Castle Island Lough Key
Castle Island Lough Key

4 Ireland Itinerary Ideas for Your Emerald Isle Dream Vacation

Is getting to Ireland on your bucket list?

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If so, this blog post is for you and to make things more helpful, I’ve included what I think are the most popular Ireland itinerary ideas that will introduce you to places with stunning scenery, great attractions and of course the chance to experience Ireland’s unique culture and its people.

For some, 14 days is about the maximum length of time for a vacation to Ireland. However, 10 days traveling around Ireland seems to be the average length of stay for most tourists.

And while bucket lists are good to have, experiencing a new country shouldn’t be about ticking off a list of activities.

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These 4 Ireland itinerary ideas listed below are merely examples of what you can see in Ireland.

They are all designed for a period of 10 days, some with 2 nights at each stop, others with just 1 night at each stop.

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The lovely town of Kenmare in Co. Kerry. Photo: Clu, Getty Images Signature.

It’s up to you to add whatever details you feel will make your Ireland vacation experience more worthwhile.

In fact, these sample Ireland vacation itinerary ideas can spark a lifetime of adventures in Ireland.

Just ask some of the people who are already in the Ireland on a Budget Facebook Group, many of whom have taken countless return trips to the Emerald Isle.

  1. THE FIRST-TIMER’S TOUR OF IRELAND

Most people who make it to Ireland for the first time have a few cities and towns in mind as their introduction to Ireland.

If you fall into this category, starting a 10-day trip in Dublin and making your way west to Galway and then south to Killarney and Cobh, and finishing off in Dublin is a good way to introduce yourself to the country.

Best For: First-Time Visitors to Ireland
Places to Visit: Dublin, Galway, Killarney, Cobh
Start/End In: Dublin
Transportation: Rental Car Preferable (although this trip can be done by public transportation too, but that demands more planning)

If you don't have time to read this blog post now, you can purchase a PDF version of it on the Ireland on a Budget Etsy store for a reasonable price.

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Dublin and Vicinity (2 Nights)

If this is your first time in Ireland, it makes sense to fly into Dublin.

Dublin is a small, walkable city by European standards, with most attractions easily accessible by foot or by hopping on a tram or bus.

Below are some attractions that I recommend you see while there.

a tall spire in the middle of a street 4 Ireland itinerary ideas
The Spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin, mentioned in 2 of 4 Ireland itinerary ideas mentioned in this post. Photo: Mady70, Getty Images.

Plus, the place is steeped in history, from its beginnings as a Viking stronghold to its role in the greatest uprising in Irish history, the Easter Rising of 1916.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: The Book of Kells (currently, books in the Old Library are undergoing restoration and many have been taken temporarily off the shelves); Kilmainham Gaol/Jail; The Guinness Storehouse; Dublin’s free museums; a trad session in a popular Dublin pub (preferably McNeill's on Capel Street, Wednesday – Saturday, The Cobblestone every night, O'Donoghues on Merrion Row from 8 p.m. every night). Outside of Dublin, be sure to visit Newgrange/Bru na Boinne and/or the Glendalough Monastic Site in County Wicklow.

Where to Stay: Read the Ireland on a Budget guide to hotels and guesthouses in Dublin.

Galway & Connemara (2 Nights)

Galway is a popular city on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way that is known for its relaxed vibe.

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Shop Street in Galway, the city's main street. Photo: Stephen Duffy, Failte Ireland.

Given its proximity to the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking regions in Connemara), you’ll find that Irish culture is alive and well here, which can be experienced in the many traditional Irish music sessions in city pubs and on the streets.

people talking to each other on a street 4 Ireland itinerary ideas
Visitors on a food tour of Galway with Galway Food Tours. Photo: Hu O'Reilly, Failte Ireland.

Galway is otherwise known as The City of the Tribes, which refers to the 14 merchant families that dominated its political, commercial, and social life from the mid-13th through late 19th centuries.

In recent years, it has become a foodie haven, with new restaurants and eateries popping up, and food tours available for those who are interested.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Galway Museum (free); The Spanish Arch; Eyre Square; The Claddagh Visitor Centre; Walking tours (there are several available but if you are on a budget, take the free one that is offered by the Galway Civic Trust during the late spring/summer only and meets at the Hall of the Red Earl archaeological site); and a music session at Tigh Neachtain.

Outside of Galway, there are plenty of day tours available or you might want to drive yourself. Kylemore Abbey and Clifden are the main highlights.

an aerial view of fields 7 one-day tours in Ireland
An aerial view of Inishmore, the largest island of the Aran Islands. Photo: Chris Hill, Tourism Ireland.

