All new buildings have wheelchair access, and many hotels (especially urban ones that are part of chains) have installed lifts, ramps and other facilities such as hearing loops. Others, particularly B&Bs, have not invested in making their properties accessible.
In big cities most buses have low-floor access and priority spaces on board, but only 63% of the Bus Éireann coach fleet that operates on Commuter and Expressway services is wheelchair-accessible. Note, too, that many of its rural stops are not accessible.
Trains are accessible with help. Call 1850 366 222 (outside Republic of Ireland +353 1 836 6222) or email firstname.lastname@example.org 24 hours in advance to arrange assistance with boarding, alighting and transferring at intermediate stations. Note that there is a limited number of wheelchair-accessible spaces on each train. Newer trains have audio and visual information systems for visually impaired and hearing-impaired passengers. Assistance dogs may travel without restriction. A full list of station facilities as at 2019 can be downloaded from www.irishrail.ie/travel-information/disabled-access.
- For an informative article with links to accessibility information for transport and tourist attractions, visit www.ireland.com/en-us/accommodation/articles/accessibility.
- Two review sites covering accommodation, eating and drinking and places of interest that are worth checking out are https://mobilitymojo.com, which has a searchable database that's expanding outside its base of Dublin and Galway; and www.accessibleireland.com, which also hosts short introductions to public transport.
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
- The Citizens' Information Board in the Republic and Disability Action in Northern Ireland can give some advice to travellers with disabilities.
Ireland doesn't do bargaining – unless you're buying a horse.
Dangers & Annoyances
Ireland is safer than most countries in Europe, but normal precautions should be observed.
- Don't leave anything visible in your car when you park.
- Skimming at ATMs is an ongoing problem; be sure to cover the keypad with your hand when you input your PIN.
- In Northern Ireland exercise extra care in 'interface' areas where sectarian neighbourhoods adjoin.
- Best avoid Northern Ireland during the climax of the Orange marching season on 12 July. Sectarian passions are usually inflamed and even many Northerners leave the province at this time.
Embassies & Consulates
Following is a selection of embassies in Dublin and consular offices in Belfast. For a complete list, see the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfa.ie), which also lists Ireland's diplomatic missions overseas.
Dutch Consulate in Belfast
US Consulate in Belfast
Emergency & Important Numbers
Include area codes only when dialling from outside the area or from a mobile phone. Drop the initial 0 when dialling from abroad.
|Republic of Ireland country code||353|
|Northern Ireland country code||44|
|International access code||00|
|Emergency (police, fire, ambulance)||999|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Dublin is the primary point of entry for most visitors to Ireland, but you can also fly into Shannon or Belfast.
- The overwhelming majority of airlines fly into Dublin.
- For travel to the US, Dublin and Shannon airports operate pre-clearance facilities, which means you pass through US immigration before boarding your aircraft.
- Dublin is home to two seaports that serve as the main points of sea transport with Britain; ferries from France arrive in the southern ports of Rosslare and Cork.
- Dublin is the nation's rail hub.
Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have a two-tier customs system: one for goods bought duty-free outside the EU, the other for goods bought in another EU country where tax and duty is paid. There is technically no limit to the amount of goods transportable within the EU, but customs will use certain guidelines to distinguish personal use from commercial purpose. Allowances are as follows:
Duty-free For duty-free goods from outside the EU, limits include 200 cigarettes, 1L of spirits or 2L of wine, 60mL of perfume and 250mL of eau de toilette.
Tax and duty paid Amounts that officially constitute personal use include 3200 cigarettes (or 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars or 3kg of tobacco) and either 10L of spirits, 20L of fortified wine, 60L of sparkling wine, 90L of still wine or 110L of beer.
Not required by most citizens of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada.
If you're a European Economic Area (EEA) national, you don't need a visa to visit (or work in) either the Republic or Northern Ireland. Citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the US can visit the Republic for up to three months, and Northern Ireland for up to six months. They are not allowed to work, unless sponsored by an employer.
