Ireland: Recommendations & Advice
June 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
The good, the bad and the ugly all in one place. If you are ever planning on a trip to Ireland start here. If you are just curious to see what I thought start here as well. If you don’t care, well then come back another day!
Tour Company: Sceptre Tours via Groupon
I made none of the arrangements with the company. I gave my Groupon number to my mother and she did everything from there. But I do know they were easy to work with and sent frequent emails/phone calls when something changed in our itinerary (like our flight leaving early, etc). I did not like their documents website though. It would crash frequently and took me many hours to download all the documents and vouchers we would need on the trip. Although I think that was the only drawback to the company.
Hotel: Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, Enniskerry
This hotel is what came with the vacation package we had purchased. We would never have stayed in a place like this on our own. Nor would we have stayed in the same hotel all week. I don’t recommend that at all. It made for a difficult time driving as we always had to be back to sleep in our beds there (no point wasting money on another room across the country when a 2 hour drive would get us back to the hotel). That being said I did love the stay. If I had to do it over again I would stay in Dublin first, no car, then get a car and drive to wherever I was going. And finally end up here the last day or two of the trip, driving straight to the airport to leave afterwards. It would be very relaxing & elegant after a whirlwind vacation.
- The distance to Powerscourt, Glendalough, the Wicklow Mountains could not be beat. All of it was right there so none of it took up a full day. Loved that part of it. Made for amazing views as well. Never got sick of seeing it.
- All of the food severed in all of the restaurants was amazingly good, especially the breakfast buffet. I may have thought the fish and chips takeaway in Belfast was better than that at the hotel but the hotel’s version was still wonderful compared to most fish and chips in the States.
- The entire facility was very posh with luxurious accommodations. The beds were lovely European feather tops with a feather duvet. Everything was thought out in advance including the minibar (which held the only Pepsi I saw in the entire freaking country!) as well the complimentary items.
- Beautiful grounds and rooms. I have never seen a more stunning hotel. And every night I went to the spa – with kid free swim times I might add – I was reminded of how fantastic the place was. Even if you don’t stay here use the spa if you’re in the neighborhood as they allow walk-ins. You will not regret it.
- Free wi-fi throughout the property. Can’t say that about most hotels anywhere, especially in Europe so I hear. And it was a strong signal too. I never had any issues with Facetime for example.
- The marble bathroom. Enough said.
- It was far from everything. An hour to the airport and an hour by DART into Dublin (well 40 minutes from Bray once you get on the train – a 15 minute drive from the hotel). Which means at the end of a long day of sight seeing you can’t just get back to the hotel easily.
- There is transportation available but really you will need to have a rental car. It’s honestly the only way to get around easily.
- Expensive. And everything on site was expensive. Much more than I would ever pay to stay somewhere. I am cheap.
- Food was limited menu-wise unless you eat at Gordon Ramsey. I had tried everything I wanted to try after 3 meals. And the menu in the Pub and Sugar Loaf Lounge is exactly the same.
- The hotel and their people were way too eager and way too happy to help you. We came back one afternoon and were greeted by no less than 5 – FIVE – people at the front asking how our day was. I had no choice but to roll my eyes.
- Very very international and not at all “Irish”. I don’t think I spoke to one person with an Irish accent in the entire joint. Maybe in the pub. I think. I’m not sure. Everyone else was from South Africa or France or Italy.
- They are not “Green” at all. Every day there were new towels and new sheets and duvet cover on the bed. I wasn’t impressed. And if you try to get them to service only part of the room it confused them. On 2 occasions we tried to get only the tea and coffee refilled as we had used it all up. That took like 20 minutes and we had to repeat our request for nothing else 3 times.
Car: Dan Dooley Rentals – Nissan Micra
- Not a bad rental company or vehicle. They had a van that picked us up at the airport terminal and dropped us off at our car. We did pay for the extra insurance charge though. And thank god we did! We lost a hubcap somewhere on the way to the Giant’s Causeway. We also scratched the paint with all the brush and narrow roads. If you go to Ireland just get it. Worth the expense I assure you. And I am not one to get it here in the US.
