Travelers looking for charm, friendly people, solid service without a “touristy” feel and plenty of places to explore should plan a vacation to Ireland. In addition to pubs and Riverdance-style step dancers, you also can find local musicians, friendly locals, stunning scenery, ruins and historical sites, and golfing to enjoy at a relaxed pace.

Nearly everyone will find something to enjoy in Ireland, be it the green countryside, Irish whiskey, shopping, bicycling tours or wandering sheep. Traditional culture still thrives, and the Emerald Isle’s people and way of life have not been significantly altered by modern trends. Travelers will find good service, lots of accommodation options and little crime aimed at visitors. Even the souvenir shops seem rather low-key.

Once, we asked an old man for the Irish-language equivalent of manana (“tomorrow” in Spanish). He paused for a moment, then took off his cap and scratched his head, pondering the question. Then he took an old, battered pipe from his pocket, a knife from the other and started cleaning out the bowl. When he had done that, he rummaged in his pockets and produced a plug of tobacco. He cut off a few slices and placed them in the pipe, tamping them down with the blade of his knife.

Then he searched his pockets once again, produced a box of matches and proceeded to light his pipe. Once he had it going well he took off his cap and scratched his head once more. Putting the cap back on, he smiled at us and said, “In all truth, Sir, I do not think that there is a word in all of the Irish language for expressing such urgency.”

Take your time when traveling around the country. Although it’s possible to drive the length of Ireland in less than a day and to traverse the width of the country in a few hours, we prefer to settle in and explore a particular region, whether on foot, on horseback or behind the wheel—mindful, of course, of wandering sheep on small back roads.


Ireland is an island off the western coast of the U.K., from which it is separated by the North Channel, St. George’s Channel and the Irish Sea. The coastal areas of Ireland tend to be mountainous and rugged, especially on the western side of the island, which wards off the Atlantic Ocean with an almost unbroken line of cliffs and mountains. By contrast, the central portion is relatively flat, fertile farmland dotted with bogs.


The genial nature of the Irish is surprising considering their country’s history of conflict: The island has drawn wave after wave of invaders. Celtic tribes from Europe led one of the early onslaughts, arriving around 300 BC and wresting control from the people who were already living on the island. The Celts were gradually converted to Christianity beginning in the AD 300s (St. Patrick being a prime motivator), and during the Dark Ages, scholars based at Irish monasteries helped preserve important writings from throughout western Europe.

Viking plunderers menaced Ireland beginning around AD 700, and some of the Norse invaders eventually settled on the island. Three centuries later, English warriors intervened in a dispute between two Irish kings, beginning England’s long involvement in Ireland. Religion played a key role in the struggles: The majority of the Irish were Catholic, and they were often at odds with their Protestant English rulers. The fiercest and most bitter battles occurred in the mid-1600s, when Oliver Cromwell reasserted English control by shedding much Irish blood, seizing the lands of his opponents and desecrating Catholic cathedrals all across the land.

The horrific potato famine of the mid-1800s killed a million people in Ireland and forced another million to leave the country. It also intensified resistance to English rule, because many believed English leaders should have done more to aid the starving people in Ireland. A long and bloody struggle for independence culminated in the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent Anglo-Irish War, which came to an end in 1921. As a part of the agreement that ended the war, the majority of the island became an independent country—the Republic of Ireland (Eire). The northeastern sixth of the island, which has a Protestant majority, remained part of the U.K. as Northern Ireland.

In 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union), which gave it a tremendous boost through expanded trade opportunities and economic investment. By the late 1990s, when many high-technology firms opened offices there, it became the fastest-growing economy in the industrialized world. Signs of its prosperity are evident in the capital and in new construction around the country. In 2002, Ireland adopted the European currency, the euro.

The global economic downturn in 2009-10 had an adverse effect on Ireland, but despite that it is business as usual.


The country’s main attractions are stunning coastal scenery, charming people, traditional music and dance, excellent golfing, horse racing, fishing, fine theater, bird-watching (for puffins, terns and other northern sea birds), historical sites and ruins, lush gardens, shopping and legendary Irish pubs (where Guinness Stout and Irish whiskey flow freely).

