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21 Ireland Travel Tips I Give Every First Time Visitor

21 Ireland Travel Tips I Give Every First Time Visitor

This guide contains Ireland travel tips that I’ve been passing on to first time visitors for 10+ years.

Many guides with tips for traveling to Ireland consist of telling you to ‘Ah, be sure to have the craic’….

However, in reality, the most useful travel tips for Ireland are the likes of:

  • VAT refunds: Those visiting Ireland from a non-EU country are eligible
  • Logical itineraries: A realistic and logical itinerary will save you time, stress and money
  • Pack light layers: Ireland can get 4 seasons in 1 day. Layers are your friend

Useful Ireland travel trips

 

Below, you’ll find some handy Ireland travel tips that I put together based on the thousands of emails from tourists that I reply to each year.

I strongly believe that, if you take note of the below, you’ll place yourself in a better position to have a more enjoyable trip when visiting Ireland.

1. Visiting Ireland at any time comes with pros and cons, so choose wisely

If you only take note of one of my tips for traveling to Ireland, let it be this one, as when you visit Ireland will have a massive impact on your overall experience.

The trickiest part of planning a trip to Ireland is often deciding on the best time to visit Ireland – each month has its pros and cons.

Personally, I like traveling during the ‘shoulder season’ – September, October, April and May, as its quieter and you generally get better deals on accommodation and flights.

However, you need to weigh up the pros and cons and determine the best time for you:

  • Example 1: If you’re on a tight budget, the winter months (Jan in particular) will be best
  • Example 2: If you’re looking for the best chance of good weather, June, July and August will be best
  • Example 3: If you’re looking for longish days, less crowds and mild temperatures, October will be best
 

2. Time spent mapping out your Irish road trip is worth its weight in gold

One of the more overlooked tips for traveling to Ireland for the first time revolves around your road trip route.

It’s why, last year, I published the world’s largest Irish road trip library (you can choose your trip length, start point and much more).

Your Ireland itinerary, without exception, needs to be one:

  • That you have confidence in: Before you start booking flights/hotels, you need to be comfortable and confident in your route
  • That follows a logical route: It needs to follow a route that makes sense (e.g. you opt to fly into Shannon as you only plan on seeing the west)
  • That is realistic: People often underestimate how long it takes to get around Ireland. The result? They pack far too much into their visit
 

3. You don’t have to use a car to get around Ireland

getting around Ireland

Yes, getting around Ireland without a car is very possible (in fact, I have lots of Irish road trip itineraries that only use public transport).

You can easily combine buses, trains and day tours to get around Ireland, you just need to be a bit more astute with your planning.

  • The advantage: It’s cheaper than renting a car
  • The disadvantage: You don’t have as much flexibility.

Note: Public transportation in Ireland is notoriously bad in places like Donegal

 

4. If you do rent a car, read (and re-read) the fine print

This is one of the Ireland travel tips I tend to pass on most frequently.

If you’ve rent my guide on renting a car in Ireland, you’ll see me rant… quite a bit.

Personally, I believe that the car rental industry makes renting a car as confusing as possible.

I’m not the only one to think this, either. There has been a number of consumer reports outlining the shady practices of the car rental industry in Ireland.

So, one of the things to know before traveling to Ireland that’ll save you a lot of stress is to understand what you’re agreeing to with car rental (particularly what you’ve paid and what’s left to pay).

 

5. Understand the differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland

One of the more confusing tips for traveling to Ireland relates to the differences between the Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland.

In a nutshell, the 6 counties of Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom.

The remaining 26 are part of the Republic of Ireland.

Now, there’s no ‘hard’ border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – you can drive from one to the other without noticing.

The main thing you need to be aware of are that the currency in Ireland is Euro and the currency in Northern Ireland is Pound Sterling.

 

6. Avoid talking politics

The northern Ireland conflict

Photo by Fribbler on Wiki (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many people visiting Ireland for the first time will, at some point, end up chatting to a ‘local’.

And the vast majority of the time those conversations will be enjoyable for both parties.

Now, what you talk about is entirely up to you, however, I’d recommend that you avoid bringing up the likes of the Troubles.

For the most part, it won’t be a welcome topic of conversation and it will, at times, stop it in its tracks.

