I Went to Ireland and Brought You Back These 13 Budget Attractions
Earlier this year, my best friend Megan and I took the trip of a lifetime: three long weeks touring Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, all on our own. We’d saved for years for this trip and spent more than a year planning it. We each saved up $4,000. After airfare, car rentals, lodging and what we spent in Scotland, we had a lot less green to dedicate to Ireland.
Still, we were able to see and do (and eat and drink) so much on the Emerald Isle thanks to a lot of research and careful budgeting. These were our favorite adventures there, and they didn’t send us to the poorhouse.
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum (Dublin)
Dublin is Ireland’s most populous city, and its downtown area is packed with locals and tourists all in search of a pint and a good time. While most recommend visiting a few pubs in the Temple Bar area, the crowds and expensive drinks were enough for Megan and me to seek out other entertainment — and fast.
Dublin’s EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum takes visitors through Ireland’s long history of its people leaving their homeland — by choice, by necessity or by force — in search of another life. The museum contains interactive exhibits and audiovisual learning tools that make it well worth the investment.
What you’ll pay: €14.00 per adult
How long you should spend there: Two hours
Jameson Tour and Guinness Tour (Dublin)
Do you enjoy a smooth glass of Irish whiskey or a tall pint of the “black stuff”? Then book a tour at Jameson Distillery or the Guinness Storehouse. Megan and I scheduled enough time to do both. Each included free tastings and provided a thorough history of our favorite drinks.
A lively tour guide (kudos to Owen) led the Jameson tour while the Guinness tour was self-guided, taking us through a Wonka-esque factory until we reached the Gravity Bar at the top, which offered a 360-degree view of downtown Dublin. Smack dab in the center was a bar serving Guinness.
What you’ll pay: €20.00 per adult (Jameson); €17.50 per adult (Guinness)
How long you should spend there: Two hours each
Glendalough Monastic Site
Drive a little over an hour south from Dublin to discover the ancient monastic site at Glendalough. You only have to pay for parking. You’re free to explore the ruins and the cemetery, then head into the woods to discover the massive lake cradled by picturesque mountains.
What you’ll pay: €5.00 for parking
How long you should spend there: Two to four hours, depending on your hiking preferences
Ring of Kerry
Megan and I fit a rental car into our budget for most of the trip (we didn’t need one in Dublin, where we started and ended our tour). This meant we got to drive the famous Ring of Kerry, a stretch of road that hugs Ireland’s southwest coast. Along the way, you can stop and eat fish and chips in small towns, hike along pristine beaches and explore old castles.
What you’ll pay: Just the cost of gas and your car rental
How long you should spend there: A minimum of five hours, but this means you will be in your car almost the whole time; plan one or two days to fully take in what this section of Ireland has to offer.
Killarney Lake Tour
At the end of our Ring of Kerry drive sat Ross Castle at Killarney National Park, but you can skip the price of admission into the castle. In fact, you can explore much of it without going inside. Instead, opt for either a boat tour or a jaunting car tour of the surrounding Killarney area.
We went with the lake tour, which launched from the base of the castle. For an hour, we sat on the back of a boat with the rare sun beating down on the water while we took in the sights of the mountains around us.
What you’ll pay: €10 per adult
How long you should spend there: 1.5 hours
King John’s Castle (Limerick)
As someone who’s read fantasy novels for nearly as long as I’ve been able to read, I was ecstatic to take an in-depth tour of the infamous King John’s Castle in downtown Limerick. The first portion of the tour is treated like a museum experience, educating on the history of Limerick and of the castle.
Then the tour takes you beneath the castle to examine the foundation before finally dropping you off in the castle courtyard. From there you’re free to explore the remaining rooms, turrets and ramparts. Atop the castle walls you’ll get amazing views of downtown Limerick.
What you’ll pay: €13.00 per adult
How long you should spend there: Two to three hours
Cliffs of Moher
Among Ireland’s most recognizable landscapes is the Cliffs of Moher, oceanside cliffs that reach more than 500 feet above sea level. The area is tremendously windy (and touristy), but the views are gorgeous — the green cliff faces standing strong against the crashing waves, swarms of seagulls expertly navigating the winds to make nests above the water, and the sun peeking through the clouds to shed light on the water and any boats flirting with the danger of the nearby rocks.
