Ireland holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Although Irish Gaelic is the official first language of Ireland, all citizens speak English and only a small percent consider Gaelic their first language. Some road signs in rural areas are in Irish Gaelic and English. There are some Irish language channels on television and radio, but these are the only places where Irish Gaelic will likely be encountered by tourists.
The official currency is the euro, which is made up of 100 cents. ATMs are widely available, both in the cities and small towns. All accept foreign cards and it’s also possible to get cash back at many supermarkets. Credit cards are accepted across the country, in shops, restaurants and hotels. Along the border with Northern Ireland, pounds sterling may be accepted. Elsewhere in the country, only euro are accepted.
Ireland is a member of the EU; however, it isn’t a member of the Schengen Agreement. This means EU citizens do not require a visa, but need a valid passport or ID card in order to enter. Ireland has an informal agreement with the UK, referred to as the Common Travel Area, so there is no passport control for UK citizens, but photo identification will be requested on arrival.
Ireland’s climate is usually mild, but is known to be changeable. The summer, May to August, sees temperatures of around 15ºC. In the winter, October to January, the average temperature is around 5ºC. Wet weather is common in Ireland, with more rain tending to fall in the west as apposed to the east. It also tends to be slightly warmer in the south all year round, with the north seeing the coldest temperatures during the winter months.
There are four main international airports in Ireland. Dublin Airport is by far the biggest, but there is also Shannon Airport in County Clare, Cork Airport in the west and Knock Airport in County Mayo. All charter flights to the UK along with the US, the Middle East and continental Europe. There are daily flights from all airports to a number of UK cities, including London. A number of regional airports operate UK services, too.
British Airways, Aer Lingus, EasyJet and Ryanair all fly from London-Heathrow, London-Gatwick and London-Stansted to Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport, with Dublin also receiving flights from London-Luton and London-City. These airlines also offer flights from many other cities in the UK, such as Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. For those not wanting to fly into the urban areas, Ryanair flies to secondary airports less frequently. The average flight time from London to Dublin is 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Because flights from London to Dublin and Shannon are popular, there’s a lot of competition and flight prices tend to be cheap. During the summer, it can get more expensive to fly, but year round there are good deals to be found. Flying to local airports is often more expensive than flying to the big international ones. EasyJet and Ryanair tend to feature the cheapest fares, but it’s worth checking other airlines such as British Airways as they sometimes have online deals.
Companies such as Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann offer cross-border bus services from Northern Ireland into Ireland, and it’s also possible to cross the border by car. There are numerous ferry services from the UK. Norfolkline and Irish Sea Express sail from Liverpool to Dublin, while Irish Ferries travels from Holyhead in north Wales and Pembroke in south Wales, both docking in Dublin.
Domestic flights are no longer the most common means of getting around, thanks to vast improvements in the motorways and train services. The most popular way of getting around is by bus or train; both are reasonably priced, efficient and comfortable. The road network is extensive and well maintained.
Due to the big improvements that have been made to the motorway network, domestic flights have started to become less popular. As a result, service has been reduced, with the only main routes now covered being between Dublin, Kerry and Donegal. The main providers are Aer Lingus and Aer Arann. They run weekly fights and flights aren’t cheap, they are comfortable and can cut down on travel time.
Bus Éireann runs an extensive service on the intercity network. Tickets can be purchased at stations, but buying them online can be cheaper. Ulsterbus offers services across the north of the country, while a number of private companies cover other areas including JJ Kananagh & Sons, which covers both Shannon and Dublin, and has services to Limerick, Carlow, Kilkenny and Clonmel. Buses are comfortable and many intercity buses have Wi-Fi.
The comfortable trains in Ireland are all part of the state-run Irish Rail, which has an extensive network nationwide. The Irish rail system is undergoing long-term improvements and as a result, service is now efficient and frequent. It is possible to book tickets online, but it can be cheaper to purchase tickets at stations as options such as family discounts are often not available online.
There are many car hire companies across the country and in all the big airports as well as the major ports. Hertz and Dan Dooley are the biggest companies. To rent the driver will need to be over 25 year and hold a valid driving licence and a credit card in their name. The roads are well signposted and generally of a good standard.
Dublin, the capital, has become known for its vibrant nightlife and endless amount of entertainment. There’s no end of pubs and bars to enjoy, along with plenty of shopping. Dublin also has an amazing amount of history for visitors to experience, such as Trinity College and the old library found here. Dublin has plenty of shops, from little to large, and many restaurants serving a variety of cuisines.
Cork is the second largest city in the country, yet the centre of this popular tourist spot is entirely walkable. Found on the banks of the River Lee, the city was founded in 600 AD and there are festivals held here throughout the year, while galleries, heritage buildings and pubs offer alternative entertainment.
For some real history, tourists should head to Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. There are many festivals held here, including a number of traditional Irish food festivals, but the main draw is the crystal which is produced here. Tours of the crystal factory here are a highlight.
Galway is another lively spot. Found on the west coast, it’s often used as a base for heading to the Aran Islands, but the town itself has plenty to offer. The atmosphere of this college town is often remarked upon, and with no end of old fashioned Irish pubs offering local ales, it’s not all that surprising.
The Aran Islands are three limestone outcrops just off the west coast. These islands offer real Irish charm, as the Gaelic language is primarily spoken here. The main island of Inishmór boasts Dún Aengus, an ancient stone fort. Perched on a rocky cliff, it offers great views across the islands.
For those seeking a perfect-postcard setting, the Dingle Peninsula can provide. The landscape here is stunning, and even just driving around offers some spectacular sights, with sandy beaches and long stretches of clear blue sea. The scenic village of Dingle can also be found here, where tourists can rent a cottage and get back to nature.
