Welcome to the land of cheeky leprechauns, misty green mountains, haunted castles, frothy black beer, dramatic glaciated coastline, and the gold standard that is Irish humor. Backpacking Ireland is a treat for any traveler looking to experience the perfect combination of epic natural beauty, fascinating history, pumping cities, and friendly locals.
This is the ultimate travel guide to backpacking Ireland…
Ireland is the perfect backpacker destination for both newbie backpackers and veterans who want to get off the beaten path.
Ireland is a safe, very diverse and compact country. A bonus to backpacking in Ireland is that it offers up the opportunity for travelers to see a great chunk of it without the need to cover huge distances. Ireland is the perfect place for a road trip.
I’ll show you the way to backpacking Ireland on a budget. This is the only backpacker-oriented Ireland travel guide you will ever need.
Get tips and honest advice on where to go backpacking in Ireland, backpacker accommodation, suggested Ireland itineraries, top things to do in Ireland, how to travel the country, daily travel costs, best hikes, Ireland budget travel hacks, and much more…
A truly epic adventure awaits you in Ireland. This guide is your key to unlocking the fabled pot of gold at the end of the Irish rainbow.
Let’s do it…
Table of Contents
- Where to go Backpacking in Ireland
- Backpacking Ireland Travel Tips
Where to go Backpacking in Ireland
For such a small country, Ireland offers up a vast variety of awesome regions to explore.
Ireland is home to quaint villages where cozying up to a pint Guinness by the fire while being serenaded by local troubadours is the main activity.
In contrast, bustling cities like Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Galway offer up a taste of modern Irish life. Ireland’s urban centers feature booming nightlife, world-class museums, impressive architecture, and plenty of free attractions to enjoy. Then there is the beer…
For many travelers including myself, it is Ireland’s wild places that are the main attraction.
Jaw dropping green mountains dotted with castles, glaciated lakes, bogs, and dense forests define Ireland’s natural interior landscapes. The Irish National park system has done well to protect the counry’s natural wonders. Wicklow Mountains, Connemara, Killarney, and Glenveagh National Parks are among the most scenic places in the whole country.
If all of that wasn’t enough, you have the Irish coast to contemplate. Ireland is an island and enjoys 900 miles (1,448 km) of coastline. Well, actually depending on the source or who you ask, it might be more like 3,000 km. Anyway, there is a lot of coastline!
The Irish coast is famous for the mind-blowing scenes found at Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. Apart from these popular coastal landmarks, a majority of the Irish coast is wild and is prime off the beaten track territory.
By the end of this Ireland travel guide, you will have come to terms with the top places to visit in Ireland as well as the lesser explored hidden gems of the country.
Now, let us take a look at some of your itinerary options for your backpacking Ireland adventure.
Looking for an Ireland backpacking itinerary? Whether you have a few weeks or a few months, I have assembled several Ireland backpacking itineraries to help you make the most of your time in this badass country.
These backpacking routes can easily be combined or customized!
#1 Ireland 7 Day Itinerary: Highlights and Culture
With a week’s time, you are going to have to hustle. Obviously, time is money and a 7 day Ireland itinerary is not heaps of time to work with. That said, you can still get a taste of some the highlights of Ireland in 7 days time.
My advice is to not attempt a rushed whirlwind tour. I would target four to (maximum) six key destinations you want to experience and go from there.
If you are backpacking Ireland for just 7 days, you’ll have to be efficient! Efficient doesn’t mean rush. Take your time and enjoy the hell out of this spectacular land.
Keeping your expectations realistic will give you the opportunity to be spontaneous and explore places you like a little more in depth. The people that “see” all of Ireland from a bus in one week don’t actually experience the real Ireland in the end.
This itinerary is based on the idea that you have rented a car or campervan. I highly recommend renting a vehicle to maximize the number of things you can see and do on such a short schedule.
Ireland 7 Day Itinerary Ideas:
Flights into Dublin are likely to be the cheapest, but if you can swing it, I recommend starting your Ireland backpacking adventure in Galway (via the Shannon International Airport). Then you can send your last couple of days exploring Dublin and fly out of there instead.
Galway is a pretty fun city on its own and there are a ton of attractions in the surrounding area.
First I would hit the world famous Cliffs of Moher (just south of Galway) to immediately have your mind blown upon arriving into the country. LOTS of people visit these cliffs so try to get there early or go later in the day. Sunset is a great option.
Next, visit the impressive Dunguaire Castle near the small port village of Kinvara. The Aran Islands are just a short ferry ride across Galway Bay and definitely worth a look. The islands have somehow managed to stay down to earth despite the hordes of tourists visiting other parts of Ireland.
Other highlights of Galway include the Galway Cathedral, Eyre, Square, and the Galway City Museum.
The next stop is Killarney in the south, where you can visit Killarney National Park. The park is in walking distance from the Old Town of Killarney. Go for an epic hike or a bike ride to Ross Castle on the southern end of the park.
From Killarney, a drive down the iconic Ring of Kerry road is a quintessential Ireland experience. Take in gorgeous views of coastal cliffs, postcard pastoral landscapes, and charming villages. The Ring of Kerry is probably the best short road trip in Ireland. It’s also one of the most visited roads in the country.
Your final stop off is in Dublin. As the Irish capital, there is plenty of awesome things to do in Dublin to keep you busy for as long as you are there.
#2 Ireland 10 Day Itinerary: Northern Ireland, Castles, and Whiskey
10 Days: Northen Ireland Road Trip and Top Sites
Northern Ireland is a fascinating part of the country. Although, Northern Ireland is in fact not part of the Republic of Ireland. For better or worse (depending on who you ask), Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom.
The Northern Irish national identity is a complicated one, but be sure the folks there are extremely proud to be Irish all the same.
Belfast is a great city to explore for a couple of days. You can take the time to visit it on either end of your trip. From Belfast head north along the coast towards the Giants Causeway.
The Giants Causeway is one of Ireland most iconic (and most popular) sites. It truly is a sight to behold. Be sure to walk down to the actual causeway itself.
Definitely make time for a stop at the legendary Bushmills Distillery. The way it worked out, I visited Bushmills and took the tour at around 9 am. Day boozing hard.
Even for me at that time in my life, that was way too early to start sampling whiskey, but what the hell. It makes for an interesting rest of the day as long as you’re not driving. If possible, visit Bushmills at a more reasonable hour.
The Antrim Coast to (London) Derry along the A2 highway is the next logical route on your Northern Ireland Roadtrip. Be sure to check out Dunluce Castle. Game of Thrones fans get stoked because you might recognize a place or two. Hint: Mussenden Temple.
Head towards Enniskillen. Devenish Island is worth a look if you fancy a short boat trip to see it.
You can now route back to either Belfast or further south down the coast to Galway and then Dublin depending on what you want to do.
This itinerary leaves room for you to stay a couple extra nights here and there. Northern Ireland is damn beautiful and the people are very welcoming. I suggest you take the time to truly enjoy and explore it.
#3 Ireland 3 Week Itinerary: Experience Irish Culture and the National Parks
3 Weeks: Ireland National Parks and Castles
So you have three weeks to experience what backpacking Ireland is all about, do ya? Hell yes, now we are talking.
With three weeks you really have time to get to know the country a bit better. I have assembled the ultimate Ireland road trip itinerary that revolves around visiting national parks. This way you can stop, go for hikes, camp, and explore at your leisure.
No trip backpacking Ireland is complete without visiting the national parks. Keep in mind that you might not want to rent a vehicle for the entire time for obvious reasons (cost).
You can begin this trip in either Belfast, Dublin, or Galway. For purposes of ease, let’s say you start in Dublin.
