The Psychology of Quality and More
Tips for touring Ireland
We spend 18 days doing 2000 miles around Ireland in Summer 2007. Here's some of the things we learned. See also the blog.
Drive on the left
Like the UK, Japan and Australia, Irish drivers drive on the left hand side of the road.
N-roads are the main roads (A-roads in UK) and R-roads are secondary routes (B-roads in UK).
There's lots of smaller roads, many of which are single track, making meeting traffic coming in the opposite direction an interesting challenge. Fortunately the traffic density on such roads is quite low.
Road signs are pretty obvious. In a few parts they are in Gaelic only, but the symbols are the same so it's not that difficult.
Road signs that give directions to places can be tricky. Some places don't seem to have 'this is Exville' signs, making it hard sometimes to know where you are.
Some older direction signs seem to be in miles, but most are in kilometres. It is also very common to arrive at a junction, particularly involving minor roads, where there is no road sign. Coupled with the maze-like nature of these small roads it is easy to get lost when you are on back roads. Nevertheless, Ireland is not Australia and you can't go far without bumping into some town or another.
Some signs seem have been rotated! Perhaps to confuse tourists, which can indeed be confusing. Don't be surprised to find that signs that point to Exville actually point to Wyville.
Irish roads can be very bumpy. Generally speaking the further off main roads you get and the more west you get, the bumpier it seems to get.
There are exceptions, of course, and some back roads are brilliant whilst some main roads are dreadful.
Yellow dashes at side of road
This one can be confusing as well as hazardous. Some roads have yellow dashes along the inside of the road, with a gap between this line and the verge which can vary in width from more than a car to a few inches.
The purpose of this is to give space for you to pull over if someone else wants to overtake you. The gap also give space for slowing down when turning left or speeding up when entering a main road from the left.
When you kindly pull over to let another car past, watch well ahead! The gap can disappear, especially around junctions. The road surface here may also be much worse than on the main road.
The gap also acts as a place to stop for whatever reason, a cycle lane and a pavement, which can make pulling over rather hazardous -- the best thing is only to pull over into this gap if you can see well ahead, and not if there is a corner coming up. Also do not stop in this space just after a corner!
Licence and documents
You must keep your driver's licence and documents with you at all times when driving. As a tourist you might get away with it if the Garda stop you, but if there's an accident you could be in more trouble.
Maximum speed limit anywhere is 100kph (60mph), including on the (rare) dual carriageways. Speed limit in towns is 50kph (30mph). Towns often have a short 60kph (40mph) limit before the 50 limit, which often includes 'traffic calming' of road islands. 80kph limits (50mph) are sometimes used on back roads.
Petrol/gasoline costs less than in the UK. When we were there, it was around 90p/litre in the UK and 1.15 euros (75p) in Ireland.
There are plenty of filling stations across the country. Many include shops selling groceries and other items. It's the usual do-it-yourself then pay in the shop system.
Irish drivers are generally good mannered, for example letting you pull out of a side road in front of them. Speed limits are generally followed, with some slight exceeding of the limit.
As in the UK, there are also the boy-racers who hurtle around in their souped up bangers and the execs in their BMWs and Mercs. We generally let them go past and get on with it.
Parking in some towns is free. In others it is pay-and-display (often not expensive). The most problematic for tourists is disc parking, where you need to get a disc to show when you arrived.
Caravans and things
We saw very few caravans, possibly because narrow, bumpy roads are not good for such things. There were, however, a fair number of camper vans about, which could be problematic on narrow roads.
Traffic generally is nowhere as bad as the UK and many days we seemed like the only car on the road. We even spent a while on a motorway near Limerick with no other cars in sight.
The worst time, of course, is around cities rush hours around nine in the morning and five at night. The special problem that Ireland has is a number of wide rivers, on which major cities are sited, including Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The general story here is that you either cross the river in the city or have to go some way up stream on minor roads. This makes rush hours particularly bad in these places.
Ireland uses the same square-pin plugs as the UK and same 240 volt AC power.
Everyone speaks English, although Gaelic is making a strong come-back. Road and other signs are often in both English and Gaelic. More Gaelic seems to be spoken in the South and West.
The currency is the Euro. There are plenty of banks and hole-in-the-wall cash machines where you can get some. We didn't try it, but I don't think many places would take other currencies.
Many places take the usual credit cards. Some will offer you an exchange rate so you know what you will be charged in your home currency.
Tipping is common in restaurants, at around 10% or so. Some places automatically add a gratuity amount (check the menu which should say).
You can ask for tap water at any restaurant and they have to provide it free. If you ask for 'water', you are likely to get bottled water, for which you pay. Asking for 'tap water' gets the free stuff.
Places to stay
The number of hotels depends on where you are. In major centres there are many hotels. In smaller towns there may be few. One thing there are plenty of is Bed and Breakfast guest houses, which can be very variable, from minimal to luxurious. Generally, you'll get what you pay for.
If there's a big event on or it's holiday season (Bank holiday is the first weekend in August), then even B&B places may be scarce.
We used the Alastair Sawday 'Nice places to stay' books to find accommodation, booking six months beforehand. They were all excellent, though not the cheapest.
And the big