50 things you need to know before traveling to Ireland

For the first time in this series, we are not doing a travel guide on a country but an island! This post is a guide on how to travel to Ireland, the island. This includes the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

In this article, you’ll find everything you want to know when visiting Ireland, the people, the travel attractions, the costs, the food and drinks, and so on…

Ireland and the Locals

#1 The island of Ireland is located in the North Atlantic, West of Great Britain. Together (with all the smaller ones), they form the British Isles.

#2 Politically, the island is divided into the Republic of Ireland in the south, occupying 5/6 of the island, and Northern Ireland, which covers the rest. Northern Ireland is often referred to as Ulster because it roughly occupies the Ulster region of Ireland.

#3 The Republic of Ireland is mainly catholic, while Northern Ireland is mostly divided between Catholics (41%) and Protestants (41,5%). This caused a very tumultuous 20th century in Ireland, with civil wars, terrorist attacks, and many, many people killed.

Almost everything in Ireland’s history comes back to the tension between Catholics and Protestants, and if you are attentive, you’ll still see it, more or less hidden.

Peace Wall in Belfast 50 things you need to know before traveling to Ireland
The peace wall in Belfast, Northern Ireland

#4 Nowadays, things in Northern Ireland are much more peaceful, and it’s perfectly safe to travel around. One can still see monuments and street art referring to those times, but that’s it. This is particularly obvious in Derry, where we can visit the Free Derry Corner and the Bloody Sunday memorial in the Bogside.

Things to know before traveling to Ireland
Free Derry sign

#5 Ireland has less population today (6.5M) than it had in 1841 (8M). This is extremely rare, if not unique, among developed countries. So, what happened?

Between 1845 and 1849, the potato crop failed due to a late blight which destroyed the plant’s leaves and edible roots. Ireland was so heavily dependent on potatoes that more than 1M people died of starvation and disease, and up to 1.5M migrated (mainly to the US).

This is usually called the great famine or the Irish Potato Famine.

#6 How’s the climate in Ireland? It rains… a lot (between 150 and 220 days a year),  although the temperature is much warmer than one would expect in such a northern country due to the warm North Atlantic current.

The profound impact of the Atlantic means that Ireland lacks extreme temperatures, with weather rarely going over 30º and lower than -2º/-3º. Usually, Ireland receives cool summers and mild and wetter winters.

What does this mean to you as a traveler? It’s much better to travel in Summer than in Winter! It’s warmer and rains less. Yet, everyone knows it, and everything is much more crowded.

Blarney Castle, Ireland
Blarney Castle | Things to know before going to Ireland.

#7 Furthermore, you should consider that the daylight hours are also very reduced in winter, making winter travel more difficult.

So, what’s the best time to visit Ireland? We believe that May is the best month to go to Ireland! Sunshine and daylight hours are big, it doesn’t rain as much as in Wintertime, and the huge crowds of tourists aren’t there yet.

#8 Ireland has two official languages, English and Irish. While Irish is considered the first and national language, only about one-third of the population can speak it; on the other hand, English is spoken by virtually everyone.

Note that Irish people have a noticeably strong accent… to the point of being difficult to understand sometimes. Though, after getting used to it, it becomes easier.

everything you need to know when traveling to Ireland
Things to know before going to Ireland

#9 Irish people are very communicative. It’s perfectly normal to enter a pub, and people start talking to you. In this regard, they are very different from other North European people.

#10 Another thing about the Irish that will strike you is how smiling and generally nice almost everyone is. In the stores, in the streets, everywhere, people will smile at you. It makes everything much easier and more pleasant. We loved the Irish!

Irish Pub - everything you need to know when you travel to Ireland
Irish Pub

#11 Irish are famously red-headed. In fact, the Republic of Ireland is the country with the most red-headed people per capita in the world! Yet, only 10% of the Irish are red-headed.

If you are into redheads, Ireland is a great place to go! Just don’t expect everyone to be redheads.

#12 You probably know that Ireland is called the Emerald Island. And it’s really easy to understand why! The whole island is covered in intense green vegetation, mainly grassland. All the rain, moderate temperatures, and moist air we discussed earlier are perfect for creating that incredible green!

