Let's face it, travelling to Europe is expensive. Leaving aside the exorbitant sum you'll have to pay for your flight, you may look at the remainder of your vacation savings and ask -- can I really afford to go to Ireland?
I've been spending all day doing some calculations. And I believe you can realistically have a nice vacation in Ireland, including accommodation and good food, with a budget of $90 US dollars per day. Actually, I'm assuming a budget of €79.50 euros per day which equates to $90 US dollars at the time of writing. With the dollar steadily gaining on the euro, your budget may increase thanks to global economics!
So, with your flight paid for, I'm suggesting you can take a 7-day vacation in Ireland for a little over $600 -- although I recommend you have access to some emergency money, even a credit card that will allow you to draw funds.
Just to be clear, I'm talking about an individual's budget. If you're a couple, you would need to budget $180 a day; three people would need $270 per day; and so on... If you want to keep within your $90 a day budget, you are going to have to be disciplined, and to make some minor sacrifices, but not too many.
Finally, these are practical tips only. I have local knowledge, and I've done research into each of the areas listed below, and I've listened to a lot of tourist stories, but I'm not a tourist. So use this as a starting point only and, once again, make sure you have emergency money. If you want to leave your own suggestions, be sure to contact me.
1. Stay in a Hostel or Other Low-Priced Accommodation
Daily Hostel Budget: €20 euros / $22.50 dollars (more for B&Bs).
To achieve a $90 dollar a day budget, accommodation is where you'll need to make to the biggest cut. Some readers may baulk at the very idea of staying in a hostel but don't stop reading just yet. Hostels aren't just for students and are increasingly booked by people of all ages. While hostels do tend to be more popular with young people, particularly backpackers, guests are usually polite and respectful of fellow-travellers of all ages.
Hostels are very community-oriented and usually consist of a variety of rooms, typically with dormitory arrangements, such as a number or bunk beds. Some rooms are usually larger than others, and contain more beds, and larger rooms are priced cheaper than their smaller counterparts.
It is usually possible to hire a private room in a hostel, although it may be more expensive than the other rooms, and you may or may not still have to share a bathroom with other guests.
Hostel eating areas are communal and typically operate on a self-service basis, although some hostels serve a light breakfast. Quality varies greatly, and it is recommended that you read reviews of hostels before booking. Recently, there has been a growing trend towards boutique hostels, particularly in the urban centres such as Dublin, Galway and Cork. These have a more chic feel than regular hostels, and some have extras, such as a bar/DJ.
For more information about hostels in general, About.com has a great FAQ on hostels.
A Note About B&Bs and AirB&B Properties
If you don't want to stay in hostels, but want to keep your holiday low-cost, you could also look at B&B's or AirB&B rooms. These are usually more expensive than hostels, but cheaper than hotels. These low-cost accommodations may also increase the "getting around" cost (see below), as many of them are in out-of-town locations, and you may have to hire a car -- not necessarily a bad option, or even an expensive one, especially if you have more than two people).
2. Make Your Own Breakfast
Breakfast Budget: €5 euros / $5.50 dollars While some hostels, as mentioned, may serve breakfast, Ireland does have supermarkets. Search for a Tesco or, better yet a LIDL or ALDI (low-cost supermarkets). I've suggested a budget of 5 euros per day. That should be enough for plenty of basics like juice, eggs, pancakes and cereal -- not all at once, but you can replenish as you go. Realistically, you're not going to want to carry too much of this stuff around. But you get the idea. It's breakfast. Grab what you can get, if anything, from the hostel. Top it up with some shopping. But don't go over you 5 euros per day allowance.
3. Eat a Light Lunch in a Local Cafe
Lunch Budget: €10 euros / $11 dollars By mid-day, you'll want to eat again. Most local cafes and pubs, and even many unpretentious restaurants offer a lunch menu that starts off with the "light" lunches, such as soups, salads and sandwiches. These light lunches are usually priced in the 5 to 8 euros range and are just below the "full" lunches (main courses). Try and look at the menu before you sit down to order. If you're quite hungry, 10 euros should be enough to get you a "full" lunch. If you're not so hungry, go for a light lunch, and you should still have enough for coffee / tea or another drink, which will typically add another couple of euros onto your bill. Tip: To avoid being charged for water, ask for "tap" water with your meal. If you don't specify tap water, your server may bring bottled water, which costs extra in Ireland. You should never be charged for tap water however. If the server asks "Would you like any drinks?" or, "Would you like water?", a typical response is, "Just tap water is fine, thanks".
