Ireland is a popular tourist destination for a number of reasons. Whether you are interested in the pub life, the history, the natural landmarks, or maybe even chasing down some family ancestry, Ireland has a lot going for it. However, it’s not the cheapest destination to visit. Especially if you plan on spending a lot of time in the capital, Dublin.
I already have a guide on how much does it cost to go to Ireland, but if you are looking to visit the Emerald Isle with limited funds then this article is for you. Here’s how to explore Ireland on a budget.
Ireland on a budget- Transportation
Ireland is a pretty small country, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s very easy to get around by public transit. Quite honestly, the best way to get around Ireland is to rent a car. If you are travelling as a group, this is probably a more affordable option. But if you are on your own, then renting a car and adding fuel costs can be pretty pricey, so you’re better off using public transit.
Buses in Ireland
Ireland does have a decent bus system that connects everywhere. It’s great for the big cities, however, not so ideal for smaller towns unless you want to spend an entire day changing buses to get across the country. That said, most visitors stick to the main cities, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Bus Eireann is the main bus company for Ireland. Buses are clean, safe, and typically on time. You can purchase your ticket ahead of time online or on the bus/at the main station.
There are also faster buses that connect the main cities without any stops. These routes are operated by GoBus or CityLink and are more expensive than Bus Eireann but much faster. Again, you can buy your ticket in advance online or on the bus itself.
Trains in Ireland
Ireland does have a few trains but, to be honest, the train system isn’t that great in terms of connections and is significantly more expensive. The only time I would recommend the train is if the route you are taking is too long by bus and you are short on time. In that case, I think you need to weigh the value of your time vs money. For example, Dublin to Killarney requires a number of bus transfers but can be done in a single train journey. If you do plan on taking the train, book your tickets well in advance to ensure you get the best pricing.
Many of the must-see things in Ireland are natural attractions or historic sites in more remote places. These can often be tricky to get to by public transit so, in this case, I recommend looking into day trip options. There are tons of group tours from Ireland’s major cities that will take you to the top sights. For example, from Galway, you can do a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher that will also take you to the Burren, a day trip out to the Aran Islands, and a day trip up to Connemara that will show you Kylemore Abbey. These trips are often quite good value considering the inclusions of transportation plus the sites you get to see (around 40 USD/ day depending on the trip).
Ireland on a budget- Accommodations
Ireland has all types of accommodation options depending on your budget. Keep in mind, prices will vary depending on the city, but here’s where to look for more affordable places to sleep.
Hostels are common around Ireland. The majority bigger cities have a couple of options to choose from and typically, most hostels have a choice between a dorm (shared) room or private room options. You can expect to pay around $25/night for a bed in a hostel dorm outside of Dublin (Dublin hostels are closer to $40+/night). Here are some hostel recommendations:
Bed and breakfast
Ireland is known for its friendly bed and breakfasts that can be found in cities and around the countryside. Some B&Bs are quite luxurious and may actually cost the same, or more, as a nice hotel room, this is especially common in the main cities. However, once you get into smaller towns in the countryside, there are some really nice B&B options for about $100 per night. Remember, these places come with a delicious, hearty breakfast as well as a private room. Here are some B&B recommendations:
The larger cities in Ireland will always have cheaper, budget hotels. These are often considered to be 2-star properties and be a bit further away from the main sights and attractions. Some also do not serve breakfast to keep costs down. You can typically find budget hotels for around $100/night. Here are some budget hotel recommendations:
It’s also worth taking a look at Airbnb as well. Sometimes you can find a room for rent at an affordable rate in the city. You can also find some interesting spots to sleep as well including above a local pub which can be fun.
Ireland on a budget- Attractions
A lot of Ireland’s attractions can often be enjoyed for free. The colourful small seaside villages like Dingle or Cobh can be easily explored and enjoyed for free on foot. Same goes for the older, more historic cities of Dublin, Waterford, and Kilkenny.
Many of Ireland’s castles have fees to enter, but if you are just wanting to wander the grounds and explore for the outside places like Dublin Castle, Kilkenny Castle, and Ross Castle in Killarney are free.
For those who like to explore the outdoors, there are plenty of beautiful national parks, beaches, and other natural attractions such as the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Giants Causeway are also free (you only pay for parking if needed and access to the visitor’s centre if you want).
Finally, if you love museums you’ll be happy to know that many Irish museums are free of charge to visit, especially in Dublin.
Ireland on a budget- Food
A lot of people head to Ireland thinking ‘pub grub’ will be a cheap way to go. While there is some truth to this, it’s not always the case. Some of the cheaper ways to eat your way through Ireland include:
Early bird deals
Some pubs have great value meals if you get the early bird specials. This typically means a selection of dishes available between 5-7pm (or thereabouts) for a discounted price. Some places will do two courses for the flat rate of 20 euros. While this may not exactly qualify as a ‘cheap meal’, if you are looking for something a bit more substantial, this is a good tip to keep in mind.
Soups and toasties
When it comes to lighter fares, pubs typically offer homemade soups and toasties (which are toasted sandwiches) for around 5 euro each which makes for a great lunch. Don’t expect any sides (although sometimes the toasties will come with some chips or ‘crisps’ as they call them in Ireland and, if you are lucky, you’ll get some brown soda bread with the soup). But, the food is fresh and good and the hearty soups will fill you up more than you think.
Shopping at grocery stores and preparing your own meals is always a good option when travelling when you are staying somewhere with a kitchen. Ireland has plenty of grocery store options although Aldi is often considered to be the cheapest. Tesco also has a small hot food counter where you can get some quick eats for cheap.
Tea, coffee shops, and bakeries
When it comes to budget-friendly breakfast and lunch be sure to also check out any local tea or coffee shops of bakeries. You can get things like scones or croissants for a couple euros each.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is farmer’s markets. These are great for picking up fresh produce if you plan on cooking or some pre-made meals. Things like soups, quiches, and sausage rolls are commonly sold.
Ireland is not known as a budget destination, but you can visit without breaking the bank. One of the biggest key tips for visiting Ireland on a budget is to get out of Dublin. Yes, the capital is fun to explore for a day or two but it is also significantly more expensive than the rest of the country. For more inspiration, check out my budget guides on Paris, Amsterdam, Italy, Disney World, and Bali.