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Banks are open 10am to 4pm Monday to Wednesday and Friday, and 10am to 5pm Thursday.
Post offices (known as An Post) in city centers are open from 9am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1:30pm Saturday. The GPO on O'Connell Street in Dublin is open 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday, and 10:30am to 6:30pm Sunday (for stamps only). Post offices in small towns often close for lunch from 1 to 2:30pm.
Museums and sights are generally open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 2 to 5pm Sunday.
Shops generally open 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, with late opening on Thursday until 7 or 8pm. In Dublin's city center, most department stores and many shops are open noon to 6pm Sunday.
Northern Ireland, bank hours are Monday to Friday 9:30am to 4.30pm. Post offices are open 9:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday and Saturday 9am to 1pm. Some in smaller towns close for an hour at lunchtime. Shopping hours are much the same as in the Republic with some smaller shops closing for an hour at lunchtime.
Drugstores are called "chemist shops" and are found in every city, town, and village. Look under "Chemists -- Pharmaceutical" in the Golden Pages of the Irish telephone book or "Chemists -- Dispensing" in the Yellow Pages of the Northern Ireland telephone book.
The Irish electric system operates on 220 volts with a plug bearing three rectangular prongs. The Northern Irish system operates on 250 volts. To use standard American 110-volt appliances, you'll need both a transformer and a plug adapter. Most new laptops have built-in transformers, but some do not, so beware. Attempting to use only a plug adapter is a sure way to fry your appliance or, worse, cause a fire.
For the Garda (police), fire, or other emergencies, dial tel. 999.
Public access terminals are no longer hard to find in Ireland; they're now in shopping malls, hotels, and even hostels, especially in the larger towns and more tourist-centered areas. Virtually every town with a public library offers free Internet access, though you may have to call ahead to reserve time on a PC. (For a list of public libraries in Ireland, visit www.libdex.com/country/Ireland.html.) Additionally, there are an increasing number of Internet cafes sprouting up across the island.
Individuals must be age 18 or over to be served alcoholic beverages in Ireland. Restaurants with liquor licenses are permitted to serve alcohol during the hours when meals are served. Hotels and guesthouses with licenses can serve during normal hours to the public; overnight guests, referred to as "residents," can be served after closing hours. Alcoholic beverages by the bottle can be purchased at liquor stores, at pubs displaying OFF-LICENSE signs, and at most supermarkets.
Ireland has very severe laws and penalties regarding driving while intoxicated, so don't even think about it.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. For American Express call tel. 01/617-5555 in Ireland, for MasterCard call tel. 1800/557378 toll-free in Ireland, and for Visa call tel. 1800/558002 toll-free in Ireland.
Identity theft or fraud are potential complications of losing your wallet, especially if you've lost your driver's license along with your cash and credit cards. Notify the major credit-reporting bureaus immediately; placing a fraud alert on your records may protect you against liability for criminal activity. The three major U.S. credit-reporting agencies are Equifax (tel. 800/766-0008; www.equifax.com), Experian (tel. 888/397-3742; www.experian.com), and TransUnion (tel. 800/680-7289; www.transunion.com). Finally, if you've lost all forms of photo ID call your airline and explain the situation; they might allow you to board the plane if you have a copy of your passport or birth certificate and a copy of the police report you've filed.
In the Republic of Ireland, a law enforcement officer is called a Garda, a member of the Garda Siochana ("Guardian of the Peace"); in the plural, it's Gardai (pronounced Gar-dee) or simply "the Guards." Dial tel. 999 to reach the Gardai in an emergency. Except for special detachments, Irish police are unarmed and wear dark blue uniforms. In Northern Ireland you can also reach the police by dialing tel. 999.
Public restrooms are usually simply called "toilets" or are marked with international symbols. In the Republic of Ireland, some of the older ones still carry the Gaelic words Fir (Men) and Mna (Women). Among the newest and best-kept restrooms are those found at shopping malls and at multistory parking lots. Free restrooms are available to customers of sightseeing attractions, museums, hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops, theaters, and department stores. Most of the newer gas stations have public toilets, and some even have baby-changing facilities.
As in many European countries, sales tax is called VAT (value-added tax) and is often already included in the price quoted to you or shown on price tags. In the Republic, VAT rates vary -- for hotels, restaurants, and car rentals, it is 13.5%; for souvenirs and gifts, it is 21%. In Northern Ireland, the VAT is 17.5% across the board. VAT charged on services such as hotel stays, meals, car rentals, and entertainment cannot be refunded to visitors, but the VAT on products such as souvenirs is refundable.
