Ireland on a budget is... complicated. After (quite successfully) playing catch-up with other developed nations in the prosperity stakes, the Irish themselves have become (nearly) used to high prices for everything. Hey, we can afford it now, can’t we?
On the other hand, tourists become nearly apoplectic when working out the restaurant bill, especially if they have to convert it into dollars. So, is really low-budget travel to and through Ireland still possible?
It is, but only if you are prepared to cut corners and do without the frills.
Coming to Ireland
Getting there is the first problem - and more than likely to take out a large chunk of your overall budget.
Unless you work the cost of your passage off on a Panamanian tramp steamer via Lagos and Murmansk, as an overseas visitor you will have little choice but to fly in. Costly but not necessarily expensive if you choose the right airline.
If you are coming from mainland Europe and are feeling really adventurous, consider hitching a ride on a long-distance truck, paying your ferry passage as a foot passenger. It might work out safer, as cheap and certainly quicker to catch a no-frills flight. If you are a group, ferry travel with your own car is another option.
Traveling Around Ireland
A car is ideal, no contest. But unless you bring your own vehicle, you’ll have to rent a car in Ireland. So other alternatives might work out less expensive - but how easy is it to get around Ireland without a car?
Hitch-hiking is cheapest but also dangerous. You might get picked up by a driver at the lower end of driving skills, somebody looking for payment in kind (usually the sexual kind) or a plain old psycho.
If you are prepared to cover small distances only, consider walking Ireland. Or, for the more energetic willing to brave traffic, cycling across Ireland is another low-cost option (if you bring your own bike - cycle hire can work out nearly as expensive as car hire).
Lodgings in Ireland
Unless you are prepared to sleep rough (which we would, under no circumstances, advise) you will have to splash out some money here.
Maybe the cheapest option at first glance is a tent. But you have to remember that camping in Ireland is allowed only with the express consent of the land's owner. And if the land is owned by the state this consent is simply not there. Pitching your tent in an unauthorized area is illegal, no discussion needed. Though the question remains how likely it is to get caught in some remote areas.
So if you consider hiring a pitch and lugging your gear around, simply bunking in a hostel or youth hostel may begin to sound more sensible. Depending on room size, additional comforts and location, a bed will cost you anything from € 12 per night, rarely less. Shop around if you can, usually the nearer to the city center and/or train and bus stations, the more expensive hostels are. Hostels in travel hotspots can work out as expensive as Bed & Breakfast accommodation.
Irish Food and Drink
Self-catering and "on the run" is the motto, spiced up with a keen eye for a bargain.
Hit the nearest Starbucks for a coffee and a croissant and you are at least € 5 out of pocket. The same money will buy you more than a day's rations at any Aldi, Lidl, or SuperValu (in Northern Ireland add Asda). And a fairly good spread at any deli counter.
Be aware that alcohol is extremely expensive in Ireland (slightly less so in Northern Ireland), don’t fall into the trap of spending more in one evening in the pub than what you calculated would see you fed for the week. Dublin's best pubs are not the best idea to save money, seriously.
Things to Do and See in Ireland
The Irish tourism industry is up to world standard and can extort money out of visitors with the best of them. From the frankly ridiculous parking charges at the Cliffs of Moher to creating the impression that you have to pay for visiting Glendalough or Tara, your purse is in danger all the time.
Your Realistic Irish Budget per Day
Well, it all depends. But with a bit of luck, by going outside the main season, self-catering in hostels and using pedal-power you’d be able to get by on as low as € 20 per day. Obviously, any additional frills will add. But by sticking to the very basics you are still able to see Ireland on a budget.