Your first stop from Dublin is Wicklow Mountains National Park. Wicklow is Ireland only national park not found on the West Coast. This national park is a great place to enjoy mountains, lakes, trekking, and camping.
After Wicklow, Head south-west to Killarney National Park. Truly spectacular lake and mountain scenery await.
Burren National Park south of Galway holds some of the most unique rock formations and landscapes to be found in all of Ireland. Connemara National Park north of Galway is something further special still. Dense peat bog forests make up the majority of the flatlands surrounding the impressive Twelve Bens mountain range.
That leaves us with Ballycroy and Glenveagh National Park in the far northwestern corner of the country.
To get to grips with Ireland’s largest and most remote national park at Glenveagh, plan on tackling an overnight camping trip or two (at least). You’ll be happy you did.
#4 Ireland 1 Month Itinerary: The Whole Damn Thing (Almost)
1 Month+: Road Trip, Volunteering, Hikes, and off the beaten path in Ireland
Backpacking Ireland for a month or more really open doors to new opportunities. For this itinerary, you can combine a few of the Ireland routes mentioned above into one giant trip if you have the time.
In one month, you can certainly see a majority of the top sights in the country plus a ton of other stuff too.
With more than a month, you should consider volunteering on an Irish farm or at a hostel in a city for a week or two.
In addition to the most popular attractions, you can make time for exploring tiny hamlets, going on more (or more extended) hikes, and getting to know a few Irish cities more in-depth.
Most places on the tourist route in Ireland are heavily trafficked. That said, you don’t have to look too far to discover another side of the country. There are often hidden gems to be found in the same general area as the more popular spots. Or at least not too far away.
Check out some of the less visited regions in Ireland and develop a more personal connection than just rolling through and snapping a few photos. You have the time.
More on off the beaten path Ireland later in the guide.
After living in Europe for some time now, I can still say that Dublin is one of my favorite cities.
Dublin truly has something for every backpacker. One could easily spend a week here checking out museums, the Dublin Castle, pouring over illuminated books in the ancient libraries, pub hopping, and eating delicious food. It’s all here.
I wouldn’t normally advise people to check out the post office in a city, but check out the General Post Office on O’Connell Street in Dublin. It was here that the fist seeds of the Irish Republic were planted after a bloody struggle in 1916.
Some of the libraries in Dublin might as well be museums. They hold one-of-a kind treasures of Irish history and national identity. The Library at Trinity College Dublin is something quite special indeed.
I recommend checking out The Book of Kells, a 9th-century masterpiece of great historical significance and one of the national treasures of Ireland. The grounds at Trinity College are not a bad place to bring a picnic either if the weather is nice.
Upon arriving in Dublin I was skeptical about whether or not I should take a tour of the Guinness Brewery. I am glad I did. The tour is super informative and the brewery itself is very impressive.
Plus, you have never had a Guinness this good, which makes sense as the beer only travels a total of a few hundred feet from keg to your lips.
Special shout out to the Dublin pub (I won’t say which one) and the owner who closed down his place at 2 am, and let us hang out inside until the wee hours. I might add he was even kind enough to gift us a reasonable chunk of free hash (which we promptly smoked inside the pub). You’re the man.
This is why I love Ireland. People are genuinely kind and thoughtful.
Check out my ultimate guide to the 20 best hostels in Dublin.
If you thought Dublin was easy on the eyes, then you are really going to fall for Galway.
Galway is one of the most attractive urban centers in Ireland. It is also a great base in which to explore all of the attractions with close proximity to the city. And there are many…
If you are backpacking Ireland without a car then Galway is the logical place to base your day trip missions out of.
There has been many a song written about Galway Bay and it’s a no-brainer to see why.
You can easily walk to the bay and Dunguaire Castle from the city. Be sure to catch a sunset here if you can. The colors explode across the water and cast epic shades of tangerine and purple along the castle walls.
The Galway Museum is a great spot for travelers to get to know local history. For centuries, Ireland was very regional so the Museum in Galway will shine light on local customs and traditions not found in other parts of Ireland.
Dough Bros pizzeria on Abbeygate Street is sure to crush any hunger you have built up during your urban or coastal explorations.
Backpacking the Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are clearly one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. Odds are folks who are backpacking Ireland are going to want to visit them.
The reality is if you go in the summer, there will be swarms of people and enough flashbulbs going off to make you feel like your at a rave. If you are here visiting in the off-season (really anytime not June-September) there might be very few people indeed.
The Cliffs of Moher are special and you should check them out. Just come very early in the morning or just before the sun goes down. If you have your own wheels, that should be easy. There is definitely a peak time of day when the gaggles of tourist buses roll through. Plan accordingly.
There are in fact other interesting things to do right around the Cliffs of Moher that are far less popular.
Check out O’Connors Pub in Doolin for a pint and some fine Celtic folk music.
A tour of Doolin Cave is also bound to be an exciting adventure, though one you have to book and pay for. I personally did not do a spelunking tour, but it is worth looking into.
As you walk around Limerick, the 13th-century King John’s Castle (entrance fee €13) certainly makes a lasting first impression. Located right on the river front, King John’s Castle is a fine place to visit when its not crazy busy.
In the summer street food vendors line the boardwalk and offer up a wide variety of cheap eats.
If the weather is nice, take picnic supplies and a blanket and head to People’s Park.
For a good rainy day activity check out Frank McCourt Museum (author of Angela’s Ashes).
The Milk Market is one of the best farmers market scenes in Ireland. There are usually a few talented musicians playing as well. Come and check out the selection of cheese and fresh produce.
The Milk Market is a good place to stock your cooler or pick up picnic supplies.
Let the outdoor adventures begin. The town of Killarney is located just a stone throw away from Killarney National Park.
As you spend some time backpacking around Ireland, you will see this calenders and books for sale that all focus on one thing: beautiful doors found throughout Ireland. I’m guessing that at least a few of the doors in Killarney made it in as they are certainly unique.
In Killarney, there are gorgeous colorful buildings (and doors), nice cafes, homey pubs, and a really badass castle nearby.
Consider renting a bike and exploring the surrounding area that way.
The 15th-century Ross Castle was recently restored and now welcomes visitors. Ross Castle is located on the banks of Lough Leane. You can hire a kayak for a couple of bucks and take a tour of the lake.
If you are like me and you hate organized tours, but have an unexplainable draw towards the occult, supernatural, or epic Irish ghost stories, consider taking a Killarney ghost tour. Be warned that those of fragile constitution may or may not pee their pants in fear…
Backpacking Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park was the first national park in Ireland (est. 1932). Basically, some rich Irish dudes donated a portion of their sprawling estate, and voila, insta-park.
An impressive non-nature feature of the park is the Muckross Abbey (formerly part of the Muckross estate). The building features beautiful stone architecture and has an all-around haunted sort of a vibe, at least to me.
The Torc waterfall might just be one of the most heavily photographed waterfalls in Ireland. Beyond where the average tourists’ tread, however, is a I will discuss more that continues on up Torc Mountain. Fantastic views await you at the top.
The even less explored Gap of Dunloe is a must-visit area. Misty mountains, almost-fake greenery, and a chilly bubbling river all make the Gap of Dunloe a special trek. Set off early to avoid any crowds you might encounter.
The main 7-mile trail through runs along a series of connected lakes from Kate Kearney’s Cottage to Lord Brandon’s Cottage.
More on hiking in Killarney National Park later in the guide.
Backpacking the Kerry Road
For those backpacking Ireland in a car or campervan, the Kerry Road is just one of those places you need to visit.
The Kerry Road is a 179km loop that can easily be done in two or three days making it ideal for backpackers looking to tackle a 7 day Ireland itinerary.
