Gaelic culture is alive and well; one way to experience it is to go to a pub which has a traditional music session on. The Irish language has declined and English is now the most common language, though there are still certain areas where Irish is the primary language. It can be worth your while to dig a little deeper before visiting Ireland to discover something about the older world that lies beneath. It is still living, though not always visible.
Some Irish history has been very dark indeed, but it remains a land of poets, story-tellers, and musicians, with marvellous scenery, an advanced knowledge economy, first-rate infrastructure, and leading industries, with a high gross domestic product and standard of living.
|East Coast and Midlands (County Dublin, County Kildare, County Laois, County Longford, County Louth, County Meath, County Offaly, County Westmeath, County Wicklow)|
The Irish heartland, home to the capital and vibrant metropolis of Dublin.
|Shannon Region (County Clare, County Limerick, County Tipperary)|
A region often visited for its castles and the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher.
|Southwest Ireland (County Cork, County Kerry)|
A scenic and rainy section of Ireland with a beautiful coast and popular Ring of Kerry and Blarney Castle.
|West Ireland (County Galway, County Mayo, County Roscommon)|
Ireland's least populous region, home to the Irish "Cultural Capital" of Galway and the beautiful Aran Islands.
|Northwest Ireland and Lakelands (County Cavan, County Donegal, County Leitrim, County Monaghan, County Sligo)|
A region that is growing in tourism activity and has a lot to offer by way of natural beauty.
|Southeast Ireland (County Carlow, County Kilkenny, County Waterford, County Wexford)|
A rather cosmopolitan section of Ireland, famous for its Waterford crystal.
- 1 Dublin is the lively capital, the most cosmopolitan city of Ireland, with a great array of sights and visitor facilities.
- 2 Cork — the country's second biggest city — on the banks of the River Lee. Founded c.600 by St Finbarre and known for great food (especially seafood), pubs, shopping and festivals. If you venture outside of the city along the coastline which borders the Atlantic Ocean, you will find long windy beaches, beautiful villages with history, castles and an array of outdoor activities.
- 3 Galway is a colourful party town: lots of great food, trad music and ales. Just west is the haunting mountain scenery of Connemara.
- 4 Killarney — Possibly, the most popular tourist destination in Ireland. A pleasant town in its own right, it is also the start of most Ring of Kerry trips.
- 5 Kilkenny — attractive medieval town, known as the Marble City — home to the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, held annually in early June.
- 6 Letterkenny — Main town in County Donegal, designated gateway status and reputed to be the fastest growing town in Europe. Good base for travelling in Donegal.
- 7 Limerick is a miniature Dublin, with its Georgian street pattern and sombre castle. Nearby are yet more castles, a prehistoric complex, and a museum for the transatlantic flying boats.
- 8 Sligo — the poet WB Yeats was inspired by its landscape of limestone scarps, prehistoric megaliths and ancient legends, and so will you.
- 9 Waterford, Ireland's oldest city, has a rich mix of Viking, medieval and Georgian heritage.
- 1 Brú Na Bóinne in County Meath are impressive neolithic monuments, the oldest dating back to 3100 BC.
- 2 Glendalough in County Wicklow is a remarkable medieval monastic complex in a deep scenic valley.
- 3 County Donegal has a long rugged coast, with Malin Head the north tip of the entire island of Ireland.
- 4 Connemara in County Galway is an Irish-speaking region with stark scenery of granite, bog and small islands.
- 5 The Burren is a haunting, barren limestone upland in County Clare, ending in the great Cliffs of Moher.
- 6 Aran Islands are the seaward continuation of the Burren. They're inhabited, and dotted with prehistoric and early Christian sites.
- 7 Ring of Kerry is the circuit of a scenic peninsula, usually starting from Killarney.
- 8 Skellig Michael is an astonishing monastery in the Atlantic off County Kerry.
|Population||5.1 million (2022)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (BS 1363)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Until 13,000 BCE Ireland and Great Britain were covered by a single ice sheet. Mountains which were already very old and weathered were further ground down into rounded hills with scenic U-shaped valleys. Glacial debris piled up at the edge of the ice, forming ridges which blocked river outflow: lakes backed up which infilled into wetland then peat bog, and Ireland's soggy lowlands emerged. European species driven out by the Ice Age, including humans, now returned across the ice bridge - the snakes didn't care to, and unlike the rabbits no-one saw fit to re-introduce them. The hunting of a bear in 10,500 BCE shows that Ireland by then had hunter-gatherer inhabitants, and the earliest "village" is from 7000 BCE. Some time before 4000 BCE a Neolithic culture emerged with settled agriculture - some of their field systems have been preserved beneath peat bog. Their wooden or wattle-and-daub secular structures have not survived, but what endures is their remarkable ritual landscape of great stone monuments with precise astronomical alignments. At Brú na Bóinne the midwinter sunrise briefly shines upon the inscriptions deep in an underground funeral chamber, but it's simply the best known of many such monuments.
The Bronze Age from 2500 BCE brought wedge tombs, hill forts and metal weaponry, but its finest legacy is the intricate working of gold into jewellery, on display in the National Museum in Dublin. Several fabulous hoards were sacrifices, deliberately lost within the bogs which in that era were rising and engulfing the land. If this was intended to propitiate the gods of climate change, it didn't work, and poor climate, ritual bog causeways and gold sacrifices continued into the Iron Age from 800 BCE. For "iron" read "steel", forged into much stronger weapons and agricultural implements - you could plough new ground or fell timber or set about your neighbours to better effect, and this sparked population shifts across Europe. A Celtic language and culture emerged in Ireland, though it's unclear whether a genetically distinct Celtic people arrived. Great Britain came under Roman rule and its tribes spoke P-Celtic languages forerunners to Welsh and Cornish, while Ireland spoke the Q-Celtic forerunners to Gaelic, which much later spread to Scotland.
Ireland was Christianised from the 5th century, bringing literacy and a connection to Latin culture. Monastic towns were established, becoming centres of learning and literature. The monks composed poetry, wrote down Ireland’s legends and invented several of their own, to give the Irish a bogus back-story in the Biblical lands. The monasteries were attacked by the Norsemen from the late 8th century, but the Norse in turn became Christian and established major settlements in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. Ireland in this era spread its culture and Christianity to Great Britain and across Europe.
In 1169 a southern chief invited the Anglo-Normans to help with his local feuds, which was like inviting locusts to rid your garden of greenfly. Norman eyes lit up at what they saw, and a land-grab began. This was mostly in the south and east, so these regions have the richest heritage of medieval stone castles and monasteries built over earlier timber and earthworks. The Normans made fewer inroads elsewhere, and indeed were repulsed from the midlands to cower behind the Dublin palisade. "Beyond the Pale" ruled the Gaelic chiefs, until the Tudors under Elizabeth I resumed the take-over project. The Ulster chiefs held out until 1603, when their power was broken and their lands seized, to be colonised by loyal "Plantations" - as had been done in earlier times, with the crucial difference that the colonists in Ulster were Protestant (often Scots) in a land whose natives were Catholic. This created a sectarian fault line in the north, the tremors of which are felt to this day.
17th century Great Britain was convulsed by the Civil War, creating a power vacuum which enabled a quasi-independent Irish Confederation to emerge, centred on Kilkenny. It lasted six turbulent years then Oliver Cromwell arrived in Drogheda, to destroy that town and massacre its inhabitants. He acquired a taste for both pastimes and marched on to subdue all of Ireland. Britain later restored the monarchy but ousted the Catholic King James II, crowning the Protestant George I. James had more support in Ireland but lost the Battle of the Boyne and fled to France. It was the cue for more confiscation of lands, and of legal strictures against Catholics, the Penal Laws.
The next great upheaval was the 1798 rebellion, centred on Wexford but with French military landings in Mayo. A rattled London government sought to tighten its grip further and in 1801 created the United Kingdom, henceforth ruling Ireland as a collection of provincial counties or shires with no pretensions to be an independent country. Ireland began to industrialise but remained mostly agricultural, and Irish-speaking outside the cities. Its main grievances were the Penal Laws, harsh land tenure and labour laws, suppression of Irish language (eg in school) and minority rule by a Protestant clique. Those that could leave got out, to the industrial cities of England, Scotland and North America, or joined the army. And then the worst of several famines struck in the 1840s, and the country was eviscerated. The Irish Potato Famine (known in Ireland as just the Great Famine) from 1845-1852 was so devastating that even in the 21st century, the population of Ireland has yet to recover to pre-famine levels.
