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Planning a trip to Ireland: Our 11 Step Process (Guarantees A Stress-Free Irish Adventure)

Planning a trip to Ireland: Our 11 Step Process (Guarantees A Stress-Free Irish Adventure)

If you’re in the middle of planning a trip to Ireland and you’re feeling stressed, CHIIIILL!

Many of us (myself included) that have pulled out tufts of hair trying to plan a trip for ourselves or others, with everything from deciding when to visit and how to rent a car causing STRESSSS.

But, as I said, chill… in the guide below, you’ll find everything you need for planning your trip to Ireland. Literally. Everything.

Hours upon hours have gone into researching and writing this guide to make it as useful as physically possible. So, grab a mug of tea, sit back and dive on in.

Planning a trip to Ireland: A step-by-step approach

I’ve helped many people plan out their Ireland trip over the last few years. With each person, couple or group, I tend to follow a very systematic (and easy-to-follow) approach that I’ll give you below.

If you take the time to read this guide, I can promise you three things:

  • You’ll leave this website with a plan of action
  • You’ll (hopefully) discover tips and tricks that’ll save you time and money
  • You’ll have a far less stressful time planning your Ireland itinerary

Below, you’ll get an insight into everything from deciding how to get around Ireland to how to rent a car without be scammed… it happens. So, I’ll stop rambling. Dive on in!

Step 1: Defining a rough budget

planning a trip to ireland on a budget

Photo left: Konstantin Aksenov. Right: David Dea (Shutterstock)

The first step in planning your trip to Ireland is to define how much money you have to spend. I get that this sounds very obvious, but it’s important to have a number in your head from the beginning.

Why? Well, having a rough idea of how much you can realistically spend on your trip to Ireland will inform many of the steps that follow in the planning phase.

If you’ve never gone about budgeting and planning a trip like this before, it’s easy to get bogged down when it comes to getting an estimate of how much you’re likely to spend.

Not sure where to start?

The best approach, in my opinion, is to jot down your core costs (costs that you can’t avoid, like flights, travel insurance, etc.), your daily unavoidable costs and an ‘entertainment budget’ (optional)

Record each of these costs and throw in 200-300 for misc costs. It’s important to give yourself this buffer. Worst case scenario, you’ll end up not needing it.

Core costsDaily CostsEntertainment
FlightsAccommodationAdmission to attractions
TransportationFood + water + snacksPints and drinks
Hiking gear  

I know a lot of people that’ll set out their core costs and then set an allowance for daily costs, e.g. €90. They’ll work within the limit and, if they have to, they’ll dip into the misc fund.

A handy thing to get into the habit of doing when planning a trip to Ireland is to set an entertainment budget. The cost of numerous nights in pubs add up very quickly.

People on a tight budget

Ireland is expensive. But you can save money if you’re clever. The trick is to reduce your unavoidable costs and limit or completely cut out the avoidable costs.

Now, when I say ‘unavoidable costs’, I’m talking about the likes of flights. If you have to fly here, the only way to nab a deal and reduce this cost is to book in advance.

On the unavoidable costs, things like eating out can be a big cash drainer. To avoid these costs, stay in self-catering accommodation where you can cook and prepare your own meals.

Drop into our guide to doing Ireland on a budget. It’s packed with tips on how you can save money before you arrive and while you’re here.

How much I spent per day on a recent trip

OK, I think the best way for me to help you understand how much you’ll spend per day on your trip to Ireland is if I break down a recent trip that I was on in Galway. I’ll include rough prices for each day.

I drove from Dublin to Galway City. Spent one night in the city and one night in Clifden. Didn’t do any paid attractions (there was no need).

  • Accommodation (Airbnb in the city and hotel in Clifden): €125
  • Petrol for the two days: €65
  • Lunch over two days: €30
  • Dinner (pizza first night and decent restaurant the second): €60
  • Water and coffees: €16
  • Pints on both nights (4 the first and 6 the second): €50.40
  • Tolls (rough estimate): €15
  • Breakfast on morning one (it was included in the hotel): €16
  • Total: €377.40

Could we have done the above for less? Absolutely. This is just to give you a very rough idea of how much it can cost per day in Ireland.

