16 Insider Tips: How to make the most of Ireland
Updated: Mar 13
The smell of fresh cut grass, country roads, and — of course — wooly sheep are the first things most people think about when this country comes to mind. Oh, and Guinness. We all think about Guinness and it is in fact superior when drunk out of a glass in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin — as locals have proudly claimed.
Southern Ireland, however, boasts many more treasures often unseen because tourists are bustling, crowding Lonely Planet’s top 10 attractions.
What about experiencing a tractor cross your path on a single-lane road or watching the guitarist in the local pub climb onto a table and demand you join the Molly Malone serenade? Then there’s the Skellig’s Chocolate tasting or that first lick of cream on a fresh scone with homemade raspberry jam. These are the experiences to savor in Ireland. These are the ideas I know you want to hear.
How to make the most of your Ireland trip
I’ve listed my 16 top tips for having a wild ride in this lush country. Heed the advice — or don’t — but if you tell me you’ve made it through a whole trip without uttering one word in an Irish accent, I won’t believe you.
1. Speak like the Irish
Learn some local words/ phrases and use them. Irish friends of ours informed us of the most important, seemingly common, terms to use.
Firstly, the term locked means ‘drunk’. As in, “he was locked.” Clearly useful when gallivanting from pub to pub and encountering those otherwise referred to as ‘hammered, sloshed, wrecked or trashed’.
Another one to use is deadly. It refers to something that’s ‘really good’. As in, “ah, the band was deadly.” My favorite, however, and one I used daily — multiple times daily, in fact — is grand. “That was grand,” she chimed. It simply means 'good' but coupled with an ‘authentic’— newly acquired — accent, makes everything seem wonderful.
2. Don an Irish accent
You’ll be terrible at it but will be laughing at your attempts the whole trip long. While we’re on accents, it helps to sing local songs.
Here are three Irish songs we heard many times and quickly learned for rainy car trips.
Molly Malone — The Dubliners
The Wild Rover — The Dubliners
I Will Love You — The Fureys
3. Keep Small Coins with You
I’m a card user. I never seem to have cash on my person. In Ireland, though, you need to keep small coins for buses because they don’t give change. A ride is typically €2.85 but it varies depending on trip length. If you only have a large note, the trip suddenly got a lot more expensive.
4. Take the 'Hop On, Hop Off' bus in Dublin
I am typically against organized tours of any kind. I’ve done them, sure, but I prefer my independence and own timeline. After realizing she was going to be dragged around the whole city on foot, my mum suggested we try the popular, ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ bus in Ireland.
I relented and found myself on the top deck of a bright green double-decker bus with a 24-hour pass — 48-hour is another option. A route of all the worthwhile landmarks to see in Dublin has been mapped out and ticket-holders are able to jump off at any stop at any time. They can get on the bus again — as many times as they want — within their chosen time frame. Buses arrived at stops in 15-minute increments and the drivers offered commentary.
In my honest opinion, the live commentary by the drivers was insightful and hilarious — all drivers are different and have their own style. Some drivers cracked jokes, crude ones, others sang and told interesting facts — all avoided speeches that bore you to tears. I was thoroughly entertained. The experience painted a picture of the city on day one of our trip and we understood the bigger picture outside the bustle on the streets.
5. Drink Guinness
If you want a real ‘Irish experience’, try a Guinness. It's usually poured in a pint — you can opt for a smaller size, called a ‘glass’ (half pint), too. One of the stops on the bus is the Guinness Storehouse— this is where to have your first Guinness in Ireland. Go — then thank me later.
6. Befriend Locals
Step out of your comfort zone and chat to the locals — they’re charming and friendly. I met people throughout our trip who could either give me directions, encourage me to sing in a pub, ask questions about my home town or share information about Ireland willingly. It was fabulous learning about a different culture and hearing that accent — swoon!
7. Get out of Dublin
I loved my experience in Dublin, but there is so much more to see and do in Ireland. Am I an advocate for this country? Yes. "Why?" you ask.
I experienced so much diversity in terms of food, landscape, and weather that I want you to, too. Get out there.
8. Rent a Car
Rent a car to get around — there’s so much flexibility and you’ll be able to see more of the country. It's also a great option when the rain comes down outside and you need somewhere to hide and snack on road trip nibbles.
Definitely book it online, insurance included, in advance. I can’t stress enough the ‘in advance’ part. Prices spike on day of departure. Remember, cars are manual-drive — or ‘stick shift’ — so make sure you know how to drive one.