Alternative day trips could include Galway to The Aran Islands, which will take in the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean.

Separate tours also go directly to the Cliffs so you can enjoy the experience on land. This is a very busy attraction during the summer months, so expect it to be crowded.

Where to Stay: Read the Ireland on a Budget guide to hotels and hostels in Galway.

Killarney (2 Nights)

Perhaps Queen Victoria knew a thing or two when she visited County Kerry in August of 1861.

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The beautiful Muckross House in Killarney. Photo: Courtesy Trustees of Muckross House for Failte Ireland.

Her stay at Muckross House and Gardens, now a popular attraction in Killarney, was widely covered in the press.

Most who visit Kerry today stick to the well-trodden Ring of Kerry route while others who have more time venture out into the expansive Dingle Peninsula.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: The Ring of Kerry (includes attractions like Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle, the Gap of Dunloe, Ladies View, Molls Gap, and more); Kerry National Park, which intersects with the Ring; Muckross House & Gardens.

To venture outside of Killarney, consider driving the Dingle Peninsula or taking a day tour from Killarney. Highlights of any visit to the peninsula include the town of Dingle, another popular foodie haven, The Slea Head Drive, and a ferry ride to the Great Blasket Island.

a boat near an island 4 Ireland itinerary ideas
Skellig boats arriving safely after the 12km journey to Skellig Michael. Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan for Tourism Ireland.

Other ideas for your exploration of County Kerry could include a trip to the iconic Skellig Michael, which is on the Iveragh Peninsula, about a 2-hour drive from Dingle and a little over an hour from Killarney.

Cobh (2 Nights)

Situated only 25 minutes from Cork City, Cobh is a great next stop on this first First-Timer’s Tour of Ireland.

houses and a church near the water 4 Ireland itinerary ideas
The pretty town of Cobh in County Cork. Photo: BLFink for Getty Images.

Feel free to explore Cork City if you want, but then head to this delightful harbor town.

Millions of people emigrated from Cobh between 1848 and 1950.

It is also closely linked to The Titanic since Cobh was the last stop the ocean liner made before embarking on its fateful journey across the North Atlantic.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: The English Market, The Butter Museum, Cork City Gaol, Cobh Heritage Centre, St. Colman’s Cathedral, Spike Island.

Where to Stay: Read the Ireland on a Budget guide to hotels and guesthouses in Cork.

On Day 9, make your way back to Dublin so that you can stay at a Dublin area hotel or choose a hotel within the Dublin Airport complex.

  1. NORTHERN IRELAND AND DONEGAL

If this is your second or third time to Ireland, you may want to choose Northern Ireland as your destination.

Technically part of the United Kingdom, this is a truly beautiful part of the island, with the Coastal Causeway region being its most popular attraction.


Like the First Timer’s Tour of Ireland above, this one will also start in Dublin unless you are traveling from Great Britain and you can easily get to Belfast by plane or you are taking your own car and traveling by ferry from Scotland.

Start this 10-day trip in Dublin, as noted above and then make your way north to Belfast, continuing along the coast to Portrush, Derry, Portsalon in North Donegal and Ardara in the southern half of the county. You will be finishing in Dublin.

Best For: Visitors who have been to Ireland before
Places to Visit: Dublin, Carlingford, Belfast, Portrush/Coastal Causeway Region, Derry, Donegal
Start/End In: Dublin
Transportation: Rental Car Preferable

Dublin (2 Nights)

Consider the suggested attractions from The First Timer’s Tour of Ireland mentioned above.

Newgrange/Carlingford (1 Night)

Explore Newgrange in County Meath with pre-booked tickets in hand and then drive a little over an hour to the lovely town of Carlingford located along the shores of Carlingford Lough and in a region known as the Cooley Peninsula.

an aerial view of a large mound in a field 4 Ireland itinerary ideas
An aerial shot of Newgrange, one of the attractions you can take outlined in 1 of these 4 Ireland itinerary ideas. Photo: Tourism Ireland.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Carlingford Castle (aka King John’s Castle – tours are available); The Thosel and The Mint (medieval structures still standing in the town); The Slieve Foye Loop hiking trail; The Carlingford Greenway cycling route; Cooley Peninsula Scenic Drive, and Carlingford Lough Sea Tours. Walking tours of the town are also available.

Where to Stay: The Ghan House, a fully restored Georgian house built in 1727 and featured in the “Finding You” movie trailer. In fact, you’ll also see clips of the town where parts of the movie were shot.

Belfast (1 Night)

Belfast’s resurgence as a tourist destination has taken quite some time given its history of violence during the period known as The Troubles but that is now all in the past, thankfully.

