Digital Ireland Travel Tips

or what the other Irish travel or tip sites won't tell you

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 We've added a new feature to the site, our Ireland Travel Checklist. Use it to get your packing in order. We usually start a month or so ahead of time, pick an area, and start piling up the items on the list. We sort them and a couple of weeks before start putting things in the luggage. We have a combination of checked and carry on luggage. We have two pieces of checked luggage each. Usually at least one is collapsible (some sort of duffle) and can be packed in one of the full cases. We then have between two and three pieces of checked luggage with an extra to pack gifts and misc. stuff on the way back. We check initial weights and distribute luggage to stay within restrictions. On the way back, we break out the fourth bag and redistribute again to meet the weight restrictions.
 We also have a carry on and a personal item each. I carry the camera bag and a small roll case. Karen has a purse and small backpack. We try and bring some basics in the roll case in case our check in luggage is delayed or lost. It is also a good way to carry breakables.

The Basics

  • How do I get there? Dublin and Shannon are the major airports. Depending on your itinerary, fly into one or the other. You can fly into one and out the other and drop your car at the end. This may make more sense unless you want to do one big loop.

  • How do I get around? You can get a rail pass, drive or take buses. Driving will get you around with the least amount of trouble. We always get a car at the airport, reserved online in advance.

  • Do I need a passport? The short answer is yes. Make sure it is current. If you need one, get it several months in advance to allow for delays.

  • What should I wear? Depends on how you travel. By in large the Irish are less casual in their attire. You won't see jeans and t-shirts as much. Leave your Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts at home. It is hard not to look like a tourist if you have a camera and/or pack. In large cities it isn't an issue. In smaller towns consider business casual to fit in. Keep the bright colors and neon stuff at home.

  • Is it safe to visit Northern Ireland? Again, the short answer is yes. However, check the news for the current situation.

  • What is the monetary unit? The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro. Northern Ireland uses the British Pound.

  • What language is used? English is the primary language with Gaelic spoken in some areas secondary to English. Accents can be quite strong, but they are probably speaking English. Signs can be in English and Gaelic or Gaelic only.

  • What about driving? Driving is on the opposite side of the road as the US. So is the steering wheel. It takes some getting used to, but shouldn't put you off. Take your license. Driving in the major cities is a nightmare. Park and walk or get a bus pass. Use your credit card insurance if possible. Drunk driving laws are stiff, so have a designated driver if you're visiting the pubs.

  • What about smoking? All pubs are non-smoking in the Republic. There is a fine for the smoker and pub owner, so don't try it. This includes restaurants and other public buildings. Check on the policy in your hotel and B&B.

  • What about insurance? Get insurance before you leave. Check on what your credit card will cover on the auto. Also check on your medical before you leave to be sure you are covered and take the proper documentation with you.

  • What about weather conditions? Plan for rain, dress in layers, have some waterproof gear and you'll be fine. Weather can shift several times in a day and by in large you'll be pleasantly surprised.

  • Hours of Operation? Irish businesses including banks seem to have their own hours. In general it is Monday-Friday 09:30-16:30. In Dublin, banks stay open Thursday until 17:00. What is posted isn't necessarily what happens. We've stood on the wrong side of a door many a time with the hours clearly posted, but the door locked. Most businesses are closed on Sunday's in small towns.

  • What about tipping? We've found that it is similar to the US. Tipping in the pubs isn't necessary unless you're eating, but can create some good will and attention. Around 7-12% seems fine unless you're very happy or unhappy with the service. Remember your ideas of service may not be the norm.

  • What about taxes? Taxes are problematic in Ireland and can be high, between 17-21% depending on the products. You can shop tax free in some shops or get a tax document that you can turn in later for a refund. The refund may or may not happen. One time we received a refund over a year later. The process is painful and may or may not be worth it depending on how much you are spending. The airport has a tax booth that you can use to turn in your receipts and apply for a refund. Give yourself time as it can be a slow process.

  • What about power? Irelands electricity supply is 220 volts at 50hz, whereas the United States uses 120 volts at 60hz.  You'll need travel adapters for your electronics. Make sure that your electronic device can switch to accommodate 220 otherwise you'll need a travel converter (most include one each of the different adapters).

How to purchase and drink a pint of Guinness. The first key is to go to the bar to place your order. If you get a seat at a table, it would be a good while until someone comes over to take an order. Place your order with the bartender, pay if he asks or if you're only having one pint and then go sit down. Guinness takes awhile to pour properly and unless there is one partially poured, it will take a few minutes. Keep an eye out for the bartender to signal you that your pint is ready. Go back up to the bar and collect it and return carefully to your table. You don't want to spill it after all this time. At this point techniques will vary. I've heard you can tell by the rings of foam on the inside of the glass you can tell the nationality of the drinker. If there are 12-15 rings, you're American. If there are 8-12 rings, you're English. If there are 5-8 rings, you're Irish. If there is 2 or less, you're Australian. In any event, you can choose your method and enjoy your pint.

If someone is friendly enough to offer to buy you a Guinness or drink, you must be prepared to return the favor. It is expected. This goes for women, too. If she has been given a drink, she will be expected to buy a round when it’s her turn. If you offer to buy a round, you must stay until everyone has had their chance to return the favor. If your crowd consists of seven people, you will be expected to stay for (and drink) seven pints, be careful. Don’t be slow in ordering the round when it’s your turn. This could be considered poor manners and you might not be treated as nicely on the next occasion.

