This is my ever-expanding list of Irish travel tips. These are all things you should know about Ireland before you arrive. This list will, hopefully, make your journey to Ireland all the better!
I have brought over 15,000 people around Ireland over my years as a tour guide. In that time I have come across a lot of people who had some big gaps in their knowledge about the place before they got here.
Everything on this list is an answer to a frequently asked question, or a particular incident that I have had as a guide.
Ireland is Made up of Two Countries
The island of Ireland is divided into 32 counties, 26 of them make up the Republic of Ireland, a totally independent country, and 6 of them make up Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom.
This means that there are 2 countries on this small island, each with different governments and institutions. Make sure you know which one you are in.
There are all sorts of cultural and historical differences between the two that we will get into later, but first we need to talk about some of the big logistical challenges this brings.
If you want to travel around the island of Ireland, you will need to use two different currencies. In the North, they are a part of the UK and so use the British pound.
One thing to note about pounds in the UK; each of its 4 parts create their own pounds that have different designs. Usually they will have local historical figures or moments from local history. All these different notes should be legal tender in the whole of the UK, but some places in England (for example), might not recognise pounds from Northern Ireland, just be aware of this if you are travelling around Britain.
The Republic however is part of the Eurozone and therefore uses the Euro. You might be able to find a couple of places in the Republic that accept pounds, but the further away from the border you get, the harder these places will be to find.
If you are travelling around Ireland, be prepared to use both currencies.
For exchanging money, I would advise using Fexco. They are the company that I use, and their locations generally have longer opening hours than most banks.
Brexit and the Border
The border on the island of Ireland has been causing a lot of international difficulty in the last few years with Brexit.
This is a complicated issue, we don’t have enough time to go into it here, but this video explains things about as well as possible:
At the time of writing this article, Brexit is about a month away. Nobody knows what will happen, hopefully nothing will change.
I will update this section whenever I can.
Weather is Unpredictable
One thing that both the North and Republic have in common is the weather, its not great. The average year in Ireland gets about 220 days of rain! We also get a lot of wind wherever you go, especially along the coasts.
Strangely enough, none of this ever gets too bad. We rarely ever get storms and natural disasters are uncommon. When Irish people say that we get all our seasons every day, you better believe them!
This means that you should always pay attention to the weather forecast. Make sure that you know what you are getting into before you head out in the morning.
The Irish Weather Service is usually accurate, but it’s great for predicting the rare storms and any particularly bad weather that we get, so that’s what I would advise you check out.
Irish People Wear Layers
You might think that since it rains so much, the Irish would always walk around with umbrellas, but this is not the case.
The wind makes this unfeasible and so Irish people layer up. This really is the best way to prepare for the Irish weather. You never really know what you are going to get.
One minute there could be rain, the next sun. Make sure you are prepared for all the eventualities. Bring your raincoat and some sunscreen for your day out in Ireland!
If you want more advice on how to deal with the Irish weather, you can find my guide HERE.
We Drive on the Left Side of the Road
Another thing that both parts of the island have in common is that we drive on the wrong side of the road.
You will find signs on street crossings in major cities telling you to look right when crossing the road, make sure you follow this advice!
This can be a serious issue for visitors to Ireland, especially if they are driving around the country. Interestingly though, most people pay so much attention to driving on the left side of the road they never get into any issues while here.
It’s only when they return home and relax that they start to slip up and make mistakes. It’s the return home that’s the most dangerous part.
Renting a Car is the Best Way to See the Whole Country
Even though there are some issues with driving on the side of the road you’re not used to, driving around is probably the best way to explore Ireland.
Exploring Ireland this way will offer you the most freedom and you won’t have to rely on the less than stellar Irish public transport.
The major drawback with renting a car in Ireland though, is that it is expensive. Usually, renting a car from a reliable company will cost about €40 a day. I would only recommend renting a car in Ireland if you plan on spending a week or more here.
Hertz is one of the highest-rated car rental companies in Ireland and you will be able to get your car right at Dublin Airport.
You Don’t Need a Car to Explore Ireland
It is perfectly possible to explore the island of Ireland without using a car. There are plenty of companies that will take you around the island on a coach and show you some of the best sights.
You could also explore some of these areas yourself. If you decide to base yourself in Dublin, there are lots of transport links to great attractions nearby.