Ireland will appeal to almost everyone. However, the same natural elements that make the countryside so green make the weather cool and damp—it rains and mists a lot. The weather, even in summer, can be damp and chilly, but then no one goes to Ireland for the weather. Although there are beautiful hotels, not all areas have deluxe accommodations.


What’s that smell? It’s probably the smoke from burning peat, which is still a popular fuel in Ireland. In some rural areas, you may see piles of peat bricks drying beside the bogs where they were cut.

The first Europeans to reach the New World may have been a group of Irish monks in the sixth century, led by St. Brendan the Navigator, who sailed across the Atlantic looking for a new land he had seen in a vision. No archaeological evidence exists, but in 1976 the English explorer Tim Severin made the legendary voyage in a replica of St. Brendan’s boat and proved it was possible.

The term “honeymoon” comes from the days when mead—a drink made from fermented honey—was Ireland’s favorite alcohol. According to tradition, newlyweds were given enough mead to toast each other until the next full moon.

The former headquarters of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) is on Clare Island. For 40 years she commanded fleets and armies, leading rebellions against Queen Elizabeth I of England. Defeated, O’Malley was sent to London to pay homage to the queen. The Irish say it was a meeting of equals.

Thousands of people make the pilgrimage to climb Ireland’s most sacred mountain, Croagh Patrick (Cruach Phadraig) in County Mayo. The annual climb takes place on Reek Sunday (the last Sunday in July).

County Kerry was the first part of Europe sighted by Charles Lindbergh in his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Using a compass and dead reckoning, the aviator was less than 3 mi/5 km off course after his long ocean crossing.

The Transatlantic Cable, a forerunner of the Internet, came ashore at Valencia Island in County Kerry. Because of this, IRA members in New York heard of the Easter Rising in Dublin before the news reached the U.K. government in London.


Ireland probably has more “best sights” than any other European country, and any list is necessarily subjective. Our top picks are the scenic drive around The Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands, Skellig Michael off the coast of Valencia Island and, in Dublin, Kilmainham Jail.

The small villages dotted about the country are probably Eire’s greatest sights, particularly Miltown Malbay in County Clare, Tubbercurry in County Sligo and Donegal in County Donegal. Drumcliffe, in County Sligo, is a famous pilgrimage destination for lovers of the poet William Butler Yeats. This is where his grave is situated “under bare Ben Bulbane’s head.” The Lake Isle of Innesfree, from his famous poem of the same name, is in County Donegal and can be reached by a small boat from Burtonport.

If you go to Ireland to trace your Irish forebears, be aware that you’ll need to collect some information before you get there, including the family name, the parish or town in which they lived and the approximate date. The Genealogical Office in the National Library in Dublin is an important resource and has tips for those wishing to conduct research. Phone 353-1-603-0213 (from outside Ireland).

If your time in Ireland is limited, you may want to contact a genealogist in advance of your visit to get some professional help. The Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland has a list of members on its website.


Ireland has few equals in the field of outdoor recreation. Golf, windsurfing, hiking, bird-watching and fishing are just a few of the activities available.

Around 30% of the world’s links courses are in Ireland. There is enough variety, from the challenging K Club in County Kildare to the unheralded municipal courses tucked away in obscure country corners, to maintain the interest of any golfer.

With so much coastline, it’s not surprising that sea fishing is abundant. But there are other angling challenges—try pike fishing on loughs (lakes) and reservoirs, game fishing or coarse (a kind of fish) fishing.

Hikers can enjoy several long-distance footpaths such as the 133-mi/215-km Kerry Way (, join guided walking tours, explore some of the shorter footpaths and forest trails, or go hillwalking in the Wicklow Mountains.

Ireland is also ideal for cycling, particularly along the narrow country roads in places such as Kerry, Clare and Sligo.


