(Gap of Dunloe, Killarney)
Travelling to a foreign country is a journey into the unknown for first time visitors. As a tour guide I am often the first point of contact for intending visitors to Ireland. The majority of my customers come from the USA, which although being an english speaking country, has many differences in everyday life compared to Ireland. I often (quiet understandably) get asked by potential visitors for general information on what to expect when you arrive in Ireland, I am setting out below the more common issues queried.
Time Zone: For visitors from the USA or Canada, Ireland is at least 5 hours ahead as regards time. If coming for the west coast of the USA or Canada, it is eight hours ahead. Most flights coming across the Atlantic are night flights. Therefore you will arrive in Ireland in the early morning, usually somewhat ‘out of kilter’ arising from a long flight and the time change. I always advise visitors to take it easy on the first day in Ireland. Naturally, tiredness will set in, often in the early afternoon (Irish Time). If you do wish to take a nap, better to take maybe 3 hours and then get up and remain awake until 10pm/11pm Irish time. Then you should be able to ‘kick in’ to your new time zone with a good night’s sleep.
Currency: Ireland uses the Euro which circulates among most european countries. Do not make the mistake of believing US Dollars are widely in circulation in Ireland, they are not. Bear in mind the Euro circulates among a european population larger than the population of the USA. No Bank in Ireland will exchange dollars (or indeed any other currency) unless you have an account with that bank. Therefore if you do bring dollars, you will be depending on a (scarce) Bureau De Change or (rare) hotel to accept them, and you will pay a heavy commission. When coming to Ireland you should –
- Bring some Euro Cash with you, get it from your own bank
- Bring you normal ATM card and withdraw Euro cash from the extensive range of ATM’s across Ireland.
- Bring your credit card, most medium and large restaurants, hotels and shops will accept credit cards, however smaller business operators may not have a credit card facility.
One further point, if your tour takes you into Northern Ireland, Sterling is the currency there, although many outlets also accept Euros. Be prepared by bringing some sterling cash also.
Electricity: Ireland and Northern Ireland operate on 220 Volts with a different plug than is in use in the USA. Make sure you have an adapter and that your electric device is suitable for a different voltage (cell phone chargers and hairdryers in particular).
Descriptions/Terminology: There are certain descriptions and terminology which are completely different in Ireland than is normal in the USA. In particular –
Parking Lot = Car Park
Trunk = Booth
Sidewalk = Footpath
Cell Phone = Mobile Phone
Zip Code = Eircode
Interstate = Motorway
In Ireland only the major urban conurbations (Dubin, Cork, Limerick and Galway) are referred to as cities. Other locations are referred to as towns and villages. Roads are generally referred to by their end destination as opposed to by numbers (except Motorways).
You will see direction signs are in english and Irish (Gaelic). Irish is an official language of the country despite only be used daily in certain specified areas
(Tour Vehicle suitable for 3 to 7 passengers).
Driving in Ireland: This is where it gets interesting. Driving in Ireland can best be described as ‘challenging’ to visitors from the other side of the Atlantic. In Ireland we drive on the left (not the wrong side, the left side). The country has top quality Motorways linking the main urban centres and excellent roads between all the main towns. But when you go ‘off the beaten track’ roads get very narrow, albeit they are well maintained. The scenic highlights of the country are for the most part ‘off the beaten track’. Bear in mind these roads were initially constructed for horse traffic.
Think very carefully before opting to drive in Ireland. Totally different rules and practices apply. There is no point getting frustrated about or criticising the road system in Ireland, it is not going to change. Legally you are responsible for driving in accordance with the law in Ireland – you home regulations or practices are irrelevant here. Irish drivers are of course familiar with the system here and Ireland has a good safety record as compared to Europe, but unfortunately every year serious accidents involving non nationals do occur. If you have any doubt, do not drive in Ireland.
Hiring a Tour Guide/Driver: Following on from the previous paragraph, the benefits of hiring a guide/driver are enormous. Not only do you get a driver experienced on Irish roads but he/she will also have an intimate knowledge of the country. If you do have a guide in Ireland, use him/her for the knowledge they have. Their knowledge will extend well beyond any Guide Book, do not assume they need directions to get to any attraction. There is no Guide Book Author who will have a more extensive knowledge of Ireland than an experienced Irish Tour Guide.
Clothes: The Irish dress smart casual for dinner at night in a restaurant and casual for all other leisure activities. There is no need to bring a suit or a formal dress. However, bear in mind Irish weather can be unpredictable. Therefore bring a rain coat/jacket, a warm jumper and a pair of comfortable shoes/runners for your tour. A strong umbrella won’t go amiss!.
Insurance: Vital on any trip abroad. In the (hopefully never) event of an injury, you will get access to an Irish Doctor or Hospital speedily and you will be treated professionally. But if your injury requires special transport arrangements to get home, this is where Insurance becomes very important. Do not take a chance, get a good policy to cover you and your family/group for your entire trip.
Accomodation: Very important. Standards of accommodation in Ireland are very high, and all categories of accommodation are available. But check out where is the accommodation located, does it give access to restaurants and pubs at night?. There is little point availing of accomodation in a remote area and then having to make further transport arrangements at night. If driving yourself, bear in mind that Drink Driving laws in Ireland are strictly enforced – don’t chance it. Base yourself in near the facilities you wish to avail of in the evening time. If you are hiring a Guide/Driver, he/she will be able to give you guidance on this.
Cell Phones: There is excellent cell phone coverage throughout Ireland bar the odd remote part of the country. Check with your operator to get good rates for international travel. Wifi can be availed of at virtually all categories of accommodation, pubs and most attractions and major shops.
All trips out of your own country will present different systems and practices. Good preparation ensures a seamless change from what you experience at home. Classic Ireland Guided Tours provide Private Tours throughout Ireland and its customers will be fully appraised on what to expect when on tour. Further information on private tours can be obtained by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org