Airbnb is all the rage and I love it, don’t get me wrong. If everyone in my life thought about me as highly as my Airbnb hosts did (my reviews are off the charts), I would have zero problems. But, friends, there are a few core issues with Airbnb that you may not realize: the main one is that there’s only a requirement for one of those Bs, a bed. There is no requirement for the other B, breakfast. A real-life bed & breakfast has both those Bs and more and Ireland’s B&Bs are as off-the-charts as my own Airbnb ratings. Below are a few reasons why real-life B&Bs can be better than hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels.
Connect With a Local or Two
Many travelers avoid hotels to give themselves a better chance at connecting with the locals, but how many times have you stayed in an Airbnb and never even met the host? I’ve been in several situations where I haven’t met any humans, letting myself in with provided electronic codes. I’ve also had many quick conversations about how I need to go into the closet to turn on the hot water 10 minutes before taking a shower or that I need to keep the window open when cooking (as if I would cook). Despite my awesome reviews, I haven’t had much of a local connection aside from being handed a binder full of restaurant menus. You’re likely to have a different experience in a real-life B&B.
Meet Other Travelers While Keeping Your Privacy
Meeting other travelers is easiest in a hostel, but that’s because you’re likely sharing a room and everything else with them as well. You can also meet other travelers if you’ve selected anything other than “Entire Home” in your Airbnb search but it’s still unlikely you’ll have your own bathroom. At a real-life B&B, you can mingle with others at breakfast or in the sitting room while still retreating to your own space whenever you’ve had enough.
Check-In When it’s Convenient
One benefit of hotels over Airbnbs is not having to coordinate arrival time – of course, if you’re entering electronically, timing is not going to matter. I’ve found that most of my Airbnb hosts have day jobs and you have to provide an estimated time of arrival days in advance. But sometimes your plans aren’t figured out in advance, you need flexibility, or you lose your way. Instead of wasting your international data to call and feeling guilty if you’re early or late, checking in at a hotel is often easier. A real-life B&B functions more like a hotel than an Airbnb so someone will likely be at your accommodation during normal business hours. You shouldn’t have to rush or hang out at a coffee shop with your bags until someone is available.
Support a Family Business
B&Bs are typically family-run and the family’s main business and not just a person supplementing their full-time income by renting out a spare room. When you stay at a real B&B, you’re helping out a small business and someone’s livelihood directly.
Stay a While
We didn’t have enough time to stay more than one night in any place on this trip, but I wish we’d spent a few days at each of the B&Bs. They were all situated on gorgeous properties (to be fair, everywhere you look in Ireland is gorgeous). I would have loved catching up on my NY Mag crossword puzzles or the pages in the 6 books I’m reading right now, or to just sit outside staring into the distance and breathing the fresh air with a hot cup of coffee in my hands. Each of the below B&Bs would be perfect for a writing retreat, and I’m currently trying to figure out how I can return to Ireland for a longer period of time to take advantage of these spots while also getting a fulltime job and moving to Brooklyn.
Glen Valley House // Leenaun, County Galway
This B&B actually changed the course of our family history, which, fair warning, is probably not something that will happen to everyone who stays there. You see, this dates back to 1998, to the first time my family traveled to Ireland. To make a long story short, the stone ruins of the home where my great-grandfather was born are on the land of this B&B. When we found this out 19 years ago, we went up to Mr. O’Neill’s barn (above) to ask about it and he handed us each a pair of wellington boots and told us to walk up the sheep path and go see it. To this day, the experience is one of my favorite travel stories.
We knew on this trip that we wanted to return to Leenaun, the land of our ancestors, so my sister booked a night in the O’Neill’s B&B, Glen Valley House. We rode down the tiniest winding road to their secluded property in the Connemara countryside. Glen Valley House is situated on 1000 acres and is also home to a working sheep farm with gorgeous mountain views. To our astonishment and delight, the O’Neills remembered our family and told us even more about our relatives during our stay there.
