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Day by Day Itinerary

As you travel through Ireland, delve deeply into a land rich in history, legend, stirring music, and verdant landscapes. Begin your journey in Galway, an enchanting city on Ireland’s western coast where there’s a tune playing around every corner. Explore the eerie landscape of the Burren and the captivating Cliffs of Moher as you travel to Killarney, home of the 110-mile scenic Ring of Kerry. Then embark for Cork and its nearby seaport of Cobh, where thousands of Irish emigrated during the Potato Famine. Departing Cork, you’ll continue on to Kilkenny—where you'll stay for two nights in this historic city on our new 2014 itinerary—before finally arriving at the Irish Republic’s cosmopolitan capital, Dublin. This Ireland guided tour is an in-depth discovery of the Emerald Isle—its lore, its lands, and above all, the gregarious charm of its people.

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    Depart from the U.S. today on your flight to Ireland, arriving on Day 2. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    Arrive in Galway today. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel, where you'll meet your Program Director and your fellow travelers, including those returning from their Northern Ireland pre-trip extension. Galway is a bustling young city with a lively nightlife. After your arrival, your Program Director will take you for a vicinity walk to explore the area around your hotel, and provide suggestions on how to maximize your day and explore on your own.

    Tonight, get to know your fellow travelers over a Welcome Drink, followed by a Welcome Briefing. Then sit down for your first dinner together at your hotel.

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    This morning, your Program Director will introduce you to Galway on a walking tour through the city. You have the remainder of the day at leisure to explore Galway on your own. This enchanting city is a medley of narrow lanes, wood and stone shop fronts, and bustling restaurants and pubs. Originally presided over by the local O’Flahertys, Galway was taken over by Anglo-Normans and became a thriving center of trade and commerce by the 14th century. European galleons were a regular sight in the city, which was “home” to Spanish merchant ships during their western voyages. Galway declined after being damaged in battle with the forces of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century, but regained its prosperity and vitality in modern times. Today, Galway remains a merchant town, but it is also a burgeoning center for technology and a lively bohemian mecca.

    Dinner is on your own tonight. Or, join us for an optional Irish ceili, a celebration of the harvest that usually includes a hearty meal followed by song, stories, and dance. You’ll join local musicians as they explain this traditional Irish celebration. Feel free to join in song and dance with us as we watch the sun go down over Galway Bay. Your optional tour includes a three-course dinner with entertainment.

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    Spend the day at leisure, exploring Galway on your own. The city’s compact center spans both sides of the River Corrib. In the center of Eyre Square stands the Quincentennial Fountain, constructed in 1984 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Royal Charter granted by King Richard III that created Galway as an independent city-state. Nearby are some of the oldest streets in Galway, narrow winding lanes that curve in and around old wooden buildings, often meandering off toward the Corrib and the docks. Yet turn a corner and you will find modern Galway—certainly one of the liveliest cities in Europe. Artists and musicians crowd the sidewalks and almost every pub seems to offer live music.

    Or, join us for an optional journey through the Connemara region of Galway. Once home to more than two million Irish, it still retains its regional heritage, as you will discover while we ramble around its lakes, mountains, and bogs. We'll visit the former Gothic mansion of Mitchell Henry, now the home of Benedictine nuns and better known as Kylemore Abbey. You'll have time to wander both the mansion and the Victorian gardens. Then cruise Killary, a charming fjord. You’ll enjoy lunch while cruising. On your return, we'll travel through the Inagh Valley to the coast, where we'll see the deserted village of Clough Na Mara and discover a sense of hardship the Irish experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, only the shells of their homes remain—set amidst hundreds of miles of stone walls.

    This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.

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    This morning, you depart Galway for Killarney after a hearty breakfast. On the way, discover the intense natural beauty of Ireland on an included excursion to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The Burren’s name is derived from a Gaelic word meaning “stony place,” and it is like no other place in Ireland. Instead of peat bogs and pastures, you’ll find a surreal moonscape full of huge limestone crags.

    Despite this seemingly inhospitable setting, a diverse array of plant life—including wild orchids and rock rose—thrives here. Alpine plants nestle in crevices beside temperate species. The white, deeply crevassed limestone conceals “micro-environments” rich in potholes and hollows. The ample rainfall and strange topography have resulted in a paradoxical profusion of arctic and semi-tropical vegetation growing side by side.

