Planning a Trip to Ireland? I’ve Made All the Touristy Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

I bet you’re thinking Hasn’t Jamie already written a series of posts on planning a trip to Ireland? Well, yes, I have.*

But that was nearly four years ago. I’ve written more since then. So I’ve collected and categorized and linked every other article about traveling in Ireland right here. One stop. Not the travelogues; you’re on your own there. 🙂

That said, everything in that initial series is still valid and important, so you should still start with them:

Travel Daydreams (The best part is the planning.)

Getting the Backstory (Read about it!)

More Backstory. With Accents. (Or watch some movies.)

DIY Vacation (That is, no tour buses for me.)

Narrowing It Down (Plan a trip for your interests.)

Some Sightseeing Ideas (Don’t miss!)

“Official” Tourism (Get help here!)

Eating, Drinking … and Music (Ya gotta do it.)

Let’s Go Shopping (Oh, yes, let’s do!)

Finding the Magic (My favorite chapter.)

Last Thoughts (Lots of little tips, collected.)

But as noted, I’ve written other articles that drill down a little more (driving on the left side, for example), or answer questions you may not have known you had (where or how to get distilled water, for example). There are tips and things I learned sprinkled throughout the stories of my trips, too (the travelogues), but you probably don’t have time to read all that—so I’ve mentioned the most salient points herein. I’ve added a few bits of wisdom too.

And in the last few weeks, three friends have asked me about planning their trips to Ireland … so it’s time to pull it all together.

Planning Your Trip

Let’s start here: when to go, when not to go. You’ve probably heard that it rains a lot in Ireland, and you’re probably concerned. But don’t be. Pack a little rain hat (or buy one after you get there), and go. No, the number of tourists concern me more than the number of raindrops! So I like to go during the “off” season.

In Ireland tourist season starts in April and runs through August. This means a lot more tour buses on the road, longer lines, and so on. Also consider that once it begins to warm up outside, some older historic hotels might be a little stuffy inside, because they don’t have air conditioning. Mind, summer temps in Ireland will probably only reach mid to high 70s (Farenheit)—and outside that’s pleasant—but an un–air-conditioned hotel might feel hot to a Yank accustomed to a/c everything. So it’s something to consider. And check on.

My favorite months? September and October. Tourism has dropped off and the weather is spectacular.

I haven’t been paying much attention to news on visas and passports, but it would be wise for you to look into that a few months before your planned departure. Check with your airlines about baggage weight and carryons too (for example, you may not be able to carry a laptop onto an international flight these days).

There are other items to consider. For example, if I’m asked, I always say Everything takes longer than you think. Getting from Point A to Point B takes longer than you think. The line to get in takes longer than you think. The meal takes longer than you think. My advice is to slow down and don’t cram your schedule. The corollary to this is, Do you want to spend your precious vacation time driving—or doing? There’s so much to see! I get that. But if you’ve only got a week, I would recommend you pick a region and stay in it, rather driving 200 miles one way to see one sight. There are beautiful sea views, old mansions, ancient stone circles and sacred sites, and unusual geography everywhere in Ireland. Trust me. And often the less well-known sites are better.

However—and this is important—your trip is your trip. You may like driving more than I do. You may walk faster than me. Your trip is your trip—plan the one that you want to take.

Getting There and Back

No discussion of purchasing flights here. I’m talking about the actual slog of moving across multiple time zones. It’s hard on a body, y’all.

Many flights from the States are overnighters—arriving in Dublin the next morning, particularly if you fly through Chicago, Boston, New York, Newark, or Washington DC. So plan some low-impact activities—a massage, say, or a walk on the beach or around the neighborhood where your hotel is situated—so you can ease into your new time zone when you land. Here are lots more tips about dealing with jet-lag. If you’re visiting for a special reason—maybe you’re attending a wedding?—arrive a few days early so you can slough off jet-lag and fully enjoy the event. A day-of-arrival massage, I’ve found, is a must for me; Gerry has a cat-nap while I’m gone.

Americans flying home from Dublin for the first time may be surprised to discover that they pass through customs in Dublinbefore they ever get on the plane. This is so convenient, as we were recently reminded when my husband returned home from Dublin through London. When he arrived in Chicago, he had to—

  • get off the plane and collect his luggage
  • pass through US Customs
  • change terminals and go though security again
  • check in his baggage again

—which means one needs a lengthy layover, something the airlines seem to ignore. If there’s even a short delay (and when is that ever the case?), you could miss your connection.

Of course, Customs in Dublin adds to the time you need to allow in the airport on departure day. We like a relaxed, stress-free departure day, and here are some tips for that: Winding Down, At Last. Hint: turn in the car the day before you leave.

