Update: 20-May 2016
As has been the case with the rest of the blogs on Galway, I need to first hijack the Galway discussion to give some general background information regarding accommodations in Ireland. I’ll start again with the usual disclaimer: This is a summation of my experiences. Your mileage may vary.
Location can be a very big deal when choosing accommodations. I will only talk about location in generalities in this blog. I’ll talk much more about specific locations for each of the cities in that specific blog, not here. We have rented a lot of accommodations in Ireland. I can count the number of uncomfortable experiences on one hand .... with a few fingers left over …. With a little luck and some research, your accommodations should all be above average.
In general, I see few reasons to make reservations before you leave from North America. Here are the situations where I think you will need a booking/reservation:
1. Weekends in late June and July or the month of August.
2. An Irish "Bank Holiday" weekend
3. Your itinerary includes a festival or major sporting match/game/festival
4. First night
5. Last night
The first night should be chosen so that a minimum amount of thinking is required in a jet-lagged state, and the accommodations should also fit your ability to deal with jet lag. (If you want your breakfast at 6:00 am … a B&B will probably not work for you). The last night should probably be near or at the airport. Starting a journey that may span 24 hours, does not need to be started with a two hour drive to the airport …..
We use booking.com to book our accommodations, or we use google maps and search the web for specific hotel websites. Some of the rural B&B’s do not book through a website; do not have a website; and rely on word of mouth, referrals from the filled B&B’s in the area, or the local tourist office. In general, B&B’s we’ve found from referrals, have been pleasant experiences. If you’re not sure about an accommodation, I would also check tripadvisor.com for ratings. Tripadvisor.com will send you to booking.com to book a room, but I think they have different rating info.
I’ll first discuss some decisions that you’ll need to make.
Twin, Double, or Family Room?
A twin is usually two twin beds. A double is a single bed for two people. Generally it is a double bed. A family room is generally a double with an additional twin bed … sleeping positions for three. If a King bed is noted then it is usually a US Queen bed. We have only seen a US King bed a few times in Ireland.
Breakfast or No Breakfast
This is usually not an option for B&B’s. The breakfast is usually included. For hotels breakfast is sometimes optional. Unless you absolutely can’t stand breakfast food, I would get the breakfast. Most of the time the price is a reasonable deal, especially if you are a coffee drinker, and it is always good to start your holiday adventure each day with a full stomach and fully caffeinated.
The B&B breakfast is usually a variation of the full Irish or porridge/oatmeal along with fruit, yogurt, and cold cereals. Sometimes a small selection of cold cuts and cheese are available…. And toast is abundant. We have experienced B&B’s that have offered a wider higher end selection for breakfast including smoked salmon and fresh cooked fish. Breakfast in a B&B is usually not before 9:00 am, but some proprietors may be open to an earlier time.
The hotel breakfasts vary with the “class and style” of the hotel. It is usually a buffet of hot full Irish breakfast items, an oatmeal bar, and a wide selection of cold meats, salmon, and cheese along with the cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit. Most hotels will cook your eggs to order, or you can ask for an omelet. All the buffets have toast options and sometimes scones, but other sweet breads are unusual. Occasionally, pancakes or French toast or something similar will be offered, but this is rare. The hotels start the breakfast late by North American standards; the breakfast room may not be open before 8:00 am. The hotel restaurants are not usually twenty-four hours.
Most B&B’s are single story, but some are not. It is very rare for a B&B to have an elevator or lift. This is something to keep in mind if you have a room on the 2nd or 3rd floor, the 3rd or 4th floor in North America. Remember, Ground floor, 1st floor, 2nd floor, etc. Some higher end B&B proprietors will assist with luggage but most don’t.
Almost all hotels will have a lift/elevator but some of the older hotels have very small elevators that I tend to only use when bringing luggage to the room. Most hotels can also help with your luggage, but not all. The moral of this story is to pack very very light.
If you want to check-in early to “dump your bags”, then you will likely need to “check” your bags at the hotel or B&B. This is very informal in Ireland. Don’t worry if you don’t get a claim check; especially at a B&B. We’ve done this in reverse when we've had a late train home, and did not want to lug our bags around while we saw the sights.
Other things to know:
Most hotels use an electronics key system similar to North America, but some have actual keys with a large key chain. When you have a physical key, the proprietor may want the key turned in at the desk when leaving the building, but not always.