    The majestic Cliffs of Moher are precipitous rock formations—towering more than 700 feet above the crashing ocean surf at their highest point—that offer breathtaking panoramic views of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. These magnificent cliffs provide nesting sites for tens of thousands of seabirds. If the wind is strong, the sea foam and spray flies up and over the cliffs along with the rain; while on clear sunny days, fantastic views can be seen from every angle.

    Over the centuries, people have also made their mark, with towers, quarries, and well-worn paths, but they’re almost lost in the scale and grandeur of the sea cliffs. One that does stand out is O’Brien’s Tower, a huge structure built to house the guests of Cornelius O’Brien, County Clare’s legendary Member of Parliament from the 1830s until he died in 1857.

    You continue on to Killarney to spend the next three nights. This market town is known for its verdant, rolling hills and glittering loughs (lakes). This afternoon, you'll enjoy an introduction to this area during a ride on a jaunting car (a traditional Irish horse-drawn carriage) for a tour of the forested hills of Killarney National Park, and the Kenmare Estate, a former residence for an Irish noble family.

    Dine with your fellow travelers at your hotel this evening, then enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series discussion with a local resident, to learn about the history and culture of the Emerald Isle and its people.

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    On this morning’s included tour, you’ll discover the Ring of Kerry, a drive that traces the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula and offers breathtaking views. There is always something new to appreciate in the combination of ocean, islands, mountains, light, and ever-changing weather patterns. We ride most of the way, making scenic stops.

    The first town along the route is Killorglin, where an elegant eight-arched bridge crosses the River Laune. Then you'll advance to the water’s edge at Kells, an attractive fishing village with panoramic viewing points.

    The next stretch is one of the highlights of the Ring, with outstanding views of the coastline. On the return to Killarney, the route takes you through Moll’s Gap, where you’ll have an included lunch, and Ladies View, named after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. The vistas of lakes and mountains remain magnificent today. We’ll continue on and return to Killarney, where the afternoon is yours.

    Dinner tonight is on your own. Or, join us for an optional performance by the National Folk Theatre, the country’s only repertory company, with an included dinner. Using the disciplines of traditional Irish music, dance, storytelling, and mime, the group offers a cultural experience dramatizing the essence of Irish culture, including the myths, legends, lore, language, folkways, and folk life of a bygone era. Please note: This optional tour is available on May-September departures only.

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    Your day is at leisure to pursue your own interests.

    Or, join us on an optional tour as we venture out along the Dingle Peninsula. You’ll stop first at Tralee’s Kerry County Museum, where you’ll enjoy the fascinating experience of a recreated medieval street. Then follow the rugged Dingle Peninsula with its wild mountains and some of the most spectacular coastline Ireland has to display. You’ll view the famed Blasket Islands, the most westerly point of Europe, and their prehistoric ring forts and beehive huts. One of Ireland’s largest Irish-speaking areas, the peninsula has attracted many writers and artists for the inspiration the wild landscape offers. The movies Ryan’s Daughter and Far and Away were made here. We will stop in the fishing town of Dingle to enjoy locally caught fish (and chips) for lunch, included with the cost of the optional tour.

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    After breakfast, we will stop at a working sheep farm and see Ireland’s finest Border Collies in action at a sheepdog demonstration. Please note: This is an outdoor event and is weather-dependent. It will not be conducted in wet, muddy conditions.

    Next, you’ll transfer to Cork, stopping for a visit to Blarney Castle, where a 129-step staircase leads up a tower to the famed Blarney Stone. According to legend, anyone who manages the backward lean to kiss it receives the “gift of the gab”—a smooth, soothing way with words that at best mean nothing.

    The word “blarney” was coined by Elizabeth I to describe her endless and fruitless discussions with Dermot McCarthy over his surrender of the castle to the Crown. The McCarthys built the present castle with its 85-foot-high keep in 1446, replacing an earlier castle. Though the Blarney Stone gets all the publicity, the castle’s tower house and surrounding gardens are superb in their own right. The castle’s grounds also include caves, dungeons, and a rock garden of ancient trees and weathered stones.

    Continue on to historic Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city. A walk through this island city takes you into the famous English Market, noted for its wide selection of fresh Irish produce. Discover the rebel city of Cork through its many medieval lanes and back streets.

    This evening, you’ll enjoy dinner at your hotel with your fellow travelers.

