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Ireland is a fascinating country with roots of Celtic, Viking and Anglo-Norman cultures deeply embedded and intertwined throughout its incredible history. With stunning landscapes, charming locals and a furious passion for music and partying, the international love affair with Ireland is easy to understand. This is 'the land of saints and scholars,' with more Nobel Prize winners for literature than any other country in the world. A land of rolling greenery, craggy mountains, mysterious Celtic ruins, and crumbling castles, Ireland really is a wonder to behold.
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Every day in Ireland presents the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter; every city and town offers the possibility of an unforgettable adventure, a memorable trip back in time, or a newfound friendship. Though there is certainly no such thing as just another day in Ireland, these experiences set it apart from every other destination:
- Celebrated every year on June 16, Bloomsday is a citywide commemoration of Dublin’s most famous literary figure, James Joyce, and his greatest work, Ulysses. You’ll find people throughout Dublin in typical Edwardian costume engaged in literary pub-crawls, recreations of Leopold Bloom’s eventful journey through the city on June 16 1904, and marathon readings and recitals from arguably the greatest book of the 20th century. To be in Dublin for Bloomsday is to experience this capital of literature at its very best.
- Located deep in the emerald fields of County Meath, Newgrange is a striking and enigmatic Stone Age monument that was built around 3200 BC – significantly predating Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza. This giant circular mound of stone chambers, ringed by elaborately carved ‘kerbstones’, was originally thought to be a burial tomb. However, it is now recognized as a place of far greater astrological and religious significance; it is perfectly aligned with the rising sun, and light floods its inner chamber at the very instant of the winter solstice. It is a stirring and inspiring remnant of the deeply spiritual farming communities who lived in Ireland 5,000 years ago.
- Climb the steps, walk the ramparts, and brave the vertigo-inducing drop to hang over the edge of the walls and kiss the famed stone at Blarney Castle, just outside Cork city. Those dedicated enough to reach the Blarney Stone are said to be endowed with the “gift of the gab” – a witty and endearing term for the eloquence that is one of Ireland’s great national treasures.
- Though less famous than its Scottish relatives, Irish whiskey is said to predate ‘Scotch’ by several centuries, and some of the world’s oldest distilleries can be found in Ireland, producing a spirit that is in the midst of a global renaissance. Whiskey makers can be found all over the island, from Bushmills’ famed operation in the far northeast in Country Antrim to Middleton Distillery in County Cork – the birthplace of Irish whiskey.
- A sensational country house that is also the home to some of the most spectacular gardens in Europe, Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow offers an unforgettable day trip just an hour from the heart of Dublin. You can walk the gardens that date from the 19th century, learn more about the house and its famous owners, and set out to view nearby Powerscourt Waterfall – the highest in Ireland – before relaxing with a glass of whiskey or a flute of champagne at the nearby Ritz Carlton, where the views over the Wicklow Mountains are sure to dazzle.
- Take a guided tour of the powerful and exquisite murals of Belfast from a knowledgeable guide, as you’re presented with a one-of-a-kind look into the turbulent history and vibrant culture of Northern Ireland. From republican celebrations of Bobby Sands to the defiance and pride of the unionist murals, from footballing heroes to characters from Belfast-born CS Lewis’s novels, you’re sure to be moved by these poignant expressions of political and cultural identification.
- Walking in the footsteps of giants takes on new meaning at the Giants Causeway, an incredible series of interlocking basalt columns that sprout from the sea off the northeast coast in County Antrim. This surreal ‘honeycomb’ of hexagonal rock formations – an estimated 40,000 in all – are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, and have been drawing artists, geologists, and myth-seekers to this corner of Ireland for centuries – where they continue to inspire and mystify in equal measure today.
The weather in Ireland is ever changing and unpredictable, but while it often rains, it often out-and-out storms like it does in the States. You can expect to see clouds and light drizzle even at the height of summer – although there are also times of gorgeous sunshine in the dead of winter. Despite this fickleness, Ireland’s climate is overwhelmingly temperate, and it very rarely gets very hot or very cold. Most Irish people consider a temperature around freezing to be bone-chilling, and temperatures over 70 degrees Fahrenheit to be sweltering.
Regardless of where are visiting, you’ll find the summer months much more crowded than the winter months, with the peak travel season occurring in June and July. These months also mark key cultural moments in Ireland, from Bloomsday in Dublin in mid-June to the summer marching season in Northern Ireland, which culminates on the “Glorious Twelfth” of July, when Protestants celebrate King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne. Spring brings a number of cultural festivals in the south of Ireland, from the World Irish Dancing Championships in Killarney in April to the Wicklow Arts Festival in May, while late summer and early fall are highlighted by the world-famous Rose of Tralee Festival in County Kerry in August, and the finals of the hurling and Irish football championships in early September; and many couples celebrate their vows by honeymooning in Ireland.
