Planning Your Trip
Itineraries and Tours
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Known for its dramatic seaside scenery and idyllic country landscapes, Ireland can offer the ultimate escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Stop for a live music session in a village pub or head for the big cities of Dublin and Belfast for cutting edge cuisine and cultural activities. While old traditions are alive and well on the Emerald Isle, Ireland has a non-stop social scene as well. Whether you want to hike the sea cliffs or soak up history, here is the ultimate guide to planning your trip to Ireland.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: Ireland’s reputation for rainy weather is well deserved and there is a good chance that you will encounter some wet days at any time of year. The weather tends to be mild but cool in April and May, and heading to the country in spring is a good way to beat the tourist crowds that arrive in June, July, and August. September is also a good time to visit Ireland before the winter weather arrives. Keep in mind that the weather tends to be rainy in the west of Ireland at any time of year.
Language: The Republic of Ireland has two official languages: English and Irish. It is rare to hear Irish spoken outside of areas known as Gaeltacht, which are found around the west coast of Ireland. However, you will see signs in both English and Irish as you travel. English is spoken in Northern Ireland, as well.
Currency: The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro, while in Northern Ireland the currency is the Pound sterling. Credit cards are widely accepted but some smaller businesses will still only accept cash so it is a good idea to carry some cash at all times.
Getting Around: If you plan to stick to the capital cities of Dublin and Belfast, there is little need for a car. Both cities are compact enough to explore on foot and Dublin has a good public transportation system. Major towns are well connected by private coach bus, but it is a good idea to hire a car if you want to see rural Ireland or crave a bit of flexibility in your schedule. Keep in mind that Ireland drives on the left and automatic cars are fairly rare, so book your rental car ahead of time if you plan to road trip around the Emerald Isle.
Travel Tip: While traveling in the offseason is a good way to beat the crowds, some accommodations close up for the winter season (between mid-October and April 1st). Hotels and B&Bs can be in huge demand in summer, and around holidays and festivals, so it is best to reserve these as far in advance as possible once your trip dates are finalized.
Things to Do
Ireland is the perfect vacation destination for music lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and slow travelers who like to experience local lifestyles by exploring small towns and villages.
- Take a walk: Ireland has six national parks as well as incredible hills and landscapes. Walking is a popular pastime and does not require you to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the great outdoors.
- Go to the pub: No trip to Ireland is complete without a few nights in the pub. This is where you will find live traditional music, homestyle food, local beer and plenty of comradery.
- Plan a Road trip: To see as much as possible, plan to experience at least one of Ireland’s best drives. Perhaps you want to experience the Beara Peninsula or explore the Causeway coast – the small towns and unexpected scenery you will discover along the way is what makes Ireland a truly special place to visit.
What to Eat and Drink
The most traditional Irish food comes from the produce and livestock that have been a part of the rolling landscape for centuries. Many pubs and restaurants will serve a version of classic dishes such as beef and Guinness stew, roasted lamb, Irish steak, and of course, potatoes. Be sure to start the day with a fry – also known as a full Irish breakfast. The hearty morning meal comes with eggs, sausage, rashers (bacon), black pudding, beans, roasted tomato, and toast. Ireland is also famed for its dairy, so be sure to try real Irish butter on homemade brown bread.
To wash it all down you can order a Guinness, Ireland’s most famous stout which is still brewed to this day in Dublin. Other popular beers include Kilkenny and Harp, though imported beer, like Corona and Coors Light, is also becoming more common. Ireland is also famous for its whiskey, which you can find served with water at most bars. For something non-alcoholic, tea is particularly popular and the most common brands are Barry’s and Lyons. It can be found at all times of day, served with milk on the side.
Where to Stay
Most flights in and out of Ireland transit through Dublin and the Irish capital city is a wonderful place to spend a few days. Stay in the city center to take advantage of seeing most of the city on foot. After a couple of nights in the big city, you may be ready to experience the rest of Ireland. Many people choose to head south to Cork or Limerick and use these cities as a base to explore the small towns and villages. Belfast in Northern Ireland is also a lively city and the gateway to the stunning Antrim coast. Alternatively, head west out of Dublin for Galway and spend your days hopping between the towns along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The most common way to arrive in Ireland is by plane. However, there are also ferries that travel to the Emerald Isle. Once in Ireland, renting a car is the best way to explore most of the country. It’s not necessary (or recommended) to get a car if you plan to stay in Dublin, but having an independent set of wheels is almost necessary if you want to explore the rest of the country. Buses and trains are available, but the limited schedules will seriously constrain any travel plans.
The main airport in the Republic of Ireland is Dublin Airport. Other airports in Ireland and Northern Ireland include:
- Shannon Airport, a smaller international airport located in County Clare in the south of the Republic. This was once the busiest stop for transatlantic flights but now serves mainly UK destinations, with limited (i.e. once a week) flights to European cities.
- Belfast International Airport (BFS) is the larger airport near the Northern Ireland capital (it is located about 20 miles outside the city). Flights to Belfast can be more expensive than flights to Dublin, so many people choose to fly into the Republic and catch a convenient coach bus to the north.
- George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD) is quite small but very close to Belfast, located just over a mile from the city center. It serves mainly UK airports.
For a complete guide, read more about all of the airports in Ireland.
Culture and Customs
The Irish love to banter and it can feel like teasing, but it is all meant in good fun. You are welcome and expected to join in trading a few verbal jabs and sharing jokes to keep the "craic" going. Irish wit and humor move at lightning speed.
Pubs are the most common place to socialize in Ireland. This is where friends meet up and strangers become friends.
Music is a huge part of Irish culture and traditional live music sessions are commonplace. Some are planned and others come together naturally when enough musicians gather at the same pub. If you hear the crowd singing along, join in.
Tipping is not expected and certainly not needed at a pub. Some restaurants add a service charge for groups of eight or more, but this should be clearly noted on the menu and indicated on the bill.
If someone offers to buy you a drink at a pub, it is fine to accept. Keep in mind that drinking in Ireland works in “rounds” so if someone offers to get the next round of drinks, it is implied that you will return the favor when the glasses get low again.
- If possible, avoid traveling to Ireland in July and August when the number of visitors rivals the number of residents. This is when accommodation prices are most inflated and will seriously cut into your budget.
- Rural Airbnbs are becoming more common in Ireland. Renting a little cottage can be both romantic and budget-friendly. If you prefer a more personal touch, regular B&Bs are also easy to come by and tend to have lower prices than traditional hotels.
- Beers are relatively cheap if you are planning a night out, but restaurant prices can be steep in comparison. Eat in or try some of the most beloved Irish fast food joints to save some cash.
- If you plan to spend a few days in Dublin, it is worth buying a Leap Card to save money on public transportation. You can also download the FreeNow taxi app, which sometimes offers discount codes and promotions on cab rides.
Learn more about the cheapest ways to have fun by exploring the best free things to do in Dublin.