There are plenty of articles about Backpacking Ireland, but not many by a local. Many visitors to Ireland tend to spend a few days in Dublin or on the west coast, skipping many parts of the country which are definitely worth a visit, most importantly my native county of Kildare. If you are backpacking or on a long trip to Ireland then these hints and tips should be of some value.
Of course, I have never backpacked Ireland in the traditional sense. Ireland is pretty small, I’ve seen quite a lot of it growing up. But of course, being a local I should hopefully know the best way for visitors to get around as well, so here is hoping you can apply my knowledge.
I’ll try to include as much information as possible about budgeting in Ireland, my suggestions for some of the best places to visit in Ireland and accommodation, transport and visas etc. I hope you find this backpacking Ireland piece entertaining and informative.
If you wanted to read a comprehensive one-week itinerary then check out our sweet adventures.
Transport in Ireland:
Unless you are travelling in some very unique way your most likely land in Dublin, the capital of Ireland and the centre of all of our transport networks. This makes life a little easier for you.
I have written extensively about a weekend in Dublin and Free things to do in Dublin which you can check out. Transport in Dublin is a little confusing, but getting out of Dublin to the countryside, I think it quite easy. There are plenty of options for seeing the country through day tours, car rentals or public transport for those staying a bit longer.
If you decide to hunker down in Dublin its possible to do a whole host of day trips from Dublin keeping your accommodation worries at a minimum. You can visit Belfast, Glendalough and the Cliffs of Moher on a generally stress-free trip who other locations may be slightly more difficult to manage. See get your guide for more ideas.
Direct Buses around Ireland:
If you decide to venture further afield there are direct buses from Dublin to almost every major town in Ireland, we call them cities but they’re not really. The most popular direct routes are to Galway, Cork, Limerick and Belfast.
Within the towns and cities themselves, taxis are usually readily available. In the larger, towns buses are quite rapid although notorious for being late, especially in Dublin.
This is not very common in the east of Ireland, it may take you quite a while to get a lift, however, throughout the rest of the country it is usually quite easy.
Tips on hitchhiking:
Strike up a conversation with someone in a shop or pub and see what direction they are going in.
Try to have your national flag or a sign, its a great conversation starter and helps break the ice.
Accommodation in Ireland:
Finding a place to stay in Ireland is quite easy. Even the smallest of villages usually have at least one B&B or a hostel.
I would usually book ahead, a quick google search should show you accommodation in the area and many will also be on Hostelworld. The vast majority are family run and they enjoy being prepared for new guests and giving a warm Irish welcome. Asking locals is always a good option as sometimes more rural areas won’t have accommodation well advertised.
B&Bs can be found across the country but you will find hostels mainly in larger towns and cities. Most of the time they aren’t European standards, but you get what you pay for. Here are a list of popular destinations and hostels.
- Killarney: Neptunes town Hotel
- Galway: Galway Hostel & Bar
- Cork: Oaklands Bed and Breakfast
- Dublin: Generator Hostel
- Belfast: Lagan Hostel
If you are travelling during the summer you can also check to see if the local college accommodation is available.
This is possible if you think the land is used try to ask for permission, otherwise, you can expect to find an exceptionally angry landowner if you are discovered. Always check what animals may be in the fields, usually, it will be cows and horses which will leave you alone, but it is better to know that to have an unexpected guest during the night.
Free things to do in Ireland:
Attend a GAA game:
Gaelic sports are at the heart of Irish culture and hugely popular throughout the country. Do something new and attend a local game. I am certain this will be one of the highlights of your trip. Gaelic games are very different from most other sports and are entirely voluntary. Hurling and Gaelic football are contested by towns and villages throughout the country and a visit to a game will most definitely be worth it.
If you are in the countryside, be it hiking or hitchhiking you are sure to see some old ruins be it castles, walls or stone circles. Unless absolutely stated I would go and explore, just don’t climb on everything especially the ring forts, I don’t anyway and locals won’t be too happy if they saw you either. Some structures have tales about them to scare kids and some of the beliefs are still held by some.
The vast majority of museums are free or very cheap to visit especially in small towns which have only a few relics and stories of events from the past. It’s a great way to learn some local history and spark up a conversation with locals later in the day.
It probably doesn’t need to be mentioned but if you are in Ireland you will be outside anyway. There are plenty of hiking trails, national parks, hill walks and more for you to enjoy. Ireland’s natural beauty is one of its selling points so its best to take advantage while you are here. The west is especially beautiful and definitely, somewhere you should get lost along the roads.
My suggestions for destinations in Ireland:
These are just a few of my personal favourite but ones I think any visitor to Ireland will enjoy and give them a little taste of Ireland.
You should also check out Wanderlust Crew and their pick of some of the best places in Ireland.
Cliffs of Moher:
You already know about this one.
Black cab tour:
Probably one of the best tours I have ever taken in Ireland and a huge eye-opener for those who don’t know about Irelands troubled past and the differences between northern and southern Ireland. The tour was affordable and very very informative, a great way to spend the day. I have to give a shout out to WorldNate and InterpidIntorvert for this one.
This is one of the free things you can do in Dublin and another way to learn about Ireland’s history and those who have shaped it.
The best time to visit Ireland:
Due to Ireland’s amazing reputation for weather, you should always hope for the best but pack for the worst. That being said, of course, the summer months are the best to visit. The summer is by far the best time to visit the country in my opinion, with exceptionally long days and a host of festivals and events taking place throughout the country. May to August are the perfect months to visit.
If the weather is good you can expect clear skies and warm temperature, if not you can expect rain, actually always expect rain but hope for the best. March is also a great time to visit for St.Patricks day, but besides that, I would personally stick to the summer for extended stays at least.
Money saving tips for Ireland:
Ireland is not known for its budget friendliness. This isn’t just us ripping off the tourists, we hate the prices of everything too. Actually, that ’s another good conversation starter. Here are a few tips:
- Ask for directions and you might just get a lift especially in more rural areas.
- Pre-drinking in your hostel or other accommodation is normal enough and can save a bit of money especially in the towns.
- A lot of towns and villages will have a number of pubs and at least one of these will have some sort of entertainment on, a great way to mix with the locals and enjoy some real traditional music.
- If you plan on hiking be sure to pack a lunch you will be quite far away from anywhere with food especially in more rural parts.
- Day trips from Dublin are not overly expensive but its quite easy to manage by yourself if you have a good grasp of the English language.
- Stay away from Temple bar in Dublin.
What to pack for Ireland:
- If you plan to camp then you will want a Sturdy tent so it will hold up against the wind and rain.
- A decent Day bag with a rain cover is handy to have for those who enjoy hiking and want to bring a picnic or some other essentials.
- Speaking of hiking a pair of decent Boots would be ideal especially if you are going to the west.
As the Visa policy is always changing and a little confusing I will Divert you to Wikipedia. To keep it simple though most countries within the EU have free movement to work and travel in Ireland. The majority of North and South America have access for up to 90 days without a visa and the remaining countries have visa requirements.
Irish basics to know before a visit:
- Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, Ireland is the Republic of Ireland two entirely different governments though this is up for debate. Not one you want to have in Ireland.
- Dancing, for the most part, isn’t very exotic like Europe or S.America you can find some clubs to practice your moves, but for the most part, going out revolves more around the drinking aspect.
- English is the primary language spoken in Ireland although you will hear languages from all over.
- We use the Euro as our currency.
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