Travel to Ireland, the Emerald Island
Emerald Island

Where to Travel in Ireland

#13 Ireland (the island) is home to only 3 UNESCO Heritage sites, two in the Republic of Ireland and the other in Northern Ireland. These are:

  • The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast, in Northern Ireland;
  • The Boyne Valley tombs (also referred to as Newgrange);
  • The Skellig Michael Monastery;
Giant's Causeway  UNESCO Heritage site
Giant’s Causeway – a UNESCO Heritage site

Things to do and see in the Republic of Ireland

#14 When visiting Ireland, one should note that Dublin (and maybe Cork) differs greatly from the rest of Ireland. Ireland is very rural, with many small towns and villages living at a very slow pace, while Dublin is a fast-paced, modern city. 

#15 Dublin is particularly lively at night when all the pubs in the town center are full of people, both locals and tourists. Going to a pub and experiencing the atmosphere is definitely one of the things you need to do in Ireland.

If you can, go during a rugby or football match night – everything will be even more enjoyable.

#16 Besides the nightlife, Dublin has many other points of interest you shouldn’t miss. We strongly suggest doing one of the many walking tours to get a sense of the city quickly. We did the Sandman’s free walking tour, which was fun and informative. One of the best we have ever done. (Almost as good as Munich’s).

PS: At the end of the tour, you’ll probably be allowed to grab boobs. Now that we think about it, this was way better than Munich! 🙂

Important travel tip: Whatever you do, don’t miss the Trinity College Library and the book of Kells. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Ireland.

Dublin's castle - what to know before going to Ireland
Dublin’s castle

#17 The Trinity College Library was created in the 16th century, and it’s a legal repository of books published in Ireland. The Long Room in the Library is probably one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It’s for sure the most beautiful we have ever been!

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. Created about 800 AD, they are believed to be the world’s most ancient books and Ireland’s finest National treasures. If you are in Dublin, you have to go there! 

You need to buy a ticket to the book of Kells, if you do it online, you’ll skip the lines and guarantee your time slot.

Trinity College Library - what to know about Ireland travel
Trinity College Library

#18 Besides the Trinity College Library, some of the other popular things to do in Dublin include going to the Guinness Storehouse and visiting the Kilmainham Gaol.

#19 Now, let’s go away from Dublin, particularly to Galway. Galway is a charming coastal town with lots of tradition. In all honesty, I don’t think the city has anything unique, but there are quite a few interesting things to do in Galway County! Yet, it’s worth rambling around for a few hours, particularly at night.

If you do this, make sure you wander through the Latin Quarter, Quay Street, Shop-Street, and Eire Square. We also strongly advise you to go to the waterside and enjoy the views.

Finally, Galway is an excellent base for seeing the cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Connemara, and the Aran Islands, which is the main reason why it’s so popular among travelers.

Streets of Galway Irland travel guide
Streets of Galway

#20 Our favorite thing to see in Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher. They are absolutely breathtaking. The way the island ends in a 300-meter-high cliff is incredible,  while the shape of the coast creates remarkable natural lookouts, where you can enjoy the views. To truly enjoy this place, you should take 2 or 3 hours to hike the several paths to the north and south of the official lookouts.

You should note that you need to pay an 8 Euro parking fee to enter (per person, not per car), and that’s virtually impossible to park anywhere else but in the official parking. It’s quite sad that such a natural place is imprisoned just to charge a few Euros.

Travel tip: You can do the cliffs, the Burren, and Galway as a day trip from Dublin, but unless it’s your only option, we strongly advise against it. It’s really long and tiring, and you’ll appreciate very little from it!

Cliffs of Moher - Ireland guide
View from the Cliffs of Moher

#21 The Ring of Kerry is a circular road through the Kerry peninsula famous for its dramatic and bucolic views. It’s really worth it, but you should take a full day for it. It’s longer than it looks, and if you want to take your time to stop and actually enjoy it, you’ll need at least a full day.

However, you should note that the Ring of Kerry is now very famous among travelers, and during peak season, you are doomed to get a lot of tourists. If this bothers you, maybe have a look at the Dingle peninsula below.

Going in the winter could be an option, but the weather in this region is really harsh, and you’ll probably only see fog and rain (unfortunately, we know what we are talking about…).

 Ring of Kerry in Ireland - things to know when traveling to Ireland
Ring of Kerry in Ireland

#22 On the edge of the Ring is the beautiful Killarney National Park with amazing lookouts like the Ladies’ views, a stunning waterfall, and a few historical sights, Ross Castle,  Muckross Abbey, House, and Gardens.