Political agitation after the Great Famine saw English rule as the root cause of Irish hardships - at least in the south. Irish language, culture, sports, religion and ownership of its own land could only flourish if this yoke was cast off. Central reforms came too little, too late, and the land was roiled by "The Troubles". Meanwhile in the north, Belfast and its hinterland were staunchly British, Protestant and industrial. After several failed attempts, a Home Rule bill was passed by parliament in 1914, nicely in time to be stalled by the outbreak of the First World War. Hundreds of thousands of Irishmen marched away behind the Union Jack to the trenches of Flanders and the Somme.
An armed insurrection broke out in Dublin at Easter 1916, when nationalists seized the main post office and read a proclamation of independence. They had little support and were soon bombarded into surrender, but their trials and executions by firing squad swung sentiment behind them. After the 1918 Armistice, resistance to Britain escalated into a war of independence, but the north was adamantly against Dublin rule. The price of peace in 1921 was partition, with 26 counties joining the Irish Free State (precursor to the present Republic) while six counties in the northeast remained in the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.
Ireland still had to fight a civil war against those who resisted partition as a betrayal, but "The Troubles" then faded. From the 1960s resentment escalated into another round of "Troubles" in Northern Ireland and its border regions - that story is told on that page, it had little impact on the south, and appears to have been resolved by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The Republic remained a poor, agricultural country, neutral during the Second World War. It began to attract tourists in the post-war 20th century, and in 1973 joined the European Community, as did the United Kingdom. From the 1990s Ireland enjoyed an economic boom, and was called The Celtic Tiger, when a low-tax pro-business environment attracted global investment. Much of this was unsustainable; the bubble burst with the recession of 2008.
Along with other western economies, Ireland has recovered since. More importantly for the traveller it has improved visitor amenities and broadened its image, which for too long was a hackneyed offering of Guinness in Dublin, fishing in the lakes and buying a tea-towel at Blarney Castle. Together with the north, Ireland now portrays itself as the culturally rich, fascinating country that it has been all along.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
The term "Ireland" refers both to the large island 300 km west of Great Britain, and to the independent nation that comprises most of it. It's usually clear from context which is meant, and any reference to before 1921 means one and the same thing. The nation is known as the Republic of Ireland (abbreviated RoI) and it was formed from 26 of the 32 counties on the island. The other six formed Northern Ireland and they remain to this day a part of the United Kingdom. People on both sides informally speak of "the south" and "the north", though County Donegal in the Republic stretches further north than anywhere in Northern Ireland. The term "all-Ireland" is especially used for sports such as Rugby Union where north and south play as a single unified team.
The border is nowadays as unobtrusive as county boundaries or city limits. There are no checks, and the main difference you'll notice is the switch from kilometres to miles when crossing into the north. Nevertheless it's your responsibility to ensure that your own and your car documentation is valid, see "Get in" below. The currency of the Republic of Ireland is the euro, the currency of Northern Ireland, like the rest of the UK, is the pound.
Overall, Ireland has a mild but changeable oceanic climate with few extremes. In Ireland you may indeed experience 'four seasons in one day', so pack accordingly and keep up-to-date with the latest weather forecast. No matter the weather, expect it to be a topic of conversation amongst the locals.
You may notice slight differences in temperature between the north and south of the country, and more rain in the west compared with the east.
Mean daily winter temperatures vary from 4 °C to 7 °C, and mean daily summer temperatures vary from 14.5 °C to 16 °C. Temperatures will rarely exceed 25 °C and will rarely fall below -5 °C.
Regardless of when you visit Ireland, even in the middle of the summer, you will more than likely experience rain, so if you intend being outdoors, a waterproof coat is recommended.
The Irish names are parenthesised.
- 1 January: New Year's Day (Lá Caille) or (Lá na Bliana Nua)
- 17 March: Saint Patrick's Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig)
- March or April according to the Gregorian calendar: Easter (An Cháisc)
- First Mondays of May, June and August: May holiday, June holiday, August holiday (Lá Saoire i mí Bealtaine, Lá Saoire i mí Mheithimh, Lá Saoire i mí Lúnasa)
- Last Monday of October: October Holiday (Lá Saoire i mí Dheireadh Fómhair) or (Lá Saoire Oíche Shamhna)
- 31st October Halloween (Oiche Shamhna)
- 25 December: Christmas (Lá Nollag)
- 26 December: St Stephen's Day (Lá Fhéile Stiofáin)
Almost everyone speaks English as their first language, though often in a way that reflects the influence of Irish. Irish or Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) is the first official language according to the constitution. It belongs to the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family of languages and is strikingly different to English.
The main dialects of Irish are those of the provinces of Ulster, Munster and Connacht (with the last being historically a central dialect which stretched eastwards into Leinster). The Ulster dialect has most in common with Scottish Gaelic. Some Irish people may take offence if you call Irish "Gaelic," as this really refers to an entire branch of the Celtic languages including Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic. Refer to it simply as "Irish" or “the Irish language”.
There are still thousands of fluent Irish speakers, all of them bilingual. Some of them are traditional native speakers in remote (and usually scenic) rural areas known as Gaeltachtaí. They are now outnumbered by urban Irish speakers, who are especially numerous in Dublin, and are often young, middle-class and well educated. Irish speakers are served by a number of radio stations, an online newspaper, numerous blogs and an innovative television station (TG4). They have an impressive modern literature and a popular annual arts festival known as the Oireachtas.
Irish is a compulsory language in mainstream English-speaking schools in the Republic, and is required in order to enter certain Irish universities. About 40% (c. 1,500,000) of people in the Republic claim some knowledge of the language as a result, but the real number of proficient speakers is probably closer to 300,000 (about 7% of the population).
Despite this, English is the only language you are likely to encounter while travelling in Ireland. This means that visitors are often unaware that habitual Irish speakers can be found throughout the country, with a thriving (though not so obvious) culture of their own. Such speakers usually use English in the presence of strangers, but most Irish people see the language as an integral part of their culture.
As many place names and personal names are in Irish, some knowledge of Irish pronunciation can be useful for foreigners, and even locals who are not fluent in Irish typically know how to pronounce Irish words.
Tourists keen to learn a few words of the Irish language can fall for a prank whereby they are taught to swear while being assured that they are learning a greeting or similar phrase.
Both Irish and English are spoken in Ireland with several different accents, and it is easy to distinguish the accent of someone from Northern Ireland from that of someone from the Republic. You can often even distinguish between different cities within the Republic of Ireland (e.g. Dublin vs Cork). Accents also vary by social class, and in the city of Dublin in particular you will notice distinct upper-class and working-class accents.
It is important to remember that many Irish speak English quite rapidly compared to speakers from the UK or North America. In Ireland some words are different, and may have different meanings. For example, "deadly" in Hiberno-English usually means "cool" or "awesome", (e.g. "That's deadly" means "That's wonderful") instead of "dangerous". Irish loanwords and idioms are also common in Hiberno-English.
In everyday interactions Irish friends and relations engage in a style of conversation surprising (if not alarming) to unprepared tourists. The insult, putdown or sideswipe, known as 'banter,' is a highly nuanced art-form aimed at showing affection. It's all in the timing and tone and not to be attempted unless you are visibly in a good mood. High-spirited and friendly teasing is also known as craic and is generally inseparable from the consumption of alcohol.
If travelling with a pet, check the rules. Some diseases common on the European mainland are absent from Ireland.
|“||Be advised / my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen||”|
—Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) was from Northern Ireland, but identified as Irish not British.
Ireland is a member of the European Union, but not part of the Schengen Area, so it maintains separate immigration controls. The following rules generally apply:
- Citizens of EU and EEA countries and Switzerland only require a valid national identity card or passport and don't need a visa. In most cases, they hold unlimited rights to employment and residence in Ireland.
