Condoms can be purchased at supermarkets and pharmacies and in pub toilets across Ireland, though the pill is only available on prescription.
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The economic crash of has seen prices fall to some extent in the Republic though they had been wildly inflated during the boom years that preceded it.
Though it’s still possible to get a main meal in cafés and pubs for around €10, a three-course restaurant dinner will usually cost at least €35, with a bottle of wine setting you back €20–25, though some offer “early bird” menus at reduced rates. The price of a pint in a pub is €3.70–5, significantly higher in some city-centre clubs.
The cheapest accommodation is a hostel dorm bed, which will cost around €12–20, rising to as much as €35 at peak periods in Dublin. Alternatively, it’s also possible to get a decent bed and breakfast from around €35 per person sharing or €45 in Dublin. So, even if you count the cents, you’re likely to spend a daily minimum of around €35, and more than double this if you’re eating out and staying in a B&B.
The main change in the North over the last few years has been the fall in the value of the pound. This has meant that while quoted prices are roughly the same as their euro equivalents in the Republic, they are comparatively cheaper.
Crime and personal safety
Crime in Ireland is largely an urban affair and generally at a low level compared with other European countries. However, thieves do target popular tourist spots so don’t leave anything of value visible in your car and take care of your bags while visiting bars and restaurants. It’s sensible to seek advice from your accommodation provider about safety in the local area and take as much care as you would anywhere else.
Crimes against the person are relatively rare, except in certain inner-city areas, and seldom involve tourists. The Republic’s police force is An Garda Síochána (wwww.garda.ie), more commonly referred to as the guards or Gardaí, whom you’ll find generally helpful when it comes to reporting a crime. The Irish Tourist Assistance Service (Mon–Fri t01/661 0562, Sat & Sun t01/666 8109, wwww.itas.ie) offers support to tourist crime victims.
Away from the sectarian hotspots, crime in Northern Ireland is very low. In the unlikely event that your person or property is targeted, contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland (t0845600 8000, wwww.psni.police.uk). The presence of the British army has diminished almost to invisibility, though it is just possible you might encounter police or army security checks on the rare occasion of a major incident.
The Heritage Card is worth considering if you’re planning to visit many historic sites and monuments in the Republic. It provides unlimited entry to attractions run by the Office of Public Works and can be purchased at many of the sites themselves, some tourist offices and online, and lasts for a year.
Members of An Óige also receive discounts on entry to certain sites. A number of historic buildings and sites in the North are operated by the National Trust. Membership (£47.50; under-25s £21.50, family £82, one-adult family £62; wwww.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/local-to-you/northern-ireland/) provides free and unlimited entry to these and all National Trust–run sites in Britain too. More than eighty premier attractions across Ireland are members of the independent Heritage Island organization (www.heritageisland.com) whose booklet (€8.90 with free worldwide shipping) contains over €300 worth of discounts. The majority offer reduced rates for children (under-5s usually get in free), students and senior citizens.
An International Student Card (wwww.isic.org; £9/$22) can provide significant discounts (generally around ten percent), especially in Dublin, on hostel accommodation, museum entry charges and food.
The standard electricity supply is 220V AC in the Republic and 240V AC in the North. Most sockets require three-pin plugs. To operate North American appliances you’ll need to bring or buy a transformer and an adapter; only the latter is needed for equipment made in Australia or New Zealand.
UK nationals do not need a passport to enter the Republic, but it’s a good idea to carry one – and note that airlines generally require official photo ID on flights between Britain and Ireland. Under EU regulations, British passport holders are entitled to stay in the Republic for as long as they like.
Travellers from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa can enter the Republic for up to three months with just a passport. For further information on immigration and visas, contact the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Service, 13–14 Burgh Quay, Dublin (t1890 551500, wwww.inis.gov.ie). A full list of Irish consulates and embassies is available on the Department of Foreign Affairs website, wwww.dfa.ie.
US, Canadian, Australian, South African and New Zealand citizens can enter Northern Ireland for up to six months with just a passport. Full details of British diplomatic representatives overseas are available on the Foreign Office’s website, wwww.fco.gov.uk. The Border Agency handles immigration issues (wwww.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration), with a dedicated visas page at wwww.gov.uk/apply-uk-visa.
The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has no passport or immigration controls.
Across Ireland, in the case of an emergency call either t999 or t112.
