The Emerald Isle as is the Ireland old name has a reputation for being an expensive destination. And it can be, if you travel in the high season and expect 5 star luxury. But it is possible to travel in Ireland affordably, if you carefully plan a budget for your family holidays Ireland.
The Trilogy of Ireland Vacation Expenses: Airfare, Car Rental and Lodging
The first, and often largest, expense of your Irish holiday is getting to and from your destination. I will include tips on finding the best airfare, as well as choosing your airport.
Your second expense is often car rental. Rental fees vary wildly, and only a few are all inclusive. Another thing to remember when renting a car: petrol (gasoline) is paid for by the liter in Ireland. When converted a gallon of gas is easily $8-$10. To save money, and make driving a little easier, rent the smallest vehicle you can comfortably use and fit luggage into.
The third most obvious expense is accommodations. Across Ireland you’ll find options ranging from inexpensive hostels to private castles – and everything in between. I’ll walk you through each type of lodging as well as offer recommendations on how to get the most from your lodging budget in Ireland.
So How Much Spending Money Should I Bring to Ireland?
The first thing to remember is that the Republic of Ireland uses the Euro, which has historically been worth more than the US dollar. In other words, if an item costs $1 in the US and €1 in Ireland, the Irish item would cost you a bit more, depending on the currency exchange rates that day.
If you plan to venture into the six counties of Northern Ireland, check the local Newry news and such, you'll be paying for things with the Great British Pound (£) which fluctuates a bit, but can often be found hovering about 50% higher than the dollar, meaning £1 is around $1.50.
BUDGETING YOUR MEALS
It’s easy to see price differences in your meal costs; especially if the restaurant you are dining in translates the bill into US dollars. A perfectly nice, but completely average, pub dinner for a family of 4 can easily cost upwards of $100. If you were to dine out nightly that would add up quickly. So, how do you save money on food?
Choose lodging that provides a “Full Irish” breakfast with your stay. Yes, it can be a lot of food but a hearty breakfast can fuel you through mid-afternoon.
Purchase local breads and cheese for a yummy afternoon snack.
Eat your evening meal unfashionably early. Early bird specials usually end around 6pm but can save you up to 25% on your meal.
Take advantage of local deals with Living Social and Groupon.
Plan a few picnics. You’ll find plenty of grocery stores and delis as you travel. Shopping for food is fun in Ireland- so many different items and brands!
If you have a self-catering cottage or holiday rental plan to eat in more than you eat out.
BUDGETING YOUR ATTRACTIONS
Knowing where you want to go comes in handy as you plan your budget. Now is the time to look for discount cards or bundling options.
If you plan for a few days in Dublin, the Dublin Pass offers entry into over 30 popular attractions including the Dublin Zoo, Hop-on Hop-off Bus, and Guinness Storehouse; queue bypassing in other locations; as well as free gifts and discounts.
The OPW Heritage Pass is the best value in Ireland! Purchase of this card allows entry into all sites managed by the Office of Public Works across the Republic of Ireland. OPW card does not include sites in Northern Ireland but does have some Dublin sites (so check it against the Dublin Pass if you are considering both).
For independently owned and managed locations check their websites for any savings, you can even check out the controversial statute of John Mitchell Newry.
If you are planning to stay in a single location for a few days find the village, county, and local newspaper websites to check for festivals and events. This is a great way to get the real flavor of Ireland- by playing with the locals!
BUDGETING YOUR SOUVENIRS
Of course you want to bring back something fabulous. But think about what you want. So many souvenirs are broken or lost so quickly. Make purchases you can enjoy for years or will enjoy consuming when you return home.
A nice Aran Sweater runs about $200. I consider this completely worth the cost as, well cared for, it will last for years.
Bunratty Mead in a stoneware jug is a terrific souvenir. After the mead is gone, the jug looks great on a shelf. This will cost about $30.
Hand blown glass and pottery shops are great for big and little one of a kind trinkets. Costs vary by item but you can find a beautiful vase for under $50.
My daughters’ favorite souvenirs are the ‘faerie coins’ (wee tiny Euros) we brought back from Ireland– and the pewter faeries who came home with us to guard them. Pewter boxes can be found for under $10 each.
A really popular gift for family and friends are chocolates. Especially the Irish Cream or Whiskey laced varieties. A plus: they travel quite well. A box of chocolates can be found for about $15.
If you happen to visit Galway, a Claddagh ring is meaningful and beautiful. (You can get them all over Ireland, but legend says they originated in the village of Claddagh in Galway.) Silver rings or necklaces will cost less than gold and prices will range from high to low depending on size and quality.
Your favorite souvenirs will be your photos. If using your mobile phone be sure it is set to the highest quality possible- and have a way to download those images so you don’t run out of room. But even the best mobile phone is no match for a good digital camera with a zoom lens.
FIGURING OUT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU NEED FOR YOUR IRELAND VACATION
I’m going to use a much hated word here and recommend you create a budget. Figure out how much you can spend on your trip and work your way down the rows, like this:
Ireland Vacation Budget: $6000
Car Rental (7 days)
2 Aran Sweaters
This is a very simple budget, based on a family of 4 for a week. From the example, you can see the vacation is coming in under the allotted budget- which leaves room for a splurge of some sort. A great B&B like The Old Bank in Limerick or an evening entertainment like Bunratty’s Medieval Castle Banquet or Traditional Irish Night, perhaps?