So why would Ireland appeal to backpackers? Let us count the ways. For a start there’s our young population, with almost a third of the population under 25. Cities such as Dublin, Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Cork and Galway are legendary for their nightlife, music, art and student culture. And getting around is easy, with great public transport infrastructure and specialist tours for intrepid adventurers.
You’ll find an excellent hostel network, with common rooms packed with travellers from all over the world. And did we mention the student discounts?
We’ll let student Julie from Oregon, who spent a summer in Ireland at the tender age of 21, explain:
“One delightful discovery is there are student discounts EVERYWHERE! I loved presenting my international student ID card at clothing stores, at some restaurants, and at bus or train ticket depots for discounts. It’s nice to have that small 10% (or more!) back in your pocket, because eventually that adds up to a nice night out.
Not to mention, most museums here are FREE for everyone! I definitely took advantage of the late-night openings on Thursdays and got a little arts and culture in between my socialising.”
What you need to know about backpacking and student travel around the island:
If you have a student card, bring it everywhere. It’ll give you discounts and special student rates on bus and train journeys. Bus Éireann and Irish Rail in the Republic of Ireland will both offer student rates with a valid student ID card. Translink in Northern Ireland offers savings on bus and rail if you purchase a Translink Student Discount Card, however, you must be on a full-time course or in full-time training in the UK to be eligible.
The train network doesn’t quite cover the whole island, so if you’re planning to go off the beaten track use the buses. The Open Road bus pass allows unlimited travel on all Bus Éireann scheduled services. Remember that bus and train services on weekends and bank holidays will be less frequent.
Dedicated backpacker tours are a great way of meeting other travellers, especially if you’re travelling solo. While Ireland is generally a safe place for visitors, hitchhiking is not recommended.
And now, it gets even easier to travel in Dublin! The brand new pre-paid Leap Visitor Card is a prepaid pass that allows you to travel on all Dublin Bus, Airlink 747 buses as well as the Luas and DART for a whole 72 hours (3 days) from its first use. Simply use your card to Touch On Leap Card Validators before or as you board the bus/train/tram and Touch Off when you alight or leave the station and the journey is registered on your Leap Card. It's that easy.
Being a foreign exchange student is an advantage too: the Leap Trainee Card is available through your language school and directly from Dublin Bus. You can avail of a 1-week up to 4-week card, meaning you can hop on to the Luas, DART, Iarnród Éireann’s short-hop zone and Dublin bus at your convenience.
The Leap Card isn’t just good for getting around the city: you can use it to explore Dublin far and wide, including coastal villages, suburban towns and everything in between.
Travelling in Northern Ireland? Use iLink
Similar to the Leap Card, iLink <http://www.translink.co.uk/Fares/Translink-Products/iLink/> is a smartcard that gives you unlimited daily, weekly, and monthly bus and rail travel.
The iLink smartcard is available for Metro, NI Railways and Ulsterbus services within 5 zones. You can also top up your card at selected stations. Read this handy user guide <http://www.translink.co.uk/Global/4525%20ILink%20User%20Guide.pdf> for information on full iLink services.
Youth hostels will be your best bet for accommodation, and you’ll find them all over the island. Staying in a dorm is generally the cheapest option but private rooms with shared bathrooms are usually available too. An Óige is the Irish Youth Hostel Association in the Republic of Ireland. Hostelling International Northern Ireland operates hostels across Northern Ireland as part of a global network.
Cities have plenty of hostels, but do book ahead in the peak summer season. Staying in university digs in the summer, such as Dublin’s Trinity College or Queen’s University in Belfast, gives a flavour of Ireland’s campus life and is great value.
Out of the cities and off the beaten track, B&Bs are plentiful and will always provide a warm Irish welcome.