Looking to spark an easy conversation? Talk about the weather. It’s an easy conversation starter and it’s one most Irish people will use for small talk!

 

7. Ireland frequently get four seasons in one day

Yes, you heard correctly – the weather in Ireland is a little bit nuts.

If you’re thinking, ‘Sure, I’m visiting in June – I’ll just pack shorts and t-shirts – it’ll be grand’, think again.

Summer in Ireland can go from dry and toasty one minute to cold, wet and windy the next.

One of the best travel tips that I can give you if you’re visiting Ireland is to pack for every kind of weather.

If you’re traveling to Ireland during the summer months, make sure to bring summery clothes, but also pack a light rain jacket and a warm hoody or cardigan.

 

8. Layers are your friend

what to wear in Ireland

Many people visiting Ireland make the mistake of packing for the season, e.g. bringing only shorts and t-shirts during summer in Ireland.

One of the more useful what not to do in Ireland travel tips is to assumer that Irish seasons act as they should.

In our guide on what to wear in Ireland, you’ll find info on what you should bring for each season – in a nutshell, layers are always needed.

 

9. Some visitors can shop VAT-free

vat refund ireland

Bottom left: Massonstock. Top right: simarik. Left: Corelens (Canva)

If you’re traveling to Ireland from a non-EU country, you’re entitled to a VAT refund on eligible purchases made during your visit.

Now, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t apply to things like hotels, food or car hire.

In fact, it’s intended to only apply to items that you can carry home in your hand luggage.

In our guide to claiming a VAT refund after traveling to Ireland, you’ll find out everything you need to know.

 

10. Driving in Ireland requires adequate preparation

Many people driving in Ireland for the first time do absolutely zero preparation in advance of arriving.

Then they get here and panic.

Especially when they reach the likes of Conor Pass (a narrow mountain road on the Dingle Peninsula) or sections of the Ring of Kerry.

I’d strongly recommend taking time to understand the rules of the road in Ireland along with how to navigate roundabouts.

Yes, it’s a boring task, but it’s only you’ll thank yourself for when you get behind the wheel. Few Ireland travel tips are as useful as this one.

 

11. Currency converting ‘stores’ generally have the worst rates

currency exchange

Left: Oleksandr Filon. Top right: martaposemuckel. Bottom right: 400tmax (Canva)

This is one of the more obvious visiting Ireland travel tips – if you convert money via currency exchange providers you’ll be hit with a hefty fee.

You’re generally better off just leaving the Dollars in your bank account and then withdrawing for an ATM when you arrive (there are plenty of them).

Or, if you’re using something like a Revolut or Wise credit/debit card, they tend to get you a good rate.

 

12. Don’t be fooled into thinking the only airport in Ireland is in Dublin

Yep, there are several airports in Ireland that you can fly into, depending on your departure point.

Now, you’ll remember that the first of our tips for traveling to Ireland was to plan your itinerary before booking anything.

One of the reasons for this is that picking what airport you fly into will have a massive effect on your itinerary.

For example, if you fly into Shannon (Clare) you’ll be finely placed to tackle the Wild Atlantic Way from the moment you leave arrivals.

If you land in Belfast, you can get onto the Antrim Coast Road in under an hour. This is another of the Ireland travel tips I find myself repeating over and over.

 

13. We don’t have a ‘US Style’ tipping culture in Ireland

Many guides on Ireland travel tips spread wrong info about tipping in Ireland, stating that it’s seen as rude if you don’t tip everyone from the bartender to the staff in your hotel.

In Ireland, aside from in places that serve you food (table service only), tipping isn’t customary.

Is it appreciated? Sure!

However, there isn’t a tipping culture in Ireland like there is in the USA and Canada.

 

14. Be aware of the various laws in Ireland before you arrive

best Irish beers

Unsurprisingly enough, there are numerous laws in Ireland that you need to be aware of in advance of your visit.

Now, most of them are common sense.

However, others, like the smoking ban, can catch people out.

That and the fact that there are many Irish drinking laws, from not drinking in public to the age that you can legally drink from.

Related read: We’ve published the world’s largest free collection of self guided driving tours of Ireland

 

15. It’s possible to do Ireland on a budget, but you may need to leave out certain places

The cost of a trip to Ireland has been going up-and-up in recent years.

