This is the guide you have been searching for – a detailed guide to how to travel around Ireland on even the tightest of budgets. Everyone loves Ireland. I meet people all over the world whose dream it is to visit this small island, but often times, are put off by its reputation as one of the most expensive countries in Europe.
The truth is…it can be ridiculously expensive if you don’t plan it right. There are hostels, bars, restaurants and transport options that will suck up 1 weeks budget in 2 days if you are not careful. But fear not, Ireland is also a fantastic place for backpackers and there is so much you can do on the cheap.
Even if it’s just a budget city break you are looking for, Dublin is an incredible choice, once you know the insider secrets of where to go, and when to go.
Part 1: Getting here
I highly recommend you checking out my ‘Ultimate Guide To Booking Cheap Flights’ to help you find some cheap deals from Ireland. If you are flying from anywhere in Europe, Ryanair is definitely your best bet. Use Skyscanner to check when the cheapest dates to fly are, then book on the Ryanair website itself.
If flying from the US, you should check out Wow Air’s new flight deals that fly from Washington DC to Ireland via Iceland. for about 300 euro return. I always think the trick to cheap flights to Ireland is thinking outside the box. If this means flying from the US to Ireland via Iceland or from Bangkok to Ireland via Norway (Norwegian Air does super cheap flights!) then so be it.
To avoid extra baggage charges, do your best to bring hand luggage only. The good news on this front is that Ryanair now allow you to bring 2 carry on bags; a backpack or mini suitcase up to 10kg and one handbag/satchel.
One alternate way to get to Ireland is on a ferry. There are 4 ports along the Irish coast that you can arrive into, depending on where your departure point is. Ferries leave for Scotland from Belfast, to the UK from Dublin and Rosslare and to France from both Cork and Rosslare.
Sailings on Irish Ferries from Holyhead to Dublin only take 1 hour and 50 minutes and are pretty cheap if you are a foot passenger or there is a group of you in 1 car.
There are also cheap overnight buses that leave from London and various cities in Europe that travel to Dublin on the ferry. These buses do take MANY hours to get here, so they are only worth looking into if flight prices have soared or if you have quite a lot of luggage.
Part 2: Transport within Ireland
From the airport
For get about taxis and forget about trains. Not even Irish people can deal with their ridiculous prices. The only exception to this is the DART line within County Dublin which is great for seeing the coast or inter city trains when there is some sort of special deal on. Also, if there are 4 of you, a taxi can be quite reasonable, but if you are just 1 or 2 people, forget it.
Your best bet in Dublin is taking the bus. When you arrive at Dublin airport, you will be overwhelmed with options. The Aircoach -6 euro one way, the ‘Airport Express’ – 6 euro one way, 10 euro return, taxis (around 20-25 euro), inter city buses and last but definitely not least Dublin bus number 16. This is your cheapest option to get to the city centre, charging only 3.30 euro for a single journey. Important note: You must have correct change and they don’t accept notes!
If you arrive into other cities (Cork, Belfast etc) and want to explore Ireland, buses will still be your cheapest option. Make sure you compare the different private companies such as JJ Kavanagh (great for day trips from Dublin to nearby towns and cities like Kilkenny), Air Coach (great for Cork-Dublin and Dublin-Belfast), GoBus, CityLink (great for direct buses from Dublin-Galway) with Bus Eireann (the national bus company) to ensure you are getting best deal.
For the love of God, do not buy a sightseeing bus pass for the outrageous price of 22 euro (or more if you don;t buy online!). Dublin is so small you can easily walk to all of the main tourist attractions, such as parks, museums and cultural historic buildings. Heck…leave me a comment, and I’ll be your free guide if you like!! 😉
Hitchhiking is also a great option. I think Ireland is one of the last places in Europe where you will find it really easy to get a lift. This is especially true in the more rural areas in the middle and the West of Ireland, where some people (not very many, but a few) can no longer rely on regular bus services on thus rely on the kindness of strangers instead. Be sure to check out the HitchWiki Guide to Ireland for good places to catch a ride.
If you are not travelling alone, and you are over 25, and you have your full drivers license, and (lots of ands here!!) you are not afraid to drive on the wrong side of the road…renting a car is in fact the best way to see Ireland from the eyes of a local. If you really want to see areas of untouched beauty, stunning beaches, mountains hills, dead ends and get off the tourist trail, renting a car is the only way to go. It’s not too pricey if you opt for a smaller model. The only catch is the big down payment/deposit and the insurance. Petrol is Ireland will also cost you an arm and a leg.
Part 3: Accommodation
Even if you are on a very tight budget for your trip to Ireland, there are still many accommodation options available to you. The catch? You may need to be a little bit more open-minded!
