All you need to know to start planning a trip to Ireland: resources, practical tips and inspiration for the perfect Ireland vacation.
I love helping people plan their dream vacation to Ireland.
I moved to Ireland from Italy over 10 years ago and, being the avid traveler that I am, I have spent pretty much any free moment I had in the last decade to explore this beautiful new home of mine.
I have explored Ireland by car, by bus, by train, I have spent nights in castles and evenings in the pub and I have used this knowledge many times to help friends and readers planning their own stay in the Emerald Isle.
However, I realized that until today I didn’t have an article on the site on how to plan a trip to Ireland!
So, here we are: my super practical Irish vacation planner, a cheat sheet with resources and practical tips for the perfect trip to the Emerald isle.
I hope you find it useful!
Please note: this post contains affiliate links and, should you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Planning a trip to Ireland: country overview
- Official Name: Republic of Ireland
- Capital city: Dublin
- Language: Irish (Gaelic) and English (English being the everyday language)
- Currency: Euro
- Population: 4.83M (over 1M of which is in Dublin)
- Climate: temperate oceanic (see below for more details)
- Power/Voltage: 230V, 50Mz, 3 pin plugs
- Opening hours of shops: few 24h options, usually 9am-6pm
- International phone code: +353
Documents and Visa
Ireland is part of the European Union but outside of the Schengen agreement and this peculiarity has important repercussions for visitors.
Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to come to Ireland and this Visa is different from the one you may have already gotten for counties in continental Europe.
The best place to get information about your specific Visa requirement is the Irish embassy closest to you.
The official list of Irish embassies and consulates around the world is here.
If you are an EU citizen, you do not need a Visa to come to Ireland but you will need to show a valid passport or ID when entering the country.
Money matters: credit cards, debit cards, cash
Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted in Ireland, especially in bigger cities, it is, however, important to also always have some cash on you.
Smaller centers, B&B and local attractions may not be equipped with credit card machines or may have an inconsistent connection and back up is wise to have (just recently, we were unable to pay accommodation by card in Kilkenny!).
ATMs and bank machines are common and big international payment systems such as Cirrus, EC, Visa etc are usually available so withdrawing cash is usually not a problem.
Do check with your bank before leaving what type of transaction is the most convenient to you and what card has the lowest international charges.
Before leaving home, inform your bank of your travel plans. A transaction from an unusual location may trigger a warning and lead them to block your card. This can be a real pain and something you don’t want to have to deal with on your vacation, especially if the time difference with home is significant.
Sim cards and wi-fi
International phone calls and roaming can be very expensive and the best way to avoid them is usually to get a local sim card for the duration of your trip.
A good network is 3 Ireland: they offer pre-paid cards with a reasonable amount of data and they have decent coverage in most of the country (do expect areas with no coverage if going to remote locations or the mountains).
You can buy Sim cards at Dublin airport and in the city center.
Wi-fi is usually available in airports, bigger hotels and some cafe / restaurants, usually free of charge. It is inconsisten in public locations however so a data plan is good to have.
The best time to come to Ireland: seasons and weather patterns
Ireland is beautiful in all seasons but your experience will be significantly different depending on the time of the year of your visit.
The best time to visit Ireland is the summer (June to September). This is the time when you get long hours of daylight, reasonably dry weather and the brightest days.
Summer is also the time when Ireland is busiest with tourism. If traveling at this time, advance booking of accommodation, in particular, is paramount.
Ireland in winter is wet and cold and overall, a pretty miserable place to be. The days are short and, with the exception of the Christmas weeks when lights and cheer feel the air, sightseeing at this time is not great.
The best places to be in Ireland in the winter are Ireland’s biggest cities: Dublin, Kilkenny, Galway and Cork are lovely at Christmas.
Spring is glorious in Ireland. May in particular often sees mild temperatures and bright days: this is a perfect time for outdoor pursuits and to enjoy Ireland’s beautiful coastline.
Autumn in Ireland is a beautiful time of the year. Temperatures start to fall but the beautiful foliage and the last bright days of the season make it surprisingly beautiful.
Important traditions and festivities
The most important festivities to be aware of when planning a trip to Ireland are:
- 1 January: new year’s day
- 17 March: St Patrick’s Day (National Holiday).
- End of March / April: Easter
- 31 October: Halloween
- 25 December: Christmas day
- 26 December: St Stephen’s day
Ireland also has some ‘bank holiday weekends’, These are not public holidays but are a day off for most people and services.
This is significant for visitors as crowds peak at this time and so do accommodation prices.
Bank holidays in Ireland for 2020 are planned as follows:
- Friday 10th April 2020 – Good Friday
- Monday 13th April 2020 – Easter Monday
- Monday May 4th – May Day
- Monday June 1st 2020
- Monday August 3rd 2020
- Monday October 26th 2020
- Monday 28th December 2020 Tuesday 29th December 2020
Arriving in Ireland: airports and ports
Ireland has several international airports and ferry ports.
Dublin and Shannon airports are the most convenient and they are both a good starting point for visiting the country.
If you are planning on visiting the West only, Shannon is the most convenient choice.
Dublin has a very good airport with quick connections to the country’s motorway network as well as easy connections to the city center (for hotels and train connections).
Car rental desks are available in both airports. Taxis and buses to several destinations are available outside the arrival terminals.
Dublin port and Rosslare are the biggest ports for visitors and are convenient if you are traveling to Ireland from Europe or the UK by car.
If coming from Europe in your own car, please do be careful as in Ireland we drive on the left and you may find our steering wheel on the wrong side of the car!
The best way to travel around Ireland
The best and easiest way to travel around Ireland is by car.
This gives you maximum flexibility and also allows you to explore the Irish countryside at best. The providers we trust are Avis and Hertz.
