A few weeks ago, I finally made the trip to Ireland to go hiking there. Ireland was one of the few countries in Western Europe I hadn’t visited so far, and all in all, I’m glad I finally got around to going there. I hadn’t made a hiking trip with all accommodation fully pre-booked in a while, so it was quite a change from having the flexibility and simplicity of a tent. Both have their good and bad sides, I guess.
Before going into the details of our actual trip and hiking route(s) in the next posts, I’d like to cover some basic information on traveling around Ireland. Especially if you’re planning on traveling in rural areas and / or a little off-season, this information may be useful to you.
Getting Around: Buses and Local Link
For getting to our hiking destinations (and also to skip a day of hiking once or twice), we mostly relied on buses. There are two basic categories: long-distance, overland buses and local buses, which ensure a certain degree of mobility in rural areas.
We used overland buses for all cases when we had to cover large distances, namely for two routes: Dublin Airport – Cork on our first day, which is a direct route from the airport, and Kenmare – Dublin, for our way back, which involved some transfers (Kenmare – Killarney – Limerick – Dublin). In general, we were really happy with these connections: Online pre-booking is possible on the Bus Eireann website, the fares are much lower than on the comparable train routes, and the buses were on time and dependable.
The local buses, however, which we used mostly for connections on the Beara peninsula, were a little more difficult to navigate. As it turns out, they operate on separate schedules during the summer months and the rest of the year due to the higher demand in the summer holidays. As a consequence, we were often not sure which schedule was applicable, as multiple schedules were posted at the bus stops. These, in turn, often differed from what we found on the internet. In the end, it turned out that asking the locals was often the most dependable source.
However, even when we knew when the bus was supposed to arrive, there was still quite a degree of uncertainty left. Buses sometimes arrive too early or half an hour too late, which resulted in very long waiting times at the bus stop. In one case, the bus wasn’t running at all, even though it should have been according to the website. In the end, we had to depend on good old hitch-hiking.
Finally, I believe local link could also be a very good option for future trips around Ireland. We weren’t aware of the service before our trip and thus didn’t use it, but we saw it being used heavily by the locals especially on the Beara peninsula. Local link is a bus service running especially in rural areas. Although the buses run on a predefined route, seats have to be reserved latest one day in advance. From what I saw online, the fares seem fair and there are plenty of routes available – which makes local link a great alternative to the rather unreliable local bus services.
Accommodation: Bed & Breakfast and Self-Catering Cottages
As mentioned above, we planned on leaving our tent at home on this trip and thus had to rely on B&Bs, self-catering, and similar accommodation. However, finding places to stay turned out to be quite a challenge when we started planning the route.
For most accommodation, we used booking.com and AirBnB. But as many B&B owners only advertise on their own website (if at all) and were thus hard to find, our choice was quite limited. We struggled to plan a continuous route with manageable hiking distances per day because of the mere distance we had to cover between available accommodation.
While on the trip, we realized that B&Bs tend to cater more towards tourists traveling by car than to hikers. We passed a surprisingly high number of B&Bs, which usually had no website and only sometimes a phone number posted outside. As hikers, however, we were rather dependent on pre-booked rooms. In such a rural area, it’s impossible to walk another 10 km if the first B&B you come across doesn’t have a room available.
In addition to the sites mentioned above, searching for accommodation on Open Street Maps or Google Maps might be useful. You might want to take a look at www.ireland-bnb.net and www.bedandbreakfast.eu as well.
Food: Restaurants and Supermarkets
When it comes to purchasing supplies for a hiking trip, you should apply the same standards as for hiking trips in any rural area: Research on available supermarkets in larger cities beforehand, plan your route accordingly and take what you can get in local village shops (in case you need it). For us, this method worked quite well.
Apart from the big supermarkets in larger cities (Kenmare, Bantry, Castletownbere), some villages have small village shops. They often combine gas station, tourist office, post office, café and shop in one building. The variety of ingredients sold there differs from shop to shop, but I’d say the focus is often on snacks rather than on fresh ingredients (think chocolate bars and candy rather than bread and vegetables).
Finally, there are only few restaurants available in rural areas, and those few are often closed multiple days of the week. As a consequence, I wouldn’t make the route too dependent on dining out in a restaurant. Some pubs serving food are available as well, but their number, too, is limited.