For my first solo trip, I spent two weeks touring Ireland without a car during the month of August. I had no intention on planning anything except for hotels/hostels/b&b’s and flights. Spending that amount of time in another country with sites in such rural areas was hard without a car. That’s why day tours around Ireland are totally worth it!
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A lot of famous monuments, suburbs and counties are inaccessible without a car; luckily there are hundreds of tour companies to cater to all your tourism needs! Once I got to Europe, I realized how long it takes for a first timer to plan out the bus and train trips, which made booking tours really convenient for me. Not wanting to pay the under-25 fees for a rental car, guided tours were my jam.
Quick tidbits about why I loved taking day tours around Ireland, and not wingin’ it:
Ireland is full of history, obviously. Guided tours give you insight to otherwise absent information just driving around yourself! The drivers I had really went above and beyond giving the little known history, and tidbits of information left out of history books.
Walking tours of the city, guided food and drink tours, outdoor excursions, castle hopping, are all just a glimpse into the tours they offer. From walking the cobblestone streets of Galway, to hiking to some of the most serene landscapes in the world, you won’t be bored!
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Wicklow Mountain tour out of Dublin – hiking activity included in tour
Between talking to the locals and other hostel goers, I didn’t waste time at places that weren’t worth it. Considering my lack of transportation, taking tours was recommended so I actually booked quite a few. I’m SO glad I did. At first I thought it would be weird – I didn’t really think people my age took tours alone.
Lo and behold, 20 somethings everywhere! With it being August, I was thankful there were still some spots left. I’m assuming at a less touristy time (basically any other month but August), there will be plenty of availability.
Except for Skellig Michael island!
This tour is a BOOK IN ADVANCE PRIORITY. Because of the Star Wars film, this filming location has got tourism skyrocketing. Not just in people, but in price. A local told me it went from 40 euro to 100 (which is what I paid) to tour this island. 10,000% WORTH IT! 10/10 recommend, best thing since sliced bread, etc…
Here’s a list of all five tours I took, because I really did love all of them! Just for your peace of mind, I never recommend anything I don’t personally love.
Top of Carrickgalogan. To the left outside the photo is the Irish Sea.
Taking off with Hilltoptreks Tours, we started our day driving through the Wicklow Mountains. I got to see Guinness Lake where Braveheart was filmed, the P.S. I Love You (a chick flick I am obsessed with) bridge, tons of sheep and beautiful scenery, including Sugar Loaf Mountain! Our driver was incredibly knowledgeable of the area and its history, making it more enjoyable and interesting. Along the way you stop at Enniskerry, a VERY small village with VERY good food. Poppies was highly recommended by our driver; very well worth it.
P.S. I Love You Bridge
Once the tour started, our driver gave each individual the option of the guided walking tour OR touring the Powerscourt Gardens. This was just for one part of the tour. I chose the walking tour through a section of the Wicklow Mountains because I wanted to be outdoors as much as possible. We hiked to the top of Carrickgallogan, giving you a 360° view of the landscape of the Wicklow Mountains National Park (including Sugar Loaf Mountain), and the Irish Sea!
Half the bus got off for the gardens so you aren’t wrong for whichever activity you choose!
This was one of the highlights of my trip! Even if you aren’t a GOT fan, still definitely take this tour. The GOT areas are still very historical and gorgeous, most of them are still famous landmarks before the famous TV series. Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – bucket list item! Take the long hike around – it’s a one way 2 mile hike, not for the faint of heart. There are stairs, see video below for a closer look!
Traveling along the Antrim Coast road, you’ll see Dunluce Castle and Larrybane Quarry – film locations from GOT, and epic historical sites of Northern Ireland.
The last stop is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which was nothing short of amazing, the views while waiting in line to cross the bridge (skip this part if you don’t like heights. You cross over the ocean between two rocks :)) were breathtaking.
This tour was spur of the moment! Ask for Jerry as your driver because he is THE BEST. He drove us through the Derrygimlagh bog which I was surprised of the history. Bog are thick, marshy logs, farmed and used for firewood during the Winter. The Twelve Ben Mountains are visible on a less cloudy day then I went!