Just be aware, the Irish infrastructure is not up to the same standard as the rest of Western Europe. You might need to do some planning, if you want to visit multiple different parts of the island.
I have a guide to public transport in Ireland, if you want to learn more about how to better explore the country.
Irish Food is Good
One thing that people have been noticing a lot in recent years in Ireland is the quality of the food. Historically, the food in Ireland was something that people never regarded too highly. Today that is no longer the case.
The last 10 years as seen a revolution in Irish cuisine and when you visit Ireland, you will be able to find styles of food from all over the world prepared with fresh, Irish ingredients.
Most menus in Ireland will also accommodate for any food allergies that you might have, and vegetarian and vegan restaurants have been getting more popular. This means that there should be something for everyone!
Finding somewhere to stay in bigger Irish cities has been getting more difficult in recent years. There is a housing crisis in Ireland right now and this has impacted the cost of tourist accommodation.
You will still be able to find somewhere to stay, but in cities like Dublin, beds will be more expensive than other parts of Europe.
Also, many of the hotels in Ireland are in older buildings and as a result, rooms might be smaller than what some people are used to in places like North America.
Another issue I have found with this is air-conditioning. With older buildings and a wetter climate, air-conditioning is uncommon in Irish hotels and hostels. Personally, I find it uncomfortable and avoid it when possible, but I know many travellers prefer it.
There is a tipping culture in Ireland, but it’s not like the United States. After a meal, tipping somewhere in the region of 10-15% is considered normal. If the service was particularly good, people often tip more.
On the other hand, you generally don’t have to tip in Ireland and most service workers are paid a wage by their employers. Unlike in the US, you don’t have to tip with every drink, though you can if you’d like. It’s up to you.
There are some people who you will have to tip in Ireland, like tour guides. If this is the case, they will generally make it known to you, but this is rare and won’t come up all that often.
Like the rest of Europe, service workers in Ireland might seem less friendly than those in North America. This is probably as a result of them not relying entirely on tips for their wage.
Having said that, Irish service workers will generally try to help as much as possible. You just might need to make it known to them that you need some assistance.
We have less of a dining-out culture in Ireland. Most Irish people I know feel at least a little uncomfortable when being waited upon.
The Irish have a reputation around the world as being one of the friendliest nations on the planet. We certainly like to think we do anyway!
Yet at first you might not think this is the case. Generally, the Irish can come across as a little stand-offish when you meet them. But if you make a genuine effort, you should see the friendly side of us come out.
In bigger cities, like Dublin, people are naturally a little jaded by tourists, or are busy. But even still, if you need any help or directions, most people will be willing to lend a hand.
The Irish are Really Polite
A part of Irish culture is always being polite. Kind of like the Canadians or the British, but possibly to an even greater degree!
In Ireland, you always say sorry. Even if somebody clearly bumped into you on the street, you will both have to say it. If you take the bus, ALWAYS thank the driver. In fact, always thank every service person you meet in any shop, bar restaurant, etc…
This is probably a holdover from when Ireland was a devout catholic country. To be impolite, rude or in any way a hinderance on others was seen as very embarrassing!
The Irish Hate Formality
Strangely enough though, even though we feel like we must be polite, we make fun of and insult each other all the time. It’s seen as a term of endearment in Ireland.
This also goes towards positions of power. In ancient Ireland, the various regional kings would be elected by their peers, this meant that they had to be on good, personal terms with them. Even today, the most successful leaders in our government avoid pomp and ceremony whenever possible.
Having said all that, don’t come off straight out of the airport cursing and making Irish jokes. We make fun of our country and each other like siblings; we can do it, but we don’t like it when strangers do it!
There are ways for visitors to ingratiate themselves though, and then join in on the fun later, more on that soon!
Another thing that most visitors to Ireland notice is how much the Irish curse. In the Irish language there are no proper curse words like we know them in English or most other languages.
Instead, in Irish, you have to put a curse on someone.
Today, this means that Irish people will be very creative when they are angry and want to curse somebody out. Curse words are only really used for emphasis!
Though the Irish language (Gaeilge) still exists, most people in Ireland speak English today. When you come here though, you might not understand a lot of it.
This is because Irish people often speak in Hiberno-English. It’s a dialect of English only really spoken on the island of Ireland and is full of slang and colloquialisms that nobody else uses.
If you follow the link above, you will get to a Wikipedia article that goes into this topic in detail and will list a few phrases that you can use on your stay here.
