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IRELAND

It’s a Celtic mystery: how can a country as small as Ireland be packed with so much majestic history, natural beauty, vibrant culture, and, of course, fun? Norman castles overlook wild, empty beaches, Georgian country houses host impromptu traditional music sessions, excited theatergoers spill out into bustling Dublin pubs. Drama and spectacle lie at every turn, with a pint of Guinness to toast it all. But the real Irish secret is the people: their unique blend of warmth, humor, and irreverence will ensure your trip to the Emerald Isle is a true adventure.

EXPLORE IRELAND

TRAVEL TIPS

AIR TRAVEL

Flying time to Ireland is 6½ hours from New York, 7½ hours from Chicago, 10 hours from Los Angeles, and 1 hour from London.

Flying into Ireland involves few hassles, although an increase in traffic in the last decade has caused a slight increase in flight delays and time spent waiting for baggage to clear customs. There are few domestic flights within Ireland. Government subsidies were withdrawn following the completion of the highway (motorway) system, and an increase in express train services. The only survivor is the Kerry-to-Dublin route and the short flights to the Aran Islands. Checking in and boarding an outbound plane tends to be civilized. Security is professional but not overbearing, and airport staffers are usually helpful and patient. In the busy summer season the lines can get long, and you should play it safe by arriving a couple of hours before your flight.

Airports

The major gateways to Ireland are Dublin Airport (DUB) on the east coast, 6 miles north of the city center, and Shannon Airport (SNN) on the west coast, 16 miles west of Limerick. Two airports serve Belfast: Belfast International Airport (BFS) at Aldergrove, 15 miles from the city, handles local and U.K. flights, as well as international traffic; George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD), 4 miles from the city, handles local and U.K. flights only. In addition, the City of Derry Airport (LDY) receives flights from Liverpool, London Stansted, and Glasgow in the United Kingdom. If you plan to visit mainly the Southwest of Ireland, use Cork Airport (ORK), which handles flights from the United Kingdom, as well as from Paris, Malaga, and Rome.

Flights

From North America and the United Kingdom, Aer Lingus, the national flag carrier, has the greatest number of direct flights to Ireland.

Aer Lingus flies to Shannon and Dublin from New York’s JFK (John F. Kennedy Airport), Chicago’s O’Hare, Boston, San Francisco, and Orlando. Delta has a daily departure from New York’s JFK to Dublin, and American Airlines flies to Dublin from New York’s JFK and Chicago. United flies direct to Dublin, Shannon, and Belfast, departing daily from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Except for special offers, prices for the four airlines tend to be similar. London to Dublin is one of the world’s busiest international routes. Aer Lingus, British Airways, Flybe, and CityJet all have several daily flights. Ryanair—famous for its cheap, no-frills service—runs several daily flights from London Gatwick, Luton, and Stansted airports to Dublin, Kerry, Shannon, Cork, and Ireland West Airport Knock. With such healthy competition, bargains abound. British Airways, Flybe, and EasyJet run regularly scheduled flights to Belfast from Birmingham, Manchester, London Gatwick, Luton, and Stansted airports.

Within Ireland, Aer Lingus Regional provides service from Dublin to Kerry. Flybe flies from Dublin to Donegal.

BOAT TRAVEL

To and From Ireland

Ferries are a convenient way to travel between Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. There are four main ferry ports in Ireland—two in the republic at Dublin Port and Rosslare, and two in Northern Ireland at Belfast and Larne. The cost of your trip can vary substantially, so compare prices carefully. Bear in mind, too, that flying can be cheaper, so look into all types of transportation before booking.

Irish Ferries operates the Ulysses, the world’s largest car ferry, on its Dublin to Holyhead, Wales, route (3 hrs, 15 mins); there’s also a swift service (1 hr, 50 mins) between these two ports. There are several trips daily. The company also runs between Rosslare and Pembroke, Wales (4 hrs), and has service to France. Stena Line sails several times a day between Dublin and Holyhead (3 hrs, 15 mins). The company also runs a fast craft (2 hrs) and a superferry (3 hrs) between Belfast and Stranraer, Scotland, as well as a fast craft (2 hrs) between Rosslare and Fishguard, Wales. There are several trips daily on both routes.

P&O Irish Sea vessels run between Larne and Troon, Scotland (2 hrs), a couple of times a day. The company also sails from Dublin to Liverpool twice daily (8 hrs), with a choice of daytime or overnight sailings.

Within Ireland

There is regular service to the Aran Islands from Ros an Mhíl (Rossaveal) in County Galway and Doolin in County Clare. Ferries also sail to Inishbofin (off the Galway coast) and Arranmore (off the Donegal coast), and to Bere, Whiddy, Sherkin, and the Cape Clear Islands off the coast of County Cork. Bere and Whiddy have a car ferry, but the other islands are all small enough to explore on foot, so the ferries are for foot passengers and bicycles only. Other islands—the Blaskets and the Skelligs in Kerry, Rathlin in Antrim, and Tory, off the Donegal coast—have seasonal ferry services between May and September, less frequently the rest of the year. Fáilte Ireland publishes a free guide and map with ferry details.