- Citizens of the "Common Travel Area" in theory don't even need a passport to enter Ireland, but in practice they must show one to board a flight or ferry; there are no routine checks on the land border. The CTA is Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man, and the arrangements are reciprocal. But citizens of other countries don't escape their obligations by entering Britain then crossing the unguarded land border - you must still be eligible to enter Ireland, same as if you'd flown in direct. British Citizens may live and work freely in Ireland.
- Citizens of many countries may enter without a visa for visits up to 90 days. As of Oct 2020, these countries are Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominica, El Salvador, Eswatini, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong SAR, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Lesotho, Macao SAR, Malawi, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, the Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, the United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, the Vatican City and Venezuela, plus holders of British National (Overseas) passports. The period of admission is determined by the Immigration Officer at the port of entry, but can be extended up to the full 90 days if required. Foreigners who enter without a visa can also extend this stay after entry, but within the initial period of admission and with a valid purpose. Longer stays, employment and citizens of other countries normally require advance visas.
- Citizens of other countries should check the visas lists at the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs. The application process for tourist visas is reasonably straightforward and is detailed on the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website. Tourist visas cannot be extended past 90 days under any circumstances.
Ireland has three major international airports: Dublin (DUB IATA), Shannon (SNN IATA) in County Clare, and Cork (ORK IATA). Dublin is by far the largest and best connected, with flights to many cities in the US, Canada, the UK, continental Europe and the Middle East. Shannon, close to the city of Limerick, also has flights to the US, Canada, Middle East, the UK and Europe. Cork has flights to most UK destinations and a wide variety of European cities. In summer they all have additional flights to holiday destinations around Europe.
There are also three minor airports with less frequent domestic and UK flights: Donegal (CFN IATA), Kerry (KIR IATA), and Ireland West Knock (NOC IATA) in County Mayo. Others such as Sligo and Waterford had a brief flowering then closed.
The three airports of Northern Ireland are close to the border with the Republic. Those are City of Derry Airport (LDY IATA), and the two Belfast airports, City (BHD IATA) and International (BFS IATA).
Ireland's two major airlines are Aer Lingus and Ryanair. Although it's Ryanair that has the budget reputation, their competition has forced traditional flag-carrier Aer Lingus towards similar pricing (eg charges for baggage), especially for short-haul flights. So check suspiciously on booking whether your ostensibly cheap flight will gouge you for petty extras, like looking out the window twice.
See below for ferry routes; sailings to Rosslare connect with trains to Dublin Connolly.
Buses run hourly between Belfast, Dublin Airport and Dublin Busáras the main bus station, taking about 3 hours. Other cross-border routes are between Dublin and Derry, Belfast and Monaghan, and Belfast and Enniskillen with connections to Sligo and Galway. See individual cities for local cross-border buses, such as the 7-mile trip from Derry to the splendidly-named village of Muff.
Ferries ply to Ireland from Great Britain, France and Spain. They all take vehicles, as trucking is a major part of their business, and offer cabin accommodation. By public transport, always look for through-tickets by rail / bus and ferry, as these are considerably cheaper than separate tickets, and take care of the connection.
- Dublin has ferries from Holyhead in North Wales by Stena Line and Irish Ferries (3 hr 30 min), from Bootle near Liverpool by P&O (8 hr) and in summer from Douglas, Isle of Man by IOM Steam Packet Company (3 hr 30 min). Direct ferries from Rotterdam and Zeebrugge are only for freight and their truckers.
- Rosslare has ferries from south Wales taking 3 hr 30 min: from Fishguard by Stena Line and from Pembroke by Irish Ferries. Stena also sail from Cherbourg in northwest France (18 hr). In summer, Brittany Ferries sail from Bilbao. Trains and buses to Dublin connect with the ferries at Rosslare.
- Cork has ferries from Cherbourg in summer.
- It might also be convenient to sail to Northern Ireland: Belfast and Larne have ferries from Cairnryan near Stranraer in Scotland.
- Two ferries sail from Northern Ireland: across Carlingford Lough near Dundalk, and across Lough Foyle in County Donegal. See "Get around" below as they're effectively short-cuts on the road network.
The Republic of Ireland has an open border with Northern Ireland, and there are no customs or immigration checks when crossing between the two areas. Pay attention to the units though, as road signs in Northern Ireland are in miles, while those in the Republic are in kilometres.
Common Travel Area
There is a long-standing informal arrangement that citizens of the UK can travel freely without any passport to Ireland and to those islands around Britain that are not in the UK; and vice versa. This was enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which meant no controls whatsoever on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. All sides have consistently declared that this must continue even though the Republic is part of the EU and Northern Ireland is not. There is also mutual recognition of some visas. These arrangements are known as the Common Travel Area (CTA) and apply to the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom (which includes Northern Ireland), the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey (which includes Alderney and Sark). It doesn't apply to British overseas territories such as Gibraltar.
In practice, security checks mean that you must show a passport or equivalent national ID to board a flight to Ireland (including to Northern Ireland) even from within the CTA. Ferries are less consistent, but you have to assume it'll be required. Other photo ID such as a driving licence won't do, even though it may be acceptable to Irish immigration - airlines face such stiff fines for landing ineligible passengers that it's safer to bump you off the flight if they're in any doubt. The nub of it is, you have to show your passport to prove that you're eligible to travel without showing your passport - welcome to Ireland!
If you cross the unguarded land border, it's your responsibility to check that you are eligible to do so, and carry any relevant documents with you. (And check that your car insurance / rental agreement is valid.) If you were later found to be ineligible, you risk being fined and deported.
Most visitors eligible to enter Britain are eligible to enter Ireland on the same terms, and in some ways the CTA is a "mini-Schengen". If your 90 days stay is coming to an end, then moving back and forth between the two countries won't re-start the clock. (Indeed, a short trip elsewhere might not do so: immigration are wearily familiar with such tricks, and won't extend your original stay if they reckon that was your game.) Travellers to Ireland can usually transit airside at UK airports without needing UK eligibility, but there are restrictions on who may do so land-side, eg to transfer between Heathrow and Stansted airports (similar to Schengen, you could transit airside in Paris but might need an EU visa to go overland to fly out of Amsterdam). But while a Schengen visa or eligibility applies equally through all those countries, that isn't the case for the CTA. Thus, there is mutual recognition of visas issued to Chinese and Indian nationals, but not comprehensively to others. One key difference from Schengen is that the CTA is an informal collection of political agreements not written into law, so it's difficult to keep track of evolving rules and exceptions, and you have very little recourse if some snippy check-in clerk has a different interpretation.
Think: do you need one? If you'll be primarily in the cities, probably not, and you should actively avoid using a car in Dublin. To see the city then tour the country, ride into Dublin on the bus then return to the airport later to pick up a car. But out in the countryside there's limited public transport and lashings of rain, so yes you do need one, especially with small children or piles of sports gear.
Many visitors bring their own car by ferry. For rental, the airports have the best selection - book ahead for the best deals and to ensure availability of their limited fleets. There's healthy price competition, but one-way rentals are expensive. You also need to check their rental requirements: these are typically to hold a full licence for at least 2 years, and to have no current "red flag" endorsements. There is no minimum age but the weasel words are "eligibity to hold a licence" for at least 8 years, and drivers over 75 face additional checks.
The big cities and ferry ports have rental offices but surprisingly few. Good luck trying to hire a car in, say, Tipperary, but what you might find is a taxi driver to take you round the local sights for a few hours, while blarneying about how his grandmother played Gaelic football for the county back in the day.
Motorhomes can also be rented at Dublin airport, Cork and Limerick, though most tourers bring their own. You need to factor in extra ferry charges, narrow twisty roads, and availability of sites, which are often closed Oct-March. Many inland places are short on sites because their population heads to the coast, while those on the coast may be for long-term leases or static units with nothing for short-stay tourers and campers. See Camping Ireland and individual city pages for sites. Overnight wayside parking is generally prohibited, and you'll be fined and moved on by the police.