Shop for hand-cut crystal, Irish whiskey and liqueurs, handmade sweaters and other woolens (especially in the Aran Islands), beautiful linens, Belleek china, silver and gold jewelry with fabulous Gaelic and early Christian designs, gold Claddagh rings, blackthorn walking sticks, peat carvings, pottery, lace, Donegal tweed and tin whistles. Prices are also good on eiderdowns and copper kitchenware. CDs of Irish music (from traditional to rock) make wonderful souvenirs.

There are also great bookstores (look for books of Irish poetry and history) and antiques shops. The Kilkenny Shop ( and Avoca Handweavers ( are fine stores selling traditional goods made into contemporary designs. The duty-free shops at Shannon Airport are said to have the world’s largest selection, but they’re very overpriced, along with the huge shop at Blarney. Duty-free shopping is also available in Dublin.


Ireland offers a variety of wholesome foods for every budget. Do try grilled or roast beef, cured hams, breads, fish, oysters, mussels, eel (some of the restaurants have viewing tanks) and very hearty local meals (not gourmet, but they’re delicious), such as seafood chowder made with a whole variety of locally caught claws and shells.

Irish food is traditionally meat-based, so vegetarian choices sometimes are a bit lackluster. However, try the local cheeses in the areas of Clare and West Cork, along with Tipperary’s famous Cashel Blue. And of course, nobody can do more with a potato than the Irish. Our favorite was the simple and delicious potato cake—a flour-and-potato concoction sauteed in butter. Don’t leave Ireland without trying them.

Other delicacies not to be missed include brack, a fruity bread that is delicious fresh from the oven and spread with butter; soda bread made from flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk, the traditional daily bread of most Irish families from the mid-19th century; and colcannon, a creamy, delicious potato dish made with milk, leeks, and kale or cabbage.

Ireland is also blessed with plentiful salmon. Served in a variety of ways, it can be found in the finest restaurants and in the humblest of pubs. And though it may sound redundant, the Irish (unsurprisingly) make the best Irish stew (mutton, onions and potatoes).

Gourmet restaurants have sprung up in Dublin and across the island. If it’s sophisticated dining you’re after, Ireland’s chefs combine the freshest local seafood and produce with an international flair.

Whether you stay at a bed-and-breakfast or a hotel, your room is likely to come with a morning meal—and we’re not talking a Continental breakfast. If you’ve the stomach capacity for it, you can usually have a huge bowl of cereal, a basket of bread and scones, and a plateful of eggs, bacon and sausage. Although it used to be difficult to find lighter fare, almost every property now has healthier options such as fresh fruit and yogurt.


The conventional image of the Irish is that they are friendly, witty and talkative. The people you meet on a visit to the country will likely fit this description, but there are many other aspects of their character and culture you should pay attention to.

When offered hospitality, you should always refuse it at least once and possibly twice. If it is offered again, it is OK to accept. This formality may be a throwback to the times of the Potato Famine, when people had nothing but could still offer hospitality without embarrassment. If they offered three times, people knew that accepting would not cause hardship.

Appointments—Schedule meetings well in advance. As a visitor, you should be punctual, but don’t be surprised if your Irish counterparts are less prompt. “I’ll see you first thing in the morning, about dusk,” the saying goes. “Irish time” is more common in rural areas than in the cities.

Personal Introductions—A handshake with a smile is the common greeting. The Irish generally prefer to keep things informal, so expect to move to a first-name basis shortly after the first introduction, though you should continue to use a title and the person’s last name until they tell you otherwise.

Negotiating—Don’t expect that meetings will always move in a straightforward direction. Unexpected ideas may be introduced, and when they are, you may spend a fair amount of time discussing them. Expect the conversation, once down to business, to be direct, almost blunt, but that doesn’t mean that decisions will necessarily be quick. Don’t try to rush the pace of negotiations. In the event you need additional time to consult with others not present, establish an exact date and time when you will have more information for your Irish counterpart.

