As we’ve been busy planning our own trip to Ireland, we couldn’t help but reflect on our past trips. We have both thought back to our first trips as teenagers and the experience of exploring a new country. That familiar mix of nerves and excitement when you are jetting off to a new place. The unexpected and unknown that is so appealing and yet daunting at the same time.
On visits to Ireland since, the feelings of nerves have been completely replaced with a sense of excitement to return to a place we love. And talking about traveling to Ireland, we can’t help but feel a little silly for ever being nervous to visit Ireland.
It was a like returning to familiar home, a home we have never known before, but was some how it was a deep part of us.
In the coming weeks we will be sharing updates on our planning to visit Ireland and explore our family history, until then we wanted to share our past experiences visiting Ireland. This post is full of what we wish someone told us before boarding that first flight to Dublin.
What To Expect Your First Time Visiting Ireland
Ireland is home to Celtic music, castles, a rugged coastline and of course fairies. It is hard to disagree that this coastal country is one of the most picturesque countries in the world. There are many reasons that will draw you to the Emerald Isle. You may be like us exploring family connections, or you may be lovers of music, history buffs or outdoor enthusiasts. Needless to say there is something for everyone in Ireland.
But for those who’ve never been, you’ll want to check out these helpful tips in our first time visitors guide to Ireland before you book your trip.
Best Time To Visit Ireland
As you have probably heard the weather varies greatly in Ireland, from town to town, and from hour to hour. You could be blessed with the luck of the Irish and have a beautiful, temperate visit in October, and just as easily encounter chilly rain that lasts for days in July.
We’ve visited at various times throughout the year, but our pick for best time to visit would be late April. You will need light layers, but with the spring flowers in bloom your heart will be warm. With the exception of Easter, April is also before the peak tourist season of the summer which means travels deals are available.
When it comes time to rest your head for the night, there are a range of accommodation types across Ireland. From cheap and cheery, to full service luxury and from classic, to modern; truly there is something for every type of traveler and desired experience.
There is an abundance of major hotels, charming B&Bs and hostels to choose from. Also there are plenty of unique experiences as well, including being able to sleep in a lighthouse, a medieval castle and heritage country houses.
As a first time or solo traveler B&Bs and guesthouses will provide you with fantastic, affordable experiences throughout the countryside. You can expect to not pay more than $80 (USD) a night at peak times. Most will offer free wifi, parking, a delicious breakfast and best of all insider tips from your local hosts to help you get off the beaten tourist path.
Step Into A Pub
One of the nicest surprises about visiting Ireland, is that you will eat good food and plenty of it. Perhaps not known for its’ culinary experiences that has been quickly changing in recent years, with an abundance of locally sourced produce and meats and cool young chefs, Ireland’s food scene is hot.
But don’t miss out on the classics. Afternoon coffee or tea at Bewley’s Grafton Street Cafe is not to be missed. Soda bread is heavenly, especially when paired with a hearty soup. And you will hard to find better fish and chips – bold statement I know, but the Irish do fish and chips right!
While there are plenty of restaurant options, a pub is always a great option for travels. For a famous pint of Guinness, a cup of tea, a warm meal or to enjoy a good laugh and music, the pub is central to the social scene in Irish villages and towns. So pull up a chair and relax!
Ireland is relatively small, which means you can slow down and take your time to enjoy an extra cuppa or pint. No hustle and bustle here, you’ll be on island time while visiting Ireland.
Traffic within Dublin is horrible, any local will tell you so. Luckily the public transportation within the city is fantastic! You will easily get from the airport, to the Guinness Storehouse, and Kilmaingham Gaol along with all other attraction within Dublin.
If you are spending a few days in Dublin we would recommend the pick up the Leap Visitor Card which will give you access to all public transportation (Airlink, Dublin Bus, Luas, DART and Commuter Rail) in Dublin.
Aside from the unlimited travel, one of the best features of the card is that you can even travel to and from the Airport at the start and end of your trip without any additional charge. One day of unlimited travel in Dublin will only cost 10 Euros (2018 prices)! And 7 days 40 Euros.
Leap Visitor Cards are only available in certain locations; pick yours up at the Dublin airport or in the city centre at the following locations:
- Bus & Travel Information Desk (T1 Arrivals)
- Spar (T2 Arrivals)
Dublin City Centre
- Dublin Bus, 59 Upper O’Connell St.
- Discover Ireland Centre, 14 Upper O’Connell St.
- Visit Dublin Centre, 25 Suffolk St.
With such affordable and efficient public transportation options in Dublin, it makes sense to avoid the stress of driving until you leave the city when your biggest stress will be waiting for a stray animal to clear the road! Island time at its’ finest.
Neither of us have driven in Ireland (yet!!) so like us preparing for our upcoming trip to Ireland, if you are planning to rent a car in Ireland do your research!! Ireland is one of the few countries that requires you to purchase a separate Collision and Damage Waiver policy through the car rental agency, meaning your credit card’s CDW policy is not valid. There may be additional fees and charges required, so be sure to read the fine print.
Step Out Of The Pub
Above we told you to step in to a pub, now we’re reminding you that you need to step out of the pub!
We will admit it is easy to lose time in Ireland, especially in a pub where live music and cheerful banter can easily draw you in for just one more. As Meaghan has already shared she missed out on a few important cultural and historical attractions on her first visit to Ireland. So please learn from us, and step out of the pub.
Ireland has a rich history, that like the base of this project, has personal connection for so many of us with Irish ancestry.
Taking the time to research Ireland’s cultural attractions and identifying which ones you would want to visit, will help you make the most of your time on the Emerald Isle. One of our best tips for first time visitors, is to pay attention to when attraction are open and which ones require advanced ticket purchase. Also purchasing your tickets for some attractions may save you money, like at the Guinness Storehouse.
For example, Newgrange – The World Heritage Site – requires advanced tickets and the neolithic tombs should be on everyone’s list when visiting Ireland. Even if you are based in Dublin, Newgrange is an easy day trip from the city and accessible via public transit.
- Wear layers most days, and always have a rain jacket with you.
- “Slainte” (SLAWN-chuh), the equivalent of “cheers.”
- If you visiting a lot of Irish cultural attractions, a Heritage Card is a good idea to get access at all state run sites for €40.
- Most countryside pubs there is no table service.
- Tipping is nice, but not required. In restaurants with table service, it’s normal to tip between 10 – 12%. Restaurants occasionally add a service charge to the bill themselves, especially for larger groupings, so check this first. Taxi drivers or other personal service providers are usually tipped up to 10 per cent if they have provided good service.
- Sunday is still day a rest in some parts of Ireland, so be sure to check service hours before venturing out.
- If you plan to do any shopping sign up for a Horizon Card to make tax-free shopping very easy for non-EU residents.
- The Irish use a lot of slang, after a few days you will catch on!
- If you are traveling to Northern Ireland, it is a different currency. Ireland uses the Euro and Northern Ireland uses the British Pound.
- Look right when crossing the road.
What To See:
- Powerscourt Estate
- Skellig Michael
- Basket Islands
How To Get There:
Dublin is the Republic of Ireland’s main point of arrival, Belfast that of Northern Ireland. There is also the Shannon Aiport, near Limerick in County Clare, which will give visitors direct access to the west coast.
Most international airlines have direct flights to Dublin, with new routes growing each year.
There is also the option to arrive via ferry from Britain.
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