TRAVEL TO IRELAND
A travel guide including detailed information and everything you need to know about Ireland from planning your trip, key things you should know before you go like passport & visa, money and duty free information. Also what to do while you’re there, what to see, where to eat, drink, shop and party, and how to get around between all these places.
When to go
Every season in Ireland has its own particular merits although ‘the four seasons in one day’ principle can apply, such is the changeable nature of the weather.
Spring is when the Irish countryside comes alive and earns its reputation as the land of ’40 shades of green’. Travellers who come in March will also get a chance to experience and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (17th March).
Summer weather in Ireland can be surprisingly pleasant and the days seem to last forever, which makes it a great season for touring and activity breaks. Indeed it never really gets totally dark in June and early July.
Autumn is often the driest season in the North West and many tourist attractions remain open until October. The soft light can make for truly enchanting drives through the Atlantic coastal and highland landscapes.
Winter usually means you will have the beaches and tourist attractions to yourself while the elemental wild weather and shorter days have their own distinct, savage beauty.
With Ireland being such a popular tourist destination, there have never been so many opportunities to travel to Ireland either by air or sea.
Aer Lingus is Ireland’s national airline carrier with direct flights to Britain, continental Europe and the USA. Ryanairis Ireland’s most popular budget travel airline carrier with inexpensive flights to Britain and continental Europe. There is also a third smaller Irish airline carrier, Aer Árann, that operates flights within Ireland and also to Britain.
Air travel websites such as Sky Scanner will help you find the best deals.
P&O Irish Sea, Stena Lines, Irish Ferries and Brittany Ferries are the four main ferry operators. Ferry travel websites such as directferries.ie will help you find the best deals on offer.
P&O Irish Sea: Ferry and fast-boat services from Larne to Cairnryan and Troon, and ferry services from Liverpool to Dublin.
Stena Lines: Ferry services from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, Stranraer to Belfast, and fast-boat services from Holyhead to Dublin, Fishguard to Rosslare, and Stranraer to Belfast.
Irish Ferries: Ferry and fast-boat services from Holyhead to Dublin, and ferry services from Pembroke to Rosslare.
Steam Packet: Ferry and high speed catamaran ferries services from Liverpool to Dublin or Belfast via Douglas (capital of the Isle of Man).
Brittany Ferries: Operates from Cork to Roscoff with convenient weekend sailings.
Passports & Visas
As the Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU, citizens of EU states and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens can enter Ireland with either a passport or ID card.
UK nationals don’t need a passport to visit the Republic but are advised to carry one just in case (or some other form of identification), that prove they are a UK national. It’s also necessary to have a passport or photo ID when changing traveller cheques or hiring a car. Visitors from outside these areas will need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after their intended arrival.
For EEA nationals and citizens of most Western countries, including the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, no visa is required to visit either the Republic or Northern Ireland. Citizens of India, China and many other African countries do need a visa for the Republic. Full visa requirements for visiting the Republic are available online at www.dfa.ie, while for Northern Ireland’s visa requirements see ukvisas.gov.uk.
Choose a Region
Unless you have the luxury of taking a month long holiday in Ireland, we strongly recommend that you choose a region and get to know the area well. This will give you a chance to properly unwind rather than spend half your spare time packing and unpacking luggage and stressing yourself with hectic itineraries and schedules.
We believe the formula for a memorable holiday break includes a relaxing base to return to every evening, travelling at your own pace and the delight of getting to know a unique region and its people. Naturally, we recommend the North West, which is why we have put together this user friendly guide for you.
Where to Stay
Of course you are more than welcome to make ‘Harvey’s Your Home’, while on holidays in Donegal and the North West.
Here you can check for availability and rates.
For a wide range and variety of other accommodation options, check out discoverireland.com. You can also read reviews on TripAdvisor to research guest recommendation of the best places to stay.
As in most modern countries, public holidays can often mean heavy traffic on roads, and queues at airports and bus stations. It’s always wise to book accommodation in advance and allow for longer journey times by car.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland share the following public holidays:
New Year’s Day 1 January
St. Patrick’s Day 17 March
Easter Good Friday to Easter Monday
May Holiday First Monday in May
Christmas Day 25 December
St. Stephen’s Day 26 December
in The Republic:
First Monday in June
First Monday in August
Last Monday in October
National/ Bank Holidays in
Last Monday in May
Orangeman’s Day 12 July
Last Monday in August
The two main international airports to access the North West are Dublin and Belfast. Belfast International Airport is a 2 hour drive by car to Donegal, while Dublin Airport is a 3 hour drive by car.
