I loved backpacking around Ireland: rolling green hills, castles, beautiful sheer cliffs, Guinness beer, and ultra-friendly locals.
Backpacking Ireland is a really underappreciated activity. So many people come here, hit the major sites, drink a pint in Dublin, and head home.
But there is so much more to traveling here.
Even if you aren’t going to travel here with a backpack, spend some extended time here.
I think the best way to explore this country is by renting a car and driving around to the little small villages and just seeing what happens. Locals are really friendly and love sharing a story with strangers over a pint.
(Though if you can’t see Ireland that way, there’s plenty of other ways to get around so don’t worry!)
It’s a magical land full of wonder, history, and fun and I can’t recommend visiting here enough. No one ever walks away unhappy from Ireland.
But, no matter how long you are here for, Ireland will be a really rich experience and I’m sure you’ll love it.
By using this Ireland travel guide, you’ll know all the best things to do and see, where to stay, how to save money, costs, and everything else you need to have a phenomenal experience here!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Ireland
1. Get down in Dublin
2. Admire the Cliffs of Moher
3. The Giant’s Causeway
4. Drive along the Ring of Kerry
5. Wander around Galway
Other Things to See and Do in Ireland
1. Spend time in Cork
Cork is a bustling city nestled on Ireland’s south coast. Originally a maritime hub, Cork is now a cosmopolitan university city filled with cheap eats and a lively nightlife. Many people come here to kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck, hike around Gougane Barra, and to enjoy the coastal landscape around Mizen Head. Surfing and whale watching are also popular here. Minke whales, fin whales, and humpback whales are commonly seen along the coast, as are dolphins and porpoises. Expect to pay around €50 EUR ($56 USD) for a tour.
2. Party on St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint. As the legend goes, he drove all the snakes out of the country. Whether you believe the legend or not, this is the biggest party of the year in which everyone is Irish. The biggest parade takes place in Dublin. It’s one of the biggest parties in the world!
3. Kiss the Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle sits just outside Cork. Built in the 15th century, visitors flock here to see the Stone, which is made of Carboniferous limestone. The stone was set in 1446 and it is said to bestow eloquence on all those who kiss it. Admission is €13 EUR ($15 USD) and it’s open daily from 9am-5pm.
4. Visit a castle
Ireland is steeped in history and the entire country is covered in castles. There are literally hundreds dotting the countryside, all in various conditions. From the crumbling ruins of Dunluce Castle to the impeccably preserved Cahir Castle in Tipperary, it’s hard to miss these historical beauties. If it’s in your budget, attend a medieval banquet at the Bunratty Castle in Clare, or book a room at the beautifully restored Ashford Castle in County Mayo. If you’re just on a quick trip in Dublin, take the 30-minute train outside the city to the Malahide Castle.
5. Hike in Connemara
This national park covers some 12 square miles (30 square kilometers), offering scenic views and great hiking. Most people come here for hiking and forest bike riding, though there are a few castles within the park as well as an old mining area and a heritage and history center.
6. John F. Kennedy Arboretum
Located in County Wexford, this garden is home to over 4,500 species of trees and shrubs. There are several tea rooms, a visitors’ center, and a picnic area here too. It’s open daily from 10am until at least 5pm and costs €4 EUR ($5 USD).
7. Visit the Aran Islands
Located in Galway Bay, only 1,200 people call the islands home, with Irish being their primary language (though many also speak English). Here you can get around by bus, bike, or pony trap, whilst you see the various heritage sights, ruins, castles, and more. Tobar Einne and O’Briens Castle are two of the most popular attractions to see, as well as Dun Aengus, a Bronze Age and Iron Age fort hugging the coast of Inishmore. Most people go to Inishmore as it’s the largest of the islands and the most accessible. You can take a bus from Galway and hop on the ferry from Rosseveal.
8. Go back in time at Ulster Museum
If you are heading to Northern Ireland, this museum is home to an odd collection of artifacts and reveals Northern Ireland’s history from ancient times through The Troubles and then to modern day. There is even an exhibit on local wildlife. Admission is free and the museum is open daily (except Mondays) from 10am-5pm.
