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Planning A Trip To Ireland In 2023 In 8 Easy Steps

Planning A Trip To Ireland In 2023 In 8 Easy Steps

This guide removes the stress from planning a trip to Ireland.

I’ve lived in Ireland for 33+ years.

And, as you’ll see in our Ireland Itineraries Hub, I’ve planned thousands of Irish road trips of every length imaginable.

Every road trip we plan follows the 8 step process that I’ve outlined below as it makes mapping out a trip easy.

The steps for planning a trip to Ireland

Sheep’s Head Way

Photos via Shutterstock

If you take the time to follow the steps below, I can promise you three things:

  • You’ll breath a big aul sigh of relief
  • You’ll leave this website with a plan of action
  • You’ll have a far less stressful time planning your Ireland itinerary

The guide below contains some affiliate links – you won’t pay more, but we greatly appreciate any support (cheers!).

Step 1: Lay the foundations by identifying your ‘uncontrollables’

how much for a trip to ireland

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 offset. For most people, the ‘uncontrollables’ are:

  • Visa requirements
  • Entry points to the country
  • How long they can visit for
  • The max cash that they have to play with

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).

At the end of this step you will know

Step 2: Do an ‘I-Wanna-See’ brain dump to get the lay of the land

Torc Mountain

Photos via Shutterstock

The second step of how to plan a trip to Ireland is to get a good lay-of-the-land.

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:

  1. Open a Google ‘My Map’ and create a new map
  2. Plot everywhere you want to see on the map
  3. Look for clusters of attractions (i.e. areas where you have a build up of attractions)

At the end of this step you will know

  • Where the places you want to see are located
  • Towns/villages/cities located near these clusters
  • What places you won’t get to on this trip

Step 3: Understand your options for getting around Ireland

Trains in 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

Using public transport in Ireland is less flexible than using a car but it has its advantages.

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.

At the end of this step you will know

  • What transport option makes the most sense for you
  • The pros and cons of the different options

Step 4: Deciding when to visit Ireland

Slieve League

Photos via Shutterstock

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

At the end of this step you will know

  • The pros and cons of each month (see our Ireland by month guide)
  • What time of year most appeals to you
  • What time of year you’d like to avoid

Step 5: Mapping out an itinerary

overview of 14 days in ireland from dublin

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, in my experience, 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.

There’s nothing worse than trying to cram everything into a short space of time.

2. Prioritise attractions

Go back to the map you made during step 2. It’s time to priortise. If, for example the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher are absolute musts for you, leave them in.

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.

At the end of this step you will know

Step 6: Picking your start point and booking your flight/ferry

Howth Dublin

Photos via Shutterstock

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!

At the end of this step you will know

  • The exact dates of your trip
  • Where you’ll be starting your road trip from

Step 7: Locking in the final route and booking accommodation

cosy of accommodation in Ireland

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

the quiet man

Photo left: Michelle Fahy. Bottom right: Stephen Duffy. Top right: Chris Hill

And finally (says you!) we’re onto the last step of how to plan a trip to Ireland – things to know before you visit.

Below, I’ve popped in some handy Ireland travel tips that’ll hopefully save you time and money. It’s worth reading our guide on what not to do in Ireland at this point, too!

1. Laws

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.

Find everything you need to know (including when you absolutely don’t have to tip) in our guide to tipping in Ireland.

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.

Here’s an insight into how they’re broken down (it’s worth noting that two different currencies are also used – read more in our guide to the currency in Ireland):

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 Vee Gap

Photos via Shutterstock

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 proccess.

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.

FAQs about how to plan a trip to Ireland

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 ‘When’s best to visit?’.

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.

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John

Tuesday 7th of February 2023

I am not very good with computers and was wondering if you have a hard copy of your recommendations.

JoAnn

Monday 23rd of January 2023

Hello! I'm planning a trip for 7 this summer to Ireland. It will be my 5th trip there but it's been quite awhile since I was there last and the whole housing piece is/feels different! You have many great suggestions for places to stay! Can I book directly with places or do I have to go through the booking places like Booking.com, etc.? Thanks for your help!

Travis

Tuesday 23rd of August 2022

Hi Keith, What a most excellent site! I was wondering if you would help a couple Americans on a rough two week itinerary around Ireland. We will be renting a car. Two important things to note, we have a wedding in the middle of the trip (not ours) so those days are set in stone and we have spent time in Dublin before so do not need to stay there. We especially could use some advice on the back half of the trip, balancing the Wild Atlantic with the limited amount of days we have. Thank you so much!

Sat May 20 - Arrive Dublin morning, Train/Bus to Kilkenny May 21 - Kilkenny May 22 - Kilkenny to Cork via Train/Bus May 23 - Cork May 24 - Pick up rental car in Cork and drive to Kenmare May 25 - Travel the Ring of Kerry, arrive Killarney Wedding Check-in in the evening May 26 - Wedding May 27 - Wedding (I heard these can run late in Ireland!) May 28 - Wedding (Family BBQ and wedding recovery :)) May 29 - Leave Killarney and head to Dingle and her peninsula - No idea where we end up for the night May 30 - ? May 31 - ? June 1 - ? June 2 - ? (would love to get to Northern Ireland and see Giants Causeway and Belfast) June 3 -Drop off rental car and fly out of Dublin around 16:00

We could possibly spend one extra day and leave on June 4th if needed but would prefer to get back on the third.

Thank you for your time and sharing your knowledge. Would love to reciprocate if you ever come to the states!

Travis

A Anna Jensen

Saturday 6th of August 2022

Hiya! My parents and I are coming back in April 2023 and I was wondering if they’re having Tea at Father Ted’s again :)

Jessica

Wednesday 3rd of August 2022

First time to Ireland and one leg of the trip need to drive from Clare (specifically visiting Cliffs of Moher) to Waterford County (near Cappoquin) for an event in the evening. Any recommendations on sites/towns to see along the way as a pit stop on the drive? There is so much in between so tough to know where to stop. Thank you also for the guides so helpful!

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