Health and insurance
Visitors from the UK are entitled to medical treatment in the Republic under a reciprocal agreement between the two countries. This will give access only to state-provided medical treatment in the Republic, which covers emergency hospital treatment but not all GP’s surgeries – check that the doctor you’re planning to use is registered with the local Health Board Panel. Citizens of some other countries also enjoy reciprocal agreements – in Australia, for example, Medicare has such an arrangement with Ireland and Britain.
None of these arrangements covers all the medical costs you may incur or repatriation, so it’s advisable for all travellers to take out some form of travel insurance. Most travel insurance policies exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid; in Ireland this could mean, for example, horseriding, scuba diving, windsurfing, mountaineering and kayaking.
Most cities and major towns have internet cafés, at which you’ll typically pay €4/£4 per hour, sometimes less. For lists and maps of free wi-fi hotspots, try wwww.free-hotspots.com. Many B&Bs and hostels and most hotels now offer free wi-fi; the same B&Bs will generally let you access the internet on their computer for free, while hotels and hostels generally charge for this service. Otherwise, many local library branches offer internet access either free or very cheaply.
In the Republic, post is handled by An Post (the national postal service); allow two days (or more) for a letter to reach Britain, for example. Small letters and postcards to any destination overseas cost 82c. Main post offices are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5.30pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm (in cities and large towns until 5.30pm on Saturday). From the North with the Royal Mail, postcards and the smallest airmail letters cost 67p to destinations outside Europe. Post-office hours in the North are generally Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am to 5.30pm and Wednesday and Saturday 9am to 12.30pm – later on Wednesday in large towns and cities.
The maps in this guide will provide you with sufficient detail to navigate your way around cities, towns and counties, though, if you’re visiting Dublin you might want to purchase the Rough Guides map of the city (£4.99/$8.99). The Rough Guide 1:350,000 scale Ireland map (same prices) is handy if you’re touring the country or, alternatively, for more detail there’s the Ordnance Survey of Ireland’s (wwww.osi.ie) four Holiday maps at 1:250,000 scale (€8.35), dividing the country into quadrants, and its Complete Road Atlas of Ireland (€12.99) is extremely useful if you’re driving.
The majority of tourist offices will provide free local maps, but, if you’re planning on walking or exploring a locality fully, then the OSI’s Discovery 1:50,000 scale series of maps (€8.60 each) is the best bet for the Republic. The Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland (wwww.osni.gov.uk) produces a similar Discoverer series (£6).
If you’re walking or cycling, the OSI/OSNI also produce special-interest 1:25,000-scale maps covering areas such as the Aran Islands, Killarney National Park, Lough Erne, Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, Slieve Croob, and the Mourne and Sperrin mountain ranges.
All of these maps can be purchased via the internet, but, if you’re visiting Dublin, the most comprehensive selection of maps in Ireland is provided by the National Map Centre, 34 Aungier Street (t01/476 0471, wwww.irishmaps.ie).
Money and banks
The currency of the Republic is the euro (€), divided into 100 cents (c). Northern Ireland’s currency is the pound sterling (£), though notes are printed by various local banks and are different from those found in Britain; however, standard British banknotes can still be used in Northern Ireland.
Exchange rates fluctuate but, at the time of writing, £1 sterling was equivalent to around €1.20, €1 was worth £0.82 and US$1.22. The best exchange rates are provided by banks, though it’s easiest to use an ATM, for which your own bank or credit card company may charge a fixed-rate or percentile fee. Unless you’re absolutely stuck, avoid changing money in hotels, where the rates are often very poor. In areas around the border between the Republic and the North many businesses accept both currencies.
Credit and debit cards
The handiest means of obtaining cash is to use a debit or credit card. ATMs are very common throughout Ireland except in remote rural areas, with most accepting Visa/Plus, MasterCard and Cirrus/Maestro. Major credit cards, such as Visa/Plus, MasterCard and American Express and all cards bearing the Eurocard symbol, are widely accepted, though in rural areas, you’ll find that they’re not accepted by many B&Bs.
Banks are usually the best places to exchange money and travellers’ cheques, though when they’re closed you’ll need to visit a bureau de change, found in some major tourist destinations and at international arrival points. Banks in large towns and cities of the Republic are open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm, and until 5pm one day a week, usually Thursday; in the North, they open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm, with some opening for longer hours and on Saturdays. Outside the cities and bigger towns, many bank branches in the Republic and some in the North close for lunch, and in some cases may only be open a few days a week.
Opening hours and public holidays
Shops and businesses across Ireland usually open 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Saturday, though newsagents and petrol stations (many of which also have grocery stores) are often open earlier and later. Most large towns generally have a day when all shops open late (until 8pm or 9pm), usually Thursdays, and some also open on Sundays from around noon (1pm in Northern Ireland) until 6pm. Lunchtime closing still applies in many smaller towns, where also some businesses (except pubs) close for a half-day midweek. In rural areas opening times are far more variable.