The two smaller international airports to access the North West are City of Derry Airport and Ireland West Airport Knock. The advantage of flying into City of Derry Airport is that you are a 90-minute drive from Harvey’s Point, while Knock Airport is a 2 hour drive from Donegal.
Bus & Train Services
There is a regular bus service to and from Dublin Airport and Dublin City Centre (Busaras Station) to Donegal Town. Check out www.buseireann.ie for more details.
There are no train services between either Dublin or Belfast and Donegal.
Hiring a Car
The most important tip when hiring a car is shop around and if possible, do an internet search using key words such as ‘Ireland Car Rental’. The best rates are usually to be found online.
Get quotes from at least 3 different car hire companies and compare the same type car and extras offered. Most car hire companies are located in Dublin and Belfast airport.
Mobile Phone Roaming
There are four main Irish service providers, Vodafone, 3, and Eiror. All have links with most GSM providers which allows you to ‘roam’ onto a local service upon arrival in Ireland. This will allow you to send texts and make local calls, but note that you will be charged at a much higher rate.
Make sure you contact your mobile phone operator, prior to travelling, to check data roaming charges. You can also purchase a pay-as-you-go or data roaming package with a local provider.
Language: Although Irish is still the official language of the Republic of Ireland, the majority of people speak English fluently in their everyday lives. There are regions in Donegal in which Gaelic is the primary language. These Irish-speaking areas in the Republic of Ireland are referred to as Gaeltacht regions.
Left-Hand Driving: The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom both share a left-hand driving traffic system. This means that there is no change-over to worry about when driving across the border from the Republic into Northern Ireland.
Money: When visiting the North West, it is important to remember that the currency used in the Republic of Ireland is the Euro while Pound Sterling is the currency for Northern Ireland. Correct currency is required when travelling between the Republic and Northern Ireland. You can exchange your currency for Euro or Pounds at the airports, banks and local ATM machines.
Credit Cards: Acceptance of Visa and MasterCard is almost universal for retailing and most services, including supermarkets, accommodation, restaurants, service stations and department stores, airport parking charges, etc.
Electricity/Plugs: The electrical supply in Ireland is 220 volts AC. Ireland uses the same triple flat-pin plugs as the United Kingdom. If your appliances operate on a different current, you will need a universal AC adaptor.
Weather: Ireland has a unique climate that is dominated by Atlantic weather systems and The Gulf Stream. This means that our winters are relatively mild with only occasional wintry spells and our summers pleasantly mild. The general impression is that it rains quite a lot of the time in Ireland, but two out of three hourly observations will not report any measurable rainfall. The weather in Ireland is ever changing which often makes for breathtaking skies while the fresh Atlantic air is simply invigorating.
Travel Insurance: Insurance is an important consideration: it covers you for everything from medical expenses and luggage loss to cancellations or delays in your travel arrangements, depending on what type of policy you decide upon.
If you’re an EU citizen, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC; available from post offices or health centres in the UK), covers you for most medical care.
Clothing: Some of the most important items of clothing to take with you are a light waterproof coat, a light pair of waterproof leggings and a comfortable pair of waterproof shoes. A sturdy umbrella to keep in the car as you travel is also advisable.
Spring and summer days can get quite mild and even warm so pack some light summer clothes also. Early spring and late autumn days can get quite cool but you should consider buying any extra warm clothes you require while travelling as the quality and durability of locally produced tweeds and wool garments is to be experienced. Casual dress is the norm in Ireland so pack for comfort rather than style!
Health & Safety
Ireland has a modern health care system but a little bit of planning before departure, especially if you have a pre-existing illness or medical condition, will save trouble later. Bring your medications in their original, clearly labelled containers. A signed and dated letter from your doctor, describing your medical condition ad medications, is also a good idea.
Ireland is a relatively safe and hassle free country to travel alone in and Irish people are justifiably renowned for their friendliness and sociability. Crime levels are also low, especially away from the bigger cities. Many of Ireland’s scenic attractions and historical sites are in remoter areas and so it is important to exercise a personal duty of care when you are walking in mountains, across peatbogs, near cliffs or exploring ancient ruins.
Northern Ireland is enjoying the dividends of over a decade of peace and Belfast and Derry are now attracting inward investment and large numbers of tourists. Indeed, Derry is to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2013 and will also host the Fleadh Ceoil, an international traditional music festival. With cross border relations at an all time high, the chances are that you will cross the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland without even noticing.
