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 code||44|
|International access code||00|
|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.
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'.
Generally not needed for stays of up to six months.
The UK is not a member of the Schengen Area.
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)
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.
- Police have the power to detain, for up to six hours, anyone suspected of having committed an offence punishable by imprisonment (including drugs offences). Police have the right to search anyone they suspect of possessing drugs.
- You must be over 18 to buy alcohol and cigarettes. You usually have to be 18 to enter a pub or bar, although rules are different for under-18s if eating. Some bars and clubs are over-21 only.
- Illegal drugs are widely available, especially in clubs. Cannabis possession is a criminal offence; punishment for carrying a small amount may be a warning, a fine or imprisonment. Dealers face stiffer penalties, as do people caught with other drugs.
- On trains, people without a valid ticket are fined on the spot (£50).
- Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland administers the statutory legal aid scheme for Northern Ireland, but cannot offer legal advice.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- 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 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
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
The postal service is generally efficient and reliable. Information on post office locations and postage rates can be found at www.postoffice.co.uk.
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 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.
Northern Ireland uses UK mobile networks and landline providers. Phone boxes and public payphones are increasingly rare.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Disabled Go (www.disabledgo.com)
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).
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.