For taxis see individual cities, but there's a national rate. They're required to use the meter and issue a receipt, but are genetically hard-wired to be forgetful about this. Uber is only slowly gaining ground and outside the cities there's multiple small operators. As everywhere else, you do best when your accommodation books for you. Taxis are distinctively marked, and an unmarked car that stops for you on the street is up to no good.
Roads and routes
Roads are classed as M motorway, N national, R regional and L local.
|Sign||Sign colour||Prefix||Class||Speed Limit|
|White on blue||M||Motorways|
|White/yellow on green||N||National routes|
|Black on white||R||Regional roads|
|Black on white||L||Local roads|
The principal routes radiate from Dublin:
- M50 from Dublin dockland via tunnel (toll) north to airport then a semi-circle west of the city (toll) linking all other routes.
- M1 from M50 at airport to Drogheda (toll), Dundalk, Newry and Belfast.
- M2 / N2 from M50 to Ashbourne. Historically this was the road to Monaghan, Donegal and Derry, but other routes are now faster.
- M3 / N3 from M50 to Navan (tolls), Kells and Cavan.
- M4 from M50 to Maynooth (toll), Kinnegad (for M6), Mullingar, Longford, Boyle and Sligo.
- M6 from M4 at Kinnegad to Athlone (toll), Athenry (for M17/18) and Galway.
- M7 / N7 from M50 to Naas (for M9), Portlaoise (for M8) (toll), Roscrea, Nenagh and Limerick.
- M8 from M7 near Portlaoise to Thurles, Cashel, Cahir, Fermoy (toll) and Cork.
- M9 from M7 at Naas to Carlow, Kilkenny and Waterford.
- M11 / N11 from M50 to Wicklow, Arklow, Gorey, Enniscorthy and Wexford.
Tolls for private cars are about €2, but the Dublin M50 tunnel is €3 offpeak and €10 in rush-hour. There are no cash kiosks, you must pay online either in advance or before 20:00 next day, after which there are penalty charges. Check with car rental companies if an e-tag is included.
Some major cross-country routes include:
- M18 / 17 from Limerick to Athenry (for M6) and Tuam.
- N24 from Waterford to Clonmel, Cahir (for M8), Tipperary and Limerick.
- N25 along the south coast from Rosslare to Wexford, Waterford and Cork.
- N52 from Nenagh (for M7) to Birr, Tullamore, Mullingar, Kells and Dundalk.
Rules of the road
Drive on the left, and yield to the right at roundabouts, same as in the United Kingdom; above all relax and take your time. Road signage follows the European template, with speed limits in km / hour (and so stating), or if you prefer ciliméadar san uair. In the northern counties, a sign announcing limits in miles per hour may be the only indication that you've crossed the border into Northern Ireland. Placenames are in both English and Irish, except in the Gaeltacht areas (mostly in the west), where they're only in Irish, so you need to know those versions.
The M and N roads are like main highways anywhere. R or regional roads may be broad and fast, especially where they were the main road until bypassed. Others are narrow and twisty, and demand all your attention. L roads might be "life in your hands" - they're very narrow, often with no room for vehicles to pass, poorly signposted and in poor repair. Always keep a mental note of the previous passing place: they're none too common. And always assume that around the next corner will be an oncoming tractor, and you'll have to reverse most of the way to Killarney. A cheery wave or blip of headlights acknowledges courtesy.
- See also: Rail travel in Ireland
Rail travel in Ireland is quick, comfortable and inexpensive, but the network is limited. Trains radiate from Dublin Heuston to Kilkenny and Waterford, to Cork with a branch for Kerry, to Tipperary and Limerick, to Athlone and Galway, and to Westport and Ballina. Branch lines link Tipperary, Clonmel and Waterford, Limerick and Nenagh, and Limerick with Galway. Trains from Dublin Connolly run to Wicklow, Wexford and Rosslare ferry port, to Longford, Carrick and Sligo, and to Drogheda, Dundalk and Belfast. There are suburban networks sharing the same track around Dublin, Cork and Belfast, which has mainline trains to Derry. Travel times seldom exceed 2-3 hours and there are no night trains. There are no separate metro systems, but Dublin has trams.
All trains are run by the state-owned Irish Rail or Iarnród Éireann, with the Dublin-Belfast "Enterprise train" shared with Northern Ireland Railways. Fares are inexpensive: in 2021 a walk-up single fare from Dublin to Kilkenny was €15, so there's limited scope for discounts. If your travel plans are definite, then booking ahead saves you a few euro, ensures your seat, and saves queuing at the station as you can collect your ticket from the machines. Booking is important around big events such rugby internationals, when transport to the capital is mobbed.
Bus is the predominant form of public transport across Ireland. Long distance routes radiate from Dublin, and crucially they run via Dublin airport, so it's easier to take a bus to, say, Galway, than to drag into the city for the train. Bus Éireann are the principal inter-city operator, branded as Expressway, but their competitors include Dublin Coach, Aircoach, GoBus, Citylink, JJ Kavanagh and Wexford Bus. Bus Éireann are also a leading operator of bus tours: you can't reach wonderful places like Clonmacnoise by public transport.
See individual city pages for details, but the main intercity routes from Dublin (working anti-clockwise) are:
- Dublin - Belfast; a few stop at Newry. A separate service links Dublin, Drogheda and Dundalk.
- Dublin - Derry, either via Monaghan and Omagh or via Armagh, Dungannon and Cookstown.
- Dublin - Cavan - Enniskillen - Donegal, with others to Letterkenny.
- Dublin - Mullingar - Longford, where they branch either for Carrick and Sligo, or for Ballina.
- Dublin - Athlone - Galway.
- Dublin - Nenagh - Limerick: some stop at Kildare, and some continue to Tralee or Killarney.
- Dublin - Cork.
- Dublin - Waterford via Kilkenny or Carlow.
- Dublin - Wexford: these bypass Wicklow and don't continue to Rosslare.
The main cross-country routes are:
- Derry - Letterkenny - Donegal - Sligo - Knock - Tuam - Galway.
- Ballina - Castlebar - Tuam - Galway.
- Galway - Ennis - Shannon Airport - Limerick - Mallow - Cork.
- Rosslare port - Wexford - New Ross - Waterford - Dungarvan - Youghal - Cork - Killarney - Tralee.
- Waterford - Thomastown - Kilkenny - Carlow - Portlaoise - Tullamore - Athlone.
The main towns all have local services, with an extensive network around Dublin including some night buses.
Transport for Ireland has comprehensive timetables, journey planners, train-to-bus connections, and the Local Link buses to smaller places along the back roads. They quote fares but don't themselves issue tickets, pointing you to the relevant operator website.
- Ferries ply to the inhabited islands: they carry islanders' vehicles but visitors should avoid bringing one. Boat trips visit many other islands at sea or in the lakes - some even venture out as far as Fastnet.
- Car ferries cross several large estuaries: the Shannon, Cork Harbour, Waterford Harbour, and the Liffey between Howth and Dún Laoghaire. Two ferries are international: across Carlingford Lough between Dundalk and the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, and across Lough Foyle between Greencastle in County Donegal and MacGilligan Point north of Derry. Both carry vehicles but only sail in summer.
- Inland waterways: Ireland has an extensive navigable network, rehabilitated since its 19th / 20th century decline. The principal routes are from Dublin to the Shannon by either the Grand Canal or (further north) the Royal Canal, up the length of the Shannon from the Atlantic at Limerick to Leitrim, its principal tributaries such as the Boyle, and along the Shannon-Erne Canal to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. Another branch connects Grand Canal to Athy, Carlow and Waterford. There are no ferries on these routes, so you either hire a boat or bring your own: hire companies place limits on how far you can go. For an extended Shannon cruise, you might start from Dromineer near Nenagh, Athlone or Carrick-on-Shannon. See Waterways Ireland for current navigation and lock status, moorings and so on
Ireland is beautiful for biking, but use a good touring bike with solid tyres as road conditions are not always excellent. Biking along the south and west coasts you should be prepared for variable terrain, lots of hills and frequent strong headwinds. There are plenty of camp grounds along the way for long distance cyclists.
The planned Eurovelo cycle route in Ireland will connect Belfast to Dublin via Galway, and Dublin to Rosslare via Galway and Cork. Visit their website for updates on the status of the path.
