Last updated on February 13, 2024
We’ve probably all been on holiday in one of these typical mass destinations at some point:
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Flight to the south, bus journey to the hotel, all inclusive, all you can eat buffet, beach on your doorstep, guided day trips by bus, off-road vehicle or boat, what feels like 100 of the same hotels on the same beach and thousands of tourists in the same place.
How was your holiday? “The hotel was good and the food was delicious …”. What did you see of the country? “…(perplexed silence)…….”.
Does that sound familiar?
Fortunately, tourism development in Ireland has been much slower – and much more sustainable. Ireland is not a country for mass tourism, but for individual travellers, and it wants to stay that way.
No long rows of hotel castles on the beach. Instead, there are small, cosy B&Bs that are lovingly run by their often elderly owners. Of course, there are also larger hotels, but there is also glamping in the midst of beautiful nature.
Retail is still valued in Ireland. Small towns with many small shops, local markets and craft shops, i.e. small shops selling farm produce or home-made goods. The cafés still bake their own bread and it doesn’t all taste like the same baking factory.
Yes, there are large discounters and the price war will make it difficult for local retailers to survive in the future. But especially in rural Ireland, chatting in the shop and at the till is still part of the culture and quality of life.
How nice it is as a traveller to have a leisurely look around and be served in a nice and friendly manner – without any time pressure. How nice it is to feel welcome in a café, pub or restaurant and not be the 1000th “guest” of a completely overworked waitress who has to serve the whole place on her own.
How nice is it to be able to slow down on holiday? I mean, it’s almost priceless!
We come from Germany and have been living and working in Ireland (second home) for a few years now. In the summer, we run our motorbike rental business here south of Dublin (https://www.easycruiser.tours) and also offer guest rooms (https://www.the-view-accommodation.ie). We generally find life in Germany stressful, but in Ireland it is much more relaxed.
What do motorbike tours have to do with sustainable travel? Well, hiking or cycling is certainly more sustainable than exploring the island by rental motorbike or hire car. But even if you are travelling by car or motorbike, you can behave as prudently as possible and make a small contribution to sustainable travel.
There are also providers who are committed to eco-tourism, a few of which I will introduce to you below.
But first, let’s look at what everyone can do to contribute to sustainable travelling.
What does sustainable travel mean?
There are organisations that deal with the topic in depth, offer training courses and award certificates for sustainable tourism.
One of these is Sustainable Travel Ireland. They define sustainable tourism as one that fully recognises the environmental, social and economic impacts of travel and addresses the needs of the environment, host communities, visitors and the (tourism) industry. See: https://www.sustainabletravelireland.ie/.
Or colloquially: If travelling works for the environment, hosts and guests in the long term, then it is sustainable.
Let’s take a look at how your travel can work sustainably for you, for the environment and for the Irish:
Drive less and see more
It makes no sense to drive round the island of Ireland in just a few days. Because of the narrow country roads, you can’t drive fast and you’ll be surprised how slowly you make progress. But you’ll also be surprised how much you can experience if you only see part of the island and take your time!
Take in the landscape, stop often, take lots of photos – you will experience the country much more intensely.
Take your time on site and support local businesses
Visit the castle, take a guided tour. Take a stroll through the pretty little town.
Take a look at the small handicraft shop, buy some fruit in the farm shop and check out the wool shop. A little home-made souvenir? It’s nicer than the tourist nonsense at the airport.
The little fishing harbour is super nice, get a coffee in the café next door, the homemade apple pie is also delicious. Sit on the pier and watch the seagulls. Don’t forget to take the short round trip on the fishing boat to see the seals.
If you don’t plan the day’s stage too long, you’ll have plenty of time. Treat yourself to it, when else do you have time if not on holiday?
Talk to the people on site
The owner of the B&B is incredibly nice. She even cooks for us in the evening – menu as requested! And it couldn’t be tastier! Her husband runs an oyster farm off the coast. He offers to take us on his boat and show us around. Unfortunately, we already have other plans, but the subject is interesting, so we ask him and he takes a lot of time to explain the oyster farm off the Irish coast.
We meet a not-so-young Northern Irishman in the pub. He lived through the Troubles, the period of violent unrest in Northern Ireland in the sixties and seventies. I can only faintly remember reports from Ireland in the German news at the time. He takes a lot of time to tell us about that time – a lively history lesson.
