Approximately the size of the U.S. state of Maine, Ireland is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea. The country occupies an entire island except for the six counties comprising Northern Ireland. Ireland’s highest peak is Carrantuohill (3,415 feet) in County Kerry. Its principal river, the Shannon, flows from north to south 240 miles and empties into the Atlantic in the city of Limerick.
Ireland’s green landscape is often attributed to frequent rain. But while showers can occur often, they tend to pass quickly. The republic, also called Eire, is regulated by the Constitution of Ireland and is led by a prime minister called the Taoiseach, meaning “chief.” Ireland’s capital is Dublin.
While Irish (Gaelic) is the official language of the Republic of Ireland, the everyday language of most citizens is English, which is recognized as the country’s second language. You will see many public signs written in both languages. The most important Irish words you will probably need to know are fir and mná, used frequently outside public restrooms: fir is “Men” and mná is “Women.”
Life in Ireland
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Most department stores and some supermarkets are open all day, every day of the week, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Banks are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday (with some branches open on Saturday mornings).
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants and pubs, lunch is served from noon to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but always verify hours locally. Afternoon tea is usually taken around 4:00 p.m.
Tipping: If service is not included at a restaurant or pub (check your bill), it is customary to leave 10 to 20 percent of the total. Taxi drivers receive 10 to 15 percent of the fare. For luggage assistance, a small tip is appropriate, at your discretion.
Ireland public holidays: Irish public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Ireland tourist board’s website.
The lands and seas of Ireland are the most unspoiled in Europe, and seafood and beef of the highest quality are exported worldwide. In the last 20 years, a style of Irish cuisine has evolved well beyond Irish stew and champ (mashed potatoes with spring onions), based on superb raw materials and an eclectic mix of international styles.
Appetizers and entrées may feature locally caught fish (salmon or trout) and seafood (prawns, mussels, and oysters) accompanied by elaborate salads. Fine beef and lamb are widely available, and sometimes served with a decadent sauce of whiskey and cream. The use of potatoes, cabbage, and soda bread is still widespread; however, innovative chefs serve them in new and exciting ways. Desserts are rich and varied, incorporating seasonal fruit with melted chocolate, toffee, or vanilla custard.
The Irish Pub
The traditional Irish pub is an endangered species, with one closing almost every day. However, in many places it is still the center of social life with all ages gathering for drink, food, singing, and craic (pronounced “krack” and basically meaning a good time). Like so many things in travel, there are many unwritten rules governing pub etiquette—catching the bartender’s eye without wild gesticulation, not ordering an American-style cocktail, and paying immediately in cash for your drinks are just a few.
A range of beers, whiskey, and non-alcoholic drinks are available at a pub. Draft beer is served in a pint or a half-pint glass, and comes in two basic varieties—lager or ale. Guinness stout is actually a type of ale, made from roasted barley, and it takes about 3 to 4 minutes to pour properly. What about Irish whiskey? It’s best drunk “neat” or straight, and it has a smooth quality thanks to its triple distillation in closed kilns that prevents the smoky flavor of Scotch whisky. Food in an Irish pub may consist of sandwiches and soup at lunchtime, and sausages, meat pies, and jacket (or baked) potatoes in the evening.
Monday–Saturday: 10:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m.*
Sunday: 12:30 p.m.–2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.–11:00 p.m.*
*Some pubs may have a late drinking license and remain open until midnight or 2:00 a.m.
Although Ireland lies on the same northerly latitude as Newfoundland, it has a mild and moist climate year-round, which is due to the prevailing southwesterly winds and the influence of the Gulf Stream. Any given point in Ireland is never more than 70 miles from the sea or ocean; therefore, temperatures are uniform throughout the country. Contrary to belief, it actually does not rain all the time in Ireland; showers can occur frequently, but tend to pass quickly.
Temperatures range from the low- to mid-60s in May and June to the mid- to high-60s in July and August, July being the warmest month on average. The pleasant summer days are long, with daylight lasting until 10:00 p.m.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
Ireland uses the euro (EUR). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 EUR. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter Ireland. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in Ireland. Plugs have three flat blades arranged in a triangular formation. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see http://electricaloutlet.org/. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Ireland’s country code is “+353.” Cell phone coverage throughout Ireland is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Ireland is in the Greenwich Mean Time zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 5 hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at ireland.com.
The majority of international flights arrive at Dublin or Shannon airports. Ireland’s national airline is Aer Lingus: aerlingus.com.
International Airports in Ireland
- Dublin Airport
- Belfast International Airport
- George Best Belfast City Airport
- Cork Airport
- Shannon Airport
- Ireland West Airport Knock
- Kerry Airport
- City of Derry Airport
- Galway Airport
- Waterford Airport
- Donegal Airport
- Sligo Airport
Ireland’s national train company is Irish Rail. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
In addition to rail and airlines, Ireland also has an extensive bus (or “coach”) network that, for some towns and cities, may be more convenient and affordable than the train. Visit Irish Bus for details. For traveling in and around Dublin, go to dublinbus.ie.
Most major car rental agencies are available at airports and train stations. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). Here is more information about traveling by car in Ireland. If you rent a car in Ireland, remember to drive on the left side of the road and to pass on the outside right lane—also important to keep in mind when crossing busy city streets. Tourism Ireland provides a guide to driving in Ireland.