Here are some travel tips for Ireland in the form of frequently asked questions:
WHERE IS NORTHERN IRELAND AND IS IT SAFE TO GO THERE? Ireland is divided into two sections; "Northern Ireland" and the "Republic". Northern Ireland is roughly the northeastern seventeen percent of the island and the Republic is the remaining eighty-three percent of the island. Northern Ireland is governed as part of the United Kingdom and the Republic is self-governing. The border between the republic and the north is open.
THERE IS PEACE in Northern Ireland after many years of the "troubles". In 2007, the then-Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern and the Ulster Unionist Ian Paisley signed a new peace agreement. Northern Ireland is getting well-deserved tourist attention as a result.
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WHAT TIME IS IT IN IRELAND? The time zone in Ireland from late October to March is GMT (five hours ahead of US Eastern time). From late March to October Ireland is on GMT +1 (six hours ahead of US Eastern time). To find out how your country compares or just to see the time zones of the world, go to 24TimesZones.
ARE IRISH PEOPLE FRIENDLY? Yes! You've heard the phrase "Ireland of the Welcomes". It fits. If you need help as you are traveling around, just ask a local resident for travel tips for Ireland. If you don't need help, just strike up a conversation. Irish people will be speaking English unless you get out to some of the more remote areas of the west and northwest, where some speak Gaelic and English.
WHAT IS THE "CELTIC TIGER"? It is the booming economy that existed in the 1990s and beyond into much of 2008. A downturn is currently slowing the Irish economy. Housing costs had been at an all-time high and unemployment at an all-time low. But, as in much of the world, a slow-down has put a strain on the country. One-fourth of the population is under 15 years of age and many young people are leaving the country to find work. The good news for travelers is that many lodging and meal costs are lower than before. Regardless of the economic conditions around the world, Ireland is still a gorgeous and magical place. The past is not forgotten as hope for the new Ireland unfolds.
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WHAT MONEY DO I USE? You'll need Euros in the Republic and British Pounds in Northern Ireland. You might want to change a little money at your bank before leaving home so you have some cash for your taxi, bus, train or your first cup of tea.
You can exchange money at the airport when you arrive, although it usually costs more than at an Irish bank. When you arrive in a town or city in Ireland, you can exchange currency at an ATM or at a bank. You can also use major credit cards for many of your purchases; you will pay a conversion fee with your bill. Travel tips for Ireland include checking the banking hours and holidays during your stay and paying attention to the coins of Ireland. The coins can add up to more than you would guess.
To find out what your country's money is worth today in comparison to the Euro and the British Pound, go to yahoo's currency website.
HOW MUCH DO I TIP? Tipping between 12 and 15 percent in restaurants and hotels is customary when a service fee is not included in the bill.
Usually, customers don't tip in small restaurants or coffee shops, although I have seen tip jars by the register for use as you pay your bill. Even though a tip is not customary, I always like to leave something for the waiter or waitress.
Ten percent is a common tip for taxi drivers, lounge staff and hairdressers.
DO I NEED A MAP? Getting around requires a good road map of Ireland and detailed city maps if you are going to spend much time on your own. Some maps don't show much detail on the smaller country roads. If you are on a tour or going by train or bus, you may not need the detail, but if you are driving, you will want all the smaller roads shown. A travel tip for Ireland is to look for a good map before you leave home.
I used a GPS system the last time I visited. It was very helpful, but I still needed to know where I was going with a map. Many times, the GPS system told me to "take the second exit off the roundabout", when it should have been the first or third exit. Road construction and changes sometimes don't show on the GPS system.
The street signs in cities and some villages are not on free standing poles. The names of streets are posted on the sides of the corner buildings, up about 10-15 feet high.
When you walk across the street, be sure to look to the right and then to the left before crossing. Remember, the cars are driving on the left side of the road.
DOES IT RAIN EVERY DAY? Maybe. Ireland is known for its rain, which is the main ingredient contributing to its stunning green landscape. It rains most in the winter, but showers are common on many summer days. The beautiful clouds often lead to short showers followed by gorgeous sunshine and breezy weather. The climate in Ireland is influenced by the Gulf Stream warm waters and the winds coming from the Atlantic. The weather report often predicts that "showers are likely with freshening following". Check the irish meteorological service website for current weather and travel tips for Ireland.
Umbrellas sometimes don't work well in Ireland because of the wind. Either use a sturdy one or rely on a raincoat with a hood. Dressing in layers is a good travel tip for Ireland. The weather changes throughout the day. Travel tips for Ireland should include the warning: Don't assume that it won't rain. I went hiking to a castle out in the middle of a field on a beautiful, sunny day. By the time I made it a half a mile, it was pouring rain. The rain stopped a short time later, but I was soaked. Luckily, I had a change of clothes in the car.
Weather is moderate throughout Ireland. The range is from 1 degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit) to about 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). To convert the temperature, go to asknumbers' temperature conversion website.
WHEN SHOULD I VISIT? Your decision is largely about the weather. The weather is nice in the summer and it stays light out until until after 10:00 p.m. in late June and July. The countryside is beautiful and you can even walk along the beach with bare feet. However, there are crowds in the popular coastal regions in the south, west and east, and lodging can be a bit higher priced during this prime time.
For a beautiful photo calendar showing all of Ireland's seasons, go to amazon.com and order one for yourself or as a gift.
Fall and spring are good times to visit Ireland, although some attractions- including castles- have limited hours or are closed completely. A travel tip for Ireland is to plan ahead and check the opening hours of the sites you want to visit. It is cooler and rainier, but if you are willing to dress warmer, you will still have a great time.
