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Experience some of the Emerald Isle’s greatest hits, journeying largely by rail in the company of likeminded travellers and a dedicated tour leader.
With their world-famous cead mile failte, the people of the island of Ireland maintain an enviable skill in making visitors feel uniquely welcome. The country’s vivacious towns and cities, deep green countryside, captivating islands and centuries of history, alongside irresistible local cuisine and endless craic, create a winning combination and deliver a fabulous holiday destination.
On this specially extended trip, you’ll have time to get under the skin of Dublin, one of the great European capitals; visit Galway, the continent’s westernmost city, and travel offshore to the Aran Island of Inis Mhor, location for award-winning film the Banshees of Inisherin. Experience Co Clare’s soaring Cliffs of Moher from the sea, while in Ennis, immerse yourself in a private traditional Irish music recital by world-class exponents of this most crucial and authentic artform.
Heading to the southwest corner, take a ride on one of Killarney’s legendary Jaunting Cars, marvelling at the expanse of the National Park and McGillicuddy Reeks, and enjoy a full day on the Ring of Kerry, including a seaweed coastal discovery tour with a renowned expert. Next, spear north by rail and cross the border to reborn Belfast, where the city’s story is told via its food and a tour through some of its most famous streets.
You’ll wander along the stunning coast of Co Antrim to one of Ireland’s most arresting locations, the Giant’s Causeway, with time here to reflect and soak in the special atmosphere amongst the basalt columns. Finally, top off your trip with a ride on the staggering scenic railway to Derry-Londonderry and two nights in this most enthralling and ancient walled city.
Arrive in Ireland’s capital city & make your way to your accommodation for the evening. The River Liffey cuts through the centre of this ancient city, Georgian tenements and modern architecture blend between cobbled lanes and sprawling streets. Laughing voices and warmth escape from the lively bars and pubs. Walk the paths and uncover pages of poets and writers, hear of heroes and rogues, and soak up the unique atmosphere. There’s so much to see and do here – just let us know if you’d like to take an extra couple of days at the beginning or end of your tour to enjoy all the city has to offer.
Your accommodation in Dublin
This independent hotel lies in a superbly central location, perfect to explore the city. The shops of Grafton St and the many bars and restaurants of the city are close to hand. Rooms are modern and the hotel boasts its own whiskey bar.
Tonight you will join your tour guide and fellow travellers for a welcome dinner.
Disembark and head to a fine dockside restaurant for a delicious lunch with your tour leader and an expert local guide. After lunch, you’ll enjoy a gentle, guided walking tour of this most historic city – Europe’s westernmost. With a little luck, the Galway Hookers will be out on the bay. Their famous red sails ripple, sharpened bows cutting through the water, pulling the sea open like a clam. Perhaps learn of the Claddagh fishing industry’s rich history, before wandering away from the dockside towards the Latin Quarter and the cathedral.
You’ll have some time at leisure to explore the delights of Galway City, including exceptional fresh seafood and delectable Guinness if you wish.
Your accommodation in Galway
Your accommodation is right in the heart of the city, only a short walk from the water. Enjoy the ambiance of this relaxed setting and go for a drink in the luxurious bar, or maybe head out and explore the city on your doorstep. The staff are welcoming and take pride in offering the most comfortable setting in Galway. The attention to detail makes this a special place to spend the next two nights.
A short ferry ride from the mainland brings the group to the Aran Islands. A visit to the largest island, Inis Mór, is sure to be a highlight of the trip – jigsaw pieces of grey rock rise high out of the ocean, dry stone dykes thread over the bare green of rooted weed and grass, furrows of silver wrinkle between the rocky crops.
Embark upon a guided tour with a local resident of this unusual location – visit the ruins of early Christianity, piles of shale and rebuilt chapels; walk along the cliff’s edge far above the waves breaking below; explore the prehistoric forts that grow from the rocky outcrop. The culture of this unique place is ancient, the Irish language still widely spoken in this microcosm of old ways. Many an artist and writer has been inspired by this beautiful place on the edge of Europe; tiny fields packed together on the barren planes, records of history still passed by the oral tradition, ancient monuments built amongst the dykes and grazing animals.
Head back to Galway and spend the evening at your leisure; maybe visit the cathedral on the banks of the Corrib or take a stroll on the Old Long Walk.
The morning begins with the short train journey from Galway to Ennis. Fields of gold and green stretch to the horizon, pastures brim with plump cows and grazing sheep, tractors with broken doors slow traffic. This gentle landscape has inspired songs and artists for centuries – fitting for the next destination. Arrive in Ennis and freshen up at your accommodation before having the afternoon free to explore this gorgeous town – flower baskets bloom from windows along the old streets, colours abound on painted walls and smells of fresh produce fill the air outside local shops.
