Ireland is definitely one of my favourite, it not my favourite European country to travel in. I keep going back for over a decade now!
During the off season, Ireland can be very affordable and about the same price as some Eastern European countries – but lots of places will be closed and the weather can be miserable. A good time to go is April or May, or September and October, when prices are lower and the weather is about the same as in the summer. Sorry to be so brutally honest, but I’ve travelled and lived in Ireland and seeing more than a week of actual warm (i.e. more than 20 degrees) summer weather is rare. July or August are not guarantee for good weather. But if you want good weather, maybe you should go to Spain…
On our last trip to Ireland in July 2015, I experienced high season prices for the first time. So be warned: This is by no means a ‘how to do Ireland on the cheap’ guide, although I believe we managed quite well, considering a lot of things went wrong on this trip. Also note that our transport cost almost doubled because the rental car we had reserved didn’t exist and we had to go for another one on the spot (avoid Enterprise in Cork!). On the other hand, the weak Euro in summer 2015 worked in our favour for accommodation and food prices.
We flew into Cork, where we spent four nights. On our last morning, we rented a car and drove via a detour of Killarney and Muckross along the Ring of Kerry to County Clare. There, we spent six days in a little cottage, exploring the county, taking in some of the more famous sights (Cliffs of Moher, the Burren) and some of the less known (Lough Derg, random little towns with pagan influenced churches). We had planned to go to the Aran islands, but the ferry was cancelled due to bad weather, so we spent a night in Galway instead, taking a quick detour into Connemara National Park. We then drove to Dublin via Clonmacnoise. Having dropped the car at the airport, we spent another two nights in Dublin.
So, this could be a pretty typical Ireland itinerary, although first timers might want to spend more time in Dublin and less hanging out in a cottage (although I highly recommend it!).
|monasteries kept Irish culture alive during the dark ages|
I’m not usually one for B&Bs, but I think they are a quintessential part of the Ireland experience – even if you are on a hostel budget, try to spend at least one night in a small B&B that does a proper breakfast and offers proper Irish hospitality! On this trip, we spent one night in a place in Galway. Other than that, we rented our own magical little cottage, with kitchen, peat heating and cat in Clare for just £14/$20 per person and night (the cottage would have had space for three people). This was definitely our cheapest stay, but keep in mind that it was in the middle of nowhere and could only be reached by car. Even the next shop was 5 miles away.
Our most expensive stay was the apartment in Cork, which at £38/$ 54 pp really wasn’t quite worth it – there was no dining table, the kitchen and bathroom were barely functioning. Alas, Cork is extremely popular, mostly due to the silly Blarney castle. To be honest I’d skip it in high season next time, although it’s one of my favourite places in the country.
We also stayed in a 4-star hotel in Dublin, after the 3 star I usually go with had no running water on arrival (welcome to Ireland!). Actually, changing our booking short notice made it a pretty good deal as many of the pricier options in Dublin offer rooms at low rates last minute. Yet, £50 per night and person without breakfast is not cheap by any means, but ok if you consider that it was a weekend during high season.
On average, we paid £29 per person and night for accommodation, although only one night had breakfast included.
I am a big fan of public transport, and while it’s quite functional in Ireland during the high season, this is the one country where nothing beats having your own four wheels. In my opinion, it’s not about the
We rented a little automatic car, which should haven ben £500 for the week, including insurance. However, on arrival at Cork our car rental company informed us that no cars were available. As our next accommodation was in the middle of nowhere, we had to suck it up and ended up paying around £900/$1140/1000 € for 7 days, which included the extra fee for dropping up the car at a different destination. Petrol for the week cost us about 120 €. We also took a taxi from Cork airport to the city and back, which was just under 20 € one way (the bus connection is very patchy, I think hourly).
In Dublin, we just used the bus to and from the airport, which is around 3.50 € per person one way – that is, if you take the local bus instead of the tourist “fast shuttle” which takes exactly the same route and time, but costs three times as much. Just pick up bus 16 from the airport and/or O’Connell Street in the centre instead. Otherwise, central Dublin is easy for walking.