For dinner, we drove back out to Leenaun and ate at the recommended restaurant, Blackberry Cafe. Even though we’d heard that the Irish back in the day didn’t eat seafood, I got the mussels because they were the most local thing on the menu. We could even see the mussel traps in Killary Fjord, the only fjord in Ireland, from the windows of the restaurant. I kept saying to my mussels, “Did your great-grandfather feed my great-grandfather?” which annoyed my sister, but I thought it was hilarious. (It was.)
Though we had an early time-slot for breakfast, I couldn’t have been happier catching up more with the O’Neills more over coffee, freshly baked brown bread, eggs from their own free-range chickens, and bacon.
There is a cozy guest lounge with a fireplace where you can have tea, read, or watch television or you can stare out the windows of your room for miles at the gorgeous green countryside.
If you’re done relaxing, Glen Valley is on the Western Way trail, so do some hiking. With this B&B as a base, you can explore the Killary Fjord by boat, visit Connemara National Park or Kylemore Abbey, and see a sheep-herding demonstration at the Killary Sheep Farm, run by my relatives, though we unfortunately didn’t get to meet them while we were in town.
Lakeland Midsummer Lakehouse // Oughterard, County Galway
19 years ago, my family stayed in the Lakeland Midsummer Lakehouse B&B and it was the only accommodation we revisited this July. A few year’s prior to our first time, my dad had also stayed there with his siblings and mom on his first trip to the homeland. This B&B was chosen initially because their last name is our last name (no known relation), but we keep returning because it is beautiful. The guestbook they had laid out on the desk started two years too late for our signatures to be in there and they had a different dog than before, but I still loved that we were somewhere we’d been, even if I hadn’t remembered too much about it.
When we arrived, it had just stopped raining and there was a gorgeous rainbow stretching out over Lough Corrib to welcome us. Gary, the son-in-law of the couple who opened the B&B, and Max, a beagle, were also there to welcome us. Then we discovered the horses who we decided to make friends with.
The breakfast room here has sprawling views of the lake as well as fresh crepes, which was a different option than the traditional Irish breakfast. On the wall, among other treasures from around the world, is a larger spider in a glass shadow box. I asked Gary about it and he quickly shot out a joke that it came from the bed that I’d been sleeping in.
If you’re into fly-fishing, an angling centre is also on the property and run by the family. Dinner is also served upon request with 24 hours notice with organic vegetables from the family’s garden. The sitting room is spacious and has decent wifi, sometimes hard to find in the middle of the countryside.
The adorable town of Oughterard is just a few minutes away from this B&B and Galway is about 20 minutes away. The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, both popular natural landscapes, are nearby as well as O’Flaherty’s Castle (who were feared for their ferociousness – also no known relation).
The Half Door B&B // Doolin, County Clare
The Half Door B&B, named for its cute red front door, again, felt in the middle of nowhere when looking out the windows at the perfect view of the fields. Unlike the other B&Bs we stayed in, this one was within walking distance to plenty of spots in the small town of Doolin, known for its traditional music.
For dinner, we walked across the tiny bridge for food at McGann’s (why, yes, I did have fish and chips for the fifth time that week). Later that evening, my sister (who took the above photo), my dad (in the above photo), and I went out to McDermott’s Bar, not 200 feet away. The music was awesome and apparently we were being treated to a world-renowned Irish pipe player. There was a tourist crowd as we’d been warned, but we got into a lot of great conversations that night, including with someone my parents’ age who up and left NYC to live in Doolin for four months. People like that give me hope that I can still travel for an extended period of time later in life if I
win the lottery plan correctly.
Once more, breakfast in the morning was fantastic – with a choice of a traditional Irish breakfast or French toast, ordered when you check in.
Doolin is another great base for the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and the Aran Islands, which I still have yet to visit.
Please note: This B&B only takes cash and there’s no ATM in town.
Wherever you end up sleeping in Ireland, make sure to take your all your leftovers with you or you will be thinking about them for weeks on end. I left a half-eaten scone at Lakeland Midsummer Lakehouse with the intention of eating it in the car and I don’t think I’ll ever forget about it.
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