Foreign visitors to Ireland should always have at least their first night’s room booked, as you will be required to give an address at Immigration when you arrive at the airport. If you need help finding accommodations for subsequent nights once you’re in Ireland, contact the local tourism office as soon as possible.
Booking in advance is your best strategy anyway, especially in the summer, when prices can spike up and fall within the course of a week. If you book a month or two in advance, you can often get a better rate at a 4-star hotel than at a 2-star guesthouse, as the most expensive hotels have been offering in-advance discounts of up to 50%. So before you book that cheap hotel with no services, just have a peek at your dream hotel’s prices and see if it’s not as cheap, or maybe even cheaper.
Accommodations in Ireland range widely in quality and cost. Often these variations are due to location: a wonderful budget B&B in an isolated area of countryside can be dirt-cheap, while a mediocre guesthouse in Dublin or Cork can cost much more. Even in the same lodging, the size and quality of the rooms can vary considerably, especially in older hotels and houses converted to B&Bs. Don’t be discouraged by this, but do a little research so you know what you’re booking.
For even more information about staying in Ireland, Be Our Guest is a comprehensive guide to the hotels, country houses, castles, and inns of Ireland, published by the Irish Hotel Federation. It is available from the Irish Tourist Board. It's also online at www.irelandhotels.com, which is a handy, searchable site, with options to sort hotels by feature (TV in all rooms, elevators, babysitting, and so on).
Those looking for something exclusive should try Ireland's Blue Book (www.irelands-blue-book.ie), which lists a collection of upscale manor house hotels and castles.
Bed & Breakfasts, Cottages, and Apartments
Among your various options, B&Bs are often hard to beat. These smaller lodgings, usually in residential areas, can be charming and homey—we list several of the best in this book. Breakfast is included in the rate, and it’s often hearty. Note that while most B&Bs are regulated and inspected by Ireland’s Tourism Quality Services (look for the shamrock seal of approval), many perfectly fine establishments choose not to pay the annual fee that the stamp of approval requires, so don’t assume that a place without the shamrock is subpar. Hidden Ireland (www.hiddenireland.com; 098/66650) is a collection of particularly elegant and unique B&Bs on the higher end of the price spectrum. Another interesting option if you’re traveling in the countryside, especially if you’re with small children, is to stay in a farmhouse B&B on a family-run farm. Contact B&B Ireland (www.irishfarmholidays.com; 071/982-2222) for an annual guide to farmhouse accommodations.
In the high season it's a good idea to make your reservation weeks in advance. However, you can often find a room at a B&B when you arrive out of season. For payment, make sure you ask whether they take credit cards. While each year more and more B&Bs accept them, but many still do not.
In the North, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board inspects each of its recommended B&Bs annually. Its Information Guide to Bed & Breakfast is available free from the NITB. The NITB also sells a useful comprehensive annual listing titled Where to Stay in Northern Ireland.
Self-Catering: Apartments, Cottages, Castles, and More
If you want to stay awhile and establish a base, consider renting a self-catering apartment, townhouse, or cottage. Self-catering is a huge business in Ireland. The minimum rental period is usually 1 week, although shorter periods are negotiable in the off season. Families especially may appreciate the convenience of having more room to spread out and a kitchen for preparing meals. Rent an Irish Cottage (www.rentacottage.ie; 061/411-109) offers a selection of traditional cottages all over Ireland, fully modernized. The not-for-profit Irish Landmark Trust (www.irishlandmark.com; 01/670-4733) offers historic properties, refurbished in period style, at prices lower than you might expect. On the pricier side, Elegant Ireland (www.elegant.ie; 01/473-2505) offers anything from a chic seaside bungalow to a medieval castle sleeping 20.
Other the self-catering companies worth checking out include Trident Holiday Homes, 15 Irishtown Rd., Irishtown, Dublin 4 (tel. 01/201-8440; www.tridentholidayhomes.ie). For alluring seaside properties in west County Cork, try Cashelfean Holiday Houses, Durrus, County Cork (tel. 027/62000; www.cashelfean.com).
Nowadays, Ireland’s hostels are redesigning to attract travelers of all ages, as well as families. Many have private rooms and they cost a fraction of even a modest bed-and-breakfast. Contact AnÓige, the Irish Youth Hostel Association (www.anoige.ie; 01/830-4555) or, in the North, HINI (Hostelling International Northern Ireland; www.hini.org.uk; 098/9032-4733) for listings.Key Information
Terminology -- The Irish use the phrase "en suite" to indicate a room with private bathroom. A "double" has a double bed, and a "twin" has two single beds. An "orthopedic" bed has an extra firm mattress. Queen- and king-size beds are not common except in large, deluxe hotels.
Reservations -- If you arrive in Ireland without a room reservation for some nights of your stay, and you're not sure where to look, try the local tourist office, which can help with its computerized reservation service known as Gulliver. In Ireland or Northern Ireland, you can also call the Gulliver line directly (tel. 00800/668-668-66). This is a nationwide and cross-border "free-phone" facility for credit card bookings, operated 8am to 11pm from Monday to Friday, and 8am to 10pm weekends. Gulliver is also accessible from the United States (011-800/668-668-66) and on the Web at www.gulliver.ie.
Quality & Value -- In any given lodging, the size and quality of the rooms can vary considerably, often without any corresponding variation in cost. This is particularly true of single rooms, which can approach Victorian boardinghouse standards in some guesthouses. Don't be discouraged by this, but know what you're getting into so you're not disappointed. If you have complaints, state them at once and unambiguously -- doing so may bring an immediate resolution (ask for a lower rate or a better room).
Note: Many lodgings close for a few days or more on and around Christmas, even when they announce that they are open year-round. If you plan to visit Ireland during the Christmas holidays, double-check that the hotels, restaurants, and attractions you're counting on will be open.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.