Small-Group Adventures in Ireland Veer off the Beaten Track
Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland offers enriching cultural experiences and multisport adventures in some of the Emerald Isle’s most spectacular locations.
Ireland is a popular destination for leisure group travelers, offering an enticing combination of ancient monuments, stunning landscapes and cultural heritage. Ireland is as appealing to first-time visitors as it is to return guests. For those seeking to experience Ireland on the road less traveled, Vagabond Tours of Ireland offers small-group guided tours designed to showcase Ireland’s historic past, rich cultural traditions and scenic hidden treasures.
Vagabond’s trip planners combine years of extensive experience with deep insider knowledge to create unique itineraries. Groups can choose from two types of tours: Vagabond Adventures active trips and Driftwood Journeys of Discovery for those preferring a more leisurely pace. For multigenerational families and active groups seeking exciting travel experiences and authentic local connections, Vagabond’s immersive multisport tours offer the opportunity to dive deep into Ireland and discover a side of the Emerald Isle most visitors never see.
On a Vagabond tour, every day brings new adventures and extraordinary discoveries. While Vagabond’s active vacations include well-known sites like Blarney Castle and the Rock of Cashel, these trips also allow groups to take in the best of Ireland through hiking, cycling, horseback riding and small-boat excursions in some of the country’s most unspoiled places. Vagabond artfully combines these exhilarating activities with Ireland’s fascinating history and breathtaking scenery, weaving a rich tapestry of experiences and connecting guests with a sense of place.
Exploring Ireland off the Beaten Track
Our seven-day Vagabond “World Tour of Ireland” departed from Dublin, making it easy for us to spend time in Ireland’s capital city before and after our tour. We traveled back through history as we visited Dublin Castle and Trinity College, taking time to view the Old Library and its famous Book of Kells. Other highlights included Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Chester Beatty Library and the Guinness Storehouse. Dublin is a feast for the senses, both day and night. Shopping at boutiques along Grafton Street, raising pints at iconic pubs, and listening to lively Irish music topped off our time there.
While Dublin was lovely, we were excited to leave the city behind and head off on our Vagabond adventure. After meeting Tim Orr, our driver and guide, we jumped into one of Vagabond’s customized 13-passenger Mercedes 4×4 tour vehicles dubbed the “Vagatron” and headed out to see Ireland like a local. Thus began an incredible series of days filled with memorable adventures and time spent far from Ireland’s tourist crowds.
Rob Rankin, founder and owner of Vagabond Tours, knows it doesn’t take long to get off the beaten path in Ireland – even in the most popular sightseeing areas. “You can duck off the tourist trail and show guests a hidden corner that no one else will see,” says Rankin. “It’s like letting them in on a little secret, and everyone likes the inside track.”
Vagabond’s insider approach is particularly apparent at the Cliffs of Moher, where guests can hike along the clifftops for miles and take in the awe-inspiring views before reaching the bus-filled main destination area. “They have it all to themselves and it’s really very special,” notes Rankin.
Much of our journey focused on scenic parts of western Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way, an astonishingly beautiful coastal touring route renowned for its million-dollar views. The drive is filled with rugged landscapes, ancient monuments, romantic castle ruins and picturesque villages. After enjoying a brisk trek along Kilkee’s sea cliffs and hiking through the rugged glacial valley of Lough Annascaul, we cooled down with a pint at the venerable South Pole Inn before arriving in the enchanting little town of Dingle.
It’s plain to see why Vagabond’s tours spend two nights in this charming spot. The bustling village is filled with artisan boutiques, lively pubs and some of the friendliest locals ever. We spent our days riding Irish Cob horses along deserted Ventry Beach, slipping on wetsuits for a sunset sea kayaking excursion in Dingle Bay, marveling at dramatic vistas along Slea Head Drive and taking a small boat out to see Dingle’s most famous resident – Fungie the dolphin. Nights were spent dining on freshly-caught seafood, enjoying pints and traditional music sessions at venerable Irish pubs, and soaking up the local culture.
While the word “tour” can sometimes conjure up visions of set-in-stone itineraries and regimented schedules, that’s not the case with a Vagabond trip. Tour plans and activity options are quite flexible, allowing guests to individually craft their ideal vacation experience. While many of our group members spent hours cycling along Killarney National Park’s forested trails, others explored stately Muckross House and visited Muckross Abbey on a classic horse-drawn jaunting car tour.
Our most memorable adventure began in Portmagee, where we boarded a small boat bound for the remote island of Skellig Michael located about eight miles off Ireland’s coast. This craggy, windswept isle towers over 700 feet above sea level and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Long known for its jaw-dropping wild beauty, Skellig Michael’s popularity skyrocketed after being prominently featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Visitors face a number of challenges including the rigorous climb up more than 600 steep stone steps to reach the well-preserved ruins of an ancient monastery dating back to about 600 A.D. The views from the summit left me speechless. Visiting Skellig Michael made our tour a trip of a lifetime. As we wandered among the monastery’s cluster of beehive huts and gazed out over the Atlantic, we almost felt we’d been transported to a galaxy far, far away.
Creating Memorable Experiences
Today’s group travelers want to connect with the places they visit, not just see them through a window. Vagabond’s tours offer the kinds of authentic Irish experiences travelers crave. The company’s smaller vehicles allow access to extraordinary places as well. Some of my favorite times were spent hiking along the spectacular Bullig Bay Loop on Ireland’s Beara Peninsula, watching sheep herding and chatting with a local farmer, enjoying classic Irish hospitality at postcard-perfect country house hotels, and at traditional Irish music sessions in local pubs while hoisting a pint or two.
Vagabond’s guides customize each tour to their group, getting to know individual interests and helping guests get the most out of their vacation. With Tim as our guide, every day brought new discoveries, memorable experiences and opportunities for adventure. Tim made the trip seamless, expertly driving down meandering roads while navigating the complex maze of group needs and interests, weather conditions, timing and traffic. He was a combination of travel concierge and raconteur as well, making reservations and enchanting our group with Irish facts, folklore and songs.
Delivering extraordinary experiences is another of Vagabond’s specialties. “We have loads of little secret moments that our guests can enjoy,” confides Rob Rankin. While some of these are hidden away in Vagabond’s itineraries, others seem to magically appear out of the blue. One stands out as a favorite memory from our trip.
After a full morning of activities, Tim took our group shopping for the perfect lunch fixings. That led to a four-wheeling adventure culminating in a surprise picnic lunch high atop a hill overlooking dreamy beaches and the sea. As we enjoyed our picnic and savored the magnificent views, Tim topped off the experience with masterfully crafted hot Irish coffees complete with whipped cream. It was truly a “wow” moment, and we felt like we were truly on top of the world. Delivering unforgettable moments and exceeding expectations – that’s the essence of the Vagabond adventure experience.
Story and photos by Nancy Schretter