Ireland is my home country and it’s a great country to be a tourist in. Our hospitality sector sets high standards both for produce and service.
Yes, eating out in Ireland will be expensive relative to other European countries but the quality of food is superb with a huge emphasis on natural, additive-free ingredients. Fish, meat and dairy are our forte, and we have a strong tradition of food production as I discuss in my Irish Food History post.
Our scenery is breath-taking and is easily accessible. And there is a wealth of cultural activities to keep boredom at bay.
But for anyone thinking of moving to Ireland I’ll have to be honest. It’s not always the easiest country to live in. The cost of living, the limited employment opportunities and the inclement weather are the most obvious challenges. But it’s a country with a strong social conscience, an excellent education system, is politically stable and respected internationally for its diplomacy.
I’m amazed at the number of people abroad, particularly in fellow EU countries, who lack basic knowledge about Ireland. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland you’ll need to know one very important fact: the island of Ireland is divided into two jurisdictions.
A) Republic of Ireland which consists of 26 counties and is an independent country.
B) Northern Ireland which is part of the UK and consists of the remaining 6 counties on the north of the island.
I hope my little table below helps decipher the differences and outline the similarities between the two Irelands.
The Ireland I’ll be referring to in this post is the Republic of Ireland.
Visa: Visa-free travel is in place for citizens of EU/EEA countries and for a number of other countries including USA and Canada. Please see the Department of Foreign Affairs website for further information on visa requirements. The Republic of Ireland is not part of the Schengen Area.
Language: Irish may be the first official language but everyone speaks English, the second official language. The second-most spoken language in Ireland is Polish. For a humorous look at language in Ireland check out my blog post on Irish Slang.
Time zone: Greenwich Mean Time in the winter and British Summer Time in the summer. In other words, same time zone as the UK.
International dialling code: +353. All Irish landlines and mobiles have a three-digit code with the exception of Dublin landlines which have 01 as their code. The standard code for Irish mobile phone numbers is 08 with 087 as the most popular code. If dialling any Irish phone number from abroad always drop the 0 in the area/mobile code. For example, 087-1234567 will be 00353-87-1234567.
Geography: With the exception of the Wicklow Mountains, the eastern half of Ireland is relatively flat. The spectacular mountainous scenery is found on the western half of Ireland. Access it by following the Wild Atlantic Way road from West Cork through Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo and into Donegal.
In my opinion, these western seaboard counties are the most beautiful in Ireland. Saying that, all maritime counties have glorious beaches. Kerry has the greatest concentration of mountains in Ireland plus has the most Blue Flag beaches. You could say that Kerry is a miniature version of Ireland so when planning a trip to the Emerald Isle make sure you include it in your itinerary. You’d never think I’m from Kerry, would you?
Thanks to the rain, there is an abundance of freshwater rivers and lakes in Ireland. The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland. Running from North to South the Shannon forms the dividing line between the east and west of the country.
If you fancy some wild swimming please note that most property adjacent to rivers and lakes is privately owned and you will require permission from the owner to access it.
Weather: An Irish-trained pilot is the best to have in the cockpit during inclement weather. Why? What is considered inclement weather in other countries is considered normal weather in Ireland. And so our variable weather conditions will be your biggest travel challenge.
What to wear. When to wear it. I recommend layers with a water-proof outer layer. Shoes with water-proof capabilities are also a must. Sunscreen is recommended from May to September as the sparse sun we get is very strong. 20°C in Ireland feels like 30°C in continental Europe. Humidity is high during the summer months.
Conversely, Polish acquaintances tell me that 0°C in Ireland feels like Poland in -10°C. Temperatures can drop and increase by anything up 10 degrees in a matter of hours here. As I’m writing this post, it is snowing. Five days ago it was 16°C.
You will be delighted to know that Ireland doesn’t experience earthquakes or tornadoes.
In recent years, storms have become more frequent during October to February. Weather alerts are colour-coded and I recommend reading Met Éireann’s information guide on these alerts in the event of one occurring during your trip.
Public transport and other services may not operate during red weather alerts. For county-specific information it’s best to check with the county council or local radio station of the area you are staying in. Local knowledge will be vital in such situations as will travel insurance for the extra costs you may incur.