Dublin has some marked bicycle lanes and a few non-road cycle tracks. Traffic is fairly busy, but a cyclist confident with road cycling in other countries should have no special difficulties (except maybe for getting used to riding on the left). Cyclists have no special right of way over cars, particularly when using shared use paths by the side of a road, but share and get equal priority when in traffic lanes. Helmets are not legally required, but widely available for those who wish to use them. Dublin Bikes has 400 bikes available to the public in around 40 stations across the city centre. The bikes are free to take for the first half hour, although a payment of €150 is required in case of the bike being stolen or damaged. When finished, return the bike back to any station and get your payment refunded.
Ireland is small enough to be traversed by road and rail in a few hours, so there are few flights within the Republic, and none to Northern Ireland.
Amapola fly from Dublin (DUB) to Donegal (CFN) near Carrickfinn in northwest County Donegal, twice a day taking an hour. Fares start at €55 each way (as of Jul 2021).
Ryanair fly from Dublin (DUB) to Kerry (KIR) near Farranfore, midway between Tralee and Killarney, once a day taking an hour. Fares start at €19.99 each way (as of Jul 2021).
Aer Arann Islands fly from Connemara Airport (NNR) near Galway to the three Arann Islands of Inis Mór (IOR), Inis Meain (IIA) and Inis Oírr (INQ). There are at least three flights to each island year-round M-F and two at weekends; more in summer. The flights use rinky-dinky BNF Islanders and are ten minute there-and-back turnarounds with no inter-island flights. Adult fares are €25 one way or €49 return, with various discounts. Connemara has no other flights so it's disconnected from the global network.
Only in Ireland
- Cable-car is how you reach Dursey Island in County Cork, a ten minute ride over the restless Atlantic. Ireland's low mountains and mild winters aren't conducive to winter sports, so if they had to install a ski lift anywhere, it pretty much had to be here.
- Walk on water at Acres Lake near Drumshanbo in County Leitrim. Ireland has many long-distance hiking trails, mostly described on the relevant County pages. Shannon Blueway near the head of the navigable river starts with a floating boardwalk, before continuing with conventional trails. It's the spiritual descendant of Ireland's baffling Bog Trackways, floating Neolithic or Iron Age walkways across bogs: their purpose seems not to be transport, but to enter the bog for some ceremonial purpose.
- Horse-drawn caravans: the traditional Romany kind. You'll be among the last of the breed, because the Republic nowadays discourages "travelling folk", and those still around use modern vehicles and caravans. Extended horse-drawn trips are best suited to areas where the gradients are mild, the road traffic isn't too frenetic, and the distance between sights and amenities is minor. See County Mayo and County Wicklow for examples. They were formerly common around the Ring of Kerry.
- Jaunting cars are four seater open carts with a single horse and a driver known as a "jarvey". Once common, they're nowadays only found in Killarney in County Kerry.
- Irish railway gauge of 1600 mm is almost unique to this country but coincides with the Diolkos (Δίολκος) of 600 BC, the haulway by which ancient Greeks dragged ships across the Corinth isthmus.
- Scenery in Ireland is the stuff of knights' tales. It's best where you meet a contrast: a stern crag rearing up from green fields, or a plateau ending in sea-cliffs. Ireland's mountains are old and long-weathered so they're of no great height - the highest MacGillycuddy's Reeks only reach 1038 m but rise abruptly behind the lake at Killarney. The Atlantic coast has a series of dramatic peninsulas, with the best-known at Mizen Head in Cork, Ring of Kerry, Loop Head in Clare and Connemara. Several in Mayo and Donegal are blighted by an eczema of second-home cottages, but the upland views are improving as commercial conifer forests are re-wilded with mixed native woodland.
- Prehistoric Ireland: Brú na Bóinne in Meath is the best known, built around 3000 BC. Trouble is, it's mobbed with tourists, with very limited access slots, and you lose the atmosphere. But Ireland is studded with equally fascinating sites, often in out-of-the-way places so they were never built over or the stone re-used, and with small risk of you having to share them with a babbling tour group. Just a few examples are Loughcrew Cairns in Meath, Ballymote in Sligo, Ahenny in Tipperary or on the wild Burren of Clare. And between the stones were the bogs. Several have boardwalks and visitor centres, but start exploring their fascinating discoveries at the National Museum - Archaeology in Dublin: ornate gold jewellery and contorted bodies.
- Cells and wells, the forerunner to "Bells 'n Smells". A series of major religious leaders appeared in Ireland following 5th century St Patrick. Any place name prefixed "Kil" or "Cill", or "Kells" by itself, indicates their hermit cell or abode. They needed to live near a water source, which would become venerated as a holy or healing well. There was a second wave of monasteries in Norman times, built on the same sites, and ruins of these grander buildings are common though they were smashed after the 16th century Dissolution. Clonmacnoise, Glendalough and Rock of Cashel are fine examples. After they were ejected from their former churches, the Roman Catholics were only allowed to re-establish from the Victorian era, with a wave of church and cathedral building mostly in neo-Gothic style: every major town has one.
- Round towers are to Ireland what minarets are to Turkey. Pencil-thin and dating from 9th to 12th century, the best intact examples are 30 m tall with a conical cap; they have only one or two windows and a doorway several metres above ground. These were bell-towers for adjacent churches, and the high doorway was simply to avoid weakening the tower base. Some 20 are in good condition, with the best at Clondalkin (Dublin), Ardmore (Waterford), Glendalough (Wicklow), Kells (Meath), Killala (Mayo), Kilmacduagh (Galway), Rattoo (Kerry), Swords (Dublin), Timahoe (Laois) and Turlough (Mayo).
- Castles sprang up under the Normans, and were variously besieged, repaired, dismantled or re-purposed over the next 400 years. Limerick has a fine example, while Dublin Castle reflects multiple eras: what you see there now is mostly Victorian. Many medieval cities had walls, such as Waterford and Kilkenny - the best of all is Derry in the north. The lowlands are also dotted with turrets or tower-houses from 15th / 16th century, effectively fortified dwellings: Blarney Castle near Cork is typical.
- Mansions, often with fine gardens, appeared when dwellings no longer needed to be stoutly defended. Lots and lots: those within an easy day-trip from Dublin are Malahide, Powerscourt at Enniskerry, and Russborough House at Blessington.
- Islands: a historic handful lie off the east coast (Dalkey near Dublin was a slave market) but most are off the fractal west coast. Some are nowadays connected by road or are tidal, but substantial places where you have to fly or take a ferry to include the three Aran Islands, with a remarkable cluster of prehistoric sites. Not to neglect freshwater islands in the rivers (eg Cahir castle, and it's best to draw a veil over Lady Blessington's ablutions at Clonmel Tipperary) and in the lakes. Inis Cealtra in Lough Derg above Killaloe in Clare has a cluster of medieval sites, and Innisfree on Lough Gill near Sligo is where WB Yeats yearned to be.
- Graceful townscapes: the 18th and 19th centuries saw great rebuilding of Ireland's medieval towns. Provincial places were re-laid along a single wide, long High Street, lined with colourful low-rise. Dublin and Limerick were extensively re-modelled, with Georgian terraces along a broad grid pattern interspersed by leafy squares, such as Dublin's Merrion Square.
- Gaelic games are unique to Ireland and a few diaspora communities beyond. They're played March-Oct, organised on a county basis, and Gaelic football is the dominant sport - every little village has a GAA club. It's sort of a cross between rugby and soccer . . . probably best if you get an Irish supporter to sit down and explain it, and by the way you're buying the rounds. Hurling is the furious game somewhat resembling field hockey as played during tribal warfare - it's the minority sport except in County Kilkenny. Getting tickets for either won't be a problem except for the national finals at Croke Park in Dublin in September; these are sure to be televised. The other GAA sports of shinty and camogie have lapsed in much of the country and are no longer played on an organised basis.
- Horse racing: there are some three dozen race tracks around the country, almost every county has one or two, with Curragh and Punchestown the big two near Dublin. These tracks have both flat racing in summer and National Hunt (jumps / chases) in winter. There are stud farms and racehorse training stables on the lush pastures of the Irish midlands, some of which you can visit, eg Kildare. And then there's Enniscrone in County Sligo, where they race on pigs.