The road takes you on a journey through a surprisingly diverse cross-section of landscapes. Pastoral scenes straight of out a W.B. Yeats poem mix with stunning coastal views dotted with cute AF sea-side villages.
The UNESCO World Heritage, Skellig Islands, is just 11 kilometers from the Iveragh Peninsula. You can catch a boat to check them out from Valentia or Portmagee.
Portmagee is the quintessential southern Irish port town. It is one of those places that brought about the invention of postcards. Be sure to grab a beer and some tunes at the Bridge Bar (music Friday and Saturday).
Just down the Kerry Ring Road is the town of Ballinskelligs, which is a place where the Irish language is still alive and well. Ballinskelligs feels a bit more off the beaten path than Portmagee and makes for a fine spot to rest up for the night.
Backpacking Cork City
Cork is another booming Irish university city in the soutnern part of the country.
This is the Irish city of all things cosmopolitan, liberal, and hipster. If you’re thirsty, Cork boasts a huge selection of fine pubs and eateries. Like music? You can find live music somewhere in town every night of the week.
It is kind of like the Paris of Ireland in the sense that there is a coffee shop on every corner. Well, in fact that is the only comparison.
The English Market in the center of town is the perfect spot to start your day. Browse amongst the vendors hawking fresh veggies, cheese, bread, and take-away food. The market is in a covered building making it a great rainy day option if its pissing buckets outside.
Franciscan Well Brewery serves up tasty local beers and has a garden out back for socializing. They regularly have beer festivals too so keep an eye on their schedule when you’re in town.
There is tons of great places to eat in Cork, so save a little in your budget to snag something tasty.
Before heading for the mountains in Wicklow, Kilkenny makes for a good day or overnight stop. This medieval city is home to the remarkable Kilkenny Castle. The castle was built in 1195 (!) by Norman colonists.
Many well-preserved churches and monasteries like the dramatic St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Black Abbey Dominicane are worth a look too. Both of the forementioned structures are from the 13th-century and come with a laundry list of associated history.
Kilkenny is famous throughout Ireland for being the city of craftspeople.
Artisans line the streets selling beautifully produced pottery, art, and, jewellery. If they haven’t been run out of town, try to avoid shops selling cheap knockoffs obviously made in China.
Backpacking Wicklow Mountains National Park
Picturesque woodland, mountains, moors, and crystal clear lake? All tied together with a fine sytem of trail networks? Sounds pretty damn good.
The Wicklow Mountains are simply beautiful. Trekking and camping opportunities abound, surprisingly not too far from Dublin.
There are also plenty of more-than-ideal spots to park your campervan (should you have one) throughout the park.
Many people choose to summit Great Sugar Loaf Mountain from which you can (on a clear day) see for miles in every direction. This volcano shaped mountain is not an actual volcano, but it is steep and conical so be sure to bring plenty of water along.
Honestly though, you’ll want to get a bit deeper into the park to really enjoy the spectacular natural landscapes to be found here.
Another great spot is Lough Tay, a.k.a. “the Guinness lake”. If Guinness wasn’t a beer in Ireland they would probably call it “Black Tea Lake” or “Black Water Lough”.
I’m sure the whole Guinness thing is a subliminal marketing attempt. Didn’t work on me! Who want’s a beer?
For those of you with a little more time on your hands, I strongly recommend that you tackle the Wicklow Way Trek. This 80-mile (129 km) hike takes you through the very heart of the park. If you are hiking the Wicklow Way in the summer, make sure to NOT do the hike when the ultra marathon is happening.
In the limited amount of time I spent in Belfast, I found I really enjoyed it. Belfast is home to attractive streets, a buzzing night life, and a fiercely proud population.
Locals here are really proud to be Irish. Their identity is deeply entwined in Irish culture and they often don’t talk too kindly about being part of the UK or about their British neighbors. This is especially relevant with Brexit in the works…
Have a pint at Belfast’s oldest pub, Kelly Cellars.
Visit the peace walls; another surreal yet interesting part of this city is the fact that there are massive walls separating communities from the days when Protestants and Catholics were at each others throats.
It is hard to believe that in a modern European city in the 21st century that such walls exist. Rumor has it that these walls will be taken down in the next decade or so.
To seal the deal on Belfast, check out a rugby game at the famous Ulster stadium.
If you love food (who doesn’t), consider taking a Belfast Food Tour to get to know some tasty local faire.
Check out my in-depth guide to the best hostels in Belfast.
Backpacking the Giant’s Causeway
Another very popular, but equally mind-blowing destination in Ireland is the Giant’s Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of roughly 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption.
Of course the Irish turned the whole natural phenomenon thing into a looney legend about some guy named Finn who used the massive basalt “steps” to go to Scotland for a rendezvous battle with his rivals.
Thus the legend of Finn McCool. He wussed out before the fight and came back by the way. Finn Mc-not-so-Cool. I couldn’t help myself.
The Giant’s Causeway is another spot where timing is key. Come early in the morning or for sunset after a few drinks at the Bushmills Distillery nearby (roughly 10 mins).
Backpacking (London) Derry
Two things vividly stand out in my memory about Derry. The first is that I really enjoyed it and ended up having some excellent conversations with locals over about six(?) pints of beer. The second is before those six beers were shared those same locals almost killed me.
Well, not really but they were super pissed when I told them (purely out of ignorance) that “I really like this town, London Derry.” One dude grabbed me by the shirt and said, “Aye! It’s Derry boy-o ye can be surrre ove-it.”
In the end, it was fine and we got drunk and all was well. Peadar O’Donnell’s Pub is where it went down if you want to visit the place yourself. They have some pretty rowdy music sessions most nights of the week.
Point is, the name “London” Derry aught not be used lightly, as it is clearly a very sensitive topic. Locals, I gathered, do not like to remember that they are indeed apart of the United Kingdom.
Like I said I enjoyed the town and there are some cool things to do. Be sure to visit Derry’s ancient fortified city walls (9 meters thick!).
The food at Pyke ‘n’ Pommes down by the Quay will make your tongue dance pirouettes of happiness. Try the pulled pork sandwich. It would make my North Carolina friends proud…
Derry is Irish AF, you can be sure of it.
Enniskillen is a town in County Fermanagh. If you are making a road trip through Ireland you will probably pass through.
It makes for a good spot to resupply and/or get some rest.
Castle Coole is, well, pretty alright. You can hire a bike in Enniskillen and cruise the few miles to the castle that way.
The town of Enniskillen has cafes, sandwich places, and pretty cool pub called Blakes of the Hollow when the time comes for the obligatory afternoon beer.
Devenish Island is easy accessed by water taxi.
Off the Beaten Path Travel in Ireland
Ireland is one of those countries where the VAST majority of people who visit it only see the same dozen or so places. There is most definitely a tourist route.
That leaves a huge amount of Ireland which is essentially off the beaten track.
In my experience, once you are out on a trail hiking for just a couple minutes, most tourists don’t follow. If the bus is out of sight, they suddenly become incapable of advancing any further. Not all tourists, but most.
That is not to say that travelers and locals alike are not out in the mountains. They certainly are, just far fewer than one would think after seeing all of the tourist traffic on the roads.
Explore some of the less-visited stretches of coast in the far south east and west of the country.
Hike and camp in remote places as much as possible. Really get to know the Irish national park systems and the tiny villages hidden within them.
Head out to some of the lonely islands found off of the Dingle Peninsula.
Take a break from the Kerry Ring Road and drive the Skellig Ring Road.