Business Entertaining—Business lunches and dinners are common, although dinner tends to be more social in nature, and lunch involves more deal making. For either, you should follow your host’s lead as to when it’s appropriate to talk business. The Irish are also fond of entertaining in their homes, and they like to socialize in the pubs. If you’re asked to join them, relax and enjoy yourself.

Body Language—The Irish generally keep their distance when conversing, especially with new acquaintances. Try to avoid becoming too expansive with gestures.

Gift Giving—The practice is not typical of business relationships. Gifts from your home country are usually appreciated, however. The item is considered to have greater value if it is customized with a logo or the identity of your hometown or club. If you establish that your host is a golfer, and most Irish businessmen are, golf balls or a golf shirt with a logo always will be a good choice. If invited to someone’s home, be sure to take along a gift such as chocolate, wine or flowers.

Conversation—A good ice-breaker is to make some complimentary observations about the people of Ireland and the general surroundings. The Irish have a strong sense of humor but will naturally take offense to outsiders who criticize the country or its people. Personal questions are usually reserved for later meetings, when you are better acquainted.

Be aware that some terms used in North America may have a different meaning in Ireland. For instance, the first floor in Ireland is what a person from the U.S. would call the second floor. A word often used in Ireland to describe fun, good times and good conversation is the Irish term craic, which is pronounced crack. It has no connection to the street drug. Fanny is a rude word in Ireland, where a “fanny pack” is called a “bum bag.”


Although Ireland is generally one of the safest European countries to visit, in Dublin and the larger cities there is a rising crime rate. It is not safe to leave belongings in cars in plain view, nor is it safe to wander around unknown parts of the larger cities alone at night. It is best to park cars in recognized car parks with attendants. Often, if you are parking somewhere that is not safe, a local will stop and tell you. Dubliners are justifiably proud of their city and abhor the actions of a minority who target tourists. In the countryside, crime is much less of a problem. For any emergency, dial 999.


Ireland has excellent hospitals in the major cities, and clinics and doctors elsewhere. Non-EU visitors should, however, check with their local health care provider for information on travel medical insurance. The water is safe to drink in Ireland, and smoking is prohibited in all public places.

For any medical emergency, dial 999.


Do expect to hear the Irish language (also known as Gaelic) in addition to English. Although only 30% of the population is fluent in Gaelic, many local radio stations have Irish-language programming. You may also overhear Irish in the pubs, especially in Gaeltacht areas such as Galway.

Don’t initiate conversations about politics or religion without understanding they’re both emotion-laden subjects in Ireland. Even today, the subject of the Civil War in the early 20th century is a very dodgy subject. We would particularly recommend not talking about the movie Michael Collins.

Do place your order for intermission refreshments prior to opening curtain of any play you attend in Ireland. At the break, your drinks will be waiting with your name on them, saving you a long wait in line.

Don’t mimic the Irish accent—no matter how well-intentioned.

Do expect some excitement if you drive around Ireland. The extremely narrow roads are a big challenge. You will frequently encounter an oversized bus or truck approaching on the right, a stone wall to your immediate left and what looks like far too little space between the two. Knowing the names of a few Catholic saints seems to help. Alternatively, you may get stuck behind a tractor crawling along at a snail’s pace or an old guy on a donkey.

Don’t go looking for Scotch whiskey in an Irish pub unless what you’re really looking for is trouble. Irish whiskey is the appropriate choice.

Do remember, if you’re from North America, that in Ireland crisps are potato chips and chips are french fries.

Don’t expect your pint of Guinness or Murphy’s until about five minutes after you order it. A properly drawn stout is poured in two steps and allowed to settle in between (lighter lagers and pilsners don’t require this treatment). If your stout arrives right away, you should refuse to pay.

Don’t expect many smaller inns or bed-and-breakfasts to accept credit cards (though most gas stations do).

Do be aware that road signs are infrequent and often misleading. Sometimes the signs are in Irish; sometimes they list distances in kilometers, other times miles, but you can’t tell which. Once the road we were traveling on dead-ended into another road. The sign indicated the next town was straight ahead—and although it may have been true, it didn’t help us much.


