Megan, owner of Bridie Travel, and Katie, owner of Katie Daly’s Ireland, talk about current travel restrictions to Ireland and what the island looks like today, amidst the pandemic. Katie is originally from Ireland, from County Meath, in what is now considered the ancient east. She now lives in Queens with her husband and her adorable little dog, Martha. She shares her experience of Ireland and some of the hidden gems that make a trip to see the wild Atlantic way the trip of a lifetime.
Ireland holds a special place in my heart because my grandmother is from Newport, in Mayo, and my grandfather is from Ballylongford in Kerry. Pictured below is me in front of my grandma, Bridie’s cottage in County Mayo. If you haven’t noticed, my travel agency is named after my Grandma. 😉
When can we travel to Ireland again?
Ireland opened their borders to vaccinated travelers. If you are not vaccinated you have to provide the required documentation. Visit the Ireland Tourism Board website to review the requirements and stay up to date with the travel restrictions. They do change frequently.
Fall/Winter 2021 is a great time to visit – it’ll be the off-season, which means fewer people, and it gets dark at 4 o’clock, but the accommodations are amazing. For example, the castles are ¼ the price they’d be during the summer. And it doesn’t get as cold as, say, New York, where Katie lives, or Chicago, where I do.
How soon to book?
Book your travel to Ireland and its extraordinary Wild Atlantic Way ASAP! There are always festivals going on, sights to see, activities to do on this tiny island nation that’s about the size of Rhode Island. The three tourism bureaus – Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland, and Fáilte Ireland – want to keep their visitors happily occupied.
What changes will we notice when we travel to Ireland?
Ireland is known for céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes). So your overall experience in Ireland will be the same as it would any other time. The friendly, big-hearted residents will welcome you with open arms. You’ll be able to see the sights and partake in the various activities available to you.
You will have to pre-book tours, to allow for social distancing. The upside to this is that you don’t have to stand in endless lines, and you don’t have to deal with crowds. Most tours will be one-way, in one door and out another, again for social distancing. Every tour will be tailored in a post-covid world.
Hotel occupancy will probably be limited, and you’ll need to make a reservation for your breakfast time. But your experience of the hotel will be the same as if you’d gone in 2019. Most hotels’ staff have undergone training to help ensure your safety and the safety of their staff. They’ll have a covid-19 charter displayed so you’ll know it’s a safe place for you to stay.
The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal route in the world at 2,500 km (1,553 mile). (That’s roughly the distance you’d drive from Washington, D.C. to Austin TX.) The route takes you through 9 counties, stretching all the way from the Southwest – Cork and Kerry to the North – Donegal and Sligo. When you drive it, you’ll have to drive on the left side of the road, but Katie says you get used to it fairly easily.
I know what you’re thinking: Ireland is the size of Rhode Island! How is there a 2,500 km coastal route? It’s because Ireland’s coastline is full of dips and turns, much rougher than the US’s coastlines.
You can fly in and out of Dublin once travel restrictions allow for it. The airport at Shannon is typically only open during the tourist high season. Then it’s easy enough to get to the Wild Atlantic Way. The drive from Dublin to Galway is super easy, just one road – and it’s my favorite! Dublin to Cork is all country roads, so it’s tougher. You could also take the train to Cork and enjoy the countryside more.
Some of the popular starting and ending points of the Wild Atlantic Way:
- Killarney to Sligo
- Cork to Galway
- Killarney to the ring of Kerry
- Dingle up to Galway and Connemara
- Galway and go either direction.
Activities travelers shouldn’t miss when they drive the Wild Atlantic Way
The Cliffs of Moher are striking and awe-inspiring. Pictures don’t do them justice; you have to see them for yourself. They’re so impressive, they’ve been featured in movies like Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and The Princess Bride
Killarney National Park is not to be missed, especially the Muckross House Gardens and Traditional Farms. It’s so wonderful that Queen Victoria visited in 1861. You absolutely want to visit the farms along the Wild Atlantic Way.
While you’re in Killarney, take the time to visit a sheep farm. Or, if you don’t have time in Killarney, visit the Glenshane farm in the Sperrin Mountains in Northern Ireland. The sheepdogs and all the action make it a lovely experience.
Go kayaking at nighttime. Kayaking at night is such a different experience than kayaking during the day. Your world is only lit by stars and the bioluminescence of the plankton as you row. It’s truly a unique experience.
Another must-see is Tracy’s farmhouse kitchen, on the shores of Strangford loch. It’s about half an hour outside of Belfast. When you go in, you’ll first notice she has a beautiful home in a beautiful location. One fun thing to try there is to learn how to make traditional brown bread.
You should definitely visit Clonalis House in County Roscommon, The house is over 1,000 years old, and is open for tours, or to book your accommodations. It sits on 800 acres.
If history is your thing, you’ve got to visit the Newgrange monument. It dates back to the Stone Age (Neolithic), around 5,200 years old. It’s located in County Meath, and is actually older than the pyramids (which are around 4,500 years old).
If golf is your passion, you’re going to be in heaven. One third of the world’s championship golf courses are located in Ireland. Donegal Golf Club, or Murvagh to the locals, is one of the longest courses in Ireland, at 7400 yards. Enniscrone Golf Club has some of the largest sand dunes in Ireland.
Activities for all
The Wild Atlantic Way is something that really shouldn’t be missed, and I can’t wait to go back to drive it all again with my son! Now let’s talk a little bit about Ireland in general since it’s such a magnificent country to visit. Which of Ireland’s breathtaking experiences shouldn’t be missed?
First off, there are excellent accommodations. From the 1,000 year old Clonalis House, to the fabulous castles, to more affordable accommodations, you’re guaranteed to have an incredible roof over your head.
Then there’s the food. Irish pubs are such a different experience from anything in the US. Then there’s the to-die-for seafood chowder. It wasn’t always, but Ireland is now one of Europe’s hottest destinations for dining.
You can do a seafood tour, you can do city tours where you’re walking around and taste little bits of the city from different vendors, seaweed workshops, and foraging tours. You could plan your whole trip around food experiences.
You should visit Spike Island off the coast of Cork. It’s called Islands Alcatraz. You just take a little ferry for about 15 minutes, and that’s 1300 years of history you’re looking at. It started its life as a monastery. And once upon a time, it was the world’s largest prison, housing 2,500 prisoners once upon a time.
I had this in my head, and I get this from all my clients: they say, “I’m never going to go again. I have to see and do it all in one trip.” And then when you’re there, you’re like, “Oh my God, I can totally come back here.”
If a trip to Ireland has been on your mind, and you’re ready to start planning it, give me a shout. I can’t wait to hear from you!