Dublin, the wildly diverse and exciting pint-sized capital of Ireland, is the perfect introduction to Europe, whether you’re a novice traveler or a confirmed globetrotter.
It has the charm and tradition of the Irish countryside combined with all the glamorous amenities of a big city, as well as friendly locals who are always eager to chat with tourists. Dublin has the tendency to scare visitors away due to its recent status as one the most expensive places to live in the world, but the crash of 2008 hit Ireland hard and prices have dropped dramatically since then. Today, Dublin is accessible to budget travelers who do their research and know where to stay. Make your holiday last as long as you can by following a few of these simple travel tips to see Dublin at less than $25 a day!
Getting to Dublin and Accommodation
Dublin is the hub of Ryanair airlines, so chances are good that you’ll be able to find a cheap flight there at any time of the year. Once you land, don’t be taken in by the Airlink, the express bus that goes directly downtown. Plenty of local buses stop at the airport and will take you to downtown O’Connell Street for roughly $3, so you’re best sticking with one of them.
Once you arrive in Dublin, you will need a place to stash your luggage and sleep for the night, and there are plenty of options for this. Dublin has affordable hostel situations, so long as you stay out of the exorbitant Temple Bar sector.
During tourist season, prices for even large dorm rooms can cost up to $25, so it is wisest to visit during early autumn; prices go down and due to climate changes, sunny weather has been lasting through September and October. An off-season dorm room in the city center can cost around $12-13, generally with free breakfast and Wi-Fi included, and if you venture farther out of the city rooms will be even cheaper. (Keep in mind that prices rise on the weekends.) If planning on a longer stay, many hostels offer deals where you can pitch in with the cleaning or take guests out on pub crawls in exchange for a free bed.
If you have an even tighter budget when it comes to accommodation, you may wish to try Couchsurfing or Airbnb, online organizations where you can sign up to stay in someone’s guest room or couch. While Airbnb involves paying rent for your stay (still much cheaper than any hostel), Couchsurfing is free, though it is generally good form to take your host out for a meal if you are able. Both of these are a great way to make friends and get an insider’s look at the city.
Getting Around Dublin
Luckily, Dublin is a small city at only 4,500 square km, so anywhere you want to visit is more or less within walking distance if you don’t mind getting rained on. Alternatively, Dublin has adopted a new system of public bike stations where you can subscribe to hire a bike with a three-day pass for $6. If you return your bike at one of any of 44 stations around the city, your ride is free.
Dublin also has an extensive bus and tram system (the LUAS) but tickets cost up from $3 one-way, so unless you have a far-away destination, you’re probably better off walking.
Food in Dublin
First of all, tap water in Ireland is safe to drink, so that’s a couple of euros saved right off the bat. While meals at restaurants can be pricy, cooking your own meals in Dublin is affordable if you know where to look. Shop for groceries at Lidl or Aldi, where you can buy staples such as milk, bread, and pasta for just a few euros.
Head to the Moore Street market, just off of O’Connell Street, to buy cheap fruit, vegetables, and fish from street vendors, as well as get a good deal of people-watching in. For a bargain lunch, try the Centra on Dame Street, which offers a build-your-own sandwich deli for just a couple of euros.
If you’re looking for a budget sit-down experience, head to the Epicurean Food Hall on Lower Liffey Street, right around the corner from the Ha’penny Bridge. A conglomeration of ethnic themed food stands, you’ll find bargains (a large plate at one of the buffets will cost $12) and large portions of Thai food, Indian food, Spanish tapas, pasta, and even a Leo Burdock’s if you’re craving fish and chips. If you want to dine vegetarian, head to Govinda’s on Middle Abbey Street, which offers home-cooked Indian-style food that you can mix and match for $11.50 a plate. Their servings are generous, and a lunch here should keep you running for most of the day—they also serve vegetarian desserts and health drinks if you need a quick snack.
If you’re craving Mexican cuisine, try Mama’s Revenge on Leinster Street for their $5.40 value burrito, and if you just want a quick cup of tea, nip into the historic Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street to enjoy for $3 their signature brew.
Culture in Dublin
Luckily for the vagabond traveler, while Dublin is not the best place for cheap eats, the cultural and historical sites are endless, and most of the important ones have free admission. Take an off-the-cuff tour of the city by visiting the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, where the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 had their last stand against British troops, as is commemorated by the bronze statue of the mythical Irish hero CúChulainn in the front window.
