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The basics

Money

The Euro is the official currency. Credit/debit cards are widely used, traveler's checks aren't. Banking hours are generally 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday with some banks open Saturday mornings, but ATMS are found in even small villages.

Languages

Irish and English are the two official languages, but English has been the predominant language since the late 19th century. Signage is usually bilingual, but it's handy to know that "Fir" is men's toilet and "Mná" is women's. "Ná Caitear Tobac " means No Smoking.

Geography & Culture

On the same latitude as Hudson Bay and southern Alaska, Ireland has the short summer nights of the Arctic, but it is never too hot, never too cold. The Gulf Stream swings north through the Atlantic to provide a moderate maritime climate with ice-free harbors in the winter and summer temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees F. (16 to 21 C.). It rains often enough that golf courses don't give rain checks, but it seldom snows.

It is a magical island, its heartland plain ringed with mountains, spectacular peninsulas and a scattering of smaller islands. The "Wild Atlantic Way" - a 2,500 km (1,500-plus mile) drive in the west is the world's longest defined coastal route and includes the impressive Cliffs of Moher, a UNESCO Global Geopark. Along the way are summer festivals, fairs, castles, golf courses and pubs.

An affluent country, even after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger boom, it is rich with history, theater, literature, music and dance. Think Riverdance, the international Irish step-dancing phenomenon whose home is Dublin. Sporting events include Gaelic football and hurling although soccer has the largest fan base.

Dublin is the capital and also the center of Irish intellectual and LGBTQ life. Most of gay bars, club and saunas are in the center of the city around Temple Bar, Georges and Capel Streets. The Outhouse on Capel, the LGBTQ center opened in 1996, is a good source of what's happening.

Transportation

Most trains in Ireland operate to and from Dublin. There are two main stations in Dublin: Connolly Station and Heuston Station. There are no trains connecting these stations, so you have to take a tram or bus to go from Connolly to Heuston. Bikes can be rented or stored at many train stations. The Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) is heavily used by commuters and plans expansion.

Apart from Dublin - where driving can be more challenging than New York City - Ireland made for leisurely country drives as long as you remember to drive on the LEFT side of the road as in Britain. Gas (petrol) stations can be far between and with limited hours, so play it safe by filling up when you still have half a tank. Watch the alcohol consumption if you're behind the wheel. Irish law tolerates only 0.05%, below many other countries. Road signs are in both English and Irish.

Traveling by bus around Ireland is often more direct and more comfortable than by train, especially since Éireann, the national bus company, introduced luxury coaches on its intercity routes. The new buses have reclining leather seats, wooden-style flooring and 4G WiFi access. The state-owned Dublin Bus has an extensive network in and around the city. The smart card LEAP can be used on Dublin buses, DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) and suburban rail.

The three main international airports are Dublin to the east, Cork to the south and Shannon to the west. Car rentals and taxis are available at all three Dublin and Cork also have bus service. Ferries also connect Ireland to Britain and European ports.