In the Republic, the telephone system is known as Eircom; in Northern Ireland, it's British Telecom. Phone numbers in Ireland are currently in flux, as digits are added to accommodate expanded service. Every effort has been made to ensure that the numbers and information in this guide are accurate at the time of writing. If you have difficulty reaching a party, the Irish toll-free number for directory assistance is tel. 11811. >From the United States, the (toll) number to call is tel. 00353-91-770220.
Local calls from a phone booth require a Callcard (in the Republic) or Phonecard (in the North). Both are prepaid computerized cards that you insert into the phone instead of coins. They can be purchased in a range of denominations at phone company offices, post offices, and many retail outlets (such as newsstands). There's a local and international phone center at the General Post Office on O'Connell Street in Dublin.
Overseas calls from Ireland can be quite costly, whether you use a local Phonecard or your own calling card. If you think you will want to call home regularly while in Ireland, you may want to open an account with Vartec Telecom Ireland in Ireland (tel. 1800/4110077; www.vartec.ie). Its rates represent a considerable savings, not only from Ireland to the United States but vice versa (handy for planning your trip as well as keeping in touch afterward).
To place a call from your home country to Ireland, dial the international access code (011 in the U.S., 0011 in Australia, 0170 in New Zealand, 00 in the U.K.), plus the country code (353 for the Republic, 44 for the North), and finally the number, remembering to omit the initial 0, which is for use only within Ireland (for example, to call the County Kerry number 066/00000 from the United States, you'd dial 011-353-66/00000).
To place a direct international call from Ireland, dial the international access code (00) plus the country code (U.S. and Canada 1, the U.K. 44, Australia 61, New Zealand 64), the area or city code, and the number. For example, to call the U.S. number 212/000-0000 you'd dial tel. 00-1-212/000-0000. The toll-free international access code for AT&T is tel. 1-800-550-000; for Sprint it's tel. 1-800-552-001; and for MCI it's tel. 1-800-55-1001. Note: To dial direct to Northern Ireland from the Republic, simply replace the 028 prefix with 048.
Ireland follows Greenwich Mean Time (1 hr. earlier than Central European Time) from November to March, and British Standard Time (the same as Central European Time) from April to October. Ireland is 5 hours ahead of the eastern United States.
Ireland's latitude makes for longer days and shorter nights in the summer, and the reverse in the winter. In June the sun doesn't fully set until around 11pm, but in December, it is dark by 4pm.
Most hotels and guesthouses add a service charge to the bill, usually 12.5% to 15%, although some smaller places add only 10% or nothing at all. Always check to see what amount, if any, has been added to your bill. If it is 12.5% to 15%, and you feel this is sufficient, then there is no need for more gratuities. However, if a smaller amount has been added or if staff members have provided exceptional service, it is appropriate to give additional cash gratuities. For porters or bellhops, tip €1 ($1.30) per piece of luggage. For taxi drivers, hairdressers, and other providers of service, tip as you would at home, an average of 10% to 15%.
For restaurants, the policy is usually printed on the menu -- either a gratuity of 10% to 15% is automatically added to your bill or it's left up to you. Always ask if you are in doubt. As a rule, bartenders do not expect a tip, except when table service is provided.
Water -- Tap water throughout the island of Ireland is generally safe. If you prefer bottled water, it is readily available at all hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, and pubs.
Getting Around Ireland
Because Ireland is such a small country, it's unlikely you'll be flying from place to place. If you do require an air transfer, however, the main domestic carrier is Aer Arann (tel. 011/353-6170-44280 from the U.S.; tel. 818/210210 from Ireland or tel. 0800/587-23-24 from the U.K.; www.aerarann.com). It operates flights between Dublin and Belfast, Cork, Derry, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Knock, and Sligo, as well as from Galway to the Aran Islands.
Iarnrod Eireann (tel. 1850/366222 or 01/836-6222; www.irishrail.ie) operates the train services in Ireland. With the exception of flying, train travel is the fastest way to get around the country. Most lines radiate from Dublin to other principal cities and towns. From Dublin, the journey time to Cork is 3 hours; to Belfast, 2 hours; to Galway, 3 hours; to Limerick, 2 1/4 hours; to Killarney, 4 hours; to Sligo, 3 1/4 hours; and to Waterford, 2 3/4 hours.
Iarnrod Eireann/Irish Rail also offers an enticing array of weekend-to-weeklong holiday packages or RailBreaks to practically every corner of Ireland, north as well as south.
In addition to the Irish Rail service between Dublin and Belfast, Translink (tel. 028/9066-6630; www.nirailways.co.uk) operates routes from Belfast that include Coleraine and Derry, in addition to virtually all 21 localities in Northern Ireland. The same organization runs the Belfast city service, called Citybus.
