With over 20 percent of Americans claiming Irish heritage, travel to Ireland is on many bucket lists. Everyone has heard stories of kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle and driving the Ring of Kerry — but when it comes to visiting Ireland, there are a few things to know before you go. I’ve visited Ireland a couple of times and I wanted to share these Ireland travel tips while they are still fresh in my mind.
Of course the biggest challenge when planning a trip to Ireland is figuring out where to go. One option is to fly into Dublin and travel south and west through Kilkenny, Waterford, County Cork, Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, and slowly make your way up to Galway (stopping at the Cliffs of Moher of course) and flying out of Shannon or back to Dublin. Those more adventurous may prefer the northern area of Donegal.
If you have two or more weeks, you can add in a visit to Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom) and see iconic sites like Giant’s Causeway and Dunlace Castle. Whether you have two weeks or just a long weekend, don’t focus on checking off a list of must-see sights. Instead, take your time and enjoy traditional Irish music, food, culture and the incredible warmth of the Irish people.
If you need help planning your trip, I’m happy to refer you to one of my travel advisor friends that can help you put together an amazing trip.
Ireland Travel Tips
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Know Before you Go
One of the nice things about visiting Ireland is that it is very culturally familiar. English is widely spoken (and with the most charming Irish accent) and customs are not too different from what North Americans are comfortable with. The Irish people are incredibly warm and welcoming and this makes Ireland a very kid-friendly destination. The combination of English-speaking, family-friendly, and Irish heritage makes Ireland a very popular first international trip for families.
Ireland also doesn’t need to be an expensive vacation. Getting there is cheaper than ever with new flights from Norwegian Airlines into Dublin, Shannon, Cork, and Belfast. (Just make sure you understand your baggage limits and add-on fees!) While there are plenty of five-star castle accommodations, there are also country houses, city hotels, and vacation rentals that are quite affordable for families compared to visiting London or other big cities.
When to Go
July and August is peak tourist season in Ireland, so you can expect higher prices and larger crowds. The shoulder seasons of May-June and September-October used to be much quieter, but global tourism growth has really made these seasons quite busy also.
While winter in Ireland isn’t terribly cold, it will be damp and dreary and some establishments in the countryside will close from November through early March. So while the crowds will be less, there are some drawbacks to visiting in winter as well.
As I mentioned, there are many affordable flights on the national carrier Aer Lingus. Here are a few tips to ease your entry and exit into Ireland:
- You can fly into Dublin, Shannon, or Cork so don’t feel like you have to go into and out of Dublin — just note that some airlines only fly into these airports on certain days
- Be prepared for questions at immigration as to the purpose of your trip
- On your return, you can pre-clear United States customs and immigration at Dublin and Shannon airports. Please leave yourself time to get through this process (approximately two to three hours at Dublin and one to two hours at Shannon.)
- When you are leaving out of Dublin airport, you will need to go through standard airport security and then if you want to do any shopping or eating, do it next before entering the U.S. pre-clearance area
- There is a Global Entry line and kiosks in Dublin which may or may not be open
- After pre-clearance there are not a lot of food or shopping options
- Shannon Airport offers special services for those on the Autism spectrum or suffering from sensory issues including a special waiting room
Getting around in Ireland can be tricky — especially with a large family. You can certainly hire a driver-guide or take public transportation between cities and towns. You can even fly between cities to save time. But chances are if you are going into the countryside, you will end up renting a car.
Here are some tips to help you prepare:
- You drive on the left throughout Ireland and this can take some getting used to if you are accustomed to driving on the right
- Expect small, narrow roads with very little room to pass by. If tight lanes make you nervous, you may want to give up driving duties
- Because of the narrow roads, it is highly recommended that you rent the smallest car possible. And unless you are very comfortable driving a manual, I would recommend spending the extra money for an automatic transmission. Trust me, driving on the left is challenging enough without also contending with a stick shift
- To fully enjoy your sightseeing, you may want to hire a driver-guide if you can afford it. Expect to pay around 250 euro per day for a half-day excursion
- Driving will always take longer than you expect (or Google predicts) so leave extra time to get from place to place
- Cell service can be spotty and rental car GPS is not always reliable so I would recommend also investing in a paper map as a back up and ask for or print out directions to your destination. Just assign one of your passengers to be the navigator!
- Make sure you purchase full car insurance coverage because it is not unheard of for someone to knock off a side mirror passing stone walls or busses on these narrow roads
- Bring along change (in Euro for the Republic of Ireland and British pounds/pence for Northern Ireland) for tolls and parking meters
- Tell your car rental company if you plan on passing into Northern Ireland or taking the ferry to England or Scotland
- Bring along a travel guide that includes a key to all the main road signs and parking symbols as they are not wholly intuitive
- When crossing the street, remember to look right. There are painted signs at intersections to remind visitors in many main cities and towns but it is good to always remind yourself
- When entering a rotary, you enter to the left
- One trick to driving on the left is to remember to always keep the center line of the road on the driver’s side of the car
What to Pack
In Ireland the weather is unpredictable and frequently rainy so the trick is to be prepared.
- You will want to plan on packing and wearing layers
- While the sunny days are spectacular, rainy days can be raw so make sure to bring along a raincoat, umbrella, and weather-proof boots or shoes
- You will also need a European and/or UK adapter (and converter for appliances like hair dryers or flat irons)
- Don’t forget your camera with a battery charger and lots of extra juice for your phone and camera because the scenery is stunning!
- The Republic of Ireland operates on the Euro, while Northern Ireland uses the British pound.
- Restaurants will typically include a service charge but if not, tipping beyond 10 to 12 percent is not expected
- Free WiFi is available at most attractions and restaurants
- You can save money when visiting attractions by investing in a Heritage Card. The Heritage Card provides for free admission to all fee-paying State managed OPW Heritage Sites located throughout the country for one year from the date of first use (with the exception of Muckross Traditional Farms, Killarney)
- Non-European Union visitors can shop tax-free by requesting a tax refund at airport kiosks. There are FEXCO Tax Refund Kiosks at Dublin, Shannon & Cork Airports, where you can quickly process your refund and claim your tax back. It is super fast and easy!
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