In this region (yet, slightly outside the park), you really need to check the Dunloe pass. It’s a nice, narrow mountain road full of sharp turns with probably the most beautiful scenery in Ireland. When it rains, it becomes full of waterfalls on both sides of the road, with watercourses coming from everywhere.

Killarney National park in Ireland
Killarney National park

#23 The Dingle peninsula is similar to Kerry, but it has fewer tourists, so it could be an option if you want to escape the big crowds. However, note that there’s a reason why it has fewer people; it isn’t as magnificent as Kerry.

In the Dingle peninsula, we suggest you look at the charming village of Dingle, the Slea Head Drive, which has some amazing views, and the Connor Pass.

Dingle Peninsula in Ireland
Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

#24 Finally, we have castles. They are spread all over Ireland, most of them in ruins. You should note that some are very underwhelming and overrated. At least, when you come from other European countries with pretty amazing castles and palaces.

Nevertheless, some are interesting and worth a visit, though a bit expensive. Our favorites are:

  • Blarney Castle – where you can kiss (upside down) the Blarney stone and receive the gift of gab. Note that it costs 18E to enter the castle and gardens.
  • Kilkenny Castle – Which was home to the once powerful Butler family. The guided tour of this very well-preserved castle is very interesting. The ticket costs 8 euros (but includes the guided tour).
  • Rock of Cashel – not exactly a castle, but a series of historic buildings built on the top of the rock. It’s a tremendous sight from far away and a really neat visit. The ticket, which includes a guided tour, costs 8 euros.
Kilkenny Castle - Travel Guide Ireland
Kilkenny Castle

Things to do and see in Northern Ireland

#25 Belfast is the capital and biggest city in Northern Ireland. It’s a rather modern city with some historic attractions. Among these, the city hall, the Belfast Castle, and the Albert Memorial clock are probably the most famous.

City center of Belfast, Ireland
The city center of Belfast

Yet, the biggest attraction in Belfast is the Titanic Museum in the regenerated area called Titanic Quarter. This whole area looks very nice and enjoyable to walk around. We have never actually visited the museum, so we can’t vouch for (or against) it. But it is pricey!

Click here to know more about it.

Finally, our favorite thing to do in Belfast is visit St. George’s Market, with its delicious homemade food, particularly the breakfast Baps (check below for more info) and the Irish fudge.

 St. George's Market in Belfast, Northern Ireland Guide
Delicious desserts and fudge in St. George’s Market, Belfast

#26 Despite being the second city in Northern Ireland, Derry (or Londonderry, if you are English) is a much smaller town. Derry is located very close to the “border” and suffered very much during the violent times of the 20th century. Bloody Sunday is an example of those difficult times.

Derry city center, Irland
Views of the city center of Derry

The most important feature of Derry is its walls, the best preserved in Ireland and Great Britain. They are quite impressive, and you can walk on them all around, which creates some really scenic spots.

Between the walls and the riverside is the Guildhall. This is an interesting building that looks like a church, but, in fact, it’s the city hall. The entrance is free.

 Guildhall, City Hall of Derry, Ireland
Guildhall, city hall of Derry | things to known before visiting Ireland

#27 The Giant’s Causeway, located on the island’s north coast, is a singular place, a geological wonder because of its very unusual rock formations. The whole coastline area and cliffs are made of these distinctive hexagonal volcanic stone formations. Despite this uniqueness and very weird formation, we felt this to be a little underwhelming.

You should note that it is not necessary to go via the visitor’s center, which charges a fee. So, if you manage to park your car, you can visit this UNESCO heritage for free.

Giant's Causeway, Ireland
Giant’s Causeway – one of the best things to see in Northern Ireland

#28 Relatively close to the giant’s causeway, there’s the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which connects the mainland to a sort of island that salmon fishers first put up years ago for salmon fishing.

Crossing the bridge is quite expensive (8 euros), but hiking the trail to it is free. You should know that there’s almost nothing on the other side of the small bridge, so the fee is basically to cross a rope bridge.

Everything you need to know before going to Ireland
Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is one of our favorite things to do in Northern Ireland.

Yet, I would still encourage you to do it. It’s quite fun and sometimes a bit windy. Anyhow, those are some expensive 30 seconds 🙂

If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you probably already know that lots of the sights you see in the show were filmed in Northern Ireland. There are even several Game of Thrones tours that allow you to have a complete Game of Thrones experience, visiting several sites and even some role-playing.

