My recent trip to Ireland happened completely unexpectedly. Honestly, I had been thinking about visiting Ireland, the beautiful home country of Scarlett O’Hara’s family, before. In fact, a trip to this part of Europe seemed like a perfect idea in a year or two. But apparently, my curiosity didn’t want to wait that long. Sweeping hills, lush, green fields, and centuries-old castles of the Emerald Isle called my name much sooner. And as a vivid traveler I easily gave in to this call. But I have to admit, lack of travel companions put me on edge in the beginning of this journey. Nevertheless, visiting Ireland for the first time turned out to be such a positive experience especially when you know a few things about the island beforehand.
Not going into all details (otherwise, this blog post would have no end), I have compiled a list of things one should know before visiting Ireland for the first time. It includes some tips on how to dress, how to get around and much more. If you’re ready, let’s begin.
HERE ARE 17 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE VISITING IRELAND FOR THE FIRST TIME:
1. Have your passport with you at all times when visiting Ireland for the first, second or any time.
The island of Ireland consists of two countries: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom. Thus, when traveling from the south to the north of the island and vise versa, you need to present your passport on the border. Moreover, neither of these countries are parts of the Schengen Area. Therefore, you can travel from the UK to Ireland and from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland with a UK visa or an Irish short-stay visa.
2. Bring different currencies when visiting the island of Ireland
Despite travel regulations that prevent the Republic of Ireland from signing the Schengen Agreement, the country is a member state of the European Union. Thus, euro is the official currency here.
Northern Ireland like the rest of the United Kingdom uses pound sterling. Therefore, it’s recommended to bring different currencies if you’re planning on visiting both countries of the island of Ireland.
3. Take advantage of language if you can when visiting Ireland
The Republic of Ireland has two official languages: Irish Gaelic and English. Both of them have equal rights especially when it comes to street signs where English always follows Irish Gaelic.
Irish kids learn Gaelic in school until they turn 16 years old. Unfortunately, for many of them it marks the end of their active use of this language. Therefore, only about 20% of the Irish speak Gaelic. However, according to my Irish friend, you can definitely take advantage of this language. When, for example, police officer stops you for speeding, you can respond to him or her in Gaelic. And if the government official is not able to communicate in this language, he or she can’t prosecute you. On the other hand, you’ll face the full severity of the law if that police officer happens to be a real Irish that speaks the first official language of the country.
Northern Ireland doesn’t have an official language. However, when visiting this part of the island of Ireland for the first time, you’ll notice that English is the dominant spoken language here.
4. Make friends when visiting Ireland for the first and hundredth time
The Irish are generally friendly and relaxed. In fact, the Irish phrase céad míle fáilte, which means “a hundred thousand welcomes”, fully describes the welcoming nature of the Irish people. A hundred thousand welcomes for visiting our beautiful Ireland. With that being said, making friends in Ireland is not only easy, but also encouraging. Thus, regardless if it’s your first or hundredth visit, you won’t leave the country without making new friends.
5. Be aware of Irish beliefs
On top of being friendly, the Irish are in general superstitious and believe in their old legends and tales. Therefore, for example the unlucky number 13 finds many supporters on the Emerald Isle. Even a bird poo on you is believed to bring good luck. But above all, the Irish believe in mystical nature of Fairy trees, also known as Hawthorn or Ash trees. As the gateway between worlds of mortals and fairies, these trees are believed to bring bad luck to anybody who tries to damage or cut them down.
6. Admire clean cities and towns when visiting Ireland
The Irish take special pride in having their cities and towns clean and tidy. They don’t do it for the purpose of impressing millions of tourists visiting Ireland yearly. On the contrary, the Irish take tidiness of their places very seriously. In fact, there is cleanliness competition between different Irish cities and towns. Every morning volunteers get outside and pick up trash, trim the trees and bring up their hometowns to the European level of cleanliness. Then every September during a special ceremony in Dublin, the winners get gold, silver and bronze medals in different categories. However, a medal is just a reward. National pride is what motivates the Irish to keep their towns and cities clean.
