You have good questions. We have good answers.
What should you pack?
Pack sweaters, comfortable clothes, and perhaps a rain poncho and/or umbrella. The best way to stay warm is to dress in layers. When the sun blasts through a gray sky, you want to peel off that sweater and soak up the sun wearing a t-shirt. If you’re hiking, pack shoes you’ve worn for a while. This is no time for sore feet! If you’re going to a spa destination, casual but classy is always a safe bet. Be yourself and wear what makes you comfortable. Ireland is a casual country.
What is the time difference between US & Ireland?
Ireland is in the same time zone as the UK (GMT) – 5 hours ahead of New York, and 8 hours ahead of California.
Do I need a passport?
Yes! Make sure your passport is up-to-date in advance of your departure date. Your passport should not expire within 6 months of your return date. If it does, you will need to renew it before traveling to Ireland. Customs is extremely easy when passing from the US, Canada, or UK into Ireland.
Where can I smoke in Ireland?
Ireland has a broad antismoking law that bans smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants, and hotel lobbies. Most restaurants and pubs have covered outdoor smoking areas these days.
Do you offer travel insurance?
Yes! In case your trip has to be postponed, travel insurance covers you. It is a small price to pay for peace of mind. We highly recommend you also purchase travel insurance to protect your health while in Ireland, as most foreign health insurance companies will not cover you should you require medical treatment.
What will the weather be like?
We can count on one thing: There is a general pattern of seasons, but Ireland is a country of idiosyncrasies, and weather is surely one of them. Ireland’s weather is dominated by the Atlantic Ocean, as such Ireland has far smaller temperature variations across the seasons than other countries this far north of the equator. Temperatures vary from an average of 8C/46F in the winter to 21C/70F in the summer.
Where can I find internet access?
The internet is not as widely used in Europe as it is in America, although this is changing rapidly, you will rarely be far from someplace where you can get on the net and check your messages. More hotels and cafes are WiFi hot spots. Remember: Bring a connection kit of the right power, phone-plug adapters and a spare Ethernet cable. You can buy international converters–so you can charge your phone or laptop–on Amazon.com and most computer stores in the U.S. You can also get them in many stores in Ireland, but your best bet is to get what you need before you go.
Will my cell/ mobile phone work in Ireland?
All UK/ European mobile phones will work in Ireland. Some U.S. cell phones and U.S. cell phone companies provide service in Ireland. Call your service provider and ask them to activate a feature called International Roaming. If it’s not available, and even if it is, sometimes it’s easier and much cheaper to rent a cell phone for your trip. It’s best to rent the phone before you leave home. A rental allows you to pay in-country rates—considerably cheaper. You can also buy temporary phones in some of the larger stores.
What Is the currency in Ireland?
The currency in the Republic of Ireland is the Euro and in Northern Ireland it is the UK Pound.
What is the best way to exchange money?
Some people like to change their money into Euros before they arrive in Ireland. You’ll be paying a fee for this, so if you choose to do so, don’t exchange very much. (It also costs money to convert it back into dollars!) Your best option is to use the ATM machines in Ireland. They are plentiful, and their rates are good. Walk into any bank—they also have good rates. The worse exchange rates are at the front desk of a hotel.
How do I get the best value for my Euro in Ireland?
Live like a local. You know this is true at home, and it’s also true when you travel. A handy tip: If you feel like having a picnic or eating in, order your food “take-away.” Food you take out costs less than the same food while sitting down to eat. Many places have take-away, and you’ll find this a good bargain. Eat local dairy products, beef, fresh and fabulous vegetables, and steaming pub chowder. This is a country that loves food. Go where the locals go,including the grocery store. You’ll save money and you’ll eat very well!
Do you need an international Drivers license to drive in Ireland?
No. Your full US, Canadian or EU driving license allows you to drive in Ireland both North and South. There are some age and other restrictions on renting cars in Ireland.
What side of the road do people drive on in Ireland?
Driving in Ireland is on the left side of the road, and all Irish vehicles are right-hand drive.
What are the roads like?
The quality of the national highway network has improved greatly in recent years but is still inferior to that of the U.S. and many European countries. Many secondary roads in Ireland tend to be narrow, bumpy and winding. While the major highways are of a very high quality, the “real” Ireland is one of twisting country lanes. Driving on these lanes can be a pleasure with scenic treasures around every corner, but do not expect to get to your destination in record time! You could very well find yourself stuck behind a herd of cows or sheep or a slow moving farm tractor, but your best option is to adopt the Irish “sure there’s plenty of time” attitude.
