Between members of the Irish diaspora looking for their roots, gay couples looking for a perfect wedding destination, and literature buffs looking to pay homage to the greats, Ireland sees millions of tourists every year.
Tourism is a ten-figure industry in Ireland, and the Irish people have grown accustomed to accommodating tourists with all their foreign ways.
But the fact that the locals are friendly and used to tourist doesn’t make it okay to go to Ireland without learning a thing or two about the country beforehand.
It pays off to read up on Ireland before visiting — it will help you have a good time and avoid offending the locals.
Here are 20 things you should know before Visiting Ireland:
DO: Shake people’s hands when meeting them.
Some visitors come to Ireland with their mind set on something else than meeting new people. But as soon as they meet the Irish, they learn that much of the country’s charm is due to the nature of the people who live there. It would be a complete waste of a vacation, a visit, or even a business trip to Ireland without meeting at least one Irish person.
The regular or the ‘correct’ way of greeting people when meeting them is to shake hands. Once you’re first acquainted with someone, shake their hand firmly and look them straight in the eye. If introduced to a whole family, shake hands with the older children.
People who know each other well might hug, kiss on the cheek, or do both. The Irish will greet with a kiss if at least one of the two people is a woman — two men will rarely if ever greet this way. And if being a trailblazer for the practice sounds good, think again: Ireland is a very curious mix of progressive and conservative. As a visitor, always prepare for the latter.
DON’T: Do the accent
Another great thing about learning a thing or two about Ireland beforehand is that the locals might appreciate the effort. For example, learning a phrase or two in good Irish will show the locals that you’ve put some time and thought into learning about Ireland and its people.
But that’s not an invitation to start speaking with an Irish accent as soon as you land in Ireland, and especially not when meeting people for the first time. Those who find it funny or charming to speak with an Irish accent to Irish people should think again. They are doing nothing but being rude for no reason.
Also, going around Ireland and wishing ‘top of the mornin’!’ to people along the way isn’t something the Irish do. They don’t use that phrase at all. Visitors who want to greet people using the local lingo can say something like ‘how’s the form’ or ‘how’s about yee’ for ‘how are you.’ “What’s the craic” is another good option. And never mention rising roads when departing.
DO: Celebrate the gift of the gab
The phrase ‘gift of the gab’ gets thrown around a lot when talking about Ireland. The legend has it that people who kiss the famous Blarney Stone get this gift. From then on, they should be able to talk in a way that’s persuasive, charming, and enticing. Now think about how many famous writers came out of Ireland just in the 20th century.
Verbal expression is important to the Irish, and you can enjoy their way with words in several ways. The Blarney Stone is a part of a wall at Castle Blarney, which lies around five miles away from Cork. Trying to get the gift is a worthy pursuit, but so is going on a literary tour of Ireland. James Joyce, Samuel Becket, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Elizabeth Bowen are only some of the famous Irish writers worthy of homage.
If time is in short supply, the only thing one needs to do to appreciate the verbal charm of the Irish is to chat with them. Even situations like waiting at a bus station in a major city are great for starting conversations with strangers. Going to a local pub opens even more opportunities to speak with locals.
DON’T: Make jokes about inappropriate subjects
The list of things the Irish find funny is a long one. It contains other Irish people, you, and Bono. Cork accent is on there too, and so are puns. Enda Kenny has a prominent place, and no, dirty jokes are not a taboo. But even people who can joke about everything have some things that are beyond reach.
If there’s one thing to know about the history of Ireland, it should be that the country and its people endured a lot of hardships in the past. And that’s putting it very mildly.
The Irish have moved on, but using any of the dark periods of Irish history for humor isn’t going to charm the locals. Avoid jokes about the Famine or the IRA. Don’t go into a bar and order an Irish Car Bomb. Don’t be that person.
Another thing you should avoid joking about is religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. It’s true that the Irish are not as religious today as they were twenty or thirty years ago. But the Church still gets a lot of respect. It’s best to avoid it as a topic for jokes.
DO: Rent a small car
European visitors to Ireland know how incredibly convenient it gets to have a small car. It’s the same across the whole small, crowded continent. But American visitors, who are accustomed to the spaciousness their continent offers, should rent the car that looks the most like a toy to them. And they’ll be thanking themselves later for it.
