THE WHEEL OF DUBLIN is a new 200-foot-tall attraction standing out on the Dublin landscape. Positioned on the far edge of city in the Docklands area, this giant Ferris-style wheel overlooks the River Liffey beside the O2 event arena, the new Dublin Convention Centre, the new Gibson Hotel, and the Point Village development. This massive moving wheel has 42 fully enclosed observation capsules, each seating up to eight people (total capacity: 336 people). The capsules provide stunning views as they rotate over the capital for a duration of 13 minutes. On a clear day the vista ranges from Howth Head in the north to the Wicklow Mountains in the south. Best of all, to get to The Wheel, it is just a five-minute ride from the city centre via the Luas Red Line. It is operated by World Tourist Attractions which also operated a similar wheel next to Belfast’s City Hall for almost three years. Tickets are €9 ($11.45) per person for the 13-minute trip. Group and family discounts are available, and the capsules are accessible to people with wheelchairs. Open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Book online and save 10%. More information: The Wheel of Dublin, Pedestrian Plaza,
North Wall Quay,
Dublin 1 (tel. 01-855-9204), web site: www.pointvillage.ie/dublin-wheel_.aspx
A NEW AGE FOR IRELAND'S B&Bs: Synonymous with budget prices and homey accommodations for over 40 years, Ireland’s B&Bs have stepped into a new age of marketing savvy and solidarity. Instead of categorizing themselves into two rival organizations and web sites (Irish Town & Country Homes vs. Irish Farmhouse Holidays), all of the member homeowners voted recently to consolidate into one organization and a new web site – B&B Ireland (www.BandBIreland.com). This site is a one-stop source for information and bookings at B&B homes in both categories all over Ireland. Search by county, city or town, and currency, and avail of “Special Offers,” currently ranging from discounts to 3-nights-for-the-price-of-2 deals. The B & B homeowners are also endeavoring to put a new spin on the B&B experience by introducing specialist themed vacations – from fishing, walking and golfing to heritage/culture visits and cookery and herb-growing classes. The Definitive Irish Bed & Breakfast & Self Catering Guide 2010 is also available for free online. And if you have never stayed in an Irish B&B home, the web site also includes a charming narrated video that illustrates what to expect. (Photo at left shows Gallows View B&B, Bunratty, Co. Clare.)
A NEW WATERFORD CRYSTAL ATTRACTION: Waterford Crystal is once again a major attraction for visitors to SE Ireland. The Waterford glass-making factory, which closed in 2009 due to the economic downturn, has been re-born in 2010 as The House of Waterford Crystal, a visitor centre and manufacturing/retail outlet at a new location on The Mall in Waterford City, thanks to a 20 million euro investment by the local city council.
The new location, which is producing over 40,000 luxury hand-crafted pieces per year using traditional artisan methods, provides a one-hour step-by-step guided factory tour for visitors as well as a retail store housing the largest collection of Waterford Crystal in the world.
More information: House of Waterford Crystal, The Mall, Waterford City, tel. 051-371000 or www.waterfordvisitorcentre.com
SHANNON AIRPORT IS THE FIRST IN EUROPE TO PROVIDE US CUSTOMS CLEARANCE: After years of providing US immigration clearance, Shannon Airport added US customs clearance to its services as of August 5, 2009. (Dublin Airport is slated to follow, with a similar launch in November 2010). Shannon is the first airport in Europe to offer full pre-clearance facilities (immigration, customs and agriculture) to passengers traveling to the US. The new customs service, which eliminates all checkpoints after landing in the US, means that airlines will now be able to fly to smaller and less expensive airports in the US, as well as major existing gateways. Travel times will be shortened, and it may also mean cheaper airfares. Officials in the West of Ireland hope that Shannon will become a hub for passengers from all over Europe, since the US has no plans to extend the facilities elsewhere in Europe. For mote information, go to www.shannonairport.com
NEW BUS HUB FOR GALWAY CITY: Arriving or departing from Galway City by bus has become easier, thanks to a new €40 million indoor transport terminal known as Coach Station, situated at Fairgreen Road and Foster Street, opposite Galway City’s Discover Ireland tourist office and adjacent to the Radisson and Foster Court hotels. Open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, the impressive glass-fronted building serves private bus companies such as Citylink and GoBus (formerly Nestorlink), connecting Galway with Shannon and Dublin Airports, Dublin City, Cork, Connemara and other points, and local tour operators which run seasonal sightseeing tours. The terminal provides round-the-clock services including ticket and information desks, security check, rest rooms, café and shops. Currently there are nine bus bays open, with capacity for five more. The national bus line, Bus Eireann, continues to operate from Ceannt Station at Eyre Square, Galway. More information on Coach Station: visit Citylink (www.citylink.ie) or GoBus (www.gobus.ie).