Ireland has loads of great youth hostels and private backpacker hostels dotted around the country. There is a huge variety of hostels in Dublin, with prices varying depending on location, facilities and type of room wanted. The only catch is…you seriously need to book in advance. Especially during the summer, at Christmas and anytime in March close to St Patrick’s Day. (I just did a quick search for a dorm room in ANY hostel in Dublin for next Saturday night on Hostelworld, and was told there is NO AVAILABILITY. That’s mental.)
The cheapest dorm beds in Dublin City include:
- Dublin International YHA -€16.50
- Jacobs Inn – €18.00
- Four Courts Hostel -€20.00
- Isaacs Hostel – €23.00
One of Dublin’s best hostels if you are craving the same atmosphere as hostels across Europe and South East Asia, and you are looking to party, would be the Generator Hostel. The only downside is the price they charge for a room in a dorm could fund a week of travels in Thailand. I honestly don’t know how anyone could pay €50 for a bed in a dorm.
I think everyone has heard of Airbnb at this stage so I don’t think I need to explain how it works. If you are looking to stay in Dublin, or any other city in Ireland, for a few days or even a few weeks, Airbnb is an excellent option. It’s especially good for couples or 2 friends travelling together. You will get your own private room in someone’s house or apartment, and they may even show you around the city and introduce you to their friends. With prices starting as low as €32 for 2 people in a beautiful city centre bedroom, this might even be cheaper than staying in a hostel!
Despite the decline in Couchsurfing activities around Ireland in recent years, there are still lots of active hosts in towns and cities around Ireland that would love to welcome some genuine travellers into their homes. You might just get a couch, you might get a bed, you may even get your own bathroom with en-suite. While Couchsurfing is free, it’s always nice to bring a little gift for your host, or take them out for pint during your stay.
Part 4: Food and Drink
Food and drink will probably be your biggest expense in Dublin. If you are planning on coming to Dublin, or even Ireland, simply to party, taste copious amounts of Guinness and eat gourmet food, good luck sticking to that budget! There are a few insider tricks and places to avoid, but I think you might find it difficult to stick to. You’ll go in search of ‘the craic’ and you’ll find a lot of it in the most expensive of places. You only live once, I guess, so it’s okay to splash out sometimes.
First off, if you really want to save money I recommend buying food in the supermarket and cooking in your hostel. bIt boring, but certainly cheapest option. If you don’t want to do that, check out the CheapEats website and Twitter feed for all the best restaurant deals. You could also look up Groupon and GrabOne as they always have cheap restaurant deals for two. I also found this article on 10 of Dublin’s Cheap Restaurants which could be useful. Yelp reviews are pretty handy too!
In general, everything outside of Dublin is cheaper. Food, drink, accommodation etc. The further from Dublin you go, the better deals you will get and you will also find some fantastic restaurants serving delicious fresh food.
Step 1: Pre drink in your hostel or buy some cans and go to The Pav, Trinity College’s student bar. Everyone here just sits out on the grass during the summer drinking from cans and enjoying the limited sunshine.
Step 2: Stay away from Temple Bar. I mean it, that place will suck every last cent out of your wallet and you’ll be left sitting on the curb crying because you can’t even afford your bus back to the airport.
Step 3: Work out the bars that have special drinks deals, depending on the day of the week. If it’s a Tuesday, head to Diceys on Harcourt street for 2 euro drinks. Thursday? Head to the South William for ‘Flippy Thursdays’ (they flip a coin, you guess heads or tails, and if you’re guess is correct you get the drink for free!!). O’ Reillys bar under Tara street DART station also does some great drinks deals mid week. Dublin’s only Aussie bar, located on Parnell street, also does some mean drinks deals such as pitchers of Fosters beer for 1 euro.
Step 4: Pretend you are actually in the UK instead of Ireland, and head to a Wetherspoons pub in Blackrock or Dun Laoghaire. They have the cheapest pints in Dublin, and the prices stay the same regardless of day of the week or how late at night it is. Pints as cheap as 2 euro!!
Part 5: Sightseeing
Did you know there’s an incredible amount of free tourist attractions and other sites that are free of charge around Ireland? From remote castles to beaches to stunning cliffs and small villages, there is so much you can do without having to spend a fortune. You should check out my guide to ‘Unique Things To Do in Dublin for Free’ to give you a little taster.
If you don’t have a car, the there are some great package tours you can do which cater for travelers on a budget. Check out Paddywagon Tours, Wild Rover Day Tours with prices starting from as low as 22 euro.
I think that’s it…so HAPPY TRAVELS!
I’ve probably forgotten lots, so leave a comment if you want to ask any questions or need help planning a route or itinerary! 🙂