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The Best of Ireland on a Budget

Ireland Insider Guides
by Jacob Bielanski Sep 10, 2008
Ireland isn’t a cheap destination, but these tips will help you explore the Emerald Isle on a budget.

After centuries of relative poverty and subjugation, Ireland had the gall to become an economic power. Dubbed the “Celtic Tiger”, the economic boom of the 90’s brought prosperity to the island and with it, price increases.

Today, the non-astute traveler might pay €7 for a Guinness in Temple Bar, but with these savvy tips you can travel in Ireland without blowing your budget.

How to Get Around

People traveling in groups may find car rentals an easy option. Car rentals give the obvious benefit of freedom, but those intending to drive in cities would do well to get precise directions from a local.

The most attractive budget option for traveling around Ireland is Bus Eireann. With online booking features, low prices, relative comfort and a myriad of destinations, Bus Eireann blends economy and flexibility.

Trains in Ireland are cost-prohibitive. Due to Ireland’s small size, none of Irish Rail’s destinations offer an overnight fare. A round trip ticket from Dublin to Galway (coast-to-coast) will cost twice that of the same bus fare. Significant gains in comfort are achieved, but the longest journeys will have travelers sitting for little more than two hours.

Where to Go

Drogheda, County Louth

Despite being the center of many significant events in Ireland’s history—not the least of which was the birth of actor Pierce Brosnan—Drogheda remains off the radar. Located on the M1 highway between Dublin and Belfast, Drogheda is often relegated to short day trips by travelers. This is a pity, as Drogheda offers a rich look into Ireland for significantly less than other cities.

The Green Door Hostel offers beds at the peak of season for around €14 per night and is within walking distance of everything Drogheda has to offer.

The pubs in the area are reasonably priced. Ollie’s, just down the street from the Green Door, offers pints for little more than €3. The same can be said for The Admiral, downtown.

Drogheda isn’t just about cheap pints. Hours of walking await the history and culture driven traveler, from the defensive fortification at Milmount to the head of St. Oliver Plunkett, stored in a glass case at the town center Cathedral. A mystical history surrounds the area, offering multiple days of excursions that delve deep into an almost pagan side of Ireland.

Dublin, County Dublin

Though technically not off the radar, the Independent Republic of Ireland’s capital will ensnare every traveler. Like the Greek sirens of Homer’s epic poem, Dublin’s beauty and nightlife entice travelers, dashing their economic ship against the harsh rocks of overpriced Guinness.

As one of the youngest cities in the Republic, Dublin is home to many hostels. Kinlay and Ashfield House represent the lowest cost of all the choices, starting at €16 to €25 per night, per bunk. The Bunkhouse is a newer facility with wireless internet, but costs a little more and is located far off the beaten path.

Dublin is a very cosmopolitan city, so “Irish Culture” tends to come at a premium. The Temple Bar region is where the bulk of young travelers’ money will disappear. Home to a variety of clubs, this neighborhood uses its tragically hip status to price pints as high as €8. Restaurants make delicious international fare, but prices are high.

At the end of the day, some of the greatest attractions Dublin offers are actually free. A tour of Temple Bar will eventually bring you front row to live music—even if it’s a man in the street singing “Viva Las Vegas.” A tour of Dublin castles reveals little tidbits, such as the “not so blind” justice, erected by the English. St. Stephen’s Green is the best place to enjoy a Club (tangy orange soda) and a sandwich on brown bread.

Not Irish enough for you? Than pay the €30 for a round trip bus ticket and head to Galway.

Galway, County Galway

With a population just over 72,000, the fastest growing city in Ireland isn’t going to lose its charm any time soon. Home of the original 14 families of Ireland, Galway is where the Ireland of the past and the future intersect. A vibrant night life is tempered by a strong sense of culture.

Something is always happening in Galway. There are a proportionately large number of local theatre companies and musical groups to perform at one of the city’s 51 venues. If that sounds too classy, stick around in September for the Guinness Irish Oyster Opening Championship at the Galway International Oyster Festival.

Galway is cheap for a city. €21 will get you a bunk in a dorm at Barnacle Quay.

What’s best is that Galway is a city that openly embraces its Irish-ness. Known as “Ireland’s Cultural Heart,” Galway houses some of Ireland’s most prominent groups dedicated to the preservation of Irish language, music and dance. If any place is going to reveal the innate culture and traditions of Ireland to a traveler, it’s going to be Galway.

Final Notes: Müller Rice, canned draughts and a “good time”

“Budget” is always such a subjective term. €21 ($33.10 USD) for a bunk doesn’t hold a candle to 65 quetzales ($8.80 USD, hotel) per room. But then again, Ireland isn’t Guatemala.

The bulk of any trip’s expenses is going to be food and lodging. Buying draughts of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub adds up quickly. Beyond earning the right to tell everyone back home that “it’s not the same as one in Ireland,” you’ll actually find that it’s an enjoyable experience that’s worth repeating (sometimes to excess), particularly considering the warmth and friendliness of most Irish pubs.

A delicate balance must be struck. This balance will be best achieved by visiting Ireland’s largest grocer, “Tesco”. Less than €1 will get you a nutrient-packed piece of Irish culture, known as “Müller Rice”. An additional €2 will get you 40 bags of Ireland’s favorite teas (Barry’s or Lyon’s). And yes, the Irish do put their draught in aluminum cans—for less than €2 (just don’t tell anyone).

At the end of the day, it’s difficult to put a price on Ireland. Open-minded travelers will quickly find themselves entranced by the often polite and jovial nature of any random Irishman. When you inevitably find yourself in good company, with good food and drink, economics be damned.

Have a good time. After all, isn’t that what you’re saving this money for?

Community Connection

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