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With its striking coastline, rolling green hills, rich cultural traditions and legendary spirit of welcoming and generosity, Ireland beckons gently to travelers from around the world. With so many things to do and see, many travelers opt for a tour, which can take the guesswork out of some or all of your Emerald Isle vacation. Most Irish tours, long and short, depart from Dublin, though it’s possible to find some shorter day trips from other cities, if those are where you’ll be making port. Either way, if you’d like to see what Ireland has to offer without going to the trouble of making your own itinerary (or — ack! — driving yourself), consider booking one of these excellent tours.
Best Comprehensive Tour: Nine-Day All Ireland Tour from Dublin
You’ll pay a visit to every corner of Ireland — and a good chunk of the middle — on this thorough and surprisingly affordable guided trip. It begins and ends in Dublin, winding its way around and through the island on a comfortable motorcoach with live commentary, and stops each night in comfortable, basic economy accommodations complete with a full Irish breakfast. Some of the sights you’ll see include the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Killarney National Park, Blarney Castle, the Cliffs of Moher, Drumcliff Abbey, the Giant’s Causeway and the Titanic Experience in Belfast. It’s a whole lot to take in, but a comfortable, well-paced way to see it, complete with ample free time in several cities and small towns.
Best Northern Ireland Tour: Two-Day Northern Ireland Tour from Dublin by Train
This quick getaway offers a short but meaningful look at some of the most famous attractions in Northern Ireland. On the first day, you’ll meet your guide in the train station in Dublin and ride with your small group up the coast to beautiful Belfast, where you’ll check into your four-star hotel and then have the evening to explore and see the city sights. The second day begins with a hearty breakfast, followed by hotel pickup for you and your group in a comfy coach, which will whisk you away up the Antrim Coast Road. You’ll visit the town of Ballycastle, the famous rope bridge of Carrick-a-Rede, the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway and the medieval ruins of Dunluce Castle. From there, it’s back to Belfast by coach and then back to Dublin by train.
Best Southern Ireland Tour: Southern Ireland Six-Day Tour from Dublin
Budget travelers should take a look at this exciting, economical six-day guided tour of Southern Ireland, which includes three options for accommodations, the cheapest of which is comfortable but basic shared dorm-style lodgings in the various cities the tour visits — particularly good for younger travelers on a backpackers’ budget. The tour combines well-known sights such as Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher with lesser-known small villages and natural attractions, including the village of Cong (where the 1952 film The Quiet Man was shot) and the lovely Aasleagh Falls in Connemara. Daily breakfast is included.
Best Western Ireland Tour: Five-Day Small-Group Highlights of Ireland Tour
This small-group guided tour departs Dublin in the morning and heads due west to the gorgeous coastal city of Galway, as famous for its briny, plump oysters as it is for its legendary hospitality, from where you’ll work your way down Ireland’s western coast. Highlights of the five-day trip include a stop at Locke’s Distillery in Kilbeggan, the ancient Clonmacnoise Monastery, the Burren, Dingle Peninsula and a stop on the final day at Blarney Castle and the Rock of Cashel before making your way back to Dublin. Overnight accommodations in three-star hotels and/or B&Bs are included, as are admissions to attractions.
Best Adventure Tour: Seven-Day Grand Small-Group Tour of Ireland from Dublin
Adventurous travelers who are looking for both flexibility and efficiency should consider this week-long guided tour that starts and finishes in Dublin. In a comfortable minibus, the tour takes you to Cork, Dingle, Galway, the Aran Islands and more, with stops in big cities, small towns, and natural areas along the way. You’ll go kayaking in Dingle Harbor (and perhaps spot the famous local dolphin, Fungie), take a cycling tour through historic Galway and climb Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick, among other fascinating outdoor and cultural activities. Accommodation is in a series of local guesthouses and includes breakfast each day.
Best Archaeology Tour: Ireland’s Ancient East Day Trip via Dublin w/Boyne Valley
Archaeology buffs and history lovers of all kinds are often drawn to Ireland in search of ancient Celtic sites. This full-day tour zips travelers out of Dublin on a bus and takes them on a tour through the Boyne Valley. The tour stops at the Hill of Uisneacht, an ancient ceremonial site; the Loughcrew Cairns passage tombs, with their 6,000-year-old petroglyphs; the circa 1170 Trim Castle; the Hill of Tara, the legendary seat of the Celtic High Kings; the mysterious Jumping Wall of Kildemock; and the magnificent Celtic High Cross of Muiredach, the most beautiful extant example of medieval Irish stonework. Your expert guide will provide context and history at each location, and you’ll finish your day with a much deeper understanding of the history of Ireland, from the neolithic era on through the middle ages.
Best Castle Tour: Full-Day Castles and Celtic History Tour from Dublin
This expertly-guided tour takes travelers from Dublin out to the counties of Meath and Louth for an exploration of several of the region’s most interesting castles and ruins, as well as some ancient sites. The day begins in Dublin, and from there, it’s straight on to the Fourknocks Passage Tomb and the Hill of Tara, where the Celtic High Kings were crowned at the Lia Fáil, the hill-topping Stone of Destiny. Next up is Trim Castle, a major filming location for the movie Braveheart, and then Slane Castle, which is still occupied by the Conyngham family, who built it in the 1700s. The tour continues to the massive neolithic monument at Newgrange, and finishes at Monasterboice, founded in the 5th century by St. Buithe, an early follower of St. Patrick, and then back to Dublin. Meals are not included, but there’s a lunch stop figured into the day.
Best Day Trip from Galway: Connemara Day Trip from Galway
If your Ireland trip is based on the west coast, in Galway, this mini-voyage into the rural Connacht Irish-speaking cultural region of Connemara couldn’t be a lovelier way to spend a day. The guided tour begins in Galway city, where you’ll board a comfortable coach with a live guide on board, and head to the Ross Errilly Friary, a circa 1351 Franciscan friary where several structures are still standing. Your guide will explain the historical and spiritual significance of the place and lead you through the ruins and the nearby graveyards. The next stop is quaint Cong Village, where you’ll have some free time to explore before departing for the Loch Na Fooey, a pristine glacial lake, and then on to the gothic Kylemore Abbey, where you can opt to take an inside tour or simply wander the gardens. The late-afternoon return trip to Galway is via the scenic route, where you can expect stunning views of the Maam and Inagh Valleys.
Best Day Trip from Belfast: Game of Thrones Filming Locations Tour from Belfast
Northern Ireland has been a major filming location for the television show Game of Thrones in the past few years, and the local tourism board is quite pleased about it, if the many permanently-placed plaques and guided tours are any indication. If you’re not a fan, don’t be put off by the name of this day tour of Northern Ireland, as it includes many of the region’s most beautiful sights and your guide will offer a non-fantastical explanation of all of them. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, though, you’ll certainly enjoy visits to the House of Greyjoy (known in real life as Dunlace Castle), the Braavos Canal (the Carnlough Harbor) and the place where Brienne of Tarth beat Ser Loras (Larrybane). You’ll also stop at several other very real places, including Carrickfergus Castle, Carrick-a-Rede Island and the UNESCO-listed basalt formation known as the Giant’s Causeway. It’s a fun angle from which to learn about this fascinating area and its many historic sites and natural wonders.