I don’t know about you, but I really dislike looking like a typical tourist when I visit new countries and cities. I do my best to blend in as much as possible and to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb. If you feel the same and are looking for advice on what not to do in Ireland as a tourist, then this post is just for you. Discover lots of things not to do in Ireland, to help you blend in more on the Emerald Isle.
When visiting a new place for the first time, I try to do my research ahead of my arrival. Not just where to stay, and what to do, but things to avoid doing and how to not look like a typical visitor. I look up the customs of the country, things to watch out for, and things to follow. After all, I’m there to enjoy the new country and its cultures.
If this sounds familiar and you are about to embark on a visit to the Emerald Isle, perhaps you are looking to find out what not to do in Ireland or are looking for some tips for how not to look like a tourist in Ireland. Well, this list of over 25 travel tips for Ireland should help you to avoid some of the common tourist mistakes in Ireland, ensuring you have an amazing time without falling into any traps or pitfalls.
What not to do in Ireland
Whether you are a group of Americas traveling to Ireland or a family from Europe, there are a few things to know before visiting Ireland to help you enjoy yourself without making any mistakes that are easily avoidable. These go hand in hand with other travel tips for Ireland but these are the main things to know before going to Ireland to help you avoid looking like a typical tourist or help you to avoid offending anyone without realising it.
Some of the things listed below are considered silly and others can be considered rude by locals. But being informed ahead of your arrival for your adventures on the Emerald Isle, you can avoid both of these.
As a nation, the Irish are friendly and welcoming, until you annoy them. We have our quirks and set way of doing some things and won’t budge on them. But, follow some of this advice and keep others at the back of your mind and you’ll neither annoy anyone nor come across as rude or misinformed.
Top 10 things not to do in Ireland
Never say Ireland is part of Great Britain or the UK. The island of Ireland consists of two countries that were once united. They are the Republic of Ireland (often just referred to as Ireland), and Northern Ireland, which remains a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. You can learn more in my post about the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland). To avoid offense, never ever refer to Ireland as being part of Great Britain, the British Isles, or the UK.
It is NEVER St Patty’s Day. If you are heading to Ireland for St Patrick’s Day, never ever call it St Patty’s Day. This will just (and pardon my language here) piss off every Irish person you come across and make you stand out like a tourist. It is St Patrick’s Day or Paddy’s Day, never ever St Patty’s Day. A Patty is a female lady, or a slice of meat put between a bun, it is not our Patron Saint’s Day shortened. Discover more about the biggest day on the Irish calendar in my post about facts about St Patrick’s Day.
Never claim to be 100% Irish due to a great-grandfather hailing from Ireland. Unless you or your parents were born on the island of Ireland, then the natives do not consider you to be Irish. Yes, you can have Irish heritage, but this does not equate to you being Irish to locals. I was born in Botswana to Irish parents (both born and bred in Dublin) and I hold an Irish passport. I lived in Ireland for over 17 years before becoming an expat myself and yet even I can be subjected to criticism for claiming Irish nationality. So unless you were born on the Emerald Isle, do not brag that you are Irish. Simply say you have Irish heritage, and you’ll get a more friendly reception.
Don’t go to Ireland if you are easily offended by swearing or banter. When it comes to what to know before traveling to Ireland, it is this. We swear like troupers and often we mean no malice when we swear. Likewise, the Irish love a bit of banter and if you are easily offended by the f-bomb or other connotations, then you may not enjoy yourself so much. We have lots of Irish slang words and their meanings are often not what you think at first. This will be especially true when visiting pubs and other lively establishments. So, you’ve been warned.
Avoid potato jokes. It is something that can be highly offensive to the Irish to bring potato jokes into banter. The Great Famine was a dark time in Irish history. It was a period in which the potato crops failed year after year in the mid-1800s and it caused millions of natives to die through starvation or on the coffin ships when emigrating to flee the desperation they faced. For those who made it to America, Canada, or even Australia, hardship still faced them when they arrived. So, bringing potato jokes into things is often seen as bad taste. This article has a great explanation for those who are not aware of the Great Famine and its devastating effects on Ireland.
Do not take the p*ss out of our accent or butcher our language. This includes doing typically annoying Irish accent “impressions”. Even we do not attempt accents from other counties than our own, so just don’t do it. Likewise, we do not all talk like the Irish portrayed in Hollywood films! When it comes to attempting to say things in Irish, do not attempt it unless you are certain or have consulted several Youtube videos produced by native Irish speakers. The Irish language can be difficult for natives to pronounce, and even we tend to avoid things we do not naturally know.
