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The view from Binevenagh in Co. Derry. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

How to Prepare for a Trip to Ireland

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Going on a vacation is fun but planning one is hard work. Following the 12 tips below will help ease any worries you might have about preparing for a trip to Ireland.

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1. Use Credit Card Rewards

If you’re wondering what credit cards are the best in terms of travel rewards, my first choice is the American Express Gold Card.

If you are a member of the Aer Lingus rewards program, AerClub, you can transfer your Amex points directly to the loyalty program at a 1:1 ratio. There are 17 airlines and two hotels in the Amex partnership program.

AerClub is also a 1:1 transfer partner in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, so if you have a Chase card, be sure to check that out as you're preparing for your trip to Ireland.

2. Travel in the Off-Season

Traveling to Ireland during the off-season is a lot cheaper than say, the summer months. Plus, you’ll also avoid the problem of long lines and more expensive accommodation.

Cherry blossoms at Dublin Castle in the spring. Photo: Michael Foley Photography,

I suggest that when you're preparing for a trip to Ireland that you try to visit during the “shoulder season,” which is in April, May, early June, and early October. September, while a bit more expensive, is also a good time to travel to Ireland.

Read More: Best Time to Visit Ireland

3. Find Airfare Bargains

Depending on the time of year that you’re flying, it can be beneficial to book a flight that includes a layover. They are usually cheaper.

Photo: shotsstudio

To do this, you’ll need to use a search engine like Google Flights, Hopper, Priceline or Momondo, which pulls the prices of flights from thousands of different airlines, going from the most expensive to the cheapest.

4. Use the Right Bank Card

Photo: Casper1774 Studio for Getty Images Pro

Preparing for a trip to Ireland also means choosing the right bank card, preferably one where you don’t incur foreign transaction fees or ATM usage fees.

I suggest you apply for the Charles Schwab Debit card. If approved, you’ll get a $100 bonus award on deposits over $1,000. This also applies to other types of accounts that Schwab offers.

Read More: Bank Card Money-Saving Strategies

5. Purchase a “Heritage Card”

Most tourists are not aware of this valuable card, which will get you into several heritage sites in Ireland that normally charge an admission fee.

Some of the heritage sites in Ireland, which are run by the Irish government’s Office of Public Works, are free and are therefore not part of this initiative.

You can visit Portumna Castle in Co. Galway with or without the heritage card, as is the case with all heritage sites in Ireland. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland/Failte Ireland.

The cost of the card is €40 for adults, €30 for seniors (60 and over), €10 for students and children ages 12-18; and €90 for a family of 7 (kids must be ages 12-18).

The Heritage Card is valid for one year from the date of purchase.

This card is worth it if you intend to visit many of the fee-paying sites. Unfortunately, you cannot order these cards online.

Visit the Heritage Ireland site to find out where you can purchase them.

6. Accessing WiFi the Smart Way in Ireland

While it’s possible to get Wifi in most public places in Ireland, such as airports, restaurants, and bars, as well as on buses and trains, you won’t be able to access it while you travel around Ireland in your rental car unless you enable data roaming, which can be expensive.

Photo: Vector Fusion Art, Getty Images.

There are a couple of ways to get around this.

    • Sign up for an international mobile usage plan from your carrier but read the fine print before signing on as this can be expensive.
    • Purchase a new Sim card for your phone (provided it is not locked) from any Tesco supermarket in Ireland (both north and south of the border). Your purchase will also include a mobile usage plan for the duration of your stay in the country.
    • Rent a personal WiFi device from Wi-Fi Candy. The rates are quite reasonable, and you get unlimited data usage as well.
    • Purchase a cheap prepaid phone from Tesco to use while you’re on vacation in Ireland.
    • Simply rely on Wi-Fi when you can, provided you have your data turned off or your phone is on airplane mode.

7. Choose a Smaller Rental Car

If you’re light on luggage, then a compact rental car is something to consider.