The off season of November until mid-March can be a lovely time to visit, although some hotels and restaurants are closed. It is too cold and wet for most golfers during this time. If you are hearty and adventuresome, you will get along fine in the more blustery weather of the off-season.
SHOULD I STAY IN A B&B? An Ireland Bed and Breakfast stay is an experience you won't want to miss. Bed and Breakfast lodging is plentiful all around Ireland and well worth considering for all or part of your trip to the Emerald Isle.
Are you worried that staying in an Irish Bed & Breakfast is like sleeping in a stranger's home? I had the same concern until my first stay in Ireland. My friend, Mary, and I stayed in various Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) for the whole fifteen-day trip. Rather than being an uncomfortable situation with strangers, it was a wonderful experience to enjoy the hospitality of many fine Irish families and visit with other travelers. Each of the owners was so friendly and very knowledgeable about the locale. We were given suggestions for restaurants, pubs, music venues and fun spots to visit.
SHALL I BOOK AHEAD? In the busiest season of July and August, you probably want to book your lodging ahead. At other times of the year, you will probably find openings by asking around or calling when you arrive. If you have a special place you want to stay, or if you have children, you may want to assure your itinerary by booking ahead. Many popular places do fill up.
CAN I PLUG IN MY LAPTOP? Electricity may be different from your home country. If you bring your own hairdryer or electronics like a computer, camera, or ipod, make sure you have a converter to plug in to the wall. You can buy the plug converter at home. Travel tips for Ireland point out that you should be sure your equipment is made to use different voltages. If your equipment is not made for conversion, you need another gadget (a different kind of converter) which plugs in to the converter that you already put into the wall plug.
SHOULD I TRY DRIVING IN IRELAND? Getting around by car is interesting and often challenging, but you can do it. You drive on the left side. Road signs are usually in both Irish and English, although in Irish-speaking areas (Gaeltacht areas ) new laws require Irish-only signs. Most Gaeltacht areas are along the west coast, Donegal and Connemara in particular.
Speed limit signs are being changed to Kilometers per hour rather than also in miles per hour. Travel tips for Ireland include a warning to slow down on country roads; sheep, cattle, walkers and bikers may all be sharing the way. There are usually no shoulders on the roadside. Many new roads are being built and old roads are being improved. So, there's a lot of construction; you'll want to be careful! I've driven each time I've visited; you do get used to it. As a car rental agent once told me, "Thousands do it every year." It is the way to have an intimate visit with the real countryside of Ireland.
I have rented a car from Dooley Car Rentals and have been very happy with their service.
WHERE CAN I HEAR IRISH MUSIC? Music and dance is part of everyday life in Ireland. You can experience traditional music each night, usually at 9:30 or 10 p.m., at the local pubs across Ireland. As you travel farther into the countryside, you will hear local people taking turns playing and singing music at the pub throughout the evening.
It seems that all Irish people can play an instrument, sing, dance, or do all three. The banjo, fiddle, tin whistle, bodhran (traditional Irish drum) are heard virtually in every corner of the country. Now that all of Ireland is non-smoking, we can all enjoy the music and "craic" (good fun) more comfortably. I love the fact that the whole family can go together for dinner at the pub and stay to enjoy the music.
In the meantime, you might want to sample some authentic Irish music by listening to the fantastic group called Clannad. Many of their cds are available at Amazon. Here is the link to a collection called In a Lifetime.
WHEN ARE THE FESTIVALS AND FAIRS? Festivals are very popular in Ireland. Irish folks love to party and love to have visitors join in. If you travel to go to a festival, book early to stay nearby.
A few examples of yearly affairs are the Galway Arts Festival, the Kilkenny and Cork Arts Festivals, the Belfast Festival, Listowel Writers Week, and the Dublin Theatre Festival. The Cork Jazz Festival is for music lovers; the Listowel Food Fair and the Galway Oyster Festival will fill you with food and drink. The Dublin Film Festival is a 10-day gathering in March. Visitors from all over the world attend the week long St. Patrick's Festival and Parade in Dublin. Celebrations include parades, food, drink, dancing and music.
ANY MISCELLANEOUS TRAVEL TIPS FOR IRELAND? Here are a few:
BRING YOUR OWN BAG to check out when you go to the local grocery or gas station shop. Bags are not included in the price unless you go to the tourist shops or large shopping areas of the town or city.
THE QUEUE (pronounced "Q") is the line you wait in at the shops or at the site you're visiting.
THE TOILET is the room called the "restroom" or "bathroom" in some other parts of the world.
FOOTBALL is what the Irish call a game referred to as "soccer" in some other parts of the world. Rugby and Gaelic Football are also popular sports in Ireland. It's fun to go to a game while you are visiting Ireland. Travel tips for Ireland include the advice that you should make sure you cheer for the team of the fans you are sitting near!
CRISPS in Ireland are potato chips in some countries; CHIPS are called French fries in some countries. For a real treat, go to the foodireland website and order some of the authentic Irish products, including crisps. You will find the quality and service outstanding!
A PINT is a pint glass of beer, which is bigger than some beer glasses you may be used to. (Travel tips for Ireland always include a recommendation that you try the Guinness).
WHERE CAN I GET MORE TRAVEL INFORMATION? The Irish tourist board, Bord Failte, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board give you an amazing amount of information on their websites. When you are in Ireland, you will find tourist offices in every city, in most major towns and in many tourist areas.
For all kinds of travel tips and Irish information, order one of these well-known travel books from amazon.com. You will use them on every trip or just peruse them in the comfort of your home.