Why virgin overseas voyagers should make Ireland their first

Dublin and the Irish coast
If you've never been abroad, and the very idea makes you nervous, Ireland's easy flights and friendly people make it a perfect place to start.

If you’ve never stepped foot outside North America, Ireland is your pot of gold.

“The majority of my guests who travel to Ireland … it’s their first time ever using their passport, or they didn’t have one so got it for this trip,” said Jackie Roth, the Ireland specialist at luxury travel agency Scott Dunn. “It’s a very good introductory country.”

For nervous but adventurous types, a trip to Ireland is a four-leaf clover of an entry point for a variety of lucky reasons.

Dublin is one of Europe’s most user-friendly capitals. Shutterstock
Dublin is one of Europe’s most user-friendly capitals. Shutterstock

Firstly, consider the air connections; they’re extensive. National carrier Aer Lingus serves 14 airports stateside, with JFK, Newark and even Hartford, Conn., in peak season among them. Even better, it’s adding more, with Denver service starting from May. Those nonstop flights to the main hubs of Shannon and Dublin aren’t much longer than a transcontinental flight stateside.

“That’s what I always say to my guests who’ve never left the US before — it’s just like traveling from New Jersey to California,” said Roth. “The flight prices might even be more cost effective.”

Indeed, Aer Lingus is a budget carrier with a biz model closer to JetBlue or Spirit than Delta and Co., keeping prices surprisingly affordable — especially compared with service to London on, say, British Airways. With a little planning, you can regularly score a roundtrip in economy from JFK for around $500 or so. Roth recommends booking a roundtrip that arrives in Dublin and leaves from another airports (like Shannon), or vice versa. It won’t affect the price, but makes sightseeing a cinch without having to double back or retrace a route.

Both of those airports offer an unexpected convenience that’s a rare privilege: pre-clearance. The US government doubles agents on rotation to Shannon and Dublin, where they carry out all immigration paperwork before you board.

“You have to get to the airport three hours in advance anyway, so you can kill two birds with one stone,” said Valerie Wilson Travel specialist Amy Siegal, whose daughter is studying at Trinity College in Dublin. “It’s great for a long weekend.”

Landing back stateside, then, you’re treated as a domestic flight, so carry-on only types will be enroute home within minutes.

All along the coast there are special spots to discover. Michal F/Wirestock Creators – stock.adobe.com
All along the coast there are special spots to discover. Michal F/Wirestock Creators – stock.adobe.com

Siegal calls out another upside to the Emerald Isle: language. Ireland has a distinctive culture but there’s no barrier to engaging with it. There will be Gaelic signage, of course — just under 40% of the locals speak it to some degree — but there’s always English as an option.

“For travelers who worry it’s a bit intimidating, finding your way or reading street or bus signs, it’s so easy,” she says. “Everything about it so manageable. It’s so easy and so close.”

Size is also on your side. The country is compact enough that you can cram different experiences into a short visit, without spending days in transit: Six nights is more than ample to explore. Start in Dublin, which is entirely walkable, with no rental car needed. And thank goodness, because you’ll want to spend the afternoon at the Guinness Storehouse or one of the more than 770 pubs there (check out the Brazen Head, the oldest, which has been an ale house since 1198).

After a couple of nights in Dublin, head out to Killarney and the Dingle Peninsula for two more nights.

“It’s mountainous and mythical with rolling hills and misty forests,” said Roth. “It’s all about quaint pubs, slower pace of life, the Irish way — you can stop in any of the small villages and you’ll hear live music, or see dolphins jumping in the bay.”

Get moo-ving: Whether is a coastal ramble or an scenic hike Ireland is best enjoyed by foot. Shutterstock
Get moo-ving: Whether is a coastal ramble or an scenic hike Ireland is best enjoyed by foot. Shutterstock

Head on from there to County Clare for another couple of nights. It’s flatter, but just as dramatic at the coast with spectacular cliffs and crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The outdoors is the appeal: The birdwatching is superb, and you can catch everything from falconry to sheepdog demos. Then it’s a quick drive to Shannon airport to head home.

Michael Holtz from SmartFlyer recommends hiring a local to get behind the wheel rather than tackling the roads yourself.

“The roads, while characterful, are pint-sized for the uninitiated, and scenic routes may call for manual maneuvers,” he explained — and of course, cars drive on the left, another adjustment.

The upside of a driver-guide, of course, is that they’ll enrich the trip with stories and anecdotes enroute. Jackie Roth agreed and said that she often briefs driver-guides on the clients’ history, so they can prep specific stop offs that might be impactful — perhaps in a village to see the post office that their ancestors once ran. It’s an affordable splurge, too: the Republic of Ireland uses the euro, a currency that’s currently struggling against the greenback — give or take, one buck is equal to one euro, an historic bargain.

Just make sure to save some cash for duty-free goods, Shannon is where the entire concept was invented. The first ever such shop opened there in 1951.