In just a short amount of time, Ireland has become one of Europe's richest countries, turning from a country soaked in shamrock and Ballykissangel clichés to a nation of emerging global urban centers like Dublin and a reinvigorated countryside of smart inns and spruced-up bed and breakfasts. Long-time cultural exports such as U2 and James Joyce now play second fiddle to high-tech exports from Dell Computer and other companies. Somethings don't change, though: the countryside is still green and rolling and the head on that pint of Guinness is still thicker close to home.
Lynott Tours (tel. 800/221-2474; www.lynotttours.com) offers unique independent and guided trips to Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. Why unique? Because Lynott has walking trips, fly and drive trips with vouchers for small inns and cottages, as well as bicycle tours through Ireland. For first timers to Ireland, Lynott has an "Irish Discovery" small tour limited to just 15 travelers with a choice of five days, eight days or nine days. The eight-day tour starts at $1,862 for March 2007 departures includes round trip airfare (from New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles), airport transfers, deluxe motor coach transportation in Ireland, a driver and professional guide throughout the trip, first-class accommodations for six nights, six Irish breakfasts (including blood sausage), a pub lunch, three dinners, tea and scones, all baggage handling and local hotel and service taxes. Some of the sightseeing highlights include the Book of Kells at Trinity College, a visit to the Guinness Brewery and Pub, and a tour of Kilkenny and Blarney castles. The land-only price for this package starts at $1,463 with departures available from March to November 2007. Departure and security fees will come to approximately $127. Optional excursions such as a Medieval Banquet are available for an additional price.
For self-explorers, Lynott has a one-week self drive Package. Starting at $799 for travel during the colder January and February winter months, this package includes midweek round-trip airfare from New York, a standard-size rental car from, six nights' accommodations (in a country home, century old or older farmhouse or country B&B) and a complete Irish breakfast every day of your trip. The hotel vouchers are good for properties along any route you decide to take. It's advisable to reserve your lodging at least one day in advance during the winter season and to check and reserve availability at least one week prior to your expected stay during the spring or summer. A stay at an Irish castle is optional and costs more.
For travelers looking for a comprehensive yet quick trip to Ireland, Dooley Vacations (tel. 877/331-9301; www.dooleyvacations.com) has a six-day, four-night package to Ireland starting at $999 with accommodations in Killarney. Departures begin November 1, 2006 and continue every Wednesday and Thursday through August, 2007. You can extend your stay for the five- or six-day package. The very-packed itinerary includes an overnight at a spa with hydro-therapy treatments, tours of the Ring of Kerry and the town of Killarney, some bicycling, guided walks, horseback riding, a game of pitch and putt (a three hole golf course to Americans), rounds of golf on a real golf course, a tour of Ireland's top museums and other benefits such as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinners are at local pubs in walking distance to the hotel where set meals are waiting are for you. You'll have to fend yourself with the darts and storytelling, though.
If you're lucky enough to have time to kill, CIE Tours (tel. 800/243-8687; www.cietours.com) has a two-week land-only trip starting at $1,798 to Ireland's Atlantic coast and islands. The air-inclusive price from the New York area starts at $2,142. This is a fourteen day motor coach tour with accommodations at what it calls "superior first class hotels." Starting in Dublin, the trip heads north to the tip of Ireland before descending down the country's west coast through Donegal, Connemara, Galway and Shannon. Highlights of the itinerary include a visit to Bunratty, the Aran Islands, Achill Island and a visit to Malin Head, Ireland's northern-most point. A quick look at the Photo Gallery takes you inside the ancient architecture and unscathed lands you'll enjoy on this tour. In terms of meals, twelve breakfasts and twelve dinners are included in the package price. This trip leaves roughly twice a month beginning on April 6, 2007 and running through October.
If you just want to experience Dublin, Gate One Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gateonetravel.com) has a six-day Dublin Vacation special starting at $699 for departures on December 6 and 13, 2006. (November departures cost $789 and $799.) The independent trip includes airfare out of the New York area, four nights' accommodations at the 255-room quality tourist-class Mespil Hotel, daily breakfast, and airline fuel charges. As with all the above-mentioned deals, security fees and departure taxes are not included in the price of the package.
Some of Dublin's highly touted sites include Trinity College, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the Jameson Distillery. The Dublin Bus (tel. +353/1 873 4222; www.visitdublin.com) makes 19 stops and allows riders to hop on and off over a 24-hour period or take a full hour and fifteen minute ride. For a an unofficial tour of the rock band U2's Dublin, check out www.atu2.com/dublin, which lists sites around the city such as recording studios and venues popularized by the iconic Irish foursome. The Point Depot Theatre (tel. +353/1 836 6777; www.thepoint.ie), the site of many a young and not-yet-famous U2 concert, is still Dublin's top live music venue. Bruce Springsteen has three dates scheduled there on November 17, 18, and 19, 2006.
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