What to eat and drink in Ireland

#29 Ireland isn’t famous for its amazing food, and it surely isn’t a foodie’s paradise. No one goes to Ireland to eat… (well, maybe to drink). Yet, It’s still worth trying a few local specialties.

When visiting Ireland, you should know you’ll probably have to eat potatoes. The Irish put potatoes on everything and cooked them in many different ways.

#30 Let’s start where we should, with breakfast. A full Irish breakfast is similar to an English breakfast. This is one of the few dishes that probably won’t include potatoes…

The most common ingredients are bacon rashers, pork sausages, fried eggs (or scrambled), white pudding, black pudding, toast, and fried tomato, but sometimes they may also include beans and mushrooms. So, light stuff 🙂

Irish Breakfast - what to eat in Ireland?
Irish Breakfast

#31 The breakfast Bap or the breakfast roll is even better than the traditional breakfast. This is the adaptation of the full Irish breakfast for the modern, mobile generation. It includes almost everything a traditional full Irish breakfast includes but inside a soft bun (the bap). It’s as delicious as it sounds/looks!

The best place we know to eat these bombs is St. George’s Market in Belfast!

What to eat in Ireland - Ireland facts
The delicious breakfast Bap

#32 One other Irish ingredient that’s famously good is Irish butter. Honestly, at first, I couldn’t taste much of a difference, but after further investigation, apparently, “Irish butter is a European-style butter and has a higher butterfat content than the average American butter.”

This translates into a richer, creamier texture for the butter. Among the Irish butter brands, our favorite brand is Kerrygold which is a little different from other European/Irish butter because it has much more flavor.

#33 The Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake that contains a mixture of mashed and grated potatoes, resulting in a unique texture that’s a half pancake, half hash brown. Honestly, it’s good, but not great, I expected it to be much better.

What to eat in Irland Boxty
What to eat in Ireland – Boxty

#34 The seafood chowder is also very traditional in Ireland. It’s usually made with fish (salmon, cod, etc.) and seafood, while the other common ingredients include potatoes, onions, celery, corn, carrots, bacon, and cream.

We had really high expectations about this, but it was disappointing. The cream cuts the flavor of the fish. And that’s not what we wanted, a fish soup should have a deep, intense fish flavor.

seafood chowder Irish food - things to eat in Ireland
Seafood Chowder

#35 The Irish stew is one of the most typical native dishes. However, it comprises a huge variety of exact recipes, including several types of meats and veggies, not consistent from place to place and even over time.

The most common ingredients include lamb or mutton, as well as potatoes, onions, parsley, and carrots. This is a really hearty farmers’ dish, and I liked it a lot! As a true Portuguese, I love real food! 

 Irish stew
Irish stew

#36 Finally, we have the coddle, which is often made to use leftovers and, therefore, without a specific recipe. However, it most commonly consists of layers of roughly sliced sausages and rashers with chunky potatoes, sliced onion, bacon, salt, pepper, and herbs.

The coddle is the comfort food of the highest degree made in a hearty, nutritious stew-like way. It is highly associated with Dublin, which is the best place to try it.

Typical Irish dish Coddle
Typical Irish dish Coddle

#37 Unsurprisingly, Ireland shares some traditional dishes with the UK. The most well-known are the Sheppard pie, the Fish & Chips, fudge, and both the Black and white pudding. So, if you like any of these, you should take the opportunity to try them in Ireland.

Irish deserts fudge - what to know about travel to Ireland
Decadent Irish Fudge

Money and Costs of traveling to Ireland

#38 As in most Western Europe, Ireland is expensive to travel around. The restaurants, pubs, accommodation, fuel, and attractions will all take a toll on your budget.

Overall, we felt that Northern Ireland is slightly less expensive than the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland countryside
Ireland countryside

#39 What currency is used in Ireland? In the Republic of Ireland, the currency is the Euro, while in Northern Ireland, the currency is the British Pound. When withdrawing money, you should be aware that you can’t use one currency in another country.

#40 As far as we could check, there aren’t ATM costs, and credit and debit cards are widely accepted in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

However, note that you’ll probably need to withdraw money in a foreign currency, and your bank may charge you one or several fees.

Shopping street in Galway, Ireland
Street Shopping in Galway | things to know before traveling to Ireland

#41 So, how much does it cost a week in Ireland? Without flights, we managed to spend only 550€, which means less than 70 Euros per person per day. However, this could easily be 2 or 3 times higher.