7. Lean how to drive on the left when visiting Ireland for the first time
By far one of the biggest obstacles you might face when visiting Ireland is how to drive on the left side of the road. Along with citizens of the United Kingdom and old British colonies, the Irish belong to 35% of the world population that drives on the opposite side of the road.
8. Master your driving skills on narrow roads of Ireland
Besides driving on the left, narrow roads of Ireland scare many first-time visitors from driving here. The roads especially in the countryside get so narrow that vehicles driving in the opposite directions almost collide when passing each other.
9. Get small car when visiting Ireland
If these two reasons still don’t stop you from renting a car when visiting the island of Ireland, opt for a smaller car. It will not only make it easier to navigate the Irish roads, but also simplifies parking situation. Larger Irish cities require parallel parking that can become a real hustle with a big car.
10. Enjoy landscape diversity
Even if you are a big city fan, take time to venture outside major cities and explore Irish nature. Just like people go to Paris to see Eiffel Tower, visiting Ireland is not complete without admiring its natural wonders. From the majestic Cliffs of Moher to stunning Wicklow Mountains and Giant’s Causeway, Ireland has one of a kind adventure ready for you.
11. Layer up when visiting Ireland especially if it’s your first visit
They say Ireland has 40 shades of green. But it takes 50 shades of grey to make these 40 shades of green. And with these 50 shades of grey comes unpredictable weather with lots of rain and strong winds. The latter, especially by the sea, don’t forget to remind you about extraordinary power of nature. They are so strong that can literally knock you off. The best way to withstand naughty weather of Ireland is to layer up. Moreover, make umbrella an integral part of your attire when visiting Ireland.
12. Recycling is encouraged in Ireland
The Green Island doesn’t take its name for granted. Recycling is not uncommon here. In fact, many cafes and restaurants encourage their guests not to ask to pack their food as a takeout if they plan to dine inside. Don’t waste plastic and paper when there is no need for it.
13. Get to airport early
If your next destination after visiting Ireland includes a stop somewhere in the US, make sure to get to your airport at least three hours in advance. While this tip is appropriate for almost any country, Ireland has all reasons for it. All passengers traveling from Ireland to the US go through additional US preclearance. This alone almost doubles the time you need to pass through the airport security. However, when you get across the Atlantic Ocean, you just grab your bag and go. Considering amount of people traveling to the US and consequently long lines at the airports there, Ireland makes you a huge favor in this case.
14. Make sure to eat before going through US preclearance
At the same time, no food including fruits is allowed after you go through the US preclearance facilities. To make things worse, the food choices on the other side are far from being great. You are stuck with muffins and expensive pre-packed sandwiches. Finding something healthy here is almost impossible. Thus, make sure to eat or pack some dry snacks before going through the US preclearance area in Ireland.
15. To immigrate or not to immigrate to Ireland after visiting it for the first time
If after visiting Ireland for the first time, you’re compelled to make it your new home, the good news is that it’s not that difficult. As the young Irish flee the island in search of better opportunities, Ireland welcomes professionals from other countries. Moreover, it provides plenty of work opportunities for its new residents.
16. Housing including hotels is very expensive
However, housing is what keeps newcomers questioning their decision to stay permanently in Ireland after their first visit. People often don’t see value in leaving their big, comfortable homes abroad in order to pay much more for a tiny apartment somewhere in Dublin. Buying a house is another painful topic. An average family simply can’t afford it on its own. Living outside major cities is significantly cheaper though.
Similar situation is with hotels. You need to shell out a big portion of your travel budget on accommodation when visiting Ireland. To lower these expenses, you can try to avoid city centers and instead opt for cheaper hotel rooms a bit farther away.
17. Remember about short days in winder
Ireland has short days during colder seasons of the year. The Irish get approximately eight hours of daylight from October until February. So, keep it in mind when planning your daily activities when visiting Ireland during this time of the year.