March, 2004 -- Chances are that you've been looking forward to this trip to Ireland for some time. You've probably set aside a significant amount of hard-earned cash, taken time off from work, school, or other commitments, and now want to make the most of your holiday. So when should you go? How will you get there? Should you book a tour or travel independently? What should you pack? How much will it cost? You'll find all the necessary resources, along with addresses, phone numbers, and websites here.
Budget travel in Ireland is not only possible, but it's also the best way to get to know the country and its people. It's an irony of travel that the more money you spend for luxurious arrangements, the more you're able to isolate yourself from the places and people you've journeyed so far to visit.
So, what do we mean by "from $80 a day"? Basically, we assume that you're traveling as a couple, with at least $80 each to spend per day on a double room and meals. The figure would have to be somewhat higher for a single traveler, because B&Bs either add a "single supplement" or simply charge the same amount whether the room is occupied by one person or two. The average B&B in this book is about €35 ($40) per person for a double room with breakfast, which leaves you about €35 ($40) for lunch and dinner. Although eating out can be expensive in Ireland, this is plenty for two decent, filling meals or one extravagant splurge of a meal, especially if you can get used to eating your main meal at lunch.
As you might suspect, Dublin is the most expensive place in Ireland for accommodations and dining, so travelers on a very strict budget would be wise to spend most of their time outside the capital. Transportation costs aren't included in our "$80 a day" premise, and how you choose to get around could be the biggest factor in determining the total expense of your trip. Public transportation is the best option in Dublin, where driving is usually more of a hassle than it's worth. Bus and train access to rural Ireland can be quite limited, though we've tried to highlight public transportation options wherever they're available. For the most part, when it comes to rural Ireland, we've assumed that you're traveling either by car or, if you're the intrepid type, by bicycle.
Getting To Ireland
1. Budgeting for transportation begins with your flight over -- be sure to take advantage of discounted airfares that require advance booking.
2. There are numerous free Internet services that can help you find the cheapest regular fare. Internet users today can tap into travel-planning databases such as Frommers.com; Travelocity.com or Orbitz.com and compare airfares, access special bargains, book flights, and reserve hotel rooms and rental cars. Travelzoo.com is a great place for last-minute specials.
3. Students and teachers are eligible for substantially reduced tickets through STA Travel (www.sta.com).
4. Charter flights to Ireland are often available at bargain-basement rates, but be prepared for service that may not be up to the same standards as the big airlines.
5. Travel off-season, when airfares (as well as accommodations prices) drop substantially. Peak-season fares generally extend from June to mid-September; prices are low in October and November, then rise again from mid-December to mid-January; late winter and early spring fares are predictably low. But be advised that winter in Ireland can be truly miserable. May is often the most beautiful month of the year, with lots of sun, warm temperatures, and cheap airfares.
6. Check with travel agents for air/drive package deals -- double transportation savings. Sceptre Tours regularly offers combined airfare, car rental, and/or accommodations packages at very reasonable rates (tel. 800/221-0924; www.sceptretours.com). Lismore Travel is a favorite of the Irish community living in the U.S. (tel. 800/547-6673 or 212/685-0100).
7. Car rental and gasoline could be your biggest single expense. Public transportation is an option for major towns and cities -- look up the places you'd like to go in this book to see if they're accessible by bus or by train.
8. Travel by rail or bus becomes even cheaper with the Irish Explorer Pass, good for unlimited travel for 5 or 8 days throughout the Republic. In Northern Ireland, the Freedom of Northern Ireland pass is a recommended money-saver. For itineraries that encompass both the Republic and Northern Ireland, there's the umbrella Emerald Card, good on both sides of the border. These passes are available from booking offices of Iarnrod Eireann (tel. 1850/366222 toll free, or 01/836-6222; www.irishrail.ie) and the main Dublin Tourism Office (www.visitdublin.com) on Suffolk Street, Dublin.
9. Be sure to ask about Bus Eireann -- the national Irish bus company (tel. 01/703-1839; www.buseireann.ie) and Irish Rail (www.irishrail.ie) promotional midweek, weekend, and excursion fares when you're buying your ticket.
10. You can save on both transportation and accommodations by booking Bus Eireann Breakaway holiday packages whose rates include round-trip coach fare to your destination and lodging at a hotel, B&B, or hostel -- a real bargain. Senior discounts are offered.
11. Bus Eireann's regional day trips cost far less than driving, and visit a tremendous number of places. Information on these trips is available from local Bus Eireann stations.
