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    Top Tips for First Time Visitors to Ireland

    By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
    More by Dawn

    Planning your Irish Adventure

    Are you a new visitor to Ireland? Perhaps you’ve visited here before, but it was a long time ago? Read our compilation of top tips to help make your trip here smooth and seamless, and answer a few of the questions you might have.

    This page covers everything from weather and currency to how to get here and what regions to visit. Find out what to pack, where to stay and driving tips. On the cultural side, read about how to get the most out of your stay from traditional Irish music to Irish cuisine. Finally, learn about Irish landscapes as well as finding the right trip for you.

    Contents

    What is the Irish Climate Like?

    Ireland is known for its rainy weather… but then again, how do you think Ireland gets so green? In general, Ireland has a mild climate, rarely dropping below freezing, and rarely rising above about 20 degrees °C (70 degrees F). Layers are your friend – the weather can change several times throughout a single day, and it’s best to come prepared. But we understand that you might want a few more details than this. To answer your questions about Irish weather, we recommend you take a look at our Irish seasons pages below.

    What Language is Spoken?

    We speak English here in Ireland, albeit with a pretty cool Irish accent, if we do say so ourselves. That said, Irish is still taught in all schools in the Republic of Ireland and some schools in the North. There are still pockets of the Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking regions. These are often found in remote areas on the west coast, notably in Donegal, western Mayo, the Dingle Peninsula, parts of West Cork and others.

    You won’t need to speak Irish but it’s always appreciated if you learn a phrase or two. The ones you’re most likely to hear are “slainte” which is used like “cheers” in English when drinking at a pub; “Failte” or “Failte go hEireann” which means “welcome to Ireland”; “slan” or goodbye; and “go raibh maith agat” or “thank you.”

    Curious to know more Irish or Irishisms? Read our Essential Guide to Irish Phrases here.

    Which Regions Should I Visit?

    Southwest –
    Cork & Kerry

    Points of Interest: 

    Ring of Kerry
    Gap of Dunloe
    Carrauntouhil Mountain
    Killarney National Park & Lakes of Killarney
    Dingle Way & Kerry Way
    Skellig Islands

    Learn More

    West – Connemara,
    Mayo & Clare

    Points of Interest: 

    Cliffs of Moher
    Connemara National Park
    Burren National Park
    Mweelrea Mountain
    Aran Islands
    Killary Fjord

    Learn More

    Northern
    Ireland

    Points of Interest:

    Belfast city
    Causeway Coast
    Giant’s Causeway
    Mourne Mountains
    Dunluce Castle
    Rathlin Island

    Learn More

    Northwest –
    Sligo & Donegal

    Points of Interest:

    Malin Head
    Lough Swilly Fjord
    Slieve League Cliffs
    Carrowmore & Carrowkeel Neolithic sites
    Ben Bulben Mountain
    Sligo

    Learn More

    East –
    Dublin & Wicklow

    Points of Interest: 

    Wicklow Way
    Glendalough Monastic Site
    Newgrange & Hill of Tara Neolithic sites
    Wicklow Mountains National Park
    Luggnaquilla Mountain
    Dublin City

    Learn More

    Southeast –
    Waterford & Wexford

    Points of Interest: 

    Saltee Islands
    Comeragh Mountains
    Waterford town
    Kilkenny Castle
    Wexford town
    Copper Coast

    Learn More

    What Currency Do I Need?

    Ireland is a small island, but home to two countries: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

    In the Republic of Ireland in the south, we use the Euro € and in Northern Ireland, we use British Pounds £ (sometimes also called Sterling or Pounds Sterling). When travelling in Ireland, it’s important to have both currencies if you plan to cross the border at all. Some establishments on the border might take both, but for the most part, it’s best practice to have both Euros and Pounds.

    Cards are accepted in most places, but some rural spots might be cash-only, so it’s recommended that you carry some cash on you.

    How Can I Get There?

    Our main points of entry are Dublin Airport, Belfast International Airport and Shannon Airport (which is on the east coast).

    However, there are a number of smaller airports that connect with the UK and European airports, such as Cork, Kerry, Knock/Ireland West, Derry and Donegal.

    Getting around without a car can be a challenge. Dublin is well-connected to other main cities and towns by train, so getting from Dublin to Belfast, Killarney, Sligo, Ennis, Limerick, Cork, Wexford, Waterford, Tralee, and a few other towns is easy. But travelling north to south or vice versa on public transport means the bus as there are no trains. The main bus company is Bus Eireann. Overall, unless you are joining a group trip or have a private guide and vehicle, we recommend hiring a car, a service that we can assist you with.

    Want to know more about getting around Ireland? Read our guide to Getting Around Ireland here.

    Which Side of the Road Do We Drive On?

