Ireland Travel Guide
You’ve not heard a truly good yarn and banter until you’ve sat through four pints of Guinness in a local pub on a typically raining Irish afternoon. A land of contrasts and contradictions, beautiful coastlines and dynamic cities, Ireland is one of the most fascinating destinations in Europe. Part traditional diddly-eye, part European economic tiger, the country boasts a party capital city, which has become increasingly cosmopolitan, as well as a largely unspoilt and pristine countryside and coastline that is the epitome of charm.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: The dramatic scenery of Ireland’s west coast; Guinness, endless, unspoilt beaches; beautiful countryside for walking and cycling; a pint of Guinness, ubiquitous pubs and bars; lively nightlife; dramatic historical sights and archaeological gems; another pint of Guinness; diddly-eye music, Gaelic football, soft refreshing mists and rain; cultural and artistic heritage, peace in the North.
What’s Not: The increase in prices after the economic boom of the 1990s; the traffic congestion in many of the towns and cities; unpredictable, erm… perpetually wet weather, a talkative Irishmen full of Guinness, staunch nationalists in the North, renegade IRA para-military types.
When to Go
It rains a lot in Ireland, don’t say we didn’t warn yer! But that’s what keeps the ‘Emerald Isle’ so green. The country’s climate is strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream, which ensures that sub-zero temperatures only occur occasionally during wintertime, and snow is relatively uncommon. The weather is so variable that you could be forgiven for losing track of what month you’re in. The one constant, especially in the west, is the necessity to pack a rain jacket, even if you awaken to a cloudless blue sky. And earlier in the year, don’t be afraid to use sunscreen on a bright day; to the astonishment of some visitors, the sun in Ireland is the same as the sun elsewhere, and it is possible to get sunburnt.
Getting There & Away
Ireland is well connected to other major centers in Europe by several budget airlines as well as ferry services to the UK and France. Air travel to the US is also quite affordable if booked well in advance, with several main US gateways served. Bus travel around the country is mainly dominated by Bus Eireann, and the service is reliable and affordable. Traveling by rail is more comfortable, but considerably more expensive. One of the best ways of getting around the towns and cities is by bike. There are several cycling lanes in the capital, and traveling by bicycle is a popular mode of transport in most towns.
Health & Safety
Crime is low compared to most European nations, but like anywhere, you should exercise caution when out late. Safety is largely dependent on the area of the city or town that you are in, so ensure that you know which areas to avoid before venturing out alone. Going out for a few drinks has become a much healthier option since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004. Now all pubs and nightclubs are smoke-free, and the change has been well-respected and well-received. Though guesthouses aren’t legally obliged to be smoke-free, many are; it’s best to call in advance to check. The biggest threat really is drinking too much Guinness trying to keep up with the locals.
Food & Hospitality
Ireland has a long-established tourist infrastructure, and offers excellent accommodation for all budgets. From guesthouses to five-star hotels, the selection is wide and the standard of accommodation is extremely high. Irish cuisine incorporates many different facets of world cuisine and native ingredients. Seafood is among the best in the world, and there’s always a Chinese takeaway or chip shop around the corner if you want to enjoy some more affordable local specialities.
A fortnight is the least that is required to adequately appreciate the different aspects and landscapes of the country, and absorb some of the local atmosphere.
Three days or so in Dublin to enjoy a few nights out on the town and catch a few sights.
A week or 10 days for the west coast to take in the scenery of Kerry, west Cork and Connemara, and enjoy a night or two in Galway.
A few days in the midlands to appreciate a different aspect of the country, and see the famous Bog of Allen.
Three or four days to visit the main attractions in the north of Ireland, including Belfast and Derry.
Just relax somewhere along the coast and enjoy the scenery and relaxed pace of life.
Dublin: following the 1990s economic boom, Dublin changed dramatically, becoming a vibrant and happening city and one of the most popular destinations in Europe. The city’s is renowned for its excellent live music and friendly, relaxed character.
Connemara: is a striking part of rural Ireland, with soulful valleys and stark mountain ranges, and expanses of ancient moor land. The coastline is also dotted with secluded coves and white, sandy beaches.
Kerry: is situated in the southwest of Ireland and faces the open Atlantic Ocean. Hundreds of beaches and coves are scattered along the coast, and Ireland’s highest mountain range is in the county. It all happens in Killarney – where there are almost as many tourists as themed Irish pubs full of traditional music.
Cork: is the second-largest city in Ireland, and has a unique charm that appeals to some and repels others. To some, the city has character and is an appealing place, while to others it’s a grim and grey outpost that merely serves as a gateway to the west. The city’s main attraction is the Jazz Festival which occurs every October.
Derry: the city’s walls have survived over the centuries, and house a city of great historical and cultural interest. Though the city has seen troubled times, it has emerged from the mists of its past, and is now becoming a dynamic and prosperous city.
Galway: atmospheric streets and shops characterize the city, and a reputation for excellent live music also attracts visitors. The city also serves as a base from which to explore the Aran Islands and Connemara.
The Burren: located in County Clare, the Burren is a remarkable example of a karst landscape, and is also steeped in history dating from the Stone Age.
Golf: Ireland is an excellent golfing destination. There are parkland golf courses and also excellent links courses.
Walking and cycling: the mild climate ensures that the mountains are accessible year-round, and cycling is possible at any time of year due to the lack of harsh winters. Beautiful and sparsely populated countryside awaits exploration.
Fishing: opportunities abound. With over 5,000 miles of coastline as well as excellent inland fishing, there is no excuse to leave your fishing rod at home.
Publife: the country is renowned for its wide range of excellent pubs which cater for all tastes. Whether you’re out for a quiet pint or a lively night out, you’ll find something to suit.
Surfing: has become increasingly popular in a number of western counties including Kerry, Sligo and Donegal. The waters of the Atlantic never become very cold, so the activity is practiced year-round, with the best waves occurring in the winter months.
Festivals & Events
There are numerous festivals throughout the year in Ireland, from the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna to the televised beauty and talent contest of the Rose of Tralee.
March: St Patrick’s Day is an Irish institution that falls on March 17th of each year. Expect parades and grown men dressed as leprechauns across the country.
June: Bloomsday occurs in June every year and celebrates one of Dublin’s most famous writers, James Joyce. Leopold Bloom was the main character in Joyce’s novel Ulysses, and celebrations of the work and the author take place across Dublin on Bloomsday.
August: the Rose of Tralee is one of the most popular festivals in the country, and includes a televised beauty contest.
October: the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival is an excellent time to visit the city of Cork. This international event attracts musicians and jazz lovers from all over the world.