Continue south towards the Liffey River, and cross over via the famous Ha’penny Bridge to Temple Bar, the cobblestoned district of fancy pubs, restaurants, and cafes. Nightlife at Temple Bar should be strictly avoided, as prices are extortionate and it’s generally only tourists in the pubs anyway, but during the day it can be a great place to wander, see street performers, and listen to some live music. If it’s a Saturday, Temple Bar becomes the site of various markets, including the Book Market, the Food Market, and the Cow’s Lane Market, an open air gallery of fine arts and crafts. During the summer months, Meetinghouse Square in Temple Bar is also the site of film festivals.
Once you’ve explored Temple Bar, turn left at Dame Street until you come to Trinity College, founded in the 16th century and current resting place of the illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells. While the book itself is something of a tourist trap, the grounds and architecture of Trinity make for a worthwhile stroll. You can often catch a game of hurling or cricket on the campus pitch, and the Douglas Hyde Art Gallery is free to walk through. Other sites along Dame Street that are free to explore include Dublin Castle, the Chester Beatty Library (home of thousands of antiquated books as well as art exhibitions and workshops), and Christchurch Cathedral which has ruins dating back to the Norse invasion.
Dublin also has plenty of national museums that have free admission. Head up Nassau Street to the Archaeology Museum where you can look at replicas of Viking ships, ancient Celtic relics, and most famously three bog bodies dating back to the Bronze Age. Head around the corner to the National Gallery for a look at paintings from various artistic movements over the centuries. If you don’t mind taking a bus a few minutes out of the city center, there are also Kilmainham Gaol, the Museum of Modern Art, and Phoenix Park that offer a full afternoon of history, culture, and 17th century gardens. If you prefer to stay close to home, there’s always St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s central public park filled with flower gardens, fountains, ducks, and plenty of wide, grassy spaces to stretch out and have a picnic. In the summer, there are often free concerts or plays performed at the bandstand, so be sure to visit often.
Nightlife in Dublin
Unfortunately, a night out in Dublin can get rather pricy, as a pint of beer costs at least $6 and usually much more if you’re in the center of town. However, if you keep an eye on art galleries and bookshops, such as The Winding Stair and The Gutter Bookshop, you may be able to catch a book launch or exhibition opening, which are generally accompanied by free wine and can be a great way to meet local artists and writers while getting your night started.
If you have space in your budget for one drink, be sure you get as much out of it as possible as you sample Dublin’s pub culture. Plenty of nightclubs on Wexford Street offer free admission before a certain hour as well as drinks specials and a wide variety of music. The Grand Social just off of the Ha’penny Bridge showcases local musicians on Sunday nights, and virtually any pub in town will have a trad session after 6 pm. If you’re on the prowl for an authentic pint of Guinness and genuine 19th century ambiance, try The Stag’s Head pub on Dame Street. If you prefer something different, head to the Porterhouse in Temple Bar, which offers live music and enough locally-brewed craft beers to satisfy the most discerning palate.
If you find yourself in desperate need of some cheap, greasy food after your night out, there are chippers and takeaway joints aplenty where you can order a burger or Indian food for a few euros. As you head back to your hostel, most of the city is perfectly safe to walk through at night, except for some areas on the north side of the Liffey River.
Taxis can get expensive, but if you’re splitting a ride with a few others, the cost should be below $5 USD each if you’re not staying too far away.
Option 1 (Stay at a hostel): $12 US (dorm room in a hostel) + $3 USD (tea or coffee at a café) + $5.40 USD (bowl of soup and bread at a pub or value sandwich/burrito) + $4 USD pasta and vegetable stir fry from Lidl = $24.40 USD.
Option 2 (Couchsurfing): $3 (tea and sausage roll at convenience store) + $11.50 USD meal at Govinda’s + $6 USD (pint of Guinness) + $4 USD (burger or kebab at a takeaway) = $24.50 .
How do you like this idea of spending a day in Dublin for only $25?
Anna is a freelance travel-writer and blogger and has lived in Ireland, Russia, Finland, and various places across South America. She has published a travel book, “24 Hours Dublin”, which was available to order on Amazon (Unfortunately, it’s no longer there). She has also contributed articles to The Irish Times online and The Savvy Explorer, and she blogs for Language Trainers. She enjoys knitting and drawing Regency-themed comics in her free time, and more of her writing can be found at her personal blog.