General Ireland travel tips
1. Remember, there’s a north and a south
Northern Ireland is a part of the UK and “southern” Ireland is a part of the EU. In the North they use Pound Sterling and in the south they use Euros. But don’t worry there’s no hard border so you can cross without hassle between the south and north. for plannign where to go, check out these guides on the best things to do in Ireland and the best things to do in Northern Ireland.
2. It’s worth knowing a bit of Irish slang
One of the most important things to know about Ireland is that Irish people love to talk in slang, and coupled with the strong accents, it can often prove tricky trying to work out what someone is saying. Well, to help you out, here’s a few slang words and phrases you can expect to hear:
- “What about ya?” ….. How are you
- “Aye” ….. Yes
- “Top of the mornin’ to ya” ….. Good Morning
- “What’s the craic?” ….. What are you up to? / How are you?
- “Craic” ….. fun/banter
- “Bang on” ….. That’s great
- “Hey boyo” ….. Hey there (aimed at guys)
- “Wee” ….. Small
- “Ya feckin eejit” ….. You f****ing idiot
- “Take a gander” ….. Have a look
- “That’s grand” ….. That’s perfect/good/great
- “Dead on” ….. Perfect
- “I was mortified” ….. I was very embarrassed
- “Do you fancy a poke?” … Would you like an ice cream?
- “Your man” ….. That guy (used in sentences when trying to think of someone’s name)
3. It’s called Derry, not Londonderry
Both in the north and south, the vast majority of people know Derry as, well, Derry. Officially, it is also called Londonderry, but many locals will take great offence if you call it Londonderry in front of them.
After years of oppression and abuse from the British, there is a deep seated sense of Irish pride both in the south and north (except for Unionists of course), so calling it Londonderry could get you in trouble.
4. Get used to tall tales and legends
When visiting popular sites, such as Giant’s Causeway or Blarney Castle, prepare yourself for some rather far-fetched tales! A whole array of myths and legends have been used to explain the countries breathtaking scenery and wide array of castles, and these have been passed down from generation to generation.
Though many probably have some element of truth to them, others are clearly the work of someone who’s perhaps had a few too many pints of Guinness.
Read Also: 35 Best Ireland Castles
5. Take your EHIC card (If you are in the EU)
The European Health Insurance Card is a great way to get free hospital cover for a number of different accidents. If you are based in the EU, then you can get one for free and take it anywhere in the EU. Depending on which country you are in, the sort of cover this will give you can vary.
However, in many cases it will save you needing to pay for a hospital cover for a whole range of minor accidents. Just remember, an EHIC is NOT a replacement for actual travel insurance. If you’re backpacking Ireland, then I recommend checking out the insurance on offer from World Nomads.
6. Make note of emergency numbers
Hopefully nothing goes wrong on your journey around Ireland, but if it does, then it’s best to have any emergency contact details at hand. In Ireland, the big ones are:
- Police, Fire & ambulance: 112 or 999
In Northern Ireland, they are:
- Police, Fire & ambulance: 999
Just type those numbers straight into your mobile or landline and they will work. If you need to call another number, such as your breakdown company, then remember, the area code for Ireland is +353 and for Northern Ireland it is +44.
7. Try Irish stew and wheaten bread!
Ireland isn’t particularly famous for their culinary expertise; at least beyond potatoes and Guinness. However, one food you simply have to try is traditional Irish stew! This staple meal dates back hundreds of years and is made solely of beef and good old hearty root vegetables. I first tried this when I went camping to Lough Derg (in Donegal) with Cazzy and her family a few years ago and I've loved it ever since. It’s best enjoyed on a cold night in a warm Irish pub.
Ireland travel tips for getting around
8. Hire a set of wheels
The best part about visiting Ireland is exploring small rural villages and towns, as well as taking epic road trips; such as the Ring Of Kerry and Wild Atlantic Way. Having your own campervan gives you complete freedom and makes a trip to Ireland 10 times more enjoyable. You can read up on our incredible 16 day Ireland road trip here. And here is our review of Spaceships Rentals. Alternatively, you could get a small car quite cheap. A good place to search for this is Rentalcars.com.
9. Download a navigation app
Nowadays, you don’t need a big clunky GPS device for getting around Ireland. Instead, all you need to do is download an app right to your phone. We used Google Maps for all of Ireland as it synced up to all of the places I had saved to visit. Other apps you could use include Maps.me and Waze.
10. Remember, they drive on the left!
This is important if you are an American traveling to Ireland, or any other country where they drive on the right! As a friendly reminder, whenever you cross the road, remember to look right.
11. You’ll need to wave buses down
If you’re waiting for the bus, then be prepared to step out and wave it down. Otherwise, there’s a very good chance they won’t stop and will leave you stood in the cold until another one comes by!