Blarney Castle in County Cork is a beautiful castle that is most famous for the Blarney Stone. Tradition says that anyone who kisses the stone will be blessed with articulated speech, also known as the ’gift of the gab’. It’s not the easiest stone to access as visitors have to lie down first, but it’s certainly an experience.
In Country Clare, tourists will find the Cliffs of Moher, one of the biggest tourist draws in the country. Towering 230 metres above the Atlantic Ocean, they offer stunning views and can be a great place for a picnic.
Kilkenny is a medieval capital that is a must-see. Located around two hours’ drive outside of Dublin, it boasts many beautiful buildings and an imposing Norman castle. There are plenty of festivals going on throughout the year, too.
The Rock of Cashel might not sound impressive, but it’s actually an amazing fortress on the hills of County Tipperary. The castle boasts a stunning 13th century Gothic cathedral along with a number of other historic structures.
Brú Na Bóinne, County Meath, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Considering it predates some of the Egyptian pyramids, it’s not hard to see why. There’s an astounding Neolithic chamber of tombs that stretches for miles and the structure is built with an impressive amount of detail.
Sellig Michael, just off the west coast of County Kerry, is another UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s believed the island was founded around the 7th century and was a monastery for Christian monks for around 600 years. The Gaelic Monastery, around 230 metres above sea level, is a remote site that has been amazingly well preserved. The monks who once lived here endured very basic conditions in stone huts on the almost vertical cliff wall.
Ireland is known for its entertainment, pubs and of course, Guinness. All tourists have to at least have a sip of the black stuff when visiting. Pubs across the country sell this famous drink along with other locally brewed ales. Guinness itself is brewed in Dublin and tourists can visit the brewery.
There are a number of microbreweries in Ireland as well. These independent pubs brew their own ales on site and are great places to try something new of an evening. There are a number in Dublin and some of the other big cities. Indeed, the pub is the epicentre of Irish entertainment, with Cork’s Barrack Street and Dublin’s Temple Bar district hot spots for watering holes.
For those who want a bit of history with their pint, there’s Church in Dublin. This 18th century church is now a stunning bar, with historic plaques and a huge organ to set the scene. Arthur Guinness, the famous brewery’s founder, was married here and it was also the site of the baptism of Irish patriot Wolfe Tone.
To experience a traditional Irish night out, visitors should head to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Dublin. The name translates as ’fraternity of traditional musicians of Ireland’ and there’s traditional Irish music and dancing every night of the week. However, every Friday there’s céilidh, a night of Irish dancing where visitors and locals alike are expected to join in.
There are a number of theatres in all of the big cities; Abbey Theatre in Dublin puts on classic plays from Irish playwrights, while the Peacock Theatre, a smaller theatre that is part of the same company, stages newer works in a smaller setting. There are cinemas in many towns and all of the cities that show the latest Hollywood blockbusters. There are a number of art house cinemas in the cities too which show classics and Gaelic language films.
Ireland may be famous for its alcohol, but the food is well worth a try too. Traditional cuisine is meat heavy, usually with lamb or pork, and served with potatoes or cabbage. Modern Irish cuisine, however, is all about local ingredients and many gastro pubs have sprung up in the cities.
Taking a traditional dish and giving it a makeover, such as adding a Mediterranean twist, is also becoming increasingly common. Fish, mainly salmon and trout, is making an appearance on many menus, along with locally made cheese. Many towns have a weekend market where locals and tourists alike can buy locally sourced foods and try local dishes.
The Irish breakfast will certainly fix visitors up for a day of sightseeing. There’s the usual bacon, sausages and egg, but also black pudding and pork sausages, usually made with blood. It is often available in restaurants all day. For those who really want a hearty breakfast, there’s the Irish mixed grill. Similar to an Irish breakfast, it comes with a lamb chop and chips as well.
Some local dishes to try are boxty, potato pancakes, or champ, mashed potatoes mixed with spring onions. Another dish is coddle, a stew made from pork sausages, usually with bacon. This is most often found in Dublin. Irish stew is a classic dish made from potatoes and lamb mixed with carrots and onions. Soda bread is a must-try. Made with buttermilk, it is leavened with bicarbonate of soda as appose to yeast, and is a tasty, heavy treat.
Many other cuisines are available across the country, including Italian, Mexican and Spanish. The big fast food places can be found in all towns and cities, and fish and chips is extremely popular in Ireland.
For beaches, visitors should head to the southwest of County Donegal. Here, there’s a beach for every activity. Bundoran Beach is well known for its surfing, with some of the best waves in Europe. The beach stretches over a mile and is a gorgeous place to chill out. Rossnowlagh Beach boasts the nickname Heavenly Cove. It is also a great place for surfing and is suitable for beginners.
Ireland has no shortage or picturesque towns to head to for a romantic getaway. There’s Castle Leslie, which offers a real regal sanctuary in the most luxurious surroundings possible. This stunning castle is set in 1,000 acres of woodland, with stunning views across the lakes available from many of its rooms. Here, a couple can truly live like king and queen.
For something a little different, hire a boat and set off in Ireland’s Lakelands and inland waterways. This is a great way to see the country and offers something a bit different for the whole family. There are many activity centres across the country where bowling and other activities can be enjoyed. It’s also possible to do the Arigna Mining Experience, an underground tour through Ireland’s last working coal mine.
There are plenty of water sports to be enjoyed at Bundoran Beach, including kite-surfing, windsurfing and plain old surfing. Rock climbing is a wonderful experience in Ireland. The Three Rock Mountain can be found in Dublin, or for those visitors after more of a challenge, there’s the Croagh Patrick in Mayo to conquer. The views, and the climb, are enough to take anyone’s breath away.