Step 2: Deciding how long you’re going to visit for

weather in ireland

Photo left: ShawnWil23. Right: Jan Stria (Shutterstock)

The length of your trip to Ireland is going to be determined by two things – how much time off work you can get and how much money that you have to spend.

If you have the freedom to choose how long you’re going to visit Ireland for, then myself and everyone else reading this is are very feckin’ jealous.

Most people have very little control over how long they’re visiting Ireland for. They tend to be constrained by a trip (e.g. they could be on a Scotland and Ireland road trip and they only have X time in both countries) or they could be constrained by work holidays.

Longer, when possible, is better

In a nutshell – the more time you have here the better. Why? Well, there’s 100’s of amazing places to visit in Ireland and ideally you don’t want to have to squeeze seeing and doing loads of things into a tiny time frame.

The more time you have to play with, the more you’ll see and the more chilled your pace will be. That being said, if you’re only visiting for 5 days, you can still see loads – you just need to be clever when it comes to planning the itinerary for your trip to Ireland (more on this below).

Step 3: Finding the perfect time to visit Ireland

mussenden temple walk

Photo by silvester kalcik (Shutterstock)

I chat with a lot of people that are in the middle of planning a trip to Ireland. People often get caught up in what they want to see, before they’ve even decided on when they plan on arriving.

I find that deciding when you’re going to visit is useful information what you’re going to do. For example, if you visit during the summer, you’ll have lovely long days and plenty of time to explore.

If you visit during the winter, the days are much shorter and you’ll need to be far more selective in where you go and what you do.

How to decide when to visit Ireland

If you’ve read our detailed guide to the best time to travel to Ireland, you’ll know that I’m partial to the shoulder season (the chunk of time that falls between the off-season and the peak season).

A lot of people that I speak to that are in the early stages of planning their Ireland trip tend to lean towards the summer months.

Why a trip to Ireland in summer is a good idea

  • During the summer, the days are nice and long
  • The weather tends to be better (emphasis on tends – see our guide to the weather in Ireland for more info)
  • On the whole, it’s just a nice time to head off exploring Ireland

Why I prefer the shoulder-season

  • There are fewer crowds (summer can be mental in certain places)
  • Accommodation tends to be a little bit cheaper
  • Flights are noticeably cheaper

Things to consider

  • Plan your Ireland itinerary around when best suits you and your situation
  • E.g. if you’re low on cash, avoid the peak season
  • Weigh up the pros and cons of the different times of the year (yes, the off season is cheaper, but will you get to do what you want to when the days are shorter?)

Step 4: Deciding how to get around

getting around Ireland

Photo right: Art Ward. Left: Martin Fleming

Deciding how you’re going to get around isn’t a decision to take lightly. Your main mode of transport, whether it be a car or a bus, is going to have a massive effect on your trip.

I always find that you’re better off making this decision early on when you’re planning a trip to Ireland. If you decide that you’re going to take a guided tour, it means you won’t need to do many of the following steps (tour companies tend to have set itineraries).

If you decide that you’re going to rent a car, you’ll have to follow the steps below to a tee. There are three different things that you should consider when deciding how to get around:

  1. Your experience: e.g. will the convenience of a car make it more enjoyable?
  2. Your budget: e.g. will having someone else plan everything for you make the trip less stressful?
  3. What you want to see: e.g. if you want to step off the beaten path, an organised tour isn’t the way to go

Ireland travel: The best way to get around

In my opinion, the best way to get around Ireland is to combine modes of transport. For example, you could use public transport in the big cities and towns and then head off on organised day trips, also.

In our guide to getting around Ireland, you’ll find the pros and cons of the various different modes of transport. Be mindful of this decision and it’s key to a great trip.

