One trip to Ireland and you’ll be asking yourself when you can return. You might even start to look at real estate, shopping for the perfect cottage with a beautiful garden and a view of the rolling hills in the country.
A trip to Ireland is the perfect place to dip your toe into independent travel abroad if you’ve never done it before. There’s only a tiny language barrier (they speak English, but you’ll find yourself having to listen very carefully to cut through the thicker accents), it’s not a very long plane ride from the United States, and there’s a plethora of information available for visitors.
Whether you are a detailed planner or a fly by the seat of your pants rebel, as you begin to plan your trip, below are some basic things to consider.
I’ve heard from other bloggers that Ireland is expensive, but in general, my trip to Ireland didn’t cost any more than any of my other trips. Besides the flight, the most expensive category was food, but there are definitely ways to combat this expense, as described later.
While there are some hostels in Ireland, I feel like the best value is with Airbnb. You can get a cozy room with breakfast for two around 60 EUR total out in the country. The big city of Dublin is a little more expensive, of course, but a hotel room will still only set you back around 100 USD per night.
As mentioned above, I felt the food was a little more expensive in Ireland than I expected, but picnicking is always an option. A grocery store or gas station is always an option for picking up a nice selection of fruit, meat, cheese, bread and drinks for pennies on the dollar compared to a sit down restaurant. (You might ask, “A gas station, really?” Yes, really – theirs are much nicer than ours.) When you do want something more than a picnic, pubs or chippers are always an option (chippers efficiently serve fish and chips). I found that I could eat a decent meal in a pub with a pint for about 20-25 EUR per person.
The flight to Ireland will most likely be the biggest cost, and it varies greatly depending on where you are departing from. If you plan on venturing to the country, a car is necessary, but don’t plan on doing much driving in Dublin because the traffic is pretty bad. Unless you are a seasoned European driver, I would suggest upgrading to an automatic transmission and possibly opting for additional insurance since most credit cards don’t provide additional insurance for rental cars in Ireland (because the roads are so narrow with some surrounded by rock walls). I had great service with Dan Dooley, where a weekly rental cost about 200 USD for a compact car with an automatic transmission, excluding additional insurance. If staying in the cities, Ireland has a train system and even a light rail and bus system in Dublin that are both cheap ( at about 2 EUR per ride) and easy to maneuver.
Most of Ireland’s most stunning attractions are natural wonders owned by the government. If you plan on venturing around the country for a week or so, look into purchasing a Heritage Ireland card. It costs 40 EUR per adult and provides free entry for dozens of sites. Besides the Hertitage card, my most expensive activities were the Hop On/Hop Off bus and the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Everything else was just a few Euros per person, so I’d say Ireland was pretty affordable from an entertainment standpoint.
The pub (short for public house) is a key component to Irish culture. Pubs began as a gathering place for locals to chat, and still serve that purpose today. Sit at a table and you can have quiet conversation with those you’re sitting with, but if you want interaction, sit at the bar. All pubs are different as far as the ordering and paying process –you’ll order drinks and food at the bar for some, others you’ll sit down and a waiter will take your order, but at most pubs you’ll pay at the bar no matter where you ordered. Just pay attention to what others are doing and you won’t have any trouble. If you are waited on, the typical tip is 10-15% of your bill. When only ordering drinks at the bar a tip is not expected, but some of us Americans just can’t help it, so 1-2 EUR is just fine.
The busy season for Ireland is from June to August. The temperature is a mild 70 degrees, the Emerald Isle is in full bloom, there is plenty of sunlight, and the attractions have the longest hours. The only downside is the affordable B&B’s are snatched up quickly, pubs are jam-packed, tickets to popular sites are sold out, and there are more tourists than locals. In general, I like to travel in shoulder season, and Ireland is no different. Spring and fall are great times to travel to Ireland because they have the least amount of rain, a decent amount of daylight, shorter lines, a more favorable tourist to local ratio, and easier access to the popular attractions. The only trade-off is the temperature is a little cooler at 50 degrees or so, but throw on an extra shirt and a hat and you’ll be fine.
Most flights from the United States arrive to Ireland early in the morning. The good news is that you get an entire day to explore Ireland when you arrive, but the bad news is that you will need to sleep on the plane and stay up all day to get over the jet lag. As much as you might want to check into your hotel and sleep upon arrival, the best way to beat jet lag is to suck it up and acclimate yourself to Ireland time as soon as you can. When departing Ireland, your flight will probably leave early in the morning, so you can take a nap, but for the most part you will want to stay up the entire day in order to sleep at night – which shouldn’t be too difficult because who doesn’t like to sleep in their own bed when taking a long journey abroad?
Ireland has two official languages: English and Irish Gaelic. Everyone speaks English, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to easily understand it. The Irish use different phrases, and coupled with a strong accent, sometimes it can be difficult to understand them. However, I think the Irish who are accustomed to tourists are used to blank stares when they speak, because the ones we met were kind enough to repeat themselves if we gave them the deer in headlights stare. The only places Irish Gaelic is spoken as part of daily life is on the far west coast. Listen close when two locals speak to each other and you’ll notice you have an even more impossible time trying to understand them.
Although every guidebook we read talked about pickpocketing in the big cities like Dublin and Galway, we had no indication it was prevalent. However, it’s always good to take precautionary measures and only keep a small amount of cash in your purse/wallet, wear a money belt with extra cash and credit cards and your passport, and always carry your wallet in your front pocket and your backpack or purse secured under your arm.
Ireland has a rich cultural history, and it’s a delight to explore sites that are thousands of years old as well as touristy sites just recently built. The locals are fun to chat with, and they’ll go out of their way to help you.
No matter when you go or what your travel style, I’m sure you’re trip to Ireland will be absolutely mesmerizing.
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