Ireland is one of those places that I could go back to again and again and never get sick of it. I loved how green it was, how friendly the people were (TRULY! It’s not just a stereotype), how easy it was to get around, how safe I felt as a solo traveler, how beautiful the countryside was (those stone fences – be still my heart!), and how much FUN I had while I was there.
I was on a MEGA BUDGET and I still had a fantastic time. So if you’re on a pretty tight budget, too, and don’t wan’t to spend a lot – follow my tips below.I visited castles, camped in a National Park, met people that I hitchhiked with, went to a pub crawl, stayed in a 28 person room in a hostel, rented bikes to tour the countryside, and so much more – but you’ll read all about it below!
Want to learn more about the logistics of getting around, currency, where to stay, etc.? Check out the things to know before going to Ireland.
MY ROUTE THROUGH IRELANDDublin: 3 days
Galway: 3 days (including a day trip to the Sky Loop Drive, where I went to Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, and Cong)
Cork: 1 week (including day trips to Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Cobh, Baltimore, Cape Clear Island, Sherkin Island, West Cork)
Killarney: 2 days
Dingle: 1 day
Doolin: 1 day (including Cliffs of Moher)
Connemara: 1 day
Galway: 1 day
Dublin: 3 days (including Howth)
My route is a little funky, because I stayed with family for a week in Cork where they showed me all around, and then I met a couple girls in Dingle that I ended up hitchhiking with. We actually became friends with the last people that picked us up and traveled with them for a week! So that’s why I ended up going back to Connemara and Galway.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN IRELAND
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN DUBLINI’d say spend 2-3 days in Dublin (depending on what you want to do) and after that get the heck out of there! IMO it’s overpriced and overcrowded with tourists (especially Temple Bar area – avoid at night at all costs!!!!).
To be honest, I was not the biggest fan of Dublin, but I don’t typically like big cities in general (although I LOVED Copenhagen), so maybe it was just me?
I did a free walking tour in Dublin, and I highly recommend that, especially if you’re a solo traveler! I like to go on the first day, since it kind of helps you get a feel for the layout of the city, and it crosses off most of the things on my list all at once. They aren’t exactly free, but rather a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ system. So, definitely budget a little bit for that.
Free walking tours are also a super easy way to make friends as a solo traveler. My strategy is basically just zeroing in on other people that look alone, and then talking to them. Might seem slightly stalker-y but it’s how I made friends traveling solo in Dublin, Galway, and Belgium!Here’s what I enjoyed most in Dublin:
- St. Stephen’s Green (FREE) – This is a really pretty park, and I enjoyed having a picnic and walking around.
- National Museums of Ireland (FREE) – There are 4 different museums under this bubble: Decorative Arts & History, Country Life, Natural History, and Archaeology. My personal favorite was the archaeology museum!
- Trinity College (FREE) – It’s such a beautiful campus! We went here on the free walking tour. If you want to see the Book of Kells you can, too, I opted not to as it was €16 to see it.
- National Botanic Gardens (FREE) – I’m a SUCKER for plants and the glass houses were beautiful. There’s a TON to explore. We just had to take a bus to get there, but it was easy using Google Maps.
- Christ Church Cathedral (€8) – If you don’t want to pay to go in, you can always stare at it from afar, or attend the mass.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral (€8, although you can save €0.50 by buying tickets online) – This has a pretty garden to walk around in!
- Pub Crawl (€15) – I mean, if you don’t go to at least one pub crawl in Ireland, did you even go to Ireland??? The one I went to took us to 5 different bars, one with traditional Irish music. I ended up befriending two Australian girls on that tour and we met up again in Galway in Cork! You can also pay a little more and get tastings of craft beer, whiskey, Guinness, gin, and more on this traditional pub tour (€25).
I skipped the Guinness Storehouse as it was €20 (#budgeting). I’ve heard mixed reviews about it – some people love it, some say it wasn’t really worth it. The view is supposed to be cool since you end the tour 7 stories up overlooking the city and get to pour your own beer, so I’ve heard people say that alone makes it worth it.