4. Use Intercity Buses, Local Buses & Walk To Get Around
Getting Around Budget: €15 euros / $17 dollars I had to think hard about this one. From a tourism perspective, in my opinion, Ireland doesn't have a great public transport system. Trains, in particular, can be pricey. That's why a lot of visitors do "self-drive" tours, or hire private drivers or coaches. But if I was on a strict budget, I think I'd use the bus system, including private (scheduled) coach operators. Compared to trains, the public buses that run between Ireland's main cities and towns aren't too expensive. Competing private operators run on the busier routes, particularly in and out of Dublin. For example, a ticket with well-known local bus company GoBus (not an endorsement, just an example!) from Dublin to Galway costs about €12 euros / $15 dollars one way. Here is a great information site that provides a starting point for research: http://getthere.ie/ Its important that you plan your itinerary, and base yourself out of urban areas. You may have to make some sacrifices. For example, you may want to get to some an out-of-the-way visitor attractions. But if a bus doesn't go there, or somewhere that can get you near there, too bad. Just rule it out and move on. Don't worry. There are hundreds of other great places to visit in Ireland. Just take a look around this site (and, believe me, I'm only getting started!). Local buses, which should between one to three euros (pay on the bus), will usually go to the big visitor attractions anyway. By staying near the urban areas, and make sure there are buses, you will keep your costs down. Plus, outside of Dublin, "urban" in Ireland doesn't mean what urban means in the US. Most towns in Ireland are quite small. Don't change destinations every day. If you aren't doing a self-drive, it is better to have a base -- for example Galway city -- for a few days, and to visit some sites that are local to that area, before moving on.
A Note About Hiring Cars
An alternative option is to hire a car, which gives you a lot more freedom in your itinerary, and more accommodation choices. Initially, this may seem like an attractive offer, especially if you have multiple passengers. For example, many of the car hire websites offer rates for small, compact cars that start from as low as around €10 to €20 euros ($11 to $23) per day. But watch out for all the additional extras, which may not be advertised up front. After standing in a long line, waiting jet-lagged to get your car, these low-cost operators often present you with insurance charges and "excess" charges. It can be confusing to understand, in that situation, which charges are mandatory and which are optional. Plus, you have to factor in the cost of fuel, which is a lot higher in Ireland than in the US. At the time of writing, petrol (gas) is €1.33 euro a litre, equivalent to $5.68 a gallon. See also: Tips for Driving in Ireland for US Visitors
5. Eat an Early Bird Dinner in a Decent Restaurant
Dinner Budget: €20 euros / $22 dollars Many restaurants offer an early bird promotion, to create an atmosphere and drum up business when the establishment may otherwise be quiet. Try to arrive early for dinner and find a restaurant (this is another advantage of staying in urban areas -- there will be more than one restaurant) that is doing an early bird offer. Between 5pm and 6pm is standard early bird time, but many eateries will run it until 6.30pm or 7pm, especially on weekdays. You should get a good three-course meal in a decent restaurant for around €20 euros if you're an early bird, or maybe a glass of wine. Take a look at this useful site of Irish restaurant listings / menus (just information, not an endorsement) to find somewhere to eat in the places you'll be staying: http://www.menupages.ie/ Or ask in the hostel -- or in the reception of the visitor attraction. Irish people are friendly -- talk to them!
6. Keep Some Fun Money & Be Smart How You Spend It
Fun, Nightlife & Attractions Budget : €10 euros / $12 dollars Each day, you're going to need some money just to do stuff and see stuff. And at night, you're going to want to have the craic (Irish slang for "have a good time"). That all costs money, right? You're going to have to be disciplined. In Ireland, you could easily blow your $90 budget just on nightlife (actually, I was going to tell you how to squander your entire week's budget in one night -- but I don't remember much about that night, bada-boom!). But first, the daytime. Be smart. There is so much free stuff in Ireland. Take a look at this Wikipedia list of free visitor attractions throughout Ireland.
Another great way to save money on visitor attractions is to buy a heritage card before you get here. The Heritage Card, a state initiative, is a pre-paid card that entitles you to blanket entry to over 100 official state visitor attractions, which normally operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. The card costs €20 / $22 at the time of writing. The easiest way to get a heritage card is to buy when as soon as you arrive at the first state visitor attraction you get to. These official state visitor attractions are known in Ireland as OPW sites (Office of Public Works sites).
Drinks and Nightlife
Buying drinks in a bar in Ireland is an expensive pastime, so much so that Irish pub culture has been changing over the last decade or two. Drinking in places other than bars (home gatherings, parties, etc.) has become much more acceptable, due in part to the high cost of drinking in pubs. Expect to pay around €4.50 / $5 for a beer in a pub. While some Irish people may have three or four (or more) beers, don't feel obliged to get into a "round" of drinks, where you have to keep pace with another's drinking. A more enjoyable evening, for tourists, may be to find a pub that has traditional Irish music, and order one or two drinks or the night, which is totally acceptable. Of course, nothing says you have to drink alcohol at all and -- despite its "brand" -- and an increasing number of Irish people are finding alternative ways to enjoy themselves at night time. Events such as open air cinema screenings or non-alcohol dances are starting to pop-up although, admittedly, these are limited usually to larger urban areas like Dublin and Cork, may be hard to find elsewhere. Finally, it's a good idea to look in advance at what festivals are on before you come, and aim to go where there are festivals. While this can sometimes make it a little harder to find accommodation, festivals are a great way to get free street entertainment and to soak up the atmosphere at night time. Galway throughout July, for example, is basically one big street festival. Good luck with your planning, and let me know how you got on.
Restaurant in Galway. Image by MarcieLew