Guided tours are a good option when you don't want to do it all yourself. The companies here all offer tours to Ireland on a "land-only" basis. A "land-only" tour includes all your travel (by bus, in most cases) once you arrive in the destination country, but not necessarily your flights to your destination. And remember that you'll be expected to tip your guide (in cash) at the end of the tour.
CIE Tours International is one of the biggest and longest-established (75 years) tour operators in the Irish market. They offer a selection of fully inclusive, escorted bus tours, or independent fly-drive vacations. An eight-day itinerary with car rental and confirmed hotel bookings starts at $796 per person, with two people traveling. The Heritage Tour is an eight-day bus tour, starting with two nights in Dublin, and taking in Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Blarney Castle, the Cliffs of Moher, the Skellig Experience, and the Lakes of Killarney, among other attractions, with accommodation in top hotels.
Myguideireland, a young company set up by three friends on their return to Ireland from living and working in Philadelphia, aims to create the best holiday experience by using enthusiastic local guides. A customized seven-day self-drive tour across Ireland starts from $513 per person, with two people traveling. The price includes six nights at a B&B, car rental, and toll-free calls to your vacation specialist. Escorted bus tours include the Irish Jaunt, which includes one day in Dublin, a drive to Blarney Castle via the Rock of Cashel, Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, and the Cliffs of Moher, and offers five days, four nights, five meals, and accommodation in superior hotels, and costs from $708 per person.
CIE Tours International (800/243–8607. www.cietours.com.)
Discovering Ireland Vacations (1800/963–9260. www.discoveringireland.com.)
Irish Cycling Safaris. This company pioneered cycling holidays in Ireland, and offers easygoing to moderate cycling trips along rural back roads with luggage transfer and accommodations in small family-run hotels and guesthouses. A week-long tour of West Cork and Kerry, including Killarney, costs €735 per person sharing. Tour groups are accompanied by a local guide who drives the support van. Alternatively, you can opt for a self-led tour that includes bike rental, itinerary, and prebooked accommodations, €715 per person sharing. Belfield Bike Shop, UCD, Dublin, Co. Dublin, 4. 01/260–0749. www.cyclingsafaris.com.
Iron Donkey. Fodor's readers give this company rave reviews. Offering something for everyone from novices to hammerheads, their mainstay are guided group tours: for instance, the Clare and Burren itinerary sets out from Ennis and includes Kilkee, Loop Head, Spanish Point, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren coastline, and Bunratty Castle (cost is about €1,545 per person sharing). But others swear by the super-thorough and well-run custom tours, where they meet you at the first lodging (all great options, incidentally) with your bikes and size them to you, go over your route, and beautifully prep you for the ride. 028/9081–3200. www.irondonkey.com.
Most airlines accommodate bikes as luggage, provided they're dismantled and boxed.
Adams & Butler. Ireland's leading purveyor of customized vacations, Adams & Butler has an unbeatable range of contacts in the upper end of the market. Most of its tours are for groups in chauffeur-driven cars or on small luxury buses. It can offer you a week in Ireland with a self-drive car, an itinerary, and stays in houses of character from $750; up that price to around $4,000 per person for a luxury hotel with driver-guide and five-star accommodations. 01/288–9355. www.adamsandbutler.com.
Executive Golf & Leisure. These Scotland-based golf specialists offer customized golf breaks or packages, such as an eight-day golf tour of Ireland for about $7,400 with luxury accommodations, transfers, and rounds on some of the finest courses: the K Club, Old Portmarnock, Waterville, Ballybunion, Killarney, and the Old Head of Kinsale. 01786/832–244; 1-877/295–2247 in the U.S.; 1-866/392–5021 in Canada. www.execgolf-leisure.com.
Golfbreaks.com. This company will customize a golf tour for you, and also have tours of different regions of Ireland. Their Northern Ireland and the Northwest package includes rounds at the legendary Royal County Down and Royal Portrush courses. 0808/274–9415 in U.K.; 1753/752–900 from other countries. www.golfbreaks.com.
Isle Inn. A long-established company offering self-drive holidays and escorted tours, Isle Inn also has an interesting range of activity holidays and escorted hiking holidays averaging 16 to 19 km (10 to 12 miles) a day. You stay in family-run guesthouses and characterful small hotels while walking through scenic areas, including the Donegal coast, the Glens of Antrim, Achill island, and Mayo. Escorted hiking holidays start from $1,384. A chauffeur-driven itinerary (from $1,649) combines culture and cuisine, offering six nights at top hotels with gourmet dinners and a driver to escort you. 800/237–9376. wwww.isleinntours.com.
Railtours Ireland. This top outfitter uses the Irish railroad network for major transfers, and tour buses for sightseeing at the destination, avoiding long, leg-numbing stretches of bus travel. The five-day tour starts with a train ride from Dublin to Cork (2 hours, 45 minutes) including breakfast, and continues with a bus tour to Blarney, train to Killarney, bus tour of the Ring of Kerry, and also visits Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and Connemara, starting at €679 per person, with accommodations in B&Bs and modest hotels. 01/856–0045 in Ireland; 800/5008–0200 toll free from US. www.railtoursireland.com.
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