Full visa requirements for visiting the Republic are available online at www.dfa.ie; for Northern Ireland's visa requirements see www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration.
To stay longer in the Republic, contact the local garda (police) station or the Garda National Immigration Bureau. To stay longer in Northern Ireland, contact the Home Office (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration).
Although largely informal in their everyday dealings, the Irish do observe some (unspoken) rules of etiquette.
- Greetings Shake hands with men, women and children when meeting for the first time and when saying goodbye. The Irish expect a firm handshake with eye contact. Female friends are greeted with a single (air) kiss.
- Conversation Generally friendly but often reserved, the Irish avoid conversations that might embarrass. They are very mistrustful of 'oversharers'. Not surprisingly politics and religion can be touchy topics in Northern Ireland: take your lead from locals and don't make any assumptions or assertions.
- Round System The Irish generally take it in turns to buy a round of drinks for the whole group and everyone is expected to take part. The next round should always be bought before the first round is drunk.
Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Wi-fi and 3G/4G networks are making internet cafes largely redundant (except to gamers). The few that are left will charge around €6 per hour. Most accommodation places have wi-fi, either free or for a daily charge (up to €10 per day).
Illegal drugs are widely available, especially in clubs. The possession of small quantities of marijuana attracts a fine or warning, but harder drugs are treated more seriously. Public drunkenness is illegal but commonplace – the police will usually ignore it unless you're causing trouble. Should you find yourself under arrest, you have the right to remain silent and to contact either an attorney or your embassy.
Once you are charged and cautioned you will either be released on bail (known as 'station bail') or, in the event of a more serious offence, transferred from the police station to the District Court as early as possible (usually within 12 hours), where you will either be bailed or remanded in custody by the judge.
Contact the following for assistance:
Legal Aid Board Has a network of local law centres.
Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland Administers the statutory legal-aid scheme for Northern Ireland, but cannot offer legal advice.
Ireland is a generally tolerant place for the LGBTQ community. Bigger cities such as Dublin, Galway and Cork have well-established gay scenes, as do Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Republic since 2015; Northern Ireland is the only region of the United Kingdom where it is not.
While the cities and main towns tend to be progressive and tolerant, you'll still find pockets of homophobia throughout the island, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas.
Resources include the following:
Gaire (www.gaire.com) Message board and info for a host of gay-related issues.
Gay & Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland (www.cara-friend.org.uk) Voluntary counselling, information, health and social-space organisation for the gay community.
Gay Men’s Health Project Practical advice on men’s health issues.
National LGBT Federation Publishes the monthly Gay Community News (www.gcn.ie).
Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association Represents the rights and interests of the LGBTQ community in Northern Ireland. It offers phone and online support, but is not a call-in centre.
Outhouse Top gay, lesbian and bisexual resource centre. Great stop-off point to see what's on, check noticeboards and meet people. It publishes the free Ireland's Pink Pages, a directory of gay-centric services, which is also accessible on the website.
- Newspapers Irish Independent (www.independent.ie), Irish Times (www.irishtimes.com), Irish Examiner (www.examiner.ie), Belfast Telegraph (www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk).
- Radio RTE Radio 1 (88MHz–90MHz), Today FM (100MHz–103MHz), Newstalk 106-108 (106MHz–108MHz), BBC Ulster (92MHz–95MHz; Northern Ireland only).
The Republic of Ireland uses the euro (€). Northern Ireland uses the pound sterling (£), though the euro is also accepted in many places.
All banks have ATMs that are linked to international money systems such as Cirrus, Maestro or Plus. Each transaction incurs a currency-conversion fee, and credit cards can incur immediate and exorbitant cash-advance interest-rate charges. Watch out for ATMs that have been tampered with, as card-reader scams ('skimming') have become a real problem.
