You’ll find accommodation to suit most budgets across Ireland from swish city hotels and luxurious converted castles to historic country houses and B&Bs. There are also plenty of hostels, varying hugely in quality and atmosphere, but all providing a bed and usually a kitchen; lots offer much more. Finally, there are well-run campsites and, for the hardy, the chance to pitch a tent in a farmer’s field or on common land.
You’ll need to book your accommodation well in advance over St Patrick’s Day, Easter, summer public holidays, and during all of July and August. Accommodation is at a premium in Dublin throughout the year, especially at weekends, and in places such as the Aran Islands, Belfast, Cork, Derry, Dingle, Galway city, Kilkenny and Killarney, and during major festivals elsewhere. Many establishments close over the Christmas period.
Unless you’re making reservations direct, the easiest way to book accommodation is via an online agency such as Gulliver Ireland (freephone: in the Republic t1800 668668, from Britain and Northern Ireland t0800 783 8359 or t783 5740; from the US t1-888/827-3028 whttp://www.gulliver.ie). Each hotel, B&B or hostel reservation costs €5 in the Republic (£1 for hostels and £2 for B&Bs in Northern Ireland). To reserve self-catering accommodation costs €7/£3. Usually a non-refundable deposit of ten percent is also charged to your card, deducted from the price of your first night’s stay. The system can also be accessed via the website of the two Irish tourist boards (whttp://www.discoverireland.ie and whttp://www.discovernorthernireland.com).
B&Bs and guesthouses
The overwhelming majority of B&Bs and guesthouses across Ireland are welcoming family homes and provide clean and cosy rooms, usually with en-suite facilities. Most B&Bs in the Republic, and virtually all in Northern Ireland, are registered with the official tourist board, but many other places open their doors during local festivals or high season. Registration is usually a guarantee of well-maintained standards and good service, though non-registered places are not necessarily of lower quality.
Most B&Bs and guesthouses serve mammoth breakfasts and many serve afternoon tea.
In most areas hotels are usually the most expensive option, particularly in cities such as Dublin, Galway and Belfast which provide high-end “boutique” accommodation as well as the big chains such as Sheraton and Radisson. Offering more character are Ireland’s country houses, mansions and castles offering sumptuous rooms in astonishingly scenic locations. Aimed at weekend breakers, these often also provide spa facilities and gourmet restaurants.
Away from the main tourist areas, it’s still possible to find real bargains. Most hotels in the Republic offer reductions mid-week and sometimes business rates if you look the part. In the North, however, especially in Belfast or Derry, you’re far more likely to get a good deal at the weekend. Budget chains Jury’s Inn, Premier Inn and Travelodge also have a growing presence in the major cities and can offer very competitive deals if booked in advance.
Well-run, good-quality hostels can be found across all of Ireland, often in lovely, off-the-beaten-track locations. Meals, bike rental and other facilities are also often provided. Booking ahead is advisable, especially in Dublin and Galway at all times, and elsewhere during high season or local festivals.
There are more than two hundred independently run hostels across Ireland, many belonging to the Holiday Hostels of Ireland association (IHH; t01/836 4700, whttp://www.hostels-ireland.com) or the Independent Hostel Owners organization (IHO; t074/973 0130, whttp://www.independenthostelsireland.com). All IHH hostels are approved by either Fáilte Ireland or the NITB, meaning that their facilities meet certain standards. Some IHO hostels are also approved, but those that aren’t usually provide equivalent facilities. Most hostels offer dorms of varying sizes, as well as smaller private and family rooms, and are open year-round.
The character of independent hostels varies enormously, from the serene and bucolic to the urban and noisy. Though most hostels are efficiently run, there’s generally a relaxed atmosphere, often with no curfews. In the most popular tourist areas, however, they can be crammed to the rafters at busy times. The vast majority provide free bedding, but some may charge a fee for a sheet sleeper. In high season expect to pay €20–35 for a dorm bed in Dublin, and around €15–25 elsewhere; in Northern Ireland you’ll usually pay £10–20.
An Óige and HINI hostels
The Republic’s Youth Hostel Association, An Óige (t01/830 4555, wanoige.ie; annual membership €20, under-18s €10, family €40), has a network concentrated mainly on popular tourist spots. Most offer smaller dorms or private rooms, usually with very good facilities, especially in some of the urban hostels or the new-builds at Errigal in Donegal and Knockree in Wicklow. Rates are around €12–25 per night depending on season and room. Hostelling International Northern Ireland (HINI; t028/9032 4733, whttp://www.hini.org.uk; annual membership £15, under-25s £10, family £25, one-adult family £15) has just six hostels, most of which are recently built or refurbished. Prices are around £10–17 per night.
Membership of either organization or the umbrella Hostelling International (HI) is not needed to stay in an An Óige or HINI hostel, however it does provide numerous discounts, ranging from travel to entry to attractions, and non-members pay a supplementary fee of €2/£1 for each night spent in a hostel. So, if you’re planning to use the An Óige/HINI network it’s worth joining your own country’s HI-affiliated association in advance.
Most tourist offices in the Republic stock the caravan and camping parks booklet produced by the Irish Caravan and Camping Council (whttp://www.camping-ireland.ie; €5). The price of a night’s stay at a campsite depends on the area’s popularity, facilities and tent size. Usually it will cost around €10–15 to pitch a tent and €2–6 per person on top of that, though some campsites may charge an all-in flat rate of €10–22. Some hostels also allow camping on their land for around €5–10 per person per night, with use of a kitchen and showers. In the North, NITB produces a free leaflet listing campsites, with prices from £8.50–15 per tent.
Camping rough is possible in many parts of Ireland, though the likelihood of rain coupled with the lack of proper facilities may prove a deterrent. Some of the terrain in Ireland’s west, often boggy or rocky, may make pitching a tent difficult too. Off the beaten track, many farmers in the Republic will allow camping in one of their fields, usually for a few euro. It’s permissible to camp in some state forests in the North, but not in the Republic.