Get to know Ireland’s five least visited counties:
- Laois & Leitrim
- Offaly & Roscommon
Backpacking Ireland is all about finding what you like to do. If you have the ambition there is an untold number of hidden gems just waiting for you to go and find them…
Ireland has an incredibly well-developed hostel network. Unless you are in the absolute furthest corners of the country, odds are you can score a cheap place to stay. The average price for a hostel bed in Ireland is location-dependent, but in general you can find a dorm bed for as low as €10 and as high as €30+.
I recognize that sometimes you just need a warm, dry place to shower up and sleep. That said, if you bring along a good tent and sleeping bag, in addition to renting a car or van, your experience while backpacking Ireland will be far more fun and unique than sleeping in a hostel every night. Decisions, decisions.
One of my favorite ways to meet locals and save some cash is to use Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing truly is one of the best tools available to help save you money traveling. Plus, you are always bound to meet interesting people! More on CS later in the article.
Airbnb has caught fire in Ireland, and you can find some awesome apartments for cheap prices if you need some chill time. Follow this link for $35 free credit.
|City||Hostel||Why We like it!?|
|Dublin||Skye Backpackers||Former rock stars recorded their albums in this same building!|
|Galway||Glasgow City Hostel||This hostel consistently wine awards, and with its low-prices, atmosphere, and location you can see why.|
|Cliffs of Moher||The Burren Hostel (SleepZone)||Close to the cliffs and one of the only cheap places to stay around.|
|Limerick||Ballyhoura Luxury Hostel||Everything here is super nice. Hardwood floors, hardwood bed frames, classy common space. A truly beautiful hostel.|
|Killarney||Paddy's Place Killarney||Cheap than other hostels in town, well-located, friendly staff.|
|The Black Sheep Hostel||Also in Killarney. Significantly more expensive then the previous hostel, but generally nicer. Love the fireplace.|
|Ballinskelligs||Skellig Hostel & Lodge||An off the beaten path hostel in the middle of an Irish speaking community.|
|Cork||Bru Bar & Hostel||The bar truly is something to write home about. Probably the coolest hostel in Cork.|
|Kilkenny||Kilkenny Tourist Hostel||Hate the name, what were they thinking? Love the hostel, though. One of the better cheap options in town.|
|Wicklow||Lus Mor||This place is literally right off the Wicklow Way trail.|
|Belfast||Global Village||Low prices, very well-reviewed, free breakfast.|
|Bushmills||Bushmills Youth Hostel,||Ideal location. Whiskey and the Giant's Causeway are close at hand.|
|Derry||Hostel Connect||Situated in the heart of this Historic Walled City. Close to the pubs and restaurants too.|
|Enniskillen||Arch House B & B||Not really a hostel, but more of a mid-range unique farm stay with great home-cooked food.|
Wild Camping in Ireland
You should have gathered by now that there are a million and one place to camp in Ireland.
Want to wake up to some of the most epic views of your life? Whilst backpacking Ireland, consider camping as much as you can. If a bit of sun or a dry spell is forecasted, all the better reason to get out there and pitch your tent. You’ll save heaps of cash too by camping. Win win.
Always obey “no camping” signs. Respect farmers property, and when in doubt always ask permission BEFORE setting up shop. The last thing you want is some half-sober gun-wielding farmer pissed off because you are squatting on his (or her) land.
Get familiar with “leave no trace principles” and put them into practice.
If you are in the market for a solid, lightweight, and reliable tent, I highly recommend the MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person tent. This compact tent is up to the challenge of battling Ireland’s uncooperative weather.
To get to know this tent better, check out my in-depth MSR Hubba Hubba Review.
Top Things to do in Ireland
Below I have listed the 10 best things to do in Ireland:
1. Visit the Trinity Library and the Book of Kells in Dublin
The Book of Kells is a national treasure of Ireland. Feast your eyes on this illuminated masterpiece inside Ireland’s most important library.
2. Drive (or hitchhike) the Dingle Peninsula Road
Hailed by many as the best short road trip in Ireland, a drive down the Dingle Peninsula takes you on a journey through some of the country’s most stunning southerly landscapes and nearby whimsical Irish-speaking villages.
3. Take in a Sunset at the Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is already one of Ireland’s most inspiring places. Seeing it through the filter of sunset light is something further special still. Bring along a beer or two and soak it all in.
4. Have a Pint at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin
Ok, so this is probably Ireland’s most visited non-natural attraction. All the same, it is worth it. You’ll never be able to drink a Guinness out of Ireland again FYI.
5. Hike the Wicklow Way Trail
The hike will take you three or for days, but along each step of the way you will discover why the Wicklow Mountains is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland.
6. Visit a Haunted Castle
Head to Leap Castle in Co. Offaly and experience Ireland’s most haunted structure. I am sure there are many haunted castles in Ireland, so don’t stop here. The hunt is on.
7. Travel Ireland by Campervan
Traveling Ireland from the comfort of a campervan is the way to go if you can afford it. You have almost unlimited freedom of where you can go and park up. Love it.
8. Stay in a Mountain Hut
Spread through Ireland’s national parks are a system of well-maintained (some more so than others) mountain huts. An overnight stay in a mountain hut is a definitely part of the experience of trekking in Ireland.
9. Picnic on a Secret Beach
There are a handful of very well-known beaches in Ireland. The rest of them are prime spaces for a quiet picnic, weather permitting.
10. Catch the Sunrise from Carrauntoohil
Carrauntoohil is the tallest mountain in Ireland (1,038 meters). Many people tackle it during the day when the sun makes a rare appearance. A sunrise hike here means few if any people, and epic views (hopefully) for as far as the fog will let you see. All the better if you camp somewhere on the mountain. In the off-season you will likely be alone. In cold months, expect snow.
Below I have covered tons of essential information for backpacking Ireland, including books to read, what to wear, backpacking travel costs, and how to travel around Ireland…
Books to Read when Backpacking in Ireland
Here are some of my favorite books books set in Ireland:
The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. Shameless bit of self-promo here but this book is basically my dissertation on backpacking, nine years of tips and tricks and your purchase helps keep the site going. If you’ve found the content on this site useful, the book is the next level up and you will learn a ton – if you don’t, I’ll give you your money back.
Ulysses — It has survived censorship, controversy and legal action, and even been deemed blasphemous, but remains an undisputed modernist classic: ceaselessly inventive, garrulous, funny, sorrowful, vulgar, lyrical and ultimately redemptive. Classic James Joyce.
Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats — I first read Yeats during my Ireland trip. Check out what makes the most celebrated Irish so enjoyable to read.
Angela’s Ashes — A Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times bestseller, Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s masterful memoir of his childhood in Ireland.
The Dubliners — James Joyce’s groundbreaking story collection of Irish centered tales. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century.
Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA — Author Richard English offers a dazzling synthesis of the motives, actions and consequences of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). Neither romanticizing the IRA nor condemning them outright, this is a balanced, definitive treatment of one of the world’s leading revolutionary movements.
Lonely Planet Ireland — Always a good idea to have a Lonely Planet in your backpack.
Travel Phrases for Backpacking Ireland
English is the official language of Ireland. In certain parts of Ireland, however, the Irish language (Gaeilge), is spoken. Here are some Irish travel phrases with English translations. Almost without exception, local folks will speak English, but it is always fun to try and they will appreciate the effort, even if you only know a word or two.
Helpful Irish Slang Terms for Backpacking Ireland
Like any group of language speakers, the Irish have put there own spin on the English language. The day-to-day way of speaking is rife with hilarious and sometimes completely incomprehensible slang words.
Here is a few Irish slang terms with examples of use that you might find useful whilst backpacking Ireland:
Staying Safe in Ireland
Since the car bombs and sectarian violence subsided decades ago Ireland has become one of the safest countries in Europe.