Overall, transport cost us £34/$48 per day and person. Keep in mind that without the car incident, it would have been under $30. Many of the places we visited are not or only difficult to access without a car.
|a classic Dublin lunch :)|
If you think of Irish food as the same as British food, think again! There’s a very vibrant and modern food culture here, and local produce, such as dairy, fish and seafood as well as bread is excellent. Especially seafood that’s expensive elsewhere, like salmon, clams, mussels and scallops are very cheap in Ireland. Soups and bread alone can keep you pretty happy, too, and will fill you up for around 6 €. Supermarkets, on the other hand, are more on a Scandinavian price level and quality often isn’t that great. I’d recommend finding an ALDI or Lidl discount supermarket. Dublin used to be horrendous for eating out – quality has always been good, but just a few years ago, you wouldn’t have gotten a meal under 25 €. The same will now cost you around 15 €. The key in Dublin is NOT to eat Irish food. This is a fairly cosmopolitan city and many of the traditional places are tourist traps. We had a great Korean meal for 18 € per person, which was probably our most expensive, too. Middle Eastern, North African and Asian food is also good and well-priced in Dublin.
On this trip, we mostly self-catered, but usually had lunch at a pub or café somewhere along the road. Sometimes it was soup and salad, sometimes seafood and bread, sometimes a smoked salmon bagel and a sweet treat. Pubs in Ireland are not as expensive as they used to be, either, but wine is ridiculously overpriced. Our cheapest meal was probably in a small pub in Connemara, where I had a soup and bread and Celine delicious mussels in tomato sauce with red wine – for under 15 € for both of us.
Without drinks, we spent on average £8/11.50$/10 € per day and person on food. Thank you, ALDI ;)
Activities and other costs
The best things in Ireland are free – just exploring the country on food or by car, walking and hiking are the most rewarding things you can do. There are many places, especially in Dublin and Cork, that will ask for hefty entrance fees. Go choose the ones you’re interested in, but do stay focused on the outdoors, people and food.
As we’ve been to Cork and Dublin before, we skipped big ticket items like Blarney Castle (overrated anyway). In Dublin, we visited Dublinia, which is a really fun take on the city’s history for any age group – at 16 € not cheap, but to be honest, much better than any of the free museums I’ve visited in Dublin. We also paid to visit the Caherconnell Stone Fort an the sheepdog demonstration in the Burren. I highly recommend the fort to learn about the history of the area, and the sheep dog show is great fun for any dog lover. Their café is also very nice, and it’s so hard to believe the fort is privately owned and run – it’s well worth supporting these folks! The joint ticket for both was 9.60 €. The other place we paid for was Clonmacnoise monastery, which I highly recommend for anybody travelling from the west to Dublin or the other way around – it’s located midway and gives you a great idea of what medieval Ireland was like. The place has a very special atmosphere that’s hard to describe… it did feel sacred even to this pagan! Overall, we paid 2.50 €/day and person for activities, but of course, that’s not everything we did!
We drove through Connemarra and the Burren, marvelled at ancient tombs, hiked around the lake at Muckross Estate in Kerry, explored Cork’s quirky neighbourhoods, amazing market and the port town of Cobh, stopped at countless church ruins and did a lot of countryside and lakeside walks, all for free.
|it's easy to drop off the Cliffs of Moher! We even managed to spot dolphins during our walk!|
Cliffs of Moher for free & without crowds: There is a fancy visitor centre here and everything that will charge you 12 €, but you can visit the cliffs for free (well, almost, there’s a 2 € parking fee) if you have a car and are willing to walk 8 km and back from Liscannor (it’s well signposted). It’s an easy, incredibly scenic walk if you have no issues walking, but the road is not accessible for wheelchairs or baby strollers.
Overall, our two weeks in Ireland cost us £75 per person and day, which is $106 or 93 € per day and person. This is definitely more of a mid-range holiday price than a cheap trip, but we had a great time and it didn’t feel like money wasted (well, except the extra cost for the car…).
|the Burren is my new favourite, such a crazy landscape!|
From having travelled in Ireland before, I know you can cut this cost in half if you are willing to travel in the off season and use public transport, or simply manage to get a cheaper rental car than we had to.
Ireland is a special place and while the high season doesn’t offer the best value for accommodation and transport, the views and experiences, as well as the amazingly friendly locals (it’s a cliché, but oh so true) are just priceless.
Have you travelled in Ireland? Planning a trip next summer? Let me know, I’d always be happy to help with itineraries and tips in North Western Europe’s most touristy nation.