Travel to Ireland – What to Know Before You Go

Irish Castle Travel to Ireland

Travel to Ireland by Air

If you're headed to Ireland from the United States you'll find about 27 different flight combinations that will get you there. Five of them are nonstop, the rest require connecting flights. Since flights change almost every day we'll have to see what's the best routing for you after you've picked your travel dates. 

Once you arrive in Ireland you'll be required to clear customs. Most Irish airports have two "channels" to pick from as you go through customs, the green and the red channels. If you have to declare goods over the duty and tax-free allowances for non-EU visitors you'll need to go through the red channel. Typically, travelers arriving in Ireland don't have a lot of duty free or tax-free to declare, and they are soon through the green channel. When you are ready to leave Ireland and return to the United States you'll go through customs and immigration again. 

At the Dublin, Ireland airport the United States has their own facility, located in terminal 2. It allows US-bound passengers to pass through immigration, customs, and agricultural inspections before leaving the ground in Dublin. You'll find additional pre-clearance facilities at the Shannon airport as well.

Travel to Ireland by Ship

If you would prefer to sail to Ireland you'll find many cruise lines (22 at last count) make port in one or more of Ireland's coastal cities. Ireland has a total of 49 ports, although many of them are commercial ports only and too small for cruise ships to dock there. The most common ports for cruise ships to call on are Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Londonderry, and Waterford. For the most part you'll still have to fly to a European port to embark on your cruise. Currently, 4 cruise lines offer transatlantic crossings from the United States to Ireland, so let me know if you want to sail and completely stay off airplanes. It's possible, but the dates are limited.

Getting Around the Irish Countryside

Here are a few things to remember about traveling in Ireland for first time visitors.

  • The metric system is used in the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland it's a mix of metric and yards.
  • Ireland uses the Euro for cash transactions. Keep in mind that higher denomination notes are not widely accepted in Ireland, as small shops won't often have a lot of change on hand. So travel with Euros in smaller denominations, which are widely accepted.
  • If you want to use a credit card, you'll find that Visa and Mastercard are commonly accepted. American Express is less commonly used in Ireland. 
  • To use an ATM in Ireland look for the card symbols at each machine, which will tell you what can be used at that location. Make sure you know your PIN, which will usually be required. If your credit card still doesn't have a microchip most retailers will accept it and ask you to sign for your purchase. 
  • The official languages of the Republic of Ireland are Irish (Gaelic) and English. All streets and road signs are bilingual usually, but you'll find that in Irish-speaking areas the road signs might only be in Irish. If you're in Northern Ireland you can expect English  to be spoken, which is the official language. Sometimes if you're in Northern Ireland you may also hear the Ulster-Scots language.
  • Driving in Ireland requires a valid American driver's license. Just as in the United States, you must wear your seat belt in both the front and back seats of the vehicle. The big difference is that driving in Ireland is on the left side of the road, opposite what you're used to in the US. 
  • If you plan to rent a car in Ireland I can suggest the most helpful and cost effective car rental companies for you. A little tip we've learned is to take a photograph of your rental car before you leave the rental lot, documenting the scratches or dents already on the car before you leave. Make sure, too, that these are noted on the car inspection form before you leave. It's not hard to find rental car offices, they are located at almost all airports, ferry terminals, and in cities across Ireland.
  • Ireland has very strict laws regarding alcohol and driving. The best way to stay safe is to forget about drinking and driving. 
  • If you're planning to use a motorcycle in Ireland plan also to wear a helmet, which is required by law.
  • Driving in the Republic of Ireland, you'll see the speed limit signs posted in kilometers per hour (km/h). But if you're driving in Northern Ireland you'll see the speed limit is posted in miles per hour (mph). 
  • Should you run into any trouble while in Ireland you can ask for assistance from the Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS) which provides support 24/7 if you are the victim of a crime or suffer a traumatic incident in the Republic of Ireland. If you are in Northern Ireland and need assistance you can contact Victim Support Northern Ireland.
  • America citizens are required to show a valid US passport to visit the island of Ireland, no visa is required currently (but ALWAYS check for visa requirements before you travel outside the United States). If you are a resident of the US but you are traveling to Ireland on a non-US passport you may be required to obtain a visa, so check with your country's embassy for current information.
  • If you make purchases in Ireland and you are an American citizen you can claim back sales taxes, which is commonly called VAT. Look for the signs in shops that say "tax free shopping" which identifies participating stores. VAT is 23% so you can get a good bit of money returned to you if you are a big shopper. You'll have to complete the Irish tax refund document, which participating stores have on hand. Be sure to get a receipt for your purchases, you'll need that for your tax refund request. Give your tax refund request to customs when you leave Ireland. At some airports you will receive your refund on the spot, at others you will have to mail it to the store to get a tax refund issued. (This is sometimes not worth it, as the check you will receive from the store will be in Euros and you'll lose money when you try to deposit the check.)
travel to ireland map

Irish Weather

The tourist boards in Ireland will tell you that it's temperate all year round and will invite you to travel anytime. While you can always expect rain in Ireland, you can expect more gray, cold, rainy days in the late fall and winter so if dampness and cold weather are bad for you, go to Ireland in another season. The Irish rain is what makes the country so drop-dead green and gorgeous. Be prepped for rain! (See my suggestions below.) You can get up-to-the-minute weather reports for all of Ireland at met.ie. To plan ahead, use Weatherbase which will give you average temps, sunshine, rain, and more for almost any city in either part of Ireland.

You'll need a rain jacket/windbreaker any time of year, along with a good umbrella or waterproof hat. I also suggest waterproof walking shoes for travel to Ireland.

Getting to Know Irish Geography

Ireland is roughly the same size as the State of Indiana. Since Ireland is an island it's surrounded by ocean. The Atlantic Ocean is on the west side of Ireland, the North Sea off the north end of Ireland, and the North Channel off the northeast end of Ireland. On the eastern side of Ireland you'll find the Irish Sea, and further south along the coast is St. George's Channel and finally, to the south, the Celtic Sea. There are many ferries from Ireland over to England, and you can expect the ride to be bumpy!

The main cities of Ireland are Belfast (in Northern Ireland), Dublin, Cork, and Galway. But almost every city, big or small, has something of interest for travelers to Ireland. We love Galway and the tiny town of Spiddal for pubs playing Irish music (both new and traditional). In Waterford you can visit the famous glass manufacturer. Driving the entire Dingle Peninsula gives you unforgettable views of the Irish coast and many little villages to explore. In County Meathe you'll find Newgrange, a prehistoric, Stone Age passage tomb that is fascinating to visit.

Almost every stop you make in Ireland will fill  your eyes and heart with the beauty and friendliness of the Irish people. I encourage you to see the "must see" sites but also get off the beaten path. Discover your own Ireland.

Tip: If you're driving Ireland make sure to leave more time than you think is necessary to get from one place to another. You'll be driving on the opposite side, which will slow you down a little. And, some Irish roads are very narrow and slow going.

Things to Do in Ireland

  • Drink whisky
  • Play golf
  • Hike
  • Cruise along the shoreline
  • Listen to Irish music
  • Stay a few nights in a castle
  • Visit the out islands (Arans, Blaskey Islands, or Rathlin Island)
  • Explore ruins
  • Fish
  • Pub hop
  • Drive the coastline
  • Explore Ireland's trendy restaurants
  • Visit castles

Ready to plan?

Whether you want a customized tour of Ireland or a group trip, we're here to help. Contact us at sue@travelchangeslife.com or call us at 941-720-1842. We want you to love Ireland as much as we do.


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