STOP – let’s get this out of the way from the start – why should you trust our planning a trip to Ireland guide?
- I’ve lived in Ireland for 34 years
- I’ve spent the last 10 helping thousands of people plan a trip to Ireland
- We recently published the largest Ireland itinerary library available anywhere
- We follow a tried and tested 8-step approach so that you plan your visit in a logical manner
I am very confident that, if you follow the steps laid out in the Ireland trip planner below, you’ll remove the bulk of the stress involved in planning your visit!
The steps for planning a trip to Ireland in 2023/2024
The graphic above will give you an overview of how to plan a trip to Ireland – these are the steps we’ll take you through below.
We’ve refined this over the years and it’s now our go-to process. Take a few minutes to look through it – it’ll save you time, hassle and money in the long run.
Step 1: Identifying your Ireland road trip uncontrollables
The first step in planning a trip to Ireland is to build a solid foundation.
This means understanding the things that you have no control over from the beginning. For most people, the ‘uncontrollables’ are:
- Visa requirements
- Entry points to the country (e.g. ferry terminals or airports in Ireland)
- How long they can visit for
- Their budget (see our guide to the cost of a trip to Ireland)
Getting a sense of these elements from the very beginning will set you up for success. This tends to be the boring part when planning an Ireland vacation, but it pays dividends in the long run (I promise).
Step 2: Get the lay of the land
The second step of how to plan a trip to Ireland is to get a good lay-of-the-land. This will help you understand what is and isn’t possible when it comes to your Ireland itinerary.
Now, if you’ve been to Ireland before and you know the layout of the country, you can ignore this. However, this is a very useful step for first-timers.
We have three goals for this step:
- Goal 1: To help you understand where the attractions in Ireland that you want to see are located
- Goal 2: To identify clusters of attractions (these will help you map our your route)
- Goal 3: To rule places in or out (the clusters will help you do this)
Here’s what to do:
- Open a Google ‘My Map’ and create a new map
- Plot everywhere you want to see on the map
- Look for clusters of attractions (i.e. areas where you have a build up of attractions)
Step 3: Understand your options for getting around Ireland
The next step in how to plan a trip to Ireland will have a massive effect on both your experience and the cost of your trip.
Deciding how to get around Ireland can be a sticking point for many people when planning a trip to Ireland.
If you’re sticking to main towns and cities (check your map from step 2!) there’ll be good public transport options, and you likely won’t need a car.
If you want to step off-the-beaten-path and like flexibility, a car is your best bet. Here are the pros and cons to both:
Option 1: Getting around by car
Renting a car in Ireland is a good choice if you want to step off-the-beaten-path and like flexibility.
The advantages are you’ll have more freedom to explore and you can travel at your own pace.
The disadvantages are it can be very expensive and, for some, driving in Ireland can be stressful.
Option 2: Getting around by public transport
It’s relatively affordable, it’ll be less stressful for some and it’s easy to combine it with day trips.
The main cons are that you won’t be able to get to many rural attractions, some places have poor public transport and you have to stick to predetermined transportation schedules.
Step 4: Deciding when to visit Ireland
The next stage of our how to plan a trip to Ireland process involves picking the best time of year to visit Ireland.
Deciding when you’re going to visit at this stage puts you in a good position for the itinerary planning step (e.g. in the summer you’ll have many more hours of daylight to explore in).
Some factors worth thinking about at this point are:
- Your budget: Off peak (Autum and Winter) will be cheaper than peak (Summer and Spring)
- The weather: Daylight hours and likely weather conditions (see the weather in Ireland by month)
- What’s on: Some people like to plan around the different festivals in Ireland
- Your availability: In an ideal world, you’d visit whenever you like, but you may have to plan around work, school etc
Step 5: Mapping out an itinerary
The next step in planning an Ireland vacation is to map out a rough Ireland itinerary.
Now, if you don’t want the hassle of this, we have hundreds of ready-made itineraries in our Road Trip Hub where you can pick a route based on:
- How you’re getting around (we have public transport and car itineraries)
- Your start point
- The speed you like to travel at
- Your fitness level
However, you can of course map our your own itinerary. Here are some things to consider if you’re planning a trip to Ireland yourself:
1. Be realistic
The biggest causer of stress amongst people planning a trip to Ireland is that they try and fit everything into one trip.
You need to be realistic about what you can and can’t do during your visit. Yes, this’ll mean not visiting some places but it’ll ensure that you enjoy the time that you’re here for.