- We took the car into Northern Ireland with no issue. And we did inquire about taking it to England and/or Wales or Scotland via the ferry but nixed that idea early. We were going to Ireland we were going to see Ireland. I’ll have to figure out a way to talk my husband into visiting England. Especially Leeds…I have a childhood friend who lives there now and I definitely should go see her… Anyway they were cool with us going to England if we had wanted to.
- If you return the car empty they charge you €100. We paid anywhere between €1.30 and €1.60 in Ireland and about £1.30 in Northern Ireland. Basically the €100 was a ripoff. Especially when we tried to find a gas station on the way to the airport. Nothing. Nada. So even though it was basically full at the hotel we were just a bit short on gas by the time we got to the airport. No partial refunds which means we paid the €100. For about 1/4 of a tank. Whatever you can do to get gas before turning the car in do so.
Driving Tips & Routes
Since we stayed in one place for the entire week some of this is skewed. Again I don’t recommend doing that especially if you aren’t used to driving an hour or two to get where you need to be in your everyday life. Since both my mother and I live in places that call for a long bit of driving before getting anywhere we were used to it. But it might drive someone else mad.
- STAY ON THE LEFT!! Our rental car had stickers all over the place, which helped, but just remember this. It was disorienting at first but after 10/15 minutes in the car each day it seemed normal. Honestly. Not hard or difficult nor scary for anyone used to the right side of the road. My mother did say her natural instinct was to pull to the right to get out-of-the-way and she had to remind herself to go left.
- Even if you are scared to drive there just rent a car and do it. We saw so very much that public transportation won’t touch. It wasn’t much different from driving here (the mechanics I mean besides staying on the left) but be careful of Irish drivers! They are AWFUL drivers – never use turning signals, park where they feel like it, go the speed the sign says even if conditions don’t call for it, etc.
- Do not drive in Dublin. I repeat DO NOT DRIVE IN DUBLIN. Don’t even bother with a car and just pick one up when you are leaving Dublin for other areas. Remember the Irish are terrible drivers. Now let’s magnify that with busy crowded city traffic. Just don’t. You will get frustrated and/or hit someone. Besides Dublin is completely walkable. I found it more walkable than even New York. It’s easy and the city center is small.
- I used AA Ireland’s route planner for figuring out times, distances, directions, etc. I won’t go so far as to say it was 100% accurate (nothing ever is) but it worked exactly as well as Google Directions or even AAA here in the States (important because Google Directions did not work well in Ireland). It gave me nearly exact times & directions for getting everywhere except the Cliffs of Moher. It was right until Galway but by the time you get on the narrow, rock & hedge walled road and drive less than a lot of others you lose time. It is definitely time sensitive for locals. I would add at least 15 to 30 minutes to that section from Kinvara to Doolin.
- Yes you can drive to Northern Ireland, hit the Giant’s Causeway by lunch, Belfast by dinner and get back to Dublin in plenty of time. It wasn’t even a long awful day (that would be the Cliffs of Moher). You can bother with the train and/or a guided tour from Dublin if you feel like it but really just rent a car and drive it. We did it in less time than with a guided tour I might add and got to see exactly what we wanted to (if we hadn’t given up in Belfast). Though staying a night in Belfast would be icing on the cake.
- Driving everywhere wasn’t awful. We are used to it and got to see parts of Ireland that we would not have if we stuck to just one part of the country (like seeing bogs for example). But then again I love driving to visit somewhere new. You get to stop at local places, you see the countryside change before your eyes. It is an adventure for me. Don’t be afraid of it.
- You have to pay for parking everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Even the grocery store. Nothing has a dedicated free lot as far as I could tell. Maybe gas stations. And some hotels, but most certainly not all hotels. And the parking machines only take coins so make sure you have enough €1 & €2 coins on you before you park.
Getting Around Dublin
I strongly recommend mTrip not just for Dublin but any city you visit on any trip anywhere.
This is an offline (no wifi, no cell data!) GPS tourist app. The brilliance lies in the fact that it tells you which direction you are pointed in, where to go and gives you directions. Further it gives overviews of places and popular tourist spots along with their hours and any other information you need to visit. This thing saved my butt in Dublin. Best $5 I spent! I fully intend to use it in other cities I visit in the future.
Food & Restaurants
- Gordon Ramsey Powerscourt – only ever had breakfast there but the food was divine! Expensive but divine. I definitely recommend it.
