I'm planning one of my (many) bucket list trips for 2014. Looking for any helpful hints, advice, etc.
Plans are to fly into Dublin and either take the train or the bus over to Galway. (Neither one of us will drive -especially on the" wrong" side of the road)
Since the Courtyard by Marriott is no longer there, any suggestions for a 4-5 days stay?
We will then train/bus back to Dublin and will stay at The Shelbourne for 5 days.
Is Galway a must see? -I agree with merb--consider a car rental. I would investigate the train from Dublin north to Antrim or Portrush and visit Northern Ireland. During our last trip, I had knee surgery 10 days before flying over, and ended up being unable to drive. My husband, 71, was not keen on driving at all, but there was no choice as we had rented the car and rented a house for a week and there was no other way to get there. So we drove from Dublin to the Antrim coast, but in the past 10 years, Ireland has moved into the 21st century and now has 4 lane highways, which were not there in 2001. That posed a problem for him, he didn't know how to negotiate a round about. It was actually scary. When you get up North, beyond Belfast, you will not encounter a 4 lane highway, only 2 lane roads. Driving on the other side becomes easy and traffic is minimal. If you reserve a rental with automatic, it will be a bit more expensive but easier to drive and the car will allow you access to the countryside. Going only to Dublin and Galway would be like going to NYC and Chicago--nice cities but they don't represent most of Ireland. In the north, I would visit the Bushmill's Distillery in Bushmills, the beaches in Portrush, the little villages along the northern coast, Giant's Causeway (a UNESCO site), Dunluce Castle on the coast, and a nearby national park called Glenariff Forest Park, which is beautiful at all times of the year (I've walked in it during August and December and March). If you take the train North and THEN rent a car, I think you will be fine. Or take the countryside buses from village to village. Otherwise, to get to the Giant's Causeway, I found this info. Londonderry is also an interesting town--a bit farther west than Portrush. Lots of small villages, with pubs, and nice homes to rent by the week very reasonably--so good to have a home base to return to in the evening. Found this information for Giant's Causeway.
The Belfast-Derry railway line run by Northern Ireland Railways connects to Coleraine and along the Coleraine-Portrush branch line to Portrush. Local Ulsterbus provide connections to the railway stations. There is a scenic walk of 7 miles from Portrush alongside Dunluce Castle and the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Railway.
Well, the good thing about riding a bus is that you are up from the road and can usually see over the hedges! And no stress because someone else is driving and won't get you lost! And buses travel slower than trains, so you can actually see the countryside instead of whizzing by in a train. You will have a great trip no matter your mode of travel. It is nice that you are planning ahead to make sure you can see as much as possible in the time allotted.
Irish rail has round trip rail tickets for 37Euro/pp from Dublin to Galway, are you looking on Rail Europe @ $70pp? I I think the bus might be better just because you won't be stopping every 5 minutes. And the seats may be more comfy, too. Sounds like you are a detailed planner, which I find is half the fun. NEVER buy tickets on Rail Europe as buying them from each country is much cheaper--i.e., advance round trip tickets from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand about 20% of the cost of Rail Europe. Dublin to Galway, round trip purchased from Irish Rail vs Rail Europe 37 Euros/pp vs 70 dollars/pp. When I buy tickets for a country where I don't know the language and the website does not have an English option for the text, I copy the page and paste it into Google Translate, which tells me whatever I need to know. Most European rail lines have advanced ticket sales. For example, from York to London by train on EastCoast can be purchased for 13 pounds, if purchased about 2.5 months in advance, for a ride of just under 2 hours, while RailEurope prices are double that. Since you have a long bucket list, I hope this info is helpful. The only country where it did not seem to make sense to buy the rail tickets in advance was Italy. Their trains run frequently, didn't seem to have an advance purchase rate, and the website changed too often (in terms of the schedules). Happy planning.