M-50 ALERT: Toll plazas on the M-50 Motorway (the highway that bypasses Dublin City and does a semi-circle from Dublin Airport/M1 to N 11) are being phased out, replaced by e-Flow, a new system of barrier-free automatic tolling. Computers now read license plates and record tolls to each car’s account, similar to EZ-Pass networks in the U.S. This has implications for visitors who rent cars and do not have a registered resident account. Each time a rental car uses the M-50, a €3 toll will be recorded to the rental car’s registration number (license plate). Car rental firms will not pay this charge, so it is the responsibility of the renter to pay the toll afterwards at a Payzone station. There are over 1,100 Payzone outlets throughout Ireland (including Dublin Airport) and they are all listed on www.payzone.ie. (If you plan to use the M-50, it is wise go to the Payzone web site before your trip, and make a short-list of outlets in the areas you will be visiting after an M-50 use, so you will have these handy). Anyone going to/from Dublin Airport is likely to use the M-50. To make a payment, visit a Payzone shop and state your vehicle registration number – and you will get a receipt to keep (you may need to show this when you turn in your car). Tolls must be paid by 8 p.m. the day following your trip. You cannot pre-pay – you must pay after you have used the tolled section of the M50. Late or non-payment of tolls may incur a penalty charge. If you are using the M-50 at the end of your trip, be sure to allow extra time to find the Payzone outlet at the airport and make the payment. You can also pay your toll online at the e-Flow web site.
NEW BOYNE VALLEY ATTRACTION: A new visitor attraction has been launched in Co. Meath to commemorate a major turning point in Irish history – the Battle of the Boyne of 1690. King James II was opposed by his son-in-law King William of Orange, and both kings commanded their armies in person. William had 36,000 men and James had 25,000 - the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, Danish and Huguenots (French Protestants) made up William's army (Williamites) while James's men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were the British throne, French dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland. The Williamites prevailed – and the rest is history. The site includes a visitor centre in Oldbridge House with exhibitions and a 15-minute A/V depicting the battle, and full-scale replicas of 17th century artillery and military equipment. Outside there are walled gardens and optional self-guided walks on battle sites and along the Boyne River. From June through September, living history reenactments take place on the grounds. Open daily, year-round. More information: The Battle of the Boyne Centre, Oldbridge, Drogheda, Co. Meath, tel. 041-980-9950. Web site: www.battleoftheboyne.ie
BELFAST – THE SHOPPING HUB: As the home of Ireland’s first IKEA store, Belfast is fast becoming a shopping hub. While IKEA may not draw many tourists, it is a popular destination for shoppers from all parts of the island of Ireland. Meanwhile, tourists are flocking to the new mid-city shopping mall, Victoria Square, Victoria St., Belfast (photo left, above)– setting for the House of Fraser, Tommy Hilfiger, Starbucks and over 60 other retailers and food/drink outlets, plus an 8-screen cinema. For more information, go to www.victoriasquare.com.
Belfast has also welcomed a branch of Avoca to Arthur Street in the heart of the city. Dating back to 1723 and first established at Avoca, Co. Wicklow, Avoca is synonymous with colorful hand-woven woolens and tweeds, as well as homewares, books, cookery utensils, and gourmet foods. This first-ever Avoca shop in Northern Ireland also has a café. For more, see www.avoca.ie. Both Victoria Square and Avoca are open seven days a week.