Going around the countryside in Ireland without a car isn’t too practical. Ireland has a transportation system that can get you from one end of the island to the other. The system is not nearly as developed as its British counterpart, however.
Public transportation can be expensive, slow, and too rigid for sightseeing and exploration. Renting a car is a much better idea. A small and nimble one is a practical solution for the small, winding country roads.
If you’re adamant about driving a car in Irish cities, a small car makes a lot of sense for the task. It will be easier to parallel park in the cities. It will also use less petrol than a huge car, and petrol is a commodity that’s way more expensive in Europe than in the United States.
DON’T: Bother Driving if you stay in Dublin
Here’s the thing about renting cars in Ireland — there are no reasons to do it unless going across the island is a part of the trip. If Dublin is the only place in Ireland you want to visit, the list of pros and cons of renting a car is unbalanced, as there are no reasons to drive in Dublin.
At 115 square kilometers or roughly 44.5 square miles, Dublin isn’t a very big city. Still, it’s big enough to make walking across it difficult. But the city center is much more walkable than the whole city, and it’s also the place that hosts most, if not all, of the things that are worth seeing.
If that’s not enough motivation for ditching the car while in Dublin, the fact that the traffic often slows to a crawl should be. The price of parking can add up quickly, too. And Dublin has a decent public transportation system for when you need to give the legs some rest or to reach the other side of the city.
DO: Get out of Dublin
Every visit to Ireland should include a check-in with the capital city. It’s the same for every country of a similar size, where most of the excitement is in one urban spot. But no matter how alluring Dublin’s Grafton Street or the Trinity College get, you should always be aware that there’s so much more to Ireland than Dublin.
The Cliffs of Moher, for example, are a well-known tourist attraction in Ireland that’s located on the opposite coast from Dublin, as are the Kylemore Abbey, the Ring of Kerry, and many other beautiful natural and human-made attractions worth visiting. No matter how great Dublin is, there’s a whole beautiful country beyond it.
Even if sightseeing isn’t a priority and you want to experience only the urban side of Ireland, Dublin is still not the only place to visit. Cork, Derry, Limerick, and Galway are urban centers that will offer at least a couple of days’ worth of fun, and probably more with the right timing.
DON’T: Forget your manners on the road
People coming to Ireland should avoid the traffic in Ireland’s cities, as you know by now. However, there’s no better way to experience the beauty of the rural side of Ireland than by car. And whoever gets on the rural roads in Ireland better remember to mind their manners.
When driving on country roads, it’s common courtesy to greet the drivers passing by. They don’t have to be acquaintances or friends, as this isn’t that kind of greeting.
It’s more like a small gesture people do to acknowledge their fellow drivers. Raising the hand from the steering wheel for a split second would do. Even raising a single finger is an appropriate way to be respectful of other drivers.
Country roads in Ireland are narrow, and it takes patience and a sense of cooperation to navigate them. Staying courteous during those situations makes everyone’s life just a little bit easier. After all, those friendly gestures drivers exchange in Ireland should remind you that you’re not alone on the road.
DO: Buy a round of drinks
A visit to Ireland cannot be complete without a meet-up with some friends in a pub for a couple of drinks. People who are new to Ireland soon notice that one person in the company would buy one round, another person would buy the next, and so on. And if you’re wondering whether the visitors are expected to buy a round for their drinking buddies, the answer is — yes.
The locals call it “getting a round in,” and skipping it will invite shame for years to come. At least that’s what happens to locals who fail to get theirs in because the Irish have a good memory when it comes to buying rounds. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t have a drink for a couple of rounds — nothing can excuse you from buying one.
There are a couple of other etiquette rules that go with the rounds system. For example, ordering very expensive drinks in a company that’s drinking cheap beer is not okay. On the other hand, sharing crisps with friends is a good thing to do, and so is helping the person carrying the drinks if they need the help. It’s all just common sense.
DON’T: Get easily offended by swearing
Irish people like to talk. They like to write, too, going by the number of famous Irish writers. It’s the utility of language they like, or at least that’s one of the ways to explain why the Irish love to swear so much. But that shouldn’t necessarily offend, even when they are aiming swearwords at you.