- Golf: the best-known couse is Adare, which stages the Ryder Cup in 2026. (Royal Portrush in the north also hosts the Open.) All the populated areas have courses, and golf has been the saving of many a dilapidated old castle, made-over into a swish hotel with spa and golf resort.
- Rugby Union (15 a side): Ireland plays as a united island, with Northern Ireland included. Four professional teams representing the traditional provinces play in the United Rugby Championship (formerly Pro14), the top European (predominantly Celtic) league: Leinster Rugby in Dublin, Ulster Rugby in Belfast, Munster Rugby mostly in Limerick with some games in Cork, and Connacht Rugby in Galway. Internationals are played in Dublin: those for the annual "Six Nations" tournament sell out. Rugby League (13 a side) isn't played in Ireland.
- Soccer or Association Football: the Republic's national team play at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, faring respectably enough in tournaments such as the UEFA Euros, and occasionally qualifying for the FIFA World Cup. The domestic club playing season is Feb-Nov: ten teams compete in the top tier, the League of Ireland Premier Division, with the "big three" being Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers both in Dublin, and Dundalk. However, enthusiasm for domestic club games is low as nearly all the top Irish footballers play for English clubs.
- Water sports: the Atlantic coast has big seas and surf. Less exposed waters are good for wind-surfing and sailing, and there are many sheltered, sandy beaches good for kiddy-paddling. There is kayaking and SUP-boarding on the coast and on the many inland loughs.
- Folk music: Ireland has a bustling scene, see Music in Britain and Ireland.
- Bus tours include city hop-on hop-off tours, day trips to outlying places like Glendalough that might be difficult to do without your own car, and extended tours of the country. See "Get around by bus" above - the national company Bus Éireann has a good selection.
- Look up your Irish ancestors. From 1864 all births, marriages and deaths in Ireland (and Protestant marriages from 1845) were recorded by the General Register Office in Dublin, which you can search online free. Before then, those events were recorded only in parish church registers, of variable completeness. Many records have been lost, but others are well-preserved and digitised - County Clare is one good example. Tracing events pre-1864 is more difficult, especially along the female line. Sources include the parish church registers, property records, newspaper "hatches matches & dispatches" columns, Wills, trial verdicts, workhouse denizens, tombstone epitaphs, and emigrant passenger lists. Try enquiring at the County Library in the relevant county town.
- Learn Irish beyond the standard courtesies. There's a lack of resources for outsiders to do so, see "Talk" above for some you might use.
- St Patrick's Day is on 17 March whenever that falls in the week. It's celebrated worldwide and especially here, with an extended event in Dublin.
- Observe centenaries: after the Great War ended, the Anglo-Irish conflict intensified as described above, leading to the partition of Ireland in 1921 and a civil war, all against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic. This means that many events are reaching their centenary and in normal circumstances would be publicly marked. Ceremonies and recognition were inevitably subdued in 2020 / 21 but visitors (especially British) should be aware of upcoming anniversaries.
Exchange rates for euros
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Ireland uses the euro, the plural of which is also "euro", thus for €2 say "two euro".
Stand-alone cash machines (ATMs) are widely available in every city and town in the country and credit cards are accepted most outlets. Fees are not generally charged by Irish ATMs (but beware that your bank may charge a fee).
Along border areas, as the UK pound sterling is currency in Northern Ireland, it is common for UK pounds to be accepted as payment, with change given in Euro. Some outlets, notably border petrol stations will give change in sterling if requested.
There's a lot of cross-border shopping. It's partly driven by differences in VAT or other tax, for instance fuel has usually been cheaper in the Republic, so Northern Ireland motorists fill up south of the border. It also reflects swings in exchange rate, so Republic shoppers cross to Derry or Newry whenever their euro goes further against the UK pound.
ATMs are widely available throughout Ireland. Even in small towns it is unlikely that you will be unable to find an ATM. Many shops and pubs will have an ATM in store, and unlike the UK, they cost the same to use as 'regular' ATMs on the street. Though in-shop ATMs are slightly more likely to run out of cash and be 'Out of Service'.
MasterCard, Maestro and Visa are accepted virtually everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are now also fairly widely accepted. Discover card is very rarely accepted and it would not be wise to rely on this alone. Most ATMs allow cash withdrawals on major credit cards and internationally branded debit cards.
In common with most of Europe, Ireland uses "chip and PIN" credit cards. Signature-only credit cards, such as those used in the US, should be accepted anywhere a chip and PIN card with the same brand logo is accepted. The staff will have a handheld device and will be expecting to hold the card next to it and then have you input your PIN. Instead, they will need to swipe the card and get your signature on the paper receipt it prints out. Usually this goes smoothly but you may find some staff in areas that serve few foreigners are confused or assume the card cannot be processed without a chip. It is helpful to have cash on hand to avoid unpleasant hassle even in situations where you might have been able to eventually pay by card.
Tipping is not a general habit in Ireland. The same general rules apply as in the United Kingdom. It is usually not customary to tip a percentage of the total bill, a few small coins is generally considered quite polite. Like most of Europe it is common to round up to the nearest note, (i.e. paying €30 for a bill of €28).
In restaurants tipping 10-15% is standard and for large groups or special occasions (wedding/anniversary/conference with banquet) tipping becomes part of the exuberance of the overall event and can be higher, indeed substantial. Tipping is not expected in bars or pubs and unnecessary in the rare bar or 'Superpub' that has toilet attendants. In taxis the fare is rounded off to the next euro for short city wide journeys, however this is more discretionary than in restaurants. In hotels a tip may be added to the bill on check out, however some guests prefer to tip individual waiters or room attendants either directly or leaving a nominal amount in the room.
In all cases, the tip should express satisfaction with the level of service.
If you are a tourist from a non-EU country, you may be able to receive a partial refund of VAT tax (which is 23%.) However, unlike some other countries, there is no unified scheme under which a tourist can claim this refund back. The method of refund depends solely on the particular retailer and so tourists should ask the retailer before they make a purchase if they wish to receive a VAT refund.
One scheme retailers who are popular with tourists operate is private (i.e. non-governmental) VAT refund agents. Using this scheme, the shopper receives a magnetic stripe card which records the amount of purchases and VAT paid every time a purchase is made and then claims the VAT back at the airport, minus commission to the VAT refund agent, which is often quite substantial. There are multiple such VAT refund agents and so you may need to carry multiple cards and make multiple claims at the airport. However, there may not be a VAT refund agent representative at the airport or specific terminal where you will be departing from, or it may not be open at the time you depart. In which case, getting a refund back could become more cumbersome as you may need to communicate with the VAT refund agent from your home country.
If the retailer does not operate the VAT refund agent scheme, they may tell you that all you have to do is take the receipt they produce to the airport and claim the refund at the VAT refund office at the airport. However, this is incorrect. Irish Revenue does not make any VAT refunds directly to tourists. Tourists are responsible for having receipts stamped by customs, either in Ireland upon departure or at their home country upon arrival and then send these receipts as proof of export directly to the Irish retailer which is obligated to make a VAT refund directly to the tourist. Therefore, for example, if you have made 10 different purchases at 10 different retailers, you will need to make 10 separate claims for refunds with every single retailer. However, some retailers do not participate in the scheme all together and so you may not be able to get any VAT refund from some retailers. Therefore, if you plan on receiving VAT tourist refund on your purchases in Ireland, you should be careful where you shop and which refund scheme they operate, if any.
Further details on VAT tourist refunds can be found in the document Retail Export Scheme (Tax-Free Shopping for Tourists) .
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants. In the northwest of the country Donegal Town is fast becoming the seafood capital of Ireland.
Traditional Irish cuisine could charitably be described as hearty: many traditional meals involved meat (beef, lamb, and pork), potatoes, and cabbage. Long cooking times were the norm in the past, and spices were limited to salt and pepper. The Irish diet has broadened remarkably in the past fifty years and dining is now very cosmopolitan.