You should never feel unsafe whilst camping in rural areas or walking about in big cities.
That said, we live in the modern world after all and sadly, no one ever knows where or when some shit might go down.
Whilst traveling in large cities always keep your guard up in crowded public space. Pick pockets and petty thieves are just part of modern urban life. Always keep an eye on your stuff when riding the metro, eating a meal, or visiting a busy market.
Drunk, alone, and lost when it’s late at night is a recipe for trouble anywhere in the world. Use common sense, especially when knocking a few back. Don’t get so drunk that you forget where you are staying and/or end up in the wrong part of town.
If you plan on swimming in the ocean, beware of very strong currents and rip tides, both of which kill tourists every year.
Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking in Ireland.
Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.
I strongly recommend traveling with a headlamp whilst in Ireland (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ireland
The obvious drug of choice in Ireland is alcohol. No matter where you are in the country you can always find a pint and someone to share it with. Most social interactions in Ireland, for better or worse, revolve around drinking, music, and chatting.
Weed can easily be found, though in its more common hashish form. Expect to pay about €15-20/gram.
Cocaine and other hard drugs should be avoided. For one, any cocaine you find will have come from a very long distance away and will have been cut more times than a person in a jailhouse fight.
I don’t need to tell you to stay away from strong opiates and heroin.
There is a thriving club scene in big cities like Dublin or Cork. If you are after some sort of a party drug or a little weed, odds are you can score there.
Be aware that all drugs with the exception of alcohol carry harsh penalties in Ireland. Be smart about how you buy and how you consume your party favors.
World Nomads Insurance
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Ireland backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Traveling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
What to Pack for Ireland
On every adventure, there are five things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).
5. Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Best Time to Travel to Ireland
The “best” time to travel to Ireland certainly depends on what you plan to do. Like most places in Europe, Ireland is crazy busy during the summer. If you can, try to avoid coming June-August.
Backpacking Ireland simply isn’t as fun when the roads are slammed with buses and every place you visit is just as crowded.
When to visit is tricky because the weather in the mountains is best during the summer as well. Sublime, dry hiking weather is (more possible) in the summer.
That said, if you bring the right gear, a solid rain jacket, a warm down jacket, and a badass sleeping bag, the cold and wet won’t really effect you. You’ll just deal with it and have a fine time anyway.
Check out my list of the 7 best jackets to take traveling here.
Winters are cold, grey, dark, and very wet. Winter is actually a great time to come, but you’ll end up spending more time snuggled up to a fire in a pub then actually seeing the country.
If you can swing it, Early March — April and October — November are the best months to visit Ireland.
Apps to Download before Backpacking Ireland
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favorite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Ireland.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking abroad. It is a great help while calculating expenses. You’ll need to switch between the Pound and Euro depending on which part of Ireland you are in and this app helps you stay on top of exchange rates.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Ireland Travel Guide to Getting Around
Ireland is served by five main international airports, with Dublin being the biggest. The other options are Cork, Shannon, Knock, and Belfast Airports. I personally flew in and out of Shannon, which meant I could easily start my trip near Galway.
If you are coming from elsewhere in Europe or the USA, flights into Dublin are likely to be the cheapest.
If you book early, you can find tickets from major cities in Europe (Paris, London, Madrid, Frankfurt) for less than $25(!). That’s dollars not Euros. Usually the budget airlines like Ryan Air or Easy Jet have strict baggage restrictions so plan accordingly or plan to pay a bit more to bring a large backpack.
It is also possible to take the ferry from Cairnryan, Scotland or Liverpool, England to Belfast (2 hr 15 mins £89). If you are bringing a vehicle over to Ireland from the UK it doesn’t actually cost you that much more on the ferry to do so. If it were me I’d only take the ferry if I was intending to bring my vehicle over.
Flying is cheaper and more convenient most of the time.
Entry Requirements for Ireland
Ireland and Northern Ireland are NOT a part of the Schengan Area of Western Europe. This is a big win for non-European travelers backpacking Europe who want to come to Ireland after visiting the Schengan Area in Europe. Make sense?
Basically if you are not a European resident, you only have 3 months (out of every 180 day cycle) in which to spend in Europe’s Schengan states. This can be a real pain in the ass if you are wanting to stick around Europe for longer than three months.
Like the UK, Ireland is an opt-out of the Schengan Area. You can spend 3-months in Europe and three months backpacking Ireland without any hassle.
Passport holders from Australia, Canada, the US, and Europe do not need a visa in advance to enter Ireland. In fact many nationalities are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Check out this list to see if you’re nationality requires a visa or not.
Normally a tourist visa valid for three months is issued upon arival.
If you are from a country not on the visa-free-entry list, you will need to apply for a visa through the Irish embassy in your home country.
You do not need to get another stamp when entering Northern Ireland. The border is open and you can normally pass right through in a car or on the train.
How to Travel in Ireland
For getting around Ireland there are many options.
You can sort your car rental here in just a few minutes. Booking in advance is the best way to ensure you score the lowest price and your choice of vehicle. Often, you can find the best car rental prices when you pick up the rental from the airport.
With regard to public transport, Ireland is very well connected by both public/private bus and by train.
Whether you are backpacking around Europe or just Ireland you should consider buying a Eurorail pass. If you plan on taking multiple train rides on an extended backpacking trip, a Eurorail pass is the way to go.
Check out our in-depth guide to train travel in Europe.
Bus Eireann and Citylink are the most common low-cost bus companies. Generally speaking, it is easy to find buses between major cities in Ireland.
As you begin to get more rural, finding local connections gets more complicated. Since many of Ireland’s attractions are in rural places, bus travel in Ireland can feel quite restrictive as a primary means of seeing the country.
Buses are best for trips like getting from Dublin to Galway or Belfast to Dublin. Certainly, you can see the whole country by bus. Many people do.
I offer a word of warning to those considering traveling Ireland exclusively by bus: you will not be able to get off the beaten path much if at all.
You can find some pretty cheap car rentals in Ireland. I would strongly recommend renting a car for at least some of the time you plan to travel here.
Campervanning in Ireland
By far the best way to get around Ireland is by campervan.
Campervans are great because you are traveling with a mobile shelter and kitchen that is capable of parking just about anywhere for the night.
Whilst campervan rentals in Ireland are not cheap, you do end up saving money on accommodation and cooking for yourself. The biggest win for going the campervan route is the unprecedented freedom you have.
Really enjoy a place you went for a day hike and want to sleep there? Easy. Interested in parking super close to a popular attraction so that you can be the first one to arrive in the morning? Sorted. Want to snuggle up with your lover, sip tea, and read whilst it is pouring rain outside? No problem. Curious to know if a castle is really haunted at night so you need to park close to it? Bam.
The list of benefits to renting a campervan in Ireland goes on and on.
Keep in mind that campervan rentals in Ireland are seasonal. The rental prices are at their highest in the summer.
When booking a campervan, the details matter. Does your rental come with sheets, blankets, a stove, and electricity outlets? Be sure to ask. Go for the campervan with the best price point vs all of the gear and gadgets. You can simply pack all the gear you need to have a successful campervanning adventure in Ireland!
If you know that you will be coming to Ireland far in advance, my advice is to build your budget to a place that includes a campervan rental. Really, it’s a game changer.
Hitchhiking in Ireland
I did not personally hitchhike in Ireland, but I have been told by friends that they had a fair bit of success.
With so many cars (and campervans) on the road, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a ride. Bear in mind that two people traveling together with fully loaded backpacks will have a harder time.
I have found that the sight of two people with massive backpacks in tow is a harder sell for people with small cars or lots of gear already themselves.