Fares and Schedules

You can get schedules and purchase tickets, with a credit card if you like, directly from the ferry lines. You can also pick up tickets at Dublin tourism offices and at any major travel agent in Ireland or the United Kingdom. Payment must be made in the currency of the country of the port of departure. Bad weather can delay or cancel ferry sailings, so it’s always a good idea to call before departing for the port.

BUS TRAVEL

In the Republic of Ireland, long-distance bus service is operated by Bus Éireann, which also provides local service in Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. There’s only one class, and prices are similar for all seats. Note, though, that outside of the peak season, service is limited; some routes (for example, to the Ring of Kerry) disappear altogether.

Bus Éireann’s Expressway buses go directly, in the straightest available line, from one biggish town to another, stopping at a limited number of designated places. There’s sometimes only one trip a day on express routes.

A round-trip from Dublin to Cork costs €22, and a Dublin to Galway City round-trip is €19.

Prepaid tickets don’t apply to a particular bus time, just a route, so show up at least 30 minutes early to get a seat.

Rural bus service, which rambles around the countryside passing through as many villages as possible, shuts down at around 7 or 8 pm. To ensure that a bus journey is feasible, check online or ask at the nearest bus station. Many of the destination indicators are in Irish (Gaelic), so make sure you get on the right bus.

Citylink, a Galway-based company, has service between Galway, Limerick, Cork, and Dublin, as well as Cork and Dublin airports. Prices are competitive, with the 2-hour, 45-minute journey from Dublin Airport to Galway costing no more than €16.50 one-way. This can be cut to 2 hours, 30 minutes by using the Citylink’s Eireagle service which travels direct to the airport, bypassing the city center. All buses have complimentary Wi-Fi.

Aircoach operates a similar service, with Wi-Fi on most buses, between Dublin, Cork, and Belfast and their respective airports. The three-hour journey from Cork to Dublin costs €16 one-way. Online fares can be cheaper, and booking online guarantees you a seat and priority boarding, ahead of those paying in cash.

In Northern Ireland

All buses in Northern Ireland are operated by the state-owned Translink. Goldline is the long distance bus division, while Ulsterbus runs local services. Service is generally good, with particularly useful links to towns not served by train. Ulsterbus also runs tours. Eurolines buses run from London and from Birmingham, making the Stranraer–Port of Belfast crossing.

Fares and Passes

You can buy tickets online, at tourist offices, at bus stations, or on buses (though it’s cash only for the latter option).

You can save money with multiday passes, some of which can be combined with rail service. Consider the Irish Explorer Rail and Bus Pass, which gives you five days out of 15 of bus and rail travel for €160. An iLink Card costs £60 for seven days of unlimited bus and rail travel in Northern Ireland—a great deal when you consider that a one-day ticket costs £16.50.

Some cost-cutting passes include both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. An Irish Rover bus ticket for travel on Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann covers Ireland, north, and south. It also includes city-center bus travel in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, and on the Metro services in Belfast—but not Dublin.

BUS TRAVEL

In the Republic of Ireland, long-distance bus service is operated by Bus Éireann, which also provides local service in Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. There’s only one class, and prices are similar for all seats. Note, though, that outside of the peak season, service is limited; some routes (for example, to the Ring of Kerry) disappear altogether.

Bus Éireann’s Expressway buses go directly, in the straightest available line, from one biggish town to another, stopping at a limited number of designated places. There’s sometimes only one trip a day on express routes.

A round-trip from Dublin to Cork costs €22, and a Dublin to Galway City round-trip is €19.

Prepaid tickets don’t apply to a particular bus time, just a route, so show up at least 30 minutes early to get a seat.

Rural bus service, which rambles around the countryside passing through as many villages as possible, shuts down at around 7 or 8 pm. To ensure that a bus journey is feasible, check online or ask at the nearest bus station. Many of the destination indicators are in Irish (Gaelic), so make sure you get on the right bus.

Citylink, a Galway-based company, has service between Galway, Limerick, Cork, and Dublin, as well as Cork and Dublin airports. Prices are competitive, with the 2-hour, 45-minute journey from Dublin Airport to Galway costing no more than €16.50 one-way. This can be cut to 2 hours, 30 minutes by using the Citylink’s Eireagle service which travels direct to the airport, bypassing the city center. All buses have complimentary Wi-Fi.

Aircoach operates a similar service, with Wi-Fi on most buses, between Dublin, Cork, and Belfast and their respective airports. The three-hour journey from Cork to Dublin costs €16 one-way. Online fares can be cheaper, and booking online guarantees you a seat and priority boarding, ahead of those paying in cash.