When used by the Irish, swearwords can do a lot of things. For one, their widespread use is an example of changing social mores, as only men used them in the past, and even then there were only appropriate places to use them. The Irish also swear for effect, embellishment, to mess with uptight people, or to sound tough.
So when someone calls you something rude, make sure to look at the broader context of the communication as well as their body language. What would otherwise pass as an insult can easily be a term of endearment, with a smile and a hug as the only differences? And when you’re sure it’s not an insult, don’t be afraid to fire back in the same way.
DO: Bring an umbrella and sunglasses. And a sweater. Even in the summer.
One of the best things about visiting Ireland is that the country is open for visitors the whole year around. The climate is mild, so there shouldn’t be too many weather extremes, even during the winter. But yes, the winters get colder than the rest of the year, so maybe skip them when planning a visit. Still, that leaves the spring, the summer, and the autumn for visits.
The only problem is that the weather in Ireland is notoriously unpredictable. In general, this means that the Irish can experience sudden rain at any time of the day in any month of the year. During the spring and autumn, sudden hail and thunderstorms are also common.
Preparing for sudden changes in weather is a must for any traveler to Ireland. You’ll need layers of clothes and a waterproof top layer or an umbrella. Waterproof shoes would also be nice. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye for weather forecasts on the TV. They are accurate and very useful.
DON’T: Display affection in public
Dublin isn’t the most romantic city in Ireland, even though it hosts the relics of St. Valentine. Galway, a city on the island’s west coast, has the title of the country’s most romantic city. And if by chance you end up in Galway with a significant other, remember to refrain from showing affection in public. It’s a big no-no in Galway, Dublin, or any other part of Ireland.
There are many reasons why Ireland is a perfect place for a romantic getaway. Since same-sex marriage became legal, the country has also become a popular wedding destination for the gay community. But still, you should remember that the Irish don’t approve of behavior that is deemed too physical.
And it’s not just with people in love. Behaving physically aggressive towards friends isn’t acceptable, either. Being loud or arrogant is also frowned upon, so it’s best to avoid it. The Irish appreciate modesty in appearance and behavior, so don’t draw attention to yourself without a need.
DO: Carry cash and cards
Ireland, like much of Europe, is a credit-card friendly country. The most popular and widely-accepted credit cards in Ireland are MasterCard and Visa.
Getting by with an American Express or Diners Club card shouldn’t be too hard, either. As long as you stay within the cities, there will rarely be a reason to use cash.
But the further you go from big cities, the harder it gets to find an ATM or a business that accepts cards. If a business in the city doesn’t accept cards, it’s easy to find another one that does.
But if the business in question is a gasoline station and you replace the city with the countryside, the situation can quickly turn sour.
Carrying some cash is a good idea when staying in cities, even though it’s not necessary. When visiting the countryside, however, it is a necessity. The Irish use the euro as their currency, and so do the visitors when paying with cash in the country.
Paying in euros with a credit card is also a better option because it lets your bank do the conversion at a lower exchange rate.
DON’T: Try to tip everyone
Tipping is one of those things you should research well before getting into a situation where it might happen. It gets very awkward quickly if you have to ask a waiter whether tipping is a requirement in Ireland. So here’s the answer: it’s not.
Ireland doesn’t have a strict tipping culture. People who work in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops get a paycheck, so not leaving a tip isn’t the same as taking food from their mouth. The Irish generally don’t tip bartenders, B&B staff, or taxi drivers.
On the other hand, it is customary to leave a tip in a restaurant with table service. Around ten percent of the bill would do. Tipping hairdressers is also a common practice, with ten percent or a couple of euros being the most common tip. Rounding up to the nearest reasonable number is also an accepted way of tipping in Ireland.
DO: Eat traditional Irish food
Some national cuisines are infamous for being unfriendly to visitors. But as far as traditional cooking goes, the way the Irish practice it shouldn’t cause your stomach to ache. The Irish enjoy local produce, but they are also fond of dairy products and local meats.
A good way to start a day in Ireland is with the Full Irish, the Irish version of a full breakfast and a famous hangover cure.
Later during the day, the Irish stew is a good choice. It consists of lamb or beef, potatoes, and other veggies, and the locals often eat it with a pint and some local bread. And speaking of local bread, the Irish soda bread is arguably one of the healthiest types of bread you can eat.
