Q&A: Do we need to prebook our accommodations in Ireland or can we “wing it”?

We have our “places to stay” all set up for our trip this September. However, we’ve left two nights “unscheduled” to see possible places we might not have heard about until we get there. Will it be easy or difficult to find a place to stay while traveling without booking ahead?

โ€“ Lexa

If you’ve got a sense of adventure, you should have no problem “winging it” with accommodations in Ireland. When I travel โ€“ even in high season โ€“ I often wait to book my accommodations until the day I arrive.

This type of “unplanning” isn’t for everyone… especially those who are picky about where they spend the night or who have a hard time making a quick decision, but it can also lead to some very unexpected finds.

Here are some tips:

  • Book by 6pm: It can be fun to drive or walk around looking for accommodations that appeal to you. Sometimes this process can be time consuming, so it’s a good idea to always have an eye out for a place to stay… especially in the afternoon. Then, have your accommodations lined up by 6pm or earlier. That way, if the area you are visiting is busy and rooms aren’t available, you can extend your search a little outside of town without it getting uncomfortably late.
  • Use the Tourist Office: Official tourist offices provide accommodation booking services. Note that their hours might be limited depending on location and time of year.
  • Ask for a Referral #1: If a B&B that interests you is full, ask the owner if there is another property they would recommend nearby. Often a B&B owner will make a phone call on your behalf to save you a trip.
  • Ask for a Referral #2: If you know where you’re heading later in the day, ask your host at breakfast if they can recommend any places to stay.
  • Check Reviews: If you have computer access or a smartphone with data coverage in Ireland, use the same resources you’d use at home to check reviews… like TripAdvisor, travel forums, and review sites.
  • Research and/or Book Online: Websites like www.booking.com and www.hotels.com and www.bandbireland.com can help you determine how much accommodations will cost. Some sites may focus on hotels, but many B&Bs are now listing there as well. They also provide photos and reviews, so the information they provide can be extremely valuable. You can also book right from their websites and smartphone apps, so you can secure your spot any time you have internet access.
  • Book Ahead for Cities and on Holidays: If you’re staying in Dublin or Belfast or visiting an area on a busy weekend… like Galway during the Arts Festival, Kilkenny during the Comedy Festival, or anywhere there is a major sporting event. Also note that the first Monday in May, June, and August… as well as the last Monday in October are holidays in the Republic which means you could find destinations that are popular with the Irish very busy (Northern Ireland has its own list of holidays).
  • Look Ahead a Few Days: Just because you’re “winging it” doesn’t mean you can’t do a little preliminary research. As soon as you have an idea where you will be heading, use the internet to run a preliminary check on availability and prices. You might find that a picture-perfect place is running a special or that you might have to change your plans because there’s an event in town snapping up all the rooms.
  • Ask to See the Room: You might be a casual walk-up, but you still should check things out before you agree to stay.
  • Ask if Breakfast is Included: Some B&Bs are starting to offer bed-only rates (especially when listing on websites like www.booking.com or www.hotels.com), so it’s important to know what you’re getting before you book.
  • Don’t Get Discouraged: Although you may find the “perfect” place to stay, they might not have room for you at a moment’s notice. Don’t get discouraged; start a wishlist of places you’d like to stay on your next trip.

Leave your tips and experiences with “winging it” in Ireland below…



Author: Corey

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  1. As a card-carrying Planner I am definitely in the “book ahead” camp, especially when touring in high season. That said, I have definitely had several Ireland trips where I knew my destination but had no accommodations set up in advance. Those visits have made for lovely memories of a true serendipitous nature. I will say however that I have been lucky enough to visit Ireland on many occasions so was able to allow my inner bohemian to let loose! ;o)

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  2. Standard answer… As a Couple with no preconceived requirements above a clean bed and a good Breakfast then it’s fine to wing it a little

    Winging it the t2p Ireland way.

    Book the 1st and last nights. Pin a Michelin 712 map on an empty wall. Decide any must see places and pin them. work out some stepping stones(towns) on a rough route. get a list of 3 guest houses and 1 hotel for these potential places. email the hotels and ask if there are (1) any events or festivals locally on your possible dates. (2) if the hotel is doing any special offers on your possible dates. Talk to your host and ask in the local pub what’s worth seeing. Phone ahead at breakfast for the evening accommodation. Only book one night at once, if the place is good or there’s things to do and see within a 30mile radius book an extra night.

    Tourist information (if there is one) has a list of accommodation and will book it for you. I try to avoid getting to this stage as whilst they will in general always find you a room they may well not be the rooms you would chose given a wider choice, Far better too plan yourself or arm yourself with a few contact numbers for self selected options.

