When Stephanie Chastain and her husband, Joe, first visited Ireland for their honeymoon in 2006, it was love at first sight. They picked the Emerald Isle to celebrate their marriage on a whim, but it's a hunch that's paid off.
"The beauty of the island captured us that first trip, but it's the kindness of the people that keeps us coming back," Stephanie says. "We've chatted with B&B owners over cups of tea like we were long-lost family. We've tapped our toes and solved the world's problems with fiddlers in pubs."
Her passion for Ireland led Stephanie to start Infinite Ireland, a travel blog dedicated to helping others plan trips to her favorite destination.
If you're looking for a travel destination that's packed with scenic walks, hearty food and warm people, than Stephanie says Ireland is for you. Here, she offers her thoughts on where to stay, what to see, how to get there - and how much you'll spend. Read on:
Tell us about Infinite Ireland...when and why did you start your site?
Infinite Ireland began back in August of 2012. I am huge fan of travel blogs and love to write. Since we were already getting questions about Ireland from friends, family and friends of friends about Ireland, I decided to try my luck at creating my own blog. Thus, Infinite Ireland was born.
What mistakes have you made in travel planning that you hope to help others avoid?
Where do I start with the mistakes we've made? Well, I most certainly am guilty of giving in to bucket-list mentality. We all have things we want to do and places we want to see. It's so tempting to try to cram them all into a two-week vacation. Yet, all of these things and places are most likely spread out geographically. I have (somewhat begrudgingly) begun to see the sense in trimming down our must-see list. This allows us to slow down. We can enjoy a long breakfast. We can have that extra cup of tea.
Don't get me wrong, I still have a bucket list - and, like, everywhere is on it - but I also want to thoroughly enjoy and remember every moment of my travels. At Infinite Ireland, we shy away from the cross-country trips and advocate for regional activities. People are catching on, and I think slowing down is starting to pick up speed.
What do you think is the most common mistake people make when planning a trip to Ireland?
We find a lot of first-time visitors to Ireland plan to visit attractions that are actually very far apart from each other. While Ireland looks like a small country, it can take several hours to drive from one end to another. Not all the roads are two-lane highways. In fact, most of them are tiny winding roads that take much more time to negotiate than you would expect. I suggest picking one or possibly two regions and exploring them thoroughly. Ireland is chock full of amazing things to do, so you don't need to go far to see a great view or a cool historical site. Plus, spending less time in a car means more time for adventures!
How expensive is it to visit Ireland in comparison to other European countries?
Ireland can be as expensive or cheap as you want to make it. The biggest expenses of our trips are the accommodations and transportation. There are amazing luxury hotels with seaside views and cozy bathrobes, but the majority of the hospitality sector leans on family-run B&Bs, offering a warm bed and a very hearty breakfast at a reasonable price. Stick with the B&B if you looking for an affordable getaway.
When looking for airfare, think fall and spring! These are the best times to go because of great deals and surprisingly mild weather.
Dublin is a typical European capital with expensive pints and even more expensive accommodations. But, if you do your research, there are deals to be had! We scored an amazing two-night stay at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin via Priceline for 40 percent off. We got such a great deal that we even ordered room service one morning as a yummy treat!
How should we go about budgeting for a trip there? What will we plan to spend more money on? Where can we pinch pennies?
First, take a look at the expenses from one of our recent trips to Ireland. We tracked every penny so that readers could get a realistic sense of how much it might cost. Then, adjust for personal preferences - you can spend much less if you stay in hostels or use public transportation. You can also spend much more for castle stays and fancy dinners.
For a more personalized estimate, start with transportation costs including air and car rental. This is easily done by using an aggregate site like Kayak to compare airfares or Dan Dooley for car rentals.
Next, €70-80 for two people is a good estimate for one night in a B&B - just multiply by the number of nights you will need. Finally, food, attractions, souvenirs and miscellaneous can run from €50-100 a day, depending on your budget and lifestyle.
I think most visitors are really surprised at how much a car rental costs in Ireland. Expect to pay much more than you would in the U.S., especially if you plan to opt for the extra insurance that covers your liability to zero (which we recommend). However, visitors can save a little bit by staying in a B&B and taking advantage of the huge Irish breakfast, which lasts us well into the afternoon. Many days we will get by until dinner with snacks or impromptu picnics with Irish cheese and crackers. Plus, many restaurants offer early-bird specials with great deals on three-course menus.
What tips do you have on finding lodging? What tends to be the most authentic and affordable?
I've already mentioned the Irish B&B a couple times, but it's only because they are that good! I am convinced the hospitality industry in Ireland is second to none. With the big breakfast and usually a good chin wag (chat), they provide a great value for the cost.
I start our hunt for lodging with a good ol' Google search. Typing the name of the town and "B&B" usually gives ample results. I always look for sites with excellent pictures of the rooms and details about the accommodation (what do they provide - hair-dryers, wash cloths, activities in the area). Then, I look at sites like Trip Advisor and B&B Ireland for reviews and ratings. You will find most B&B's to be more than adequate and some to be exceptional.
Travelers stretching every penny can stay in private room hostels, which are typically €20-25 per night with, at most, a simple continental breakfast.
What's the best way to get around Ireland transportation-wise? What's the most affordable method? What would you recommend for a first-time visitor (budget aside)?
Hands-down the best way to visit Ireland is by rental car, but it's definitely not the most affordable.
Budgeting travelers will want to check out Bus Eireann, the national bus service, which has decent routes to even rural parts of Ireland. Another option is to travel by coach bus on an organized tour. These tours aren't always cheaper than renting a car and booking B&Bs on your own, but some operators run sales when tours aren't full. The primary down-side to a tour package is losing most of your independence for spending time visiting things you are most interested in.
If money is no object, rent a car. The freedom to visit sites for as little or as long as you like, stay in places you hand-pick and eat when it suits you is worth every penny.
What destinations do you think every first-time visitor should make sure to check out? Any places you think are overrated?
For the very first trip to Ireland, I really don't think you can beat the southwest. It is jammed packed with amazing views, first-rate accommodations and a five-star food scene. It has the infrastructure to handle lots of tourists in towns like Dingle, Killarney and Kenmare, but visitors can easily go off the beaten path to places like the Blasket Islands, Healy Pass and Bantry.
While there are several areas in Ireland that I could visit over and over again, there are very few that I think are overrated. Oversaturated may be more appropriate. For example, the Ring of Kerry is a gorgeous peninsula with sprawling views of the Atlantic. It is also covered in tour buses from end to end. I would opt for the Beara or Dingle peninsulas with just as spectacular scenery, but with exquisitely less traffic.
What Irish experiences/destinations do you think offer the most value for your money?
Immediately, hill-walking in the Irish countryside comes to mind. Joe and I have climbed a few mountains, walked along sea sides and visited historical sites via well-worn walking paths. Nothing beats the views from Slieve League in Donegal, the top of Mount Brandon in Kerry and the Ardmore Round Tower in Waterford, especially because it didn't cost us a dime. For those in relatively decent health, hill-walking is a great way to see the country and requires nothing more than a little research. Mountain Views has been really helpful for us.
Another amazing value is the UNESCO World Heritage site, Skellig Michael, which lies eight miles off the coast of Ireland. It is one of the most well-preserved monastic sites in Ireland. Built in the sixth century, the monastic ruins are essentially on top of a huge rock in the ocean. This day trip requires a sense of adventure - with a 45-minute boat ride, 670 steps to the top and no hand rails. Skellig Michael is not only worth the €50 boat ride, but also spending an extra day in the area just in case the weather doesn't cooperate!