Throughout Ireland cafés tend to open from 8am or 9am until 6pm, Monday to Saturday. Restaurants are usually open from around noon until 3pm and from 6pm until 10pm daily, though, away from the major towns and popular tourist areas, many may be closed at lunchtimes or all day on certain days of the week (especially out of season).
Pubs in the Republic open Monday to Thursday 10.30am to 11.30pm, Friday and Saturday 10.30am to 12.30am, Sunday noon to 11pm; in the North the hours are Monday to Saturday 11.30am to 11pm and Sunday 12.30pm to 10pm. Across Ireland clubs have variable opening days, though the majority are open from Thursday to Sunday and hours tend to be from around 10pm to 2am (or later in the major cities). Note that in the Republic off-licences (including pub off-sales) and other shops with a licence to sell alcohol are only permitted to do so between 10.30am–10pm Mon–Sat and 12.30pm–10pm Sun.
On public holidays, away from the cities, most businesses will be closed, apart from pubs, newsagents, some supermarkets, grocers, and petrol stations. If St Patrick’s Day or Orange Day falls at the weekend, then the holiday is held on the following Monday.
Payphones can be hard to find in Ireland these days, especially in rural areas; calls start at €1 in the Republic, 40p in the North. Many payphones will accept debit or credit cards, but at a premium. In the Republic, Eircom phonecards, costing from €4 at newsagents and post offices, offer savings on international calls over the standard rates; they can be used in payphones, as well as on hotel phones. Throughout Ireland, there’s a choice of private phonecards, such as Global Caller, which can generally also be used on certain mobiles, though check compatibility carefully. Calls from a hotel or the like are pricey, while the cheapest way of making international calls is via VoIP (eg wwww.skype.com) on your laptop or at an internet café.
The international dialling code for the Republic is +353, and for Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, it’s +44. If you’re calling the North from the Republic, however, knock off the 028 area code and instead dial 048 followed by the eight-digit subscriber number.
Both the UK and Ireland use the GSM system for mobile phones, so British travellers only need worry about the high roaming charges for making calls, texting and receiving calls in the Republic. Travellers from other parts of the world will need to check whether their phone is multi-band GSM, and will probably also want to find out from their provider what the call charges are. The cheapest way to get round roaming charges is to get hold of a UK or Irish pay-as-you-go SIM card to insert in your phone, which will give you a local number and eliminate charges for receiving calls. Virgin in the North (wwww.virginonline.com) and O2 in the Republic (wwww.o2online.ie), for example, now offer free SIM cards, with local calls charged at around 20p/30c per minute amongst a complex system of tariffs.
In the Republic (Eircom):
Directory Enquiries t11811
International Directory Enquiries t11818
Customer Service t1901
In the North (British Telecom):
Directory Enquiries t118141 (payphones, cash only) or, more expensively, t118500
International Directory Enquiries t118060 or, more expensively, t118505
Smoking is illegal in all public buildings and places of employment across Ireland. Some hotels, but increasingly few B&Bs, have bedrooms available for smokers. Many pubs in cities and large towns have outdoor areas allocated for smokers, some covered and heated.
Ireland is on GMT, eight hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time and five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Clocks are advanced one hour at the end of March and back again at the end of October.
Though discretionary, tipping restaurant staff or taxi drivers is the expected reward for satisfactory service; ten to fifteen percent of your tab will suffice.
Public toilets are usually only found in the big towns in the Republic (especially in shopping malls), though in the North are much more common and generally well maintained. Toilet doors often bear the indicator Fir (men) and Mná (women).
The Irish tourist development agency, Fáilte Ireland (wwww.discoverireland.ie), and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB; wwww.discovernorthernireland.com) both provide a wealth of area-specific information on their websites and the latter includes brochures which can also be ordered or downloaded. Abroad the two boards combine as Tourism Ireland (wwww.discoverireland.com); offices are listed below. There are also plenty of local and regional tourism websites.
Both Fáilte Ireland and the NITB provide an extensive network of tourist offices, covering every city, many major towns and almost all the popular tourist areas. Additionally, some local councils provide their own offices. The majority of offices offer plenty of information on local attractions, and can book accommodation for a small fee (Republic: €5 for all accommodation; Northern Ireland £1 for hostels & £2 for B&Bs/hotels). Bear in mind though that Fáilte Ireland and NITB offices will usually only direct you towards approved accommodation, thus excluding some fine hostels and campsites, and that, away from the cities, many tourist offices operate seasonal opening times, days and months.