Driving in Ireland, especially in the West, requires caution since the roads are narrow and visibility often scarce.
As a non Irish driver, I still notice what makes Ireland different from almost anywhere else. These are my impressions and tips for driving in Ireland based on my own experience.
Automatic cars are not the norm in Ireland (although this is changes): make sure you ask explicitly for one when renting, should this be important to you.
Ireland has a reasonable bus network that serves most of the country. The National bus service is Bus Eireann and several private companies offer bus tours (one day or multi-day)
The Irish train system is not great and only connects a limited number of cities. The official train network website is Irish Rail
What to see in Ireland
I find it very hard to summarize what to see in Ireland: there is just too much to choose from!
So, rather than a list of things to see, I will give you an overview of the types of things you can do in Ireland.
Ireland is famous for windswept cliffs plunging into the Ocean and indeed, they are a breathtaking sight.
The most famous of all are the Cliffs of Moher but they are far from the only ones. The Slieve League cliffs in Donegal are even taller (and much more beautiful if you ask me) and the cliffs of the Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland, are also not to be missed.
The best place in Ireland for beautiful cliffs is the West Coast, on the Atlantic.
Castles abound in Ireland and come in many shapes and sizes. Some are proper, turreted affairs (Kilkenny castle is a great example), some are atmospheric ruins (Blarney castle) and some are now plush hotels!
You can find our guide to the most beautiful castles in Ireland here.
You may not think of Ireland as a beach type of place but Irish beaches are stunning.
Wexford, Cork and Donegal have vast, golden beaches with super soft sand and pristine waters.
They are cold, so you will find yourself walking on the beach more than swimming (although locals do swim here) but in places like Ballymastocker, you will be forgiven for thinking you are in Australia rather than in Ireland, the beach is that bast and that beautiful!
Ireland has some really nice cities that make perfect overnight stops during an Ireland road trip.
Dublin is the biggest and has much to offer: a historic city center, beautiful museums, parks, shops, restaurants, children’s attractions and more.
I recommend you spend at least 2 days here and follow our Dublin weekend itinerary to see the best of the city.
Cork is another lovely city, with a historic town center and lively nightlife. This is a great base for local excursions too and well worth a stop.
Kilkenny is the heart of medieval Ireland and has a surprisingly pleasant nightlife. It is worth planning one night in Kilkenny to see the sights during the day (St Canice’s cathedral is amazing) and make the most of Kilkenny’s restaurants and bars in the evening.
Galway is a university town with a lovely atmosphere. Go here to visit the city center and enjoy live music in one of its many pubs. Galway is also a great base to explore the nearby Cliffs of Moher, Connemara and the Aran Islands.
Ireland has many historic sites, of different kinds.
Newgrange passage tomb is the most ancient, dating back to Neolithic times: booking is compulsory and tours usually include a visit to the Boyne Valley nearby (worth it).
Some of the most atmospheric sites in Ireland date back to monastic time. Both Glendalough and Clonmacnoise are worth a stop
More recent history is a huge part of Irish culture and worth discovering: a visit to the Cobh museum of Emigration or Epic Ireland in Dublin are a good place to start along with Dublin castle, Derry and Belfast.
I have designed several itineraries that you can use a baseline to design your won (or follow as they are!)
- Itinerary for a long weekend in Ireland
- 4 days in Ireland itinerary
- 7 days in Ireland itinerary
- If you are not sure how long you need to see what you want, you can also have a look at our overview of what you can see in Ireland in 1-2 weeks
Where to stay in Ireland
In Ireland, you can choose between several types of accommodation options.
Hotels – Iris hotels come in all shapes and sizes. My favorite booking system for hotel rooms is booking.com
B&Bs – bed and breakfasts are the most traditional type of tourist accommodation in Ireland and they are a lovely option. You are hosted in an Irish home and usually, you have lovely homemade breakfast in the morning. I usually book them via booking.com
Castles – staying in a castle is a popular option for many, usually for a one night treat. Some castles are actual castles while other castle hotels are more like manor homes. Have a look at our favorite Irish castle hotels here
Self-catering cottages – self-catering cottages are a good option in Ireland if you want to have one home base for a few days. I usually book them via booking.com
Ireland traditional food
Ireland’s traditional food is earthy and warming. If you go for traditional Irish fare, you will encounter:
Full Irish breakfast: this is usually made of fried eggs, sausages, rashers (bacon strips), baked beans, black and white pudding and tomatoes. It is usually served with tea or coffee and toast.
Irish stew: a meat-based stew with carrots and potatoes (great in the winter)
Meat, potatoes and veg, the most typical Irish dinner you can get, a staple in Irish homes too
Salmon: Ireland has lovely salmon usually served with potatoes and greens.
While these are the most common food you will encounter, Ireland has now embraced a true foodie revolution and in big cities especially you have pretty much any type of food you can ask for including pizza, Asian etc.
Vegetarian and vegan options exist but they are not the norm. The country is a huge producer of beef and dairy so if you don’t eat either, you may find your options a little more limited (shops do stock alternatives).
What to pack for Ireland
What to pack for Ireland depends on the season but, in general, you need layers that you can put on or take off depending on the weather: on any given day, the weather can go from super sunny to awfully wet so flexibility is paramount!
I have made a packing list for Ireland season by season for your convenience.
Ireland with kids: resources
All my tips above apply to all types of traveler, but if you are planning a trip to Ireland with kids I have some extra resources for you.
My guide to Dublin with kids is here
My tips for visiting the Cliffs of Moher with children are here
An overview of my favorite things to do in Ireland with kids is here (more than 40 of them, quite a selection!)
If going to the Wicklow area, my family guide to Wicklow is here
I hope you found my tips for planning a trip to Ireland useful.