England: With 1.75m visits a year, is this our favourite holiday destination?
This is England...
Irish people will pay around 1.75m visits to England this year. That tops Spain. It trounces France. In fact, it's more than we visit any other country in the world.
That's one reason we decided to devote this week's Weekend Magazine section to cross-channel travel. But there are many others - a royal baby, Rugby World Cup and a new wave of regional air connections among them.
Direct flights start from Dublin to Cornwall and Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield in May, and from Shannon to Birmingham in June (all with Aer Lingus Regional). It's not just London, in other words - more than a million of our visits are to regions, from Cornwall to the Cotswolds and beyond.
England is also celebrating a rash of anniversaries. 2015 marks 800 years since Magna Carta, 600 since Agincourt, 200 since Waterloo. Warner Brothers Studios is getting a Hogwarts Express, the V&A has its Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty, and Madame Tussaud's is launching a huge Star Wars attraction.
Sure, the exchange rate is a problem. Going to press, the euro was buying about 73p sterling. In summer 2013, it bought 87p. That's a painful crunch on top of every coffee, cab ride and entrance fee you pay for (Madame Tussaud's alone costs £30/€41pp, for example).
Countering that however, we have abundant air and ferry access, most of England's great museums and galleries are free, and savvy travellers can swot up ahead at visitengland.com/things-to-do/budget.
Stena Line (stenaline.ie) may no longer be sailing from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, but it has just launched a revamped Superfast X ferry, and it is continuing to offer routes out of Dublin Port and Rosslare. Right now, a special short break deal bundling a car and four passengers is available from €220 return. The price is on offer to June 30, and again from September 1 to December 17. Rugby World Cup, anyone? Irish Ferries (irishferries.com) has a similar sports offer, with sailings available from €50pp based on a gang of four sharing.
Perhaps because it's so close, or so easily accessible, many of us don't tend to associate England with package holidays. But they are available. Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) has flights plus three nights exploring the gardens of Kent and Sussex based out of Brighton from €699pp (with guide, transfers and 4-star hotel included), for example. Another trip taking in London's West End and tickets to Wicked costs from €499pp. Going to press, lastminute.ie also had 4-star city breaks in London including flights from €289pp.
Book the best value packages on travel.independent.ie!