Getting Around While You’re There

Speaking of driving, Let’s Talk About Driving on the Wrong Side. This is the question I get asked more than any other. Is it hard? Is it scary? When I answer this question, I say: No, it’s not hard at all—because everyone else is driving on the left too.

There are other ways to get around if you prefer not to drive: bus, cab, hired car, Uber, train, DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), LUAS (tram/light rail). This link gives you bus, cab, and car options, with approximate costs. Look here for information on DART and Irish Rail options; here for LUAS.

I may have discussed this elsewhere—in fact I’m sure I have—but you can bring your portable GPS from home more cheaply than what you’ll pay to have one in your rental car, even after you purchase the map chip for Ireland and the UK. (Be aware that the GPS tends to choose direct routes, which in Ireland might mean an unpaved one-lane. You’ve been warned.) I know you all have smart phones now, but sometimes reception is slow or nonexistent. If you like a little adventure, great! If you don’t, plan on a backup: whip into a gas station or bookstore and pick up a detailed map book. There are planty of opportunities to be lost in Ireland; you’ll be glad you’ve got all the bases covered.

Here’s another option: private tours. I wouldn’t pay for a place I could easily get to and easily circumnavigate. But as I said in this post, Gerry and I tried to guide ourselves through Howth, in a car (with stops), and didn’t see much, so I have to say I think a tour guide would be a good investment. The links in this article are specifically about Howth, but these guides offer many other tours. (Here’s another corporate tour outfit based in Dublin.)

A Brief Aside About Lodging

A quick reminder that while B&Bs are often expensive in the US, they can be a relatively affordable alternative to a hotel in Ireland. And don’t forget Airbnb, which really opens up the opportunity to stay in a home—especially in a city like Dublin. We’ve stayed in B&Bs and hotels, and of the latter we’ve stayed in high end and (ahem) low end. During our 3-week honeymoon trip we experienced the entire range, and at the end of that trip I wrote up a Hotel Comparison, which may be of interest.

Quick Power Tips

What is VAT?

Tax—and as a non-EU resident, you can get a VAT refund on some goods. In fact, with the electronic system in place since 2012, you are never charged VAT at all, but are issued a card (by any retailer on the system), which is scanned every time you make a purchase. You register the card online at some point during your trip. However, you still must “check out” of the country, by visiting the Horizon electronic kiosk at the airport or from your own computer when you get home. If you fail to report the purchases added to the card within the specified period, all the VAT you avoided will suddenly appear on your credit card bill. Ooops!

Should I pay in euros or dollars?

You may be offered this option when paying with a card. Choose euros.

How do I keep everything charged up on a long trip?

First, purchase an electric plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports, because what’s provided is never enough. I’ve also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share. And I have a good-sized zipper bag that all cords, chargers, and adaptors live in; when I’m packing, I grab and go.

I travel with a CPAP and have trouble finding distilled water in Ireland.

Me too. Bottom line? Things are just different, especially with retail. Where you buy certain things. Where you can’t buy things that are easily available in the US. Like distilled water. 89 cents a gallon in the US; 17 euro for a half gallon. Here’s help.

Why does my hair look like crap?

Because the water’s hard. Here’s what to do about it. You’ll never have a bad hair day again. 🙂

I may have over-shopped. Help?

Many retailers in Ireland are well equipped to ship your stuff home for you. Take advantage of it. Don’t carry something around your whole trip or, worse, forego it because you don’t have room in your luggage.

Doing the Special Things

Forget the touristy stuff; you don’t need it! And you really don’t need to kiss the Blarney Stone (ick). Incline your thoughts this way instead: Ireland has a long and proud (and occasionally tragic) history, as I’ve noted before. I cannot stress enough that it will enhance your experience to have a basic awareness of Irish history. Even if you just read Wikipedia. Even if history really isn’t your thing.

Culture is important too. Here are some miscellaneous articles about the “Irish way.” If you want to drill down, check the book list here.

That said, your trip is your trip! So plan to do the things that are meaningful and special to you, whatever they are. Love a junk shop? Afternoon tea? Indulge! Look for the magic. Here are three more miscellaneous articles that might be of interest.

Are you bookish? Ireland is famous for its writers, and if you love books, it’s a great place to soak up the literary culture (and to buy books—there’s a bookstore in every town). Here are some posts that might be of interest.

And that’s it, friends! Hope this planning page has been helpful. I’ll update it as I write more.

(*You have been able to access the first post by clicking Start Here in the menu above and then looking for “How to Plan Your Trip to Ireland.” And you still can. This page will be the Start Here link from now on.)



