How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Ireland

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So you’re going to Ireland, right? If not, please take my advice: start planning now. Because Ireland is absolutely my favorite country to visit in the world. Everything you’ve heard about the rolling green hills and the breathtaking countryside is true. Ireland will sweep you off your feet, guaranteed.

But what’s the best way to make the most of your visit to this gorgeous country?

There are quite a few ways you can experience the land of luck, and I think the most common would probably be by rental car. All the blog posts and google searches will tell you that the easiest way to see the natural beauty of Ireland is to drive along the Wild Atlantic Way–and I will admit, the coastline is magnificent. But there are quite a few problems that will arise when you rent a car and plan your trip around pitstops on the road.

The biggest difficulty you’ll run into is the adjustment to Irish traffic. Of course you’ll have to learn all the roadsigns and get used to minor changes, but what I’m mostly talking about is the incredibly narrow roads. Everyone parks on the side of the streets, and the roads wind up and down hills; not to mention the fact that every now and then you’ll have to pass a tour bus that quite frankly just doesn’t fit in its own lane. I’ll never forget my grandfather telling me the story of how he accidentally took off the side mirror of a parked car while driving his rental along the Wild Atlantic Way. Driving was by far the most stressful part of his trip, and for good reason.

But how can you avoid driving without missing out on the highlights? It’s easy, really: take public transportation. If you pick the right routes, you can even see a good bit of the Wild Atlantic Way from the safety of an Irish bus. The only downside of committing to not renting a car on your trip is that you have to plan ahead of time where you want to go and how you want to get there. It may seem like a daunting route to form, especially because Ireland’s train and bus systems aren’t always accessible in the more remote destinations, but it’s worth it. Instead of driving, the most stressful part of your trip will actually be the planning you did ahead of time, so while you’re in Ireland you’ll be worry-free.

Okay, so how should you go about planning such a route?

First, figure out your must-sees. Maybe it’s the Cliffs of Moher (it should be) or the Blarney Stone or Killarney National Park. Map them out. Set them in stone. And don’t fret too much; even if your trip is short, there’s plenty you’ll be able to do and see.

After you’ve done that, plan out your home bases. These are the cities in Ireland that serve as hubs for public transportation or starting points for bus tours. The main ones that come to mind are Dublin, Galway, Cork, Belfast, Killarney, and Limerick, which are great because they’re all in different parts of the country. Pick your home bases according to their geographical proximity to your must-see spots. Be sure to check out local bus tours that operate out of these cities, especially Dublin in Galway.

And finally, after you’ve singled out your must-sees and home bases, connect the dots. Figure out how to get from point A to point B. What’s the best route for you? Will you fly into Dublin, take a trip to Cork and back, hop on a bus to Galway, and from there take the bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara? Or maybe you’ll stay in Galway for a while and base everything from that location. Whatever you do, just figure out all the details before your big trip. That way, when you finally get to experience the wonders of Ireland, you’ll do it without the stress of driving.

For more information about bus tours based out of the home bases I mentioned, check here (there are other companies too, though–this site just gives you some helpful ideas for excursions). If you want to see the blog I created on my very first trip to Ireland, filled with musings about its beauty and thoughts on my favorite places, read here.

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