Belfast is a popular destination for day trippers from Dublin as well as other tourists who make this a stop on their journey across Northern Ireland.

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Belfast City Center. Photo: Tony Pleavin, Tourism Ireland.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Titanic Belfast; Black Taxi Tours of West Belfast (including the Peace Wall); Crumlin Road Gaol; Titanic Distillers; SS Nomadic (included with Titanic Experience ticket), lunch at the Crown Pub.

Where to Stay: Read the Ireland on a Budget guide to hotels in Belfast.

Portrush (2 Nights)

If you want to savor the Coastal Causeway area, two nights in this region is recommended.

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The West Strand in the pretty town of Portrush, Co. Antrim. Photo courtesy of Tourism Northern Ireland.

Portrush is, in my opinion, the ideal base for this given its proximity to Dunluce Castle, the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, three popular attractions in the area.

The town is built on a mile-long peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, which is where most of its hotels, restaurants and bars are located. The beaches along this stretch of the coastline are amazing.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Dunluce Castle; Giant’s Causeway; Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge; Whiterocks Beach; Royal Portrush Golf Club (Tip: green fees for the Valley Links are cheaper than the Dunluce Links); Bushmills Distillery; Mussendun Temple and walks along the coast. Farther afield, you’ll find much more to explore, including The Dark Hedges, the Glens of Antrim, and Ballintoy Harbor.

Where to Stay: The Portush Atlantic Hotel and The Port Hotel (family-run with a free breakfast).

Derry (1 Night)

Derry, also known as Londonderry to some, is a smaller city that has a homier feel to it than Belfast. It, too, had its fair share of troubles during the Northern Ireland conflict.

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The Derry City walls, Northern Ireland's second-largest city and a destination mentioned in one of 4 Ireland itinerary ideas that you might want to consider. Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

Its city walls are its defining attraction, with the nearby Peace Bridge transporting visitors from one side of the River Foyle to the other.

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The Derry Girls mural. Photo; Gardner Mitchell for Tourism Ireland.

The popular series Derry Girls cemented the city’s reputation in popular culture, and you’ll find a large mural in honor of the show in the city center.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Derry City Walls; The Museum of Free Derry; The Guildhall; The Bogside Walking Tour; Walking Tour with Derrie Danders; Walled City Brewery, and St. Columb’s Cathedral.

Where to Stay: The award-winning Bishop’s Gate Hotel in Derry is the ideal spot to lay your head and one that I  have written about before. You can find others on Booking.com.

Donegal (1 Night)

Donegal can be easily accessed from Northern Ireland, which is why I’m adding it to this itinerary. I suggest you choose one or two of the attractions below to maximize your time there.

lighthouse on cliffs
Fanad Lighthouse in Donegal. Photo: Failte Ireland.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Malin Head (Ireland’s most northerly point); Fanad Lighthouse; Glenveagh National Park; The Poisoned Glen; Doagh Famine Village; Dunfanaghy Workhouse, and the Slieve League Cliffs.

Where to Stay: Donegal has an abundance of accommodation, from 4-star hotels like Harvey’s Point on Lough Eske to rental homes across the county.

3. IRELAND’S MAGICAL WEST & NORTHWEST (ROSCOMMON, LEITRIM, SLIGO, MAYO)

These 4 counties that form part of the province of Connaught are not as heavily trafficked by tourists as other, more popular regions of Ireland.

But there’s a whole lot to explore here, probably too much for 10 days.

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The Yeats statue in Sligo, a destination that you can visit outlined in one of these 4 Ireland itinerary ideas. Photo: Conor Doherty for Sligo Tourism.

Sligo is synonymous with the poet William Butler Yeats and there are several attractions that are associated with him.

Mayo’s dramatic coastline and rural windswept areas are a must-see.

Some of the more popular attractions in this county include the Dun Briste seastack at Downpatrick Head, the Ceide Fields, Ballycroy National Park, and some really great beaches, just to name a few.

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Glencar Lake in Co. Leitrim. Photo: Tom Archer for Tourism Ireland.

Leitrim has a very small coastline but there are jewels there too, including its beautiful, untouched countryside and a distillery that is worth visiting.

In Roscommon, you’ll find one of Ireland’s best forest parks, as well as plenty of historical and archaeological attractions.

Best For: Repeat visitors to Ireland who want to explore parts of the country that are not overrun with tourists
Places to Visit: Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo
Start/End In: Dublin (but if you’ve been to Ireland several times before and you’ve seen Dublin already, I’d head straight for the first stop on this itinerary)
Transportation: Rental Car Preferable

Roscommon (2 Nights)

Flying into Dublin is the most convenient way to get to Roscommon. The journey takes just over 2 hours on mostly motorway.