I would NOT try to hitchhike in or around major cities. When accepting a ride ALWAYS have your spidey senses firing.
If a person sketches you out, fuck em. You have time. Be polite, don’t say fuck em, but turn the ride down all the same.
Better to wait for a ride that makes you feel 100% comfortable.
For people backpacking Ireland for a couple of months, hitchhiking is a great option because you are in no real rush. Big smiles and the right hitchhiking spot will go a long way towards your ultimate success (or failure).
Onward Travel from Ireland
As Ireland is an island, your options for onward travel are somewhat limited.
Basically your options are flying or taking the ferry to the UK.
For the cheapest flights or ferry tickets book as far in advance as possible.
Backpacking in Europe is never going to be as cheap as backpacking in Venezuela, for example.
Staying in hostels every night, drinking like a fish, eating out for every meal, going to pubs all night, and booking last minute trains will certainly destroy any budget you might have hoped to keep.
Backpacking in Ireland is no different. Shit adds up quick if you’re not careful! A comfortable daily budget is between $50-80 USD.
I recommend Couchsurfing as much as you possibly can. The more you Couchsurf and hitchhike, the more money you can spend on beer, good food, and activities. Pure and simple.
As I mentioned before having a good tent and sleeping bag are crucial to budget backpacking. Both will save you a ton of money on accommodation.
Here is what you can expect to spend on a daily basis (excluding car or van hire):
Money in Ireland
The currency in Ireland is the Euro = € EUR
The currency in the Northern Ireland is the British Pound Sterling = £ GBP
ATMs are widely available in just about every place in the country. When visiting rural areas in Ireland, it is always best to deal in cash. If you want to stop at a farm and buy some cheese, veggies, meat, etc, you will need cash.
If you bring heaps of foreign currency to exchange, expect to get a poor exchange rate at the airport.
Find out whether or not your bank in your home country has fee-free international withdrawal. If so, activate it for your trip or for whenever you travel abroad.
Once I discovered my bank card had that option, I saved a huge amount in ATM fees! When traveling to Ireland on a budget, every dollar (euro) counts right?
|You should always have some emergency cash hidden on you and I’ve written an entire post on the best places to hide your money. If you want to carry a fair bit of cash safely on your body, your best bet is to get hold of a backpacker belt with a hidden security pocket.|
Backpacking Ireland Budget Travel Hacks
Camp: With plenty of stunning mountains, lakes, sprawling farm land, hidden castles, and remote coastline in the Ireland, camping saves you money and can help you get off of the beaten path.
Cook your own food: Travel with a portable backpacking stove and cook your own food to save some serious cash whilst backpacking across Ireland. If you plan to do some overnight hiking trips or camping having a backpacking stove will be ESSENTIAL to your success. My two personal go-to stoves are the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 and my Jetboil.
Check out my in-depth review of the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 here.
Volunteer: If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board. The WWOOF Ireland program is also great. More on volunteering in Ireland in just a minute.
To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
A Note on Couchsurfing in Ireland
You have heard me reference Couchsurfing so much because it is something I genuinely believe in.
Sure you save money.
You also can make life-long friends through the platform as well as gain a perspective you would have otherwise never considered.
Let me be clear.
Couchsurfing hosts are NOT free hostels. You are NOT entitled to a free place to stay.
If people are kind enough to host you, offer to cook a meal or two. Chip in for groceries. Bring a bottle of wine. Clean up after yourself. Peel the potatoes. Be flexible with their schedule. Do something!
Don’t be like the last Couchsurfer I hosted, who did not do any of those things (he was good with my schedule). Make your time Couchsurfing in Ireland a mutually rewarding experience.
Travel Ireland for Free
Backpacking Ireland does not have to mean full-on nose-to-the-grind-stone traveling all the time.
Cheap travel is slow travel and free travel, well that means putting in work. But, it’s the kind of work that elevates your travels to another level.
If you are looking to stay in Ireland for more than a couple weeks, there are plenty of opportunities out there to keep you happy and comfortable without spending any money at all.
WWOOF Ireland is an organization that connects organic farmers with people looking to volunteer for a few hours every day in exchange for meals and a place to stay. I can’t recommend the WWOOF organization enough! I have WWOOFed in multiple countries around the world, and always had a great time doing it.
Shout out to all the awesome farmers who have hosted me over the years through WWOOF.
Workaway has a similar concept as WWOOF but the opportunities posted on its site are not strictly farm work-related. There are always unique opportunities to be found on both of these sights however. Honestly, volunteering is one of the most rewarding parts of traveling.
Work hard, meet new people, and get to know a country without spending a dime. If you are traveling to Ireland on a budget and have lots of time to spend here, WWOOF or Workaway will serve you very well.
Both organizations require a small payment for membership that is good for a year (WWOOF Ireland membership is only valid in Ireland).
Teaching English in Ireland
Say what? But wait…people speak English as a native language in Ireland. That is exactly right. They do.
That said, Ireland receives a staggering number of immigrants and foreign students each year. There is a demand for native English speakers and not enough qualified or keen teachers to take that on.
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Ireland long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR).
Internet in Ireland
Ireland is very well connected for the most part.
Most hostels offer free WiFi or provide it at a small cost. Public libraries often have free WiFi and they are quiet and warm places to chill out in.
I always use a VPN when I am connected to a public WiFi network. It’s too easy for people to hack your shit these days!
I am hesitant to tell you to use WiFi in Irish pubs. There is something sacred about the social atmosphere of an Irish Pub that is under threat the second people start turning up to look the their screens.
For digital nomads or backpackers looking to chill out with a hot cup, cafes almost always have wifi. At least in the cities they do.
If you have a smartphone with a SIM card from western Europe, then it will probably work normally in Ireland. Check with your provider to see if there is any additional cost.
You can always buy a SIM card either at the airport or in any major city.
I highly encourage every person backpacking Ireland to take the time to disconnect from technology as much as possible. You don’t have to be connected every hour of the day.
Unfortunately peoples’ habits (mine included) and the direction of the world at large is making disconnecting that much more important.
Take the time to really look at the mountains. Smell the salty tang of the Irish Sea. Talk to people in the pubs instead of scrolling through a social media story that you will never remember anyway.
Must Try Experiences in Ireland
Meet the People in Ireland
Ah the Irish. What’s not to like. The Irish people I have met during my travels over the years have all been super fun, cool, genuine folks. Same goes for the locals I met in Ireland.
Irish people are highly intelligent, sensitive, or should I say attuned people with strong characters and a desire to show you a good time in the nation that they are fiercely proud of.
Despite the heavy boom in tourism over the past decade Ireland and its population still remain down to earth people.
You know by now how important the Irish pub is in Irish society. Not just for the beer or cocktails mind you.
The Irish are vibrant storytellers, cheeky gossipers, and quicker to slap a joke on you before before you can say Carrauntoohil.
For many communities (urban or rural), the pub is the place to meet.
Music, all night debates, poetry nights, comedy shows, community meetings, and countless other activities all take place in the pub. Even for people who don’t drink, the pub is a quintessential part of the Irish experience.
Dating in Ireland
The dating game in Ireland is pretty much the same as it is in any western country. Meeting new people is pretty easy: you are liable to make a connection with someone in a hostel, at the pub or club, or even whilst camping out.
Such is the life of a backpacker.
Irish people are just like any nationality. The whole spectrum is here in Ireland.
There are flirtatious people, introverted people, loud-ass people, sensitive people, aggressive people, super-chill people…the whole gauntlet. Odds are you can find a match.
Modern Ireland is increasingly pulling away from its conservative roots much to the despair of the Catholic Church. There is a booming LGBTQ community in all of the major cities in the country.