9. See Newgrange
Newgrange is a prehistoric burial mound that dates back over 5,200 years, which makes it older than both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Every year, on the Winter Solstice, a beam of light streams down the perfectly aligned entrance passage to illuminate the interior of the burial chamber. Admission is €6-11 EUR ($7-13 USD) and it’s open from 9:30am-5pm with some extended hours depending on the season.
10. Return to the Middle Ages in Killarney
Killarney is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations thanks to its undeniable medieval charm. You can visit Muckross Abbey (a 15th-century Franciscan friary), Ross Castle, or just wander around the town itself. (This is also the traditional starting point for exploring the Ring of Kerry.)
Ireland Travel Costs
Accommodation – Prices average €10-20 EUR ($12-23 USD) a night for a hostel dorm room. You can find private rooms that sleep two ranging from €35-60 EUR ($40-69 USD). Hostels typically offer free linens, and free WiFi, and many offer free breakfast.
Budget hotels average around €50 EUR ($56 USD) and will include a private bathroom. Some include an Irish breakfast (including fried eggs, sausage, and beans). In the bigger cities, especially Dublin, expect to pay an additional €9-13.50 EUR ($10-15 USD) per night. Airbnb is another great option. Shared rooms start from €18 EUR ($20 USD), but private rooms average around €45 EUR ($50 USD) per night. Full apartments with a kitchen start from €54 EUR ($60 USD).
Food – Fast food items start at around €4 EUR ($5 USD), while a simple meal (like Irish stew or fish and chips) at a pub will set you back €9-14 EUR ($10-16 USD). A meal at a more upscale restaurant, with a drink, will be upwards of €18 EUR ($21 USD).
If you go out early to lunch or dinner, you’ll find many restaurants offer “early bird” specials where you can get full meals for a fraction of the cost during regular dining hours. These specials are usually midweek and from certain times, like 6-7PM. For the best value food, visit the pubs! Get a local meal, with local people, at local prices.
If you want to cook your meals, expect to pay €50-60 EUR ($57-69 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Backpacking Ireland Suggested Budgets
A backpacking budget of at least €47 EUR ($53 USD) per day will cover staying in a hostel dorm, eating out a little but mostly cooking your meals, and using local transportation to get around everywhere. You will visit several attractions, including the Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Stone. If you plan on drinking and partying a lot, budget more!
On a mid-range budget of about €117 EUR ($131 USD) per day, you will stay in a two-star hotel, a private hostel room, or a private Airbnb room. This budget will cover a few meals at an Irish pub throughout your trip as well as cooking some of your meals at your accommodations. You will take public transit but also an occasional taxi or Uber, and you’ll visit at least two attractions per day.
On a luxury budget of at least €193 EUR ($215 USD) per day, you’ll get a 4-star hotels, private transportation, any restaurant you want, any sight or tour you want, and all the beer you can drink. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Ireland Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Ireland doesn’t need to break the bank. While there’s nothing here that will really cost a ton of money, it’s still not the cheapest country in the world and you do need to watch your spending, especially on all the pints you’ll probably drink here. These tips can help you save money in Ireland:
- Student discounts – A valid student ID will get you discounts of up to 50% to many attractions, museums, and buses throughout the country.
- Drink less – Ireland’s strong pub culture will hit your wallet hard. Temper the cost by visiting happy hours, drinking at home, or skipping drinks altogether.
- Eat the pub food – Eat at the pubs for good, hearty local Irish food that won’t destroy your wallet.
- Get an OPW Heritage Card – For those of you that love to tour heritage sites, you should definitely pick up one of these. It guarantees free access to main attractions, including most of the castles throughout the country. The card costs €25 EUR ($29 USD) for adults. This is a must for people visiting multiple cities in the country!
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see. I love this service a lot and highly recommend you try to use it (at least to meet people) while in the country! Plus, free accommodation helps the wallet!
- Rideshare – If you’re flexible in your schedule, use the ridesharing service BlaBlaCar and catch rides with locals between cities (or countries). Drivers are verified and it’s perfectly safe (though sometimes rides don’t show up, which is why you need to be flexible).
