By: Luke Dawood, Travel Consultant
SITA World Tours, already well known for their luxury itineraries in Asia and Africa, is trying to bring attention to their European lineup including The Emerald Isle of Ireland. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 10 travel agents from all over the US who were invited.
Day 1 – Dublin
After a long delay in transit due to bad weather conditions in Houston, I finally arrived in Dublin. SITA does provide a private transfer experience however due to my late arrival I met my group at the second stop on our tour.
The world famous Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, is located in downtown Dublin. We were treated to a first class tour experience of the storehouse, including learning the history of Guinness, learning how to pour the perfect pint, and ending with a fantastic lunch.
After checking into our first hotel and taking a much needed break, we were then taken on a tour of the state of the art EPIC museum, which is dedicated to Irish Emigration. The fun fact about this museum is that it’s not dedicated to people who came to Ireland but rather to all those who left the island. This museum was a huge highlight for me as a person with some Irish heritage. The theme of being welcomed home was an excellent way to start my journey through this majestic land.
After an orientation drive through the city we returned to the Merrion Hotel for a special Art Tour and Afternoon Tea. The hotel is centrally located, has a classic design and a major emphasis on original art, which is displayed all throughout the hotel.
Finally, we ended the day with dinner at the Cliff Town House Hotel & Restaurant.
Day 2 – Galway
After a scenic drive with a few stops for photo opportunities, we arrived in Galway, which is on the west coast of Ireland. Upon arrival in Galway City, we enjoyed one of the highlights of the trip with a Galway Food Tour. Our guide Sheena, who also owns Galway Food Tours, was amazing. After sampling various local treats, and of course a stop in to Tigh Neachtain’s Pub, we hopped back on board for our scenic drive on the Wild Atlantic Way to Connemara.
On the way we stopped in to visit Kylemore Abbey and Gardens. A lovely Castle Abbey whose nuns make rich chocolates. After sampling chocolates in one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen, we continued on to our hotel in Connemara. In the evening we met with representatives from the Irish Trade Commission and had another lovely dining experience.
Day 3 – Donegal
After a fantastic breakfast, we headed out to Donegal. Our first stop was the historic Ashford Castle. We were met by the Ashford Castle Hotel Manager and were treated like royalty as we toured the beautifully restored castle.
From there we went on to Sligo for another highlight, lunch in the William Butler Yeats House which overlooks the table mountain of Benbulbin. Our host, Damien, cooked us a lovely meal and then treated us to poetry recitals while we dined.
In the afternoon we continued on to the Sliabh League Cliffs. These cliffs are not as well known as the Cliffs of Moher, however they are actually higher. Even the drive up to the viewing point was an adventure. After a visit to the visitor center where we were treated to hot chocolates and snacks we continued on to Lough Eske Castle. It’s worth noting that this luxurious castle hotel was one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. The heated marble floors in the restrooms were an extra touch of luxury. Especially on a chilly Irish evening.
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Day 4 – Belfast
After the best breakfast I’ve ever had at Lough Eske Castle, we continued on to Giants Causeway to view one of the greatest wonders of the United Kingdom. We learned about this unique rock formation from our local guide, complete with a side of local lore, before continuing on towards Belfast.
On the way we stopped in Ballymena for a Toast the Coast tour in which we stopped in local pubs and restaurants to try local cuisine and also toured a garden maze on the castle grounds there.
Upon arriving in Belfast, we checked into the Grand Central Hotel. This brand new hotel is the tallest building in Ireland and features a 360 degree viewing lounge on the top floor. After checking in we headed to the famous Merchant Hotel for dinner. After dinner we headed to a traditional Irish Pub for local live music.
Day 5 – Belfast
The last day of the trip was the first day we had a late start. It was definitely a good thing after visiting the Pub the night before. We started off the tour with a visit to a section of Belfast’s historic Peace Walls. These historic walls give a glimpse into the troubled history of the region and also the hopeful outlook for the future. A real treat was getting to sign the wall with our own messages of peace which is a local tradition.
After this we continued on to the World Famous Titanic Museum. After thoroughly enjoying the museum we were also treated to a tour of a retired WW1 Battleship. We had a great lunch at the Titanic Hotel, the original drawing office where the Titanic was designed before continuing on to the Cathedral Quarter.
Belfast street art has flourished of late and we arrived in the city less than a week after their annual street art festival. We were treated to a walking tour of the street art in downtown by a local guide who was himself also a street artist.
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We finished off our tour at City Hall where we had a private tour followed by tea with the Lord Mayor of Belfast.
SITA Tours did a wonderful job and paid great attention to detail to ensure that all guests were comfortable, enjoying themselves, and had dietary needs met. They hotels were not only clean and comfortable but upscale with personal touches that helped them stand out. The guides Barbara and Virginia as well as the drivers Simon and Rob all did great jobs taking care of us. Overall I had an amazing experience and would highly recommend Ireland with SITA tours to anyone.
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