Yet, those numbers also mean that despite being expensive overall, it is possible to make it budget-friendly if you:

  • buy at least one meal at supermarkets; (We really like Centra);
  • don’t spend too much on Pubs;
  • travel on the shoulder or low season;
  • travel with a group (to reduce rental and fuel costs);
  • use apartments and Airbnb instead of hotels.
Pub in Galway, Ireland
Pub in Galway

How to travel in Ireland

#42 The easiest way to travel in Ireland is by car. Many of Ireland’s most iconic attractions are remote, and getting there by public transportation could either be difficult and/or very time-consuming.

That being said, Ireland isn’t the most friendly place to rent a car. Insurance is costly, and the price for a second driver is obscene. These tips for renting a car in Ireland will probably help you have a better experience.

Ireland Travel
Roads of Ireland

#43 If you are planning to rent a car, there are a few things you should note:

  • In Ireland, you drive on the left side of the road.
  • Roads are very narrow, and many have very poor pavement;
  • Too many roads don’t have lights.
  • Speed limits are very loose.
  • There are few highways in Ireland.
  • And, among these, even fewer are paid, which is great.

Campervanning is also an excellent option for those who want to have the freedom to drive around and want to save on accommodation. This is a great guide about campervanning in Ireland.

Roads of Killarney National park
Roads of Killarney National Park

#44 Despite these peculiarities, driving through Ireland is very pleasant, as it was expected to be. Some of the best things to do in Ireland is driving the famous roads we referred to above (Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, and some of the passes & gaps).

Driving in Irland 50 things you need to know before traveling to Ireland
Roads in the Dingle Peninsula

Apart from Dublin and Cork, there’s very little traffic in Ireland, which is great for travelers. If you are taking the car to Dublin & Cork, expect major traffic and huge problems with parking. You won’t find free parking, and it will be costly. You may need to pay as much as 30 euros for a day of parking in Dublin.

Drivers in Cork and Dublin are very nervous and impatient, but they aren’t reckless. On the rest of the island, it’s pretty easy and peaceful to drive.

The Dark hedges road Ireland
The Dark hedges road

#45 We barely ever used public transport in Ireland, so we can’t personally vouch for them. However, as far as we have investigated, they work well and can take you to most places. Note that this will obviously be much more time-consuming.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to drive, you can join some amazing tours. Have a look at these!

Other useful information about traveling in Ireland

#46 How’s the internet in Ireland? Surprisingly bad… Well, at least the mobile data. We had constant problems with 3/4 G, particularly in rural areas. Expect long portions of the country with weak or not working data. This was surprising because we had better service in much less developed countries and isolated regions.

On the plus side, If you are from the EU, you get the same data package as at home, which is great!

Also, there’s WiFi almost everywhere, even in some tourist attractions.

Irish Old Church 50 things you need to know before traveling to Ireland
Irish old Church

#47 Please note that things close very early in Ireland, particularly tourist attractions. But even some restaurants close the kitchen at 20/21h… However, even more important, many tourist attractions don’t even open during the winter! And there’s no information about their winter schedule.

If you are going to drive a long way to get to an attraction, make sure it’s open and at what time it will close! Or you’ll be negatively surprised. This happened to us more than once during a winter trip.

 Roads of Killarney National park - Driving in Ireland
Roads of Killarney National Park

#48 How clean is Ireland? It really depends on where you are. The countryside is very clean and tidy, exactly how we expected Ireland to be.

However, the cities (even the touristic, historical centers) weren’t the same. They were often dirty, with trash on the streets and a particularly huge number of chewing gums thrown onto the pavement. 

Come on, Ireland! You can do better than this!

#49 Both Republic and Ireland and Northern Ireland use type G power plugs and sockets (the same as the UK). The standard voltage is 230 V, and the standard frequency is 50 Hz, the same as in the rest of Europe and the UK.

If you need to buy an adapter, we suggest this one.

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#50 If you are wondering if you need a visa to enter Ireland, please check this site for all the information you’ll need.

What vaccines do you need to enter Ireland? There are no required and controlled vaccinations for travelers entering Irish ports or airports. However, some vaccines are recommended for some people. Check the full details here.

Rock of Cashel Ireland
Rock of Cashel

Our recommended travel guide to Ireland

Lonely Planet Ireland (Travel Guide) 

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In case you are wondering, this is also a travel guide to the island of Ireland, which means it includes the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Did you enjoy this post? Have a look at our other posts about Ireland:

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