Winter, while cold and often rainy, is a festive and fascinating time to visit Ireland, and celebrations range from the urbane (the Theatre Royal in Wexford hosts a vibrant opera festival in late October-early November) to the sporting (Dublin’s annual marathon is held on the last Monday of October). And, of course, many cities in Ireland celebrate Christmas in style: Killarney’s Christmas markets are probably the best in the country, while Dublin decks its best streets in stunning lights and seasonal decorations – you simply cannot miss a walk down Grafton Street after it’s been done up for the Yuletide.
There are hotels in Ireland to cover the map of accommodations, from quaint bed and breakfasts that offer a true country experience to grand hotels that host foreign dignitaries and monarchs. Dublin’s best hotels can mainly be found on the south side of the River Liffey (the unquestionable highlight of the city’s hospitality scene is the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green), but there are also a number of fine hotels in the northern part of the city and in its outer suburbs.
Smaller Irish towns offer cozy rooms and friendly service, while the countryside provides the unparalleled luxury of spending the evening in a converted castle, complete with elegant dining rooms and world-class chefs, sumptuous spas with lavish treatments, and outdoor activities that befit the noble class – from golf and horseback riding to falconry.
Visa and Passport Requirements
The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union, so visitors from the United States need not apply for a visa or any special travel considerations, with two notable exceptions. First, anyone wishing to work in Ireland must apply for a work visa at their local consulate: be sure to call ahead, because you may be required to bring multiple documents proving citizenship and identification. Second, any visitor wishing to spend more than 90 consecutive days in Ireland must apply for a long-term stay visa – although most travelers get around this requirement by leaving Ireland for a foreign county (and yes, Northern Ireland counts), as the 90-day grace period is reset when they reenter the country.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which is also an EU member nation, so the same limitations and requirements apply if you wish to visit the six northern counties.
Health And Safety
Hospitals in Ireland are all first-rate, the water is safe to drink, and there is a very low risk of contracting communicable diseases. Food is fresh and well prepared regardless of where you go, and most healthcare in Ireland – should you require it – is less expensive than it is in the States.
For the most part, crime in Ireland is not a concern, but some areas do require a certain amount of discretion. Tensions from the Troubles are much lower than in past years, but old prejudices do die hard, so visitors are well-advised to avoid any obvious sectarian dress or behavior in more politically turbulent areas, such as Londonderry and Belfast. Violent crime is very rare in city centers, but there is a developing gang presence in some of Dublin’s less affluent suburbs: the town of Bray, for instance, is perfectly safe to visit during the day, but visitors should probably be on their way back to Dublin by the time night falls.
As always, common sense and caution should inform your actions while in Ireland: don’t put all of your valuables (including travel documents) in the same place, don’t flash large amounts of cash or expensive jewelry, and be aware of your purse and other belongings when you spend the evening in a pub. Traveling at night is safer than it is in most major US cities, but you should try to stick to well lit and populated areas, travel in groups, and try not to appear obviously lost or unfamiliar with your surroundings. Of course, should you need help, the Irish are famous for their hospitality and warmth, and you will usually find a helping hand in even the worst of circumstances.
As a member of the European Union, Ireland uses the euro, and changing money is easy and hassle-free. You’ll generally get the best rates at independent exchange centers, and the worst rates at exchange centers at Dublin International Airport or in visitors’ centers. The best way to get money, however, is to withdraw it from the ATM: you might be charged a small fee by your banking institution, but the rates are probably going to be notably better than you can get at local exchange houses. When dining in Ireland, a gratuity is usually added to the bill, so tipping is not required or common: if you find the service exceptional, your best option is to leave a cash tip on the table when you leave.
Some people find the Irish accent difficult to decipher, particularly in more rural regions and in the West, where Gaelic still has a strong cultural hold. Should you have difficulty understanding people, simply ask them to repeat themselves – it’s not likely to be something they haven’t heard before. You’ll also find yourself understanding the brogue more easily the longer you spend in the country – which is just another reason to book an extended trip!
Leisure offers a collection of meticulously crafted Ireland tours where all arrangements are carefully planned from hassle-free logistics to booking the perfect hotel so you can focus on enjoying your dream vacation. All trips can be customized to suit individual preferences or can be completely tailor-made around particular destinations and special interests that are most meaning to you.
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