Where to go if you are visiting Ireland on a budget.
We have been living in and touring Ireland for almost four months, and during that time we have visited lots of the ‘must see’ tour book recommended tourist attractions around the country. Some of them have had some pretty hefty entrance fees, but on the other hand, we have also had plenty of awesome free experiences. So, if you are visiting Ireland and you would like to stretch your cash further, here’s our advice on the places worth paying for, and also what the free (or cheaper) options are.
The National Museums Vs Waterford’s Medieval Museum
There is not one, but four, National Museums in Ireland and each of them is free to visit. Of the four National Museums, the Archaeology one is definitely the best. The Decorative Arts one is worth a visit if you have time, but don’t even bother with the Natural History Museum unless taxidermy is your thing. Multiple glass cabinets filled with stuffed dead animals, even when it’s free to visit, is still just plain creepy. So far we have not visited the fourth free National Museum, which is not in Dublin but in one of the surrounding counties. However, the Archaeology Museum is full of interesting artefacts found all over Ireland, which together illustrate the rich and ancient history of this tiny country. Our favourite displays were the Celtic gold, the Viking artefacts, and the Bodies from the Bog. We easily filled an afternoon in the museum, and adults and children alike found plenty to peak our interest.
Waterford’s Medieval Museum is one a group of museums in this southern small city and a combined ticket for entry that includes the Bishops Palace (modern history) will cost €10 (or €7 just for the Medieval one) for adults, whilst children under 14 are free. We did enjoy our visit to the Medieval museum on an afternoon in Waterford. The displays are well presented, and the artefacts are very impressive, but to be honest, if you are on a budget, Dublin’s free Archaeology Museum is a much better option as there is so much more to see from the same (and more) periods of history.
The Rock of Cashel Vs Kells Priory
We visited these two religious historical sites within a week or so of each other, so the comparison between the two was easy to measure, and in fact formed the inspiration for this post. They are both very similar in the type of ruin that you will encounter, and not all that far in distance from one another. They both have the remains of impressive 12th century architecture for tourist to wander about and enjoy, including abbeys, chapels and outbuildings. The Rock of Cashel included a (very outdated) video presentation and a couple of rooms displayed as life might have been for the monks living on the rock, whereas Kells priory is all open air and left to the imagination of visitors. But, the stark difference between the two was in the cost. Family entry to The Rock of Cashel was €17 plus additional for parking, whereas Kells Priory was completely free. And, as a plus there are no set visiting times for Kells Priory, visitors let themselves in the gate and wander about at leisure. If you want to save some spending money for a few extra souvenirs or pints of Guinness, Kells Priory is the one to visit in our opinion.
The Cliffs of Moher Vs The Loop Head and Kilkee Cliffs
All of these stunning spots are along the same stretch of Atlantic coast in County Clare, and many travellers (ourselves included) will tell you that the Cliffs of Moher are a ‘must see’ if you are after the Ireland on the postcards. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring this dramatic coastline, especially having been blessed with fine weather, (which on Ireland’s west coast is a major win!) But, we discovered that there are smarter ways to visit the cliffs and save a few Euros. Entry to the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre is €6 each for adults (children are free) plus additional for parking. Of course, if you have come all the way to Ireland’s west coast you’ll likely want to know what all the (well deserved) fuss is about, so we’ll not try to talk you out of visiting Moher. However, if you want to do your wallet a favour and avoid the overpriced carpark and mildly interesting visitor centre, you can park in the €2 carpark just out of Liscannor at Hags Head, and do part, or all of the 5km walk for dramatic cliff views, or the 12km walk that takes you all the way to Moher without having to enter via the visitor centre. We paid the €12 to enter at Moher, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we were left scratching our heads as to why. If the weather is fine, the walking track is gentle enough to be a thoroughly splendid way to spend an afternoon. Furthermore, the drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, taking in the Loop Head and Kilkee Cliffs, also offers tourists a completely free option for viewing dramatic cliffs and stunning coastal views, and you won’t even need a pair of walking shoes to enjoy them!
The Giant’s Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is another ‘must see’ location on many Irish holiday wish lists, but the £21 (yes UK pounds!) has been one of the most expensive entrance fee that we have paid during our Irish travels. The £21 fee is the family ticket cost for entrance to the Causeway Visitor Centre, another overpriced, mildly interesting money grab that is little more than an expensive café and a gift shop. You will also need to pay additional for car parking and the shuttle bus if you choose to use it! But guess what? You actually DO NOT need to pay to walk on the stones at all, but the National Trust just don’t make that very obvious. Apparently you can just walk around the centre itself, or follow a walking track from further along the beach to access the famous stretch of hexagonal stones rising out of the North Atlantic coastline. I wish that someone had told us that before we handed over the cash.
We spent a very chilly afternoon wandering around this early Christian monastic settlement, which was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. The ruins and the beautiful surrounding walking paths and grounds are completely free to visit, as is the carpark. Visiting Glendalough was such a wonderful experience that we plan to return again later in spring when the weather warms up a little, and we highly recommend adding it to any Ireland tour.
Blarney Castle Vs Kilkenny Castle
Both of these very popular castles ask visitors to pay an entrance fee. A family ticket to Blarney is €32 and it is €17 for a family to visit Kilkenny castle. Both of these castles are very good, but they are also very different. Personally, our family preferred Blarney Castle, because we enjoyed exploring the incredibly impressive structure which has not been restored. There are lots of information boards, but visitors must use their imagination as to what life might have been like behind the stone walls. We visited on a weekday with few other tourist about, and were able to take our time climbing the narrow stone stairs and peering out of the narrow arrow slits in the tower walls. I’m sure that the lack of other visitors greatly affected the impression that the castle made on us. It really was magical to almost have the whole place to ourselves. Kilkenny Castle is also very interesting to visit, but visitors can expect a very different experience. This castle has been restored to how it might have been when the Butler Family occupied it in the 19th century. Much time and expense has gone into recreating the home of one of Ireland’s wealthiest families of the time, with the portrait gallery being the jewel in the crown. Both castles have their merits, and there are many, many others to visit in Ireland, so if you are on a budget consider which would interest you more, restored or not? Another Irish castle that we thoroughly enjoyed visiting was King John’s Castle in Limerick. Whilst it isn’t as handsome as Blarney or Kilkenny castles, the education centre there is excellent for children and history buffs.
There is no doubt about it. Like the other western European countries, Ireland can be very expensive to visit, but a little bit of planning and research will help stretch your budget further. Our favourite guidebook is Lonely Planet. And we have found it to be quite accurate for entrance fees and descriptions of popular tourist sites, but we are becoming quite the experts ourselves these days with all the site seeing that we are doing! If you are considering a trip to Ireland and would like some advice, you are most welcome to leave a comment and we will do our best to answer any questions. Expense aside, Ireland truly is beautiful, and worthy of inclusion in any European tour.