Photo by Andrew Campion/Tourism Ireland
Photo by Jack Hardy/Tourism Ireland
Celebrate Ireland's reopening by booking a stay at Ashford Castle in County Mayo.
A reporter based in Dublin breaks down the situation on the ground and what travelers who want to go should know.
It’s been a long 16 months, but Ireland finally reopened to international travelers on July 19. Which is good news, not only for those in the hospitality industry who have been hit by some of the most stringent restrictions in Europe, but also for those who have missed the scenery, buzz, and inimitable charm of Ireland.
If you’re thinking of planning a trip, here’s everything you need to know about Ireland travel in 2021.
Yes, U.S. citizens can currently travel to Ireland. The United States is now on Ireland’s green list, meaning travelers can enter whether they’re vaccinated or not. However, restrictions apply to unvaccinated visitors.
If you’re fully vaccinated and arriving from the U.S., the U.K., or the EU, arrival into Ireland is fairly simple You won’t need to take a PCR test or isolate on arrival. You will need to provide proof of your vaccination with a CDC vaccination card or EU digital health certificate.
If you aren’t fully vaccinated, you can still technically visit Ireland, although you will need to present a predeparture PCR test (taken within 72 hours prior to arrival) before self-quarantining for 14 days. Basically, the overriding message is that only fully vaccinated travelers should be visiting Ireland right now.
Whatever your vaccination status, every single visitor needs to fill out a Passenger Locator Form and present it upon arrival. This form must be filled out prior to travel, and it’s only available online.
Beware, though, of what the EU is calling the “emergency brake” mechanism. In short, this means that, at any stage, the “brake” can be pulled to restrict travel to countries where there are variants of concern. You can keep an eye on the current restrictions on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
There are a number of airlines flying to Ireland, including Aer Lingus, United, and American Airlines. Delta has just announced that it will resume flights from JFK to Dublin in August, with flights initially running three times a week. You can currently find return flights from Chicago to Dublin for $484 round-trip with Aer LingusBoo indeed or a slightly disconcerting $666 round-trip from New York to Dublin with Delta, both for travel in August.
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If you’re coming to visit before the summer ends, you’ll bump into a lot of Irish holidaymakers who are opting to vacation at home. But while the popular spots of Kerry and Connemara will likely be jammed with visitors, you can escape the crowds if you travel a little further north, to the coastal counties of Sligo, Mayo, and Donegal.
Blissfully rugged and wild, this corner of the country encapsulates all that makes Ireland great—soaring mountains, empty white sand beaches, and often not another soul to be seen.
The heartland of Ireland is having a bit of a moment, thanks to the addition of some cool new accommodation options in counties that were previously off the radar. Right on the shores of Lough Oughter, Cabü by the Lakes opened last July and has a cool, summer-camp-for-grown-ups vibe. Scandi-chic wooden cabins dot the forest, and in the evening, guests gather in the “Sitooterie” for glasses of artisanal gin and tonic and s’mores made over the fire.
In Dublin, hotel rates are currently the lowest they’ve been in years, as domestic tourists flock to the coast for the summer. The brand-new Zanzibar Locke is set within four Georgian townhouses, with 160 sleek studio apartments, some of which overlook the Ha’penny Bridge.
All international arrivals to the United States—including returning U.S. citizens—must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test, and the result must be procured no more than 72 hours prior to departure to the U.S. The test must be either a viral antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), such as a polymerase chain (PCR) test. There is currently no exception for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
In Dublin, it’s relatively easy to obtain a test. The Tropical Medical Bureau has three clinics in Dublin, two in Galway, one in Cork, and one in Wexford, as well as two drive-through clinics. Tests can be booked online; prices start from 120 euros (US$142).
In Mayo, there’s an in-house testing facility in Ashford Castle, where guests can access an on-site PCR test with results available within 12 hours. The bonus, of course, is that you’ll be staying in one of the nation’s finest hotels, a sprawling castle in the heart of the countryside.
Tourism is a huge industry in Ireland—in 2019, overseas tourism was worth 5.9 billion euros (US$7 billion), and the U.S. market was responsible for 27 percent of the tourism revenue that year. Its absence is palpable. I live between two of the main cathedrals in Dublin, and at this time of year the sidewalks are usually clogged with tourists and international students. Right now, however, the streets are still and quiet.
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While most restrictions here have lifted, life isn’t back to normal yet. At the time of writing, indoor dining (and drinking) is only open to those who are fully vaccinated or proven to have recovered from COVID in the past six months. In light of that decision, some of the smaller venues have decided to remain closed to indoor dining, at least until their younger employees have been fully vaccinated.
“The appeal of our tours would have been visiting quirky, smaller venues, but that’s not possible right now,” says Sheena Dignam, who runs Galway Food Tours. Prior to the pandemic, American and Canadian tourists would have made up 80 percent of her business—last October, she launched a self-guided food tour in lieu of physical tours. “I’m going to wait for the dust to settle then make a plan for restarting the tours in September, with reduced numbers.”
Initially, the decision regarding indoor dining was a source of contention within Ireland, when it became clear that vaccinated tourists would be able to drink in pubs and eat in restaurants before Irish residents were afforded the same luxury. The wait has been a lengthy one: Pubs like Dublin’s Long Hall have been forced to close for 496 days.
But while the vaccination rollout seemed painfully slow earlier in the year, it has finally picked up speed—more than 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated and Ireland is currently the country with the highest vaccination rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which the U.S. is a member).
Much of what makes Ireland attractive—museums, galleries, and stores, albeit with social-distancing measures and mask mandates in place—is open to travelers right now. In Ireland, masks are to be worn indoors and on public transport and inside bars and restaurants when you’re not sitting at your table.
The vast majority of Irish people are taking all of these regulations very seriously, and those who choose to ignore the rules will not be met with the characteristic Irish welcome.
“We’ve been incredibly compliant with the regulations from the start, so we expect that from our customers,” says Elaine Murphy, director of the Winding Stair restaurant group. “But our experience so far has been really positive, and we haven’t had any guests trying to flout the rules, thankfully. The staff are delighted to see American tourists return—all increases in business, and the signs of a return to normality, are incredibly welcome.”
>> Next: The AFAR Guide to Ireland
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