Renting a car

If you’re considering renting a car for your trip to Ireland, you need to do your research. As you’ll find in our guide to renting a car in Ireland, there are some shady companies out there…

Car rental companies tend to deliberately try and overcomplicate the process of renting a car, and this usually means that you end up paying way more than you originally budgeted for.

Driving in Ireland

Many people visiting Ireland tend to be wary of driving in Ireland, citing ‘those narrow country roads’ as the main cause of their concern.

If you read our guide to driving in Ireland, you’ll find that getting behind the wheel here doesn’t have to be stressful, once you’re prepared.

Step 5: Plot out your ‘must-see’ attractions on a map

best castles in irelanf

Photo left: Kwiatek7. Right Johannes Rigg (Shutterstock)

OK, happy days – you now know how you’re going to get around Ireland, which will make moving onto step 5 possible. What do you want to see? Hopefully, this isn’t being decided for you and you get to decide where to go and what to explore.

Start a list of EVERYWHERE you want to see. The chances are it won’t be possible to see all of these places but plot each place out on a Google My Map.

Understanding the lay of the land and distances

By plotting out all of your ‘must-sees’ on a Google Map, you’ll get a quick understanding of the lay of the land and where the various different attractions are located.

It’s often at this point that people think, sh*te, I thought X place was waaay closer to Y. This task is useful as it’ll start to rule in and rule out certain places.

It’ll also give you a sense of where the majority of the places that you want to visit are located, which is crucial in deciding where to fly into (step 6).

Step 6: Picking the starting point for your trip to Ireland

best castles in ireland

Photo left: Thomas Bresenhuber. Right: Adrian Pluskota

OK, so you’ve decided when you’re visiting, how long you’re visiting for, how you’ll get around and how much you’re happy to spend. The next decision is deciding where you’re going to arrive into (by plane or ferry).

Sometimes, this is completely 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 that you have the option to fly into, e.g. Dublin Airport and Shannon.

If all of your ‘must-sees’ are in Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry, it makes sense to use Shannon as the starting point for your trip to Ireland.

Why your arrival point is so important

This is an important part of your planning a trip to Ireland process as it’ll give you the starting point for your Irish road trip, and it’ll often rule certain counties and attractions in or out.

There are five international airports in Ireland:

  • Dublin Airport
  • Cork Airport
  • Shannon Airport
  • Knock Airport
  • North West Belfast Airport

If you’re spending a week in Ireland and you want to explore Northern Ireland, try and fly into Belfast. If you’re here to explore the best of Dublin, fly into Dublin Airport.

If you’re looking to explore the Wild Atlantic Way, fly into Shannon! For those of you arriving by ferry into Dublin or Wexford, you’ll have two fine starting points for your trip.

Step 7: Booking your flights to Ireland

airports in ireland

Photo right: Serjio74. Left: Peter Gyorfi-Batori

If you’ve made it this far, you’re doing well. Hopefully, the last 6 steps have already started to make planning a trip to Ireland more straightforward for you.

Step 7 is nice and straight forward – get your flights to Ireland booked! The earlier you do this the better. Doing this well in advance will ensure that you stick to your budget.

It’ll also give you the starting point (where you’re flying into) needed to start planning the route that you’re going to take while you’re here.

Ireland travel tip: If you’re thinking of renting a car, wait until after step 8 – you may only need a car for certain points of the journey.

Step 8: Creating your Irish road trip itinerary

renting a car in ireland

Photos via Shutterstock

Now that you have your starting point and (hopefully) a rough idea of the different places that you want to visit, it’s time to start mapping out your itinerary.

We’ve created a handy guide for this (how to build the best Ireland itinerary) but I’ll give you a quick idea of how to go about doing it. Pull out the Google map with all of the places that you want to see plotted out.

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.

I was chatting to a woman last week from America who’s visiting Ireland for 5 days in 2021. She wants to visit Dublin, Kilkenny, Kerry, Belfast, Donegal and Galway… can you see what this isn’t really possible?

You need to be realistic about what you can and can’t do during your trip to Ireland. 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 as you end up spending hoooours in the car/on public transport.