The best exchange rates are at banks, though bureaux de change and other exchange facilities usually open for more hours.
Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards are widely accepted. American Express is only accepted by the major chains, and virtually no one will accept Diners or JCB. Chip-and-PIN is the norm for card transactions – only a few places will accept a signature.
Smaller businesses, such as pubs and some B&Bs, prefer debit cards (and will charge a fee for credit cards), and a small number of rural B&Bs only take cash.
The Republic of Ireland uses the euro.
Northern Ireland uses the pound sterling.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
- Hotels A tip of €1/£1 per bag is standard; tip cleaning staff at your discretion.
- Pubs Not expected unless table service is provided, then €1/£1 for a round of drinks.
- Restaurants For decent service 10%; up to 15% in more expensive places.
- Taxis Tip 10% or round up fare to nearest euro/pound.
- Toilet attendants Loose change; no more than 50c/50p.
Banks 10am–4pm Monday to Friday (to 5pm Thursday)
Pubs 10.30am–11.30pm Monday to Thursday, 10.30am–12.30am Friday and Saturday, noon–11pm Sunday (30 minutes ‘drinking up’ time allowed); closed Christmas Day and Good Friday
Restaurants noon–10.30pm; many close one day of the week
Shops 9.30am–6pm Monday to Saturday (to 8pm Thursday in cities), noon–6pm Sunday
- Natural light can be very dull, so use higher ISO speeds than usual, such as 400 for daylight shots.
- In Northern Ireland get permission before taking photos of fortified police stations, army posts or other military or quasi-military paraphernalia.
- Don't take photos of people in Protestant or Catholic strongholds of West Belfast without permission; always ask and be prepared to accept a refusal.
- Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography is full of helpful tips for photography while on the road.
The Irish postal service, An Post (www.anpost.com), is reliable, efficient and generally on time. In rural Ireland the ongoing closure of post offices has resulted in postal services being integrated into convenience stores, or eliminated altogether in smaller villages. In Northern Ireland the Royal Mail (www.royalmail.com) takes care of all postal needs.
Public holidays can cause road chaos as everyone tries to get somewhere else for the break. It's wise to book accommodation in advance for these times.
The following are public holidays in both the Republic and Northern Ireland:
New Year's Day 1 January
St Patrick's Day 17 March
Easter (Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive) March/April
May Holiday 1st Monday in May
Christmas Day 25 December
St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) 26 December
St Patrick's Day and St Stephen's Day holidays are taken on the following Monday when they fall on a weekend. Nearly everywhere in the Republic closes on Good Friday even though it isn't an official public holiday. In the North most shops open on Good Friday, but close the following Tuesday.
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
The Twelfth 12 July
August Holiday Last Monday in August
June Holiday 1st Monday in June
August Holiday 1st Monday in August
October Holiday Last Monday in October
- Smoking It is illegal to smoke indoors everywhere except private residences and prisons.
Taxes & Refunds
Most goods come with value-added tax (VAT) of 21% (20% in Northern Ireland), which non-EU residents can claim back so long as the store in which the goods are purchased operates either the Cashback or Taxback refund programme (the Tax-Free Shopping refund scheme in Northern Ireland), usually indicated by a display sticker on the window.
To claim the VAT you must fill in the voucher that comes with your purchase, which must be stamped at the last point of exit from the EU. If you're travelling on to Britain or mainland Europe from Ireland, hold on to your voucher until you pass through your final customs stop in the EU. It can then be stamped and you can post it back for a refund of duty paid.
Goods such as books, children's clothing and educational items are excluded from VAT.
When calling Ireland from abroad, dial your international access code, followed by 353 and the area code (dropping the 0). Area codes in the Republic have three digits, eg 021 for Cork, 091 for Galway and 061 for Limerick. The only exception is Dublin, which has a two-digit code (01).