The county offers something for everyone, including outdoor enthusiasts who like to walk or boat, as well as those who want to dive deeper into Ireland’s ancient history and its more recent past.

a large white house National Famine Museum
Strokestown Park House in County Roscommon where the upgraded National Famine Museum is located. Photo: Chris Hill, Tourism Ireland.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Lough Key Forest and Activity Park; Rathcroghan Visitor Centre; Strokestown House Park and Gardens/National Famine Museum; Arigna Mining Experience; Boyle Abbey, and Roscommon Castle.

Where to Stay: Kilronan Castle Estate & Spa Self-Catering – a minimum 2-night stay required or the Kilronan Castle Hotel & Spa. There are plenty of B&Bs in Roscommon too. You'll find them on the BandB Ireland website.

Leitrim (2 Nights)

If you’re interested in exploring the beautiful Irish countryside, Leitrim is a good place to do it.

The county is home to beautiful lakes and majestic mountains, and The Shannon-Erne Blueway, which runs through Leitrim.

It offers opportunities for quite meandering boat rides as well as more adventurous paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing activities.

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Cruisers moored on the canal in the village of Leitrim, not always on every tourist's radar but included in one of the 4 Ireland itinerary ideas for your Emerald Isle vacation. Photo: Fennell Photography.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Glencar Waterfall; Acres Lake Floating Boardwalk; Parkes Castle; The Shed Distillery, and Moon River Cruise at Carrick-on-Shannon.

Where to Stay: The Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon or also in Carrick-on-Shannon, The Landmark Hotel in addition to Lough Rynn Castle Estate & Gardens, considered a luxury property but worth it for the experience.

Sligo (2 Nights)

Much of County Sligo is close to the ocean therefore making it a popular destination for surfers. Easkey, Strandhill and Mullaghmore are the top spots for that activity.

If you’re looking for a quieter exploration of the county, you’ll get it in the many beautiful walks that are available around the Sligo town area, in addition to archaeological ruins and attractions associated with the poet W.B. Yeats. 

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Classiebawn Castle in County Sligo. Photo: Avril Glavin Images.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: Knocknarea (easy climb to the top of Maeve’s Cairn); Drumcliff Cemetery (site of Yeats’s grave); Classiebawn Castle on the Maugherarow Peninsula; Lissadell House, and Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery.

Where to Stay: The Sligo Southern Hotel & Leisure Centre or The Glasshouse Hotel, both in Sligo town are convenient for an exploration of the surrounding areas.

Mayo (2 Nights)

Mayo is the largest of the 4 counties, with an incredible coastline and beaches that are not too shabby either.

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Keem Strand on Achill Island. Photo: Kelvin Gillmor, Failte Ireland.

A number of islands lie off the Mayo coast, including the beautiful Achill Island, made famous in the movie, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Clare Island, the former home of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.

Lively towns like Westport also beckon visitors, and Croagh Patrick, a few short miles away, is perfect for climbing if you are up for it.

Suggested Must-See Highlights: The Céide Fields; Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park; Blacksod Lighthouse; Downpatrick Head/Dun Briste Stack; National Museum of Ireland Country Life; Westport House, Ashford Castle Hawk Experience, Cong, and The Great Western Greenway cycling route.

Where to Stay: Westport is a good central base from which to explore some of the above attractions. I’d recommend The Castlecourt Hotel and The Wyatt Hotel, both in town. There are plenty of B&Bs in Westport as well. You’ll find them on the BandB Ireland website below.

  1. THE SUNNY SOUTHEAST (CARLOW, KILKENNY, TIPPERARY, WATERFORD AND WEXFORD)

For a small country, Ireland’s weather can be interesting to say the least.

Generally prone to spats of showery weather on an almost daily basis (unless an unusually hot spell comes along), the southeast of the country is most definitely drier and as a result, it has earned the nickname “The Sunny Southeast.”

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The Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, a favorite destination for tourists to Ireland. Photo: Nick Fox.

There are plenty of worthwhile attractions in this area of the country, including the very popular Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.

But there’s more than just ancient castles and fortresses in The Sunny Southeast.

Its coastline, while tamer than the Wild Atlantic Way, is incredibly beautiful and the Copper Coast region in particular is a highlight that you shouldn’t leave out.

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Kilkenny, Ireland, a popular destination that's included in 4 Ireland itinerary ideas for your Emerald Isle vacation. Photo: Todamo, Getty Images.

Traces of Ireland’s Viking history are most prominent in Waterford, and the medieval city of Kilkenny is equally captivating in its own way, with its narrow streets, riveting ghost stories and a castle that dominates it all.