Passport/Visa Requirements: Passports, but not visas, are needed by citizens of Canada and the U.S. for stays of less than 90 days. Reconfirm travel document information with your carrier before departure.

Population: 4,722,028.

Languages: English, Irish.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican).

Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday of March to the last Sunday of October.

Voltage Requirements: 240 volts, 50 Hz. Telephone Codes: 353, country code;

Currency Exchange

In 2002, the euro replaced the punt as the unit of currency. The euro is used by most countries in the EU with the exception of the U.K. Money can be changed at banks and currency exchanges. ATMs are widely available, and credit cards are accepted by most businesses.


A 23% VAT (value-added tax) is incorporated in prices for almost all goods. But with a little paperwork, nonresidents of the European Union can obtain a tax refund. To reclaim the tax you paid, you must see the VAT refund officer at the airport before departure and present the article you purchased (unused), the receipt and a refund form (which must be obtained at the place of purchase). Some larger stores will handle most of the paperwork for you and then mail you the refund.

Room rates for hotels include VAT at the reduced rate of 9%. Some hotels and restaurants may also add a service charge of 10%-15% to the bill.


Tip 10%-15% in restaurants (if the service charge has not been added to the bill) and 10% for taxi drivers. Do not tip if you are served at the bar in a pub: It’s not expected, even if you order food in addition to drinks. And do not tip at all if the service is poor.


May to mid-September is by far the warmest and generally the driest time of year, relatively speaking (Ireland is often chilly and damp). The absolute best times to visit are probably from mid-May to the end of June and during the month of October—the weather is good for touring, and there are likely to be fewer tourists. The rest of the summer is fine, though a bit crowded. In summer, temperatures generally fall in a range of 59 F/15 C to 68 F/20 C.

Winter days can be drizzly, cold and short (the sun sets around 4 pm), but because of the Gulf Stream, the temperature seldom falls below freezing, averaging about 45 F/7 C. Winter is also an opportune time to meet the Irish—few tourists are about, and you can easily find conversation at the local pub. No matter when you go, a light raincoat or Windbreaker is essential, and you’ll need a wool sweater and a jacket or coat, especially at night.

What to Wear

No one goes to Ireland for the weather, so pack accordingly. In the summer, light casual clothing is best, but take along a sweater and rain jacket just in case. In winter, pack several layers so you can cope with variations in the temperature. Rainwear is essential—you will need it.

Smart suits are best for business meetings, and there are some restaurants where a collar and tie are mandatory. Otherwise, anything goes. The Irish are remarkably tolerant, but don’t wear swimwear away from the beach.


Pay phones are widely available, and prepaid phone cards can be purchased from newsagents and grocers and at the airport. You must dial the area code with all calls, except local ones. Only digital cell phones with GSM and a roaming agreement will work in Ireland. Coverage is generally good but deteriorates in some rural areas.

Internet Access

Internet access is widely available, and there are lots of Internet cafes. Costs depend on location and service, ranging from free Wi-Fi hot spots to the exorbitant daily charges in upmarket hotels. A listing of Wi-Fi spots throughout the country is available at

Mail & Package Services

The mail service is first-class, and visitors can safely use it to send items home.

Newspapers & Magazines

The Irish Times (, The Irish Independent ( and The Irish Mail ( are the main national newspapers. The Times is a good place to look for information about what’s on in Dublin as well as nationwide. In other areas, the best source for information is usually the local or regional newspaper.


Getting to and from Ireland is simple as many airlines fly into the country’s major cities. Additionally, there are many options for travel within the country using public or private transportation. Ireland’s cities can be seen easily on foot, by taxi or by local bus.

International carriers serve both Shannon Airport (SNN;, which is 15 mi/25 km from Limerick, and Dublin Airport (DUB;, which is 6 mi/10 km from the capital. Many airlines will allow you to split your ticket at no extra charge so that you can arrive at one airport and depart from the other.
Frequent airline and ferry service connects Ireland to the U.K. and France (primarily to Roscoff in Brittany or Le Havre in Normandy). Reservations are essential for ferry services in the summer ( You’ll find a variety of low-cost fares between Ireland, the U.K. and contintental Europe. By booking well in advance and registering with the airlines to receive local discounts, it is possible to purchase inexpensive one-way tickets.