12. Some of the best spots require you to take a ferry
Off the west coast in particular, Ireland has a number of rugged, enticing islands to visit. These are usually less busy than the mainland and var less touristy. This also means they have a lot of charm so are well worth checking out. In recent years, Skellig Island has become increasingly popular, seeing as it’s a filming location for Star Wars.
A number of companies now offer day tours, such as this one. Another popular Ireland is Inishmore, located off County Clare as a part of the Aran Islands. In the far north you have Tory Ireland which, up until 2018 when he died, had its own elected King!
Ireland travel tips for saving money
13. Get yourself a local sim card
As our phones are from the UK, Cazzy and I have a sim and phone contract with O2. And because we are in the UK, any data we have can be used for free all across the EU. In fact, if you buy a sim card with any company in the EU, you should be able to use it in all other EU countries for free. So head to a phone shop when you arrive in Ireland and pick yourself up a sim with a few gigabytes of data.
This will save you a fortune in roaming charges and means you have access to the internet everywhere you are in Ireland and means you don’t need to rely on trying to find WiFi. According to these guys, eir Mobile has the best coverage across Ireland.
14. Shop smartly in the north and south
Generally speaking, Ireland is more expensive than Northern Ireland. For example, food and alcohol is pricier in the south, both in restaurants and in supermarkets. However, fuel is cheaper in the south.
As you’d imagine, many people living near the border will travel to either country if they’re looking to fill up their car or stock up on groceries. This will come in useful if, like us, you get your hands on a set of wheels.
15. Get yourself a travel card
Exchanging currencies in person or before you travel is never the best way to go. Instead, to get the most for your money, you are best off getting yourself a travel card and then withdrawing from an ATM when you arrive. For us, we always use Revolut and Monzo when we travel.
They offer the best exchange rates possible, and don’t charge any fees when paying using the card itself. If you are withdrawing from an ATM, then you get free withdrawals up to £200 per month. Cazzy and I each have a Monzo and Revolut, so we get £800 of free withdrawals every month, which means we hardly ever run into any fees.
Both Revolut ad Monzo are extremely easy to use and you can keep them topped up directly from an app on your phone. Having these cards has literally saved us hundreds of dollars in unwanted fees over the last few years of backpacking.
We have also recently just ordered our Starling Bank cards which seem to be exactly the same as Revolut and Monzo, but apparently charges absolutely nothing on up to £300 worth of withdrawals every DAY!
16. Make use of all comparison sites
The cost of accommodation can soon rack up in Ireland. To get the best deals on hotels and hostels, you should make use of a few accommodation comparison sites. This includes:
- Booking.com (sign up through this link to get 10% off your first booking)
- Airbnb (sign up through this link to get $35 off your first booking)
17. Buy a Heritage Card a month before your trip
You have to pay to enter many of the most popular Ireland tourist attractions, such as castles and national parks. And at €10 to €20 a pop, the cost of these soon adds up. Well, it’s possible to buy something called a Heritage Pass which, for a one-off fee of €40 (as of 2019), you can get into a wide number of attractions for free. It’s cheaper for children and students and you can find out more about which sites that are included in the pass here.
18. Do your shopping at Lidl or Aldi
If you’re shopping for groceries and booze, then the cheapest place is Lidl or Aldi. These are located in all major cities and towns across Ireland (but there’s no Aldi in the north) and are usually built right next to each other. But just as a heads up, the price of beer, cider, wine and spirits isn’t that cheap anywhere in Ireland.
For example, the cheapest you’ll get a can of cider is €1.50, no matter how many you buy at one time. This is about twice as much as the price in England and 3 or 4 times as much as cheap European countries. Other supermarkets like Supervalu, Tesco, Centra and Spar are available everywhere but aren’t always as cheap or have as much variety.
Ireland travel tips for those looking to party
19. Head to the bigger cities for wild nights out
You’ll find bars all across Ireland (literally everywhere), but if you’re looking for live music late into the night and bars that stay open until the early hours, you are limited for choice. Your best options would be:
20. Try and track down Wetherspoons
If you’ve never been to the UK, then you probably won’t have heard of Wetherspoons. Well, it’s a chain of almost 1,000 pubs located all across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and now Ireland. They only recently opened locations in Ireland so, as of 2019 there are only 3. This includes 2 in Dublin and one in Cork.
They are known for having incredibly cheap drink and food deals so are the best places for pre-drinks and great atmosphere. However, I would only recommend starting out in a Wetherspoons in order to save some cash, and then heading out to true Irish pubs with live music to finish off your evening.
Ireland travel tips for planning where to go in Ireland
21. Use Google Maps for planning places to visit
My process for planning our Ireland road trip went like this:
- Bring up a whole bunch of travel blogs on the best places to visit in Ireland
- Pick all of the things I wanted to say and then pin them on Google Maps. Do this by first finding the place on Maps and then clicking the “save” icon.