In Northern Ireland

All buses in Northern Ireland are operated by the state-owned Translink. Goldline is the long-distance bus division, while Ulsterbus runs local services. Service is generally good, with particularly useful links to towns not served by train. Ulsterbus also runs tours. Eurolines buses run from London and from Birmingham, making the Stranraer–Port of Belfast crossing.

Fares and Passes

You can buy tickets online, at tourist offices, at bus stations, or on buses (though it’s cash only for the latter option).

You can save money with multiday passes, some of which can be combined with rail service. Consider the Irish Explorer Rail and Bus Pass, which gives you five days out of 15 of bus and rail travel for €160. An iLink Card costs £60 for seven days of unlimited bus and rail travel in Northern Ireland—a great deal when you consider that a one-day ticket costs £16.50.

Some cost-cutting passes include both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. An Irish Rover bus ticket for travel on Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann covers Ireland, north and south. It also includes city-center bus travel in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, and on the Metro services in Belfast—but not Dublin.

CAR TRAVEL

U.S. driver’s licenses are recognized in Ireland.

Roads in the Irish Republic are generally good, with four-lane highways, or motorways, connecting Dublin with Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Shannon Airport, Galway, and Newry on the border with Northern Ireland. Service areas with restrooms and food are gradually being added; meanwhile, you may have to leave the motorway for comfort stops, usually located in gas stations. National routes and minor roads are slower, but much more scenic. On rural roads, watch out for cattle and sheep. Reckless drivers (surveys say that Irish drivers are among the worst) are also a problem in the countryside, so remain alert.

Road Signs

Road signs in the republic are generally in both Irish and English; destinations in which Irish is the spoken language are signposted only in Irish. The most important one to know is An Daingean, which is now the official name of Dingle Town. Get a good bilingual road map, and know the next town on your itinerary; neither the signposts nor the locals refer to roads by official numbers. Traffic signs are the same as in the rest of Europe. On the newer green signposts, distances are in kilometers; on some of the old white signposts, they’re still miles. Most important, speed limits are posted in the republic (but not in Northern Ireland) in kilometers.

There are no border checkpoints between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, where the road network is excellent and, outside Belfast, uncrowded. Road signs and traffic regulations conform to the British system.

Car Ferries

All ferries on both principal routes to the Irish Republic welcome cars. Fishguard and Pembroke are relatively easy to reach by road. The car trip to Holyhead, on the other hand, is sometimes difficult: delays on the A55 North Wales coastal road aren’t unusual.

Gasoline

You can find gas stations along most roads. Self-service is the norm, and major credit cards and traveler’s checks are usually accepted. Prices are near the lower end for Europe, with unleaded gas priced around €1.32 in Ireland and £1.28 a liter in Northern Ireland—gasoline prices in the United States are a bit more than half the price in Ireland. Prices vary significantly from station to station, so it’s worth driving around the block (if you have enough gas!).

Road Conditions

Most roads are paved and make for easy travel. Roads designated with an M for “motorway” are double-lane divided highways with paved shoulders; N, or “national,” routes are generally undivided highways with shoulders; and R, or “regional,” roads tend to be narrow and twisty.

Rush-hour traffic in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and Galway can be intense. Rush hours in Dublin run 7 to 9:30 am and 5 to 7 pm; special events such as soccer matches also tie up traffic in and around the city, as does heavy rain.

Roadside Emergencies

If you’re involved in an accident, note the details of the vehicle and the driver and report the incident to a member of the Garda Síochána (the Irish Police) or the Police Service of Northern Ireland as soon as possible. Since traffic congestion is chronic in Dublin, emergency services are more likely to be dispatched quickly to help you and to clear the road.

If your car breaks down, try to stop in a well-lighted area near a public phone. If on a secondary road, remain in your car with the doors locked after you call for assistance. If you break down on the motorway, pull onto the hard shoulder and stay out of your car with the passenger side door open and the other doors locked. This allows you to jump into the car quickly if you sense any trouble. Make sure you check the credentials of anyone who offers assistance—note the license plate number and color of the assisting vehicle before you step out of the car.

The Automobile Association of Ireland, a sister organization of its English counterpart, is highly recommended. The AA can help you or your vehicle only if you are a member. If not, contact your car-rental company for assistance.

Rules of the Road

The Irish, like the British, drive on the left-hand side of the road in whatever direction they are headed (not, as in America, on the right-hand side). Safety belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers, and children under 12 must travel in the back unless riding in a car seat. Motorcyclists must wear helmets. Speed limits in Ireland are posted in kilometers per hour and in Northern Ireland in miles per hour. In towns and cities, the speed limit is 50 kph (31 mph). On Regional (R) and Local (L) roads, the speed limit is 80 kph (50 mph), indicated by white signs. On National (N) roads, the speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph), indicated by green signs. On Motorways (M), the speed limit is 120 kph (74 mph), indicated by blue signs.