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    This morning, ride to Cobh (pronounced “cove”). This picturesque town long served as the main harbor for the city of Cork, and is dominated by the spire of St. Colman’s Cathedral, which contains the largest carillon in Ireland. This morning, a local historian will give you some insight into Cobh's history.

    Cobh was a major emigration point for families who left the country during the Great Potato Famine, when some two-and-a-half million emigrants departed this port for North America. Here you’ll discover the story of Irish emigration and the era of the great ocean liners, when Cobh was a very active port. This was the last place the Titanic dropped anchor before heading across the Atlantic on her tragic journey.

    Here you can also pay tribute to the victims of the Lusitania at a quayside memorial. In 1915, this ship was sunk off the coast of Cobh by a German submarine, with a loss of 1,196 passengers, including 127 Americans. This action helped bring America into World War I. Then, enjoy a short, leisurely walk around Cobh accompanied by our local historian. You'll have some free time afterward for your own explorations.

    Then, learn about contemporary life in Ireland—and savor a traditional meal—during a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family.

    In the late afternoon, return to Cork, and enjoy dinner on your own.

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    This morning, you'll transfer from Cork to the city of Kilkenny.

    En route, you'll enjoy a guided tour of Cahir Castle. Cahir, in its time (13th-15th centuries), was a state-of-the-art design for a defensive castle and is today one of Ireland's best-preserved castles. Situated on a rocky island in the River Suir, the castle still has its keep, tower, and much of its original structure. The last Lord Cahir died in 1961 and the castle came into state stewardship. You'll enjoy an included guided tour and an audio-visual show describing the castle's history.

    Next, continue along the way, with a stop at Waterford, where you’ll visit the Waterford Crystal factory, founded in 1783 by George and William Penrose. Today, Waterford Crystal is prized the world over as the standard for the highest quality lead-cut crystal. You'll tour the Waterford branch of the company, now part of a worldwide operation that includes such notable brands as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. You’ll hear about the organization's history and see a glassblowing demonstration.

    After your tour, you’ll arrive in Kilkenny for the evening, where Dinner is included at your hotel. After dinner, you’ll gather at a local pub for an included drink and a live music performance.

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    Kilkenny city straddles both banks of the River Nore in the center of County Kilkenny, and you'll explore it this morning on an included walking tour with your Program Director. Your tour will take you to the sprawling gardens of Kilkenny Castle, an 800-year old stronghold that lords over the city center. Though originally designed to defend a crossing over the River Nore, the castle’s grounds today provide a peaceful place for locals and visitors alike to stroll about and admire the impressive artisanal floristry on display.

    Later, partake in an exclusive Discovery Series event as you learn about hurling, an energetic and uniquely Irish sport, similar to field hockey or lacrosse, with traditional Gaelic roots. The Irish have been playing the game since the Celts invented it 2,000 years ago, and today you’ll learn about it for yourself during a demonstration.

    Afterward, you'll have the rest of the day to spend as you please in this compact city to make new discoveries. Lunch and dinner are on your own today.

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    From Kilkenny, you’ll journey to the river town of Avoca, made famous by the Avoca Handweavers. This clothing manufacturer is Ireland's oldest line of business, active since the early 1700s. During an exclusive Discovery Series event, you'll meet with some of the handweavers when you visit Avoca's mill, which happens to be the oldest of its class in all of Ireland.

    Then, you'll advance to lovely Glendalough, a glacial valley that would come to be known for a monastery founded here in the sixth century by St. Kevin. The settlement thrived for centuries, but was destroyed by the English in 1398. Among the monks’ great achievements was manuscript writing and copying, including the creation of the spectacular Book of Glendalough around 1131. Now at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the book—containing historical chronicles, genealogies, and religious poems—is one of the most important and beautiful Irish manuscripts from the pre-Norman period.

    You’ll arrive in Dublin in the afternoon. Enjoy a walk around the neighborhood with your Program Director, followed by an evening at leisure. Join your fellow travelers tonight for an included dinner.

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    After breakfast this morning, continue to get to know Dublin, the modern-day capital of Ireland, on a guided panoramic tour. 