Never ever say “Top o’ the morning to you”. Just don’t. We never say it on the Emerald Isle. It actually originated in England during Victorian times and although the Irish diaspora would say it, the native Irish never say it. It became synonymous, incorrectly, with the Irish due to American filmmakers in the 20th century.
Don’t forget to get a round in. When it comes to what not to do when visiting Ireland, a mortal sin is to forget or avoid getting a round in when one has been bought for you. Whether you have met a group of locals in a pub and have been bought a round of drinks, or are in a group with Irish people, you should always buy one back in return. It is an unwritten Irish pub etiquette, and you will come across as a Scrouge (miserly and mean) if you don’t return the favour. You can, of course, avoid getting into ‘rounds’ by announcing before the first drink is bought that you are staying on your own for drinks. I’ve done this many times before as a student when I simply couldn’t afford to get into rounds. It is totally acceptable and will be acknowledged without question and fully respected. This is important to remember if you are travelling Ireland on a budget.
Do not mention the Troubles or the Irish Civil War. Unless you are prepared for a lengthy and heated debate, this subject is best avoided. Likewise, unless you are well-read on both subjects, it is best to leave this talk out of the conversation with any Irish person.
Avoid talk of leprechauns. The locals are not as obsessed with leprechauns as the rest of the world. Yes, they are part of Irish mythology and legends but really, we aren’t as bothered about them as you might think. We enjoy films about Ireland that feature them, but we don’t go searching for the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you must, go visit the National Leprechaun Museum, a unique thing to do in Dublin but leave it at that.
Other things not to do in Ireland
Don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. When it comes to driving in Ireland as a tourist, this goes without saying if you come from a country that drives on the right side of the road, but in Ireland, we drive on the left side of the road. This can be a big worry for some visitors to Ireland and is often why many travel Ireland without a car, but after the first day or two you will be fine. Just remember to look RIGHT on roundabouts!
Don’t forget other road etiquettes. On country roads in Ireland, drivers tend to nod or raise a finger to say hello, whether they know one another or not. So, as you pass another car, give a raised finger or hand to say hello. Another thing to be conscious of is that on main, single carriage roads, slow drivers will often pull in or drive closer to the verge to let faster cars pass by. This is something that is particularly common on the roads between Rosslare and Dublin for those arriving by ferry. The road is single lane but with a large hard shoulder where cars will drive into to allow others to pass. And yellow flashing hazard lights from someone in front of you are usually a means of thanking you, not warning you. So, if you have let them pull out in front of you, or over-take you, it is them saying thank you and not warning you of something.
Don’t drink in certain public spaces. While drinking in public is not illegal in Ireland, many cities and towns have their own by-laws prohibiting public drinking, so it is best to avoid doing it at all. This goes for public parks, beaches, and other public spaces. It IS illegal to drink alcohol in a closed container within 100 meters of the off-license where it was purchased. The legal drinking age in Ireland is 18 years of age and it is an offense to purchase alcohol for anyone who is underage. Also, be aware that it IS an offense to be so drunk that you are deemed a danger to yourself or others. This article has more information about drinking in Ireland.
Don’t expect to be able to drink 24/7 in Ireland. Opening hours of licensed premises are 10.30am to 11.30pm from Monday to Thursday, 10.30am to 12.30pm Friday and Saturday, and 10.30am to 11pm on Sunday. Children are also not allowed to remain on the premises beyond 9pm unless it is a private party. Some hotels will have a resident bar but beyond that, you’ll have to wait or buy alcohol for your room.
Do not attempt to smoke indoors. In 2004, Ireland banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces, and workspaces including pubs and restaurants. There is a hefty fine for those found to be ignoring this rule. Many pubs and restaurants will either have a dedicated smoking area outside or you can smoke outside, but away from, the door.
Don’t talk about politics. Just like the Troubles and Civil War above, it will only invite a heated debate and is not worth it. Leave political talks out of it. It is an unwritten no-no of conversation in Ireland.
Don’t get confused by the many meanings of “sorry”. This word doesn’t just mean “I apologise” but is also used to say
- I didn’t quite get that (can you repeat it)
- What did you say?
- Excuse me
Sorry is often used in all of these instances.
Don’t tip in pubs. It is just not the done thing to do. Instead, to show gratitude for good service from bar staff you say, “and one for yourself” and this should cover the cost of a drink, be it a pint of Guinness, beer, or even a glass of wine. So, we’re talking between €4 and €6.
Don’t expect table service in pubs. It typically doesn’t happen. Normally, you order drinks at the bar and take them to your table yourself. You also order food at the bar which is then brought to your table by a member of staff. But as for drinks table service, this is not a common occurrence.