Drunk-driving laws are strict. The legal limit is 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Ireland has a Breathalyzer test, which the police can administer anytime. If you refuse to take it, the odds are you’ll be prosecuted anyway. As always, the best advice is don’t drink if you plan to drive.

Speed cameras and radar are used throughout Ireland. Speeding carries an on-the-spot fine of €80, and if charged with excessive speeding, you could be summoned to court. This carries a much higher fine, and you will be summoned within six months (meaning you could be required to return to Ireland).

Note that a continuous white line down the center of the road prohibits passing. Barred markings on the road and flashing yellow beacons indicate a crossing where pedestrians have the right-of-way. At a junction of two roads of equal importance, the driver to the right has the right-of-way. On a roundabout, vehicles approaching from the right have the right-of-way. Left turns aren’t permitted on a red light. If another motorist flashes their headlights, they are giving you the right-of-way.

Despite the relatively light traffic, parking in towns can be a problem. Signs with the letter P indicate that parking is permitted; a stroke through the P warns you to stay away or you’ll be liable for a fine of €20–€65; if your car gets towed away or clamped, the fine is around €180. In Dublin and Cork, parking lots are your best bet.

In Northern Ireland, there are plenty of parking lots in the towns (usually free, except in Belfast). In Belfast, you can’t park your car in some parts of the city center, more because of congestion than security problems.

Rental Cars

When you reserve a car, ask about cancellation penalties, taxes, drop-off charges (if you’re planning to pick up the car in one city and leave it in another), and surcharges (for being under or over a certain age, for additional drivers, or for driving across state or country borders or beyond a specific distance from your point of rental). All these things can add substantially to your costs. Request car seats for children and extras such as GPS when you book.

Rates are sometimes—but not always—better if you book in advance or reserve through a rental agency’s website. There are other reasons to book ahead, though: for popular destinations, during busy times of the year, or to ensure that you get certain types of cars (vans, SUVs, exotic sports cars).

Make sure that a confirmed reservation guarantees you a car. Agencies sometimes overbook, particularly for busy weekends and holiday periods.

If you’re renting a car in the Irish Republic and intend to visit Northern Ireland (or vice versa), make this clear when you get your car, and check that the rental insurance applies when you cross the border.

Renting a car once you’re in Ireland is far more expensive than arranging one before you leave home. Rates in Dublin for an economy car with a manual transmission and unlimited mileage are from about €35 a day and €160 a week to €50 a day and €190 a week, depending on the season. This includes the 13.5% tax on car rentals. Rates in Belfast begin at £25 a day and £130 a week, including the 17.5% tax on car rentals.

Both manual and automatic transmissions are readily available, though automatics cost extra. Typical economy car models include Volkswagen Lupo, Ford Focus, Fiat Panda, and Nissan Micra. Minivans, luxury cars (Mercedes or Alfa Romeos), and four-wheel-drive vehicles (say, a Jeep Cherokee) are also options, but the daily rates are high. Argus Rent A Car and Dooley Car Rentals have convenient locations at Dublin, Shannon, Belfast, and Belfast City airports, as well as at ferry ports.

Most rental companies require you to be over 24 to rent a car (a few rent to those over 21) and to have had a license for more than a year. Some companies refuse to rent to visitors over 70, or in some cases 74.

Drivers between the ages of 21 and 26, and 70 and 76 are usually subject to an insurance surcharge—if they’re allowed to drive a rental car at all. An additional driver adds about €8 a day, and a child seat costs about €20 and requires 24-hour advance notice.

TRAIN TRAVEL

Irish Rail trains are generally reliable, reasonably priced, and comfortable. You can easily reach all the principal towns from Dublin, though service between provincial cities can be roundabout. To get to Cork City from Wexford, for example, you have to go via Limerick Junction. It’s often quicker, though perhaps less comfortable, to take a bus. Most mainline trains have one standard class. Round-trip tickets are usually cheapest. The best deals are available online, booking at least one week in advance.

Northern Ireland Railways has three main rail routes, all operating out of Belfast’s Central Station: north to Derry via Ballymena and Coleraine, east to Bangor along the shores of Belfast Lough, and south to Dublin and the Irish Republic. Note that Eurail Passes aren’t valid in Northern Ireland.

There’s only one class of train travel in Ireland (with the exception of the express trains between Dublin and Belfast, which have first-class and standard-class tickets). Seat reservations are part of the package if you book online on Dublin–Cork and Dublin–Belfast routes, but otherwise it’s first come, first served. Get to the station at least 30 minutes ahead to ensure a seat. It’s not uncommon on busier routes to find all the seats are occupied.

Fares and Passes

Tickets can be purchased online or at the train station. Cash, traveler’s checks, and credit card payments are accepted. You must pay in the local currency. Dublin, Connolly, and Heuston stations have automated ticket machines that accept cash or credit card payments, offering a convenient way to avoid long lines at ticket windows.