Best time to visit: If your visit to Ireland is for business, conferences, partying, culture, shopping or any activity which involves having a roof over your head then Ireland is good at any time of the year.
However, if your visit will entail a significant amount of sightseeing then I recommend the April to September period.
Falling ill in Ireland while on holiday: Ireland has some of the best medical personnel in the world. Accessing them in a timely manner can be a problem. Pharmacists are an excellent place to start for advice but medicines in Ireland are more strictly controlled than in other countries. What’s over the counter in your own country may require a doctor’s prescription in Ireland. Aspirin, sleeping tablets and the contraceptive pill all require prescriptions.
If you are an EU/EEA citizen and need a doctor, simply present your European Health Insurance Card to the nearest General Practitioner (GP – family doctor) and you will be treated for free provided that doctor is contracted to the public health system. Information on the use of the EHIC in Ireland can be found here. If you are not an EU citizen then you will have to pay upfront and claim from your travel insurance. Expect to pay anything from €50-€70 per visit.
If you have to attend the Accident & Emergency department of a hospital then expect long delays. Patients are triaged so the more ill you are the quicker you get to access to treatment. In October 2019, the cost of attending the Accident & Emergency department in my local public hospital in Kerry was as follows: Non-EU nationals with no GP referral €230; Non-EU nationals with GP referral €130.
The moral of the story? Make sure you have travel insurance with medical cover when visiting Ireland.
Interesting facts about Ireland: Ireland was the first country in the world to ban smoking in indoor workplaces which means you’re at the mercy of the weather elements if you want to light up. Ireland’s cigarette and tobacco prices are some of the most expensive in the world.
The national anthem is played at closing time in most pubs if there’s live music (even if it’s hip-hop/trash metal night). Chances are you won’t know the words so stand up, stay quiet and have a neutral look on your face.
There is no legal requirement to carry photo ID but businesses and organisations reserve the right to ask you for it. If you are lucky enough to look young pubs/nightclubs will require photo ID as proof of age.
The minimum age for buying and consuming alcohol is 18. However, premises serving alcohol can place a minimum age requirement for entry. There are restrictions on the hours of sale for alcohol so I recommend familiarising yourself with the Vintner’s Federation of Ireland Pub Opening Hours page which is updated for relevant public holidays and bank holidays.
9am – 5pm are the standard office hours. Banks have more limited opening hours but 10am – 4pm is an approximate guide.
Irish people cannot queue properly so be prepared to hold your ground. For more of our negative traits dissect my What Does it Mean to be Irish post.
Electrical Plugs: Same as the UK which is the three-pin square 13A 220-240V plug. It’s classed as Type G in World Standards list.
Accommodation: There’s a wide variety of accommodation available in Ireland but in my experience it doesn’t cater well for solo travellers. If there are any deals to be got book at least three months in advance. My first port of call when looking at accommodation is booking.com.
Is Ireland safe to visit: 100% of international respondents in a social media survey I carried out said yes to this question and, for the most part, I would agree. However, vigilance is required in parts of Dublin especially around Connolly Station. Ireland does not have wild snakes, poisonous reptiles or any wildlife that will do you harm.
History: Most of our historical monuments are dedicated to events and people who endeavoured to rid the country of several hundred years of British oppression, which we did in 1921.
Other significant dates in Irish history are as follows:
5th Century – Arrival of St. Patrick and conversion to Christianity
12th Century – Norman invasion beginning English rule.
1649 – Oliver Cromwell began his genocidal conquest
1845/1849 – Famine
1916 – Easter Rising, a failed but influential rebellion
1919 – War of Independence begins
1922/1923 – Civil War
1973 – Joins the EEC (now EU)
Cultural sensitivity: Every Irish person I know considers the Famine an act of genocide on the part of the British authorities. Why? Ireland is a self-sufficient nation but was forced to export most of its food to mainland Britain. This left the local population at the mercy of the potato crop which failed due to fungal blight. I discuss the Famine in more detail in my Atlas of the Great Irish Famine post.
GETTING TO IRELAND
AIR: Ever since John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown crash-landed the first non-stop transatlantic flight into a bog in Connemara in June 1919 Ireland has been at the forefront of aviation. Getting to Ireland by air will be the easiest part of planning a trip to Ireland.
