We’re planning our first trip to Ireland, and we’re thinking of taking advantage of the lower prices in the winter. Is this a bad idea? Will it be a rainy mess?
— Kerri from Ohio via email
Your question arrived at the perfect time. At this very moment, I’m in Ireland… in the dead of winter… and you know what? It’s not bad, but it’s definitely different from other times during the year.
First of all, the daylight hours can be very limited. Ireland is quite far north (more in line with Anchorage, Alaska), so January days start off with only about 7.5 hours of daylight; but by the end of February that number increases to 10.5 hours per day. That might not sound so bad until you realize that the 21st of June sees 17 hours of daylight (source: Sunrise and Sunset for Ireland).
To accommodate the short days, it’s important to avoid a high mileage itinerary. Spending precious daylight hours in the car and driving in the dark are not the best use of your time. Instead, plan to stay in areas for a few days and enjoy the local sites. Then spend your nights visiting pubs or attending evening activities in town.
Weathering the Weather
With its northern position, you might think Arctic cold may overtake the island in the winter, but that isn’t the case. Ireland enjoys a moderate climate, so it rarely experiences extreme cold or extreme heat. This month, daytime temperatures have been in the 40s (4.5 – 9.5° C) with a few days getting even warmer. It can cool down in the evening… we had three frosty nights this month. Considering you’re from Ohio, these may be welcome temperatures in mid-winter.
How you dress will depend on what you plan to do. If hiking and outdoor activities are on the list, a warm jacket and shoes that can handle wet weather will be a must. However, museum and shopping days won’t require serious weather gear. As for rain, winter is not much wetter than other parts of the year… but on a damp day, the lower temperatures can feel much colder.
Ireland does get snow on occasion, especially in the higher elevations. It usually doesn’t stay on the ground for more than 24 hours, but every couple of years a notable storm finds its way to the Emerald Isle.
Open for Business
Despite what some sources may claim, Irish tourism IS open for business in the winter. While it is true that several sites and businesses close or run on limited hours at various points between the end of October and early March, there are plenty of things to do in every corner of Ireland. You’ll want to double check open times for attractions; and although some accommodations close for the winter, you will still find there are B&Bs and hotels ready to keep you warm and fed all winter long.
In the winter, many attractions run with limited staff. For example, there were no guided tours at Cahir Castle, and King John’s Castle in Limerick didn’t have costumed characters in the castle yard. However, both had staff on hand to answer any questions tossed their way.
You will have a different experience in Ireland in the winter… more time by the fire, more chatting with the locals… less time in the car, less time with crowds… you’ll still have the same 40 shades of green (with brilliant winter reds and golds tossed in for contrast) and the same warm welcome.
Let me take a moment to share some photos from Ireland that were taken over the last three weeks… I think you’ll find it quite enchanting!
And for more about traveling in Ireland in different seasons, you can watch this video…