10 Tricks To Know Before Visiting Ireland

10 Tricks To Know Before Visiting Ireland October 18, 2023

We are enjoying a vacation in Ireland before my husband speaks at a conference in Dublin for work. It seemed the perfect time to see an amazing place with personal family significance. My mother’s family is from Ireland, and I have always wanted to come. But there were a few things I wish I had known before traveling to Ireland. I did extensive searches online before our trip, so this is not an uneducated list. But as most everyone missed a few things, I wanted to share 10 tricks I discovered.

1- Driving on the Left

Believe it or not, driving on the Left is easy. Dublin has an amazing road network that keeps it really idiot-proof. There are a bunch of freeways that keep you divided from the other direction of traffic, so remembering to drive on the left is only necessary once you are on the surface streets. 

Fortunately, those highways begin at the airport, so you have plenty of time to get comfortable before you reach your smaller towns. And with the cars having the driver sit on the right, it is rather intuitive to drive on the left. I would, however, recommend you get familiar with road signs. Their speed limit signs aren’t as intuitive as ours, and there are still some symbols I am not familiar with even after all my efforts. 

2- Currency Exchange

We brought US dollars with us and were so jet-lagged by the time we got to Dublin that my only thought was to make it to our Airbnb to sleep. So we left the airport without exchanging any of our US dollars for Euros. That was a mistake. Believe it or not, almost everything is easily done by credit card, but there aren’t currency exchanges everywhere.

In the US we have currency exchanges in grocery stores and banks. In Ireland, banks and credit unions can’t offer that service unless you are a member. And to be a member you have to prove residency. So be sure you take the time to stop at the Airport, or you will be making a return trip like I did.

3- Grocery Carts Need Coins

One of the first, and most frustrating moments was when I got to the grocery store and discovered all their shopping carts require a coin to operate. They are all chained together, and unless you have a coin of some kind you can’t unlock them. Well, I left all my coins at home and hadn’t been to the currency exchange. And the cute little cashier could not help me out. 

Ireland from the air
Ireland from the air

Fortunately, there was a kind elderly woman who gave me some “Irish Love”. She lent me a 5 euro note which I took to the cashier to exchange for coins so I could use the shopping cart. My first offer to this woman was to give her 20 US dollars for any coin that could unlock the shopping carts. But after she picked her jaw off the floor she told me never to offer that to someone. 

Clearly, she was concerned about the cost of such an offer. But it was the smallest amount of money I had, and I was desperate. Our Airbnb had no food in it, none of the delivery services were open yet, and my teenager was about to start chewing the trees. 

The only thing I feel awful about to this day is that I hadn’t educated myself on their currency and chose the coin I kept for its size. But instead of the sweet woman lending me one euro, she ended up lending me two because I chose to keep the wrong coin. I sure hope I can run into her again one day and pay her back for her generosity. 

4- Get familiar with the currency

Euro coins
Euro coins

So guess what? The Euro has a one Euro coin and a two-euro coin. They are the same size and about the same color. The only difference is this little 1 or 2 printed on it. WELL, I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and that led to my mistake of grabbing the wrong coin.

For those not familiar, US currency has coins in various sizes and colors. And none are even close to each other. So it’s easy to grab the right coin even if you are blind  

So if I had it to do again, I would have gotten familiar with how the coins look here. The images are available online, and it would have been an easy thing to learn. Here is the one from my Google search.

But I was so focused on learning to drive on the left so I didn’t kill the whole family that coins completely slipped my mind. And I really wish I could go back now and be more careful.

5- Selection is smaller

When you and I go to the store in the US there are aisles and aisles of variations of the same product. Take the cereal aisle- you can be there for days if you aren’t careful. Well in Ireland the selection is much more curated.

They definitely have cereal and a nice selection. But there were maybe 12 to choose from instead of the 50 you’d find in the States. The same applies to chips (crisps) and just about anything else you’re looking for.

6- Ireland is highly Sustainable

Dun Laoghaire Presbyterian Church

I was surprised that Ireland doesn’t have a huge amount of disposable paper products. We were looking for paper plates and bowls and disposable utensils at the grocery store. And there simply wasn’t any on the shelves.

Fortunately, our Airbnb ended up having what we needed. But for a few moments there we were very concerned. 