Religion in Ireland
Ireland, as the proverb goes, is the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” From the sixth to the ninth century, Irish monks and scholars helped preserve the scholarly traditions of the fallen Roman Empire. Irish abbots such as Saint Colmcille, Saint Gallen and Saint Columbanus also founded renowned monastic centres of learning throughout Europe, and kings like Charlemagne sought out Irish scholars to crown the glories of their courts.
Ireland is a country where religion and religious practice have always been held in high esteem and where ancient forms of worship such as the veneration of holy wells and penitential pilgrimages have survived into modern times.
Although the majority of Irish people are Roman Catholics, many other religions are respected and represented. There are Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist Churches, as well as Eastern Orthodox and other communities. Several American gospel groups are represented as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. In addition to the Christian denominations there are centres for Buddhists, Hindus, Bahais and for people of the Islamic and Jewish faiths.
Gay & Lesbian
Ireland is a much more gay-friendly place to visit that it was a generation ago and the State’s laws on homosexuality are now among the most liberal in Europe. Gay and lesbian couples are a visible presence in many of the major urban centres such as Dublin, Galway and Cork. Dublin in particular, has a healthy gay scene with a wide choice of gay and gay-friendly bars and nightclubs to choose from. One of the highlights of the gay scene calendar is the Gay Pride Dublin festival and Dublin Pride Parade, which takes place on the last weekend of June. Last year, tens of thousands people turned out for the parade.
Recent changes to the constitution mean that gay and lesbian couples can now marry and enter into civil law partnerships, which is another positive step forward. It is important to note, however, that there are still huge differences in attitudes between urban and rural Ireland and homophobia still exists. The good news is that attitudes are changing even in rural areas and that gay and lesbian social networks and clubs are now becoming established.
Gay Scene in the North West: As you would expect for a sparsely populated and largely rural region such as the North West, the gay scene in the North West is focused around major towns and cities. Derry has a vibrant gay scene at the moment and is well worth checking out while you are in Donegal. Envy is a gay bar and nightclub located on the Strand Road with music, shows and DJ’s most nights of the week and is located on the Strand Road. The Cage Sauna is the only gay and bi-sexual gay sauna in the North West and was opened in February 2011. Facilities include a sauna, steam room, cinema, dark rooms and café.
Sandino’s bar and nightclub is a lively spot near the city centre and probably the most “gay friendly” venue in Derry at the moment. Derry also has an annual gay pride festival.
Letterkenny IT also has an active LGBT Society (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender), which run socials during the college year.
Watch out also for cabaret events on bank holiday weekends that feature two of the North West’s most popular drag queen divas, Scarlet Rose and Lucy Lashes. The Central Bar in Strabane, County Tyrone, is a gay bar that sometimes hosts cabaret nights upstairs, featuring drag queen acts. To find out more about gay events and upcoming festivals, log onto Ireland’s only Gay and Lesbian newspaper for online news at www.gcn.ie
Donegal & North West
Local bus services in Donegal are very limited and infrequent due to the low density of population and high rate of car ownership. This makes sightseeing or travelling around the North West without private transport quite difficult. Taxis are the most popular form of transport, especially when people go out to socialise at night time due to Ireland’s strict drink driving laws.
The nearest bus station to Harvey’s Point is in Donegal Town where you will find regular bus schedules to Dublin City/Dublin Airport, Derry, Bundoran, Sligo, Galway and a limted bus service to Glencolmcille.
Do‘s & Don’ts
Customary Greetings: Most travellers would agree that the Irish in general are a jovial and friendly bunch, especially in rural areas. Someone in the North West may greet you with a ‘how is it going?’ or “hello there!”. It is customary to simply say “I’m grand, thanks”, or “not so bad” in return, and remember people are not asking for your life story!
Weather: The weather is an endless source of conversation for Irish people and is also a neutral subject to start up a conversation with. Someone may say to you, “isn’t the weather just terrible at the moment?” You can simply reply, “it is indeed”, or “hopefully it will improve soon”, which will be a genuine reply if you are on a short holiday break!
Signs of a Friendly People: People in rural areas still sometimes wink and nod their head when meeting and greeting someone and will often extend their hand for you to shake as a sign of welcome and acknowledgement. You will often see people sign and wave to one another across a town or village street and motorists who meet neighbours on local roads will also sometimes beep their car horn, flash their lights or raise a hand, fingers or thumbs in a friendly greeting. Indeed, it is not uncommon on back roads, to come across two motorists stopped side by side for an impromptu chat!