Just keep in mind that the tour is self-guided, and more about Guinness’ marketing strategy rather than their beer itself (based on what I’ve read from TripAdvisor reviews etc.). If I went back today, I probably would visit it, as I’m not on such a tight budget anymore and I’m a sucker for pretty views.
DAY TRIP FROM DUBLIN: HOWTH CLIFF WALKDefinitely take a day trip to Howth and walk the Howth Cliff Walk, it is SO PRETTY and very cheap to get there by train. You’ll want to take the northbound DART from Dublin’s city center and will pay €6.25 for a return ticket. The walk itself is free.
The Howth Cliff Walk can be a little confusing if you do the whole thing (the beginning of the walk is pretty clear but after the first hour there were multiple times we weren’t sure if we were still on the right path) but it’s so pretty!If you don’t want to deal with the possibility of getting lost, you can just do the first part as that’s what I found the most beautiful anyway.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GALWAYGalway was my favorite ‘bigger’ city in Ireland (out of Dublin and Cork). However, I didn’t end up getting to see a ton of it because I ended up coming down with a really bad cold the day after I arrived! Luckily, I was still able to do a free walking tour beforehand, though.
Galway is still touristy, but prettier and smaller and less industrial. So I personally really preferred it to Dublin!Promise me you will do the Salthill Promenade walk, if nothing else (recommendation by a free walking tour guide and she was totally right). You can pretty much just start from anywhere in Galway, and walk along the shore just past the city of Salthill. It’s absolutely gorgeous! I also met up with the two Australian girls I’d met at the pub crawl in Dublin, and they took me around in their rental car for a day! I was incredibly grateful that they invited me along, especially since I was a little sniffly at this time. We did the Sky Road Loop, and then visited Kylemore Abbey, Connemara National Park, and the small village Cong.
KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
I rented a bike for €12 and cycled around Killarney National Park! You really can’t go wrong in Ireland because everything is pretty, even their garbage dumps I’d imagine.
I loved Ross Castle (€2 for a tour), and Torc Mountain is a MUST DO hike – I literally felt like I was in Middle Earth!
Also all their National Parks are FREEEEEE. So you have no. Excuse. Not even diarrhea. Just go to the park and spend all day at their bathroom. It’s probably a lot nicer than your hostels’, anyway………
EXPLORE IRISH TOWNS IN WEST CORKI used Cork as a base for a week (I was staying with family) and visited lots of cute little Irish towns! I really enjoyed Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Cobh, and Timoleague and they were all equally cute and colorful and Irish-y. I didn’t really prefer any of them over the other, so just pick one and explore away 🙂
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend visiting Cork itself – it was pretty but just felt like another big city to me – but it was a good base for exploring.
GET TO AN ISLAND ASAPI went to Sherkin Island and Cape Clear Island because I was with my family at the time, but I’ve also heard that the Aran Islands are amazing! I would’ve loved to stay longer at each location but I only took day trips.
I would really recommend either Sherkin or Cape Clear if you’re in the area, though (they’re located on southern end of Ireland, and you can get a ferry from Schull or Baltimore to Cape Clear for €18 return or a ferry from Baltimore to Sherkin for €12 return.
You can even stay overnight in Cape Clear Hostel! I wish I’d had time to do that, but ah well. Something about islands, man – time just slows down.
LOUGH HYNE IS SO PEACEFULLough Hyne is soooo beautiful and serene to walk around, plus there’s a cool nature trail (I didn’t have time but I’ve heard it’s beautiful!). And, it’s totally free!
And if you go in July or August be sure to go at night to see bioluminescent plankton (omg heart eyes).
Also just know that you can’t drive all the way down – park in the lot and don’t keep driving even though there’s a road. It takes you to someone’s property and it’s VERY hard to turn around!
YOU SHOULD ALSO GO TO DINGLE
If only for the fact to tell people that you went to a place called Dingle.
But really, Dingle is so cute and adorable and it has Slea Head Drive and beautiful beaches (albeit too cold to swim in) and a friendly Dolphin named Fungi.
