If you're looking for budget Europe when the euro is at an all-time high against the U.S. dollar, consider Ireland.
For starters, Aer Lingus (1-800-474-7424; www.aerlingus.com) has lowered economy-class fares by up to 30 percent. Dallas travelers may consider a low-fare flight to the airline's gateways, which include Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
It gets better. Fares don't require a Saturday night stay, itinerary changes are $30 per segment and you can change the name on a ticket for $60. (Sanity comes to air travel!)
Once you get a bargain airfare, find budget lodging at www.visitdublin.com/lastminute. Other good sources include www.tourismireland.com/us and www.accommodationsireland.net.
Sightseers with a taste for historic sites should consider the Heritage Card, at about $24. It provides access to 65 sites across Ireland and is valid for a year. Contact: www.heritageireland.ie.
Get around Dublin on the new light-rail line, which covers many major sites. Contact: www.luas.ie.
For savings, consider fixed-price meals. Many pubs also serve satisfying fare, and no-smoking laws let you enjoy the food.
If you prefer a vacation package, there's a wealth of choices. Listed prices are per person, double occupancy, and don't include air taxes or fees.
CIE Tours (1-800-243-8687; www.cietours.com) specializes in Ireland. Its four-night Taste of Ireland is an escorted tour priced from $796 including round-trip travel from New York, Boston or Baltimore; four lodging nights; most meals; and escorted sightseeing by motorcoach.
You spend one night in Dublin, two nights in Killarney and one night in Shannon. This package price is valid through Dec. 9 and from Feb. 10 through April 28.
Another specialist, Sceptre Tours (1-800-221-0924; www.sceptretours.com) also has escorted tour options, as does Brian Moore Tours (1-800-982-2299; www.bmit.com). All three companies (CIE, Sceptre and Brian Moore) also offer non-escorted options (much less expensive).
Brian Moore Tours, for example, has an Ireland's Friendly B&B package starting at $549 and including airfare from New York or Boston, five B&B vouchers, one night at a hotel near Shannon airport and an economy car rental with unlimited mileage. Travel through Dec. 16 or Jan. 1 through March 24.
Ireland.com (1-800-896-4600; www.ireland.com/travel) has a six-night Independent Castle package from $699 that includes airfare, accommodations, breakfast and a rental car. Depart from New York, Boston or Baltimore. Spend your first night at a Dublin or Shannon hotel, followed by four nights at your choice of B&Bs and closing with a stay in a five-star manor or castle.
If you go to Ireland during 2005, Cork is the place to be. Chosen a European Cultural Capital for the year, Cork City is responding with art, parties and other celebrations. Contact: www.cork2005.ie.
For information, the Ireland Tourism Web site is www.shamrock.org.
Tom Parsons, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Contact Parsons at www.bestfares.com/contact.asp