IRISH TRAINS ROLL INTO 21st CENTURY: Iarnród Éireann, the Irish Rail system, is in the midst of a €400 million update, with 183 new carriages arriving for service on Ireland’s intercity routes, being phased in over 2010. This is the largest-ever order of new trains for Ireland and it will place Ireland in league with the other modern fleets of Europe. Ireland’s new rail fleet will also be the greenest diesel fleet in Europe. Speed, safety, and style are the new keynotes of the system, along with the comforts of sleek design and air-conditioning. The new rail cars are already running on many routes from Dublin. The new trains will increase the frequency of schedules and capacity on these routes. For more information, check www.irishrail.ie
OLDER NEWS YOU CAN STILL USE.....
GO GREEN IN DUBLIN – Ride anywhere you wish around the city centre within a 2 km radius of O’Connell Street in a stylish eco-friendly mini-cab, powered in bicycle-style, by a qualified man or woman driver – free of charge. Launched in April 2008, this fleet of pedi-cabs provides emission-free transportation as an alternative to gas-guzzling taxis, buses and cars. Each cab is sponsored by a local or international business which pays the driver. Passengers pay nothing. Cabs line up on O’Connell Street waiting for passengers on a first-come, first-served basis, daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information: Web site: www.ecocabs.ie
CHIP-AND-PIN CREDIT CARDS: On March 17, 2007, Ireland introduced a new Chip-and-PIN credit card system, according to the Irish Payment Services Organization. Chip-and-PIN means that a credit or debit card has a computer chip and must use a PIN number to complete a transaction, not a signature. Credit card holders in Ireland are ahead of the US with this new technology - Americans do not use this system yet. So what will happen when you try to use your American credit or debit card in Ireland? “Cardholders with cards from countries that have yet to upgrade (to this new system) will always sign… in all of these cases the PIN pad will automatically recognize that a signature rather than a PIN is required.” So American visitors can continue to sign for credit and debit card transactions until the day when the US makes the transition to Chip-and-PIN technology. This new system is designed to combat credit and debit card fraud. For more information, go to www.chipandpin.ie.
NEW TAXI FARES – Ireland has a new system of national taxi fares, valid throughout the country, rather than 35 local authorities charging different fares. The new basic fare is €3.80 during the day and €4.10 at night, supplemented by distance or time-related charges, and applies to taxi journeys everywhere (previous "extra" charges, such as the €1.50 hiring charge at Dublin airport and luggage charges, and the practice of drivers going "off-meter" have been abolished). The new structure means that fares are now higher in Dublin but lower in many other parts of the country. In addition to the fare changes, there is a new complaints phone line, posted in taxis, and information on the driver's license, rates and the rights and responsibilities of passengers is displayed in large print in all cars.
METRIC MEASURES: Ireland has joined other EU countries and moved fully metric which means that all road signs, signposts and speed limits are now designated in kilometers per hour (km/h) rather than miles per hour (mph). In addition, there have been significant changes to speed limits on certain roads and some new vehicle speed limits. If you are planning a self-drive tour, here are the new limits:
Motorways (M) – Speed limit of 120 km/h (equivalent of 75 mph)
National Roads (N) – Speed limit of 100 km/h (equivalent of 62 mph)
Regional & Local Roads (R) – Speed limit of 80 km/h (equivalent of 50 mph)
Towns & Cities – Speed limit of 50 km/h (equivalent of 31 mph)
For quick conversions, remember that 1 kilometer equals 5/8 mile.
Similarly, kilograms and centimeters now replace pounds and inches.
For full details, click to www.gometric.ie
IRELAND: Ireland was the first European country to ban smoking
in the workplace including all pubs and restaurants. Exemptions
to the ban include outdoor places and sleeping accommodations
in hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs (where rooms are designated
as "non-smoking" and "smoking"). So
far, the ban has been accepted very well by smokers and non-smokers
alike. It is a real pleasure to walk into a pub or dine
in a restaurant with a entirely smoke-free atmosphere. Some pubs
and restaurants are providing outdoor areas with heated canopied
terraces for smokers. Northern Ireland also implemented a similar non-smoking policy in 2007.
PUB LAW: If you are bringing kids to Ireland, be
advised that Irish law now prohibits anyone under 18 years of age
in bars after 9 p.m. (except for May 1st until September 30th when
the curfew is 10 p.m.). In addition, older teens (between
18 and 20) must have photographic identification (e.g. passport)
to enter a pub after 9 p.m. However, "under 18-year-olds" are allowed into a pub if they are attending a private function
where a substantial meal is being served.