I wanted to summit Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park but the weather was SO crappy, I chose to go to Kylemore Abbey. Unfortunately, after we picked up the people who chose the National Park, they said the weather was fine at the top of the mountain. Lucky me…
I can’t say enough great things about this tour from Get Your Guide. It was our driver’s last day and he KILLED IT. Our tour began by driving through the Burren along the famous Wild Atlantic Way. The views were breathtaking, there’s really nothing like the shades of green that an early morning Irish sun casts off the cliffsides. Check out the tour below!
Aran Islands – Inis Mor Island
This was not a “tour” but it was a day trip I booked with the Aran Island Ferry. Really hilarious, story about that day in a later post – it includes me getting stranded with no transportation back to Galway because I didn’t double check my return bus.
If you have a car, you need to make sure you are at Port Rossaveel by the time the ferry leaves.
To get to the island from Galway without a car, you’ll take the coach included in your ferry ticket (if you choose that option while booking your ticket) to Rossaveel port where the ferry leaves to Inis Mor Island (the biggest of the three Aran Islands). The day is yours from that point on!
My recommended activities for a full-day on Inis Mor:
Take the ferry out at 10:30.
After arriving at the island, hire an electric bike and get going! I chose the 5p.m. return so I could have quite a while to explore everything. I didn’t even tour the entire island and my day was filled, so there’s also the option of staying on the island overnight if you want to maximize your experience!
Stop for lunch and dinner at any of the restaurants,
I have no recommendation because all of them are wonderful since they have freshly caught fish every day. Superb fish and chips at The Bar, and grab an Irish Hot Chocolate. Okay, that’s two recommendations.
Head to any of the sweater shops.
This is where you can get yourself a long lasting, fuzzy souvenir. Trust me, unless you find a miracle shop somewhere (I went into every one I found in each town I was in), the prices are all the same. They can send your items home for you if it’s over 100 euros, which is easy to spend there. Bring your papers back to the airport – Dublin and Shannon both have tax centers! You can read about the Aran Island Sweater company and their history here. I personally got mine on the island because they are made there on the island!
See Dun Aengus
The famous stone fort of the island that once served the ancient armies. There a ton of other ancient forts and stone structures, check out this list here for more! I couldn’t complete this list unfortunately. It was toward the end of the day and it started absolutely POURING down rain; I had just me and my bike so I needed to find cover.
There are so many different avenues to take to get around the island. I saw half of it, which is why people often stay overnight! Renting an electric bike, even in the rain, I think is the best way to see this island.
I saved the best tour for last! Departing from Portmagee on the Ring of Kerry is the only way to get to this tourist hot spot; birthed from one of the most famous film empires of all time – Star Wars. Even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan, this is a MUST. SEE. during your trip to Ireland. I rearranged my entire schedule and dealt with the odd times of week that the few buses were scheduled to arrive and depart from Portmagee.
In my opinion, the most spectacular and well-worth-the-price site in Ireland. Due to the Star Wars film, prices have skyrocketed but you might as well just pay it. It really is worth the 100 euros and I’m a cheap ass. If you are lucky enough to visit the last few weeks of July/beginning of August, you will encounter hundreds of puffins! They migrate there every Summer. I missed them by 3 days!
There are boat tours that go out every day, weather permitting. Be aware that you have to take a 35-45 minute boat ride to the island; this means crossing the ocean, even on a rainy, nasty day. Of course these companies have your safety in mind so they will cancel if the ocean gets too intense. I was worried at the swells splashing up against the boat, often the waves were bigger than the boat. The crew wasn’t worried AT ALL. So if you can imagine that and get sick, take the necessary precautions.
Six hundred steps (no, you have no other option but to climb them so be prepared!) at the top of the lonely island in the ocean is Luke Skywaker’s hideout; the real-life monastic settlement of monks built 1,500 years ago! It truly is a fantastic sight, this was my favorite thing I did during my entire two weeks in Ireland.
The little island seen just off in the distance is not publicly available; it’s home t0 hundreds of thousands of birds.
To preserve wildlife, the tours allow a limited amount of people at one time.
My secret tip:
Take the earliest boat out at 8/8:30 a.m. Taking that time slot will allow you to be the first boat to arrive, leaving you a plethora of people-free photo ops. The views are breath-taking, even during the slow drizzling, cloudy day!
I really hope you take some of these tours into account on your trip to Ireland! Even if you’re in your twenties like me, the tours are not awkward and they are full of history you wouldn’t get doing it on your own!
Please don’t hesitate to email me or comment on this post with questions and suggestions.