Prioritise attractions

Let’s say that you’re here for a week and you really want to drive the Wild Atlantic Way. Now, you could absolutely drive the Wild Atlantic Way in a week, but you wouldn’t get to appreciate it, as you’d constantly be on the move.

Remember that Google Map that I keep going on and on about? It’s time to whip that out again and start prioritizing. For example, maybe the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher are two of the main things you’d like to experience.

Pop them at the top of the list with whatever else you really want to see. If you’re struggling to narrow the list down, assign numbers to each place/attraction. This’ll help you realise what you really want to see vs what you only kind of want to see.

Look for clusters

The next step is to look for 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, as you may need to research day tours from X place or see where a train goes to, etc.

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. Need to run yours by someone? Send it to me in the comments below!

Ready-made Irish travel itineraries

We’ve made a TONNE of different Ireland travel itineraries available on this site for free. They’re detailed (we’ve literally planned the entire trip from start to finish…) and contain everything from where to go to where to drink.

You can browse all of them in our road trip hub. If you’re still unsure of where’s worth visiting, jump into our Ireland counties hub – you’ll find the best things to do in each county there.

Step 9: Locking in the final route and booking accommodation

Doolin Village Lodges

At this point, you should have a fair idea of the route you’re going to take on your Ireland vacation itinerary. 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.

Ireland travel tip: if you plan on staying in B&Bs, it’s always worth ringing them up or sending them an email directly, as they’ll tend to give you a better rate than if you book via a third party.

Step 10: Getting the best bang for your buck when planning a trip to Ireland

ireland travel tips

Photos via Shutterstock

If you’ve read our Ireland travel tips guide, you’ll have come across some of the things below. In a nutshell, if you’re organised when planning your trip to Ireland, you can save money in certain places.

There are sightseeing cards, like the Heritage Card, that’ll save you a decent chunk of cash when visiting certain attractions. Families, in particular, can save big with family passes.

VAT refund

If you’re travelling to Ireland from outside the EU, you’re entitled to a VAT refund on some of your purchases. Yep, you can claim cashback after visiting.

Now, in order to make this saving, you need to be prepared in advance of visiting. You also need to know which purchases qualify. Find out everything you need to know in our guide to the VAT refund.

The Heritage Card

The Heritage Card is a handy way to save on admission to state-managed Heritage Sites. If you’re wondering what a Heritage Site is, they’re places like Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin and the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre in Meath.

Find out everything you need to know, including how much you can save and what attractions are included, in our guide to the Heritage Card.

The Dublin Pass

The Dublin Pass is another one to be aware of for those of you planning a trip to Ireland and visiting Dublin. Similar to the Heritage Card, the Dublin Pass gives you access to fee-paying attractions.

Now, the thing that makes this sightseeing card unique is that it gives you access to the majority of the top attractions in Dublin, like the Jameson Distillery, the Little Museum of Dublin and the Guinness Storehouse.

Find out everything you need to know, including how much you can save and what attractions are included, in our guide to the Dublin Pass.

Step 11: Things to know before you visit

tipping in ireland

Photo by nutcd32 (Shutterstock)

And finally (says you!) we’re onto the last step in planning a trip to Ireland – things to know before you visit. I’ve used some of the most FAQs that we get on this site for this section.

The most common questions we get tend to revolve around the difference between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, what to do about tipping during your tour in Ireland and Irish culture.

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.

Now, there are a few scenarios where tipping in a place where you’ve eaten isn’t necessary; the first is if the service was sh*te. The second situation is if it’s already included in the bill.

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

Drinking laws

Ireland’s drinking laws are crystal clear – the legal drinking age is 18. That means you need to be 18 to buy a drink in Ireland or consume alcohol in a public place.

According to Ireland’s drinking laws, it’s illegal for under 18s to:

  • Buy alcohol
  • Pretend that they’re old enough to buy or consume alcohol
  • To consume alcohol in a public place

It’s also illegal to give anyone below 18 alcohol (there’s one exception to this – find out more in our guide to the drinking age in Ireland.)