Sample fares? A round-trip ticket from Dublin to Cork will cost around €60; Dublin to Belfast is approximately €55. Considerable savings can be made by booking ahead online where off-peak tickets cost as little as €10 each way.

Ireland is one of 24 countries where people can use the Interrail Pass (normally for residents of Europe) or the Eurail pass (normally for nonresidents), which provides unlimited rail travel. If you plan to rack up the miles, get a Global Pass. These are available from Rail Europe for 15 days (€528), 21 days (€682), and one month (€838). In addition to standard Eurail Passes, ask about special plans, including the Eurail Youth Pass (for those under age 26) and the Eurail Saver Pass (which gives a discount for two or more people traveling together). Whichever pass you choose, you must purchase your pass before you leave for Europe. For these passes, order through your travel agent or contact www.raileurope.com.

The Irish Explorer Rail & Bus Pass covers all the state-run and national railways and bus lines throughout the republic. It does not apply to the North or to transportation within cities. An eight-day ticket for use on buses and trains during a 16-day period is €245. In Northern Ireland, the iLink Card, entitling you to up to seven days’ unlimited travel on scheduled bus and rail services throughout Northern Ireland, is available from main Northern Ireland Railways stations. It costs about £55.

COMMUNICATIONS

Internet

If you’re traveling with a laptop, carry a spare battery and adapter. Most laptops work at both 120V and 220V, but you need an adapter to fit the plug into the socket. In the countryside, a surge protector is a good idea.

Going online is becoming routine in Dublin, thanks in part to the Wi-Fi hotspots popping up across the city. Net House, an Internet café chain, has the most locations around the country, with nine in Dublin and one in Cork.

Many independent Internet cafés can be found across the country. Prices vary from the low end in Dublin of €2.50 per hour to €5 per hour in smaller cities. There are also many Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country, such as the Insomnia Coffee/Sandwich Bar chain in Galway City. Dublin Airport and Dún Laoghaire Harbour have Wi-Fi access. Most hotels now have hotspots in the lobby or lounge. A Wi-Fi connection in your room can sometimes incur an hourly charge. In most cases, however, Wi-Fi access is free if using the facilities of the hotel or café.

Phones

Ireland’s telephone system is up to the standards of the United Kingdom and the United States. Local phone numbers have five to eight digits. You can make international calls from most phones, and some cell phones also work here, depending on the carrier.

Do not make calls from your hotel room phone unless it’s absolutely necessary. Practically all hotels add 200% to 300% to the cost. As expensive as mobile phone calls can be, they are still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.

The country code for Ireland is 353; for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom telephone system, it’s 44. The local area code for Northern Ireland is 028. When dialing Northern Ireland from the republic you can simply dial 048 without using the U.K. country code. When dialing an Irish number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local area code.

If the operator has to connect your call, it will cost at least one-third more than direct dial.

Directory Information

Northern Ireland. 118–118; 118–505; 155; 100.

Republic of Ireland. 11811; 11818.

Calling Within Ireland

Public phones take either coins or cards, but not both. Card phones are rapidly replacing coin-operated phones and are cheaper. Phone cards can be bought at newsagents, convenience stores, and post offices in units of €5 upward. It’s worth carrying one, especially in rural areas where coin-operated phones are a rarity. In the republic, €0.40 buys you a three-minute local call; around €1.50 is needed for a three-minute long-distance call within the republic. In Northern Ireland, a local call costs 20p.

To make a local call, just dial the number direct. To make a long-distance call, dial the area code, then the number. The local code for Northern Ireland is 028, unless you’re dialing from the republic, in which case you dial 048 or 004428, followed by the eight-digit number.

Calling Outside Ireland

The international prefix from Ireland is 00. For calls to Great Britain (except Northern Ireland), dial 0044 before the exchange code, and drop the initial zero of the local code. For the United States and Canada dial 001, for Australia 0061, and for New Zealand 0064.

Cell Phones

If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies than the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. Overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls, too. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).

If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.

If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old cell phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

Renting a phone has the advantage that you get your number in advance and pick it up at the airport or have it mailed to you in advance. But at €69 for the first week, it’s expensive compared to buying a SIM card for around €10 and using pay-as-you-go service.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

You’re always allowed to bring goods of a certain value back home without having to pay any duty or import tax. But there’s a limit on the amount of tobacco and liquor you can bring back duty-free, and—if you are traveling to additional destinations after your visit to Ireland—some countries have separate limits for perfumes; for exact figures, check with your customs department. The values of so-called “duty-free” goods are included in these amounts. When you shop abroad, save all your receipts, as customs inspectors may ask to see them as well as the items you purchased. If the total value of your goods is more than the duty-free limit, you’ll have to pay a tax (most often a flat percentage) on the value of everything beyond that limit.