    Of course you don’t have to visit every place on your list but having a few numbers is better than knocking on doors ..

    If there are more than just 2 possibly 3 or you are using public transport then you might consider booking more than just the first and last nights.

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    • Most importantly look for the shamrock sign. This indicates the bed and breakfast had been approved by. The Irish tourist board.

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      • I know many really good B&B’s that don’t fly the flag on outside signage and some fairly naff ones that do.

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        • That’s true.

          Many of these awards e.g. x many stars and so forth are really about very dry features e.g. has y many chair, z many this, n many the other. In other words turning a family home into bland vacation factory with prescribed processes, but with no feeling. Its not like that for all of them of course, but the stars and awards by large organisations are no indication of whether the place is nice or not and how good the breakfast will be.

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  3. Please just wing it! I’ve been to Ireland in September twice. If you intend to stay in a city or town for a few specific days, it’s smart to book something convenient ahead of time. But we like to fly by the seat of our pants and stay wherever we find space. We’ve met some fantastic people this way and stayed in spots not listed in guidebooks because they’re too new (& wonderful!). And anyway, what’s the worst that can happen? ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. We did a 10 day road trip through Ireland/NI in October 2013 (Dublin->Co Clare->Co Mayo->Co Antrim->Belfast->Dublin), and aside from booking hotels at our first stop in Dublin, we “winged it” the entire way- and loved it! Just DO NOT wing it during high tourist season!
    This was my 3rd time to Ireland, so I had some background with traveling in the shoulder season, and I knew B&Bs and Inns would be flexible and not fully booked during that time. We wanted a real grass roots feel to our road trip and luck was on our side. Only 1 day of rain in 10 days and we were able to show up on the doorstep of hotels, inns, B&Bs in Galway, Westport, Bushmills, and Belfast in early evening without a reservation and were warmly greeted and able to secure a room for the night.
    We’re not super fancy or picky people, and this trip was more about hiking and sightseeing than staying in high class accommodations. We met some great people and a current guide book and WiFi access were the keys to our success. We mapped out our rough driving itinerary weeks in advance, so we had a few ideas of where we were planning to stay before getting there. It was a memorable and fabulous trip! There were some creaky wooden floors and old wallpaper on the walls of the room, but we were there for an adventure in Ireland, not to seek out 5-star hotels. It saved a lot too, so we could spend our money on other enjoyable activities.
    (On a side note, we took a 10 day road trip across the Maritime provinces of Canada this past fall and winged that as well. Another success! Booking.com was a lifesaver!)

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  5. True to my nature I always would “Wing it” much more exciting, & on top you don’t need to be at a certain time at a certain place. Specially in summer in Ireland. I would think you might be lucky to get the accommodation cheaper later in the evening, as rather a late arrival than no arrival .

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  6. This will be our first visit to Ireland so we booked a self drive package that includes airfare, accommodations & car rental. I would be a little skeptical of ‘Winging It” in a foreign country.

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  7. Depends! I always book the first night and the last night(s), so I know for sure I can get the accommodation I want in the location I want to be. In the middle…it depends upon the season. High season and the middle of winter (mid-January to the beginning of March) can be the toughest times to find accommodation. We also don’t like to spend precious sightseeing time looking for accommodation, if we haven’t booked. That being said, leaving a couple of days out of ten- to fourteen-day itinerary open might work well for some people, so they can flexible and find accommodation wherever they may happen to “land” on that day. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. We like to book ahead as it keeps us on track.

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  9. I always like to travel to Ireland in late September or early October. I only book the first BnB so that we can hopefully stop and take a nap Or freshen up if need be. after the flight. the others are booked as I go because we never know where we are going to end up.to me there is no better way because something new and exciting is always around the next corner

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  10. We (over 60’s) travelled to Ireland for the first time in high season 2014, only booking first night and the venue for a wedding we were attending. We had no idea what to expect. I am a meticulous planner so had set an itinerary before we left but didn’t know how long it would take us to travel the route because we wanted to see as much as we could in 7 days (way to short!). The day we left Markree Castle we were so excited (and a little nervous) to set off along the Atlantic Way, we were having a ball and lost track of the time because it was so light (light until about 10pm+) we started to look for accommodation about 8pm (far too late) but everywhere we went there were events on and no accommodation available. After approx. 85kms of searching (and now quite late, my wifi/data wasn’t very receptive and anxiety levels rising) a lovely B & B owner who was booked out rang through to another B & B not far away. It was heaven and the lady greeted us with a cuppa and cake, told us a bit about the area and gave us some tips on ‘winging -it’ before we sunk into the most comfortable bed and fell blissfully asleep – start looking at 4pm. We did this for the remainder of the trip and had no problem, although we were reluctantly aware that we might be sleeping in the car at some stage (this never happened).
    You can settle in early, ask the B & B owner about the area, then go and explore until it gets dark if you want to. We loved beautiful Ireland and its friendly people so much we have flights (no accommodation) booked for 10 days in August this year. Bring it on!