Photo: Twenty20photos

While Ireland’s motorways are equal to those in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, there are still many smaller roads that you’ll find yourself navigating.

This is when a small car comes in handy. Gas (petrol) is expensive in Ireland, so renting a smaller vehicle makes sense. If you can drive a stick shift, you can save even more.

Get Your 32 Free Activities to Do in Ireland Cheat Sheet

8. Avail of Free Museums

people looking at a painting how to prepare for a trip to Ireland
The Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City is one of the many free attractions you can visit in Ireland. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland/Failte Ireland.

There are quite a number of free attractions in Ireland besides the heritage sites mentioned above.

In Dublin alone, you’ll find a variety of free museums and galleries to visit.

There are others across the country that are free to visit. Some include the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, the Museum of Country Life in Co. Mayo, the Monaghan County Museum, and the Sligo County Museum, and the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina, Co. Mayo.

9. Skip Lunch

Most accommodation in Ireland, whether it’s a B&B or a hotel, will serve a full Irish breakfast that should keep you going for several hours.

a breakfast plate how to plan a trip to Ireland
A full Irish breakfast is a staple at most Irish hotels and B&Bs. Photo: Getty Images.

If you must eat during the day, you could pop into a small café and order a bowl of hearty soup and a roll or some delicious Irish cheese and crackers.

Find Irish Cheese & Other Irish Favorites at Food Ireland

10. Consider Public Transportation

Getting around Ireland by public transportation is quite doable and often a lot cheaper than renting a car.

a bus how to plan a trip to Ireland
A Bus Eireann bus parked at the company headquarters in Dublin. Photo: By D464-Darren Hall – Broadstone July 2008, coaches awaiting wash and fuel, CC BY-SA 2.0,

This is good to know when preparing for a trip to Ireland. If you’re interested in spending more time in towns and cities, getting there by bus or train is completely doable.

Book either the Trekker Four-Day ticket giving you unlimited travel for 4 days or the Explorer ticket, which allows for 5 days of unlimited travel.

Bus Eireann also provides special deals for tourists with its Open Road ticket.

Read more: Getting Around Ireland by Public Transportation

11. Go for Mid-Range Accommodation

My advice when preparing for a trip to Ireland is to choose accommodation that is moderately priced.

Mid-range hotels and B&Bs are always a great option in Ireland.

a house near the mountains how to prepare for a trip to Ireland
The Slieve League B&B in Co. Donegal, a stone's throw from the well-known cliffs. Photo courtesy of the Slieve League B&B.

The advantage of staying in a B&B or a family-run hotel is that you get to meet the family running the establishment who can give you valuable, on-the-ground advice about local tourist attractions.

If you want to splurge for a night or two, don’t deny yourself that pleasure either.

12. Get a Tax Refund on Souvenirs Bought in Ireland

If you are visiting Ireland from outside the EU you are entitled to a tax refund on certain items that you buy.

person holding a sign how to prepare for a trip to Ireland
Photo: Rawpixel

Since VAT has already been added to the goods you see in Irish stores, you will not see the tax on your receipt, like you will in the United States, for example.

Some goods, however, are sold free of VAT.

They include children’s clothing, footwear, and food (except for chocolate and other confectionery items). If you purchase any of those items, you won’t be able to apply for a tax refund.

a sign in an airport how to prepare for a trip to Ireland
Sign for customs and VAT Refund office in one of Ireland's airports. Photo: Stephen Barnes for Getty Images Pro.

Alternatively, many stores in Ireland offer VAT-free shopping for tourists outside of the EU. You must ask them first before buying and if you are required to spend a specific amount before you’ll get the benefit.

More information can be found at Ireland's Citizens Information website. You will not get tax relief on accommodation, car hire, meals, or the cost to visit tourist attractions.

Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share that would help in preparing for a trip to Ireland? Let me know in the comments.

As always, please feel free to sign up for my regular e-newsletter where you’ll get more valuable information on getting to Ireland on a budget.


Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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