However, doing Ireland on a budget is still possible – it just requires a lot of advanced planning.

One of the more useful tips for traveling to Ireland on a budget is to use the likes of Skyscanner to track the price of flights.

Then, when they reach a price you’re comfortable with, pounce!

You’ll also likely need to dodge some of the cities in Ireland, like Dublin, as that’s where accommodation prices have reached unreasonable levels.

 

16. Make a copy of your passport and bring it with you

passport copy

Photo left: Spencer Davis. Top right: by_nicholas (Canva)

This is one of the more basic Ireland travel tips, and you likely won’t need to use it.

However, if you ever do, you’ll thank yourself for it.

Personally, I have a digital copy of my passport stored on my phone and I have a folder with three copies of my passport that I leave in my backpack.

That way, if anything were to happen, you’ll make life an awful lot easier.

 

17. Irish slang and humour can be tricky to get your head around

Irish slang words and Irish curses are part of everyday life in Ireland.

The tricky thing is, however, that different parts of the country have different slang terms.

There’s obvious ones, like ‘the Craic’ (i.e. ‘fun’) but there’s less obvious terms, like referring to ‘Yer one’ and ‘Yer man’.

If you’re confused during a conversation, ask the person to clarify what it is they said – it’s rare you’ll meet someone that won’t help you understand a bit of slang.

Related read: In need of a giggle? See our guide to the funniest Irish jokes

 

18. Always opt to visit traditional-style pubs over modern cafe bars

Galway Pubs

Photos courtesy Failte Ireland

There’s endless pubs in Ireland, however, not all are equal.

There’s traditional pubs and there are modern pubs and you’ll always, in our opinion, want to opt for traditional.

Traditional Irish pubs are ones that have stood the test of time and that boast a charm and character that you won’t encounter anywhere else in the world.

 

19. Limit the time you spend in Dublin to 2-3 days max

Although there’s plenty of things to do in Dublin, don’t spend more than 2-3 days max there (see our guides to 2 days in Dublin and 24 hours in Dublin).

Many people fly into Dublin and then spend 5 days to a week there, but it’s far too much (unless you’re doing day trips to Wicklow, Meath and Kilkenny).

When visiting Dublin it’s worth using the likes of the Dublin Pass, which will save you cash if you’re visiting the main attractions, like the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery.

Related Ireland travel tips: The Heritage Card is similar to the Dublin Pass in that it’ll get you into multiple fee-paying attractions for a single fee

 

20. Don’t just stick to the main tourist track

Beara Peninsula

Photos via Shutterstock

Go and visit the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway and all of the other tourist favourites (if you want to, that is) – but make a conscious effort to step off the beaten path.

It’s only when you do this that you really start to discover how mighty our little island really is.

Places like the Beara Peninsula in Cork, the North Mayo coast and the Mourne Mountains in Down tend to get left off of many Ireland itineraries.

Which is a shame. As it’s in these lesser-known/visited corners of Ireland that you’ll discover how powerful the combination of natural beauty and peace and quiet can be.

 

21. There’s more to Irish culture than drink (and there’s more to tradition than Paddy’s Day)

trad music

Photos via Shutterstock

Many people looking for tips for traveling to Ireland never really ask about Irish culture or Irish traditions.

Ireland’s culture has benefited from sport, music, literature, art, language, storytelling (see our section on Irish mythology), farming and food and you should try and experience as much of it as you can during your visit.

Similarly, traditions stem far beyond St. Patrick’s Day – there’s countless ancient festivals in Ireland, many of which take place outside of the busy summer months, that are worth a visit.

 

Frequently asked questions

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Do I need cash?’ to ‘What are no-go areas?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What do I need to know before traveling to Ireland?

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two separate countries on the one island (and thus have differences), the weather is a little bit crazy and a well-planned trip itinerary is worth its weight in gold.

What are some essential Ireland travel tips?

Plan your itinerary before you book anything, prepare for 4 seasons in one day, choose the right time to visit based on how you like to travel/your budget and determine what mode of transport suits your travel style.

How do I not stick out in Ireland?

Although we’d argue that there’s no fun in just ‘blending in’, if you’re looking to avoid standing out, how you dress and how you conduct yourself in public places are key.

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