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  11. I am usually in Ireland in winter, when it is often easier to find lodging, though you do have to be aware of special events and slow season closings, too. I enjoy staying at the same places which works a bit with the winging it idea, too — if I have an unexpected time to travel or a change in plans, I contact places I have stayed before. They are often happy to book me in at short notice.

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  12. Some of the best places we have found were purely by accident. We plan to head a certain area, but we meander to get there. If we see a little sign or an interesting road we take it. Don’t bog yourself down with the @ I have to go here or there” just slow down and enjoy the trip. Sometimes, most times it not the destination but the journey that is life changing!

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    • Well said Angela, totally agree.

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  13. Good tips! We typically plan out our entire trip, but I have gone on holidays where we’ve left a few days to wing it, and been pleasantly surprised. I’ve also ended up in places that weren’t ideal but at least it was an adventure. A tip from a British friend of mine: If you are walking up on the day, don’t be shy about asking if they can do a better rate. If you love it and they say no, you can always stay elsewhere. If you’re thinking about several places, you have options and may get a deal, as they’d rather fill the room at a slightly reduced rate than have it stand empty that night.

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    • I think the haggling might work better in low than high season, although I’m not really sure when one ends and the other starts. I’ve tried getting rooms without pre-booking in some towns and found not one room was available.

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  14. My husband and I will always book our first night and our last. The in between stays we wing it. Being our second marriage, when I planned our first trip together and he realized this is how I traveled, he worried our entire trip [I think he still is a bit nervous]. But we have the best memories [and stories] from our travels booking as we go. I find that best laid plans change while traveling and there is often a no cancellation fee or a chuck withheld to cancel. I love to see where the wind takes us. We have never had an issue finding a room. We have never had to stay in a place we were not happy with. We are not picky with our room. As long as it is clean and bed is decent we are happy–to tired to notice much else as we rise early and leave for the day, and return late to plan for the next day and sleep–never do we watch tv or sit in our room. We use travel books for ideas on places, but often we find our own.

    We have 3 week trip to Ireland in late Spring this year. I have booked more rooms than normal as I read that it keeps one focused and able to see more. I will see if this is the case or if I feel “trapped.”

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  15. We have always booked ahead, and now with Google Earth, I “drive” up and down the roads to see the B&B before I book. Some might think that would take the fun out of travel, but it actually helps us feel more comfortable arriving, parking, etc. Spending time on Google Earth dreaming of our upcoming trip got me through a particularly tough teaching year!

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  16. Our first trip to the Island in 2004, we winged it the entire stay, from first night to last. We traveled in March, and only once ran into an issue with accommodations, but there was a funeral in town and all the beds were booked. No bother, we just moved on to the next town and found a great spot to lay our heads.

    We’ve been back twice, both shoulder season (our favorite time to be in Ireland) and have structured the trips a bit more, only because we’ve nailed down the places we like to visit most and spend 3-4-5 nights in one town/B&B.

    I highly suggest winging it – the best adventures are found when you do so!

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  17. I’m a book ahead guy. I know the country well enough that I know how long I want to stay somewhere and I hate to spend valuable vacation, site seeing, drinking, music playing time looking for a place to stay. I also have favorites that I like to stay at.

    On a side note, I arrived in Galway tonight and it’s Easter weekend. There were three groups desperately trying to find a place to stay. Always pre book around holidays and make sure you know what the holidays are in Ireland. Their bank holidays have nothing in common with our holidays.


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  18. Asking for Advice

    If asking for advice, its worth remembering that the people you maybe talking to are probably not on holiday. So give them a bit of context e.g.
    We were hoping to visit x place tomorrow.
    Is there a nice town/ rural BnB en route within x mins drive from here with a restaurant/ pub food nearby.
    Do you have there tel no as I’d like to check if they have any space.

    This will give you better information, saves your and their time too.

    Without this context, imagine some Europeans tuning up in your home town and asking about good restaurants, you spending 20-30 mins talking through the nice places, for them to tell you afterwards, they’re going in the other direction….Now imagine that happening repeatedly through a busy season with a new of bunch holiday happy Europeans every day…

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