Air Travelers: Volcano Warning (Again)

My husband used to be just a visitor here in Middle Tennessee, which was the case in April 2010, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland’s East Volcanic Zone—just one day before he was due to return to home and work in Ireland. Air traffic was suspended (from 15 to 23 April) and millions of air travelers were stranded across the world, including Gerry (although he wasn’t forced to sleep on a couch in the airport). It was actually two weeks before he was able to get a flight back across the Atlantic.

We weren’t paying attention to volcanoes back then—and I suspect a lot of folks weren’t. But I’ve just read this blurb in Time: “A volcano in Icelend nicknamed the Gateway to Hell [Icelandic name: Hekla] is poised to erupt ‘at any moment,’ according to a University of Iceland vulcanologist.”

Hekla volcano in 2006 (photo from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons license).

Hekla volcano in 2006 (photo from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons license).

So you are warned. The Telegraph reports:

News that Hekla in south Iceland is “ready to go” will trouble British holidaymakers who recall the widespread travel disruption caused across Europe in 2010 by clouds of ash spewed into the air by another Icelandic monster, Eyjafjallajökull. More than 100,000 flights were cancelled over six days, stranding 10 million people and costing £1.15 billion in lost revenue.

“Hekla is a dangerous volcano,” said Professor Páll Einarsson at the University of Iceland. “We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful. … There are also 20–30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day. This is a risky moment which we need to take seriously.”

There’s been no official warning from Iceland (or the airline industry), but Einarsson notes that Hekla generally erupts every ten years or so, but has been silent for sixteen years now. The Telegraph reports that he “also says that readings show the volcano is accumulating magma and the pressure inside is higher than it has been before previous eruptions.”

I’m not a worrywort, particularly, as you know, but keep it in mind if you’re planning a date-specific trip to Europe.

Traveling Solo (An Introduction to a Wonderful Blog)

I seriously love this piece. It’s called “Why I Travel Alone.” The writing is lovely.

Venice. It’s early on a gray December morning. I’m standing alone on a long pier that stretches out into the lagoon. It’s pouring rain and under my umbrella, I’ve rolled my suitcase as close to me as possible on the narrow floating walkway.

Yesterday I booked the St. Marco waterbus to the airport with a departure early enough to catch my morning flight back to New York with time to spare. It’s now 7:30 a.m. What I didn’t know is that Venice is a town where unless you are in produce or fish, you’re not out before 9. The ticket booths are shuttered, no other travelers are in sight and the only signs I can read point me… here. I’m standing in the middle of the whitecapped sea, in the rain, rocking on the end of a long, lonely pier, not really certain if my precarious spot is the right precarious spot to get to the airport.

Why did I take this trip alone? Why didn’t I spend for the private water taxi? Why did I wear these shoes?

It goes on, and I urge you to spend some time at this blog, called Solo-Travel. It’s fantastic.

I have several single girlfriends. Some of them organize trips with friends or family. Some don’t. One of them said to me just last week, “If I wait for someone to go with, I’ll never go.” This was in the context of her having just returned from a trip to Phoenix, a place she’d never been and wanted to see. And so she did. Alone.

When I was single myself (a single mom), I didn’t have the funds to travel much. But I have had the luxury, during various trips to Ireland in the last decade, of finding myself alone in the car with an afternoon to spend on my own while Gerry hunkered down somewhere with a soccer game on the television.* I hadn’t thought much about it until I discovered Solo-Travel, but it is different. Empowering. Fulfilling. Mind and heart expanding.

I met the author of Solo-Travel through my work … but we bonded over our mutual love of exploring countries not our own. And we are absolutely on the same wavelength about travel, which she says is “soul-shifting, and sometimes mystical.” It’s a similar description to what I call “finding the magic.” We all need a little magic in our lives, IMHO.

I think you’ll find this blog special, so here’s your introduction. Enjoy!

* (Of course, the getting there and back was always done solo.)


Irish Whiskey

On our recent honeymoon trip I sat in a cozy hotel bar in Co. Donegal, trying to decide what I’d like to drink. Whiskey (duh), and there was a dazzling amount of choice. But they were featuring in their drinks menu Greenore Single Grain, a small-batch artisanal whiskey to which Gerry had exposed me a couple years earlier, so I ordered that.

This is the waitress coming to tell me they are out of Greenore. (sigh)

This is the waitress coming to tell me they are out of Greenore. (sigh)

Well, I didn’t have Greenore, but if you get the opportunity (and yes, you can get it in the States), you should. My point, though, is there are many choices. I’ve enjoyed Kilbeggan (blended), Conemarra (peated, single malt), Tyrconnell (single malt), and my old standby, Jameson (blended), in addition to Greenore, my current fave.