If you have a fear of heights, you can still comfortably take in the sights behind a fence that you technically should not cross (though nearly everybody does). While many people sit with their legs hanging over the edges, you’d be wise to adhere to the signage that warns of loose rocks. To sum up: Stay back a safe distance.
What you’ll pay: €6.00 for parking
How long you should spend there: Two hours
Kylemore Abbey and Connemara (near Galway)
Megan and I spent three nights in Galway, which was far and away our favorite major city in Ireland. Quay Street and the surrounding area buzzed with musicians, cyclists and, of course, tourists. My favorite stops included The Dough Bros Wood Fired Pizza, Murphy’s Ice Cream and Tigh Coili, where we heard authentic Irish music while downing some Guinness.
Galway is also conveniently located near Cliffs of Moher and a lesser known treasure, Kylemore Abbey. Set against a dramatic landscape, Kylemore Abbey was the most Hogwarts-esque castle I saw in Ireland and included in the cost of admission a tour of the abbey, a nearby cathedral and the walled gardens.
What you’ll pay: €11.70 per adult
How long you should spend there: Four hours (two at Kylemore Abbey and two hiking Diamond Hill)
Aran Islands (near Galway)
Galway is also conveniently located less than an hour away from Rossaveal, where you can catch a ferry to the Aran Islands. We traveled to the largest island, Inishmore, and rented bikes for the day.
Cycling made it easy to get to some of the island’s top attractions, like the ancient ruins of Dun Aonghasa and the seal colony on the coast. At the end of the day, we relaxed with some beers while watching the ships come in and the local dogs play on the beach.
What you’ll pay: €37.50 total, including €22.50 (ferry), €10 (bike) and €5 (Dun Aonghasa)
How long you should spend there: Eight-plus hours; take the earliest ferry out and the last ferry back to get the full experience
If you enjoy hiking and breathtaking views, pencil in some time at Slieve League. It’s much less known than Cliffs of Moher but just as beautiful, with giant mountains looming over the ocean breaking against the rocks of steep cliffs. Oh, and lots of free-roaming sheep. The drive there is a little treacherous, but Megan and I really appreciated how much less touristy this place was compared to Cliffs of Moher — and it was absolutely free.
What you’ll pay: Nothing
How long you should spend there: Two hours
Cross the border into Northern Ireland and head toward Bushmills for this unusual landmark. Just make sure to exchange some dollars or euros for pounds, as Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.
Giant’s Causeway, formed by an ancient lava flow, has sat at the crown of the Emerald Isle for millions of years. I felt like a fifth grader at recess again climbing on the befuddling rock formations and staring out at the open water.
What you’ll pay: €10.00 per adult
How long you should spend there: One to two hours
What You Can Skip Out On
Megan and I had several other adventures in Ireland. Some were not as worth the money as others. If you’re trying to prioritize your attractions and cut costs, consider skipping these:
- Temple Bar: Dublin’s Temple Bar is famous for its loud pubs and amazing restaurants. While I definitely enjoyed my Guinnesses at the Palace Bar, I much preferred my bangers and mash just a few streets over at The Hairy Lemon. The rule of thumb in Ireland is not to spend more than €5 on a Guinness, which is almost impossible to do in the Temple Bar area.
- Book of Kells: I wanted to love the Book of Kells tour in Dublin, but the throngs of people pushing and shoving to see these ancient pages and explore the massive library made the €11 admission almost not worth it.
- Rock of Cashel: This castle up on the hill was breathtaking, and I would normally recommend it. But, at least in 2018, it is under construction for preservation purposes, which means you don’t get full access to the castle. Tickets are discounted, but I almost would have preferred to marvel at the castle from the quaint village below and move along.
- Blarney Stone: It is tradition to visit Blarney Castle near Cork and kiss the famous stone, but the castle is heavily trafficked by tourists (like us!), and I was looking for a more remote Irish experience.
- Titanic Museum: Belfast’s Titanic Museum was interesting in that it spoke more to the history of the city that built the Titanic. The U.S. offers multiple Titanic Museums that I have found more compelling (and far less crowded). And at €18.50, Belfast’s was too expensive.
Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer living in Germantown, Ohio, with his partner and their two dogs. He has traveled to lots of cool places, including Mexico, Scotland, Ireland and all over the US, but his favorite vacation is and will always be to Cedar Point in his home state.