enter a few key words into the search box of the forum. And if you still can't find an answer - please do post a question on the forum.