- Afterwards, you can then look at all of the things you want to see and plan a rough route around Ireland and Northern Ireland
22. Look carefully at baggage restrictions
If you’re flying to Ireland from within Europe, then chances are that Ryanair will be offering the cheapest flights. Well, make sure you check their baggage limitations carefully. They are a 100% no frills airline and you get essentially nothing along with a regular ticket.
You get one small bag (smaller than a typical cabin bag) and you have to put it under the seat. If you wish to take on board a larger bag up to 10kg, then you will need to pay extra. And make sure you do this ahead of time, otherwise they charge you €35 to buy space for a bag at the airport.
23. Take note of how long the days are
When visiting Ireland in the summer months, it can be light all the way from 6am in the morning till 11pm at night. But in the winter months (November til February), the days are much shorter. As such, if you plan on having a busy schedule then you’re better off heading there when you’ve got lots of daylight to work with.
24. Be aware of Sundays & bank holidays
On Sundays and bank holidays, the opening hours of many shops and attractions are usually much shorter. In many cases, places don’t open at all on such days as the majority of people get the day off work. Here’s a list of all major Irish bank holidays.
25. Take time to appreciate the castles
Ireland is literally the country of castles. You will see castles everywhere you go. We averaged at 3 to 4 castles every day we were there and they are some of the nicest things about the country. Many have been well maintained over the years and have special gardens to explore, such as Lismore and Ashford.
Either way, take time to include them in your route and snap a few shots. You could even do a castle tour of Ireland if you were that way inclined. For help planning your trip, here’s a list I put together of the 35 best castles in Ireland.
26. Drop into the Tourist Information centres in each town
Ireland has had some major tourism pushes in recent years, and they happily welcome tourists to towns, cities and villages all across the country. As such, you will find tourist information centres located in almost all top destinations.
It’s worthwhile stopping in, as they can give you a rundown of the best things to see there, as well as to answer any other questions you have. Such as the best places to eat and the best places to stay for the night. We use this travel tip all around the world!
27. If you’re unsure of a route, just drive the Wild Atlantic Way!
In my ever so humble opinion, many of the best places to visit in Ireland lie across the western coast of Ireland. Just by driving this epic route, you will pass through top Ireland destinations like:
As well as many of the best things to see in Ireland, including:
- The Ring of Kerry
- The Ring of Beara
- The Dingle Peninsula
- The Cliffs of Moher
- The Gap of Dunloe
- The Connemara National Park
- And plenty more ...
But even better than this is the fact that the drive itself is nothing short of spectacular. All along the route you pass a diverse array of landscapes, with most of it being jaw dropping cliffs with crashing waves. Just head to the deep south or northernmost point of the route and start driving.
You can add in detours to bigger towns and cities and even do some day trips to the islands just off the coast. I would recommend leaving as much as 10 to 14 days to do the whole thing comfortably. But if you have less time, then just do as much as you can and come back another time to finish the rest!
Ireland Travel tips for what to pack
28. Bring cold weather clothes
The best time to visit Ireland is usually the warmer months of May/June through to August/September. But even if you are visiting in the Summer months, chances are that you will see a lot of cold, wet and windy weather.
It’s like this all year round, all across the country so when packing for Ireland be sure to take some full length trousers, a jumper and a coat. That being said, when we visited in June/July 2019, about 90% of our days were in the mid-20s. However, having grown up in Ireland, Cazzy can confirm that this lucky weather is a rarity!
29. Take a decent camera
A lot of countries don’t live up to the hype and the sights are never what they seem like on Instagram. Well, I can honestly say that this is NOT the case with Ireland! Both the north and south are incredibly beautiful, scenic and altogether unique.
As of writing I’ve been to more than 60 countries around the world, and none have proved as green and luscious as Ireland. You’ll spend your days driving through winding roads amidst green fields, blue lakes and incredible forestry.
But perhaps the most impressive part of Ireland is it’s coastline, made up of jagged cliffs and rocks. If you want to capture those memories, it’s worth taking a decent camera with you. Modern smartphone cameras are fine for most of your needs, and you’ll get some awesome selfies! Here’s the camera equipment we took to Ireland:
30. Bring a UK travel adaptor with you (Type G, 3 pinned)
In both the north and south, they use the Type G (3-pinned) adaptor everywhere. It’s worth picking up an international travel adaptor, like this one, if you plan on going elsewhere in Europe as well.
Final thoughts for backpacking Ireland
Backpacking Ireland really is an incredible experience, as the country is steeped in so much history and natural beauty.
And though it might seem expensive at first, your trip can be made more affordable by following the Ireland travel tips given above.
But if your budget can allow, and you are travelling to Ireland for the first time, then the number one tip that I have to repeat is to get yourself a set of wheels!
Having a campervan to explore in really helped make our experience that much better, as you get to take in far more of the country and to choose your own customised Ireland and Northern Ireland itinerary.
If you have any more questions about travelling to Ireland as a backpacker and how to make the most of your experience, just drop a comment below!