What are the Driving Rules in Ireland?
- Seat Belts Seat belts, for both front and rear passengers, are compulsory both in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland.
- Speed limits in Ireland In the Republic, the standard speed limit is 100 km/hr (~62.5 miles/hr) on national roads (roads on the map with an “N” number and signs coloured green) and 120 km/hr on the motorways (roads which bear an “M” number and have signs coloured blue). The speed limit on regional roads is normally 80km/hr (~50 miles/hr). The speed limit in built up areas both North and South is 50 km/hr (~30 miles/hr). If you rent a car in the Republic of Ireland, the instruments will display your speed in km per hour. In Northern Ireland speeds are still measured in miles per hour with the standard speed limit set at 60 miles/hr.
- Alcohol Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol is taken very seriously in Ireland and heavy penalties will be imposed on those found to be above the legal blood/alcohol limit. Random breath alcohol testing by the Gardai (Police) can take place at any time.
- Roundabouts Roundabouts (rotaries) are uncommon in the U.S. but are a standard feature of Irish road networks. The rules for using roundabouts are simple: Yield to all vehicles coming from your right and always turn left on entering the roundabout.
In the case of an accident you will need to call the police (in Ireland they are called Garda), and if anyone is injured also call an Ambulance; the telephone number is 999 for both. If there is any damage to the car or injury to a passenger then calling the police is essential. You will need to take contact details of all witnesses to the accident. If you have a camera make sure you take photographs from all angles before any vehicle is moved. Always take the name and address or telephone number of any potential witnesses to the accident in case of disputes arising later. If you have hired a car you must contact your rental company immediately.
Tips for Drivers
It usually takes between a few hours and a day to get used to a new driving environment, particularly if you have not driven in the country before. The following are some tips to help you adjust:
- If you normally drive an automatic, ensure that you specify automatic when making your reservation
- When you drive the car for the first time, drive around at the airport a few times to get familiar with the controls and driving on the left-hand side of the road
- Try to stay on M & N rated roads (avoiding R roads) for the first day or so until you are familiar with your car and the driving environment
- Ensure you have a good map or GPS and ideally have someone other than the driver to navigate
- Take your time – drive slowly at first until you gain confidence. Watch the signs carefully!
- If you cross the road to park or to visit a gas station, be sure to return to a driving position on the left-hand side when you return to road!
Where and How Do I Research My Irish Ancestors?
There are two main centers for genealogical research in Ireland. They are Dublin, mainly for the 26 counties of the Republic, and Belfast for the 6 counties of Northern Ireland primarily. It would be worthwhile contacting them for full details before you go. The main record repositories in Dublin are:
- The General Register Office (GRO), in Lombard Street, Dublin 2.
- The National Archives of Ireland (NAI) are located in Bishop Street, Dublin 8.
- The National Library of Ireland (NLI) is situated in Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
- The main record repositories in Belfast are:
- The General Registry Office of Northern Ireland is located in Oxford House, 49-55 Chichester Street, Belfast.
- Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is situated in 66, Balmoral Avenue, Belfast.
- The Linen Hall Library is located in 17, Donegall Square North, Belfast.
Additional Helpful Information
Making Phone Calls
Area codes in Ireland range from one number (the Dublin area code is “1″) to three. Within Ireland, you dial 0 before the area code. Outside of Ireland, however, you do not dial 0 before the area code.
Individuals must be age 18 or over to be served alcoholic beverages in Ireland. Restaurants with liquor licenses are permitted to serve alcohol during the hours when meals are served. Hotels and guesthouses with licenses can serve during normal hours to the public; overnight guests, referred to as “residents,” can be served after closing hours. Alcoholic beverages by the bottle can be purchased at stores displaying OFF-LICENSE signs and at most supermarkets, but only during legal drinking hours. Ireland has very severe laws and penalties regarding driving while intoxicated, so don’t even think about it.
Drugstores are called “chemist shops” and are found in every city, town, and village. Look under “Chemists — Pharmaceutical” in the Golden Pages of the Irish telephone book or “Chemists — Dispensing” in the Yellow Pages of the Northern Ireland telephone book.