Dealing with Frustrations: Irish people in general, are quite sensitive in character, and despite projecting an outward display of self confidence and bravado, rarely lose their temper in public. The weather is mild and so are people’s manners. Visitors should always try and voice their complaints or frustrations in a similar fashion. Indeed beeping your car horn in frustration to hurry another vehicle in rural Ireland, is akin to an insult as is raising your voice in anger to someone in public you don’t know.
Pub Culture: Pubs are still a great place to experience the very essence of Irish social culture. There are still plenty of traditional style pubs in Donegal where you can enjoy good company and the craic, (which is an Irish slang word for chatting and music).
It’s best not to ask questions about either religion or politics, especially the recent conflict in Northern Ireland. Even local people tend to avoid these topics in pubs, as there are often subtle cultural and religious sensitivities to take into account. Besides, the authentic pub is more for light hearted conversation and banter than serious discussions.
The Rounds System: This simple custom, while not as strong as previous times, is still an important aspect of Irish pub culture. If someone buys you a drink, it is customary to buy them one back. That’s why it’s almost impossible in Ireland to go to the pub for just one beer! The next round starts when the first person is about to finish their drink, even if you are only half way through your pint.
Pub Etiquette: Someone might also ask you, “will you take a wee one”, or “would you take a wee dram from the top shelf?”. This means would you like a whiskey, or some other alcoholic spirits of your choice as ‘wee’ means small while ‘dram’ means a measure or small glass of whiskey. These words are also used in Scotland. You can decline this offer by simply saying, “no thanks, I think I will stick to the pints.”
At the end of a good night out in the pub, you might be asked, “sure you’ll have a drink for the road.” This doesn’t mean that your drinking partner is giving you a drink to take home with you. This is an old Irish custom whereby you have one more drink for the journey home. If you have had enough to drink politely decline as you don’t want to end up literally on the road!
If someone in the pub starts to break into song, to tell a joke or recite a poem then it is customary to immediately stop your conversation and listen respectfully until they are finished. One sure way of impressing local company in the pub is to follow up by offering to sing a song yourself.
Driving: The North West has a modern network of primary roads but secondary roads can still be quite winding and narrow. Tractors are common and sheep sometimes stray onto more remote roads. Always drive with caution on back roads to reduce the chance of causing or being involved in an accident.
One of the major reasons people come visit the North West is because of its unpolluted bays, rivers, lakes and mountains.
Harvey’s Point Hotel fully understand the importance of caring for the environment. Therefore the need to protect it is considered in all areas of the business. The site location and building of our hotel was carefully thought out to cause minimal visual impact and intrusion on the natural scenic beauty of Lough Eske. We even avoided cutting down mature trees and used local materials and labour whenever possible.
Harvey’s Point has achieved the “Green Hospitality Silver Award” which is Ireland’s first Irish Environmental Award Scheme for the Hospitality Sector and we proudly fly the flag!
‘Responsible tourism’ is also high on our agenda. We hope we are playing our part by promoting walking and cycling as one of the long-term, sustainable ways to enjoy and respect the scenic beauty and natural environment that is on our doorstep. We welcome and appreciate any feedback from guests on how we can further reduce our environmental impact as we continue to improve on our green credentials.
Here are just a few environmentally friendly initiatives in the North West we recommend visiting.
Rossinver Organic Centre – Leitrim
Only a 45 minute drive from Harvey’s Point and set amidst enchanting scenery in North Leitrim, the centre includes demonstration gardens, an organic orchards, polytunnels, Eco shop and a spacious tea room serving tasty organic salads and soups. They also offers summer courses on organic horticulture and sustainable living.
T: +353 71 9854338
Donegal Craft Village
This studio village is a sustainable model for shopping in which allows visitors the opportunity to watch and meet locally based artists and craftworkers as they work with glass, bronze, hand-woven textiles, wood, paint and precious metals.
T: +353 74 9722225
The Dolmen Centre – Portnoo
This state-of-the-art eco-tourism centre is the first green energy complex in the Republic of Ireland using renewable energy systems including solar power. Has great information on ancient monuments in the area including a large Neolithic Dolmen.
T: +353 74 9545010
Donegal Town Food & Craft Market
This lively and popular outdoor market takes place every second Saturday of the month and is located in the town centre. Includes a variety of food, craft and gift stalls rented by local producers. Enjoy some friendly banter with the stall holders or enjoy a relaxing cup of fair trade coffee or tea.
Leghowney Country Market
This bi-monthly indoor market takes place on alternating Saturday mornings from 11am-1pm, in Leghowney Hall community centre which is just a 15 minute drive from Harvey’s Point! Stalls offer a wide variety of locally produced products including homemade breads while you can meet the locals over a cup of tea and a scone.