Ireland joined the list of European countries with legalized same-sex marriage back in 2015.
If you are interested in a sexual or romantic relationship, it shouldn’t be too difficult to initiate if you just put yourself out there.
I have heard positive reports for the use of social apps like tinder, especially in places like Dublin and Cork.
Certainly, getting to know a person from the opposite (or same) sex in a romantic way should be a consensual and positive experience for you both. Always practice safe sex and always treat your partner(s) with the respect they deserve.
Maybe you will discover a new meaning to the Irish pot of gold, eh?
Food in Ireland
If stereotypes dominate your perception of Irish cuisine, than you’re probably think: “Right, Irish food. You mean potatoes?” Well they do eat lots of potatoes, but just give me a chance here.
While nobody is debating that the Irish have more gastronomic prowess than France, the Irish still offer up a wide variety of mouth-watering dishes to try.
I didn’t find the food in Ireland to be super diverse but they are good at what they do cook. And yes, traditional Irish cooking mostly involves some form of meat and potatoes.
Traditional Irish Dishes
Here are a few of my favorite dishes native to Ireland:
Coddle – A hearty stew with ayers of roughly sliced pork sausages bacon, usually thinly sliced, somewhat fatty back bacon, with sliced potatoes, and onions.
Cottage pie – A classic at most bakeries and cafes, cottage pie is a great post hike snack. Typically they contain beef, gravy vegetables, and mashed potatoes.
Irish Breakfast – Closely linked to its brethren in the UK, the Irish breakfast is something you will not walk away hungry from. Eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, and a number of side dishes are common place.
Fish and Chips – When you just want basic but still want delicious, fish and chips is the classic go to. You can find it almost anywhere in Ireland.
Soda Bread – Is a type of quick bread made with baking soda instead of yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, bread soda, salt, and buttermilk. Sometimes raisins are added to make it sweeter.
A note on Irish sandwiches – I need to sneak this in here. Don’t buy the god-awful pre-made sandwiches they sell in gas stations, rest stops, and all over Ireland in various places. They are expensive and all utterly disappointing. For some reason I tried every variety I could to see if one was better than the last. Fail. They were all almost inedible. I am at fault here too for buying more than one. Don’t repeat my mistake…
Ireland is becoming a more diverse country all the time. Thousands of immigrants come to Ireland every year to make it their new home.
With them, they have brought the cuisines of their home countries. Thank god! In my opinion, this is an absolute blessing for the Irish and backpackers alike!
If you get sick of meat and potatoes, there is always Indian, Thai, Pakistani, Kebab, Falafel, Italian, and American food somewhere close by. Note: I am aware that falafel and kebab are not nationalities.
Drinking in Ireland
Ireland is the land of beer and whiskey.
Sadly more teenagers in the western world can probably identify the Guinness logo before they could point out a tomato plant in the garden. Point being, Irish beer is world famous. And it’s tasty…
Ireland is also home to one of the world’s oldest whiskey distilleries, Bushmills. It is a marketing myth that Bushmills is the oldest distillery in Ireland. The distillery at Kilbeggan is in fact the oldest licensed distillery in the country. But who is counting?
Note: If you order an “Irish Car bomb” in Ireland expect to be met with heavy contempt. Stop and think about it for a second. It would be like in America if we ordered a drink called “the mass-shooting shot” or the “9/11 cocktail”. The three are not comparable really, but you get my point.
The Irish Car Bomb just might be the most culturally insensitive drink every named. That said, bartenders’ will still probably make it and take your money just the same. Don’t be surprised if they spit in it.
If you don’t understand what I’m talking about here, consult the “modern history of Ireland” section below.
Here is a list of some of Ireland’s tastiest and best beer:
- Murphy’s Irish Stout.
- O’Hara’s Irish Wheat.
- Smithwick’s Irish Ale.
- Porterhouse Brewing Co. Oyster Stout.
- O’Hara’s Celtic Stout.
- Beamish Irish Stout.
- Murphy’s Irish Red.
- Guinness Draught
Most of these beers are known the world over and are good. But don’t hesitate to branch out.
Best Micro Breweries in Ireland
Micro Breweries have been gaining popularity in Ireland too and there are some excellent local brews to try that aren’t made on the scale of the big beer players.
Here is a list of some of the top micro breweries in Ireland:
- Metalman Brewery Company – Waterford
- Carlow Brewing Company – Carlow
- Franscican Well Brewery – Cork
- Galway Bay Brewery – Galway
- Eight Degrees Brewing – Cork
- Black Donkey Brewing – Roscommon
- Rascals Brewing Company – Dublin
Enjoy Ireland’s classic brews, but don’t miss out on some of the lesser known names either. These micro breweries are killing it.
Best Whiskey in Ireland
Whiskey is another animal all together.
Ireland has a long tradition of producing quality whiskey and right now that still rings true.
The world of whiskey aficionados is far above my pay grade, though I can appreciate a whiskey that is not the generic Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. In fact, many Irish people would argue that those aren’t even real whiskeys.
The really nice whiskey being produced in Ireland is way too expensive to even think about trying if you’re backpacking Ireland with any sort of a budget conscience.
That said there are still plenty of fine whiskeys to be had that don’t cost a few hundred bucks a bottle.
Here are some of the best whiskeys to try in Ireland:
Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey
Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Teeling Trinity Range
Festivals in Ireland
Depending on the time of year there is usually a festival happening somewhere in Ireland. The Irish like to have a good time like the rest of us and they don’t skimp when it comes to throwing a big party or festival.
Here is a list of some of the top festivals in Ireland:
Drop Everything, May 25th-27th, Co Galway – This diverse festival has got it all. Food, music, art, and plenty of party vibes to embrace. Not a lot of big names on offer this year, but still promises to be a decent time in my book.
Life Festival, May 25th-27th, Mullingar, Co Westmeath – Heavy metal, hip-hop, and house? Kind of a strange mix, but I guess there is something for everyone here. Note, this festival is on the same day as Drop Everything.
Electric Picnic, 31st August – 2nd September, Stradbally Hall, Co. Laois – One of Ireland’s most popular all around music and arts fests. Indie, alternative, and dance music dominates the stages.
Castle Palooza, Aug 3 – Aug 5, Charleville Castle in Tullamore, County Offaly – Never been to a music festival at a castle before? This is your chance.
Cowboys and Heroes, June 1 -4, Ballinamore, CoLeitrim – Yes. An Irish cowboy festival featuring country music. I hear there might even be a rodeo of some kind. Get your boots on and go get down with the Irish cowboys, some of which I hope are actually real cowboys.
Irish Cultural Festivals
St. Patrick’s Day, March, All of Ireland – We have all experienced St. Patrick’s day outside of Ireland (unless you have in Ireland). There is an Irish pub in every country that sells liquor and come St. Patrick’s Day everyone parties, drinks beer, and wears green. The St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Ireland will be far crazier and more fun than anything you might of done at an Irish pub in Thailand. You can be certain of that.
Easter, April, All of Ireland – For the Catholic population of the country, easter and the month leading up to it is a big event in Ireland. Even if people aren’t particularly religious, Easter is still an excuse to get together with family and friends, eat, and have a good time.
Traditional Irish Music Fesitvals (Trad Fests), All year, All of Ireland – Really there are a ton of traditional fests happening in Ireland throughout the year. There are simply too many to name here. Check out this article featuring the events featuring Irish traditional music. Any journey backpacking Ireland will involve some Irish folk music at some point or another.
Trekking in Ireland
If you have been paying attention you know that Ireland is an amazing place to come for trekking and hiking.
Ireland is home to national parks, reserves, nature parks, and plenty of green belts. There are awesome day hikes and/or challenging multi-day treks to get into in most regions of Ireland.
