Bargaining

A bit of mild haggling is acceptable at flea markets and antique shops, but everywhere else you're expected to pay the advertised price.

Dangers & Annoyances

  • Dissident Republican groups continue a campaign of violent attacks aimed at police and military targets, but have very little public support. Security alerts usually have no effect on visiting tourists (other than roads being closed), but be aware of the potential danger. You can follow the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on Twitter (@policeserviceni) and receive immediate notification of any alerts. You will notice a more obvious security presence here compared to elsewhere in the UK and Ireland, such as armoured police Land Rovers and fortified police stations. There are doormen on many city-centre pubs.

Emergency & Important Numbers

All Northern Ireland landline numbers begin with 028, which you can omit when calling from another local landline. Drop the initial '0' if you're calling from abroad.

UK country code44
International access code00
Emergency (police, fire, ambulance, mountain rescue, coast guard)999

Entry & Exit Formalities

If you're arriving from a country outside the UK and Ireland, you'll need to show a passport valid for entry to the UK when you arrive in Northern Ireland.

Customs Regulations

Travellers arriving in the UK from EU countries don't have to pay tax or duty on goods for personal use, and can bring in as much EU duty-paid alcohol and tobacco as they like. However, if you bring in more than the following, you'll probably be asked some questions:

  • 800 cigarettes
  • 1kg of tobacco
  • 10L of spirits
  • 90L of wine
  • 110L of beer

Travellers from outside the EU can bring in, duty-free:

  • 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco
  • 16L of beer
  • 4L of non-sparkling wine
  • 1L of spirits or 2L of fortified or sparkling wine
  • £390 worth of all other goods, including perfume, gifts and souvenirs

Anything over this limit must be declared to customs officers on arrival. For further details, and for information on reclaiming VAT on items purchased in the UK by non-EU residents, go to www.gov.uk and search for 'bringing goods into the UK'.

Visas

Generally not needed for stays of up to six months.

The UK is not a member of the Schengen Area.

Etiquette

People in Northern Ireland are generally keen to chat and welcoming towards visitors.

  • Round of drinks If you go to the bar in a pub it's polite to offer to buy drinks for the other people in your party, known as buying a round; the favour will be returned when your friends take their turn to get a round.
  • Politics and religion It's best to avoid potentially sensitive topics of conversation and hold off on offering opinions on local politics if you're with people you don't know well.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Northern Ireland is a generally tolerant place for gays and lesbians. Belfast has a sizeable gay scene centering around the Kremlin club and the annual Belfast Pride festival. That said, you'll still find pockets of homophobic hostility in some areas of Northern Ireland.

Resources include the following:

  • Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (http://nigra.org.uk)
  • Diva (www.divamag.co.uk)
  • Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk)

Internet Access

3G and 4G mobile broadband coverage is good in large population centres, but limited in remoter rural areas. However, beware high charges for data roaming – check with your mobile-phone provider before travelling. In border areas mobile phones often connect to a network provider in the Republic.

Most hotels, B&Bs, hostels, coffee shops and stations (and even on some trains and buses) have wi-fi access, charging anything from nothing to £6 per hour. Internet cafes are rare in Northern Ireland.

Money

ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1£0.58
CanadaC$1£0.57
Eurozone€1£0.86
Japan¥100£0.69
New ZealandNZ$1£0.54
USAUS$1£0.77

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Tipping

  • Restaurants Around 10% in restaurants and teashops with table service. Nearer 15% at smarter restaurants. Tips may be added to your bill as a 'service charge'. However, paying a tip or a service charge is not obligatory.
  • Pubs & Bars Not expected unless table service for your meal and drinks is provided; then 10% is usual.

Opening Hours

Opening hours may vary throughout the year, especially in rural areas, where many places have shorter hours or close completely from October or November to March or April.

Banks 9.30am–4pm Monday to Friday; some open 9.30am–1pm Saturday

Cafes 8.30am–5pm

Pubs & Bars noon–11pm Monday to Saturday (many until midnight or 1am Friday and Saturday), and noon–11pm Sunday

Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 6–9pm

Shops 9am–5.30pm Monday to Saturday and often 1–6pm Sunday

Post

The postal service is generally efficient and reliable. Information on post office locations and postage rates can be found at www.postoffice.co.uk.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January

St Patrick's Day 17 March

Easter March/April (Good Friday and Easter Monday)

May Day First Monday in May

Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May

Battle of the Boyne 12 July

Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August

Christmas Day 25 December

Boxing Day 26 December

Smoking

  • Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places in Northern Ireland. Most pubs have a smoking area outside.

Taxes & Refunds

Value-added tax (VAT) is a 20% sales tax levied on most goods and services. Restaurants must always include VAT in their prices, but it is not always included in hotel-room prices, so be sure to ask when booking. It’s sometimes possible for visitors to claim a refund of VAT paid on goods; see www.gov.uk/tax-on-shopping/taxfree-shopping for eligibility criteria.