Many hotels and some B&B’s have a mechanism to enable the power to the room by use of the room key. There will usually be a slot on the wall just inside the door. Insert the card key into the slot, and the electricity will be available. Take it out on your way out the door and most everything is switched off after a short while. Some hotels or B&B’s have a master switch near the door that needs to be turned on manually.
Most hotels have TV’s in the room but the channel selection and the size of the TV may be limited (there is usually a pub with a huge screen downstairs or nearby for watching a televised match).
Many B&B’s do not have TV’s, and when they do, they are small and the channels are very limited.
Coffee and Tea service of varying quality is available in almost every B&B and hotel room. At hotels, coffee is sometimes available in the lobby in the morning. Sometimes a B&B will have a coffee and tea bar in the common area for you to enjoy anytime day or night.
Washcloths are not generally provided or available. The housekeeping staff did not forget. I’m not sure why, but wash clothes are not routinely provided across Europe. If you insist, you should probably bring your own quick drying travel washcloth …. I’m guessing these exist.
Hair driers are usually available in the room, but sometimes you need to ask.
Sitting or Common areas varying across B&B’s and hotels.
Some B&B’s will have a very nice common sitting room (living room) that is great for planning your evening or you day. You can sometimes interact with other guests and/or the proprietor who usually have a wealth of information. We’ve also stayed at some nice B&B’s with absolutely no common sitting area other than the breakfast room that may be closed off and not available.
Some of the low end hotels have limited, or no common areas and others have spacious lobbies with tables and a bar, and …
Other than high-end hotel rooms, there is no significant sitting in the actual rooms. Go to the pub and have your conversations, read, or make your plans.
All hotels take Credit Cards. Most B&B also take CC’s but not all. As with the restaurants in rural areas, occasionally the CC machine at B&B’s can be “down”. This makes it very awkward if you are short of cash.
Universally, the staff and proprietors at all the Hotels and B&B’s we have experienced have been very, very helpful and friendly. Need a taxi, they can help. Need a drug store, they can help with directions. Need directions to a tourist attraction or restaurant, they can help. Need a restaurant recommendation, they can help.
I’ll wrap up with a brief discussion of accommodation styles that are available in Ireland.
Hostels – available in almost any city or town in Ireland. We have not recently experienced this style. I find that the low-end B&B’s are similarly priced (especially if there are two of you) and provide more privacy.
B&B’s - This is my preferred option when staying outside of Dublin or one of the other larger cities. I find the price is slightly less than an equivalent hotel, and it provides a good opportunity to meet other travelers. Prices vary by quality, location, and season, but expect to pay €60-€110 per night for two people with breakfast.
Most B&B's are not usually in the center of town. Remember Ireland is a very safe country and people walk. Also during the summer the sun sometimes does not set until after 11:00 pm, and it is not entirely dark until after midnight. Taxis are readily available in all but the smallest villages. Do not be intimidated by a B&B that is 1-1.5 km(.6-1.0 mile) from the village center.
Low End Hotels – There are international and local chains and small local hotels. Some of the chains are Ibis, Drury Inn, and Premier Inn. Most little towns have their own local hotel or two. Outside of Dublin expect to pay €70-€120 per night for two with breakfast.
Mid-Range Hotel – This is the nicer local hotel along with a few chains like Radisson Blu. The local hotels can be more modern like the Harbour Hotel in Galway or more “traditional” like the Hotel Meyrick or the Park House Hotel in Galway. Outside of Dublin expect to pay €100 to €200 per night for two including breakfast. Many times you can get a package deal for two nights at these hotels with a dinner included. These are usually a good value if two nights in one place works into your itinerary.
High-End Hotels – The high end hotels include some of the castles converted to hotels like Ashford Castle Hotel in Cong. Some of the better known high end hotels are the G Hotel in Galway or the Shelbourne in Dublin just off St. Stephens Green and in a great location. Outside of Dublin you can expect to pay over €200 per night.
All of the accommodation options in Ireland are good, it just depends on your preferences, and the price range that is comfortable for you.
This is close to all you need to know to start booking your hotels. The next blog will talk about accommodation options for Galway.
See You In The Pub!
Jet Lag Jack
[Update 20-May 2016: add Dublin to list of situations for making reservations, cleaned up the English]