So when Gerry sent me this article—The great Irish whiskey bubble—this morning, I was intrigued. “There are 28 new Irish whiskey distilleries either proposed are already underway,” it says.


It’s an interesting article, primarily (for me) for the background:

Ireland’s trademark is pot still whiskey, made from a mixed mash containing both malted and unmalted barley, because historically the government levied higher taxes on malted whiskeys than on unmalted. It is traditionally distilled three times, whereas Scotch whisky is only distilled twice. … At each stage of distillation, the output from the first and last hour are discarded because the best tasting product happens midway through the process.

I ended up drinking Jameson that afternoon as the sun went down beyond the rose garden. Cheers!

• • •

And yes, we’re back, and I’m digging out from the pile of mail and work and laundry that always follows a vacation. I’ll start writing up the posts very soon, so stick around—we had a great time. I’ll be back!


The Best Vacation Ever?

By now you know that getting out of your normal routine, taking a break from work, sleeping in—going on a vacation, in other words—is good for you. It’s good for you emotionally and physically. So when a friend of mine drew my attention to this article (“The Scientifically Proven Way to have the Best Vacation Ever”), I was all over it.

Now, I don’t know about the scientifically proven part. But there are nine really good suggestions here. Some may surprise you:


Some people believe happiness comes from doing no work on vacation. I am not one of those people. The key is how much control you have of the situation. If you’re taking calls because your boss is making you, that’s going to be a source of resentment. But if you work for yourself or otherwise have autonomy in your schedule, and you want to do half an hour of work each morning before the rest of your family wakes up, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just get it done, and then stay out of your inbox again until the next morning. I also find that vacations are great for thinking about big-picture career questions. I think about what projects would be good for me to tackle in the future, and return home with ideas to implement.

As you know, I always take work with me on vacation. Most of my publishers and authors don’t even know I’m gone, because I answer email every day. But I also have a manuscript to read and make notes on, for those in-between moments. When it’s time to go sightsee, I go without a backward glance.

There’s lots of good advice and information here. And you know I particularly like the last one: construct your story. That’s why I write the travelogues—I get to live the vacation all over again!

Poppies—taken on my most recent vacation, in front of the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland.

Poppies—taken on my most recent vacation, in front of the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland.

A Proper Vacation!

Saturday, 20 June 2015
I work a lot. I’m an early riser. I don’t take naps, as a general rule, because I have so much to get done. And even when I’m on vacation, I don’t slow down much. I’m a doer, it seems. (My father was the same way.)

We’d been “doing” quite a bit already, since my arrival on Thursday morning. But it finally caught up with me: after I lay down last night, I didn’t move (in spite of the rock-hard mattress) until 6am. Got up, visited, the loo, and drifted right back to sleep.

In other words, we had a proper lie-in! (Although we did go down to breakfast a little earlier than yesterday: eight o’clock rather than nine.) Gerry hadn’t slept at all during the night, so when we came back, he lay back down and tried to sleep while I worked. (Yes, I had a manuscript with me.) But it was just stuffy enough in the room that I got sleepy, unbearably so, and couldn’t keep my eyes open. So I lay down and we both slept.

Now that’s a vacation! Sleep!

One of my goals for this visit was to do the sort of things I do at home—meet up with friends for lunch, for example. So I’d planned some things like that. Today we were meeting Gerry’s niece, Orla, and her gentleman friend, Conor, for late lunch, 3pm, at Farm, about five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

So we set off up Leeson Street.

These city townhouses don’t have much in the way of a “front yard”—but they certainly make a lot of what space they do have.

These city townhouses don’t have much in the way of a “front yard”—but they certainly make a lot of what space they do have.

One way to do that is to make an inviting front door—and you know that’s a thing with me. I was going nuts photographing lovely front doors.

How often do you see a pink door, really? And yet here are two of them!

How often do you see a pink door, really? And yet here are two of them!

The doors of Dublin are hard for me to resist. I love this yellow.

The doors of Dublin are hard for me to resist. I love this yellow.

People in Dublin aren’t afraid of a little color!

People in Dublin aren’t afraid of a little color!

Another irresistible Dublin door.

Another irresistible Dublin door.

For two days, now, we’d been looking at the spire of a church one street over from ours. And finally we were going to walk by it.

At last the church and its spire came into view.

At last the church and its spire came into view.

