While renting a car is perhaps the best way to see Ireland, that option may not be available to everyone due to cost, age, and other factors.
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For those who want to see as much as they can of the Emerald Isle minus the car, some strategic decisions should be made regarding accommodation and its proximity to some of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
If you are getting around by public transportation, you'll need to think about choosing accommodation in Ireland that is centrally located.
Here are 6 cities that are easily accessible by train or bus and suggestions for where you can stay once you get there.
I’m not going to tell you that Dublin is cheap but if you compare it to other European and Scandinavian cities, it’s probably on par with them and even in some cases, less expensive.
The economic and political factors the world is experiencing post-Covid are not helping either, but if you book accommodation well in advance and you choose a less popular time of year to visit, you can end up getting value for your money in Dublin.
Aside from the cost, Dublin should be on your itinerary, especially if this is your first time in Ireland.
There are several attractions in the city that are worth seeing, including The Book of Kells in Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, Jamesons Whiskey Distillery, Epic The Emigration Museum, and Kilmainham Jail, not to mention all of the free museums you can visit as well.
Pretty much all these attractions are in and around the city center so choosing accommodation that is convenient to all is useful.
If you are visiting Ireland on a shoestring budget, I’d suggest that you stay in a hostel.
There are several to choose from, including the Generator Dublin, The Jacobs Inn Hostel, The Abbey Court, Abigail’s Hostel, Kinlay House Dublin, the Ashfield Hostel, Gardiner House, Garden Lane Backpackers hostel, My Place Dublin hostel, Abrahams Hostel, and Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Hostel.
You can find all the above hostels at Hostelworld.
If hosteling is not for you, there are other moderately-priced hotels and B&Bs in the city that you should consider, including the Temple Bar Inn, the Leeson Lodge, the Marilyn Mansion, the Dergvale Hotel, Harvey’s Guesthouse, the Tipperary House, and Highfield House.
Check out this blog post for more information on the other Dublin accommodation choices available.
Moderately priced accommodation is also available at the Trinity College dorms, at a cheaper rate than traditional hotels in the city, as well as at Ardcairn House, student accommodation for Dublin’s Technological University, and at Heyday Student Living in the Liberties section of Dublin.
After you’ve spent a couple of days in Dublin, I’d suggest that you take the Irish Rail train from Heuston Station in Dublin to MacDonagh Station in Kilkenny, Ireland’s oldest medieval city.
The train ride is just 1 hour and 35 minutes and costs €11.59 one-way. Once you get to the station, most of the city’s most popular attractions are within walking distance of it.
Kilkenny Castle dominates the city as it has for hundreds of years. Once the home of the powerful Butler family, the structure has been rebuilt, extended, and expanded since then.
Today, it has the look of a 19th-century castellated baronial residence, although it certainly retains traces of its medieval roots.
The focal point of the popular castle tour is the Long Gallery, an impressive hall showcasing portraits of Butler family members, as well as the Butler Gallery in the castle basement.
The exterior of the castle is public parkland and is free to walk around.
You’ll want centrally located accommodation in Kilkenny so that you can easily walk to the above attractions.
From the Kilkenny train station, you can hop on a train to Waterford’s Plunkett Station and get there in 30 minutes or so at a cost of about €6 one-way.
Known as Ireland’s oldest civic building, you’ll find a variety of Viking treasures inside.
There are other attractions that are worth seeing in this port city.
Even without a rental car, you can still find convenient accommodation in Waterford City.
Accommodation in the center of Waterford includes the 18th-century circa Granville Hotel, which overlooks Waterford Harbor and is a 7-minute walk from the Bishop’s Palace and a 10-minute walk from the House of Waterford Crystal.
Dooley’s Hotel on Merchant’s Quay is also a good choice and a 7-minute walk from the train station.
Booking.com describes this riverside hotel as having “unfussy rooms…with a bistro restaurant, an Irish bar & regular live music.”
The Portree Hostel is the city’s only hostel accommodation, also known as the Portree Guesthouse.
The hostel is located beside the railway station and is an 8-minute walk from Waterford’s bus station.
You can only book single rooms at this time since shared dorms are not yet available, a hold-over from the pandemic. They will become available again at the end of 2023.
There is no direct train from Waterford to Cork City. However, a bus will take you there in about 2 hours.
You can get a Dublin Coach bus from Waterford to Cork’s Anderson Quay for about €10.
Once in Cork, there’s a lot to see in Ireland’s second-largest city. Expect a more laidback vibe as Corkonians generally take life a little easier here.
The city has some great restaurants, quirky coffee shops, and a good mix of cultural and architectural charm. Plus, it’s a university city so there are plenty of young people around.
If you’re traveling around Ireland on the cheap, you might want to consider a hostel in Cork City.