In Dublin, get a city bus tour pass. It is cheaper than the regular bus and faster. You can get on an off the bus at major sites and buses come by quite often. The driver has a running narrative which can be amusing. Make sure you pay attention to what color bus you get on. There are red ones and yellow ones, don't mix them up. Most buses are double deckers and sitting up on top can be fun if you're taking a longer ride. It is hard to get off when you have to go down the stairs and to the front to disembark. We didn't find that the Dublin Pass was a good buy for us, but it might work for you.

Take a travel adapter for your electronics when traveling from the US to Ireland. Irelands electricity supply is 220 volts at 50hz, whereas the United States uses 120 volts at 60hz. 
Make sure that your electronic device can switch to accommodate 220 otherwise you'll need a travel converter (most include one each of the different adapters). 
The plugs in Ireland look like the first two images below. Your normal plug goes into the back. I usually carry about 3 or 4. The second image is a travel converter with different plugs. Don't forget your battery chargers for your phone, camera and GPS! (see our checklist)


When you arrive at the airport, don't be cheap. Rent a cart (one or two Euro) for your luggage, you'll usually get it back when you return the cart. It will lower your stress, and make looking for a rental car or other transportation easier. You'll probably have a long walk to the car and carrying all your luggage will be tiring. This is especially true in Dublin Airport but applicable to Shannon as well. Many grocery stores charge for the carts as well, but return the money when you return the cart.

Buy a Duchas Heritage Pass card. You can buy the pass online or at any of the sites. It gets you into about 65 sites and saves a lot of money if you're visiting heritage attractions. You get a book with the pass that shows the site locations and a description of each location.
You can view the list of sites here.  
The Duchas Heritage Pass is about 21 Euro per person. Senior and family rates are available.

Think about traveling lighter. Take enough clothes for 5 days and plan on visiting a laundry do either do your own laundry or drop it off and pick it up later. We've had good success both ways, but found the drop off and pick up later option works very well. Your laundry will be washed and neatly folded for a reasonable price. Prices vary between large cities and smaller towns. If you decide to do your own laundry, the option below works well instead of buying detergent.

If you really like your coffee in the morning, and are a bit of a coffee snob, you might want to bring your own. (note the coffee was better in 2007). We like good coffee and grind our own from a variety of sources available locally. Coffee we bought in a coffee shop or stores invariably tasted like day old, weak stuff percolated in one of those large aluminum vats. Much of it came from The Netherlands, and not at all impressive. Conversely the tea is almost always excellent. You might want to get your caffeine fix that way. Starbucks is very rare in Ireland except one in Dublin.

Rent your car online prior to leaving, it is cheaper and easier than negotiating at the airport. Use Irish Car Rentals as they have the best prices and good service. Get a manual if you can drive one, they are a lot cheaper than an automatic. Make sure you allow for people and luggage in your vehicle choice. Get the smallest car possible, the roads are narrow, but make sure you are comfortable and have room for your luggage. We found the Opel Zefira to be a good choice when traveling with older people. It is easy to get in and out of and holds a good deal of luggage. It sits up a bit higher than a car allowing for better visibility.
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Scampi can have a different meaning in parts of Ireland. Most people would assume that scampi refers to shrimp cooked in butter and herbs. We saw scampi on the menu in a restaurant and asked for it, they were out. We returned a few nights later and, oh joy, they had it. When it arrived it was shaped more like a pack of gum than a shrimp. On further investigation it proved to be a fish stick. They were fine as fish sticks go, just not an adequate substitute for shrimp when your mouth is set on it. The waitress confirmed that scampi meant "fish fingers" there. The Irish couple next to us said that they always thought it meant shrimp too. The lesson is to look for "shrimp scampi" or ask what the waiter believes scampi to be.

This advice is for all ages! To ease travel/flying discomfort, invest in some prunes and prune juice prior to leaving and start eating in moderation the day before. It keeps things moving that can become blocked during a long flight.

An Irish mile can be anywhere from "around the corner" to 10 miles.

If you are told it is a "wee stretch of the legs," tie on your walking shoes.

I take a good many pictures when I travel to Ireland. I've used point and shoot, to larger fixed lens cameras to DSLRs. My mileage varies as will yours. The trade off is portability vs. image quality. The point and shoot fits in your pocket or small bag, but you won't get the nice interior shots in low light that you can with a DSLR. Of course you could be a tourist and use the flash, blinding everyone in the pub and disturbing the poor musician causing him to drop the family fiddle onto the flagstone floor. OK, you don't want to be that guy (or gal). Learn how to use your camera, turn off the flash and bump up the ISO setting.

Here are a few cameras that I either have or want to have when traveling. Read the reviews, think about what kind of pictures you like to take and get what works for you!

Highly rated weather proof and waterproof camera. Perfect for those soft Irish days or a tropical beach excursion.

Very nice performance inside our outside. Will take great pictures in the pubs.

Canon makes some great gear. This one is a solid performer across the board. The next best thing to a DSLR.

The best option to get your feet wet in the DSLR world.

The top end of the Nikon line without paying an arm and a leg The next step up is into the Pro line.

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Last Updated on Monday, February 28, 2011