Never mock Irish sports. Ok, so you don’t quite get hurling, nor do you think Gaelic football is a real sport, but whatever you do, keep your opinions to yourself, especially if you are visiting rural Ireland. Our pride in our national sports is strong and you should never, ever mock them. Ask questions, feign interest, but never mock.
Don’t be disappointed when corned beef and cabbage aren’t on the menu. While many Irish families do enjoy this meal despite what some people might tell you, it is not often found on the menu in a pub or restaurant. Instead, you should expect to see an Irish stew or other great Irish foods to be present on the menu. And when it comes to what not to eat in Ireland, avoid fast food, chains, and other typical foods you can get at home. Try Irish dishes and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t stay on the typical tourist trail. Avoid spending your whole time in Ireland in Dublin and get out of the city. Is Dublin worth visiting? Absolutely. However, while Dublin is a great city to visit, it is not Ireland and you will see a completely different side of the Emerald Isle by venturing further, even if this means taking day trips from Dublin to other parts of the country. If you really cannot leave the city, then opt for seeing the unusual side of Dublin.
Don’t try to see it all in one trip. Just as you shouldn’t spend all your time in one place, don’t try and see it all, especially if you are short on time or do not want to spend most of your trip travelling. Have a plan or itinerary from a shortlist of the best places to see in Ireland and mostly stick to it. Allow time in between for exploring new towns and cities and for getting the know the locals in the pub.
Don’t expect proper directions if you ask for them. This is especially true if you are ‘down the country’. For example, in Kerry, your question may be answered with another question such as “why are you looking to go there?”. And as for County Cork, well, even us Dubs have trouble deciphering what they are saying. But, if you are answered and you manage to understand everything, expect your directions to have a lot of “turn left at Maguire’s pub, carry on until you pass Paddy Costello’s farm, and then turn right at the crossroads, not the one with the white house, but the one with the cream house”.
Don’t discount hiring a car. Sure, you might be a bit apprehensive about driving on the “wrong side of the road” but after a day or two of taking your time, you’ll be fine. Plus, you’ll see so much more of the beautiful Emerald Isle, and you can take your time, stop when and where you want, and you’ll have fun. Take a look at my Ireland itineraries for inspiration and my post about getting around Ireland.
Don’t moan about the weather, unless a local Irish person starts first. The Irish weather is unpredictable at the best of times and a sunny forecast doesn’t mean there won’t be rain. It rains in Ireland a lot, period. Is there anything anyone can do about this? No. Does it snow in Ireland? Sure, but not as often as you think. But none of this should put you off visiting. So long as you go prepared, pack for all weather conditions, and expect rain, then you might just surprise yourself by enjoying the bit of rain that is highly likely to come your way. Grin and bear it or head to the nearest pub for shelter and a warm drink. I have a post with a great packing list for Ireland for all weather conditions, and also a post about when the best time to visit Ireland is to help you plan accordingly.
What not to do in Dublin
Don’t drive in Dublin. If you are staying in Dublin or its suburbs, there really is no need to drive in Dublin. Getting around Dublin without a car is easy thanks to the great public transport network within the city. The traffic can be chaotic, especially at rush hour, so avoid having a car in Dublin and choose the bus or Luas instead.
Don’t day trip from Dublin to Belfast. You’ll spend 2 to 2.5 hours getting there and then back again, meaning you’ll spend up to 5 hours of your day on a coach or train. Instead, if you want to visit Belfast, stay in the city for a night or two and explore Belfast and take a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, two of the best things to visit in Northern Ireland.
Don’t argue with a taxi driver, especially in Dublin. They are the all-knowing, experts on everything and will argue black is white and the sky is green. Instead, sit back, relax, nod, and listen. Don’t engage unless you really have to and are prepared for an ear-bashing. This is true across the country but none more so than a local Dublin taxi man.
Don’t spend all your time in Temple Bar. This is among the top 10 things not to do in Dublin. Sure, it is good for a drink and possibly some live music but it is notoriously expensive. Head away from Temple Bar and explore pubs in other areas of the city centre such as Dame Street, Harcourt Streets, George’s Street, and off Grafton Street and St Stephen’s Green.
And finally, remember, never ever call us Irish British or English!
With this list of what not to do in Ireland, you will blend in more and avoid causing offense or getting into a heated argument with the locals. While some of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek, others are meant to keep you from looking like a typical tourist and will also keep the locals happy.
Cath is an Irish expat now living in Portugal. She regularly returns to Ireland to explore more of the wonderful island with her family.