- Avoca Cafe at Powerscourt Estate – awesome food and the best scone I had all week. Expensive though.
- Any place a local is eating at – I grew up in a tourist location (mountains outside Denver) so I know this well. If locals eat there it is because it is good, cheap and worth the effort. No different anywhere else. That is how we found the amazing fish & chips takeaway place in Belfast. The place got super super busy while we were there. Best I have ever had.
- If you want coffee, plain, hot & black, outside the USA you have to order it Americano. Just do it, they will ask you all confused if you don’t. So save yourself some time & effort. And they will ask if you want coffee or tea with everything you order. EVERYTHING. Either get used to it or order it when you are buying.
- Everything is expensive because VAT tax (23%) has been already been added in. So unlike in the USA with taxes on top of everything else the tax is included in the price. That €4 Americano coffee is only €4. And yes that was the going rate for both coffee and tea there with tea being a tad cheaper (around €3 most of the time).
- Tip 10%. I know I know but that is standard. No need to go overboard since wait staff get a living wage unlike in the USA.
- You will have to ask for the check. Just remember that.
- Buy cheap chocolate bars while there to bring back for people! The deserts and candy aren’t as sweet as here so most people in the States just love trying them. And I loved having access to the good chocolate!
Sites Visited & Seen
These are only my opinions and hence the classification for me. That’s also why I didn’t list anyplace I didn’t go. Take it all with a heaping handful of salt water.
- Giant’s Causeway – I have been in love with this place since I was a kid. I am still in love with it. Stunning and amazing. And despite some of the BS reviews on the web it was a shorter drive time than getting to the Cliffs of Moher and it was on major roadways. Totally totally worth it.
- Kilomainham Gaol – what a great way to really get familiar with a very sad part of Irish history. Especially since a lot of it directly related to my very existence and why my family came to the USA.
- The Hop-on Hop-off Red buses – made sight seeing a breeze and the guides were mostly funny!
- The Burren – nothing but a Martian landscape as far as the eye could see. Never seen anything like it anywhere.
- Glendalough – go when the crowds have disappeared at the end of the day. Being there pretty much by yourself made the place come alive magically. So very cool to see.
Sorta Worth It:
- The National Museum of Ireland Archaeology – great artifacts, amazing mummies, etc. Loved seeing the Tara Brooch for example. But quite a lot of it was repetitious. Lots of very simple gold jewelry for example so you don’t need long to see this place.
- Book of Kells & Old Library – not worth it for the Book of Kells but definitely for the library itself. Amazing manuscripts all around. Very long wait though so get there when they first open for the day or don’t bother!
- Guinness Storehouse – basically an astronomically expensive pint of Guinness that tasted the same as everywhere else in Ireland. A brewery tour is a brewery tour. But the view of Dublin can not be beat. Only go when it is not busy though or you wasted your time.
- Dunluce Castle – if you’re in the neighborhood. Wish we could have toured but it was freezing and there is no roof!
- Belfast – totally different from Dublin. Too bad we didn’t spend much time here.
- Powerscourt Gardens & the Wicklow Moutains – beautiful! But not really worth it if you have to go out of your way to get here.
Not Really Worth It:
- Cliffs of Moher – I’m glad I saw them (just like I am glad I went to the Grand Canyon) but I wasn’t blown away by them.
- Dunguaire Castle Bangquet in Kinvara – I did this because my mother wanted to but honestly the food was mediocre. The entertainment was great but the rest of it didn’t make the experience.
- Galway – to be fair I probably didn’t give it a chance but we drove for about 30 minutes and never found the docks. Mostly we nearly got lost. Could have been us I guess but we were following the signs.
- Temple Bar – lots of drinking, lots of drunks, lots of loud people, lots of people. I was over it very quickly.
- Grafton Street – see Temple Bar above. All of that applies here too except with shopping bags.
And as for photos of everything make sure to check out my iPhone photostream, my camera photostream, my YouTube channel and my mother’s photostream. As well as my posts:
Part 1 – Arrival & Glendalough
Part 2 – Northern Ireland & Giant’s Causeway
Part 3 – Dublin Day 1
Part 4 – Dublin Day 2
Part 5 – Powerscourt Estate
Part 6 – Cliffs of Moher & Dunguaire Castle