Best For: Visitors who are curious about the southeast and its attractions
Places to Visit: Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford
Start/End In: Dublin
Transportation: Rental Car Preferable (but public transportation is possible too)

Carlow (1 Night)

Carlow often gets left behind in the rush to visit Kilkenny and Tipperary, most notably The Rock of Cashel.

But there is plenty of lovely countryside to explore here, in addition to several historical attractions, including ones like the Brownshill Dolmen, as well as grand homes like Borris House and others.

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The massive Brownshill Dolmen in Co. Carlow. Photo courtesy of Krechet for Getty Images.

Suggested Must-See Attractions: Duckett’s Grove, Borris House, Carlow Castle, Carlow Museum.

Where to Stay: Avlon House Bed and Breakfast, within walking distance of Carlow town.

Kilkenny & Tipperary (2 Nights)

The city of Kilkenny is the main draw for tourists who flock to this area of Ireland. Many also include it on their first visit to Ireland.

Tipperary’s Rock of Cashel is the main attraction there, but the towns that surround it have some interesting attractions too that are worth exploring.

castle from the air planning a trip to Ireland in 2022
An aerial view of Kilkenny Castle, a popular tourist destination in Ireland. Photo: Failte Ireland.

Suggested Must-See Attractions: Kilkenny Castle; Medieval Mile Museum (includes guided and self-guided tours as well as walking tours of the Medieval Mile Trail); Rothe House & Gardens; Smithwicks Experience; The Rock of Cashel; Cahir Castle; Hore Abbey; Cashel Heritage Centre; Swiss Cottage; the Mitchelstown Caves; Horse Country Experience, Fethard, and Nenagh Castle (climb the 101 steps to the top).

Where to Stay: The Avalon House Hotel in the charming town of Castlecomer, a 15-minute drive from Kilkenny. The hotel is about an hour’s drive to the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary.

Waterford (2 Nights)

While the Vikings had a hand in developing Dublin, they seem to have gotten to Waterford first as it is known as the oldest Viking city in Ireland.

The city proudly displays that Viking heritage as well as its Anglo-Norman roots.

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An aerial view of Reginald's Tower in the city of Waterford, a focal point of The Sunny Southeast tour, one of 4 Ireland itinerary ideas that you might want to consider. Photo: Courtesy Waterford Museum of Treasures.

Outside of Waterford, there’s plenty to see along its Copper Coast region, associated with copper mines that existed in the area for years.

Suggested Must-See Attractions: Viking Triangle (includes a number of attractions under the Waterford Treasures brand – Reginald’s Tower, Bishop’s Palace, The Medieval Museum, The Irish Silver Museum, The Museum of Time, and The Wake Museum, as well as King of the Vikings); self-guided walks that start at the Copper Coast Geopark Visitor Centre; coastal foraging; and cycling on the Waterford Greenway.

Where to Stay: The Granville Hotel is conveniently located within easy reach of the Viking Triangle attractions.

Wexford (2 Nights)

Wexford is known for many things, including its beautiful sandy beaches, the most famous of which is Curracloe Beach, where scenes for the movies “Saving Private Ryan” and “Brooklyn” were filmed.

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The Hook Head Peninsula in Co. Wexford with the lighthouse in the distance. Wexford is one of the destinations you can explore in 1 of these 4 Ireland itinerary ideas. Photo: Chris Hill for Tourism Ireland.

The Hook Peninsula is also a defining attraction in the region, and it is where you’ll find Hook Lighthouse, the oldest in Ireland and one of the world's oldest operational lighthouses.

Must-See Attractions: Hook Lighthouse (tours are available); The Saltee Islands (a sanctuary for puffins); the Dunbrody Famine Ship; The Kennedy Homestead; The National Heritage Park, and Tintern Abbey.

Where to Stay: The Ferrycarrig Hotel is a good hotel to base yourself in while touring this region. Based on this itinerary, you’ll be driving back to Dublin the day of your departure. The drive from Wexford to Dublin is about 2 hours.

Are you planning to visit Ireland in the future? Would you consider any one of these 4 Ireland itinerary ideas? If so, let me know in the comments below.

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar for Deb
    Deb

    If I wanted to do all 4 itineraries, how would you link them? Thank you!

    1. Avatar for colette
      colette

      You would need a good amount of time to link them all together, Deb. If you want me to create one for you that takes your favorite places from each one, I can do that for you for a fee. Let me if you are interested by emailing [email protected]. It’s a service I’ll be promoting in 2024, but please know that I am not a travel agent. I can create itineraries and give accommodation recommendations based on my expert knowledge of Ireland. You’d need to book your own flights.

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