To make international calls from Ireland, first dial 00 then the country code, followed by the local area code and number. Always use the area code if calling from a mobile phone, but you don't need it if calling from a fixed-line number within the area code.
In Northern Ireland the area code for all fixed-line numbers is 028, but you only need to use it if calling from a mobile phone or from outside Northern Ireland. To call Northern Ireland from the Republic, use 048 instead of 028, without the international dialling code.
|International Access Code||00||00|
|Directory Enquiries||11811/11850||118 118/118 192|
|International Directory Enquiries||11818|
All European and Australasian phones work in Ireland, as do North American phones not locked to a local network. Check with your provider. Prepaid SIM cards cost from €10/£10.
- Both the Republic and Northern Ireland use the GSM 900/1800 cellular phone system, which is compatible with European and Australian, but not North American or Japanese, phones.
- Pay-as-you-go mobile-phone packages with any of the main providers start at around €40 and usually include a basic handset and credit of around €10.
- SIM-only packages are also available, but make sure your phone is compatible with the local provider.
In winter Ireland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), also known as Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), the same as Britain. In summer the clock shifts to GMT plus one hour, so when it's noon in Dublin and London, it's 4am in Los Angeles and Vancouver, 7am in New York and Toronto, 1pm in Paris, 7pm in Singapore and 9pm in Sydney.
There are no on-street facilities in Ireland. All shopping centres have public toilets (either free or 20c/20p). If you’re stranded, go into any bar or hotel.
In both the Republic and the North there's a tourist office or information point in almost every big town. Most can offer a variety of services, including accommodation and attraction reservations, currency-changing services, map and guidebook sales and free publications.
In the Republic the tourism purview falls to Fáilte Ireland; in Northern Ireland, it's Discover Northern Ireland. Outside Ireland both organisations unite under the banner Tourism Ireland (www.tourismireland.com).
Travel with Children
Ireland loves kids. Everywhere you go you'll find locals to be enthusiastic and inquisitive about your beloved progeny. This admiration, however, hasn't always translated into child services such as widespread and accessible baby-changing facilities, or high chairs in restaurants, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.
Ireland for Kids
The bulk of the country's visitor attractions cater to kids almost as much as they do the adults that accompany them. Many visitor experiences feature activities tailor-made for young 'uns, which are often ramped up during the school holidays. Most activity centres offer kids' programs for all ages, while many museums have kid-friendly exhibits and some even cater guided tours to suit younger ages.
Most big hotels can provide cots if given adequate notice; note that during busy periods their often-limited supply may quickly run out, so be sure to give plenty of notice. You'll have to check with smaller hotels and B&Bs, as many only have them on an ad hoc basis.
During school holidays some of the bigger hotels operate kids' clubs that are either free or charge a nominal fee of around €5 per child per day.
On the Road
Children under five travel free on all public transport. Trains are ideal for families, as there's lots of room to move about and store all of your gear, including buggies and prams.
Child seats are mandatory in rental cars for children aged nine months to four years. All main car-hire companies can provide them (around €50/£35 per week), but you'll need to book them in advance or else risk being disappointed when you pick the car up. For insurance reasons most will insist that you fit the child seat yourself.
There are no legal restrictions on kids in any restaurant or cafe, but in practice many places (especially in higher price brackets, but not exclusively so) would prefer if you left the kids at home, especially at busy times or in the evenings. Then, high chairs suddenly become unavailable: if you're booking ahead, be sure to specify if you need one.
Children between 15 and 17 are allowed into pubs unaccompanied; under 15s must be accompanied and can only be in a licensed premises between 10.30am (12.30pm on Sunday) and 9pm (10pm between May and September), after which they must leave. In rural areas, however, some publicans will allow children remain in the bar so long as they're under proper parental supervision.
Best Hands-On Experiences
Please do touch – here are some places that encourage little fingers and inquisitive minds.
- Errislannan Manor, Clifden Beach trekking on Connemara ponies with guided tours aimed at kids.