Bus Eireann (tel. 01/830-2222; www.buseireann.ie) operates an extensive system of express bus service, as well as local service to nearly every town in Ireland. Express routes include Dublin to Donegal (4 1/4 hr.), Killarney to Limerick (2 1/2 hr.), Limerick to Galway (2 hr.), and Limerick to Cork (2 hr.). The Bus Eireann website provides the latest timetables and fares for bus service throughout Ireland. Bus travel is usually affordable, reliable, and comfortable. See Translink for detailed information on services within Northern Ireland (tel. 028/9066-6630; www.nirailways.co.uk/atulsterbus.asp).
Money-Saving Rail & Bus Passes -- For extensive travel by public transport, you can save money by purchasing a rail/bus pass or a rail-only pass. The options include the following:
Eurailpass: Of the dozens of different Eurailpasses available, some are valid for unlimited rail travel in 17 European countries -- but none include Britain or Northern Ireland. Other passes let you save money by selecting fewer countries. In the Irish Republic, the Eurailpass is good for travel on trains, Expressway coaches, and the Irish Continental Lines ferries between France and Ireland. For passes that let you travel throughout continental Europe and the Republic of Ireland, first-class passes begin at $588 for 15 consecutive days of travel; youth passes (passengers must be under 26 years old) begin at $414 for 15 consecutive days of travel in second class. The pass must be purchased 21 days before departure for Europe by a non-European Union resident. For further details or for purchase, call Rail Pass Express (tel. 800/722-7151; www.eurail.com). It's also available from STA Travel (tel. 800/781-4040; www.sta.com) and other travel agents. You can also find more information online at www.eurail.com.
BritRail Pass + Ireland: Includes all rail travel throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a round-trip ferry crossing on Stena Line. A pass good for any 5 days of unlimited travel within a 30-day period costs $579 first class, $419 second class; 10 days of unlimited travel within a 30-day period costs $959 first class, $669 second class. It must be purchased before departure for Ireland or the United Kingdom. Available from BritRail (tel. 866/BRITRAIL; www.britrail.net).
Although Ireland offers an extensive network of public transportation, there are big advantages to having your own car. Mainly, you'll be unhampered by imposed schedules and have the freedom to explore anywhere serendipity leads you -- a real plus in a country like Ireland, where small-town doings can be the highlight of your day, or entire trip. In a nutshell, if you want to see the "real Ireland" outside the major cities, you'll want a car.
The disadvantages of having a car begin with the cost of rental and continue with each refueling. In high season, weekly rental rates on a manual-transmission compact vehicle begin at around $245 (and that's if you've shopped around) and ascend steeply -- but it's at the pump that you're likely to go into shock. Irish gas prices can be triple what you pay in the United States. And while Ireland is a tiny country by comparison, and distances between places are relatively short, the roads in the countryside can be so narrow and winding that getting from A to B rarely takes as little time as it looks.
Another potential pitfall is that rental cars in Ireland are almost always equipped with standard transmissions -- you can rent an automatic, but it will cost substantially (about $200 per week) more. Driving on the left side of the road and shifting gears with your left hand can take some getting used to. Then consider that another fact of life in Ireland is cramped roads. Even the major Irish motorways are surprisingly narrow, with lanes made to order for what many Americans would regard as miniature cars -- just the kind you'll wish you had rented once you're under way. Off the motorways, it's rare to find a road with a hard shoulder -- leaving precious little maneuvering space when a bus or truck is coming from the opposite direction. So think small when you pick out your rental car. The choice is yours: room in the car or room on the road.
Unless your stay in Ireland extends beyond 6 months, your own valid U.S. or Canadian driver's license (provided you've had it for at least 6 months) is all you need to drive in Ireland. Rules and restrictions for car rental vary slightly and correspond roughly to those in the United States, with two important distinctions. Most rental-car agencies in the Republic won't rent to you (1) if you're under 23 or over 74 (there's no upper age limit in the North) or (2) if your license has been valid for less than a year.
Note: Double check your credit card's policy on picking up the insurance on rental cars. Almost none of the American-issued cards -- including gold cards -- cover the collision damage waiver (CDW) on car rentals in Ireland anymore.
Try to make car-rental arrangements well in advance of your departure. Leaving such arrangements until the last minute -- or, worse, until your arrival in Ireland -- can mean you wind up either walking or wishing you were. Ireland is a small country, and in high season it can completely run out of rental cars -- but before it does, it runs out of affordable rental cars. Discounts are common in the off season, of course, but it's also possible to negotiate a decent deal for July and August if you put in enough time and effort.