Seafood chowder, Guinness Bread, Oysters, and Boxty vary regionally, and are not common throughout the entire country.
However the days when potatoes were the only thing on the menu are long gone, and modern Irish cuisine emphasizes fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented (sometimes with some Mediterranean-style twists). Meat (especially lamb), seafood and dairy produce is mostly of an extremely high quality.
Try some gorgeous brown soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself.
Only basic table manners are considered necessary when eating out, unless you're with company that has a more specific definition of what is appropriate. As a general rule, so long as you don't make a show of yourself by disturbing other diners there's little else to worry about. It's common to see other customers using their mobile phones — this sometimes attracts the odd frown or two but goes largely ignored. If you do need to take a call, keep it short and try not to raise your voice. The only other issue to be concerned about is noise — a baby crying might be forgivable if it's resolved fairly quickly, a contingent of adults laughing very loudly every couple of minutes or continuously talking out loud may attract negative attention. However, these rules are largely ignored in fast-food restaurants, pubs and some more informal restaurants.
Finishing your meal
At restaurants with table service, some diners might expect the bill to be presented automatically after the last course, but in Ireland you may need to ask for it to be delivered. Usually coffee and tea are offered at the end of the meal when removing dishes, and if you don't want any, the best response would be "No thank you, just the bill, please." Otherwise the staff will assume you wish to linger until you specifically ask for the bill.
Pints (just over half a litre) of Guinness start at around €4.20 per pint, and can get as high as €7.00 in tourist hotspots in Dublin.
One of Ireland's most famous exports is stout: a dark, creamy beer, the most popular being Guinness which is brewed in Dublin. Murphy's and Beamish stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy's is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish, although lighter, has a subtle, almost burnt, taste. Opting for a Beamish or Murphy's while in Cork is sure to be a conversation starter and likely the start of a long conversation if you say you prefer it to Guinness.
Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O'Hara's in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick's are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (known outside the Republic as 'Magners Cider') is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
That "e" in the name is as important as the barley and the sparkling waters in the distillery promotional video, the bit before they ask you to confirm your age. Whiskey / whisky is a distilled spirit of 40% alcohol, and a protected trade name - products so described may only be produced by specific methods and regionally-sourced ingredients, justifying their price premium. Ireland has several big-name brands such as Jameson and Tullamore, and very drinkable they are too: sláinte! But what's been lacking is the character of single malt whisky as found in Scotland, though Ireland certainly has the ingredients and know-how to make these. These are gradually coming to market (bearing in mind the minimum 3-year sojourn in cask) from, for example, Teeling in Dublin and Athru in Sligo.
Nearly all pubs in Ireland are 'free houses', i.e. they can sell drink from any brewery and are not tied to one brewery (unlike the UK). You can get the same brands of drink in all pubs in Ireland across the country.
Alcohol can be relatively expensive in Ireland, particularly in tourist areas. Some bars may offer pitchers of beer which typically hold just over three pints, for €10-11.
Bars must serve their last drinks at 23:30 Sunday to Thursday and 00:30 on Friday and Saturday, usually followed by a half hour 'drinking up' time. Nightclubs serve until 02:00.
It is illegal to smoke in all pubs in Ireland. Some pubs have beer gardens, usually a heated outdoor area where smoking is allowed.
Only in Ireland
- McCarthys the Undertaker and Bar in Fethard, County Tipperary will see you sorted one way or another.
- Stone the Crows in Sligo alas no longer accepts dead crows as payment, though you could always try swiping one across the contactless machine.
- Carroll Auctioneers in Kilmallock, County Limerick have somehow got their business listed as a pub, just be careful how you signal for another round.
- In Donovan's Hotel in Clonakilty, County Cork, raise a glass to the only USAF crew member to survive a crash landing but then be drunk to death by overwhelming Irish hospitality. He was Tojo, a monkey. He may have been navigating, as the crew thought they were over Norway.
- A Tholsel is an old style of civic building, almost unique to Ireland. It means "tolls hall" - a mix of tax collection, council office, market hall and courtroom, before those evolved into separate premises. Only half a dozen survive and the Tholsel in New Ross, County Wexford is now a pub.
- On Ring Peninsula near Dungarvan in County Waterford, there were so many famine victims to be buried in the mass graveyard, they had to build a pub for all the grave-diggers and wagoners. It's called An Seanachai and is still serving.
- McHales in Castlebar, County Mayo, is the only place that still serves Guinness by the "meejum". This obscure measure is somewhat less than a pint but nowhere precisely defined, and indeed cannot be, thanks to a woozy collision between trading legislation and quantum uncertainty.
- Sean's Bar in Athlone, County Westmeath, is Ireland's oldest pub, reliably dated to 900 AD when its publican was also the fellow who guided you across the Shannon ford.
There are hotels of all standards including some very luxurious. Bed-and-breakfast accommodations are widely available. These are usually very friendly, quite often family-run and good value. There are independent hostels which are marketed as Independent Holiday Hostels of Ireland, which are all tourist board approved. There is also an official youth hostel association, An Óige (Irish for The Youth). These hostels are often in remote and beautiful places, designed mainly for the outdoors. There are official campsites although fewer than many countries (given the climate). Wild camping is tolerated but try and seek permission—especially where you'll be visible from the landowner's house. Never camp in a field in which livestock are present. There are also specialist places to stay such as lighthouses, castles and ring forts.
Some Useful Irish Phrases:
It is fun to learn a few phrases of Irish, but it is unnecessary, as everyone speaks English. Visitors who want to learn Irish can take advantage of language courses specifically designed for them. The best known are provided by Oideas Gael in Donegal and the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), which is based in Dublin. They employ experienced teachers whose aim is to equip you with basic fluency and give you an introduction to the culture. You will often find yourself sitting with people from a surprising variety of countries - perhaps as far away as Japan. Even a short course can reveal aspects of Ireland which more casual tourists may miss. But you are strongly advised to check the dates and book beforehand.
Ireland is part of the European Union/European Economic Area and, as such, any EU/EEA/Swiss national has an automatic right to take up employment in Ireland. Non EU/EEA citizens will generally require a work permit and visa. Further information can be found on Citizens Information, the Irish government's public services information website.
The police force is known as An Garda Síochána, (literally, 'Guards of the Peace'), or just "Garda", and police officers as Garda (singular) and Gardaí (plural, pronounced Gar-dee), though informally the English term Guard(s) is usual. The term police is rarely used, but is of course understood. Regardless of what you call them, they are courteous and approachable. Uniformed members of the Garda Síochána do not carry firearms, but the police in Northern Ireland do. Firearms are, however, carried by detectives and officers assigned to special police units. Police security checks at Shannon Airport can be tough if you are a solo traveller.
Crime is relatively low by most European standards, but not so different in kind from crime in other countries. Late-night streets in larger towns and cities can be dangerous, as anywhere. Don't walk alone after sunset in deserted areas in Dublin or Cork, and be sure to plan getting back home, preferably in a taxi. Fortunately, most violent crime is drink- or drug-related, so simply avoiding the visibly inebriated can keep you out of most potential difficulties. If you need Gardaí, ambulance, fire service, coast guard or mountain rescue dial 999 or 112 as the emergency number; both work from landline phones and mobile phones.
In the unlikely event that you are confronted by a thief, be aware that Irish criminals in general are not afraid to resort to violence. Surrender any valuables they ask for and do not resist, as hooligans are bound to have sharp or blunt weapons with them. If you are the victim of a crime, report it immediately. CCTV camera coverage in towns and cities is quite extensive, and a timely phone call could help retrieve your lost belongings.
Many roads in the country are narrow and winding, and there has been an increase in traffic density. Ireland is improving its roads, but due to financial constraints many potholes do not get mended in a timely manner. If using a rented car, keep your eyes peeled for any potholes in the road as even the smallest of them could precipitate a rollover or a collision.
Tap water is generally drinkable. In some buildings you should avoid drinking water from bathroom sinks, which may be recycled or drawn from cisterns.