If you want a good idea of what it sounds like, please check out the video below:
When you get here, you might be tempted to break into the local accent. I generally advise people not to do this, a lot of the time it gets annoying for locals.
There is no such thing as a single Irish accent, there are dozens, if not hundreds of regional accents across the island of Ireland. People often wind up jumping all over the county when they try to do an “Irish” accent.
Even a lot of famous actors have gotten the accent wrong, including those who should have probably known better…
This is a good, yet brief, overview:
Proud of their History
As you can probably tell already, the Irish people are generally proud of their history and proud of their country. The island of Ireland has gone through a lot of heartache in its history and has seen more than its fair share of bad times.
Despite all of that, the Irish people are still here with their unique culture and heritage. When you get here, people will be quick to tell you about all the strange customs that we have.
Like and culture the Irish one is evolving, but it is alive and well.
Don’t Call an Irish Person English or British
A part of this Irish identity is that people here are Irish, and NOT British. Not that there is anything wrong with being British but saying that Ireland is a part of the UK, England or that Ireland is anything other than its own thing is probably the most insulting thing you can say to an Irish person.
Even the Irish government officially doesn’t recognise the term “British Isles”. There has been a naming dispute over this term for decades and today neither country officially recognises it.
This is the result of a long and very complicated relationship that Ireland has had with its big neighbour. This relationship has been so complicated that there are many people who live in Ireland that today consider themselves British and NOT Irish!
Don’t Call the British Community in Northern Ireland Irish
It might seem like I am trying to confuse you at this stage, but there are plenty of people in the North who are the descendants of protestant settlers who came to Ireland about 400 years ago.
They considered themselves loyal to the British crown and the political union with Britain and so they proudly stayed in the UK when the rest of Ireland left 100 years ago.
Even today they consider themselves to be British and NOT Irish. In fact, they are probably even more patriotically British than anyone on the larger of the two islands. Their catholic, Irish, neighbours in the North generally consider themselves to be more Irish than anyone south of the border.
This is obviously way more complicated than I can talk about here. But Ireland was divided up and separated this way about 100 years ago and there are lots of commemorations across the island. These will be well worth checking out when you’re here.
There are far more detailed descriptions of how this partition worked out online, if you want to read more.
Irish vs English
I get asked a lot by people if the English are welcome in Ireland, of course they are. There is a clear difference between what happened in the past and blaming people for what happened generations ago is pointless.
Irish people like to remember the past and have a good understanding of their history, but they will also watch a lot of English TV, sport and movies.
In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II became the first sitting British monarch to visit Ireland and her visit went down so well, it was probably the height of relations between the two countries.
You can see some of the highlights from her historic visit below:
How to Be Accepted by the Irish
If you come to Ireland with an open mind, you should be fine. Most Irish people are tired of stereotypes of their country and their people in movies and TV from the rest of the English-Speaking world.
When you come here, let the Irish people tell you what their country is like. Don’t come here with many pre-conceived notions of what the place is like.
If you want to get a feel for the place before you arrive, consume media that was created by Irish people. This article is a good start, but later I will give you recommendations of more Irish movies and TV shows that will give you a better sense of the place.
Dublin vs Rest of Ireland
Dublin is by far the biggest city in the Republic of Ireland and has over 1 third of the country’s population. Though the borders of the city are nebulous, at the higher estimates its population stands at about 1.9 million people!
The next biggest city in Ireland, Cork, has a population of less than 300,000. Like any country with one city bigger than all the others, there is a certain sense on animosity between Dublin and the rest of the country.
This might also stem from the fact that Dublin was the seat of British rule in Ireland for over 750 years. People in Ireland have long memories!
Today the rivalry between Dublin and the rest of the country is really a good-natured sporting one. Dublin regularly gets into national finals in sports like Gaelic Football and people from other parts of Ireland don’t care who wins, provided Dublin loses. I’m sure there are similarities in other parts of the world…
There are also nicknames and slurs that regularly get traded between the two groups. Dubliners like to call people from the countryside things like “boggers” or “cultchies” (cull-cheese).
People from other parts of the countryside call Dubliners things like “Jackeens”.
There are so many things to see and do in Dublin city, but many visitors tend to stick to the usual tourist haunts. The city has over a thousand years of history and has so much to offer.