Telephone

Northern Ireland uses UK mobile networks and landline providers. Phone boxes and public payphones are increasingly rare.

Mobile Phones

International roaming charges can be high, and you'll probably find it cheaper to get a UK number. This is easily done by buying a pay-as-you-go SIM card (from £5 including calling credit) and sticking it in your phone.

Time

Northern Ireland is on GMT/UTC, with clocks going forward one hour for 'summer time' at the end of March, and back at the end of October. The 24-hour clock is used for transport timetables.

Toilets

  • Public toilets in Northern Ireland are free to use and generally clean and modern.
  • Most pubs and restaurants stipulate that their toilets are for customers only.
  • Your best bet may be to use the toilets in free-to-enter museums.

Tourist Information

Discover Northern Ireland The official visitor website for Northern Ireland.

Most Northern Irish cities and towns, and some villages, have a tourist information centre or visitor information centre. Such places have helpful staff, books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away, and advice on things to see or do. Some can also assist with booking accommodation. Most tourist offices keep regular business hours; in quiet areas they close from October to March, while in popular places they open daily year-round.

Armagh Visitor Information Centre

Ballycastle Visitor Information Centre

Bangor Visitor Information Centre

Visit Belfast Welcome Centre

Bushmills Visitor Information Centre

Carrickfergus Visitor Information Centre

Visit Derry Information Centre

Downpatrick Visitor Information Centre

Fermanagh Visitor Information Centre

Glenarm Visitor Information Centre

Hillsborough Visitor Information Centre

Lisburn Visitor Information Centre

Newcastle Visitor Information Centre

Newry Visitor Information Centre

Portaferry Visitor Information Office

Ranfurly House Arts & Visitor Centre

Travel with Children

Northern Ireland's compact size and child-friendly attractions makes it ideal for travelling with kids. Wherever you are, you're rarely more than an hour's drive from your destination, meaning day trips can be fun-packed and varied.

Trains are easy to manage with pushchairs and small children; most stations have lifts. Urban buses have spaces for pushchairs but on Goldline express services you'll need to put pushchairs in the luggage holdall beneath the bus.

In cities and towns pavements are usually in good condition and easily managed with a pram, but rural areas and country roads sometimes have no pavements at all.

Most restaurants and cafes have children's menus and high chairs, and bathrooms with baby-changing facilities.

Visitor attractions often offer family tickets – usually two adults plus two children – for less than the sum of the individual entrance charges.

In Belfast, children aged three to 11 will love the interactive science centre W5; it's great for a rainy day. Don't miss the Ulster Museum, with its kid-friendly exhibits, and if you're in town in March, check out the Belfast Children's Festival. For a special treat, take the little ones to Aunt Sandra's Candy Factory.

A great day out from Belfast is to take the train to the Ulster Folk Museum in Cultra. Combine it with an afternoon by the beach at Pickie Funpark in Bangor, on the same train line.

Other family-friendly attractions in Northern Ireland include the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh in County Tyrone, the Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh and the fabulous 'secret swamp' adventure playground at the Castle Espie Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre in County Down. Northern Ireland's National Trust properties – especially Castle Ward Estate and Florence Court – make a great day out with kids. In south Armagh, local Celtic myths are brought to life at the Giant's Lair children's story-book trail through the enchanted woods at Slieve Gullion Forest Park.

Activities for sporty children and teenagers include canoeing, cycling, pony trekking and surfing on the north coast.

Travellers with Disabilities

All new buildings have wheelchair access, and even hotels in grand old country houses often have lifts, ramps and other facilities. Hotels and B&Bs in historic buildings are often harder to adapt, so you'll have less choice here.

Modern city buses have low floors for easy access, but few have conductors who can lend a hand when you're getting on or off. Many taxis take wheelchairs, or just have more room in the back.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

A directory of accessible venues in Northern Ireland can be found at http://adaptni.org.

Useful organisations:

Disability Action

Disabled Go (www.disabledgo.com)

Volunteering

Various organisations offer volunteering opportunities in Northern Ireland, with conservation, organic farming and animal-welfare projects at the fore.

Causeway Volunteer Centre (www.causewayvc.org)

Limavady Volunteer Bureau (www.limavadyvb.com)

National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk)

North West Volunteer Centre (www.volunteeringnorthwest.co.uk)

RSPB West Light Seabird Centre (www.rspb.org.uk)

Volunteer Now (www.volunteernow.co.uk)

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Northern Ireland uses a mix of metric and imperial measures (eg petrol is sold by the litre but beer by the pint; mountain heights are in metres but road distances are in miles).

Work

While the UK was an EU member state, nationals of most European countries didn't need a permit to work in Northern Ireland, but post-Brexit this is liable to change. For the latest updates, go to www.nidirect.gov.uk and search for the article 'Do you need permission to work in Northern Ireland?'

Nationals of non-European countries generally need a work permit. Exceptions include most Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent: the 'Right of Abode' allows you to live and work in Britain and the rest of the UK.