Family Vacation to Ireland/England?

Updated on February 09, 2013
D.B. asks from Eastlake, CO
11 answers

We've realized that in just 3 more years, DD will be gone off to college so we'd better bite the bullet and plan some of the vacations/adventures we'd always wanted to do with our kids. We've visited all the places in the US we were interested and are ready to break out our passports. (Actually, a few of us have to get them first!)

We decided years ago that our first overseas trip would be to Ireland and the UK. Now it's time to plan the trip.... and I'm lost. Do I use a tour company? What are the advantages & disadvantages of them? I hate the thought of being stuck in a tour bus for 8 days, unable to stray down the unbeaten path or get away to visit our family cemetary outside of Dublin.

Part of me thinks I should plan out all the desitnations we want to see, fly into London, and then rent a car and make our way up to Dublin. We are a very flexiable go-with-the-flow family and if we had to sleep a night in a field of sheep because we got lost, I can't say anyone would be phased by that! Can a rental car be taken into another country? Can I take a car on the ferry that crosses the Irish Sea?

Any adivise you could give, must-see destinations in the UK or Ireland, or things to watch out for would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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So What Happened?

Thanks ladies! I'm so excited after reading your advise that I have goosebumps! Can't wait to get on the internet tonight!

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answers from Chicago on

Last night I watched a show about a families travels to Ireland. It was beautiful. They gave a website out it was called

Hope that helps

Have fun

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answers from Chicago on

Yes, you can take a car across from England to Ireland. I've never used a tour company, but I have spent a lot of time driving around Ireland. I wouldn't want to do it in a tour bus. Part of the fun is just being able to pull the car over.

Must sees in Ireland: Dingle Penisula. Cliffs of Moher. Since you're going to Dublin, go to Newgrange. Very cool.I'd then head across to Galway, go through the Burren, see the Cliffs of moher, maybe visit the Aran Islands, then take a fairy from Claire over to Dingle. We are also fans of Cashel. Expect the roads to be very slow going. While there are actual highways nowadays (10 years ago there weren't!), many of the roads are still slow going. It takes much longer to get anywhere when driving in England and Ireland, so don't try to do too much.

In terms of England, I don't know it as well, but I loved the Lake District. GORGEOUS.

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answers from Dallas on

Bed and Breakfasts! Find a resource book or site and see what you can find. The variety is amazing, from homes, to farms, etc. Perhaps call the British Consulate in the US and see if they have a travel resource to help you. Avebury has standing stones - I think you can walk right up to them (you can't do that at Stonehenge). It's about 15 miles outside London. I went through a Robin Hood phase and visited Nottingham (LOL). Enjoy!

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answers from Miami on

Just moved back from 2 1/2 years living in Dublin and also visited London twice. I don't recommend the ferry with a rental car. You won't need a car in London or Dublin (it would be more hassle than it is worth, so just rent for when you want to drive into the country). Ryanair and AerLingus do extremely cheap airfare between London and Dublin and it's much easier...from London you have to drive to Holyhead to get on the ferry which is nearly 5 hours and then the ferry is a few hours. Flight is only 45 minutes and will probably be cheaper.

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answers from Washington DC on

Definitely skip the tour company. I have feel like tour companies are best if there are significant logistical issues you don't want to worry about or if you are there for the social aspect. Since your destinations are English-speaking countries, you should have no problem navigating on your own.

As to where to go, it really depends on how long you are going to be there and what your priorities are. I spent 8 days in London, which included a side trip to Edinburgh (highly recommended, btw) about 15 years ago, and it wasn't nearly enough time to even scratch the surface. I spent about 6 days in Dublin, and I feel like I really saw everything I would want to see, but I didn't get to venture much further than the city. We did see Newgrange, and that was awesome.

I'd recommend checking out Rick Steves' books and videos for travel ideas. Also, don't rule out flying between destinations. There are some very inexpensive airlines in Europe. It was actually cheaper for us to fly between Barcelona and Madrid than it was to take a train. So jealous, I would love to go back to the UK.

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answers from Washington DC on

I personally did not like using a travel agent. She totally messed up our flight times and rental drop offs. I suggest that you pick one - Ireland or England, unless you can spend a week in each. Pick a base of operations in the middle of where you want to be. I could easily have spent more time in Dublin. I wasn't keen on Blarney Castle, but the grounds are amazing. Look at Travelocity for apartments - you can rent apartments for a family (we rented one in Dublin) for less than several hotel rooms. And you can be together vs "well, see you in the morning". If I had a do-over, I would have taken the rental car from Swansea on the ferry to Ireland. Ask them. The ferry is nice. I liked it.

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answers from Chicago on

I've been to both places.

My advice? Book online yourself. Pick your destinations ahead of time (Rick Steves is a travel god and will get you to all the authentic places versus just going to stand in line with 80 other tourists). Rent a car in both countries, it's a bit different driving on the "wrong" side of the road but it gives you a lot more freedom to see everything you want to see (and things you didn't consider but happened to hear about on the fly). You can take your rental car to England, Scotland, and Wales. I didn't do it so I can't vouch for it, but you can probably take it on the ferry to Ireland too. I just turned the car in and rented a different one in Ireland, then when it was time to go home and I had to get back to london, I turned the Irish car in and took a plane back to London to catch my flight home.

Do make sure they give you an automatic though. I got stuck with a stick in England, and while I can drive a stick just fine (I actually learned on a stick and drove one for years) shifting with your left hand while driving on the wrong side of the road is a lot to take in.

