Ireland on a Budget and a Schedule
Ireland, or what I like to call the land of the leprechauns, is home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. I had always heard how amazing the country was, but honestly I hadn’t seen much about it other than the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland or the Cliffs of Moher on the Western coast. I’m not of Irish descent, so naturally I was not that well informed on the history or culture of the country. Now that I have been, I can easily say it took me by surprise, and I definitely want to go back for at least another few weeks.
At the time, I was on a pretty strict budget and schedule (three days), so I wanted to do as much as possible to get a feel for the country without needing to starve myself when I got home! I convinced a close friend to take a few days off to explore with me, so our first idea was to rent a sleeper van and drive around the country, stopping whenever we want. You can rent a car fairly inexpensively in Ireland, but what we discovered was that we may not qualify for the cheap prices because of our age. This would definitely be the route I would go if I was 25 or older, but until then, renting cars, much less houses, is not easy.
Our second idea was to take the public buses around Ireland to stop at the larger cities, so that we could experience more of the culture while still not having to rent a car. This unfortunately would prevent us from seeing some of the further out sights that we wanted to seek out. So, we put that idea on the back-burner and continued looking for something that would fit our budget and check off our sights.
Eventually, we stumbled upon Paddywagon Tours which is a budget tour company that travels all over Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some of their tours are half or full days while others are a few nights long. We decided to book a hostel in Dublin and use that as our home base to explore out of. We knew we would have to pick and choose what parts of Ireland were our must-visits, and thankfully Paddywagon offered tours to nearly all of them! Many of my top sights were in Northern Ireland from the Giant’s Causeway to the Dark Hedges where they filmed some of the Game of Thrones series (Shout out to all the GOT fans).
One of the tours we ended up booking was about a thirteen hour day driving from Dublin up to the Dark Hedges, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Giants Causeway, AND with a stop in Belfast for just $65. This day was the highlight of my trip for several reasons, but most importantly- I got SO lucky with weather. It was supposed to rain the entire time, and even though it was so windy I couldn’t go on the rope bridge, it was sunny most of the day which made the water look stunning. I think the best part of the day was that I truly saw how breathtaking the Irish landscape is. However, the stop in Belfast was the most interesting part of the day. I opted to take a black taxi tour which includes a local guide carting you around in an old fashioned taxi while talking about the history of Belfast with regards to the Peace Walls full of murals that divide the city from war. I unfortunately missed out on this part of history throughout my education, so it was completely eye-opening to see how divided and war-struck this area was from The Troubles in the late 1900’s.
Having our home at Abraham’s Hostel in Dublin, we were easily able to walk down the street to Paddywagon’s main office to take off on the trips while also being able to explore the city after our trips! I used this to my advantage when I took a $30 half day trip down to the Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains AKA “The Garden of Ireland”. I spent some of the morning walking around Dublin, then hopped on a tour to see the beautiful, lush County Wicklow where I essentially ran up a mountain for a fantastic view of the lakes below (workout of the century, thank GOD it was cold). Once I was back in Dublin I walked around to orient myself more, then stopped at a delicious restaurant called The Celt to try out some local dishes.
Our last excursion was to go see the Cliffs of Moher and stop in Galway to see the most Irish city there is. We opted to go on a boat tour to see the cliffs from a different perspective, but this is NOT for the faint of stomach. My friend unfortunately didn’t get to see much of the cliffs while seeing a lot of the inside of a bag! I, on the other hand, have a stomach of steel, so I went out on the front of the boat to get some nice pictures while struggling to not fall off into the water. It ended up being a hilarious experience as all of us were supporting each other to walk around the deck while getting splashed with ice cold Irish Sea water. After the boat ride was over we grabbed a quick lunch in Doolin where I had my first (hopefully not last) experience with Irish Stew! It was arguably one of the best meals I’ve ever had- close tie with Moroccan Tagine. After I coaxed my friend into eating a little bit of my stew, we headed on our way to the city of Galway to see why it’s one of the most famous places there! As we walked into the city seeing wool sweater stores and flags streaming across a busy street, it was easy to see why everyone loves Galway. There was Irish music playing and everyone, everywhere had a smile on their face and a beer in their hand. After a little over an hour of exploring we began our journey back to Dublin where we would spend our last night of our trip. We settled down at The Celt again (I told you it was good!) and ate our last traditional meal before our flight out around noon.
Doing Ireland on a budget wasn’t always easy because there were so many things that we wanted to experience, but because we got our original flights on Norwegian Air to Dublin for just about 200 roundtrip, we were able to do several excursions and eat out at some nice restaurants. As a sort of last hurrah treat, we booked a tour at the Jameson factory in Dublin in the morning before our flight. Never thought I’d be drinking whiskey before noon, but when in Ireland, do as the Irish do! The tour was exceptionally educational, and included a tasting and a free drink. If you have any sort of interest in distillation or just whiskey in general definitely check this tour out! Overall, start to finish Ireland was a whirlwind and worth every second. I learned so much more about this part of the world that I had never been aware of, and I hope one day I’ll return to see even more and to have much more Irish stew!
While we were able to successfully follow a budget because of Norwegian Air, I will say to avoid this airline in general. We knew what we were getting ourselves into on the planes, but they are very inconsiderate and inconsistent with what flights will actually take off and who they give refunds to. Great for budget, terrible if you don’t have flexible time.