Most people in Dublin live well outside of the city centre, so just staying there you will miss out on the authentic city life. There are small towns and suburbs nearby where the locals like to congregate.
The nightlife in Dublin alone is one of the best in the world and there are well over 750 pubs located in the county. There is plenty of things to do in this city once the sun goes down and nearly 2 million people to meet.
I have a guide on things to do in Dublin at night, where I talk about this in detail, including plenty of stuff that doesn’t revolve around alcohol!
There are also countless great museums and attractions that most of the tourists who come here all avoid. For more info, I have a list of the best things to do in Dublin for Free, which talks about this in detail.
Explore Rest of Ireland
As much as I love Dublin, staying there for your entire trip to Ireland would be a waste. This island has some of the best scenery in Europe and some of the most fun towns anywhere.
Though Ireland is small, there have been people living here for about 10,000 years and the island is densely packed with things to do and see.
I have a list of the best day trips from Dublin. The city works great a base, from which you will be able to see almost anywhere on the island with comparatively little effort.
There are great natural wonders within easy reach of the city by public transport, like Howth or the Wicklow Mountains.
There are also great places on the rugged West Coast, like Galway or Dingle, where you will be able to have a great time and meet plenty of the locals.
Best Time to Visit
Though this might be a bit of a cop-out of an answer, any time is the best time to visit Ireland. There are plenty of reasons to come to Ireland at any time during the year. Also, the reasons to stay away will be there year-round!
The weather in Ireland is never that good. As mentioned before, the average year gets about 225 days of rain. Even during the summer months, this will still be an issue. But if you’re prepared, you should be fine.
In the summer months, Ireland looks great. The fields will be fully green and it will be clear for all to see why this is called the “Emerald Isle”. One great thing about the summer is how long the days last.
Because we are so far north, at the height of the summer, it won’t get dark in Ireland until about 11.30pm. This is great for exploring the countryside and going to music festivals.
It also means that during the winter months, it gets dark early. About 4pm is the earliest that it gets dark in Ireland. But this doesn’t matter as even then, you’re never far from a nice cosy pub to relax and get warm!
VAT Tax Back
If you are from outside the EEA and you visit Ireland, you might be surprised to learn that you will have to pay VAT on all your purchases. This is, essentially, a sales tax that is already added into the price of many products sold in Ireland.
If you pay for something with this VAT charge electronically, you will generally be offered a card to keep track of this expenditure. Normally this card will be from the company I mentioned above, Fexco.
If you keep track of these purchases, at the end of your stay, you should be able to re-claim this tax. There is usually a Fexco kiosk at most departure gates in Irish airports where you can make this claim.
This will only work if you are NOT a citizen of the EEA. There are also a load of terms and conditions, so make sure that you read them carefully on the website, linked above.
Rounds in Pubs
One thing that you might need this money for in Ireland is going out with the Irish people. Here we buy rounds of drinks. This is a common practice across the entire country.
Because Ireland was so poor for so long, we have a strange relationship with money and displays of wealth. While extravagance is generally frowned upon, so too is being too stingy.
For large parts of (recent) Irish history, if people were to survive, they had to help each other out. This meant sharing what little they had. If you didn’t return the favour of someone lending you food, it was considered highly insulting.
Today this means that Irish people will often share things around and expect you to do the same. It is common for people on a night out to get a round of drinks for the group. Then everyone else in that round will continue until they have all paid.
You might find situations where people will join groups who are already doing rounds, so nobody new will join in. Or, more commonly, people will be chastised if they change their order mid-round to something more expensive.
Most importantly; never skip your round and always reciprocate!!!
Do the Irish Drink A Lot?
This brings us nicely onto another big Irish stereotype; our relationship with alcohol. And yes, we do tend to drink a lot, but the amount the Irish drink has been declining.
Don’t get me wrong, the Irish probably drink too much. About a third of young Irish people binge drink at least once a week, but this figure has been much higher in the past.
With an increase in the economy and a lower unemployment rate, the Irish people have started to have less free time to go out drinking. Also, the price of drinks in cities like Dublin keeps going up!
Ireland was also the first country in the world to institute a national smoking ban, this made it illegal to drink indoors. This combined with the wet Irish weather has made it less desirable to drink or smoke in Ireland.
Though we still drink a lot here in Ireland, we are slowly starting to get over our bad habits. Today Ireland is ranked as having the 21st largest alcohol consumption per capita in the world. But every year, we get lower and lower.