Ireland is full of mind-blowing human achievements. Castles, art, forts, ancient walls, churches, cathedrals, villages, cities…Ireland has them all in abundance.
Whilst they are impressive and important to Irelands history and culture DNA, the real magic of the country lies out in its wild places…
Best Hikes in Killarney National Park
- Carrauntoohil – Devil’s Ladder route: 12 km /4-6 hours – Good for experienced hikers wanting to tackle Ireland’s tallest peak. The views are magnificent.
- North Kerry Way: 48km/3 days – One of the best multi-day coastal hikes in the country.
- Lough Googh Loop: 10km/5 hours – Not as challenging as Carrauntoohil, but still features plenty of epic views and a few treacherous drop-offs.
- Mount Brandon: 10 km/4-5 hours – A good hike for beginners. Well-marked and easy to follow route means it can be hiked in any weather
Best Hikes in Connemara National Park
- Big Baun: 9km/4 hours – climb the biggest mountain of the 12 Ben mountains.
- The Lettergesh Circuit: 10 km/ 2-3 hours – Hailed as one of the top hikes in all of Ireland. Good for beginners. Very scenic.
- The Maumeen Mountain Pass: 13km/ 6 hours – Maumeen Mountain Pass is home to an ancient pilgrimage site. Legend has it that Saint Patrick visited the same spot. There are some epic mountain views as well as a tiny church dedicated to the saint.
- The Diamond Hill Trail: 10 km/ 2-3 hours – A demanding loop through misty bogland and open hill country.
Best Hikes in Ballycroy National Park
- Letterkeen Loops: 6-12 km/ 2-5 hours – There are several route options to choose from, each varying in difficulty and distance. Click here for all of the route options.
- Bangor Trail: 40 k/ 10 hours+/2 days – The main route through the park is the Bangor Trail which starts in Bangor Erris and finishes in Newport. The Bangor Trail is an old road through the Nephin Beg mountains in north-west Mayo. As always whilst backpacking Ireland, bring good rain gear!
Best Hikes in Glenveagh National Park and Donnegal
- Glen Walk: 22 km/7-9 hours – A great long-ish hike for novice hikers looking to take in the diversity and beauty of Glenveagh. Pack plenty of food and wet weather gear!
- Bluestack Way: 64.3 km/3 days+ – Starting in Donegal Town, the trail weaves its way through Banagher Hill and the Eglish Valley.
- Bunglas to Glenties: 67.5 km/3-4 days – Supposedly this trek is the first part of the International Appalachian Trail, which I don’t fully understand, having hiked a good portion of the original AT myself. The idea behind the IAT is if you continue hiking up through the state of Maine (US), into Canada, and pretend the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t there, the trail would pick-up in Ireland. There you go. Oh and there are cool pubs with crackling fireplaces along this route too.
- Arranmore Way: 14 km/ 6 hours – Catch the ferry boat to Arranmore, Donegal’s largest offshore island and enjoy epic coastal views featuring jagged sea-stacks, caves, and a colony of Petrels.
Hiking the Wild Atlantic Way
The true hiking crown jewel of Ireland is the Wild Atlantic Way. Well, lets call it a fucking arduous, stunningly beautiful, epic walk of a life-time. The trail is 1,600 miles (2600 km) long!
The trail runs north to south (and vice versa) along Ireland’s exquisite West Coast.
Nobody just stumbles upon this trek. It takes careful planning, and months of mental and physical preparation. Not to mention a massive time commitment.
You can be sure that a thru-hike attempt will be one of the greatest and most challenging undertakings of your life.
The Wild Atlantic Way is among the world’s premiere long distance hiking trails. If you have the will and the 3-5 months it takes to complete it, good on you and best of luck.
Being a Responsible Backpacker in Ireland
In Ireland, there is no shortage of occasions or opportunities in which to get down. I am all about people having a good time and letting loose. That said, don’t drink so much that you embarrass yourself, your country, and everyone within 50 feet of you.
I am far from innocent. There have been many times during my travels where I let myself and the situation get out of hand. It’s easy to do!
With all the beer and booze around in Ireland, it doesn’t take much before you do something that you will later regret.
Go to Ireland and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of, but be respectful along the way. Traveling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country…
Climbing on ancient castle walls, monuments, or other historical artifacts should be avoided. Duh! Learn to appreciate the cultural treasures Ireland and don’t be that dickhead who adds to their demise.
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough and cool travel water bottle. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, pick up a water bottle here.
Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
Recent History of Ireland
To put it lightly, Ireland had a pretty wild ride in the 20th century.
Independence (from the UK) was gained after much struggle and bloodshed. 1916–1921 was marked by political violence and upheaval, ending in the partition of Ireland and independence for 26 of its 32 counties. The struggle was far from over, however.
In 1949, the state was formally declared a republic and it left the British Commonwealth.
The 1960’s and 70’s were pretty insane in Ireland.
Protestants vs Catholics in Ireland
The level of historical hatred, violence, clashes, and deaths resulting from Protestant-Catholic relations, or lack there-of, is at the heart of the major conflict that swept Northern Ireland during this time period.
We all know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We know about the level of hatred that exists between the two groups.
I don’t think it is too difficult to consider the former Protestant-Catholic issue as any less powerful or significant, at least in its heyday.
The Protestant State and the IRA
As the civil rights movement of the United States gained worldwide acknowledgement, Catholics rallied together to achieve a similar socio-political recognition in Ireland. This resulted in the formation of various organizations such as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in 1967 and the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) in 1964.
Non-violent protest became an increasingly important factor in mobilizing Catholic sympathies and opinion, and thus more effective in generating support than actively violent groups such as the IRA.
In October 1968, a peaceful civil rights march in Derry turned violent as police brutally beat protesters. The outbreak was televised by international media, and as a result the march was highly publicized which further confirmed the socio-political turmoil in Ireland.
A violent counter-reaction from conservative unionists led to civil disorder, notably the Battle of the Bogside and the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969. To restore order, British troops were deployed to the streets of Northern Ireland at that time.
The violent outbreaks in the late 1960s encouraged and helped strengthen military groups such as the IRA, who posited themselves as the protectors of the working class Catholics who were vulnerable to police and civilian brutality.
During the late sixties and early seventies recruitment into the IRA organization dramatically increased as street and civilian violence worsened.
Shit was crazy: car bombs were going off constantly, killing loads of people. Riots, stabbings, shootings, and police beatings were all part of daily life during this time.
Most of the violence took place in Northern Ireland, but some also spread to England and across the Irish border.
Modern Ireland is a good place to be. Ireland’s economy became more diverse and sophisticated than ever before by integrating itself into the global economy.
The Catholic Church, which once exercised great power, found its influence on socio-political issues in Ireland much reduced. Irish bishops are no longer able to advise and influence the public on how to exercise their political rights.
As I mentioned before, same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015.
On May 26th, Irish people turned out in droves to vote in favor of legalizing abortions. In a major victory for progressives and more importantly for women, the country celebrated in the streets in typically Irish fashion. Go Ireland!
Final Thoughts on Backpacking Ireland
Well there you have it amigos.
I hope you have found my Ireland travel guide helpful! It was a pleasure to write.
I hope you are able to get into plenty of awesome adventures (and a little debauchery) during your time backpacking around this mystical and powerful land. Best of luck on your journey!
*Special thanks to Kyle Murphy and Erin Wolf for their contributions to this article. If you liked some of Kyle’s photographs and want to work with him or to learn more about what he does, check out out his website www.kmportraits.com and follow him on instagram @briskventure. You can find Erin Wolf on instagram at @wolfpackqueen.
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