Ireland: a pot of gold behind every rainbow.

A country renowned for Guinness, St. Patrick’s Day, and producing exceptional artists, including some of the greatest writers who’ve ever lived, Ireland will inspire you. Although it rains frequently and so suddenly that you’re well advised to carry a raincoat at all times, this keeps the Emerald Isle emerald, and it has the added feature of bringing out the rainbows once the showers are over.

Getting in, out, and about Ireland

US travelers to Ireland can get their passport stamped for a stay for any reason of up to 90 days. Consequently their passport must remain valid for at least 90 days beyond entry. The duration of one’s stay varies according to the assessment at immigration controls, but the more your paperwork is in order, including intended accommodations and travel plans, the later the required exit date for your vacation.

Keep in mind that although Ireland is part of the European Union, it is not part of the Schengen Agreement, so an entry stamp from one of the Schengen countries is not considered a valid entry into Ireland. If you travel across the border from Northern Ireland, politically a part of the United Kingdom, into the Republic of Ireland, or vice versa, make a point of stopping at an immigration center. The border between the two countries is largely unpatrolled but travelers caught without the proper travel permissions can face fines and deportation.

Aside from the common vaccinations, travelers may opt to get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A or B, or rabies, however these depend on your intended activities. Tap water quality and food preparation standards are comparable to those in the United States, so the water is safe to drink.

Getting around Ireland by car is a fantastic way to enjoy the lush sights of the Emerald Isle. There are numerous car rental services, including camper rentals, and sites throughout the country for camper and RV travelers. Keep in mind that unlike most other places in the world, driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Most Irish car rentals do not allow you to purchase third party collision insurance, so be prepared to pay extra fees for a deposit or additional insurance through the rental agency.

If you tour Ireland by car, remember that the legal blood alcohol limit is much lower than it is in the US, and the Irish strictly enforce their laws against impaired driving. You’re better off not driving at all if you have been drinking. Another issue that may come up for drivers in Ireland is finding parking, particularly in tourist areas. Some may even charge outrageous prices for parking.

Do not leave valuables in your car, including your passport and travel documents. While Ireland is not exceptionally high in crime, tourist areas face the typical types of petty thefts associated with tourist areas throughout the world. One common method of theft is to attach an electronic device to ATMs in high tourist areas. The device records ATM transactional information including account numbers. Look around the ATM for such devices and always be aware of your surroundings.

While driving throughout Ireland has its upside, it may be too expensive for budget travelers. Fortunately, numerous bus and train services abound. Your best bet is to book train services in advance through the local office, since online rates can frequently be more expensive. Most intercity trains run to a hub in Dublin, so it may not be possible to travel by train from one Irish city to another directly.

Cycling across the Irish countryside can make for an adventurous vacation, especially since many of the roads in Ireland are not in the best shape for cyclists. Trams, buses, and trains make up the public transportation in Dublin, and budget travelers can save money by purchasing advance passes. If you use a taxi in Ireland, call in advance for one rather than hailing them on the street. This isn’t a safety concern so much as they may be difficult to find in some of the smaller towns and villages.

Ireland’s climate tends to be cool in the summertime, averaging in the mid-50’s Fahrenheit, and colder in the winter (although below freezing weather is relatively uncommon). However, weather changes within a single day are a common occurrence, prompting many to characterize Ireland as having four seasons in a single day.

The traveler’s tongue

Ireland has two official languages, English and Irish, and don’t refer to the latter as Gaelic, which is the language family that Irish originates from as well as Scotch Gaelic. Although many claim to be able to read, understand, or speak Irish, it is not spoken commonly except in some rural areas. The signs even in those areas are bilingual, featuring both Irish and English names. Learning a few words and phrases in Irish might not yield you the same level of interest and support throughout Ireland as speaking the language of another host country might provoke there, but in some rural areas, it can be a fun way to connect with the residents.

Money matters in Ireland

As a member of the European Union, Ireland uses the euro as its currency. Despite recent economic setbacks in the last half-decade, prices are consistent with those found in the United States. Budget travelers can find hostels for as low as $13 USD a night for a single occupancy, but should budget for the more common range of $20 to $50 USD a night. Midrange accommodations start at $70 a night but usually average between $100 to $150 USD a night.

Food costs can vary anywhere from $3 for a light breakfast to fancy meals at $50 a plate or more, depending on your predilections. Since national museums in Ireland usually don’t charge for entry, budget travelers can expect to spend from $50 to $100 USD a day when they take advantage of public transportation and engage in low cost entertainment choices.

Tipping 10% is the typical expectation at Irish restaurants, and many may already include up to a 15% tip in addition to other taxes, in which case, leaving an additional tip is not necessary. Although US travelers may be able to get a refund on some of the VAT taxes that get added to Irish goods and services, it is not as simple a matter as you’ll find in other parts of Europe, and many businesses may not participate. Rather than getting a lump sum refund as you prepare to board your flight back home, in order to get a tax refund, you have to get your receipts stamped by customs agents, and then correspond with the individual businesses to get your refund directly from them. Many businesses, particularly in popular tourist areas, might try to steer you towards a VAT refund agent, but this is a scam, since the agent’s cut is usually quite high.

Highlights of a vacation in Ireland

Ireland features too many attractions to list exhaustively, but here are some highlights:
• Visit Dublin. With numerous pubs, shopping areas, and historic attractions, Dublin is one of the world’s most popular tourist cities. The two biggest attractions are the Guinness Brewery where Ireland’s national beer is prepared and Dublin Castle.
• Kiss the Blarney Stone and gain the gift of gab. Located in Blarney Castle near the city of Cork, the Blarney Stone attracts would be kissers throughout the year. The town of Cork itself is also charming, with exceptional pubs and regular festivals.
• Cruise along the Ring of Kerry. This beautiful area on the Iveragh Peninsula features winding roads along coastlines of high cliffs and through hilly forests.
• Appreciate the Literature. Perhaps Ireland’s greatest contribution to Western civilization is its numerous literary heavyweights, including Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeats, and, of course, James Joyce. Head to Dublin on June 16 to participate in the annual Bloomsday celebration that commemorates Joyce’s novel Ulysses with an odyssey of its own through the streets of Dublin, or if you cannot make it there at that time, enjoy the James Joyce museum in Dublin. Bring a book of poetry to Sligo, the home of W. B. Yeats and explore the gorgeous countryside that inspired so many of his mystical poems.
• Take a ferry to the Aran Islands. These rocky islands showcase some of the best scenery Ireland has to offer, not to mention the ruins of ancient Celtic forts, such as Dun Aengus near the town of Irishmore, as well as later castles such as Castle O’Brien. These islands are a great place to practice speaking Irish.
• Gaze out from the Cliffs of Moher. If you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, you may remember the Cliffs of Insanity. Now you can see them in person along with a classic view of the Atlantic Ocean. If you travel by car, keep in mind that parking at this site is expensive and charged to each passenger in a vehicle. It may be more worthwhile to park further down the road and hike up to the cliffs.