2. Prioritise attractions
If there’s somewhere you’re only half interested in, remove it. Whittling down to your ‘must-sees’ will help massively.
3. Look at your clusters
The next step is to look at the clusters on the map near your starting point. If you find a group of places that you want to see while touring Ireland, take note of the county in your spreadsheet.
This will help you build up a list of places that will form your various different bases. When you’ve run through the whole map, it’s time to bring it all together.
This stage in planning a trip to Ireland can be the most time consuming. Take your starting point and find the nearest cluster to it. That’ll be your first base.
Decide how long to stay there for and then move onto your second cluster, AKA base two.
Keep following this process for planning your trip and you’ll eventually have an itinerary to follow.
Step 6: Picking your start point and booking your flight/ferry
The next step in our how to plan a trip to Ireland process is where things get real. At this point, you know where you’ll visit, when you’ll visit and you have a rough overview of your itinerary.
It’s now to lock in your start point and book your flights. Sometimes, your start point is decided for you based on where you’re travelling in from. If you have the flex to choose, you need to choose wisely!
Take a look at the map that you’ve used to plot down all of your ‘must-sees’ and plot the various different airports/ferry terminals that you have the option to fly into.
If all of your ‘must see’ places to visit in Ireland are in Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry, it makes sense to use Shannon as the starting point for your trip to Ireland.
Then get those flights booked!
Step 7: Locking in the final route and booking accommodation
We’re nearing the last step of planning an Ireland vacation. Now that the flights/ferry have been booked, it’s time to finalise your itinerary.
At this point, you should have a fair idea of the route you’re going to take. Now, it’s all about tightening it up and mapping it out.
Decide on a final itinerary and commit to it. Once you have your plans set, it’s time to get your accommodation booked.
If you’d like some suggestions on unique places to stay, drop into our hub on where to stay in Ireland.
It’s also at this point, if you’re renting a car in Ireland, that you should look at making a booking.
Step 8: Understanding etiquette and time/money savers
And finally we’re onto the last step of how to plan a trip to Ireland – things to know before you visit.
There’s plenty of different laws and rules in Ireland that tourists need to be aware of.
Two that people tend to get caught with are the drinking age in Ireland and the fact that it’s illegal to smoke in doors.
2. Tipping in Ireland
Tipping in Ireland, for the most part, is optional – don’t be fooled into believing that you need to tip for everything.
It’s fairly standard to leave between 10 and 15% in places where you’ve had a meal.
3. Northern Ireland vs the Republic of Ireland
Some people are surprised to discover that there are differences between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Yes, they’re separate countries on one island. There are 32 counties in Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is made up 26 counties and Northern Ireland is made up of the remaining 6. The currency in Ireland is Euro and in NI it’s Pound Sterling.
4. Money savers
There’s plenty of ways to save money but you need to be aware of them while planning a trip to Ireland and not after. Some handy options are:
- The VAT refund: If you’re travelling to Ireland from outside the EU, you’re entitled to a VAT refund on some of your purchases.
- The Heritage Card: This is a handy way to save on admission to state-managed Heritage Sites like Kilmainham Gaol and the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre
- The Dublin Pass: This can give you solid savings when visiting the main attractions in Dublin
Wrapping up our planning an Ireland vacation guide
The steps above will make planning an Ireland vacation very straightforward once you take the time to work through each of them in order.
One of the biggest mistakes we see people make is that they rush straight to what they want to see and then become overwhelmed when they realise that the attractions are dotted all around the island.
At The Irish Road Trip, we approach the topic of how to plan a trip to Ireland afresh every year and constantly refine our process.
The steps above to planning a trip to Ireland is the most up-to-date process that we use and it has helped us map our hundreds of trips.
Ireland trip planning FAQs
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘How do you go about planning a trip to Ireland for a large group?’ to ‘What Ireland trip planning tips are the most useful?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
How far in advance should I plan a trip to Ireland?
Start planning a trip to Ireland as early as you can. You don’t need to book anything, but it’s worth working out the route you’ll take as far in advance as possible as it’ll make everything else more straightforward.
How many days should you spend in Ireland?
The longer the better. If possible, try to allow at least a week in Ireland. Although this will only scratch the surface, it’ll give you a good period of time to explore a section of the island.
How do you go about planning an Ireland vacation?
In this guide, we take you through 8 steps that follow a logical manner. If you work through them, you’ll remove the stress that many encounter when planning a trip to Ireland.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.