Guided Tours

DESTINATIONS ireland guided-tours

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Guided Tours

Guided tours are a good option when you don't want to do it all yourself. The companies here all run 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. Remember that you'll be expected to tip your guide (in cash) at the end of the tour.

General Tours

CIE Tours International is one of the biggest and longest-established tour operators in the Irish market. It runs 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 $657 per person. Starting in Dublin, the Heritage Tour is a seven-day bus tour that takes in Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Blarney Castle, the Cliffs of Moher, the Skellig Experience, and the Lakes of Killarney, among other attractions, with accommodations in top hotels.

Discovering Ireland Vacations, a young company set up by three friends, aims to create the best holiday experience by using enthusiastic local guides. A customized seven-day self-drive tour across Ireland starts at €307 per person. 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 Spirit, 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. Rates begin at €1,200 per person.

Contacts

CIE Tours International. 800/243–8607; www.cietours.com.

Discovering Ireland Vacations. 1800/963–9260; www.discoveringireland.com.

Special-Interest Tours

Biking

Irish Cycling Safaris. This company pioneered cycling holidays in Ireland and organizes 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 €740 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, luggage transfer, and prebooked accommodations for the same price. Belfield Bike Shop, UCD, Dublin, Co. Dublin, 4. 01/260–0749; www.cyclingsafaris.com.

Iron Donkey. Fodor's readers give this company rave reviews. Its guided group tours have something for all levels, from novices to hammerheads. The 10-day West of Ireland itinerary sets out from Ennis and passes through Kilkee, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren coastline, Connemara, Clifden, and Westport (cost is about €1,995 per person). Others swear by the superthorough and well-run custom tours, which meet you at the first lodging (all great options, incidentally), size your bike, review the route, and prep you for the ride. 029/2089–1650; www.irondonkey.com.

Most airlines accommodate bikes as luggage, provided they're dismantled and boxed.

Culture

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 set you up for a week in Ireland with a self-drive car, an itinerary, and stays in houses of character from €299 per person sharing or in five-star hotels with driver and guide for around €1,750 per person sharing. 01/288–9355; www.adamsandbutler.com.

Golf

Executive Golf & Leisure. These Scotland-based golf specialists organize customized golf breaks or packages, such as an eight-day golf tour of Southwest Ireland for £3,995 (€5,472) per person sharing with luxury accommodations, transfers, and rounds on some of the finest courses: Waterville, Ballybunion, Tralee, Killarney, Fota Island, and the Old Head of Kinsale. 01786/832–244; 1877/295–2247; 1866/392–5021; www.execgolf-leisure.com.

Golfbreaks.com. This company can customize a golf getaway for you and also has tours of different regions of Ireland. Its Northern Ireland and the Northwest package include rounds at the legendary Royal County Down and Royal Portrush courses. 855/699–5853; 0845/678–2400; www.golfbreaks.com.

Hiking

Isle Inn. A long-established company with 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 with six nights at top hotels, gourmet dinners, and a driver to escort you. 800/237–9376; www.isleinntours.com.

Rail

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 three-day tour, starting at €459 per person, starts with a train ride from Dublin to Cork (2 hours, 45 minutes), breakfast included, and continues with a bus tour to Blarney, train to Killarney, bus tour of the Ring of Kerry, and visits to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway City. Accommodations are in B&Bs and modest hotels. 01/856–0045; 877/451–4783; www.railtoursireland.com.

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