Ireland is a dream destination for many — and for good reason. With its rich culture, lush countryside made ever greener by refreshing rainfall, and its friendly and hospitable people who have an unrivaled penchant for storytelling, the Emerald Isle offers one of the most enriching getaways in Europe. But unfortunately, that experience comes at a cost — often a fairly steep one.
Though getting there won’t break the bank, once on the island, many tourists find themselves constantly over budget. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland and don’t want to stretch your wallet, here are some tips on keeping your daily expenditures to a minimum.
Rent a car
Ireland does offer some public transportation options, but if you really want to get around and see the sights, it’s basically a no-brainer to rent (or hire) a car. In the long run this will be your cheapest option, especially if you have multiple passengers — many rental services offer compact cars starting at 10 to 20 euro per day. This might still end up being one of the biggest drains on your daily budget, but the benefits here definitely outweigh the cost. By having your own car, you completely free up your itinerary, allowing yourself the luxury of traversing the country in search of the best sights. Plus, Ireland’s roads criss-cross its beautiful countryside, so even when you’re on the move, you’ll be getting the most out of your time.
Don’t try to do it all
At 32,595 square miles (84,421 square kilometers), Ireland isn’t much bigger than the U.S. state of South Carolina. But there’s certainly no shortage of sights and activities around the island. Whether you’re trekking through the country’s undulating hills, exploring its ancient castles, or stopping in for a pint at one of its lively pubs, you’ll never be at a loss for a way to fill your time.
So when planning your itinerary, you might feel compelled to start filling each day with 10 or more stops — but try to keep it light instead. For one thing, Ireland’s narrow country roads often mosey along at their own pace, so traveling to certain destinations might take longer than you (or Google Maps) would expect. Plus, part of what makes the country so great is its people, so take your time and get to know the locals. Enjoy the atmosphere of wherever you find yourself and soak it all in. Not only will this make for a better experience overall, but with a lighter itinerary, you won’t have to dip into your wallet quite as much.
Stay in guesthouses or Airbnbs
If you’re looking to cut down on accommodation costs, a hostel is probably your cheapest option. However, though slightly more expensive, Airbnbs offer a happy medium, ringing in at much cheaper than a traditional hotel while still offering the traditional hospitality Ireland is famous for. From real Irish castles to old-fashioned guesthouses, Airbnb in Ireland provides a wonderful selection of lodgings operated by locals who will be eager to make you feel right at home. You can also check out other commercial sites such as BandBIreland to search for the perfect housing for you and your travel companions.
Buy a Heritage Card
Similar to a National Parks pass in the U.S., an Ireland Heritage Card is valid for an entire year and provides free admission to any site operated by the Office of Public Works (OPW). This includes major tourist attractions including Killarney National Park, Ross Castle, Dublin Castle, Glenveagh National Park, Ennis Friary, the Iveagh Gardens, and many more. At 40 euro for an adult pass (or 90 euro for a family pass), it’s well worth the purchase if you plan on visiting more than six or seven OPW sites during your trip through Ireland on a budget.
Heritage Cards can be ordered online and shipped right to your house, but it is much simpler to buy them in person at the first site you visit — just make sure to bring cash since most sites won’t accept credit cards. If you’re only planning to stay in the Dublin area throughout your trip, consider a Dublin Pass instead.
Be careful in the pubs
More so than probably any other country in the world, it’s easy to make a case for a big booze budget when visiting Ireland. After all, is it really a trip to the Emerald Isle without a few rowdy nights at the pubs? Keep in mind, though, that pub culture is expensive. A single pint will cost you 4.50 to 5 euro, so after two or three drinks, you’ll be looking at a fairly steep bar tab. Therefore, with the exception of maybe one crazy night on the town, try to keep the drinking to a minimum. One way to do this is to seek out a pub with a great atmosphere, perhaps one with a band playing traditional Irish folk music. Then, limit yourself to a pint or two and simply enjoy the evening.
Utilize grocery stores
You’ll want to sit down at a nice café for a traditional Irish breakfast (and maybe an Irish coffee as well) at least once or twice. But, for the most part, you should be able to stick to a five-euro daily breakfast budget by stopping in at a low-cost supermarket such as ALDI or LIDL. There, you should be able to grab some basic pick-me-ups like juice, cereal, or eggs for the same price as a cup of coffee at a pricey franchise like Starbucks. You can also use the opportunity to stock up on essentials for those long drives through the countryside.
Take advantage of free attractions
Finding activities that are free of cost is not an easy task in Ireland — even the Cliffs of Moher are going to hit you with a small parking fee. But it’s not impossible. If you’d like to explore historical or archaeological areas, you can walk the abandoned halls of many Irish castles for free, or you could check out popular sites such as the Hill of Tara or Glendalough. But, if it’s the spectacularly green countryside that brought you to the Emerald Isle, general admission to the country’s national parks — such as Killarney or Connemara — is free, or you can hike the Slieve League of cliffs in County Donegal. If none of that interests you, just soak up the charm of Ireland’s many quaint and historic cities. Take a moonlight stroll through a medieval town such as Trim or Kilkenny and get lost in the magic as a bell tower chimes the top of the hour.
Interested in traveling to other places on the cheap? Check out our various budget travel guides.
Cover Photo by Abraham Lendinez