Visiting Ireland in Your 20s: 11 Tips for First-Timers
From local slang to local food, packing tips to pub etiquette, Dublin to Galway, and everything else you want to know before visiting Ireland for the first time. But don't just take our word for it—we tapped one of our resident Irishwomen, Laura (an amazing EF Ultimate Break Tour Director), for her tips to fully immerse yourself into Irish culture. And if you're looking for a great Ireland trip itinerary for first-timers, we've got you covered there, too.
by Harry Gordon
February 4, 2021
Visiting anywhere for the first time can be daunting. But if you’re going to be a newbie in a new land, you could do a lot worse than Ireland. Called the “Emerald Isle” for its lush, green countryside, Ireland and its people are purpose-built for the first-timer.
But like many countries, Ireland has so many must-see sights that it may seem a bit overwhelming. With a little help from our Irish Tour Director, Laura, we thought we’d help get you prepared and know what to expect. Here are 11 tips for visiting Ireland for the first time and be a pro at it the moment you land. Better yet, go with EF Ultimate Break and take your pick of first-timer-friendly Ireland itineraries, like our Grand Tour of Ireland or Active Ireland trip—an epic hiking, biking, and walking adventure of Ireland’s most scenic national parks and outdoor areas.
© EF Ultimate Break traveler @shannahjames on Instagram
1. No one is a stranger
Get ready for many conversations and epic stories.
Rich in literature, an introduction to Ireland is best served by quoting Irish author WB Yeats: “There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met.” Chatting up people you meet isn’t just polite, it’s damn near a requirement. You’ll quickly find that folks here are open—really open—to conversation. EF Ultimate Break Tour Director and Ireland native, Laura, encourages you to go with the flow. “We Irish love a good story,” Laura says. “We have a rich tradition of folklore and mythology, and it’s the homeland of such literary legends as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Niall Horan.” Editor’s note: Yes, Laura just put ex-One Direction member Niall Horan in the category of literary legend. Hey, she’s the expert here. Laura continues: “And we may bend the truth a wee bit in favor of a better story. Fair warning, we use ‘colorful’ language, but we mean no offense or disrespect!” Fair enough, Laura. So go on, strike up that conversation at the pub or on the tram. Ask for directions, debate the best Irish fiddle players, or simply just say hello... and you might immediately make a new friend.
Top: Live street music in Galway (© Jon Chica/Shutterstock) | Bottom: A nightclub in Dublin. (© Jacob Lund/Shutterstock)
2. Crack open some craic
Dust off your dancing shoes before arriving.
Craic (pronounced crack) is not something easily missed. Beyond the Irish sense of friendliness there is a genuine desire to live life fully. It can be infectious once you experience it. Tour Director Laura explains: “Picture that scene in the Titanic when Jack brings Rose to the party in third class. Remember? Okay, well as cliche as it may sound, that is what traditional Irish pubs are like—lots of live music, dancing and ‘craic’ (which just means fun or good times)!” You don’t need to be a good dancer or be able to carry a tune, either. Heck, you don’t even need to know the words. Just jump in, be a part of the experience, and there you have it—craic!
Featured Trip: Grand Tour of Ireland
9 days. 4 cities.
Pros: Frolic amongst the gorgeous countryside then cozy up in a pub with a pint and acoustic melodies. By the end of this trip, you'll be convinced Ed Sheeran's "Galway Girl" is about you.
Cons: You'll grow so fond of traditional Irish music, buy a fiddle, quit your job, and try to make it as a busker. Reality check: you won't. But you'll always have that night at the Temple Bar.
It's not all pub fare in Ireland. © payaok/Shutterstock
3. No small potatoes
Spuds get all the love, but make sure to enjoy Ireland's incredibly fresh seafood, too.
While you’re certain to find potatoes in many Irish meals, the island is rich in fresh meat, produce, and seafood. You’ll find delicious traditional Irish fare, of course, but cuisines from around the world are also represented—along with modern takes on old school delights. As our Tour Director Laura puts it: “Although we can all agree ‘spuds’ are the best (so versatile—boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew), our little island has lots of coastline and farm land so we have an abundance of super fresh seafood, meat, and vegetables.” Good news for vegans and vegetarians, too, as options are abundant. Ireland is strict about GMO’s, and for those with allergies, restaurant menus post a full list of ingredients. Navigating food choices here may be about the best you’ve ever experienced.
Back to Laura for some foodie recs. “My personal favorite is a big bucket of wild Atlantic mussels with a pint of Guinness,” she says. “And while we’re on the topic of food: chips are crisps, fries are chips, candy are sweets, cookies are biscuits... ah you’ll figure it out!"
Here are some other Irish staple foods you’ll no doubt order during your first trip to Ireland.