Duty-free allowances have been abolished for those traveling between countries in the EU. For goods purchased outside the EU, you may import duty-free: (1) 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of smoking tobacco; (2) 2 liters of wine, and either 1 liter of alcoholic drink over 22% volume or 2 liters of alcoholic drink under 22% volume (sparkling or fortified wine included); (3) 50 grams (60 ml) of perfume and ¼ liter (250 ml) of eau de toilette; and (4) other goods (including beer) to a value of €175 per person (€90 per person for travelers under 15 years of age).

Goods that cannot be freely imported to the Irish Republic include firearms, ammunition, explosives, indecent or obscene books and pictures, oral smokeless tobacco products, meat and meat products, poultry and poultry products. Plants and plant products (including shrubs, vegetables, fruit, bulbs, and seeds) can be imported from other countries within the EU only, provided they are eligible under the EU’s plant passport scheme. Domestic cats and dogs from outside the United Kingdom and live animals from outside Northern Ireland must be quarantined for six months unless they are traveling under the EU’s Pet Travel Scheme.

DINING

Meals and Mealtimes

In 2004, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to ban smoking in all pubs and restaurants. Northern Ireland followed in 2007.

Breakfast is served from 7 to 10, lunch runs from 12:30 to 2:30, and dinners are usually midevening occasions. Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed here are open daily for lunch and dinner.

Pubs are generally open Monday and Tuesday 10:30 am–11:30 pm and Wednesday–Saturday 10:30 am–12:30 am. On Sunday, pubs are open 12:30 pm–11 pm or later on certain Sundays. All pubs close on Christmas Day and Good Friday, but hotel bars are open for guests.

Pubs in Northern Ireland are open 11:30 am–11 pm Monday–Saturday and 12:30 pm–2:30 pm and 7 pm–10 pm on Sunday (note that Sunday openings are at the owner’s or manager’s discretion).

Reservations and Dress

Regardless of where you are, it’s a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In some places, it’s expected. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.)

Wines, Beer, and Spirits

All types of alcoholic beverages are available in Ireland. Beer and wine are sold in shops and supermarkets, and you can get drinks “to go” at some bars, although at inflated prices. Stout (Guinness, Murphy’s, Beamish) is the Irish beer; whiskey comes in many brands, the most notable being Bushmills and Jameson, and is smoother than Scotch.

ELECTRICITY

The current in Ireland is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current; wall outlets take plugs with three prongs.

Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and mobile-phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts), and so require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.

EMERGENCIES

The police force in the Republic of Ireland is called the Garda Síochána (“Guardians of the Peace,” in English), usually referred to as the Gardaí (pronounced gar-dee). The force is unarmed and is headed by a government-appointed commissioner, who is answerable to the Minister for Justice, who in turn is accountable to the Dáil (the Irish legislature). Easily identified by their fluorescent yellow blazers in winter, or, if weather permits in summer, by a dark blue shirt and peaked cap, the Gardaí are generally very helpful. They, and all other emergency forces, can be contacted in the Republic of Ireland by dialing 999 (112, the European standard, is also used). These numbers connect you with local police, ambulance, and fire services. Expect a prompt response. The Garda Síochána website provides contact information for local stations.

In Northern Ireland, the police force is the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). They are distinguished by their dark blue coats and white shirts. They can be contacted by dialing 999.

HOURS OF OPERATION

Museums and sights are generally open Tuesday–Saturday 10–5 and Sunday 2–5. Business hours are 9–5, sometimes later in the larger towns. In smaller towns, many establishments close from 1 to 2 for lunch. If a holiday falls on a weekend, most businesses are closed on Monday. There are some 24-hour gas stations along the highways; otherwise, hours vary from morning rush hour to late evenings.

In the Republic of Ireland, banks are open 10–4 weekdays. They remain open until 5 one afternoon per week, usually Thursday. Post offices are open weekdays 9–5 and Saturday 9–1. In Northern Ireland, bank hours are weekdays 9:30–4:30. Post offices are open weekdays 9–5:30, Saturday 9–1.

Pharmacies are usually open Monday–Saturday 9–5:30 or 6. Larger towns and cities often have 24-hour establishments. Most shops are open Monday–Saturday 9–5:30 or 6. Once a week—normally Wednesday, Thursday, or Saturday—shops close at 1 pm. These times do not apply to Dublin, where stores generally stay open later. Larger malls usually stay open late once a week—generally until 9 on Thursday or Friday. Convenience stores, supermarkets, and gas stations in both Dublin and rural Ireland are generally open until 8 or 9 pm.

Shops in Belfast are open weekdays 9–5:30, with a late closing on Thursday, usually at 9. Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, shops close for the afternoon once a week, usually Wednesday or Thursday.