    For many overseas visitors, this is a big question – and concern. Yes indeed, we do drive on the “wrong side” of the road. In Ireland, like the UK, we drive on the left side of the road.

    Our cars are different too – the driver sits on the right side, so they are still looking down the centre of the road. While this may seem a little intimidating for overseas drivers, it only takes a few hours to really pick it up.

    To get from one city or large town to another, we have motorways and national roads that have speed limits of 120kph and 80-100kph respectively. However, most hiking trails, heritage sites and coastlines require you to leave these larger roads and hop onto smaller regional routes. These roads can be narrow and windy, particularly in rural regions like in Connemara, West Cork and Donegal. In some narrow roads, there are allotted “passing places” every so often, which allow cars to pass.

    If driving in Ireland seems a challenge for you, why not join a small group guided trip? Or a private trip with your very own driver/guide?

    What to Pack for an Adventure Trip to Ireland?

    Trying to decide what to pack is always a concern no matter what holiday you’re planning. It’s important to bring what you need without ending up overpacking and having to lug a suitcase full of extra stuff around. It’s always nice to have a little bit of extra space for souvenirs too.

    What you bring will differ depending on when you’re travelling, what activities you’re doing, and how long you’re staying. Layers are always a good idea, and waterproofs are essential no matter what or when you’ll travel here.

    We’ve answered all your questions in the following blogs when it comes to what to wear in Ireland, and what kind of footwear you might want to bring.

    Where Should I Stay?

    Luttrellstown Castle Resort

    Castle luxury on Dublin’s doorstep at Luttrellstown Castle Resort.

    This is a hard question to answer because a lot depends on the experience that you are looking for. Do you want a cosy B&B or guesthouse? A unique accommodation? A 4-star hotel? A luxurious high-end castle or country manor house?

    Keep in mind where you want to be located – city centre or rural setting? Most castles are located in the countryside, but keep in mind that castle hotels tend to have everything you might want available on site, from guided and self guided activities, spa or thermal suite, a restaurant/pub and beautiful outdoor scenery. City centre accommodation is great when you want to be able to explore town and be within walking distance of local attractions.

    There is a big difference in the level of accommodation here in Ireland and it’s important to do your research. Or better yet, by booking a group tour or a private trip, you’ll be sure to stay in comfortable, hand-picked accommodation.

    While we can’t run through every hotel we recommend, you might like to read about Ireland’s best castle hotels to stay in.

    Read More

    What Kind of Food Can I Expect?

    Okay, so Ireland may not be well-known for its culinary prowess. But in recent years, there a foodie culture has gripped the nation. Ireland has seen an uptick in restaurants of all kinds, from gastro pubs to organic eateries to cosy cafes and even Michelin-starred restaurants or fine dining establishments.

    Most places will still offer more traditional dishes like fish and chips, seafood chowder, Irish lamb stew and others, as well as popular dishes like burgers or sandwiches, but there is an increase in creative dishes too. Expect lots of seafood options, as this is an island after all. As for vegetarians and vegans, there are more options than ever before, even some vegetarian establishments, but of course, each place is different.

    Wash it all down with a pint of Guinness which, yes, does taste different here than anywhere else in the world. We also have plenty of great whiskeys, and gin is the new trendy thing to drink. Long dominated by Guinness and Smithwicks, craft beers are just starting to emerge, with each region having at least one or two microbreweries.

    Will I Get to Listen to Irish Traditional Music?

    Dingle pub music

    The Irish actually love trad music. The one thing to understand though is that trad music sessions start later in the evening than you might expect. Most sessions don’t start until at least 10 pm, sometimes even later than that.

    They usually carry on well into the night and can draw large crowds (note: COVID restrictions have vastly reduced/changed trad music sessions). They are usually towards the end of the week, but not always.

    If you’re visiting Ireland with us, let us know you want to hear some traditional Irish music, and we’ll help you find a pub near your accommodation.

    Interested in Irish Culture and Want To Know More?

    Have a read through our Irish Culture page, which goes in-depth into a number of subjects from Ireland’s literary heritage to its breweries and distilleries, ancient monuments and castles, the origins of St Patrick’s Day, the Irish language, folklore, and so much more.

    Read Now

    How Do I Find the Right Trip?

    This is one of our most common questions – and one of the most difficult to answer.

    As an adventure tour company, our goal is to share our passion for Ireland’s wild places with you. To do so, we have a range of trips spanning many different regions in Ireland, including hiking trips, bike tours, family itineraries, self drive trips, private tours. We also have custom travel designers who will work with you to create a trip built just for you.

    If you are looking to join a small group or self guided tour, it’s important to find the right trip for you so that you’ll love Ireland just as much as us. We have Green, Blue and Red graded trips on a scale of 1 to 9, with one being the easiest and nine being the most challenging. We have a series of grading videos that should help you understand this grading scale and allow you to choose that best suits you.