- Irish Stew: Ireland’s most famous dish of meat, potatoes, onions, and more.
- The Full Irish: Or, Irish breakfast, usually consists of soda bread, bacon, eggs, fried sausages, mushrooms or tomatoes. Locals get their fuel for the day with this massive feast.
- Salmon: Smoked or Irish, Salmon is a treat in Ireland and always fresh! Especially from April – June.
- Galway Oysters: The best oysters are found in the West of Ireland, harvested in Clarinbridge.
- Soda Bread: Every Irish family has their own soda bread recipe, but it’s always good with butter, alongside Irish stew, or on its own.
- Coddle: A slow cooked combination of sausage, bacon, onions, and potatoes.
- Guinness & Guinness Cake: Why not pair a fresh pint o’ Guinness with a cake made from the dark stout? You’re on vacation, after all.
- Boxty: Essentially a mashed and grated potato in dumpling-form.
- Black and white pudding: No, not like a Snack Pack. It’s pudding made from blood and fat mixed with barley, pork meat, oatmeal, and suet in one sausage. Trust us, try it.
Top: The Quays, one of Galway's most popular pubs for music, dancing, and food. (© gabriel12/Shutterstock) | Left: Guinness (© Joaquin Ossorio Castillo/Shutterstock) | Right: Jameson (© Romrodphoto/Shutterstock)
4. Pull up a stool—any time, anywhere
Here's what to do: walk into any pub, take a seat, and ask the bartender (or fellow patrons) what to get. You won't be disappointed.
Did she mention Guinness? Yes. Yes, she did. There’s nothing more iconic about Ireland than its pubs, and with their welcoming spirit(s) you’ll find yourself warmly embraced upon taking a seat. Surely, you’ll have a pint, and ordering a Guinness seems pretty standard. Whiskey is the stronger sister to the national stout, and a seeming limitless choice of brands and styles are available. When it comes to choosing what to quaff, don’t miss out on what might be more local. Ask for recommendations from fellow patrons and you won’t be disappointed. Plus, that starts another conversation—or friendly argument.
Dublin during St. Paddy's Day | © EF Ultimate Break traveler @kbeaulieu22 on Instagram
5. Find your Irish roots (even if you don’t have any)
Embrace the history—and one of the world's most celebratory traditions.
Whether your ancestors came from Ireland or if you’re just “Irish-Curious,” the traditions and history of Ireland are fascinating. An ancient past that’s been proudly preserved leaves the country filled with relics of ages gone by. It’s a land marked by castles, cathedrals, and streets built long before it was even called Ireland. And to get a real one-two punch of Irish tradition and history, time your first visit to Ireland with St. Paddy’s day.
© EF Ultimate Break
6. Venture out beyond Dublin
Explore the innate beauty, natural attractions, and rich Irish culture beyond the liveliness of Dublin.
Dublin is the most recognized city in Ireland, and believe us, it’s filled with so much that if you only went there, you wouldn’t regret it. Our experience tells us though that everyone falls in love with whichever Irish city they happen to be in at the time. Don’t miss out on the unique culture and life in other major cities. Charming each in their own way, you’ll find a musical haven in Galway, an 1,800-year history in Limerick, a thriving arts culture in Kilkenny, and an exciting vibe in Belfast, one of the world’s fastest growing cities. Just the experience of visiting more than one city gives you insight into the breadth of the Irish culture and people. There's also a reason Ireland is one of the world's most scenic outdoor havens for hiking and biking through Irish national parks and past famous landmarks like the Giant's Causeway and Cliffs of Moher. And we can't forget the Aran Islands, home to Dún Aengus, a 2,000-year-old fort with walls that go right to the edge of a cliff high above the sea. Adding more cities and exploring the countryside just enhances your experience, and understanding, of what is authentically Irish. On an EF Ultimate Break group trip, we'll handle the city-jumping logistics for you. Check off the best of Ireland—including the Aran Islands—in one fell swoop.
Featured Trip: England, Scotland & Ireland
17 days. 6 cities. Infinite fairytale vibes.
Pros: Experience castles, pubs, Beatlemania and Harry Potter sites galore in the United Kingdom and Ireland's premier cities. Relish the quaint countrysides juxtaposed with booming metropolises.
Cons: You'll realize you've been pronouncing Edinburgh wrong your whole life (it's Ed-in-buh-ruh, or simply Em-bruh to the locals).
Sheep at the Cliffs of Moher | © Megan Johnston/Unsplash
7. So many bleating sheep
Marvel at Ireland's unbaaalievable "scenery."