Travellers with disabilities
Disabled travellers should glean as much information as possible before travelling since facilities in Ireland are generally poor. For example, older buildings may lack lifts and their entrances may not have been converted to allow easy wheelchair access.
The main transport companies transport companies have, however, considerably improved their facilities for disabled travellers, with, for example, low-floor city buses and kneeling coaches on many routes.
Disabled drivers travelling with their cars from Britain can usually obtain reduced rates for ferry travel. Discounts vary according to the time of year and the ferry companies usually require membership of Mobilise.
Both the Republic and the North have a wide range of daily and weekly newspapers, the latter often county-based in their coverage. The choices for Ireland-based TV are more limited both sides of the border, but there’s an abundance of local radio stations, together with several national stations in the Republic.
Newspapers and magazines
The Republic’s most popular middlebrow newspapers are the Irish Times and the more populist Irish Independent. Though generally liberal, if sometimes tinged by old-fashioned Ascendancy attitudes, the Times offers comprehensive news coverage of events both at home and abroad and often excellent features – its website www.irishtimes.com also has plenty of listings. The Independent (www.independent.ie) has a more right-of-centre outlook, while the Irish Examiner (formerly the Cork Examiner; www.irishexaminer.com) has a Munster-based focus and generally less analytical coverage of news. Sundays see the publication the Sunday Independent (same website as its daily sister), and the Sunday Business Post (www.sbpost.ie), which offers a wider selection of stories than its name implies. British newspapers are commonly available in Dublin and other cities and some produce Irish editions.
Every county has at least one weekly newspaper, often conservative and usually crammed with local stories of little interest to outsiders. However, some, such as the Kerryman, the Kilkenny People and the Donegal Democrat often provide good coverage of local events and very readable features. To delve deeper into the seamy world of Irish politics, turn to the monthly Village (www.villagemagazine.ie) or the satirical fortnightly magazine Phoenix (www.thephoenix.ie).
The North’s two morning dailies, both tabloids, are the Nationalist Irish News (www.irishnews.com) and the Unionist News Letter (www.newsletter.co.uk), while Sunday sees the Sunday World (www.sundayworld.com). The widest circulation however belongs to the evening broadsheet Belfast Telegraph (which now comes out around noon and has a very informative website (www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk); its Unionist stance has become progressively more liberal over the years. Also worth purchasing is the biweekly Derry Journal (www.derryjournal.com). All UK national daily and Sunday papers are also available in the North.
Television and radio
In the Republic, the state-sponsored Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ; www.rte.ie) operates three TV channels. As well as imported shows, the main news and current affairs channel, RTÉ 1, also features the popular home-grown Dublin-based soap, Fair City, and Friday’s Late Late Show, a long-standing chat and entertainment institution. RTÉ 2 is a little more bubbly, with a smattering of locally produced programmes, though still swamped by imported tat and overburdened by sporting events. Some of the most innovative viewing is provided by the Irish-language channel TG4 (which provides English subtitles; www.tg4.ie), including excellent traditional-music shows and often incisive features on the culture of Irish-speaking areas. The independent channel TV3 (www.tv3.ie) churns out a dire mix of dated films and imported soaps and sitcoms, while its sister channel 3e offers even more programmes you’ll be very keen to miss. In most of the Republic, the four major British terrestrial TV channels are available on cable or satellite, as well as a vast number of other digital and freeview channels such as Sky, CNN and Eurosport. The Republic also has its own dedicated cable/satellite sports channel, Setanta (www.setanta.com).
RTÉ also operates four radio stations, three of which are English-language: the mainstream RTÉ Radio 1 (FM 88–89), whose morning shows are largely devoted to current affairs and chat; RTÉ 2FM (FM 90–92), which is more music- and youth-oriented; and Lyric FM (FM 96–99), which mixes popular classics with jazz and occasionally inspiring world-music shows. Raidió na Gaeltachta (FM 93) is the national Irish-language station, with broadcasts including much traditional music. The national commercial radio station, Today FM (FM 100–102), offers a largely bland schedule of MoR music shows, and Newstalk (FM 106–108) is self explanatory. There are also numerous local radio stations across the Republic.
Northern Ireland receives television and radio programmes from the BBC (www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland) and has a limited, if often keenly followed, number of locally produced current-affairs productions. On BBC Radio Ulster (FM 92.4–95.4), Talkback (Mon–Fri noon–1.30pm) offers lively discussions on the North’s political situation. The BBC’s main commercial rival, Ulster Television (www.u.tv) relies on the standard ITV diet of soaps and drama. In most parts of the North you can also watch or listen to RTÉ programmes.