    Next, you'll tour the Guinness Storehouse, a 7-story museum located in a former brewing factory inside the St. James's Gate Brewery. Learn about the history of Ireland's famous brew during your tour, which includes lunch, and a free drink in the Gravity Bar, a glass-windowed lounge located at the top of the building which provides panoramic views of the city below. You'll also receive a pint-pulling demonstration, to learn the master technique behind pouring a perfect glass of "the black stuff."

    This evening, gather with your Program Director and fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or continue your discoveries of the Emerald Isle on an optional post-trip extension in Dublin, Ireland.

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Traveler Reviews

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 5 locations in 13 days

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 2 miles unassisted and participate in 1.5-2.5 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs
  • Agility, balance, and stairs are required to kiss the Blarney Stone

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 48-67°F during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • February and November-December weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time
  • Rain is common and should be expected

Terrain

  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestones

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach and jaunting car (horse-drawn carriage)

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Pillo Hotel Galway

    Galway, Ireland

    A 15-minute walk from the city center, this First Class hotel is conveniently situated close to historic sites and natural wonders. Take a leisurely stroll to explore downtown Galway, and enjoy the hotel’s on-site health spa, fitness center, bar, and restaurant. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, cable/satellite TV, high-speed Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with shower.

  • Killarney Towers

    Killarney, Ireland

    Located in the heart of the town of Killarney, guests don’t have to travel far to enjoy a variety of leisure activities, since the hotel offers a sauna, steam room, swimming pool, and gym, as well a restaurant and several bars. Your air-conditioned room features a safe, wireless Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • The River Lee Hotel

    Cork, Ireland | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located along the banks of Cork’s Lee River, the Superior First-Class River Lee Hotel provides guests with an up-close view of the area’s verdant scenery. The hotel is within walking distance of many of the city’s attractions, from bustling local pubs to Cork’s historic monuments. Hotel amenities include a fitness center, indoor pool, spa, library, and bistro/bar. Each air-conditioned room features a flat-screen TV and complimentary wireless Internet access.

  • Pembroke Hotel

    Kilkenny, Ireland

    Centrally located in Kilkenny’s historic city center, this boutique-style hotel is within walking distance of the Kilkenny Castle and its verdant surrounding grounds. The hotel features an on-site bar and restaurant, while each room includes air conditioning, coffee- and tea-making facilities, free wireless Internet, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Ballsbridge Hotel

    Dublin, Ireland | Rating: Moderate Deluxe

    This Moderate Deluxe hotel is within walking distance of Dublin's city center, and offers convenient access to locations like St. Stephen's Green, Temple Bar, and Grafton Street—one of Dublin's fashionable shopping areas. Hotel facilities include a restaurant and pub. All non-smoking rooms feature a TV, trouser press, complimentary coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

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  • Europa Belfast

    Dublin, Ireland | Rating: First Class

    Situated in Belfast’s city center, the First-Class Europa Belfast is within close proximity to the city’s shops, museums, and many of Belfast’s famous venues, including the Grand Opera House and Waterfront and Odyssey concert venues. You don’t have to stray far to enjoy a bite to eat, as the hotel features three restaurants. Each of the 272 rooms feature a telephone, flat-screen TV, Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, iron, and hair dryer.

  • City Hotel Derry

    Derry, Ireland | Rating: Moderate First Class

    Located on the banks of the River Foyle, the Moderate First-Class City Hotel Derry is about a five-minute walk from the historic Derry Walls, which form a promenade around the inner city. The hotel offers a restaurant, bar, and health club. Your room includes telephone, TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Pillo Hotel Galway

    Galway, Ireland

    A 15-minute walk from the city center, this First Class hotel is conveniently situated close to historic sites and natural wonders. Take a leisurely stroll to explore downtown Galway, and enjoy the hotel’s on-site health spa, fitness center, bar, and restaurant. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, cable/satellite TV, high-speed Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with shower.

  • Ballsbridge Hotel

    Dublin, Ireland | Rating: Moderate Deluxe

    This Moderate Deluxe hotel is within walking distance of Dublin's city center, and offers convenient access to locations like St. Stephen's Green, Temple Bar, and Grafton Street—one of Dublin's fashionable shopping areas. Hotel facilities include a restaurant and pub. All non-smoking rooms feature a TV, trouser press, complimentary coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $1795
w/ standard air $2695

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Ireland

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Ireland in Depth vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

  Galway Bay Ireland  

Our tour guide wanted to show us some of the sites in the vicinity of Galway and took us to Salt Beach. This is the part of town where the locals get their walking and swimming in. She encouraged us to test the water ... a good icebreaker (no pun intended) since the tour members on the pre-trip and main trip had just joined up and hadn't had a chance to get to know each other yet.” Photo by Paul Motyka, 7-time traveler from Acton, Massachusetts.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

10 reasons to experience Ireland in Depth—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. Here are some of the memorable experiences that they have shared with us from Ireland in Depth.

