When you step into an Irish pub, you’ll probably see a sign that says “Cead Míle Fáilte.” The Gaelic phrase means “a hundred thousand welcomes” and is certainly a fitting description of Irish hospitality. The Emerald Isle is indeed a welcoming place for visitors. Filled with ancient lore and romance, the rugged landscape draws people from all over the world. The island is small enough for easy exploration, but it’s varied enough to warrant an extended stay. If you’re not sure where to begin, this Insider’s Guide to Ireland will give you some tips on traversing this enchanted land.
Situated in the North Atlantic, Ireland comprises two countries: the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Though the island is small (roughly the size of Indiana), Irish culture is hugely influential, especially in the United States.
Money and Tipping
In the Republic of Ireland, the official currency is the Euro (€); in Northern Ireland, it’s the British Pound Sterling (£). Cash or credit cards are accepted at most establishments. Tipping follows generally the same rules as in the United States. Tip €1 or £1 for every bag carried to your hotel room and between 10 and 15% for restaurant service. Taxis are generally tipped at 10% of the fare. You’re not expected to tip a pub unless you receive table service. Then, it’s only around €1 or £1 for a round of drinks.
The weather in Ireland is changeable, but it’s rarely extreme. The island’s location in the path of the North Atlantic Drift sea current keeps the climate temperate, and hills and mountains along the coasts shelter the island from ocean winds. It rains often, though not for prolonged periods. Temperatures hover around 40°F in the winter, and though they occasionally drop below freezing, it typically does not snow. Summer brings warmer weather with temperatures ranging from 64–68°F. You’d be wise to bring layers and a raincoat no matter the season.
The first official languages of the Republic of Ireland is Gaelic, a centuries-old Celtic language simply called Irish by locals. While street signs and government documents include both Gaelic and English, Gaelic is not common in everyday conversation. The majority of Irish citizens speak English (the second official language), albeit with different dialects. You may encounter Hiberno-English, or English with grammatical stylings of Gaelic. For example, “C’mere ’till I tell ye!” is a common expression that essentially means “I want to tell you something.”
Culture and Etiquette
The Irish are extremely polite and friendly to newcomers. Greetings are usually a handshake or a hug if you’re well acquainted. A peck on the cheek is usually reserved for close friends and family members. Irish people are very direct and to the point, but they also like to weave humor and embellishments into conversations. When it comes to personal space, the Irish are akin to Americans. If you get too close, the person to whom you’re speaking will probably back away.
Pub culture is pervasive in Ireland. The Irish consume 20% more alcohol than their European neighbors. But there’s a lot more to visiting a pub than just enjoying a pint. Pubs are places for people to meet and relax with friends and neighbors. Pubs are common, and qualities vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and town to town. Just remember, if someone buys you a drink, return the favor.
While spending time at the pub may be commonplace in Ireland, keeping time is not. If you invite someone to meet you for dinner at 8 p.m., it may be 8:15 p.m. before your friend appears.
The Irish have a saying about meals: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.” Many start the day with a large “full Irish breakfast,” followed by a lighter lunch around 1 p.m. Tea is often served in the mid afternoon, followed by dinner between 6-9 p.m.
The largest concentrations of gastronomic delights can be found in the larger cities: Belfast, Dublin, Cork. Smaller towns like Kilkenny, Kinsale and Kenmare have emerged as culinary hot spots.
Despite political turmoil in the 20th century, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are exceedingly safe places to visit. Female travelers, either solo or in a group, should feel safe anywhere in Ireland. If you encounter trouble, call 999 in either country to be connected with police, fire or rescue or contact the Irish Tourist Assistance Service.
The best way to travel around Ireland is by rental car. Public transportation outside of cities is expensive and may not take you all the way to your destination. Dont’ worry about getting lost. Just stop and ask someone, and remember to drive on the left, opposite from the U.S.
The capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin is an ancient city. Medieval cathedrals and castles dot the landscape, and remnants of the city’s 18th century prominence are visible. The city is literally filled with pubs. There are 1,000 pubs in the city of half a million people. While there, visit the National Museum of Ireland to see one of the world’s best collections of Bronze and Iron age gold artifact, Trinity College to see a masterpiece of Georgian architecture and Kilmainham Gaol, a prison that played a role in Ireland’s path to independence. Stop by Grafton Street where street performers, shopping and cafes abound.
A quaint fishing village on the southeast coast of the Republic of Ireland, Portmagee offers visitors vibrant music and dance, excellent seafood and a jumping off point to Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site where early Christian monastery is carved into the island’s rock cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher
About 90 minutes from Galway in County Clare, you’ll find vertigo-inducing cliffs that seem to rise out of the sea. The cliffs extend five miles along the coast and reach a height of more than 700 feet. It’s a popular spot for tourists, but the cliffs are not to be missed when you go to Ireland.
The Causeway Coast
Located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coast boasts many epic sites. Dunseverick Castle is a crumbling ruin now, but it’s perch atop a peninsula looks like a setting from a fantasy novel. St. Patrick is said to have visited here in the 5th century. The Giant’s Causeway is also a must-see while in Northern Ireland. Some 40,000 interlocking basalt columns create an other-worldly landscape. Legend tells the formations were built long ago by a giant who needed a bridge; science says it’s the result of a volcanic eruption 55 million years ago.