Tonight will be a special evening. Take a short walking tour through the streets of Ennis, Ireland’s famous city of traditional music. Spend time in the company of an eminent traditional musician and learn of the quirks and lore of this place filled with music & dance. Then it’s to the pub for a traditional session. The bodhran slaps and thunders an opening beat, the fiddles stretch and yawn; music fills the room as voices quieten. Enjoy lively jigs and bittersweet folk tunes that will transport you through the times and lands of Ireland.
Your accommodation in Ennis
This 18th century traditional hotel, at the very centre of life in the town, offers a fine-dining restaurant, a bistro and a traditional pub. Its central location makes it easy to explore the area. Rooms are decorated simply and elegantly, with comfortable beds ensuring a great night’s sleep, while the hotel’s lobby area is a sumptuously furnished oasis of calm, the perfect place to relax with a refreshment or two.
Take a private coach tour and reach deep into the wilds of the west. Begin the day with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher – distant horizons sit on the ocean and birds swoop and rise on Gulf Stream warmth. Weeds and flowers cling to the rocky drop; below, waves roll into the cliffs and shatter on the rock walls. Along the way there will be plenty of surprise and excitement, this pocket of Ireland full of twists.
Next it’s onto the Burren where all is not as it seems. This Karst of limestone is a bizarre moonscape set amongst the greens of Ireland – spend the afternoon walking amongst the ridges and fissures of the eroding rock in the company of a local expert. Learn of the microcosms hidden among the gaps and their importance as a singular habitat in Ireland. Watch wild goats grazing, and discover why this strange place has been designated a European priority habitat for wildflowers.
Head back to your accommodation and spend the evening relaxing, or hit the town and take your pick of musical style and atmosphere in the ‘Mecca of Irish Traditional Music’.
This morning you’ll embark on a rail journey through the heart of Ireland. Pass through quaint towns and villages and the changing scenes of Irish life – turf smoke puffs from cottage chimneys and gorse bush bristles amongst field and crops. Your tour leader will be on hand with stories concerning Ireland’s rich history and mythology.
Arrive in Killarney and freshen up at your accommodation before stepping back in time. Outside the hotel, you will be picked up in a jaunting car – Ireland’s original train (complete with four hairy legs). The jarvey (driver) will welcome you onto the car and introduce you to the horsepower upfront before you all trot through the town and out towards Ross Castle. An imposing tower on the banks of Lough Leane, the restored 15th century seat of O’Donoghue, Ross is a fascinating visit. Surrounded by the lush forests and green hills of the Killarney National Park, you’ll spend the afternoon gazing at the views from your horse and cart. Learn of the area’s history from a local expert before trotting back to your hotel.
Your accommodation in Killarney
Set within easy walking distance of many of the attractions in this classic Co Kerry town, this is one of Killarney’s longest-established hotels, now enjoying a renewed lease of life under local ownership. In addition to enjoying a prime central location, the hotel offers a host of facilities on site, including an inviting restaurant and well stocked whiskey bar, all wrapped up in six acres of landscaped grounds.
Today will be a mixture of stunning scenery and a chance to explore the Irish coastline. Traverse the famous Ring of Kerry – sea stacks and seaside villages, green meadows and shale splintered mountains. On a private coach you’ll wend your way through the views and drama of Ireland – hear tales of pirate queens and ambitious smugglers, rustic dangers and characters descended from the landscape. Follow narrow roads between cliff face and drop, curving with the coast and sea. Dramatic vistas and beautiful views; each corner turned is another moment to remember. Stop for lunch beside the sea and enjoy fresh produce landed at the pier just a short walk away.
Then it’s on to a truly different experience. In the company of one of Ireland’s foremost seaweed and foraging experts, explore the diverse shoreline and learn which species are edible (and maybe try a few). With each step, the vibrant colours of the plants are revealed – the huge selection of species and tastes held between the pools and bedrock is staggering. Much of these flavours are sought out by chefs around the country and further afield – you’ll end the day with a newfound wonder at the bounty of the shore.
Complete the circuit and head back to your accommodation for the final night. Spend the last evening walking the streets and paths of Killarney, or find a cosy pub and fireplace and look back on the week.
The western half of your Irish odyssey concludes with a train journey from Killarney back to Dublin.
Once in the capital you check into your centre of town hotel again and that evening, you meet up with your Tour Leader and fellow travellers for a welcome dinner in advance of the eastern section of your travels.
Take your time over breakfast in the hotel restaurant, before stepping out on your first day’s exploration with your guide. First, stroll to 13th-century Dublin Castle, one of the most important structures in Ireland, seat of centuries of power both British and Irish and now the base of Irish Government. Here, visit the enclosed Dubh Linn garden – with landscaping in a Celtic national style – and the Chester Beatty Library, regarded as one of the best museums in Europe and filled with manuscripts, rare books and other treasures from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. Having had lunch here, you’ll head back to the centre of the city via Iveagh Gardens, the colourful 19th-century jewel beloved of residents and visitors. Take the rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure – we’ll provide plenty of information to help you make the most of your time here and throughout the tour’s route.