Bus service to small towns may be infrequent, although they cover a much wider area than the country’s trains. Bus Eiran, the national bus company, has a comprehensive website that is good for travel planning and for purchasing tickets online. Several passes are available to visitors via the website or from ticket offices. These include the Irish Explorer, which is valid for all bus and train services; the Open Road pass, for bus travel only and available in a variety of permutations; and the Irish Rover pass, also for bus only but with the inclusion of Ulsterbus services in Northern Ireland.

Unless you’ve got a lot of time, the most efficient ways to see the country are by rental car (self-drive or chauffeured) or on an escorted bus tour. If you undertake a do-it-yourself road trip, be aware that driving is on the left side of the road, and be prepared for very narrow roads and bridges in most of the country. Also beware of livestock, some of which are easily capable of leaping fences. Dark-coated animals are especially difficult to see after dark or in murky weather.
Many rental car companies in Ireland have a maximum (usually 70) as well as a minimum age limit (at least 23 years old) for renting a car. Also, if you’re planning on driving into Northern Ireland, be sure your rental company will allow that. As part of the U.K., it is a separate country.

Public Transportation
Scheduled public transportation between towns consists of trains and buses. The trains tend to run primarily between the larger cities and use Dublin as their hub, so they’re not very efficient if you want to get away from the big towns.
For travel planning, timetables and fares, check the Irishrail website.

If you opt for train travel, there are a number of rail-pass options. The Eurail pass (
allows for travel between Ireland and most of Europe as well as within Ireland (although the pass is not valid in the U.K., including Northern Ireland); the BritRail pass ( covers Ireland as well as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including ferry crossings. Most trains to Ireland leave London
from Euston Station and go to Holyhead in Wales, then by ferry to Dun Laoghaire, then proceed by train to Dublin.

Rental boats are becoming increasingly popular for people who want to experience Ireland from the water. The gentle Shannon River ( can be navigated easily even by novice mariners—you can rent a boat at one location and return it at another. Rentals are also available on Ireland’s Grand Canal (, which flows 80 mi/130 km through dozens of locks. Generally, the season for boat rental runs March-October.

For More Information

Tourist Offices

Ireland: Tourism Ireland, Fifth Floor Bishop’s Square, Redmond’s Hill, Dublin 2. Phone 1476-3400. Fax 1476-3666.

Canada: Irish Tourist Office, 2 Bloor St. W., Suite 3403, Toronto, Canada M4W 3E2. Phone 416-925-6368.

U.S.: Irish Tourist Office, 345 Park Ave., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10154. Phone 212-418-0800.

Irish Embassies

Canada: Embassy of Ireland, 130 Albert St., Suite 1105, Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4. Phone 613-233-6281. Fax 613-233-5835.

U.S.: Embassy of Ireland, 2234 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-462-3939. Fax 202-232-5993. There are also consulates in Atlanta, New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

Embassies in Ireland
Canada: Canadian Embassy, 7-8 Wilton Terrace, Dublin 2. Phone 1234-4000. Fax 1234-4001.

U.S.: U.S. Embassy, 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Phone 01-668-8777.

Additional Reading

Irish literature is one of the country’s great gifts to the world. In addition to the more obvious classics (works of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, John Millington Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey et al.), we recommend the poems of Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, the stories of William Trevor and Edna O’Brien, and the novels of Roddy Doyle and Maeve Binchy.

For a good history of Ireland, Robert Kee’s The Green Flag has no equal. The late Dr. James MacKay’s biography Michael Collins gives an excellent insight into the fight for independence and the Civil War.

The Irish composer Shaun Davey produced a major work on the pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Granualie) as well as an epic version of The Brendan Voyage. For additional information about Shaun Davey and his works, visit