- Eat early – Many restaurants have budget dinner options if you eat early (usually before 6pm). You won’t have as much variety since it’s a set menu, but it will be much cheaper!
- Collect your VAT – Almost everything you purchase in Ireland will have a VAT (value added tax) of around 20%. If you’re just visiting, you’re entitled to collect that back when you leave. It’s a bit of a hassle, but if you’re in the country for a while and spending a lot of money, it might be worth the time!
Where To Stay in Ireland
Ireland has a lot of wonderful places to stay. There’s cool castles, B&Bs, hostels, and hostels. If you’re looking to stay on a budget, here are my suggested places while you visit Ireland:
How to Get Around Ireland
City Transportation – Public transportation is first-rate in Ireland! Whether you’re on a bus or train, expect free WiFi, friendly drivers, and timely departures. Bus trips around Dublin cost about €3 EUR ($3.40 USD) for a single journey, while it’s €2.40 EUR ($2.75 USD) in Galway, and £1.60 GBP ($2.05 USD) in Belfast if you head into Northern Ireland. There’s also a tram network and an electric rail system. With a LEAP card (a card you can top up to use on the country’s public transportation), you can use all public transportation options for reduced prices up to 31% compared to cash tickets. You can even use it for dublinbikes self-serviced bicycle rentals. A day pass costs €10 EUR ($11 USD).
You can also use the LEAP card in Belfast, Galway, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, although you’ll have different transportation options in each city.
Bus – Ireland is a pretty small island, so you won’t find too many routes that are longer than five hours. That means that prices are pretty reasonable. Longer bus journeys, such as Dublin to Belfast in Northern Ireland will cost around €17 EUR ($19.50 USD). A bus from Dublin to Galway will take about 3 hours and will cost you about €25 EUR ($28 USD).
Bus Éireann is the main coach service, while Translink serves the North (and includes Ulsterbus and Goldline). You can search their website for the best deals and for route schedules. If you book early, you’ll get the lowest ticket prices.
Citylink and Aircoach are also two private coach services that service the country.
There’s a really handy Journey Planner website and app that will help you plan your route (but you can’t buy tickets there).
Train – Irish Rail serves the Republic while Northern Ireland Railways serves the North. The Dart (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) also serves the coastal/city areas from Howth to Malahide, and to Greystones in County Wicklow.
While you can’t book NI Railways tickets online (it has to be at the station), you can with Irish Rail, and you’ll usually get much cheaper fares this way. Still, taking the bus is often much cheaper.
It costs about €45-65 EUR ($52-75 USD) to get to Cork from Dublin by train and takes about 2.5 hours. It costs about €35-55 EUR ($40-63 USD) to get to Galway from Dublin by train and takes about 3 hours, which is about €10 EUR ($11.50 USD) more than the bus for the same route.
Bus & Rail Passes – Ireland does have several bus and rail passes that might make sense for you:
- Irish Explorer – Five days of unlimited Irish Rail travel within 15 consecutive for €160 EUR ($182 USD)
- Open Road Pass – Three days of unlimited travel out of six consecutive days on Bus Éireann for €60 EUR ($68 USD).
- Sunday Day Tracker – This deal for one day of unlimited travel (Sundays only) on Translink buses and trains in the North costs just £7.50 GBP ($10 USD).
- Trekker Four Day – Unlimited travel on Irish rail within a four-day period, for €110 EUR ($125 USD)
Car Rental – Renting a car in Ireland can be affordable, with prices starting around €35 EUR ($40 USD) per day. Otherwise, having a rental car is a leisurely way to explore the countryside on your own schedule, and traffic here is never overwhelming (except maybe in Dublin or Belfast at rush hour).
Two things to keep in mind: 1) most of the cheapest rental options have manual transmission, and you’ll pay more for an automatic, and 2) People in Ireland drive on the left side of the road!