Holidays

Irish national holidays are as follows: January 1 (New Year’s Day); March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day); Good Friday; Easter Monday; May 2 (May Day); June 6 and August 1 (summer bank holidays); October 31 (autumn bank holiday); and December 25 and 26 (Christmas and St. Stephen’s Day). If you plan to visit at Easter, remember that theaters and movie theaters are closed for the last three days of the preceding week.

In Northern Ireland, the following are holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day); March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day); Good Friday; Easter Monday; May 2 (early May bank holiday); May 30 (late spring bank holiday); July 12 (Battle of the Boyne); August 29 (summer bank holiday); and December 25 and 26 (Christmas and Boxing Day).

MONEY

A modest hotel in Dublin costs about €120 a night for two; this figure can drop below €90 if you stay in a registered guesthouse or inn, and to about €70 in a suburban B&B. Lunch, consisting of a one-dish plate of bar food at a pub, costs €10–€14; a sandwich at the same pub costs about €5. In Dublin’s better restaurants, dinner runs €45–€60 (dinner being a three-course meal) per person, excluding drinks and tip.

Theater and entertainment in most places are inexpensive—about €20 for a good seat, and triple that for a big-name pop-music concert. For the price of a few drinks and (in Dublin and Killarney) sometimes also a small entrance fee of about €5, you can spend a memorable evening at a seisun (pronounced say-shoon when referring to this folk music session), in a music pub. Entrance to most public galleries is free, but stately homes and similar attractions charge anywhere from €4 to a whopping €16 per person.

Just about everything is more expensive in Dublin, so add at least 10% to these sample prices: cup of coffee, €2.20; pint of beer, €5; soda, €2.40; and 2-km (1-mile) taxi ride, €8. Due to the exchange rate, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and U.K. residents find Ireland a little pricey when they convert costs to their home currency.

Hotels and meals in Northern Ireland are less expensive than in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Also, the lower level of taxation makes gasoline, alcoholic drinks, and tobacco cheaper.

Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.

Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.

ATMs and Banks

Your own bank probably charges a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. Extracting funds as you need them is also a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.

PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.

ATMs are found in all major towns and are the easiest way to keep yourself stocked with euros and pounds. Most major banks are connected to Cirrus or PLUS systems; there’s a four-digit maximum for your PIN.

Credit Cards

It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.

If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.

When using your credit card, check that the merchant is putting the transaction through in euros or pounds sterling. If he or she puts it through in the currency of your home country—a transaction called a dynamic currency conversion—the exchange rate might be less favorable and the service charges higher than if you allow the credit-card company to do the conversion for you. Be sure to ask at the time, and insist on being billed in euros to get the most advantageous rate and avoid the service charge.

Currency and Exchange

The Irish Republic is a member of the European Monetary Union (EMU). Euro notes come in denominations of €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, and €5. The euro is divided into 100 cents, and coins are available as €2 and €1 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent, though 1 and 2 cent coins are being phased out of circulation

The unit of currency in Northern Ireland is the pound sterling (£), divided into 100 pence (p). The bills (called notes) are £50, £20, £10, and £5. Coins are £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p. The bank of Northern Ireland prints its own notes, which look different from the English and Scottish sterling.

Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there’s some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh . . . that’s right. The sign didn’t say no fee.) As for rates, you’re almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.

Traveler’s Checks and Cards

Some consider this the currency of the caveman, and it’s true that fewer establishments accept traveler’s checks these days. Nevertheless, they’re a cheap and secure way to carry extra money, particularly on trips to urban areas. Both Citibank (under the Visa brand) and American Express issue traveler’s checks in the United States, but Amex is better known and more widely accepted. Whatever you do, keep track of all the serial numbers in case the checks are lost or stolen.

PACKING

In Ireland, you can experience all four seasons in a day. There can be damp, chilly stretches even in July and August, the warmest months of the year. Layers are the best way to go. Pack several long- and short-sleeve T-shirts (in winter, some should be thermal or silk), a sweatshirt, a lightweight sweater, a heavyweight sweater, and a hooded, waterproof windbreaker that’s large enough to go over several layers if necessary. A portable umbrella is absolutely essential, and the smaller and lighter it is, the better, as you’ll want it with you every second. You should bring at least two pairs of walking shoes; footwear can get soaked in minutes and take hours to dry.

The Irish are generally informal about clothes. In the more expensive hotels and restaurants, people dress formally for dinner, and a jacket and tie may be required in bars after 7 pm, but very few places operate a strict dress policy. Old or tattered blue jeans and running shoes are forbidden in certain bars and dance clubs.

If you’re used to packing things or stowing dirty clothes in plastic shopping or drawstring bags, bring your own. About the only place you can find the latter here is in the closets of better hotel rooms (for on-site dry cleaning and laundry). Plastic bags carry a 22¢ government levy and can be sold by supermarkets, but it’s illegal to give them away. Most stores use paper bags or recycle boxes.