The young owner of the riding centre is super nice. His hobby is Irish Heritage. He has several books with black and white photos from the days of farming with horse-drawn carts and horse-drawn ploughs and explains to us what country life was like in the days of his grandparents and great-grandparents. There are also remains of Celtic settlements nearby. But they must not be disturbed, because according to Irish legend, elves live there. He doesn’t know whether he should believe in elves, but he doesn’t disturb the place anyway, out of respect.
I could go on like this for hours – the Irish are often curious about travellers: Where are you from, where are you going, what have you seen, what else do you want to see – and if you ask on the spot, they’ll give you the best insider travel tips you can imagine and tell you loads of background that you won’t find in any guidebook.
Take the time to talk to people, you’ll learn so much about the country!
The Irish are usually very friendly and helpful to travellers. What they don’t like at all, however, are inconsiderate people – in traffic or otherwise.
Dublin is unfortunately a big city like many others, but in the countryside all is still well with the world.
There is no tailgating, no honking, people let each other pass or overtake, and if something takes longer, be it the sheep on the road or the elderly people at the checkout, then you just wait patiently.
And always say hello in a friendly manner – don’t forget!
Behave like the locals, who will also treat you with consideration, then you will be welcome as a traveller – also in the future.
Leave no trace
No, we don’t litter in the countryside, that should probably go without saying.
We don’t camp wild either, because that’s just as illegal in Ireland as it is in Germany and we don’t light fires in the forest or on the beach. Nothing new so far, I guess.
But did you know that most hiking trails in Ireland are at least partly on private land? With millions of sheep on the island, farmers are extremely sensitive about dogs running loose on their land. Sustainability here means keeping your dog on a lead at all times, even if it’s not supposed to be hunting. I know farmers who have lost sheep to dogs…
You will also have to keep opening pasture gates when hiking. You have to close them again behind you, because no farmer wants to have to catch his cows every day because of stupid tourists! If you want the hiking trail to remain open for a long time, then close all the gates behind you and if the previous hiker doesn’t do this, then close them anyway and explain the matter to him, the farmers will be grateful to you.
There is the Leave-No-Trace-Ireland organisation that is working intensively on this issue. . You can find out more about travelling “without a trace” on their website. See: https://www.leavenotraceireland.org/.
Use providers that have eco-tourism in their programme
You don’t have to be an active conservationist to take advantage of these offers. If you have a little interest in nature and the environment, then you’ve come to the right place. There are providers who put a lot of thought into nature conservation and organise their offers with great dedication. I’ll introduce you to some of them here:
Sustainable Journeys Ireland
Brigid’s offer in Northern Ireland is small but very personal. She lives on the beautiful Ards Peninsula and offers guided walks and tours. She is passionate about nature conservation and Irish history and is happy to pass on her knowledge. Her husband Hugh runs a farm by the sea and has integrated several conservation programmes into his farming. You are welcome to visit the farm and find out more. See: https://sustainablejourneysireland.com/.
Mount Allen Eco Tours
In north-west Ireland, on Lough Allen, a lake on the River Shannon, lies a 100 acre farm (approx. 22 hectares). The farmer, Tommy, runs the farm ecologically and is very committed to biodiversity and the preservation of native flora and fauna. The renaturalisation of old moorland and wetlands on his land is just one part of his efforts, which he is happy to share on guided walking tours See: https://www.mountallenecotours.com/.
Blackstairs Eco Centre
Mary and Robert run the Eco Centre with eco-accommodation and several interesting guided walks on various topics related to the surrounding landscape, nature and conservation, but also mushrooms, Celtic backgrounds and more. See: https://blackstairsecotrails.ie/eco-tourism/.
Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours
There are several providers of boat trips to watch whales, dolphins or seals. But this one is special because it is supervised by a wildlife guide and its own zoologist and takes part in research programmes. The skipper, a former fisherman, knows the waters, fauna and flora of his home coasts extremely well and is happy to pass on his knowledge of biodiversity and marine ecosystems to his guests. See: https://www.marinetours.ie/.
Sustainable and ecological travelling is also finding its way to Ireland. This is actually a very natural development, as the Irish have a good understanding and a healthy respect for the uniqueness of their nature and the beauty of their island.
Guests are welcome, but mass tourism is far from their minds and they attach great importance to preserving and conserving what makes Ireland unique for the future.
Isn’t that a wonderful attitude? We can play our part by travelling as sustainably as possible, with consideration and respect for our hosts and nature, by moving locally like the locals and not just driving off the island, and by leaving everything as wonderful as we found it.
And then there are the passionate eco-tourism providers who are happy to share their world with us in a sustainable way and tell us about it – let’s visit them and experience their world – sustainably.
Have fun in Ireland!
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