- Imaginosity, Dublin A hands-on museum specifically aimed at toddlers lets them explore a wizard's lair or even fly to Rapunzel's castle in a rocket ship.
- National Gallery, Dublin There are regular art workshops for young Picassos and Kahlos, usually during holiday weekends.
- Museum of Natural History, Dublin The Discovery Zone at the 'Dead Zoo' lets kids handle taxidermy exhibits and open all kinds of specimen drawers.
- Oceanics Surf School, Tramore Surf parties and summer camps aimed at kids as well as lessons.
- Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre This 3000-hectare nature reserve has plenty for young hands to do, including boat rides and a viewing station that gets you close to the action.
- W5, Belfast Northern Ireland's best science museum is an interactive whataboutery aimed specifically at the under 11s.
Best Outdoor Fun
Ireland is about much more than castles and museums. When the weather conspires, there's plenty to do.
- Brave Maeve Story Trail, Bray A 1.5km walking trail along the seafront aimed at kids, who uncover the story of a young giant along the way.
- Last Leprechauns of Ireland, Carlingford Enter a leprechaun cave in the company of a 'leprechaun whisperer' – is there a better invitation for adventurous young minds?
- Limerick City Kayaking Tours See Limerick and St John's Castle from an entirely different perspective with these kayaking trips along the Shannon.
- Killarney Riding Stables Learn to ride in one of Europe's most beautiful settings, along the lakes of Killarney National Park.
- Slieve Gullion Forest Park, County Armagh There's a fabulous and kid-friendly hike to the top of Slieve Gullion, from where the views are sublime.
- Wakedock, Dublin Kids can learn the very cool sport of wakeboarding right in Dublin's city centre.
- Wild Wet Adventures, Sligo Every kind of water sport on Lough Talt and Lough Easkey.
Best for a Rainy Day
It's not a question of if, but when. It will rain at some point, but luckily Ireland has you covered.
- Aillwee Cave, Ballyvaughan They've been keeping the rain out for more than two million years, and this extraordinary network of caves is a world unto itself.
- Celtic & Prehistoric Museum, Slea Head The world's largest woolly mammoth skull and a 40,000-year-old bear skeleton are just some of the fabulous artefacts at this museum.
- Galway City Museum Galway's archaeological, political, cultural and social history told in compelling detail – and there's lots of exhibits too, including boats.
- Hazel Mountain Chocolate, Galway A 45-minute session watching how chocolate is made is as close to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory as you'll get in Ireland.
- National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin More a romper room for kids with a sprinkling of folklore, but still a lot of fun.
- Ulster Museum, Belfast A wealth of artefacts, from Egyptian mummies to swag salvaged from ships of the Spanish Armada.
Best All-Round Family Fun
Who says adults and kids can't enjoy the same thing? Here's a handful of places for the whole family.
- Ewe Experience, Glengarriff Funny, imaginative sculpture garden that makes for one of the country's most enjoyable nature walks. Keep an eye out for the pig in the bubble bath.
- Kells Bay House & Gardens, Ring of Kerry Walled gardens, a primeval fern forest with dinosaurs and Ireland's longest rope bridge are just some of the highlights at this 17-hectare estate.
- Killary Fjord Boat Tours, Killary Harbour Ninety-minute cruises of Killary Harbour, Ireland's only fjord, deliver great views and a visit to a salmon farm (where you can buy the smoked version).
- Tayto Park, County Meath A theme park sponsored by Ireland's best-known manufacturer of potato chips has plenty you can do, including a wooden roller coaster and a 5D cinema.
- Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh The story of Ulster emigration to the United States, told in one of the country's best museum experiences.
- West Cork Model Railway Village, Clonakilty There's a 20-minute guided circuit of Clonakilty, but the real treat is the huge miniature re-creation of the West Cork railway as it was in the 1940s.
Best for Learning
Fun can be educational, especially at the following attractions.
