UK & Ireland: Irish cream

UK & Ireland: Irish cream

Pick the best Irish holidays, whether clients want a short break or a longer stay. By Katie McGonagle

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It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Ireland. One glimpse of its rugged coastlines and rolling hills and that good old Irish charm is sure to work its magic. Yet making sure that first flush of romance blossoms into a full-blown love affair takes a little more planning.

Whether visitors want a craic-packed weekend, a whistle-stop week or a longer, leisurely tour, the Emerald Isle can oblige. All you need is the gift of the gab to start selling it.

Short Breaks: Quick work

Ease of access is the key selling point for a short break: with plenty of quick, cheap flights from regional airports, there’s no need to waste time on travel. Boasting the greatest connections is capital Dublin, the most obvious choice for a weekend.

Two days hardly seems enough to see its highlights – from the Book of Kells at Trinity College and the priceless collections of the Chester Beatty Library, to shopping on Grafton Street and sinking a pint of the black stuff at the Guinness Storehouse – but a hop-on hop-off bus tour makes it easy to tick off key attractions (from £16 with Attraction World, valid for two days).

Those with an extra day should see what’s around the city: Leger Holidays’ Dublin Weekender adds an optional excursion to the Wicklow Mountains, while Shearings’ new Dublin Bay Cruise and Castles tour goes to Dalkey Castle and cruises through the bay.

Buoyed by its 2013 stint as UK City of Culture and the recent addition of a Ryanair flight from Glasgow, Londonderry makes a good city-break alternative to Dublin or Belfast.

SuperBreak head of overseas product Chris Hagan says: “Take the daily guided walking tour around the city walls, the only fully preserved city walls in Ireland, for a full history of the city right up to Bloody Sunday and the Troubles. Afterwards, Peadar O’Donnelly’s bar in the city centre is the place for traditional Irish music, with rock and blues at The Gweedore Bar next door.”

Short breaks don’t have to mean city breaks, though: McKinlay Kidd’s Car-free Causeway Coast tour, added this year, goes via Belfast to rural town Bushmills – home of the famous whiskey distillery – and travels on a narrow-gauge steam train from there to the Giant’s Causeway (four days from £389, land-only).

Rural tranquillity is also key to one of Kirker Holidays’ new short breaks to country hotel Ballymaloe House, 20 minutes from Cork. Owned by TV chef Rachel Allen, it’s ideal for foodies, with a 400-acre farm and close ties to nearby Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Guinness Storehouse Dublin - Image credit Tourism Ireland
Image credit: Tourism Ireland

Mid-length Stays: See more

Ireland’s windswept west coast ranks among the most beautiful scenery anywhere in the British Isles, and the Wild Atlantic Way – a 1,500-mile driving route stretching from Donegal to Cork – is the best way to see it.

Most escorted tours of this duration tackle just a portion of the route. Shearings’ new eight-day Wild Atlantic Way tour, for example, goes as far as Clifden in County Galway.

Others forgo covering the distance and instead delve deeper into a smaller area; these include a five-day walking tour from singles specialist Just You, giving passengers a totally different feel for the landscape (from £599 April-October, including the ferry crossing).

Some of the highlights of this route – the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry – feature on many standard touring itineraries, so clients who can’t devote all their time to the west coast need not miss out.

Insight Vacations’ Focus on Ireland starts and ends in Dublin, via Galway, Limerick, Killarney, Cork and Waterford, with stops to kiss the Blarney Stone and photograph the coastal scenery.

Upgrade to Irish Elegance from the operator’s Country Roads collection to live like royalty with a stay at medieval palace Ashford Castle (from £1,320).

Those who don’t mind picking up the pace can squeeze in a trip north of the border. The Best of Ireland is an eight-day tour from Titan, with two nights each in Dublin, Cork and Belfast and one in Athlone, in addition to excursions to Carrickfergus Castle, the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast Exhibition, plus Sligo, Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry in the south (from £1,179 including flights).

Saga Holidays also traverses the country, from Giant’s Causeway down to Cork, on its Legends of the Emerald Isle tour, staying in smaller towns such as Dundalk, Ennis and Carrigaline along the way (nine nights from £699).

Child-friendly Ireland is also a great option for families and those within driving distance of the Irish Sea can take their own car. Irish Ferries offers ferry-inclusive cottage breaks to 29 spots around Ireland, many with on-site leisure facilities and free stays for under-16s.

Waterford Thatched Cottages

Long Breaks: Top to toe

Travellers with two weeks to spare can take time to appreciate Ireland’s warm welcome and unhurried lifestyle. The easiest way is with a self-drive and, indeed, Irish Ferries reports a significant number of its customers are couples touring for seven to 14 nights, either just booking the ferry or pre-arranging B&Bs en route.

For those who prefer to pack in as much as possible, the 14-day Grand Irish Odyssey is one of this year’s best-sellers for Grand UK Holidays. It takes in the Ring of Kerry, Galway, Dublin, Killarney, The Giant’s Causeway and Derry, departing in July and September.

Scottish operator Rabbie’s Small Group Tours has a similarly comprehensive itinerary, The Complete Ireland Experience, which combines three of its shorter breaks into an 11-day circuit.

It marries urban highlights such as Belfast and Derry with the rugged coastlines of Kerry and Dingle, with some Gaelic culture and country pubs along the way (from €1,246 staying in B&Bs).

A fortnight is even enough time to complete a full loop of the island. CIE Tours’ newest route, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, is a 13-day escorted tour which not only covers the west coast, via Achill Island and a Donegal bay cruise, but also returns through Derry, Belfast and Dublin (from £1,349, land-only).

The only problem may be convincing your clients to come home.

Ask the Experts

Chris Hagan, SuperBreak
“Flights departing on a Friday and returning Sunday can be more expensive, but accommodation in Ireland is some of the best value in Europe, so encourage clients to extend their stay a night or two, often for less than the difference in cost.”

Paul Melinis, Insight Vacations
“Ireland is the perfect destination for a week-long break as its small size means you can cover a lot of ground in a short time, packing in key highlights while still allowing time to relax.”

Ann Pye, Irish Ferries
“Ireland is the obvious self-drive destination for those living in, or west of, Manchester, Birmingham or Bristol, with good road networks to ports at Holyhead on Anglesey and Pembroke in South Wales.

“Many featured cottages offer a second week free in shoulder season; great for families with pre-school kids and grandparents who can come along for the price of the ferry crossing – £32 return.”


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