PASSPORTS

All U.S. citizens, even infants, need a valid passport to enter Ireland for stays of up to 90 days. Citizens of the United Kingdom, when traveling on flights departing from Great Britain, do not need a passport to enter Ireland, but it’s advisable to carry some form of photo ID. Passport requirements for Northern Ireland are the same as for the republic.

U.S. passports are valid for 10 years. You must apply in person if getting a passport for the first time; if your previous passport was lost, stolen, or damaged; or if your previous passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago or when you were under 16. All children under 18 must appear in person to apply for or renew a passport. Both parents must accompany any child under 14 (or send a notarized statement with their permission) and provide proof of their relationship to the child.

Before your trip, make two copies of your passport’s data page (one for someone at home and another for you to carry separately). Or scan the page and email it to someone at home and/or yourself.

There are 13 regional passport offices, as well as 7,000 passport acceptance facilities in post offices, public libraries, and other governmental offices. If you’re renewing a passport, you can do so by mail. Forms are available at passport acceptance facilities and online.

The cost to apply for a new passport is $100 for adults, $85 for children under 16; renewals are $75. Allow six weeks for processing, both for first-time passports and renewals. For an expediting fee of $60 you can reduce this time to about two weeks. If your trip is less than two weeks away, you can get a passport even more rapidly by going to a passport office with the necessary documentation. Private expediters can get things done in as little as 48 hours, but charge hefty fees for their services.

RESTROOMS

Public restrooms are in short supply in Ireland. They are easy enough to find in public places such as airports, train stations, and shopping malls, but if not in one of these locations, your best bet is to look for the nearest pub (never more than a few minutes away in Ireland!). Restrooms are often labeled in Irish—fir (men) and mná (women). Pubs are increasingly putting up signs saying that restrooms are for customers only—but this is difficult to enforce. If it’s outside of shopping or pub hours, your last option may be the nearest hotel. Most gas stations have toilets available. Only toilets in hotels or shopping centers are up to a polished North American standard. Although many toilets look well worn, they are generally clean. Unfortunately, few restrooms are heated and an open window is typically used for ventilation, making for an uncomfortably cold experience in the colder months.

TAXES

When leaving the Irish Republic, U.S. and Canadian visitors get a refund of the value-added tax (V.A.T.), which currently accounts for a hefty 23% of the purchase price of many goods and 13.5% of those that fall outside the luxury category. Apart from clothing, most items of interest to visitors, right down to ordinary toilet soap, are rated at 23%. V.A.T. is not refundable on accommodations, car rental, meals, or any other form of personal services received on vacation.

Many crafts outlets and department stores operate a system that enables U.S. and Canadian visitors to collect V.A.T. rebates in the currency of their choice at Dublin or Shannon Airport on departure. Some stores give you the rebate at the register; with others you claim your refund after you’ve returned home.

Refund forms, known as tax-free shopping cheques, must be picked up at the time of purchase, stamped by customs, and mailed back to the store before you leave for home. It may take months for your refund to be processed. Many merchants work with a service such as Global Blue, which has offices at major ports and airports, and refunds your money immediately in return for a 4% fee.

If a store gives you a refund at the register, you’ll also be given papers to have stamped by customs. Put the papers in an envelope (also provided by the store), and mail it before you leave. Most major stores deduct V.A.T. at the time of sale if goods are to be shipped overseas; however, there’s a shipping charge.

When leaving Northern Ireland, U.S. and Canadian visitors can also get a refund of the 17.5% V.A.T. by the over-the-counter and the direct-export methods. Most larger stores provide these services on request and handle the paperwork. For the over-the-counter method, you must spend more than £75 in one store. Ask the store for Form V.A.T. 407 (you must have identification—passports are best) to be given to customs when you leave the country. The refund will be forwarded to you in about eight weeks (minus a small service charge) either in the form of a check or as a credit to your charge card. The direct-export method, where the goods are shipped directly to your home, is more cumbersome. V.A.T. Form 407/1/93 must be certified by customs, police, or a notary public when you get home and then sent back to the store, which will refund your money.

TIPPING

In some hotels and restaurants, a service charge of around 10%—rising to 15% in plush spots—is added to the bill. If in doubt, ask whether service is included. In places where it’s included, tipping isn’t necessary unless you have received particularly good service. If there’s no service charge, add a minimum of 10% to the total. Taxi drivers or hackney cab drivers, who make the trip for a prearranged sum, don’t expect tips. There are few porters and plenty of baggage trolleys at airports, so tipping is usually not an issue; if you use a porter, €1 is the minimum. Tip hotel porters at least €1 per suitcase. Hairdressers normally expect about 10% of the total spent. You don’t tip in pubs, but for waiter service in a bar, a hotel lounge, or a Dublin lounge bar, leave about €1. It’s not customary to tip for regular concierge service.

TRIP INSURANCE

Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.

Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.