    It’s also important to know what you are looking for on a trip. Some trips like the Dingle Way or the Wicklow Way focus on a small region along a linear long distance trail. Others are “island hopping” tours that focus on coasts and islands but often cover larger regions. Some like our bike tour of the Wild Atlantic Way or the Five Countries bike tour cover thousands of kilometres. We have two types of self drive trips: short breaks or our week-long driving trips, which offer you flexibility while still meeting up with a guide every second day, and can be stitched together to form a longer trip.

    We recommend watching our Trip Grading videos to learn more about the grading system. Also, feel free to chat with any of our adventure consultants who will be more than happy to assist you in finding the right trip. 

    Trip Grading Videos

    What Kind of Landscapes are in Ireland?

    For such as small place, we sure do have a variety of landscapes and terrains. From coastlines to mountains, bogs to lakes and cliffs to meadows. Some of the main ones are listed below.

    Mountains and Hills Read More

    While we do have some way-marked trails, for the most part, Ireland is rugged, and most of the time those who wish to hike up mountains and hills will be doing so off-trail. This is why travelling with a group and a guide can be a fun and safe way to discover wild Ireland.

    Our main mountains regions include; Kerry – home to Ireland’s highest mountain Carrauntoohil in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains; Connemara’s Twelve Bens mountain range; Mayo’s Maumturk Mountains, Donegal’s mountains including the Blue Stacks; the Wicklow Mountains of the east coast; the Comeragh Mountains to the southeast, and the Slieve Bloom mountains in the centre of the nation. In Northern Ireland, the main mountain range is the Mourne Mountains south of Belfast.

    Learn more about Irish lakes here.

    Islands and Coastlines Read More

    We have an awful lot of coastlines here – after all, this is an island. The west coast, also known as the Wild Atlantic Way, has the best coastlines, as these are the most beautiful and wild. From Donegal down to Cork, there are amazing beaches to be found in each region.

    As for islands, most of them are also off the west coast of Ireland, such as the Aran Islands, the Skelligs, Inisbofin, Clare Island, Achill, and others, but there are a couple of exceptions like Rathlin Island up north (home to a bird sanctuary often frequented by puffins – learn more about puffins here), and the privately-owned Saltee Islands off the coast of Wexford. Most islands are small and either uninhabited or only inhabited by small local communities. Most are connected by regular ferries, but not all ferries allow cars. 

    Bogland Read More

    Perhaps not the most exciting type of landscape, bogs are of great importance to the Irish ecosystem. They have already been greatly reduced in centuries past – these slow-growing places were used to cut bricks of turf which were burned for fuel – and are now being protected throughout the island. Bogs are characterised by rich, dark water-retaining soil, heather and hawthorn plants and undulating landscapes.

    Forests Read More

    Like bogs, Irish forests have been depleted in the past, cut down for fuel, building works, and trade, as well as to clear space for agriculture. In fact, Ireland has one of the lowest percentage of forest coverage in Europe.

    It’s slowly changing though as the population has taken an interest in preserving forests and planting trees, particularly native Irish trees. There are many places you can walk through Irish forests throughout the island.

    Lakes Read More

    There are inland coastlines too. Lakes are sometimes overlooked when it comes to Irish landscapes and regions. Though we don’t have massive lakes, we do have quite a lot of them. In particular, you’ll find a good few in the northwest – in fact, the little-visited counties Fermanagh and Cavan are called the “Irish Lakelands.” There are lakes all over Ireland, and chances are you’ll get to see at least one.

    We also have an interesting natural phenomenon here called a “turlough.” A turlough is a type of lake that only exists a part of the time (usually in the winter and spring or after heavy rainfall) and dries up later in the year, usually in summer.

    Read Lakes & Loughs in Ireland for more information.

    Green Pastures Read More

    Right, so this is probably the landscape that comes to mind when thinking of Ireland: undulating, sheep-dotted pasture land. And indeed, we have a lot of this. Though found throughout, it is most prominent in the Midlands and on the eastern side of the island where the climate is milder and suited to agriculture.

    Exposed Limestone & Basalt Read More

    Once upon a time in ancient, long-ago millennia, Ireland was on the bottom of the seafloor. This built up silt, which over time and with the help of glaciers, created limestone landscapes. In some places – most famously the Burren – these limestone hills are left exposed, making some of the wildest and strangest places in Ireland.

    In Northern Ireland, another strange landscape comes into focus: the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway, created by a long-ago volcanic explosion. (Learn more about the Giant’s Causeway here).

    Visit Ireland

    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    “American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

    View profileMore by Dawn

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