Major international car-rental firms are represented at airports and cities throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. They include Alamo-Treaty (tel. 800/462-5266 in the U.S.; www.goalamo.com), Auto-Europe (tel. 888/223-5555 in the U.S.; www.autoeurope.com), Avis (tel. 800/230-4898 in the U.S.; www.avis.com), Budget (tel. 800/527-0700 in the U.S.; www.budget.com), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S.; www.hertz.com), Murrays Europcar (tel. 800/800-6000 in the U.S.; www.europcar.ie), National (tel. 800/227-3876 in the U.S.; www.nationalcar.com), and Payless/Bunratty (tel. 800/729-5377 in the U.S.; www.paylesscarrental.com).
In addition, a variety of Irish-based companies have desks at the major airports and full-service offices in city or town locations. The leader among the Irish-based firms is Dan Dooley/Kenning Rent-a-Car (tel. 800/331-9301 in the U.S.; www.dan-dooley.ie).
When comparing prices, always ask if the quoted rate includes the 13.5% government tax (VAT), the €15 ($20) airport pickup fee (assuming you pick up your car right upon arrival), CDW (collision damage waiver), or theft insurance. If you have your own auto insurance, you may be covered; check your existing policy before you pay for additional coverage you may not need. If you rent a car in the Republic, it is best to return it to the Republic, and if you rent it in the North, return it in the North (most firms charge extra for cross-border drop-offs).
A sticky -- and expensive -- caveat about car rentals: If you rent with a credit card that claims to provide free protection, be sure to call your card's customer service line to make certain there are no restrictions on that coverage in Ireland. Visa does not offer insurance protection for car rentals in Ireland. And MasterCard and American Express -- even gold cards -- have limited their protection on Irish rentals. Be certain that your information is current. Always confirm the details of your coverage when you charge your car rental to your credit card. If you are renting a car in the Republic and taking it into the North (or vice versa), be sure to ask the car-rental firm if the CDW and theft insurance covers cross-border transport. If not, you may be required to buy extra insurance.
Rule Number 1: Not to beat a dead horse, but you're better off without a car in Dublin. Traffic, a shortage of parking places, and one-way streets conspire to make you regret having wheels. Cork is nearly as bad.
Rule Number 2: Never park in bus lanes or next to a curb with double yellow lines. Dublin, in particular, cracks down hard on offenders by booting or towing delinquent cars. It will cost you around €85 ($111) to have your car unclamped, or a whopping €165 ($215) to reclaim a towed car -- so be extra vigilant.
In Dublin, virtually all streets are pay-to-park. Look for signs to the ticket machines; there should be one on each block or so. Some larger towns also have multistory car parks; in central Dublin they average about €2 ($2.60) per hour and €20 ($26) for 24 hours. Night rates are about €6 ($7.80) to €9 ($12) per hour. In central Dublin, you'll find parking lots on Kildare Street, Lower Abbey Street, Marlborough Street, and St. Stephen's Green West.
Parking in most villages and small towns is easy and clear. Look out for public parking lots -- they're usually free and clearly marked at the edge of villages.
In Belfast and other large cities in the North, certain security measures are in place. Control zone signs indicate that no unattended vehicle can be left there at any time. That means if you are a single traveler, you cannot leave your car; if you are a twosome, one person must remain in the car while it's parked. Also, unlocked cars anywhere in the North are subject to a fine, for security reasons.
By Taxi & Hackney
Taxis and hackneys look very much alike. Both drive you where you ask them to, and the drivers collect a fee at the end and are quite likely to entertain you with stories. There are some significant differences, however. Hackneys are not allowed to wait at taxi "ranks" or display a sign atop their cars; they don't use meters; and they are not regulated by any municipal or state agency. In other words, they are private individuals doing business as drivers for hire. They agree with you on a fare, which could be more or less than the regulated fee a taxi would charge. Both taxis and hackneys advertise in the classifieds or "Golden Pages."
The coast of Ireland is not so razor-straight as, say, the borders of Kansas. A number of passenger and car ferries cut across the wider bays, shaving hours off land-only driving times. Ferries operate between Tarbert, County Kerry, and Killimer, County Clare; Passage East, County Waterford, and Ballyhack, County Wexford; and Glenbrook, east of Cork City, and Carrigaloe, outside of Cobh.
Additionally, because Ireland includes a number of must-see islands, getting around includes getting on a boat now and then. Some boats, including all major ferries, have official licenses and offer regular scheduled service. Sometimes, however, making a crossing is a matter of staring out across a body of water to where you want to be and asking someone with a boat to take you there. Both methods work. To supplement the boat listings in this guide, you might want to request a copy of Information Sheet 50C -- Island Boat/Air Services -- from the Irish Tourist Board.