Almost all enclosed places of work in Ireland, including bars, restaurants, cafés, are designated as smoke-free. Ireland was the first European country to implement the smoking ban in pubs. Rooms in hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments are not required by law to be smoke-free. Even though they are not obliged to enforce the ban, owners of these establishments can do so if they wish. Most hotels have some bedrooms or floors designated as smoking and some as non-smoking, so you should specify at the time of booking if you have a preference either way. The smoking ban also applies to common areas within buildings. This means for example that corridors, lobby areas and reception areas of buildings such as apartment blocks and hotels are also covered by the law.
Most larger bars and cafés will have a (covered) outdoor smoking area, often with heating. This is a great way to meet up with locals. A new concept called "smirting" has been developed: "smoking" and "flirting". If an outdoor smoking area does not exist, be aware that it is illegal to consume alcohol on the street, so you may have to leave your drink at the bar.
Any person found guilty of breaching the ban on smoking in the workplace may be subject to a fine of up to €3,000.
Visitors to Ireland will find the Irish incredibly welcoming, friendly, and approachable. You can freely approach the locals for advice and you can ask them specific directions on where to go somewhere.
In smaller towns and villages, especially on a country road, if you walk past somebody it is customary to exchange pleasantries. They may also ask you "how are you?", or another similar variation. A simple hello or "how are you?" or a simple comment on the weather will suffice.
The Irish have a relaxed and flexible view of time; It's not uncommon for them to be a few minutes late to something. However, when visiting a home or going to a business invitation, it's advisable to reach on time.
The Irish are renowned for their sense of humour, but it can be difficult to understand for tourists not familiar with it. The Irish will joke about themselves or other cultures, and may appear to be tolerant of non-nationals joking about the Irish, but beware it is easy to cause offence.
It is not uncommon to hear the Irish say "God", "Jesus", and/or use curse words in conversations, especially if you're well acquainted with someone. Don't be put off by this as the Irish don't intend to make you uncomfortable in any way.
When accepting gifts, a polite refusal is common after the first offer of the item. Usually, this is followed with an insistence that the gift or offer be accepted, at which point a refusal will be taken more seriously. However, some people can be very persuasive — this isn't meant to be overbearing, just courteous.
The Irish usually respond to a "thank you" with "It was nothing" or "not at all" ("Níl a bhuíochas ort" in Irish). This does not mean that they didn't try hard to please; rather, it is meant to suggest "I was happy to do it for you, so it wasn't a problem", even though it may have been. This can often also mean that they expect that they can ask for a favour from you at some point or that you are in some way indebted to the person who did something for you. There is a significant amount of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" entrenched in the Irish culture.
Discussions about religion, politics, and the Troubles are generally avoided by locals. Opinions between individuals are so vastly divided and unyielding, that most Irish people of moderate views have grown accustomed to simply avoiding the topics in polite conversation, especially since almost everyone in small towns knows each other. Foreign nationals claiming they are ‘Irish’ just because of an ancestor will likely be met with amusement, although this may become annoyance or anger should they then express their views related to the Troubles. Also tread carefully when discussing the history of British rule in Ireland, and be aware that most Irish people blame the British government for exacerbating the potato famine in the 1850s. Most Irish people bear no animosity against individual British citizens, and many Irish people have relatives living and working in the United Kingdom.
Any discussions about abuse scandals associated with the institutions of the Catholic Church must be approached with extreme tact and caution. Simply avoid this topic if you can. It is a very recent and painful chapter of the country's history, affecting a sizeable portion of the population. Insensitive comments will not be received well, and you never know if you are talking to someone who was directly or indirectly affected by it.
LGBT visitors will find most Irish people to be accepting of same-sex couples, although overt public displays of affection are rare except in Dublin and Cork City. Ireland introduced civil partnerships in 2011 and voted to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015. Conservative values can still be found in Ireland, especially with the older generations. As in many other countries, the younger generations are generally more accepting. Ireland has anti-discrimination laws that are predominately for the workplace, though few cases have been brought forward. In 2015, opinion polls leading up to the marriage equality referendum repeatedly showed, almost without variation, that about 75% of Irish people supported gay marriage rights.
Phone numbers in this guide are given in the form that you would dial them from outside Ireland. When using a landline within Ireland, the international dial prefix and country code of +353 should be substituted by a single 0. However, most landlines and mobile phones will accept the prefix 00353 or +353 to call Ireland numbers.
By mobile phone
There are more mobile phones than people in Ireland, and the majority of these are pre-paid. Phone credit is available in very many retailers, usually in denominations from €5 to €40. Some retailers charge a small commission on this credit, most don't.
After a series of mergers, as of 2020 there are three mobile networks in Ireland:
- Eirmobile (incorporating Meteor): 085
- Three (incorporating O2, BlueFace, Lycamobile, iD mobile, Virgin Mobile, 48 and Tesco mobile): 083, 086 and 089
- Vodafone (incorporating Postfone): 087
Dublin has great coverage including 5G. Check other individual towns for network coverage - all but the smallest places have a signal, but it may not cover the approach roads or surrounding countryside. Close to the border with Northern Ireland, your mobile might latch onto a UK network, which could incur extra charges.
Phones from anywhere in the EU plus UK are covered by a roaming agreement - this continues even though the UK has left the EU. Owners of phones from elsewhere should estimate their likely usage and bill through using their usual phone in Ireland, and decide whether to stick with that, or buy an Irish SIM card, or buy an Irish phone outright - this might be cheaper for stays over 2 months.
What about your power supply / adapters? Ireland uses the same voltage and plugs as the United Kingdom; see Electrical systems. The airports and big cities sell adapters.
If you do not have a chip and PIN bank card (most U.S. debit and credit cards do not have a chip) and permanent contact information in Ireland (landline, address) then in some cases you may have problems paying for phone service. You might need to pay cash, in euros.
Non-geographic numbers are those which are not specific to a geographical region and are charged at the same rate regardless of where the caller is located.
|Call type||Description||Dialling Prefix|
|Freephone||Free from all phonelines||1800|
|Shared Cost (Fixed)||Cost one call unit (generally 6.5 cent)||1850|
|Shared Cost (Timed)
(also known as Lo-call)
|Cost the price of a local call||1890|
|Universal Access||Cost the same as a non-local/trunk dialling call||0818|
|Premium Rate||Generally more expensive than other calls||1520 to 1580|
Pay phones have become quite rare, but they are still available in limited numbers. Most take euro coins, prepaid calling cards and major credit cards. You can also reverse the charges/call collect or use your calling card by following the instructions on the display.
To dial outwith Ireland: 00 + country code + area code + local number. For example, to call a Spanish mobile, it would be 00 34 6 12345678.
To dial Northern Ireland from Ireland a special code exists; drop the 028 area code from the local Northern Ireland and replace it with 048. This is then charged at the cheaper National Irish rate, instead of an international rate. Some providers accept +44 28 as a national rate when calling to Northern Ireland.
To dial an Irish number from within Ireland: Simply dial all of the digits including the area code. You can optionally drop the area code if you're calling from within that area and on a landline phone, but it makes no difference to the cost or routing. The area code is always required for calls from mobiles.
Fixed line numbers have the following area codes:
- 01 (Dublin and parts of surrounding counties)
- 02x (Cork)
- 04xx (parts of Wicklow and North-East Midlands, excluding 048)
- 048 (Northern Ireland)
- 05x (Midlands and South-East)
- 06x (South-West and Mid-West)
- 07x (North-West, excluding 076)
- 076 (VoIP)
- 08x (Pagers and mobile phones)
- 09xx (Midlands and West)
Operator service is unavailable from pay phones or mobile phones.
Emergency services dial 999 or 112 (Pan European code that runs in parallel). This is the equivalent of 911 in the US/Canada and is free from any phone.
Directory information is provided by competing operators through the following codes (call charges vary depending on what they're offering and you'll see 118 codes advertised heavily):
- 118 11 (Eir)
- 118 50 (conduit)
- 118 90
These companies will usually offer call completion, but at a very high price, and all of them will send the number by SMS to your mobile if you're calling from it.
Postal services are provided by An Post. The costs of sending postcards and letters are:
- Inland mail (island of Ireland): €1.25 (up to 100g)
- International mail (all other destinations): €2.20 (up to 100g)
These rates are correct as of July 2022.