As I was researching this particular church building—the sign out front proclaims CHRIST CHURCH • LEESON PARK—I learned several interesting things. I’d never heard the phrase Anglo-Catholic, for example. It refers to certain congregations of the [Anglican] Church of Ireland (which arose, of course, when Henry VIII of England broke with the pope in Rome in the 1500s). Wikipedia says:

The Church of Ireland is a Christian church in Ireland and an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The church is organised on an all-Ireland basis and is the second-largest Christian denomination on the island after Roman Catholicism. Like other Anglican churches, it has retained elements of pre-Reformation practice, notably its episcopal polity, while rejecting the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Nevertheless, in theological and liturgical matters, it incorporates many principles of the Reformation, in particular the English Reformation. The church identifies as both Catholic and Reformed. Within the church, differences exist between those members who are more Catholic-leaning (high church) and those who are more Protestant-leaning (low church or evangelical). For historical and cultural reasons, the Church of Ireland is generally identified as a Protestant church.

Thus the high church–leaning congregations are often called Anglo-Catholic. Wikipedia further clarifies that:

When the Church of England broke communion with the Holy See, all but two of the bishops of the church in Ireland followed the Church of England, although almost no other clergy did so. The church then became the established church of Ireland, assuming possession of most church property. … [But] In Ireland, the substantial majority of the population continued to adhere to Roman Catholicism, despite the political and economic advantages of membership in the state church.

This was like discovering a missing link for me—and all because I wanted to get a little information about this church on Leeson Street. But there’s actually more—explained again by Wikipedia:

The Church of Ireland experienced major decline during the 20th century, both in Northern Ireland, where around 65% of its members live, and in the Republic of Ireland which contains upwards of 35%. However, the Church of Ireland in the Republic has shown substantial growth in the last two national censuses; its membership is now back to the levels of sixty years ago (albeit with fewer churches as many have been closed).

In fact, the Anglican congregation here at Leeson Park has merged into St. Batholomew’s (on Wellington Road in Ballsbridge), and in 2013 was only offering a Wednesday service. According to the sign out front (I photographed it), the main church offers Sunday services for both the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Methodist Centenary Church.

The trouble with photographing large buildings, of course, is you have to hike away from it in order to take it all in (not always easy in a city). Then you lose details—and those are the very things that interest me. For example, I loved the play of afternoon light on this lime-green tree, and the way it popped against the gray stone, both color and texture.

Tree and stone.

Tree and stone.

The church building is right across the street from the restaurant, and while I was busy zooming in and out, here came Orla and Conor. Gerry had met Conor already, but it was a first for me, and I was delighted to discover he is warm, welcoming, and friendly—I like that in a man—as well as smart, aware of current events and their meaning in the broader scope of the world, and a good conversationalist.

Gerry took this one of Conor, me, and Orla.

Gerry took this one of Conor, me, and Orla.

After our leisurely lunch, Gerry and I walked back to the hotel so I could work a little.

It had also become apparent that I was having a foot problem—swelling ankles and feet, with lots of pain. I’d had a similar reaction when I was here in May 2013; it lasted for most of the trip. Frankly, it was beginning to worry me: foot pain can suck the joy right out of a vacation. So … research. And as it turns out, it’s the flying that’s bringing it on, though age, with its attendant problems of lack of muscle tone and slowly falling arches, doesn’t help. (I know all this now, though not soon enough. I’ve got some exercises I’m working on.) My in-the-moment solution was to look for a massage therapist in the Portmarnock area, where we’d be headed on Monday. But first, we had a very easy Sunday in store. 🙂


I’m Tripping!

That’s it, I’m off … so it’ll be hit or miss here for the next three weeks or so. Here’s what’s on the agenda:

Dublin City
We’ll be here the first five nights, sans car. Getting together for brunches and lunches and dinners with friends and family. In between, I have a few things I’d like to do and see (too much to mention here, but you’ll get a full report later), a few books I’d like to buy (and some more of my Moulton Brown hair product, oh yeah). I like Dublin, and I plan to enjoy this.

Portmarnock/Malahide, Co. Dublin
We’ll be three nights here, and we’ll have a car. We plan to finalize things with the hotel for our party later this year, including sampling and finalizing the menu. I want to check out their afternoon tea service (see how it stacks up to afternoon tea at the Shelbourne) and their spa services. I want to drive around the area and see if there’s anything to add to the sample itineraries I’ve created for our guests who will come from America for the party; for many of them, it will be a first trip to Ireland. Also I want to walk on the beach.

A Wedding!
The real reason I’m here is the first of the nieces is getting married (here).

Save the Date

We’ll move into the wedding hotel in Dublin for one night, then to an airport hotel for the next night, and I’ll fly away home. Possibly the last time I will fly home from Dublin alone. Fingers crossed. 🙂