Other convenient hotels in Cork City for those without a rental car include Hotel Isaacs, The Metropole Hotel, the Shandon Bells Guesthouse, and others that can all be found in this Cork accommodation blog post.
Getting to Killarney from Cork City is relatively easy by train.
Trains leave from Cork’s Kent Station five times a day and operate every day. The journey takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes.
The popular Co. Kerry town is a must for every first-time visitor to Ireland whether you have a rental car or not.
The town itself is taken up with shops, pubs, and hotels. Most of the popular attractions are outside the town, so you will need to have a plan in place to see them.
My suggestion is to book a tour to some of the local attractions, such as a jaunting car ride from Killarney to Ross Castle, or a number of full-day tours that will take you to the Ring of Kerry, or to Dingle and the Slea Head Peninsula.
Finding accommodation in the center of Killarney isn’t very difficult. There are many choices in the center of town, from hotels, Airbnbs and B&Bs.
If you are looking for hostel accommodation in Killarney, there are a few to choose from.
They include the Killarney Railway Hostel, which is located opposite the bus and train station; the Black Sheep Hostel, conveniently located a minute away from Killarney National Park and a short distance from the town center; Neptune’s Hostel, located 5 minutes from the bus and train stations, and The Súgán Hostel, also in town.
Some of my recommendations for other centrally located accommodation in Killarney include Murphy’s Townhouse, a short distance from the town’s public transportation hubs, the Killarney Towers Hotel & Leisure Centre, which is located close to restaurants and transit; and Tatler Jack, a family-run business.
After you’ve finished exploring Killarney and the surrounding area, you can easily continue your journey by public transportation to Limerick City.
Buses run daily from the center of Killarney to Limerick. The journey takes between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. You can choose from Dublin Coach or Bus Eireann.
The main attraction in Limerick is King John’s Castle located in the city’s Medieval Quarter.
The Vikings once lived on the site where the castle stands. It was completed by the Normans in 1210 to protect the city from the outlying Gaelic kingdoms.
Despite being damaged in 1642 during the Siege of Limerick, the castle, considered the best preserved in Europe, still retains many features from its early construction, including a large gatehouse, battlements, and corner towers.
The castle’s interactive exhibition is definitely worth seeing as it will give you a glimpse of its 800-year history through 3D models, touch screen technology, and computer-generated animations.
Kids and adults can try on the costumes that are on site, including stunning gowns and chainmail tunics.
The castle courtyard is where you’ll learn about daily life there during medieval times.
You’ll meet colorful characters who will bring it all to life, and there are several courtyard games to play as well, especially fun for children.
Archery, ring toss, tug-of-war, and horseshoe throwing are just some of them.
If you are looking for centrally located accommodation in Limerick, I’d recommend The Old Quarter Townhouse in the city center, with the bus and train stations a short walk away.
You’ll find single, double, triple, and family-style rooms at this accommodation, all en-suite.
Other suitable accommodation can be found at the George Hotel, which is 1 kilometer (less than a mile) from the castle.
The Bedford Townhouse & Café, an 1830s-style accommodation that is a mere 10-minute walk from St. Mary’s Cathedral and the castle, in addition to Pery’s Hotel located in the city’s Georgian Quarter, are good budget picks if you’re watching your money when choosing accommodation in Ireland.
To get to Galway without a rental car from Limerick, you can hop on a train or take a bus. The journey takes about 2 hours.
Trains run every 4 hours from Limerick’s Colbert Station to Galway’s Ceannt Station, with one-way tickets costing close to €8.
There is a regular bus service from Limerick’s downtown area to Galway on Bus Eireann.
Galway City is relatively small and can be explored easily on foot.
If you’re like me and you find yourself in a city that you’ve never been to before, a guided walking tour is always a good idea to get yourself acquainted with your surroundings.
Some of the popular attractions in Galway include the Galway City Museum, Eyre Square, the Latin Quarter, and the area around Quay Street, including the Spanish Arch.
There is a lot of accommodation in the heart of Galway that is perfect for the traveler who does not have a rental car.
Hostel accommodation includes the Galway City Hostel & Bar, perfect for solo travelers and right next to Galway’s bus and train stations; the Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel right on Eyre Square, the Corrib Village, another ideal accommodation for younger tourists and located on the grounds of the National University of Ireland, Snoozles Galway City Center, a 2-minute walk from Eyre Square, and Sleepzone, also centrally located.
Other accommodation in Galway City includes the Nest Boutique Hostel, Jury’s Inn, The Skeffington Arms, and The Eyre Square Hotel, among others.
You’ll find detailed information on those hotels and other Ireland on a Budget picks from this recent blog post on affordable Galway accommodation.
Is choosing accommodation in Ireland a difficult process for you as you plan your vacation to Ireland? Let me know in the comments below and let me know if I can help.