Thanks to globalisation, visiting Ireland for the first time isn’t the culture shock it may once have been to international travellers. Young Irish people – raised on a steady diet of Friends – now have accents with an American twinge, and the single currency has made travel within the eurozone significantly less complicated (while it lasts). But there are still a few things that are useful to know before you visit Ireland – such as the below.
Most people with enough interest in Ireland to visit will already know that it’s split into two different countries, but may not have thought through the practicalities. If travelling across the border, you should be aware that as part of the UK, Northern Ireland uses pound sterling, not the euro. Since international bank cards will work perfectly in ATMs and chip and pin terminals on both sides it won’t make a huge difference, but it’s worth knowing if you’re planning to shop – even before Brexit, grocery shopping bills in Northern Ireland were around 15 per cent cheaper than in the republic.
In a related point, travellers from outside the EU are entitled to tax-free shopping in Ireland. Applying for a Fexco Horizon card before you arrive means you can then register and swipe it in any affiliated location in the country (including Avoca Handweavers, the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Zoo and many more), before claiming back sales tax on those purchases at the airport on your way home. The service has even launched a tax-free shopping app, through which you can order and register your card, locate affiliated outlets and track purchases.
While most of the major Irish sights can be taken in using public transport or tour buses, renting a car is worth considering, to get to those spectacular places off the beaten track. If you are going to rent one, remember that people in Ireland drive on the left hand side of the road and pass on the right – the opposite of US drivers. It’s best to rent a small car for visiting rural areas – country roads in Ireland are notoriously narrow and winding, and some locals drive along them more quickly than you might expect.
Irish budget airline Ryanair is known for providing miraculously low fares for flying within Europe. They are also known for placing certain regulations on those bargain-level fares, such as heavy cabin baggage restrictions. On a Ryanair flight, you can bring on board only one cabin bag – weighing up to 10 kilos and fitting specific dimensions – plus one small bag such as a handbag. Cabin bag limits are the same on the flag carrier airline of Ireland, Aer Lingus. Large fees are charged for checking in any luggage that doesn’t fit these requirements at the airport.
Ireland doesn’t have the same culture of tipping that some countries do, but there are certain services that people do tend to tip for. In restaurants with table service, it’s normal to tip between 10 to 12 per cent, or more if you wish. Restaurants occasionally add a service charge to the bill themselves, especially for larger groupings, so check this first. Taxi drivers and hairdressers or other personal service providers are usually tipped up to 10 per cent if they have provided good service, but this is at your discretion.
The Irish have an international reputation for extending céad míle fáilte or ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’, but Irish friendliness can sometimes be more understated than visitors might expect. Compared to American customer service – whereby people are immediately greeted as soon as they enter a shop or restaurant – Irish service providers might seem positively reserved. In general, people in Ireland are friendly when spoken to and love to talk once they get going, but they aren’t always as outgoing as they are made out to be.
Everyone knows the weather in Ireland simply is not reliable. Its temperate oceanic climate means the country gets buckets of rainfall, especially on the western coast, but also that the outlook can change in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t have much in the way of extremes, so the best way to be prepared for the Irish weather is to bring a lot of light layers, wear waterproof shoes, and hope for the best.
If you decide to use public transport to explore Ireland, trains are a tempting option – they’re more comfortable than the bus, with free wifi, electrical outlets and bathrooms onboard. The downside is that trains in Ireland can be extremely expensive. Happily, Irish Rail regularly offer significant online booking discounts if you buy tickets in advance.
Dublin city buses won’t stop unless you flag them down, even at a designated stop, if that stop also serves other routes. Make sure to stick your arm out when you see your bus approaching to let the driver know you want to board. Also, on Irish buses in general it’s common to thank the bus driver when you depart.
Anyone planning to travel to Ireland during the winter ought to know that winter days in Ireland are incredibly short. It’s not exactly Alaska, but during December in Ireland the sun rises around 8am and sets around 4pm, meaning that ideal outdoor exploring hours are significantly curtailed. The good news is that the reverse is true in summer, when the sun doesn’t set until 10pm during certain months.
Although lots of establishments in most Irish cities and towns are open on a Sunday, many of them operate limited hours. Independent cafés and restaurants, shops and even some attractions don’t open until 2pm on Sundays, if at all. Make sure to check your favoured location ahead of time. The same goes for Bank Holiday Mondays.
If you want to see lots of Irish cultural attractions, it’s a good idea to get a Heritage Card from the Office of Public Works. For just €25, it provides free admission to all fee-paying state-managed heritage sites in Ireland for one year, including castles, national parks and war memorial gardens.
Finally, although the vast majority of Ireland is predominantly English speaking – and signage will always be in English outside of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) regions of the west – it should be noted that the Irish use a lot of slang terms and distinctive phrasing in general conversation, which combined with a strong accent can make understanding people difficult in certain areas. Luckily, Culture Trip has produced a handy guide to Irish slang terms you need to know. Incidentally, the Irish also swear quite a lot.