Seriously though, get some Rick Steves books. Anywhere he mentions visiting is worth it, I did the "Europe through the back door" trip and it was the best experience of my life because I wasn't around other tourists and got to experience local hospitality on a level I have never experienced with other trips. (I might add, I went to GB & Ireland once with a tour, the next time with a Rick Steves book, Rick Steves wins, hands down).

And - if you're go with the flow, look at Hostels, Rick Steves mentions some and they are (if they're not full) so much cheaper than a hotel or B&B and you get to meet all kinds of cool people.

Have fun!

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answers from Washington DC on

I agree with Meilissa (I lived in England for a year and we go back every summer since my husband is from there). Please save yourself the ulcer and a LOT of money, and do not even think of having a car in or anywhere near London; you do not need it, gas costs an absolute fortune compared to here, and it is a pure nightmare driving or parking in the city. Same for Dublin: Zero need for a car. To get outside either one, there are plenty of trains and buses available -- much, much more train and bus coverage over there than over here. And your US auto insurance can say it's good anywhere in the world but we have ALWAYS been told by British car rental firms that that does not matter to them and we MUST take their insurance; no documents or other arguments have ever changed that tune. Save yourself the stress of worrying about a very, very expensive rental car/insurance/gas/parking and take trains, the Tube and buses.

If you say you are seeking a family cemetery I have no doubt that the kind Irish are going to get you there somehow. They see a lot of Americans doing genealogical trips!

In England -- not familiar enough with Ireland to help you there -- you definitely want to see some of the London tourist highlights but don't get too wrapped up in them. Rather than going into detail here I'll say get a really excellent guidebook now and start poring over it. The DK guidebooks (often called "Eyewitness" guides are succinct and very useful. Also try Fodor's and the Rick Steves series.

London has countless tiny and offbeat (some waaaay offbeat!) museums so do seek out ones that interest you; a lot of research now will mean you truly tailor your trip later and do not waste time seeing big touristy areas when you could be seeing very cool, hidden museums and historic sites.

If you want days outside London, Warwick Castle is the quintessential medieval castle and it's virtually intact - a rarity. They host all kinds of summer festivals and events so find their web site and check it all out. You can do a day trip from London by train very easily. If your family has an interest in the Tudors, take a train just outside London to Hampton Court Palace for the day. One of our best days ever was there, when they had actors who spent the entire day -- I mean from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.! -- acting the roles of Henry VIII and courtiers in an interactive story in which we all partiicpated; we could tour around all we liked, then at the top of each hour could meet the "court" in different places and take part in the next scene -- my daughter ended up helping dress the Queen and was offered a job as a lady in waiting....

I could go on and on and on. But the fun is researching stuff with good guidebooks and the Internet. Enjoy!

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answers from Chicago on

10 Years ago I went to Ireland. It was 36 people from the US to Ireland. I don;t know how the trip was planned I was just there for the ride.

-Killarney - we were there for a week. THis is where most of my Irish family was and where I had the best time. Ring of kerry, Gap of Dunloe both trips you do not want to pass up if in the area. Gap of Dunloe (I could be spelling it wrong) has two different starting points. We stated in the boats, then when to Mary Kate ?? cottage and then went in the pony Traps.. Or you can do it reverse. Beautiful.

Then we went to Oranmore? Outside of Galway. This is where we went to the coolest crystal shop. NOT Waterferd. it was called Celtic Crystal and it works with colord crystal. I belive this was also where the Quiet man bridge was.. We drove around and found it.

We did go to Dublin & One more place. The castles are very unique. We also saw the cliffs of Moroe. (SP.. )

No, the roads are not what you expect and you are on the wrong side of the road on these very small roads. Sometimes the bus tour is nice so you can just soak in the view. Maybe you were not talking about excursion, but a tour that takes you from A-B-C etc.. We did day trips.

THe biggest cost is the flights, so the longer you are there to see the stuff the better/cheaper it becomes.

Good Luck.

Taking some of the tours is nice

ETA: Bring a tape recorder to get the hisstory of the guided tours .. it is neat to go back and see the/hear the history of where you were.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I haven't read everyone's response, but I'll give you my idea. I spent the 2002-2003 school year teaching in Pinner, Harrow, which is basically a suburb of London. I was totally afraid to travel by myself and with the great help of some of my other non-UK co-workers I found out about a travel agency called Trafalgar Tours. They are wonderful! :) They had plenty of weekend and day trips that I could go on. I was able to get away just about every weekend doing something. They even had a week-long Irish Whirl tour (that's what it was called anyway back when I went.) It took us from London by bus to Dublin and from there we went all the way to the west cost to where the cladaguah (sp?) rings are from down to a tiny town that is known for it's golfing to the Blarney Stone and Waterford. Those are just a a few places where I actually remembered the names! We got in at night to Dublin and then had the next day to look around. Oh, I do remember that on our way to the west coast of Ireland we stopped at an Irish Whisky distillery and had whiskey at 10 am! :) It would be a good site to look into anyway, at least in my opinion!

I loved the trips they had for other parts of Europe too. Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I could talk about my two favorite countries for hours!!! So, I will just add driving in Ireland was a nightmare. The little country roads were so narrow and driving on the opposite side made it so unpleasant. My first trip to Ireland I went with a group tour and it was fine. I wanted to see both ends of the country so it made is easy. Don't miss Bunratty castle and the medieval dinner. It's like a trip back in time. As for England, there is so much to see and do you will have a blast but I never miss a trip to the Tower of London and Windsor. If you have time, a day trip to Surrey to visit Hever castle where Anne Boleyn lived before she became queen is one of my favorite places to visit.

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