C: Unsplash (L & R)

Dublin, where a hostel costs more than a four-star hotel in Florence

We’ve managed to survive ‘Blue Monday’ – which took place this week – deemed the most depressing day of the year. The festive fallout, exacerbated by persistent grey skies, a lack of funds, and resolution weariness, can leave many of us feeling gloomy. While the date is disputed by some psychologists – is it really the worst day of the year? – many of us will be glad to see January ticked off.

As a way to escape the frosty January woes, some of us may be keen to break up the month with a weekend away – whether that be in Ireland or snapping up impromptu cheap flights to a European city. Depending on where you’d like to escape to, plenty of airlines offer impressive January sale flights both domestically and further afield – for those of us pining for a generous dose of winter sun.

Still, the hassle of airports and increasingly expensive flights will leave many of us favouring a more convenient staycation or city break not quite as far from home. You’ll also probably assume that a holiday at home must surely be cheaper than the cost of a foreign getaway – but is it really? 

We decided to use Booking.com to price a three-night winter getaway in Dublin, as well as in Florence, Barcelona and Dubrovnik on the same dates – to see how Ireland measures up for value. In each location, we searched for four star hotels. Here’s what we found for value in the capital:

The cheapest four star hotel for three nights this month in Dublin – I’ve chosen 26 January – 29 January – costs an undoubtedly hefty €404. That’s at the Dublin Skylon Hotel.

The four-star Bonnington Hotel and Leisure Centre is next best for value, at €419 for a classic double or twin room. Other four-star offerings in the capital broadly range from €425 – €470 on booking.com. Staying in the Croke Park Hotel or in the StayCity Aparthotels in City Quay, meanwhile, will cost you closer to €500 for three nights.  

Personally, I think I’d rather stay at home or have a look at the ever-tempting Ryan Air Sale.

The cost of Dublin is rather eye-watering, so what about Cork? Often crowned ‘the real capital’, Ireland’s second biggest city offers a lively alternative to Dublin and beautiful views of the spectacular south coast – but is it any cheaper than an increasingly unaffordable Dublin?

9 km from Cork City centre, the cheapest offering on booking.com costs €350, while the popular Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa will set you back €384 for three nights. These are good value, considering other four-star offerings closer to the city centre will set you back up to €487 on the same dates. All in all, you’ll maybe save €50 staying outside of Cork City centre compared to Dublin – so it’s not really much of an improvement.

The next best option if you don’t have the best part of €500 to splash on three-nights accommodation at home is to book a mini-break in Europe. Getaways to European cities have become a no-brainer for many of us longing to break the January routine, with Irish prices making staycations – which soared in popularity in the 2020 summer lockdown season – increasingly less appealing. A number of popular European destinations are miles more affordable than Ireland from a quick browse on the site. 

In comparison, your money goes a long way further in the Tuscan city of Florence. If you fancy a weekend exploring a city overflowing with mediaeval churches, galleries, and museums, you can bag a three night stay later this month at a four-star hotel for as little as €170 on the site. Other four star offerings priced a little higher, with 9.5/10 reviews, range from €250 – €270. This means you’ll save roughly €250 on four-star accommodation if you choose Florence over Dublin – which will probably buy your flights.

It’s quite incredible when you consider that three nights in a hostel in Dublin on those dates will cost you a full €100 more than staying in a four-star hotel in Florence. To book a bed in a four-bed mixed dormitory room with shared bathroom in inner-city Gardiner House costs a staggering €366 on those dates. Well, I know where I’d rather be.

I was in Barcelona in the summer, and it was expensive. But at present, travelling in January means you’ll find half-price hotels, and you’ll be able to explore famous attractions such as the breathtaking La Sagrada Familia without the crowds – and without the baking temperatures seen in July and August.

Staying in a four-star hotel in the famous Catalonian city also costs less than Dublin. You’ll pay €213 to stay at the Catalonia Park Putxet, just 3 km from the city centre, for the same 3 nights at the end of this month. Other four-star offerings range from €225-240, and you’ll be spoiled for choice, with over 100 hotels in that price range. 

You’ll save almost €200 if you choose Barca over a comparatively dreary and costly Dublin – meaning you could secure an extra three nights, doubling your stay, for the same price. The priceyness of Dublin is clear when you consider Barcelona is considered significantly more expensive than many other Spanish cities, including Seville and Valencia.

Non-stop flights come in at under €115 for that weekend, the last in January – which means, all in, you’ll likely still be saving money even with many of us complaining that flights have gone up. 

Another popular location I decided to price was Dubrovnik. I travelled to a beautiful wedding in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just a few hours from Split, Croatia, earlier this month, and paid an incredibly reasonable €90 for three nights accommodation sharing with a friend in a four-star hotel. I couldn’t help thinking: that wouldn’t get us very far at home, would it? 

So I decided to check how much a three-night stay in one of Croatia’s most popular cities, Dubrovnik, would cost at the end of this month for a double room. Sandy beaches, wine bars, azure skies – the stunning walled city, a favourite of A-listers including Roman Abramovich and Beyonce, would make for a dreamy January adventure. A search on Booking.com returned 161 four-star hotels in the city, and compared to Ireland, the value for money seemed fabulous.

You can stay 1.8km from the centre in a four-star studio apartment to see out January in style, and three nights only costs €104. For a four star hotel, you’ll pay just over €200 – again, half the cost of a staycation here.

The glamorous Hotel Adria is available from 26-29 January for €201, while Hotel Lero, which is even closer to the centre (1.8km) costs €211 for a single room. Again, I can’t help finding it amazing and even moreso, a terribly poor reflection of Irish tourism when a three-night break to Croatia’s most upmarket destination, brimming with culture, sophistication and style, costs so much less than staying in our increasingly dangerous, dingy capital.

It’s little wonder Lonely Planet more or less advised visitors to ask themselves if they really wanted to go to Dublin this past summer. As you may remember, the high-profile travel blog, as recently as last summer, warned international visitors of ‘chaos’, ‘eye-watering’ costs and the unbelievable price of securing last-minute accommodation in the capital.

“Soaring hotel costs are wreaking havoc with holidaymakers’ budgets, as figures from the Central Statistics Office show price increases of up to 17% for hotel accommodation in Ireland over the last three years,” it said in July.

Even in January, prices seem unaffordable for most people. And, honestly, probably just not worth it. It is, quite frankly, bananas, that staying in a mixed hostel dormitory or in a private room in purpose-built student accommodation in our capital city actually costs more than staying in a stylish hotel in European hotspots like Florence for the same length of time.

And yet, incredibly, we still have the audacity to call ourselves ‘the land of 100 thousand welcomes’. But I’m not so sure we deserve that title when we look at what’s on offer in Ireland – especially compared to the value for money elsewhere.

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