The small island to the west of the UK needs little introduction. From its ancient ruins that stand against a (usually) grey sky and fabled beauty spots to its ultra-modern cities - not to mention the strong ties that exist between the two countries - Ireland is an unbeatable destination.
Given the family and business connections that link the UK and Ireland it's not surprising that London-Dublin should be one of the busiest international air routes. Cheap flights to Ireland are available on more than 70 routes.
Dublin, the capital, may not have the "must-see-before-you-die" monuments, but it is cosmopolitan and very buzzy. It has a rich literary heritage, cosy pubs, elegant Georgian streets and a local population who love to "have the craic".
Outside Dublin, Ireland has a wealth of attractions - wonderful cities such as Cork, Galway and Kilkenny, teeming lakes and coastal waters and rugged landscapes such as the Connemara Way, Wicklow Gap or Ring of Kerry.
The Atlantic thunders on the west coast and the Irish Sea is to the east, giving up some of the best seafood in the world. Its farms produce the meat and vegetables for the simple but hearty Irish cuisine.
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Summers in Ireland are usually dry with average temperatures of 16 degrees. Temperatures are a bit cooler in the spring and autumn, while winters are rainy and with temperatures around 4 degrees. It’s coldest in January and February and warmest in July and August, but it rarely gets hot. It rains a lot in Ireland, and the weather can change quickly, so it’s a good idea to dress in layers.
When to fly to Ireland
Summer is the high season. The weather is warm, the days are long and festivals and summer schools (literary, music and language) are in full swing. Dublin is busy year-round and, with the exception of a few weeks after Christmas and before St. Patrick's Day (17 March), doesn’t really have a low season. The amount of competition on UK-Ireland routes means that there are usually plenty of cheap flights to Ireland.
The winter months can throw up some awful weather in parts of Ireland. Lots of the activities marketed by the Irish Tourist Board such as golf, surfing, hill walking or horseriding are at the mercy of the elements. In the cities, such as Cork, Galway or Kilkenny, there is plenty to see and do, and hotels will often offer good discounts during these months.
Spring (February and March, until St. Patrick's Day, and then between Easter and May) is a great time to visit Ireland to see the countryside burst into life. Autumn is also a wonderful time, the weather can be beautiful in September and October and the countryside ablaze with colour.
Getting around Ireland
Public transport (buses and trains) is great if you are travelling from, say, Dublin to Cork or Galway, but it can be tricky getting around within counties.
Bus Eireann is the national bus company and there are lots of private coach companies that offer good, well-connected services between the cities. In general, it is cheaper to take a bus than a train.
Renting a car is a good option and rental companies are represented at all the major airports, but shop around for the best deals. If you are pushed for time, you could fly between cities. Aer Arann for example flies from Dublin to Galway, Donegal and Sligo. Ryanair also flies from Dublin to Cork and Kerry.
Ireland insider information
- Raining? Dublin's art galleries all have free admission. The main ones are the National Gallery, Merrion Square; the Hugh Lane Gallery, Parnell Square and the IMMA (The Irish Museum of Modern Art), in the old Royal Hospital, Kilmainham.
- Climb the steep hill to ring the bells at St Anne's Church in Cork. Then once you have arrived, climb the stone steps to a parapet that has 360-degree views of the city. Visitors can also ring the church's eight bells.
- For a glimpse of how people used to live on the furthest edges of Europe, take a boat trip to the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, or to Great Blasket, a short ride from Dunquin Pier on the Dingle peninsula in Kerry. The islands have small tourist industries, breathtaking views and lots of sea birds.
- Dip into CS Lewis's Ulster. The creator of The Chronicles of Narnia was born in Belfast and spent some of his childhood there, and holidayed there regularly as an adult. Now there are lots of ways to follow him including a Black Taxi Tour.
- A favourite of bohemians, artists, and students, Galway has a proliferation of art galleries and an arts scene that includes traditional music, street theatre, and festivals — the best known being the Galway Arts Festival held every summer. The vibrant energy continues into the exuberant nightlife. Galway is also a departure point for the Aran Islands and nearby Lough Corrib has excellent fishing.
- Ireland’s majestic beauty is picture perfect in County Kerry. There is tourist glitz, but pristine beauty too - Ireland’s two highest mountains, miles of moorland, spectacular coastal vistas and an abundance of prehistoric and early Christian sites. Killarney and the Ring of Kerry are the most popular destinations, and the Dingle Peninsula the most beautiful.
- The Shannon region has stunning scenery: Cliffs of Moher; Burren's limestone; Aillwee Cave’s stalactites, stalagmites, and relics; Lough Derg; Atlantic seacoast; Shannon River; Slieve Bloom mountains; and so much more. History buffs can explore sites such as Bunratty Folk Park, a sixth-century monastery, Celtic exhibits, and museums. All this in a region about 130km end to end.