This morning, take a short transfer to Dublin Connolly station and board the train for the 2.5-hour journey along the coast of the Republic, across the border into County Down and onwards to Belfast. On arrival at the station, you’ll be relieved of your luggage before you’re met by a local guide and taken on a food-themed walking tour of the city. Alongside stories of the city’s food history, you’ll gently stroll while sampling some of the best and tastiest local dishes as you eat and drink your way around traditional bars, cafes, and world-class shops, for an authentic taste of Northern Ireland.
Your Accommodation in Belfast
Belfast has enjoyed a rapid renaissance in the past 20 years. On this trip, you’ll stay at a recently created wonder set in the former headquarters and drawing office of the city’s most famous shipbuilders, at the very heart of the story of RMS Titanic. Its sturdy, unmistakably industrial facade hides a slick interior, with high-spec bedrooms and range of dining while the staff are friendly and chatty.
Today is a day of contrasting history. In the morning, you’ll be met at your hotel and set off to discover both sides of the city’s story. Belfast’s turbulent 20th-century history is complex, and not an easy story to tell, but your expert local guide is well versed in presenting it in fair terms and with a sense of unique Belfast humour. Later, delve deeper at your own pace at the superb Ulster Museum – housed in a wonderful Edwardian-cum-brutalist architectural masterpiece – before a visit to the award-winning Titanic Belfast Experience, the state-of-the-art attraction dedicated to the story of ill-fated RMS Titanic. Enjoy an evening at leisure, perhaps with dinner at your hotel and a stroll on the river.
A day of travel and exploration today, as you set off from your hotel by private coach heading north away from the city, taking the gorgeous winding route along the coast of County Antrim. With photo stops along the way, you’ll pass sweeping Whitebay, take in the villages of Cushendun and Cushendall, and the town of Ballycastle on the way to one of the island’s most famous sights, the Giant’s Causeway. There’s plenty of time to linger here, or even to clamber on the basalt columns for the more intrepid, perhaps feeling a little of the prehistoric atmosphere that pervades this magical location. In the afternoon, allow your luggage to go ahead by road while you travel on one of the UK’s most scenic railways which hugs the coastline between Coleraine and Derry-Londonderry. Check in to your hotel and take dinner at leisure, before meeting later in the evening at one of Derry’s most famous pubs for a creamy pint and a live session of traditional Irish music.
Your Accommodation in Derry-Londonderry
Derry has certainly undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in the 21st century. Indeed, the city had no hotel to speak of until 2001, but now the city attracts ever more eager visitors. You’ll stay at a popular four-star hotel on the banks of the River Foyle, just a five-minute walk from the city walls. Friendly staff here are only too keen to make sure your stay is a memorable one, each more proud than the next that guests now flock to their hometown.
Much of the history of the city of Derry-Londonderry can be told from its 16th-century walls, the largest monument in state care in Northern Ireland. This morning you’ll enjoy a walk along their ramparts in the company of an expert local guide, telling the story of the city, its ancient battles and more recent challenges. Like Belfast, it’s a tricky tale to tell, but doing so with balance and a glint is something the best storytellers manage with aplomb. Then you’ll make your way to the stunning Guildhall, where you’ll have the unique experience of a VIP mayoral reception and tour of the Guildhall itself. Later, stroll across the Peace Bridge to the Waterside and take lunch at the acclaimed, locally owned Walled City Brewery, followed by a beer masterclass, discovering how their award-winning brews come to fruition. Enjoy some afternoon time at leisure, before meeting up again with your travelling companions in the evening for a farewell dinner.
Time to head home this morning. You’ll be transferred to the station to make the scenic rail trip back to Belfast, from where you can commence your onward journey home. Wherever you’re headed, we’ll be happy to help in making the journey as smooth as possible.
This Best of Ireland by Rail Small Group Guided Tour starts in Dublin and finishes in Belfast, with stops in Galway, Ennis, Killarney and Derry-Londonderry.
The price is £3745 per person for September based on two sharing a double/twin room ensuite.
The supplement for a single traveller is £1220, based on single occupancy of double/twin rooms.
The price includes:
All accommodation is carefully-selected and researched by us; contact us for more detailed information. We will do our best to accommodate room preferences subject to availability at individual properties.
This tour will operate with a minimum of four and maximum of 15 passengers on each departure date.
All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.
We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.
Here we are in the County Clare, it’s a long, long way from here to there.Flutes and fiddles everywhere.If it’s music you want, you should...
|Departure Date||Starts From||Nights||£ per person (2 sharing)||£ per person (single)|
|Sunday 3 Sep 2023||Dublin||13||£ 3745||£ 4965|
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