Ireland has excellent aviation links to Europe and North America with Dublin Airport accounting for in excess of 80% of national air traffic. This means it’s a very busy airport for a city this size so, if you can, fly into the more relaxed regional airports of Cork (ORK), Shannon (SNN), Kerry (KIR), Ireland West Airport Knock (NOC), Donegal (CFN).
Ireland is one of only a handful of countries (the only country in Europe) where airline passengers can pre-clear US Immigration. Dublin and Shannon airports facilitate this.
Dublin Airport has two terminals which are within walking distance of each other. As a general rule of thumb, Terminal 1 houses Ryanair while Aer Lingus is the main airline at Terminal 2. All flights to the US depart and arrive in Terminal 2.
If your flight departs Dublin Airport Terminal 2 between 6am – 9am and you have luggage to check in then arrive 2.5 – 3 hours in advance. In my experience, exceptionally long queues, stress and delayed departures are the norm during this time.
FERRY: Passenger ferries from the UK and France serve Ireland. The main passenger ports in Ireland are: Dublin, Rosslare, Cork. Dublin Port handles almost 50% of the Republic of Ireland’s trade so is an exceptionally busy port. Ferry companies serving Ireland are: Irish Ferries, Stena Line, Brittany Ferries, P&O Ferries.
RAIL: A rail line connects Dublin Connolly to Belfast.
GETTING AROUND IRELAND
This is where the fun/nightmare begins! Earlier I said that our variable weather will be your biggest travel challenge, which is true to a certain degree. But the most amount time spent planning a trip to Ireland will be spent trying to figure out our public transport system.
Getting from A to B isn’t a big deal but connecting at B to travel onwards to C is the challenge. Why? Our sparse population means a comprehensive public transport system like those in other EU countries wouldn’t be financially viable. Plus, being organised is not part of the Irish skillset.
DUBLIN: Dublin is better served by public transport than the rest of the country with a variety of options: Bus, mainline rail, and the light-rail services of the DART and the Luas. Dublin also has a free bicycle rental scheme, dublinbikes.
But don’t let this fool you into thinking that Dublin is easy to traverse. It once took me 50 minutes to travel, by bus, the 16km distance from Dublin Airport to Northumberland Road in South Dublin. Earlier that morning it took me 50 minutes to fly the 266km from Kerry to Dublin. Going by private car is no better as a friend in Dublin spends 1.5 hours driving 15 miles to his workplace every day.
For taxis, check out this Taxi Fare Estimator.
AIR: There are only two internal flight routes in Ireland: Kerry to Dublin and Donegal to Dublin. Both routes are operated under the Aer Lingus brand so onward flight connections to other countries is possible. If you are flying internally in Ireland you can use the FastTrack security facility at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s a less stressful experience than the main security queue.
DUBLIN AIRPORT: Dublin Airport is not served by any rail service which means depending on a complex network of bus services. Here’s a link to the airport’s bus page.
RAIL: The railway network spans out from Dublin to other cities/towns and is managed by Irish Rail. Book online for substantial savings and to reserve a seat. Trains from Dublin Heuston serve the following destinations: Tralee (Kerry), Cork, Limerick/Ennis, Waterford, Galway, Westport/Ballina (Mayo). Trains from Dublin Connolly serve the following destinations: Belfast, Rosslare Europort, Sligo.
Check out my blog post on how Irish railway stations got their names.
BUS: Bus Éireann is the national bus company and operates the bus stations, but private companies travel popular routes as well. Bear in mind that some private companies will not use main bus stations as pick-up points which could mean waiting in the rain elsewhere.
DRIVING: As for driving in Ireland, that’s an adventure in itself which merits its own post. Check out my Tips for Driving in Ireland post which is full of helpful advice from over 20 years of practical experience.
All but two of my Ireland posts cover my gorgeous home county of Kerry. Check out my Kerry Travel Guide or my post on Places to Visit in Kerry. My Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry post is a guide to the Kerry section of the route.
Given that Killarney is the tourism capital of Kerry and one of the most popular tourist towns in Ireland it deserves its own post. Here’s a list of Things to Do in Killarney.