- King John's Castle, Limerick city The tour of a genuine medieval castle and its superb multimedia exhibit is highly educational.
- Irish National Heritage Park, Wexford town A brilliant, educational day out learning the whole history of Ireland.
- National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, Dublin Ireland's most prestigious museum is a fun-filled crash course in Irish cultural history…and there are mummified Iron Age bodies.
- National Museum of Country Life, Castlebar Ireland's rural history told in fascinating, easy-to-digest manner.
- Spike Island, Cobh Visit 'Ireland's Alcatraz', as this former prison island is dubbed.
- Ulster Folk Museum, Belfast A fully reconstructed folk village shows how the Irish used to live.
Best With Animals
Besides a couple of excellent zoos, Ireland does a good job of bringing humans closer to animals.
- Ark Open Farm, Newtownards Get up close and personal with lambs, piglets and ducklings, all of which you can pet and feed.
- Courtown Seal Rescue, County Wexford Meet orphaned, lost and injured seals before they're rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
- Dolphinwatch, Loop Head Take a cruise and get up close to the Shannon Estuary's 200-odd bottlenose dolphins.
- Donkey Sanctuary, County Cork A wonderful and worthy centre set up to help abused and abandoned donkeys.
- Dublin Zoo One of the oldest zoos in the world, the primary emphasis here is on having fun – and making sure the animals are well taken care of.
- Fota Wildlife Park, Fota Animals roam free in this fenceless island zoo, and you can get up close on a train – or even closer on a circular walk.
- St Tola Irish Goat Cheese, The Burren Meet (and pet) the goats who produce the milk that turns into one of Ireland's best-known cheeses.
Most museums and attractions targeting families have decent baby-changing facilities. Elsewhere, modern shopping centres in cities all have baby-changing areas.
In Ireland diapers are known as nappies.
Places to Stay
Some hotels welcome kids (with their parents!) and provide cots and toys. Most big hotels also have 'family suites' made up of adjoining bedrooms with a door between them. An increasing number of hostels have family rooms with four or six beds, some even with private bathroom attached. If you want to stay in one place for a while, renting a holiday cottage is ideal.
During school holidays, some of the bigger hotels operate kids' clubs that are either free or charge a nominal fee of around €5 per child per day.
- BabyGoes2 (www.babygoes2.com) Travel site with family-friendly accommodation worldwide.
- eumom (www.eumom.ie) For pregnant women and parents with young children.
- Failte Ireland (www.discoverireland.ie) Some good ideas for family-friendly things to see and do.
- Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/family-travel) Inspirational articles about travelling as a family.
- Northern Ireland Tourist Board (https://discovernorthernireland.com) Has a dedicated section to family travel.
When to Go
The best time to visit Ireland as a family is the same as for everyone else – pretty much any time from April until the end of September. The tourism industry comes alive during school-holiday times and bumps its prices up accordingly, especially during August, the height of the summer season.
Volunteering opportunities are limited, but there are projects where you can lend a helping hand.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used; the exception is for liquid measures of alcohol, where pints are used.
Ireland should pose no problems for women travellers. Finding contraception is not the problem it once was, though anyone on the pill should bring adequate supplies.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland In the Republic. App available.
EEA citizens are entitled to work legally in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Non-EEA citizens with an Irish parent or grandparent are eligible for dual citizenship (and the right to work), though this procedure can be quite lengthy – inquire at an Irish embassy or consulate in your own country.
Full-time US students aged 18 and over can get a four-month work permit for Ireland, plus insurance and support information, through Work & Travel Ireland.
Most Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent are entitled to work in the North (and the rest of the UK) through the 'Right of Abode'. Most Commonwealth citizens under 31 are eligible for a Working Holidaymaker Visa. Valid for two years it allows you to work for a total of 12 months and must be obtained in advance of your arrival. Check with the UK Border Agency (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration) for more info.