Ridesharing – Ridesharing websites let you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train! The two most popular ridesharing apps are:
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Ireland is very safe, but it can be difficult in the countryside where there is minimal traffic. It is not often easy to get a ride, but it’s also not impossible. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Ireland
Ireland’s mild, temperate climate makes for a good destination to visit year-round, while keeping in mind that you’re pretty well guaranteed to encounter lots of rain throughout your visit (it’s not called the Emerald Isle for nothing). That being said, it never gets too cold across the island, and it rarely snows outside the mountainous areas. Winters can be drizzly with short daylight hours, but temperatures rarely fall below freezing and the average is 45°F (7°C) per day.
The summer months (from June to the end of August) are the warmest months, and Ireland’s decked out in her full lush glory during this time. However, keep in mind that this is peak season, and you’ll compete for space and hostel dorms/hotel rooms. Prices are inflated too. Average temperatures during this time are between 59-68°F (15-20°C), but sometimes can climb up to 77°F (25°C) or more.
Shoulder season (March to May and then September to November) are excellent times to visit. Temperatures are still mild, there’s less congestion at tourist sites, and Ireland is just as beautiful as ever. You may expect more rainfall during this time, however. Pack accordingly.
How to Stay Safe in Ireland
Ireland is very safe, and the risk of violent crime is low. Scams and pick-pocketing can occur around high traffic areas, especially in Dublin around tourist attractions like Temple Bar. Otherwise, there really isn’t much to worry about in Ireland.
You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Ireland!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Ireland Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Ireland. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Ireland, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Vayable – I enjoy this site because it allows you to experience niche, offbeat, and interesting tours that bigger tour companies might not run (like a street art tour in Berlin). Plus, the groups tend to be very small, making for a more intimate experience.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- Context Tours – One of my favorite walking tour companies, Context offers in-depth history, food, and cultural tours through cities in the world, with a speciality in Europe. This company gets experts to lead tours (i.e. a chef to lead a food tour).
- Take Walks – A day tour company in Europe. What makes them so good is they get you inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock too!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Ireland Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Ireland, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Ireland
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Ireland
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier. The tap water is safe to drink here. This is just to cut down plastic bottle usage!)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Ireland Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes is a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times bestseller – and you’ll understand why within the first few pages: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” You’ll read about McCourt’s life in the Limerick slums, where his mother can’t afford to feed her kids and his father drinks away his money. But you’ll also find yourself laughing out loud – McCourt’s Irish humor shines through, even in the toughest of times.
Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks
Tony Hawks made a drunken bet, and so he finds himself tramping around Ireland with a fridge in tow. As it turns out, it was one of the best experiences of his life. With his trusty appliance he makes his way from Dublin to Donegal, then Sligo to Mayo, Galway, Clare, Wicklow, etc…all the way back to Dublin again. Apparently traveling with a fridge makes you bit of a celebrity. Hawks found himself surfing, entering a bachelor festival, and even meeting a king thanks to his trusty fridge. If you need a good laugh, this is it.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle is a beloved Irish author, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is one of his most famous works. It’s 1968, and Paddy Clarke is just 10 years old. He’s like any other 10-year-old: he loves the Three Stooges, but hates his little brother. He and his best friend Kevin roam all over Barrytown writing their names in wet cement. But Paddy has so many questions about his world. Like why didn’t anyone step in when Charle Leavy tried to kill him? And why do his parents fight all the time but insist nothing is wrong? It’s a delightfully comical coming of age story.
The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by W. B. Yeats
Hear me out on this one. Poetry isn’t something I would normally recommend, but W.B. Yeats is such an important literary figurehead that he deserves your attention. He’s a Nobel prizewinner, after all. His poetry is accessible and it strongly focuses on Irish life and the country’s complicated history. This collection includes all of his published poetry, so even if you browse through and find a few favorites you’ll be happy you did so (start with The Isle of Innisfree).
Dubliners, by James Joyce
This book is a brutally honest and vivid account of “dear dirty Dublin” in the early 20th century. There are 15 stories in total, and if you’re only going to read a handful make it “Araby” or “The Dead.” Joyce was raised in Dublin, and his ability to capture the lives of Dubliners and their unique cadence of speech is really impressive. It’s a heavy read, but a memorable one.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Ireland
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Ireland Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Ireland and continue planning your trip:
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