Grocery bags are reusable here. So if you are coming, and have the space to pack them, bring your reusable grocery bags, or you will be buying them at the checkout. I am glad they are so good at keeping the earth clean.

I also noticed a ton of large solar farms as we flew in. For an island nation that rains nearly every day, I would never have expected them to be an ideal location for solar farms. But there they are! And there are giant wind turbines in several locations.

7- The Irish People Are Amazing

This really should be the first thing I listed, because they make the greatest difference in the world. But the Irish people are so friendly and helpful. Those you pass while walking will greet you. And any time you ask for help, there is always someone willing to answer your questions. And I love the Irish accent. It’s melodic and charming. 

8- Cars are smaller

I am forever grateful to Tim at National Car Rental for insisting the compact SUV we had reserved would never hold our 2 giant checked bags, 3 rolling carry-ons, and 3 laptop bags. We drive a Mazda CX-5 at home. It is considered a compact SUV by US standards, and there are many much larger vehicles on the road.

But he took one look at us and our group of luggage and put us into a Skola Caroo that is more like a Mazda CX-3 or a small CX-5. It barely held everything, and clearly whatever we chose before never would have made it. We played Tetris for a bit as it was. 

After driving around for a few days I noticed a Land Rover on the highway. That vehicle was so wide it barely fit in the lane and would clearly struggle on the narrow country roads. So be prepared for smaller cars to match the smaller roads.

9- Everything is smaller

At a stop light in Dublin

Everything in Ireland is smaller than in the US. I had no idea that I had been so spoiled by the Salt Lake City streets. When they were built they made them wide enough that you can do a U-turn with an oxen team.

But Irish roads are so narrow in the villages and countryside that I just have to trust they made the road wide enough for my car and hug that middle line. And sometimes that isn’t enough. Some roads should be one way, but for some reason, they are trying to cram two lanes and parking out of it. If it weren’t so darn cute I’d give up. But we were here to experience Ireland, so we drove into the fray.

Even the beds seem smaller here. I worked hard to find an Airbnb with what looked like a king bed online. It turned out to be a US queen bed, but most of them are double beds or smaller. I guess the Irish like to cuddle while they sleep. I am a bed hog though, and didn’t want my husband to suffer. But I don’t think there are king-size beds in Ireland. I could be wrong, but I didn’t find any online before we got here.

10- Electricity is different, and so are electronics

My son loves to sleep with a box fan for airflow and white noise. So we made sure to pack one- gigantic as it is. We plugged it into an outlet here in Ireland, with the help of an outlet converter. The first thing we noticed was that the fan was louder and faster than it had been at home.

Within minutes the fan started to smell like smoke and stopped working. It was definitely a casualty of US VS Ireland’s current difference. I’m glad it didn’t explode! But if you have a fan, don’t bring it from home. Buy one in Ireland because some things just don’t convert with a simple wall plug. The same thing goes for your blow dryer, electric razor, and any appliance with a motor. Use the one the hotel or Airbnb provides, or pack a cordless well-charged version. You’ll be glad you did. 

I’ve also noticed that the outlets in Ireland have on and off switches. That is brilliant! How many times did I panic as a young mother of a toddler as he tried to put something in an outlet? Was that just my kid? Well, being able to turn the outlet off would have been such a relief.

Also, be sure you look up the user manuals for the appliances at your Airbnb. It’s very different from home. Even the front door bolts are different than the US- they are actually amazing. In Ireland, if you take the door handle lever and pull it up, a bolt at the top and bottom of the door engages forming a triple deadbolt. It’s amazing! It’s definitely superior to the single deadbolt that doors have in the US.

Worth the Trip

All in all, it has been a wonderful visit. Ireland is beautiful and the people are wonderful. The houses and streets are so cute that I keep taking a million pictures at every stoplight. And I am still trying to convince my teenager to record a video of us driving down the road so I can remember it. When it stops raining I know he will agree- so we may or may not get that video.

If you get the chance to come to Ireland- take it. The travel is killer. You’ll be up 24 hours straight in both directions. But the experience is worth it. Even when you are in your 40s and you ache all over after lifting your own body weight in luggage and groceries; and you have had to walk at least 50 miles of airport hallways between connections, it is worth it. Ireland is a gem of a nation.

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