Culture and Etiquette
Ireland likes to describe itself as the land of Cead Míle Fáilte (“a hundred thousand welcomes”), which you’ll often see inscribed on pubs, and that’s essentially true for most visitors. In terms of general etiquette, wherever you go, you’ll encounter the standard Irish greeting – an enquiry about your health (“How are you?” sometimes just abbreviated to “About you?” in parts of the North) and it’s reasonable to return the compliment. Also, if someone buys you a pint in a pub, then an even-handed gesture is to pay for the next round.
Children are very well received, though few places, including cafés, hotels and many key attractions, are actually designed with them in mind. Baby supplies are readily available and most B&Bs and hotels welcome children, and an increasing number have cots. It’s usually fine to take a child into a pub during the daytime, though definitely not so legally in the Republic after 9pm.
Irish women’s economic and social status has much improved over the last couple of decades, with the Republic even outranking Germany and the Netherlands in terms of gender equality. Whether this progress has extended beyond the major cities is debatable, though, as rural areas often preserve entrenched sexist attitudes.
In terms of the travel experience, female visitors are unlikely to encounter problems. For all their charm and prodigious drinking, Irish men tend to be remarkably polite around women and the most you can expect is the odd cat call or drunken chat-up line. However, as with anywhere, if you’re travelling alone or to an unfamiliar area, it’s worth adopting a cautionary attitude, particularly when enjoying pubs and nightlife. In the rare case of experiencing a serious personal assault, it’s worth contacting either a rape crisis centre (t1800778888, wwww.rcni.ie in Dublin, (t028/9032 9002, wwww.rapecrisisni.com in the North), or the Tourist Assistance Service (Mon–Fri t01/661 0562, Sat & Sun t01/666 8109, wwww.itas.ie), as local police forces are unlikely to be experienced in these situations.
The arrival of refugees and, latterly, large numbers of migrant workers over the last decade or so has undoubtedly shifted attitudes in the Republic towards those from other cultures and had a significant effect upon the population’s long-standing homogeneity. That being said, it’s still possible that black visitors will encounter racist attitudes at some point in their travels, especially in rural areas, but these are generally not threatening and usually the result of ignorance rather than intended to cause deliberate offence.
The situation is less optimistic in Northern Ireland where, especially in Belfast, Loyalist gangs have attempted to “cleanse” the city’s ethnic population, targeting mainly the Chinese and other Asian communities, and there have been several reported attacks on migrant workers across the region. Tourists, of whatever culture, are very rarely the victims of assaults.
Ireland also has its own recognized ethnic minority, the Travellers (widely known by a range of insulting epithets), against whom discrimination remains widespread, both North and South.
Gays and lesbians
Attitudes to gays and lesbians remain discriminatory amongst the general population (especially Northern Irish Protestants), and the gay community in Ireland keeps a low profile, the only “scene” largely concentrated on the nightlife of Belfast and Dublin. That said, in 2015 – 22 years after homosexuality was decriminalized in the Republic – a public referendum saw 62% of the Republic’s population vote in favour of the legalisation of gay marriage, with the law subsequently changed to reflect popular opinion. Away from the larger cities, however, public displays of affection may produce hostile verbal reactions, and many small-town and rural B&Bs will look askance at a pair of men wanting to share a bed for the night. Be aware that known cruising areas, such as Belfast’s Cave Hill and Dublin’s Phoenix Park, are often patrolled by the police.
The pub has long been at the centre of Irish society and the ready availability of alcohol has played a major part in the development of the national psyche and as a Muse to some of the country’s greatest writers (O’Brien, Kavanagh, Behan) and actors (Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole).
The Irish are amongst Europe’s heaviest drinkers, imbibing as a whole on average some twenty percent more than their continental European neighbours, and that’s despite the government’s heavy excise duties on drink. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, more than half of the population have harmful drinking patterns (40 percent of women and 70 percent of men) and binge-drinking, especially amongst the 18–25 age group, is a significant problem. Contrastingly, thanks to movements such as the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, around a fifth of the Irish population are teetotal.
However, consumption is gradually falling. Partly this reflects Ireland’s economic woes, which, in conjunction with the smoking ban and drink-driving legislation, have seen some 1500 licensed premises close in the last five years. The majority of these have been in rural areas, especially in the southwest, but towns and cities have suffered too.