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):

Republic of Ireland counties

  • Carlow
  • Dublin
  • Wexford
  • Wicklow
  • Louth
  • Kildare
  • Meath
  • Westmeath
  • Kilkenny
  • Laois
  • Offaly
  • Longford
  • Clare
  • Cork
  • Kerry
  • Limerick
  • Tipperary
  • Waterford
  • Galway
  • Leitrim
  • Mayo
  • Roscommon
  • Sligo
  • Cavan
  • Donegal
  • Monaghan

Northern Ireland counties

  • Derry
  • Antrim
  • Fermanagh
  • Tyrone
  • Armagh
  • Down

FAQ about planning a trip to Ireland

I’m going to pop in some more FAQs that we’ve received in the past from people planning a trip to Ireland. If you have a question that I haven’t covered, feel free to ask it in the comments below.

How much does it cost for a trip to Ireland?

This one gets asked a lot and it’s one that I’m always wary of answering, as it’s completely dependant on where the person is visiting from, when they’re visiting and how they travel (e.g. hostels or hotels).

If you scroll up to our section one estimating a budget when planning a trip to Ireland, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to getting an idea of how much your trip will cost.

Where’s best to visit?

I’ve been travelling around Ireland a lot over the last ten years. My favourite places are Connemara, the Ring of Kerry, the Copper Coast (Waterford) and West Cork.

As far as where’s best to visit, I think that’ll change based on who you’re talking to. I know a lot of Game of Thrones fans who love Northern Ireland, I know people who love hiking who love the Mournes. It really does depend.

Do you do Ireland planning as a service?

Not at the moment. With that being said, I can see us moving to offer Ireland planning as a service as it’s insanely time-consuming helping people with itineraries (we’ve been doing it for free for the last 2 years).

It’s also, for the most part, a thankless job – I’d estimate that 90% of the emails and comments that I reply to never come back to say thanks. Not ideal when you took the time (often 30 to 50 minutes) to write a thoughtful reply.

I hope this guide makes it less stressful for you when you’re planning a trip to Ireland. If it was useful, let me know in the comments section below.

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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!


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 :)


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!


Saturday 16th of July 2022

Thank you so much Keith for all the time and effort you put into this site! It's amazing!!

I hope you are still answering questions here. The latest post I saw was 2019 but I really need some help!. My husband and I Had an opportunity handed to us free of charge to go to Ireland over Christmas (23rd - 30th). Are airfare and lodging aren't costing us anything which is great and I am very appreciative but the cottage is in Tulla which I gather is remote. We will be staying there all 7 nights so we would need day trips returning each night to Tulla. We are also there over Christmas. I am having a hard time finding anything open on the 24th and 25th. I was hoping to book some bus tours but I can't find one open the entire time we are going to be there. It's probably just that I don't know where to look. I would really appreciate it if you could steer me in the right direction. Thanks!!!


Keith O'Hara

Saturday 16th of July 2022

Hey Trish - You won't find any (to my knowledge) fee-paying attractions open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or, possible, Stephen's Day (26th). To be honest, I'd be surprised if any organised tours are operating during that times, as Ireland to an extent shuts down during the Christmas to New Years period. Are you renting a car?


Friday 8th of July 2022

Found your (very, very helpful) site after already booking flights and hotels - so in the wrong order. But, since the trip isn't until September (actually Aug 31 through Sept 24), there's some possibility of changing things. We like to travel slow and so here's our current itinerary: Dublin (5 nights, no car) Pick up a car and then Kilkenny (3 nights) Kinsale (3 nights) Kenmare (3 nights) Dingle (4 nights) Inishmore (2 nights) Galway (3 nights) Trim (1 night ) Return car and fly home to Boston.

I'd appreciate any thoughts on reallocating nights between places. My wife and I like hiking, city walks, good food/drink, museums/art galleries, people watching, drives (ya, I know that doesn't narrow things down much).

Thanks again for your awesome website.

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