Reservations & Information: Call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

1. Dublin, Ireland

“We took a jaunty cart ride from the Guinness Brewery back to our hotel in Dublin, which proved to be educational, romantic, and quaint. We enjoyed waving to all the friendly folks along the way.”A 2-time traveler from O’Fallon, IL

2. Scenic landscapes

“Ireland is a beautiful country, with scenery that is truly emerald green—as in Wizard of Oz green. The stone walls and thatched roofs make one feel that fairies and leprechauns could truly live here.”A 12-time traveler from Plymouth, MA

3. Program Director

“Most impressive though was our tour director, Sheila O'Connell, who was fantastic! Her outgoing personality, her wit, her knowledge, her helpful tips, and always going the extra mile for all of us made this an experience to remember. So evident in everything she did was her love of her country and wanting to share that with all of us travelers.”A 4-time traveler from Chesterfield, MO

4. Northern Ireland pre-trip extension

“We heartily recommend adding Northern Ireland. It was a spectacular part of our journey! Not only did we see all the major attractions, but we learned a lot about the history of 'the troubles' from Ronin during the Londonderry City tour. My favorite city was Derry! It was just large enough!”A 1-time traveler from Lascassas, TN

5. Cobh, Ireland

“The most memorable event for us was walking along the sea shore in Cobh, where the Titanic left for its fatal voyage. It was a moving feeling of quiet awareness.”A 10-time traveler from Saint Charles, MO

6. Local history

“A highlight for me was how much I learned about Irish history and culture. We visited a village where many of the Irish lived prior to the famine in 1845. We actually saw the ruins of many of the abandoned homes. Evidence of those difficult times appears all along the trip. You see it and feel it as you see the famine walls built on the hills, to the port of Cobh which was the departing point for many of the immigrants.”A 9-time traveler from Scottsdale, AZ

7. Sheepdog demonstration

“Our stop to see a sheep herding demonstration by border collies was one of the most exciting moments for this animal lover; it was our turn to be seated in the front bus seat, and the shepherd stepped on the bus with a four-week-old border collie puppy in his pocket, which he promptly handed to me! We then got off the bus to watch the dogs do their work; their enthusiasm and expertise was amazing to watch.”A 5-time traveler from Chester Springs, PA

8. Blarney Castle

“A highlight for me was kissing the Blarney Stone! I never thought I'd be able to make it up all those steps but it was easy! There are huge ropes on both sides of the stairway that are incredibly useful during the ascent!” A 6-time traveler from Carmel, IN

9. Local people

“The real joy was the Irish people themselves. They are beyond delightful, charming and welcoming. Each seems to have that droll sense of humor which catches you by surprise. From stopping on the street for directions or chatting with people wherever, they were an enhancement to the overall trip.”A 9-time traveler from Encino, CA

10. Irish pubs

“Undoubtedly, Irish pubs are happy places. Just by passing the door, you made a few friends and forgot your worries. And if musicians are present, it is as if a collective smile took over the party.”A 1-time traveler from Youngstown, NY

County Kerry: Land of Lakes, Loss, and Legend

The millennia of history nestled within the Emerald Isle’s “rebel county”

by Lyette Mercier for Grand Circle

Thanks to its geographic diversity and relative inaccessibility before modern-day travel, much of County Kerry continues ancient Irish traditions.

Located in Ireland’s southwest, County Kerry is home to some of the Emerald Isle’s most ethereal natural beauty and iconic history. Best known for the scenic Ring of Kerry, Kerry’s spectacular geological features date back to the end of the last ice age ten thousand years ago, when retreating ice sheets cut into the landscape, creating the lakes, valleys, and mountains that enchant visitors to this day.