Ireland has some of the most beautiful nature in the world. Per our Irish Tour Director, Laura: “With postcard-perfect rolling green hills, valleys, lakes, beaches, and cliffs all over the island, any opportunity you get to get out of the city and into the county side—take it.”
You’ll note quickly that Ireland has sheep. Lots of sheep. No, really. Like a LOT of sheep. Their presence, along with the shepherds that push their flocks along the rural lanes, makes for scenery and an experience even more pastoral than you could imagine. In fact, sheep are so much a part of the scenery they make our list of “Must-See Ireland.” Such shear joy.
Don’t think it’s all just scenery though—there’s adventure to be had. If it’s a real outdoor experience you want, check out our Active Ireland trip, a hiking and biking adventure that includes reaching the summit of Ireland’s highest peak. Top that!
8. Take the piss!
Learn some slang before you go.
The Irish are known for their slang, and some of the local colloquialisms are quite creative. Try your best to fit in with these go-to words and phrases.
- Bang on: Meaning you’re right, accurate; “You are bang on.”
- Black stuff: Guinness; “A pint of the black stuff please!.”
- Brutal: Meaning awful or dreadful; “That was a brutal tackle.”
- Craic: Pronounce like crack; meaning fun, going on’s like “What’s the craic?” “Where’s the craic?”
- Deadly or Savage: Fantastic or great; “That was a deadly joke.”
- Grand: A reply to most questions like how are you, how are you feeling, in response to a statement; “How are you? Grand.” “Meet me here. Grand.”
- Knackered or Shattered: Exhausted
- Langers: Drunk
- Wired to the moon: A little hungover and three cups of coffee before 9:00am? You’re wired to the moon.
- Lashing: Raining heavily
- Take the piss: to mock or poke fun at (in Ireland, teasing and joking around is often a sign of endearment—just go with it!)
Top: Boutique shop with local goods (© Ellen Auer/Unsplash) | Left: Store selling Irish woolen sweaters. (© gabriel12/Shutterstock) | Right: A craftsman hard at work sculpting. (© chrisdorney/Shutterstock)
9. Try local, buy local
Support Ireland's long history of craftsmanship and delicacies.
Ireland is filled with local craftspeople whose skills have been handed down for generations, and whose products are distinctly Irish. While there you’ll have a unique opportunity to purchase something created by local people, often by hand, with techniques that go back centuries. Back to the sheep again: they do more than just look pretty. Ireland is famous for its woolen products, especially sweaters. One touch and you’ll know Irish woolens are the best in the world. Locally produced jewelry, like Claddagh rings, also come with a long history of fine craftsmanship. High on our list, but more perishable, are cheeses and chocolates. Flavors unique to Ireland, these tasty treats are made with a sense of love and pride. Bonus: most shops will let you sample what they have on offer. Free never tasted so good.
Top: Castle on the hill. (© Aldo De La Paz/Unsplash) | Bottom: Dublin on a dreary day. (© Diogo Palhais/Unsplash)
10. Pack for Irish weather
Waterproof jackets and shoes will come in handy.
While Ireland typically doesn’t have extreme weather, it’s wise to come prepared for some raw climate. Tour Director Laura suggests “to wrap up well, and wear waterproof jackets and shoes—we are known to get a little drop of rain every now and again.” But don’t start thinking that some rain or a chilly day will spoil your trip. In classic Irish style, the country takes their weather in stride, and you’ll find plenty of cozy spots to warm up by a fire with an Irish Coffee.
© EF Ultimate Break traveler @travelwithdenise_ on Instagram
11. Go slow
Be sure to take it all in.
Our final tip for first-timers to Ireland (and maybe anytime you’re on vacation), comes from Laura herself: “To really immerse yourself in the Irish culture, you need to embrace the slower pace of life. We don’t like to take anything too seriously, especially not ourselves.” Our travelers love that on an EF Ultimate Break Ireland trip they can let go of all the planning and coordinating. We handle everything, from flights and accommodations to an expertly-crafted itinerary—jammed pack with the top sightseeing and attractions, but with plenty of time to venture out solo, too, if you wish. Not only do our Tour Directors (like the amazing Laura!) give you an insider’s POV with hidden spots and recommendations, they ensure that your whole trip goes smoothly. You’ll be sharing a pint and chatting up a local, instead of confirming reservations and flight times.
Ireland—its land and people—are so powerful that anyone who visits always wants to go back. Start planning, make it happen, and be open to this warm and welcoming culture. Then dive into the deep, green, inviting sea of Irish life. Laura says it best: “It will be grand, so it will.”
by Harry Gordon
Harry is a travel writer for EF Ultimate Break. He’s also comedian, improviser, and actor whose claim to fame is office supply commercials. His favorite city to visit is London, while a quiet forest anywhere will always be his true love.
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