Stop at a local souvenir shop and buy a CD for the car (yes, they still sell them)— we picked local Irish music and it was festive. We felt as if we were driving in a movie. Think ‘P.S. I Love You.’
9. Drive on Country Roads
When driving, remember to stick to the left side of the road and to wander off the beaten track — and by this, I mean venture down country roads.
When in a Wi Fi zone, download a local map and save it offline so you can use it without Wi Fi or data later. Click the ‘avoid tolls’ option and let the games begin. Your route will purposely avoid highways and freeways and give you a real experience of driving in Ireland — think views, lush fields, roaming cattle, and secret castles.
Driving 'surviving' tip: If you see a tractor coming towards you along a single-lane country road, reverse into a driveway back up the road immediately (and by if, I mean when). They stop for no one.
10. Explore Beyond the Tourist Sights
Don’t limit yourself to tourist sights teeming with people. They’re popular for a reason and I went to many of them, but there is so much more to see.
If you’ve wandered off the beaten track as recommended, you will fall upon churches, castle ruins, sheep grazing and abbeys in the country. I assure you you won’t be disappointed. It was one of the best decisions we could have made.
Here is a prime example of my mum and I bypassing the Rock of Cashel – mostly to avoid an entry fee — and stumbling upon a ruin in a nearby field with only one other soul in sight. Pure delight.
11. Be Prepared for Rain
Pack an umbrella or rain jacket so you have protection from the rain everywhere you go. Rain is sporadic, sometimes lasting all day and at other times, only minutes.
12. Savor Each Moment
You’re on vacation — time is precious. You’ll want to leave this trip with open eyes, an open mind, refreshed, enriched and filled with stories.
Take it all in, every day. Don’t race through the country. I understand you might have a short amount of time to explore and don’t have the option of weeks of travel.
My suggestion? Pick a few things to do/see and do them well. Savor them. Experience them fully.
I make check boxes of things to do with endless options and ideas for you BUT don’t try to do it all when you're there. They’re just that, ‘options and ideas’. I want to inspire and help, not overwhelm you.
See where the day takes you, adapt itineraries when necessary and never think you’ve missed something crucial because plans changed — you haven’t.
Every moment makes this trip — the car ride, the street walking, the mood, the conversations, and the sights.
If you’re tired, take it slower, you’ll be happier.
13. Only Stop to View Landmarks You Truly Want to See
Don’t pay to view every landmark. As mentioned, there are so many to choose from. Some things can be appreciated from the outside or in passing. We didn’t stop for every little thing — parking is hard to come by in many places and we waved a few options goodbye, blowing them kisses in passing ;)
14. Try these Favorite Eats
Enjoy the tea and scones—they’re for everyone. Never pass up an opportunity for tea and scones when the jam is fresh. The raspberry jam in Ireland is the stuff of dreams. I’m near drooling thinking about it. It must be house-made — you can tell, so don’t accept anything else.
If you include meat in your diet, try a Black Angus Sirloin and definitely order the fish and chips. Grass-fed free-range cattle make for the tastiest, tender meat—and the fish is fresssh.
15. Use Airbnb to Book Accommodation
No, this isn’t sponsored by Airbnb but my experience was, as the Irish say, “grand.”
In some homes, we had the place to ourselves even though we had only booked a room. Other bookings had shared bathrooms but free reign to roam the kitchen. Some had delightful breakfast spreads with continental and cooked meals. A few hosts were more involved and stayed to chat whilst others gave maps and recommendations but kept out of our way.
Staying in an Airbnb that isn’t a family home is generally more peaceful. Many on the Airbnb website in Ireland are solely guesthouses, which we preferred. We had the chance to do our laundry and met interesting guests. Save some money, expand your horizons and give it a try.
16. Splurge on what Matters to You
Whether it be souvenirs, meals in local restaurants, tours in castles or lavish accommodation, spend your money however you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you tend to buy gifts on trips or want something to take home and cherish, the Irish wool and pottery is expensive, but beautiful.
My parents have been to Ireland before and treated me to a Claddagh ring, four leaf clover key chain, thick wool sweater, and a tea towel with the Irish Blessing — all typical Irish mementos that are stunning.
This time, I chose to only buy one perishable souvenir — a bottle of homemade jam because Irish jam is ‘deadly’. My mom did gift me with a purchase from Galway Crystal — she's a giver and the little beauty was small enough to fit in my luggage.
Have the best time and 'savor every moment'.