12. In Dublin, ask bus drivers or at the Dublin Bus Office, Busaras/Central Bus Station (tel. 01/836-6111; www.buseireann.ie) or Tourist Office, Suffolk Street (www.visitdublin.com) about city bus discounts during certain hours of the day.
13. Holders of an International Student Identity Card travel at a 50% discount on trains throughout the Republic with a Travelsave Stamp, obtained from the USIT Office, 19 Aston Quay, Dublin (tel. 353/1/602-1600; www.usit.ie). The stamp also provides a 15% discount on bus fares outside Dublin, and substantially reduced weekly transit passes in Dublin.
14. Regional bus companies are often cheaper and more direct than Bus Eireann; ask at the bus station ticket office to find the cheapest and fastest service to your destination.
15. Always book your rental car before you arrive in Ireland, as last-minute rentals can often cost you an arm and a leg. Auto-Europe often has the lowest rates for economy cars. Shop around.
16. If you'll be spending some time in Dublin, try to schedule your car rental so you don't have a car during your stay in the city. If, say, you're spending the last week of your trip in Dublin, drop off the car a week early and use public transportation for all your Dublin sightseeing -- you'll save a week's rental charges, and spare yourself the worry and hassle of having a car in the city.
17. Consider renting a car with standard transmission. With most Irish rental companies, automatic transmission isn't available on economy models.
18. Iarnrod Eireann (tel. 1850-366222; www.irishrail.ie) offers a variety of ready-made day tours and getaways that depart by train from Dublin. They allow you to see a lot of the country for relatively little money, especially if you don't want to dish out for a rental car. RailTours are 1-day tours whose fare includes reserved seats on InterCity trains and, for some itineraries, special coaches with qualified driver/guides to take you where rail lines don't. There are a dozen itineraries available, including: Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains; The Ring of Kerry; and the Cliffs of Moher, Burren, and Galway Bay. Railbreaks are ready-made 2- or 3-day holidays include train travel and accommodations and let you take in a specific region. There are about a dozen to choose from, with rates starting as low as €105 ($121) per person for a 3-day break in the Aran Islands, including rail travel, B&B accommodations, and breakfast daily.
19. Don't travel alone. Single rates can cost €10 to €20 ($12-$23) more than what you'd pay for a shared room. During peak season and special events, many B&Bs will charge the full double rate even if there's only one person in the room. Single rooms, when available, are often tiny and substandard.
20. Hostels are Ireland's best budget option, and they're as diverse as the people who run them. Many have private rooms at about half the rate you'd pay in the average B&B. All have self-catering kitchens where you can save by preparing your own meals, and an increasing number have their own reasonably priced restaurants. Hostels aren't just for students; although most hostelers are young, you'll also meet families and travelers of all ages. Contact An Óige, the Irish Youth Hostel Organization (tel. 01/830-4555; www.irelandyha.org).
21. When booking at a B&B consider forgoing that private bathroom -- this sacrifice can save you €3 to €8 ($3.45-$9.20) per person on each night's cost.
22. Renting a self-catering cottage can be a great budget option, especially for groups and families -- the per-person rates are often cheaper than those of B&Bs, especially if you count the money you save by cooking some of your own meals. Rentals are usually weekly, although weekend rentals are sometimes offered.
23. Consider carrying a tent and some basic camping equipment. Ireland has many fine campgrounds, with rates averaging about €15 ($17) for a campsite. Use of a kitchen and showers is usually included in this rate. You can buy a cheap tent once you arrive in Ireland, and campgrounds sometimes have used equipment for sale.
24. The only instance in which hotels become a real budget option is in the case of a few chains, such as Jurys (www.jurysdoyle.com) and Forte, which charge by the room, not per person. For families or groups willing to share space, these rooms can be cheaper than a B&B, and often offer a great center-city location.
25. Most B&Bs, farmhouses, and guesthouses offer reductions from 20% all the way up to 50% for children under the age of 12 sharing a bedroom with their parents. Be sure to confirm the discount when booking. More and more of these accommodations are providing at least one family-size room.
26. Most hostels and B&Bs offer a discounted weekly rate, especially during the off season, and some will even offer a discount for a stay of 2 or 3 nights. You'll benefit by saving the time and hassle of packing and unpacking each day, and you'll also get to know a town in a way you never would as a 1-day visitor.
27. Similarly, many hotels and guesthouses offer 2- and/or 3-day midweek discounts that bring the per-person rates down considerably.