These spectacular sights—including the interconnected Lakes of Killarney, the breathtaking mountain pass of Moll’s Gap, and the verdant flora throughout the ring—are the rolling green hills of Ireland writ large. Killarney National Park’s 25,000 acres of pristine landscape encompass Ireland’s magical natural beauty: Much of what is today known as the Ring of Kerry rests in this park. Established in 1932, when the owners of the grand Victorian estate Muckross House gifted their 4,000 acres of land to the Irish government, the park was expanded in the 1970s to cover more than 25,000 acres of protected land.

The Lakes of Killarney—glacial Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and the Upper Lake—make up about a quarter of the park. Each lake boasts a unique and diverse ecosystem, with thriving populations of cormorants, deer, salmon, and trout. The park also boasts the country’s largest area of ancient oakwoods, and is home to McGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s tallest mountain range, whose peaks top out at a modest 3,414 feet.

Humans have inhabited the area for more than 4,000 years, since the Bronze Age; the remains of a copper mine on the Ross Island peninsula provide evidence of Ireland’s earliest known metalwork. And Christianity arrived in Kerry in the middle of the first millennium, leaving behind early Christian settlement ruins still visible today. Among them is the monastery Saint Finian the Leper founded on Inisfallen Island in Lough Leane (Gaelic for “Lake of Learning.”) Established in the seventh century AD, it remained occupied until the 14th century.

“Rebel county” turned tourist hotspot

In addition to ancient roots, Kerry has a long and proud history as “The Kingdom County,” intermittently warring against British subjugation from the 12th century Norman invasion to the 1918 War for Independence, when Kerry was a republican stronghold. Among its most significant losses in the long fight against England was the end of the Nine Years War in 1603, when much of Kerry’s land was confiscated by the British and given to English settlers. Irish farmers, unable to own land and forced tenants to the British, were kept poor by the rents they were required to pay the crown.

A century and a half later, Thomas Browne, 4th Viscount of Kenmare and a prominent Irish landowner and politician, came up with the idea of improving the local economy through the modern tourist trade. By promoting the area’s pristine nature as an idyllic spot for visiting English gentry to enjoy their fishing and hunting holidays, the town of Killarney developed from a modest village into a thriving center for tourism and trade.

Kerry’s renown had grown so much by 1861 that Queen Victoria herself came to see the sights. Ladies’ View, a scenic spot between Killarney and Kenmare, was named for the queen’s ladies in waiting, who vocally admired the magnificent views there. The writings of famed poets, including Tennyson and Wordsworth, further cemented Killarney’s reputation as an international vacation destination.

While English rule developed the world’s appreciation for Kerry’s beauty, it proved ill-suited for the management of the county’s people. The landlord/tenant system disintegrated when farmers’ main crop and food source—the potato—failed. During the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, approximately one million citizens died; just as many emigrated to escape such a fate. Areas of County Kerry lost up to 30% of their population, a loss that still contributes to the county’s areas of windswept isolation today.

Ancient traditions in a modern day

Thanks to its geographic diversity and relative inaccessibility before modern-day travel, much of County Kerry continues ancient Irish traditions. Six Kerry towns are classified by the government as Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking), with Gaelic spoken as the primary language. The fishing town of Dingle, on a craggy peninsula of the same name, is the largest of these, with a population of nearly 2,000. Although areas where Gaelic Irish is spoken as a first language are in decline, it is still taught in schools, in hopes of preserving this precious tradition for the future.

From its formation in the ice age to 4,000 years of human habitation, County Kerry retains memories both natural and manmade from its entire varied history. Its beauty and longevity will no doubt continue to enchant visitors for generations to come.

Pay Early & Save up to 10% with our Good Buy Plan

It’s simple: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on any 2015 departure of Ireland in Depth

  • Enjoy the best value by reserving and paying in full as far in advance of your departure as possible—see below for an example of how your savings can add up
  • By paying in full early, you’ll protect your investment from fuel surcharge increases, currency increases, or other unexpected costs
  • You’ll also save up to 10% on your air add-ons, and pre- and post-trip extensions, maximizing your value even further

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 9/12/15 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve by 9/12/14
SAVE 7%
when you reserve by 10/12/14
SAVE 5%
when you reserve by 12/12/14
Land Tour only price: $2695 $2426 $2506 $2560
Add a 5-night Northern Ireland extension: $995 $896 $925 $945
Add international airfare out of New York: $900 $810 $837 $855
Total price per person $4590 $4131 $4269 $4361
Total savings per couple   $918 $643 $459

Maximize your value by using the money you save for an optional trip extension

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