If you’re seeking a respite from our hectic world, consider exploring Ireland, one the culturally richest places in the world.
From the bustling, vibrant cities to the huge areas of tranquil countryside dotted by small villages, the Irish are joyfully proud of their music, food and heritage.
By Stephen Batjiaka
For over 15 years I have had the good fortune of working for two different Irish tour operators. This has afforded me the opportunity to travel to Ireland and Northern Ireland each year to experience new itineraries, hotels and modes of travel.
Being based in New England, I can see that 2017 is shaping up to be one of the best years in some time to travel to Ireland. This is mostly because of the new non-stop service from Bradley International Airport to Dublin, run by Aer Lingus. This daily service will compliment existing service from Logan International Airport in Boston, Mass.
There are many ways to put an Ireland vacation together. The two most popular itineraries are to fly into Dublin and take a southern route down to Killarney, then up to Galway on the west coast and back to Dublin. The other would be starting in Dublin and taking a northern route up to Belfast in Northern Ireland and then following the coastline northwest across to Donegal, down to Sligo and wrapping up in Dublin.
The southern route is the most popular with American tourists. Dublin is a charming small city, and quite walkable. There is no need to rent a car until you are ready to head south. Dublin has many great hotel options, including the Brooks Hotel — a four-star hotel located in walking distance of St. Patrick’s Cathedral — or the O’Callaghan Davenport Hotel, another four-star accomodation interestingly situated in a 17th-century prayer hall. Both are moderately priced and situated city center, near all the shopping, pubs and restaurants. If you are looking for something more upscale, the Westbury and Merrion Hotels are two swanky, five-star options.
The restaurants and pubs in Dublin are bustling and often feature live folk music.
After a few days of taking in the city sights, rent a car and take a southwest route down to Killarney. All of the major car rental companies have locations throughout Dublin, along with the popular Irish company, Dan Dooley’s. Dan Dooley’s also provides helpful and detailed driving itineraries by city and region.
Some of the nicest towns to take in along the coast would be Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford and Kinsale. I recently had a memorable lunch of mussels and a pint Guinness at small pub in Wexford. You will find the locals to be friendly and helpful along the way. Once you get down into the Killarney area you can stay several nights and make day trips from your home base. Two recommended hotels in Killarney city center would be the Malton (which offers modern luxury in a 160-year-old Victorian retreat with six acres of private gardens) and the Killarney Park Hotel, located on the fringes of Killarney National Park. As home to Ireland’s highest mountains, its largest tract of ancient oak forests, and its most famous lakes, the Park is 25,000 acres of magic and unspoiled splendor. If you prefer to be just outside of town near Killarney National Park, the Muckross Park hotel is a beautiful property with great views of the park. From Killarney, there are two fantastic day trips to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula where you will wind along coastal roads with stunning photo opportunities. There are many small fishing villages where you can share a pint with the locals and enjoy a hearty meal. After several days in the Killarney area, you can head north up to Galway, with some picturesque stops in the towns of Tralee and Ennis along the way.
Take the route through the “Burren” with its century old farms and peat bogs.
Once in Galway, you can stay at the popular Hotel Meyrick or the more upscale G Hotel. Galway is Ireland’s third largest city, which is known for its night life. From this west coast city you can explore the Connemara coastline by day and go pubbing and clubbing by night. To complete the southern loop you will travel east from Galway to Dublin for your return flight to the U.S. A final night stay in Dublin is recommended. This itinerary is best when set up with a total 7 or 8 days, to be sure your pace is not too hurried.
For those who are looking for the road less traveled, I would suggest traveling north to Belfast, after your first couple of days in Dublin. Remember that Northern Ireland is a separate country from the Republic of Ireland in the south. It is part of Great Britain and uses the pound sterling for currency, where as the Euro is used in the Republic. Belfast is a working class city with a rich history - from the Titanic museum to the political murals of the “Troubles” conflict. The Europa hotel downtown is recommended for good value and convenient location.
From Belfast you can hug the unspoiled coastline north, where a visit to the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim is a must-see. This is a beach made up of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, resulting from a volcanic eruption. During my last visit here, I was able to see pilot whales and dolphins from where I was standing on the beach.
Traveling Southwest along the coast you want to make your way to the town Donegal. There are some memorable stays here, such as the Lough Eske Castle or my favorite, Harvey’s Point, which is a family owned property set on the banks of Lough Eske. In this area you can hike trails, go fishing, golf some of the areas courses or just take in the scenery. Northern Ireland will appeal to those who enjoy nature, breathtaking coastlines and towns that I imagine would be similar to those in New England many generations ago.
Once again it is recommended to stay a night back in Dublin after your drive south east from Donegal. Dublin airport is very efficient and travelers go through customs and immigration there, so when arrive back in the states, you simply pick up your luggage and leave the airport.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Location: Ireland, Northern Ireland
U.S. Passport required? Yes (valid for 6 months beyond trip dates with 2 full blank pages)
Entry visa required? No
Currency: Republic of Ireland - Euro; Northern Ireland - Pound Sterling
High Season: April - October
Low Season: November - March
Official Languages: English and Gaelic (Irish)
Average cost for one week stay (air/car/accommodations) $1500 - $2500 per person
How to book your custom Ireland vacation: Contact a travel specialist at Klingerman Travel, 301 Flanders Road, East Lyme; 860-739-0043; www.klingermantravel.com