Embassies & Consulates
The American Embassy is at 42 Elgin Rd., Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (tel. 01/668-8777); the Canadian Embassy is at 7-8 Wilton Terrace, 3rd Floor, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/417-4100); the British Embassy is at 29 Merrion Rd., Dublin 2 (tel. 01/205-3700); and the Australian Embassy is at Fitzwilton House, 7th Floor, Wilton Terrace, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/664-5300). In addition, there is an American Consulate at Danesfort House, 223 Stranmillis Rd., Belfast BT9 5GR (tel. 028/9038-6100).
For the Garda (police), fire, ambulance, or other emergencies, dial tel. 999.
Ireland has two official languages: English and Gaelic (also known as Irish). All native Irish can speak English. Gaelic is growing in popularity, and there is a strong national movement to preserve and expand use of the language. Areas of the country where Gaelic is protected are known as the Gaeltacht and include Donegal, Galway, and parts of Kerry. In these regions, signs are in Gaelic, which is a complex and ancient language that you will not be able to figure out on your own. Ask for help (in English) if you get lost — despite the government’s best efforts, everybody in Gaeltacht regions speaks English.
The metric system of measurement is used in Ireland, with nonmetric equivalents as follows. Temperature: 32°F = 0°C. Liquid volume: 1 liter = .26 U.S. gallon; 1 U.S. gallon = 3.8 liters. Distance: 1 foot = .30m; 1m = 3.3 feet; 1 mile = 1.6km; 1km = .62 mile. Weight: 1 ounce = 28 grams; 1 pound = .4555 kilogram; 1 gram = .04 ounce; 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds.
In the Republic of Ireland, a law enforcement officer is called a Garda, a member of the Garda Síochána (“Guardian of the Peace”); in the plural, it’s Gardaí (pronounced Gar-dee) or simply “the Guards.” Dial tel. 999 to reach the Gardaí in an emergency. Except for special detachments, Irish police are unarmed and wear dark blue uniforms. In Northern Ireland you can also reach the police by dialing tel. 999.
As in many European countries, sales tax is called VAT (value-added tax) and is often already included in the price quoted to you or shown on price tags. VAT charged on services such as hotel stays, meals, car rentals, and entertainment cannot be refunded to visitors, but the VAT on products such as souvenirs is refundable.
Most hotels and guesthouses add a service charge to the bill, usually 12.5% to 15%, although some smaller places add only 10% or nothing at all. Always check to see what amount, if any, has been added to your bill. If it is 12.5% to 15%, and you feel this is sufficient, then there is no need for more gratuities. However, if a smaller amount has been added or if staff members have provided exceptional service, it is appropriate to give additional cash gratuities. For porters or bellhops, tip €1 ($1.60) per piece of luggage. For taxi drivers, hairdressers, and other providers of service, tip as you would at home, an average of 10% to 15%.
For restaurants, the policy is usually printed on the menu — either a gratuity of 10% to 15% is automatically added to your bill or it’s left up to you. Always ask if you are in doubt. As a rule, bartenders do not expect a tip, except when table service is provided.
Public restrooms are usually simply called “toilets” or are marked with international symbols. In the Republic of Ireland, some of the older ones still carry the Gaelic words FIR (MEN) and MNA (WOMEN). Among the newest and best-kept restrooms are those found at shopping malls and at multistory parking lots. Free restrooms are available to customers of sightseeing attractions, museums, hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops, theaters, and department stores. Most of the newer gas stations (called “petrol stations” in Ireland) have public toilets, and a few have baby-changing facilities.
Tap water throughout the island of Ireland is generally safe. However, some areas in the west of Ireland have been battling with out-of-date water purification systems. Keep an eye out for signs warning you that water is not drinkable, and consider always carrying a large bottle of water with you.
Contacts for Visitor Information
In the United States — Contact Tourism Ireland, 345 Park Ave., New York, NY 10154 (tel. 800/223-6470 in the U.S., or 212/418-0800; fax 212/371-9052; www.discoverireland.com/us).
In Ireland — Tourist Board/Bord Fáilte, Baggot Street Bridge, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/602-4000; fax 01/602-4100; www.discoverireland.ie).
Northern Ireland Tourist Board, 16 Nassau St., Dublin 2 (tel. 01/679-1977; fax 01/679-1863; www.discovernorthernireland.com).
In Northern Ireland — Northern Ireland Tourist Board, St. Anne’s Court, 59 North St., Belfast BT1 1NB, tel. 028/9023-1221; www.discovernorthernireland.com.
Geography & History