10 things I wish I knew before going to Ireland: insight from an American Tourist.
If you ask the stranger sitting next to you in a quiet café in the centre of bustling Dublin, or in quaint Kerry, or Cork, or London, or Paris, or New York, “what is life all about?”, chances are you’ll receive a flowery answer that can be boiled down to one’s life experiences.
Or maybe you’ll simply receive weird looks, but that is beside the point. Life is about living fully and saying yes to new experiences.
In the land of endless, rolling green hills and countless sheep, one thing is certain. Ireland is a place of many things at once and there are places, people and experiences that anyone who has never been should know before their plane or boat touches down on that lush landscape.
Let’s skip the things you can find in any travel book and dive right into the things that I wish I had known before travelling to Ireland.
10. You Will Get Lost, But It Won’t Be So Bad
Honestly? Leave the GPS at home and give the car rental agency a polite “no thanks” when they try to push one on you. Go ‘old school’ and bring maps, but don’t expect them to navigate you out of a remote back road barricaded by herds of sheep.
Getting lost is, perhaps, one of the best things about an Irish road trip. Enjoy the views and take photographs. You’re creating a story to tell when you arrive home. Relax, you are in Ireland. Chances are, wherever you are headed will still be there when the sheep clear and you find your way back to civilization.
Asking for directions is highly recommended, but the roads are basic enough that even if you veer off the path, you shouldn’t take too long to get back on your way.
9. There Are No Time Schedules
Take on the ideology of ‘when in Rome.’ It is crucial when travelling, particularly to a laid-back country like Ireland. The Irish take their time, so if you are meeting up with a local, do not count on them showing up at the designated time.
Busses in cities are typically late and sometimes, especially on Sundays, businesses will close down early or not open at all. Take this as a life lesson. Life passes by at breakneck speed and rarely do we allow ourselves to simply be in a moment. Do this in Ireland and you will learn to slow down and enjoy things you may have otherwise overlooked.
8. You Will Make Friends
It is no secret that the Irish are known for friendliness, but this friendliness is different than what you might be accustomed to in other parts of the world.
You may not hear a greeting every time you enter a shop, but don’t be surprised if a someone strikes up a conversation with you at the pub.
Most Irish love to converse with strangers. There is a sense of humour in almost everything you will hear. Listen and contribute with an open mind, and you may just have yourself a new best friend!
7. Extend Your Time in Ireland
The most common thing I heard from other travellers and one of the things to know before going to Ireland is that you should spend more time in the Emerald Isle. It is a small country, but there is so much to see and experience.
Why not push an extra few days into your itinerary? It will, inevitably, be the vacation of a lifetime. We only regret the things we do not do, right?
6. The Weather is Unpredictable
One of the top things to know before visiting Ireland is that Irish weather is unpredictable!
Although it may not rain every minute of every day, you will more than likely run into at least a drizzle during your time in Ireland. Bring waterproof shoes and dress in layers.
Some moments will be quite temperate and sunny, but that gorgeous scenery is consistently green for a reason! I found myself wishing I had invested in a stylish raincoat rather than those cute blouses I insisted on bringing. Pack smart!
5. The Food is Better Than What You Thought
We’ve all heard that the Irish aren’t known for their gourmet meals, and while that much is true, their basic dishes can be absolutely delicious.
Virtually every menu in every restaurant lists the same ten items, so get used to the lack of variety.
However, the limited menus offer a rather tasty fare. Expect everything to come with potatoes. Yes, even lasagna in an Italian restaurant; but, honestly, who doesn’t love potatoes? Just don’t forget to tip! Unlike some other European countries, the Irish tip between ten and fifteen per cent on food.
4. Take a Guided Tour
I know, believe me. Sometimes guided tours are less than exciting and often make you feel like a stereotypical tourist, but some of the best places in Ireland are best experienced through a tour.
Whether you check out Newgrange and Knowth, a brewery, an old castle, some amazing caves, the Giant’s Causeway, a sea-view of the Cliffs of Moher, or one of the dozens of popular movie or television settings (Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, anyone?), you will see some awe-inspiring sights and learn a quite a bit more than you would have on your own.
3. Driving is Quite the Experience
If you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, driving in Ireland is a challenge; but not just for that reason. The speed limits cause white knuckles with their winding, narrow roads.
The solution, however, is simple. There are plenty of places to pull over if you feel the line of cars piling up behind you is getting too long, and the Irish absolutely abide by this rule.
Make sure to ask for an automatic car upon booking, unless you’re accustomed to stick shifts. Your car will likely be half the size of what you’re used to, but you will be glad as gas can run quite high in Ireland!
For me, it was triple what I would have paid at home. However, there is nothing like having the freedom to go where you want when you want.
2. Ireland is Not a Place of Tourist Traps
After travelling across Ireland during different times of the year, it is clear that even high trafficked areas will rarely feel crowded.
While many of the attractions in Ireland that are known to tourists are worth a visit, there is so much beauty in the entire country, from North to South, that it is easy to find a balance between the loud bustling of a city and the quiet solitude of a quaint town.
It is unlikely that you will be standing in long lines to see some of Ireland’s most famed spots. However, do check out our guide on Ireland’s biggest tourist traps so you know where they are and when do visit if you do want to visit! And, don’t forget to try out some of the weirdest tourist attractions, too.
1. Ireland Will Become a Second Home
Our top thing to know before visiting Ireland is that Ireland will become your second home!
Quaint towns, breathtaking scenery, friendly people, and endless experiences will absorb into your bones, giving you a calling to return again and again.
There are no places on Earth quite like Ireland, and you will realize, for many years after your return, how lucky you were to have been able to explore the seemingly untouched landscape that is home to some of the greatest people and places in the world. And on your travels – as the Irish say – “May the road rise up to meet you!”