28. The tourist board publishes the illustrated booklet Discover Ireland Holiday Breaks, which catalogs discount packages that sometimes offer substantial savings. Some apply to low-season months only, and all require stays of more than 1 day.
29. Bus Eireann and Irish Rail package holidays also offer substantial discounts on accommodations.
30. When booking a hotel, ask about possible discounts for Frommer's readers. Reductions can range from 5% to 15%.
31. Prepare your own meals in the kitchen of your hostel or self-catering cottage.
32. Visit local delis, bakeries, and supermarkets, and compose your own picnic, then enjoy it in a scenic setting.
33. Eat your main meal at lunch. The lunch menu is often affordable at restaurants where dinner would be out of the question.
34. Have your evening meal early to take advantage of early-bird specials offered by many restaurants between 5:30 and 7pm.
35. Moderately priced hotel coffee shops will feed you well at prices far below more expensive hotel dining rooms.
36. Choose the fixed-price menu instead of ordering a la carte. More and more Irish restaurants are offering fixed 3- and 4-course meals, and they are usually an excellent value.
37. Take advantage of the half-board rate in B&Bs, guesthouses, and farmhouses, which includes bed, breakfast, and dinner each night at a reduced price.
38. A Heritage Card entitles you to unlimited admission into the more than 65 attractions all over Ireland operated by the Office of Public Works, also known as Duchas (www.opw.ie). These include castles, stately homes, historic monuments, national parks, and more. The card costs €19 ($22) for adults, €13 ($15) for seniors, €7.60 ($9) for children and students, and €46 ($53) for a family. There are three ways to get the card: You can buy it at any of the participating attractions; you can purchase it by phone (tel. 800/600-601 toll-free in Ireland, or 01/647-2461) with your Visa or MasterCard; or you can order it on the Web at www.heritageireland.ie. If you plan to see many of these sights, this is a wise purchase. It's far more pleasant to pick up one of these cards the first time you visit a Heritage site than to realize a week later how much you would have saved if you had.
39. Ireland at a Glance, a guide to 100 major Irish attractions, North and South -- museums, zoos, castles, historical parks -- also contains discount vouchers to each listed site, usually in the form of "buy one, get one free" adult admissions. The current cost of the booklet is €16 ($18). Contact Britnell Books (tel. 800/387-1417 fax 416/362-9177) to order.
40. Most sightseeing attractions have family discounts for parents traveling with two or more children. If they are not posted at the entrance, be sure to ask. Do the math before buying a family ticket, though, because it can be cheaper to buy the individual tickets if you have a small family.
41. Student discounts can cut admission prices by as much as 50% -- bring a valid student ID. In addition, if you're in the 55-and-older age bracket, never pay an admission fee without asking for the senior discount granted by almost all sightseeing highlights.
42. Look for combination tickets to closely associated sightseeing attractions. In Dublin, for instance, you can get a combination ticket to the Joyce Tower, the Writer's Museum, and the Shaw Birthplace.
43. Focus your attention on Ireland's free attractions. Ireland has far more historic sites than it can afford to develop for tourism, and many of the country's most interesting archaeological remains are there for you to discover.
44. Dunnes' Stores, (www.dunnesstores.com) located in most major cities and many of the larger towns, is a good chain to look for if you are in need of an extra shirt, skirt, trousers, and so on. They carry a good line of clothing at excellent prices.
45. Seasonal sales can be real money savers. Large department stores in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick run spring and fall sales with reductions of up to 50%. Sale items often include Waterford glass, Royal Tara china, and the like.
46. Whenever possible, use credit cards or ATM debit cards. The exchange rate given by these cards is often better than that offered in Irish banks, and you don't have to pay a commission (try to choose a bank in your home country that doesn't charge for each use of the debit card).
47. Take advantage of pub meals at lunch. We've highlighted the best of Ireland's pub grub -- it's hard to top a fine bowl of Irish stew served with freshly baked brown bread and pint of stout.
48. Always cash your traveler's checks at a bank, or even better, get cash from an ATM. Bureaux de change at airports and elsewhere often charge high commissions and may inflate rates, so avoid them if possible.
49. Instead of using your calling card, use phone cards, sold at most newsstands, for short international calls. The advantage of the phone card is that you don't pay anything for the connection, while most calling cards charge $5 or so for the first minute. Because the per-minute rate is often a bit lower on the calling card than the phone card, especially for daytime calls, it may be cheaper to use a calling card for calls longer than 20 to 30 minutes.
50. Buy all the film you're likely to need before you leave home. It will cost a lot more if you wait until you get to Ireland.