Also, ICE CREAM. And not just any ice cream, but MURPHY’S ICE CREAM. They have the funnest flavors around like Carmelised Brown Bread (which is actually delicious) and Dingle Sea Salt. They have normal flavors, too, but the others are so fun and so Irish.Jk guys I didn’t actually go to Ireland!!! This pic is from my trip to the Caribbean! Or is it? Have I ever even been to the Caribbean? I’ll let you guys be the detectives on that.
You ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO Slea Head Drive (starts in Dingle and is about 26 miles roundtrip) – so many beautiful beaches/scenery in general, like the photo above of Coumeenoole Strand.
Most people drive, but I rented a bike for €12 (student discount baby! Otherwise it’s €15) and left at 1PM, was back by 7PM.
I took the long route and did all 26 miles – I would recommend cutting it short at the crossroads as the scenery on the long way was still beautiful, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Just lots more sheep. Watching me. Probably plotting my demise.
THE CLIFFS OF MOHER ARE PRETTY LEGITI would definitely recommend the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “More”) because they really are pretty damn majestic. Be prepared that you have to pay €6 for the Cliffs, but Hag’s Head (pictured here) is totally free! Hag’s Head is the most southerly point of the cliffs.
I only went to Hag’s Head (budget life bby), so I’m not sure how it compares to main part of the cliffs, but I think it’s pretty similar.
You can also walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher if you’re feelin that. It takes about 2 hours each way.
Regardless of how you get there, be prepared for lots of wind and potentially fog! I’ve heard that sometimes you can’t even see off the cliffs due to the thickness of it. We got lucky!
SEE SOME LIVE IRISH MUSIC IN DOOLIN
Most cities will have some sort of Irish music, but Doolin is known as the best place to see some plus it’s pretty freaking cute. And it’s right near the Cliffs of Moher, so you really have no excuse.
THE BURREN IS BEAUTIFUL
We only drove by really quickly due to a downpour (surprise, surprise) but it’s really cool! Would love to go back in the spring when wildflowers are starting to reveal their cute little flowery selves.
DRIVE/WALK/BIKE/CRAWL ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY
The whole Wild Atlantic Way is beautiful, I’m sure (I saw bits and pieces of it). The coastal route runs from the Southwest to the Northwest or Ireland and has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen! The Slea Head Drive, Burren, and Cliffs of Moher are all on the Wild Atlantic Way!
FIND SOME GOLD AT THE END OF A RAINBOWFinding the gold may not be feasible, but seeing rainbows are pretty much a guarantee as it rains a little bit almost every day in Ireland, even in the summer. Very strange for this Californian to get used to! Some of their summer days are the same as our winter days. #humblebrag
JUST GO. BECAUSE IRELAND IS PRETTY AND YOU WILL LOVE IT.Ugh I just freaking love Ireland. I realllllly want to go back one day and explore Northern Ireland as I didn’t get to that in this trip!
I remember booking the trip thinking that 3 weeks in Ireland would be too long and I worried I’d regret spending so much time there…I could’ve easily stayed for 3 more weeks!! Everyone is so nice and it’s sooooo pretty.
WHAT I MISSED (ALREADY PLANNING MY NEXT TRIP)
- Wicklow/Kilkenny area
- Northern Ireland
- Aran Islands
- More castles
- Gap of Dunloe/Moll’s Gap/Ladies View
- The Burren (we stopped super quick but then it started to pour, would love to visit in spring bc ive heard the wildflowers are amazing!)
Also: everyone in Ireland (that I encountered) was sooo soooo nice. If I asked for help, especially directions, workers would stop what they were doing and immediately help me.
Like I asked for directions from a restaurant host, and he took the time to show me the Google Map directions, even after a few people showed up behind me waiting to be let in. I had the same thing happen when I was at a museum and asked which bus to take.
It just seemed like no one was angry, or in a hurry to get anywhere, and genuinely wanted to take the time to give you good directions, answer your questions and help you enjoy their country as much as possible.Ahhh Ireland, I will be back!