Irish Car Bomb
One “Irish” drink that I have seen a lot of people try to get here is the Irish Car Bomb. This is an American “cocktail” that mixes half a pint of Guinness, some Baileys and a shot of Jameson.
The drink is best downed in one.
For the sake of total transparency, I have tried this beverage. In New York, I did have a few of these on a night out. I have never seen them in Ireland, however.
Irish car bombs were an actual thing. During the “troubles” countless bombs went off in Northern Ireland and about 3 and a half thousand people died in a 30-year period.
Ordering that drink here is considered more than a little insensitive and I would strongly advise against it.
The Guinness is Better Here
If you want an alternative, just order a regular pint of Guinness. The brewery was founded in Dublin by Arthur Guinness in 1759 and has been made here ever since.
Today, Guinness is the country’s most popular drink and you will find it on sale in almost every bar and pub in Ireland. If you can’t find it, you’re probably in a craft-bar and they should have their own alternative.
Prices of Guinness shouldn’t vary much from pub to pub. Usually they will cost about €5.50 in Dublin city centre. If you go to the country, they will be cheaper and if you go to Templebar, they will be far more expensive.
It’s popular to go to different pubs in Dublin and find which place has the best Guinness, because it will taste different in each establishment.
The beverage doesn’t travel well and is best served fresh. Dublin is where this drink is made and there are countless pubs where it flows freely, meaning that you will probably find the best Guinness right here in Ireland.
Legal Drinking Age
The legal drinking age in Ireland is 18. You will be allowed to purchase alcohol at any off-license or liquor store, or most pubs. Though some might have their town policies that differ.
Establishments can refuse service at their own discretion. This means that there are places that will not allow entry to people under certain ages. The place with the highest age I am aware of in Dublin is the Black door at 28, though this is very unusual.
St. Patrick’s Day
The 17th of March is the national holiday of Ireland. It is also known as St. Patrick’s Day or Paddy’s Day. Never EVER call it St Patty’s day. I cannot stress that enough.
Traditionally, this was a day of fasting and religious services. Ireland was a conservative, Catholic country up until recently and holidays were just that; holy-days.
Once the Irish started to really travel, and then actually come home, we learned about the St. Patrick’s celebrations in places like North America. It was WAY more fun than what we were doing.
So, in 1978 we allowed the sale of alcohol in Ireland on the 17th of March and it turned into quite the celebration. We are probably the only country in the world to import our own national day!
All this means this day is not really a big deal for Irish people. There are parades and events in the week leading up to it certainly, but most people don’t consider it a huge deal.
The day itself is more of a family occasion and people will head out with their children. Alternatively, most young Irish people head out the night before and use the public holiday to recover.
I love this week in Ireland, but when you come here, you will see that most of the people wearing green out on the day itself will not be Irish.
As you might be able to tell already, Ireland has been undergoing a lot of changes lately. The last 30 years or so has seen a huge change in Irish society.
In 1986, condoms were only available in Ireland if you were married and had a prescription from your doctor. Then in 1995, the Irish people voted to bring in divorce, by 50.3% of the vote!
20 years later in 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Others had it before, but we were the first to vote on the matter. Over 65% of Irish people voted to have gay marriage.
The image of a conservative Ireland, with strong ties to the church is no longer accurate. The Irish people are some of the best-educated in the world. We also have one of the youngest and the fastest-growing populations in Europe.
Though we had a bad recession about 10 years ago, things are now looking up. We have had the fastest-growing economy in Europe for years now and the quality of life has been improving.
Today, there are lots of high-tech and financial service jobs moving to Ireland and things are really looking good for the country.
Watch Some Irish Movies/ TV to get to know the place
As promised, here are some recommendations for movies and TV shows to help you get to know Ireland a little better.
- Michael Collins (Not particularly accurate, but it’s a good summary of certain parts of the Irish revolution)
- The Wind That Shakes the Barley
- Black 47
- The Commitments
- Sing Street
- Into the West
- The Siege of Jadotville
- The Guard
- In Bruges
- Father Ted (this is every Irish person’s favourite show, must-watch)
- Derry Girls
- The Young Offenders
- The Rubberbandits guide to
- Hardy Bucks
- Love Hate
- Moone Boy
- Reeling in the Years