Of course, Ireland also has some modern classics that are worth trying out. The chicken fillet roll is that type of food — it’s the sandwich responsible for delivering affordable sustenance to Ireland’s student population. And it’s another type of food you might appreciate after a night out.
DON’T: Be bothered if people are late
No one can deny that the Irish are hardworking people. With the way their economy had changed over the past twenty years or so, one cannot escape the conclusion that the Irish are business-minded, too. But someone who would judge the Irish solely based on their timeliness wouldn’t draw these conclusions.
People who visit Ireland shouldn’t mind if their Irish friends or business partners are a bit late. No one says that standing people up is a national sport but being on time is something the Irish do not practice a lot. And it has nothing to do with respect or liking — the relaxed sense of time is a cultural thing in Ireland.
The fact that you’re in Ireland doesn’t make it acceptable to behave like the Irish. When it comes to tardiness, the Irish don’t expect it from foreigners, especially in a business setting. So try to always be on time, even if the people you’re meeting will not.
DO: Arrange for transport after a night of drinking
Drunk driving is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible things people can do. It doesn’t matter whether, at home or abroad, drunk drivers are a danger to themselves, other drivers, and pedestrians. And in Ireland, drivers can be pulled over for testing whether they exhibit signs of being drunk or not.
The Garda, or the Irish police, doesn’t need a cause to pull drivers over. They will randomly stop drivers for testing, and there’s nothing to do but comply. The legal blood alcohol limit for fully licensed drivers in Ireland is 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. Anything north of that and you’ll get a fine.
Foreigners driving in Ireland might have a hard time getting used to driving on the left side of the road. Anything that causes them to lose focus is dangerous, and a drink can do that even when it doesn’t raise the blood alcohol level beyond the limits. So walk, call a cab, or take public transportation after having a drink.
DON’T: Play into Irish stereotypes. Or at least keep it to yourself
People who visit Ireland can sometimes get obsessed with leprechauns and pots of gold. They might tell leprechaun jokes to the locals or ask about the best places to catch one. It’s all in good spirit, and the locals probably appreciate leprechauns as much as the visitors do, right? Wrong. No one in Ireland cares about leprechauns that much.
The leprechaun isn’t the only stereotype about Ireland visitors should avoid if they don’t want to be rude or offensive. Calling a hangover ‘the Irish flu’ is another one that has no place in modern Ireland. Calling vomit on the sidewalk in front of a pub an ‘Irish cookie’ is also bad form.
Ireland and the Irish have a strong and distinct personality, and popular culture used it in a way that wasn’t always flattering. But there’s no reason for you to add to the pile, isn’t there? Especially if adding means being annoying with leprechauns or insisting that the Irish are drunks even though alcohol use has been steadily declining in the country.
DO: Expect the unexpected
If there’s a lesson to learn from the Irish weather, it’s that you should always leave some room for the unexpected when in Ireland. Just like the beautiful rolling hills give way to dramatic coastlines or beaches, so do the Irish pack a lot of surprises underneath all the charm.
For example, the Irish might be prouder of their national identity than other people because it took them a long while to get the chance to express it, and many horrible things happened during that time. But that doesn’t stop the Irish from being welcoming to strangers or enjoying self-deprecating humor.
Ireland made headlines in 2015 when it became the first country in the world that legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote. However, almost four-fifths of the Irish are Catholics, and the Church has traditionally had a lot of influence over Irish society. Don’t rush to assumptions about Ireland, its customs, and its people.
DON’T: Try to ‘do’ Ireland.
By all means, have a list of things to do while in Ireland. Create a detailed itinerary. And then, just before it’s time to start making reservations for bus fares to get across the island, stop and forget about the itinerary and the plans. Ireland is not a tourist destination you simply ‘do.’
Ireland and strict planning don’t go well together. One of the reasons for this is because there’s simply too much of Ireland you need to experience from a car. And then once in a car, nothing is stopping you from going around and exploring the whole island. Not only that nothing is in the way, but the landscape itself is actively inviting.
The same goes for staying in Dublin. For a city of its size, Dublin has more than its fair share of hidden gems only the locals will know. And because of the friendly Irish, there should always be some room for spontaneity in your plans, as well as for coming back to Ireland. Because the biggest ‘don’t’ of coming to Ireland is that you don’t forget to come again.