We have read many a book about Ireland and Scotland. The fantastic legends, stories, people and history of these two countries have captivated the both of us for a long time. So when we were thinking of destinations for our holiday, Ireland and Scotland were easy choices.
With world famous scenery, amazing architecture, fascinating archaeological finds, we wanted to see all the sides of these countries – mountainside, hillside, riverside, seaside, oceanside – to name a few! We were intrigued by the beautiful scenery, dramatic cliffs, crashing waves and… the hairy coos!
We just couldn’t wait for this trip to Ireland and Scotland!
We started slowly planning this trip in December 2014. And by the end of July 2015, we had everything settled – not fully booked but planned!
We didn’t feel comfortable doing a road trip – as I would have to adjust to driving on the other side of the road and I honestly wasn’t sure I would be able to handle that! We thought about travelling by train to have more freedom and time to explore on our own, but after doing some research into available rail passes, public transportation, travel time and other options, we decided against doing our whole trip via train. In the end, we felt that an organized bus tour would let us explore both the major attractions and the small, quaint towns, which might have taken us a bit longer to get to with public transportation.
After that decision, we had to check out our options for bus tours. Now, bus tours typically have a slightly not-so-good reputation. We thought so as well… We didn’t want to be shepherded from place to place, with only 5 minutes for rushed photographs before being shoved back onto a 40 seater bus! We didn’t want to be scrambling for seats on a packed bus or waiting so long to get on and off the bus that we don’t have time to visit the attraction. On top of that, we wanted to check out the main tourist attractions, as well as some local, not so well-known sights. We also had a budget to deal with… As much as we would have loved having an individualized trip and a [kilt-wearing] private tour guide all to ourselves, we knew we couldn’t afford any private tours!
In our search, we came upon sister companies – Shamrocker Adventures and Haggis Adventures. They offer multi-day, budget tours of Ireland and Scotland respectively. Both companies had great reviews on TripAdvisor. And people raved about their guides – who are all locals and very familiar with the locations that were visited. We felt this point was really important. We didn’t want tour guides who just recited the history and stories of the land. We could look on wikipedia for that! We wanted to experience Ireland and Scotland with guides who are knowledgeable, fun, and most importantly – passionate about their countries, culture and history. A tour guide can make or break your trip, as we can definitely tell you now from our experience! And we were lucky enough to have met some fantastic guides on our trip!
The other factor that drew us to Shamrocker and Haggis Adventures was the fact that they had a discount if you booked multiple trips with their companies. For us on a budget, every little bit counts! So that sealed the deal for us!
Next was the tough decision on which tours to take. Tours ranged from 1 day – 10 days, covering a huge range of attractions, locations and activities. We felt some of the shorter tours were not quite enough to see all the things that we wanted to see. For example, Shamrocker Adventures has a 5-day Celtic Rocker tour but this didn’t cover Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway. The other 5-day option was the Giant’s Rocker tour, which covered Northern Ireland and Giant’s Causeway but didn’t visit Killarney, Blarney Castle or Dingle.
So we thought, since we were flying across the pond and visiting Ireland and Scotland for the first time, we would make the best of it and do the longest tours available – the 7 day All Ireland Rocker Tour and the 10 Day Compass Buster Tour! We wanted to see as much of both countries as possible and take notes on which places we wanted to go back to on our next trip! (Yes, we were already planning our next trip!!)
Here was our itinerary for our month-long trip:
Sept 15 – Travel to Dublin from Vancouver
Sept 16 – Dublin Day 1 (Go to Pub!)
Sept 17 – Dublin Day 2
Sept 18 – Dublin Day 3
Sept 25 – Arrive back in Dublin
Sept 26 – Travel to Edinburgh from Dublin
Sept 27 – Edinburgh
Sept 28 – Dalhousie Castle
Sept 29 – Edinburgh
Sept 30 – Haggis Adventures: 10 Day Compass Buster Tour
*Note that Haggis has now changed the itinerary for the 10 day Compass Buster Tour, so what’s on the website is a tad different from the trip we went on. More on that when we get to Scotland!
Oct 9 – Arrive back in Edinburgh
Oct 10 – Day trip to Inchcolm Abbey and travel back to Dublin
Oct 11 – Travel HOME from Dublin
That was our general plan. We had wanted to include some more places and side trips, like Howth, St. Andrews, Aberdeen and Glasgow. But we figured it would be better to explore and enjoy fewer places than to cram in too many and end up feeling stressed and rushed. It was hard to take out a place like Glasgow, but in the end, we knew it was the right decision. Plus – this gives us an excuse to go back to Ireland and Scotland!
Our trip begins in the beautiful, lively and vibrant city of Dublin. Stay tuned for our next post!
From Vancouver with Love,
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