The ultimate guide to college life in Ireland

Just what is student life like in and around our main third-level campuses?

Cork is home to UCC and CIT.

Cork is home to UCC and CIT.

 

Select your college of interest: UCCCIT, TCDTU Dublin, UCD, DCU, NCAD, NUI Galway, University of Limerick, Maynooth University, Waterford IT

So you’re going to college. But where? “Dublin” might seem like one city, but there’s a big difference between attending Trinity or one of TU Dublin’s campuses, where students can step off campus into the heart of the city, and going to DCU in the suburbs of Glasnevin or UCD out in Belfield.

Meanwhile, students at CIT and UCC will have a very different experience to that in the highly student-oriented town of Maynooth, while those at NUI Galway will find students are at the centre of Galway life perhaps more than in other big Irish cities.

Just what is student life like in and around our main third-level campuses?

Cork

Home to UCC and CIT, students are a big presence in the city – and there is no shortage of pubs and restaurants to serve them. UCC is more or less smack-bang in the middle of the city, whereas the CIT campus at Bishopstown is a little further out of town and, unless students live close by, they probably need to cycle or walk to college.

Cork also serves as a launching pad to explore the surrounding countryside: Youghal, a pleasant seaside town, is only 30 minutes away.

UCC

What’s hot?

UCC is a standout campus that is very pleasing on the eye. There’s no shortage of facilities on-site but, when students step outside, there’s also plenty to explore in Cork itself.

What’s not?

Cork can get a bit foggy and flooded, while some people find the whole exceptionalism behind the “People’s Republic of Cork” tag a little tiresome.

Where to hang?

Despite being so close to the city, the campus is so well-served that students tend to stay put. The student centre, the Mardyke sports arena and the amphitheatre are always busy. When it comes to the campus’s two bars, the old bar has that well-worn and old-man pub character, while the new bar feels . . . well, newer. On sunny days, Fitzgerald Park draws the crowds. Off-campus, students flock to Suas, the Bailey and the Washington Inn. On match days, Sober Lane is thronged, and customers can get a pitcher of beer for €14 or, if they also order a pizza, the pitcher is just €10. LGBTI+ bars include The Chambers and The Roundy.

Where to eat?

On campus, the main restaurant, Elements, and Cafe Oasis all feed the masses and the food is generally fairly priced with good deals for students.

Wherever they are based, students will always get better deals if they opt for the early bird and eat dinner before 6pm or 7pm. Among the best Asian early birds on offer are Koto, which also does a midweek lunch special of a main plus wine or beer for €11 and Ramen’s 6 before 6 (a full main for just €6 before 6pm). The Old Oak’s student lunches might just be unbeatable on price: soup, sandwich, chips and coffee for just €5. BBQ joint The White Rabbit serves up tasty fare at reasonable prices. Wabisabi does a Japanese bento box from Sunday to Thursday for just €7.90. Any students living in Douglas should definitely check out KC’s: it’s mostly chicken, burgers and pittas but the value is noteworthy.

CIT

What’s hot?

Now that DIT has morphed into the Technological University of Dublin, it leaves CIT as Ireland’s most significant institute of technology. The main campus is in the Cork suburb of Bishopstown, but CIT’s Cork School of Music and the Crawford College of Art and Design are both in Cork city campuses, while students of CIT’s National Maritime College of Ireland are based in Cobh.

What’s not?

There is an active student life with plenty of clubs and societies to get involved in, but the campus can get a little quiet.

Where to go?

At the Bishopstown campus, students flock to the courtyard on sunny days. They also gather at Nexus student centre and the common room, or at the sports stadium, pitch or one of the two gyms. There’s no on-campus bar but the Bishopstown Bar – or B-bar, as some students call it – is a popular spot with CIT students.

Where to eat?

There isn’t a huge amount of choice around the campus, so most students eat in the canteen, the Bishopstown Bar or Dino’s chipper. Alternatively, they cycle (approx 20 minutes) or get a bus (about 30 minutes) to the city centre.

Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and has more third-level institutions than any other county.
Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and has more third-level institutions than any other county.

Dublin

Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and, with more third-levels than any other county – including TU Dublin, UCD, Trinity, DCU, NCAD, Marino Institute of Education, IADT Dún Laoghaire, DBS, Griffith College and more – it’s no surprise that it offers the greatest choice for students. Yes, prices can be exorbitant, but students will also find a greater variety of cheap eats than in any other town or city.

Of course, students in Trinity College or any of the TU Dublin campuses will find greater variety than UCD students out on the Belfield campus or DCU students on the Glasnevin site, where it’s a bus ride into the city.

For this reason, our Dublin guide is more focused on the spots around the city centre and, by default, on Trinity and TU Dublin students – but we do have something for everyone.

There are many cultural highlights on your doorstep and a wealth of bars, clubs and restaurants. Trinity College itself is arguably the most dominant feature in the city, with its central location shaping the very layout of surrounding streets and buildings, so let’s start there.

Trinity College is in the heart of Dublin city. Photograph: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Trinity College is in the heart of Dublin city. Photograph: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Trinity College

What’s hot?

Trinity is such a beautiful and historic campus that tourists flock to see it. Because of this, Trinity is a lovely place to while away a few hours, with plenty of benches, pitches and little nooks.

Trinity also boasts what is easily the best university library in the country. As a “legal deposit library”, Irish publishers are legally obliged to send it at least one copy of every book, while UK publishers must also make at least one copy available on request. The only downside to this is that borrowers often have to wait a few hours, or until the following day, for the book to be located from the Santry Book Depository.

What’s not?

Some students love the bustle from the streams of tourists but, for others, they’re an obstacle to be negotiated. Oddly, Trinity still has no student centre, although plans for one are well advanced.

Where to go?

The Pav is a popular drinking spot for students and, on sunny days, the hordes of Dubliners who like to spread out onto the surrounding pitches. Students also hang around the JCR (Junior Common Room), arts block and surrounding bars. Nearby pubs Doyle’s (College Street), Grogans (William Street South) and The Gingerman (Fenian Street) are among the most popular watering holes. Captain America’s (Grafton Street) does good deals on drinks.

Where to eat?

Trinity students are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a place for lunch or a night out. On campus, there’s decent-ish but reliable food at reasonable prices in The Buttery, and students can also eat in the Dining Hall. Nearby cheap eats include Yum Thai (Duke Street), any of the burrito places including Tolteca and Pablo Picante, but the best-value lunches are a short hop away with plenty of cheap Indian, Chinese and Korean places just over O’Connell Bridge around Parnell Street, Capel Street and Moore Street. On Dame Street, a short hop from Trinity, Umi Falafel’s all-day plate for two offers arguably the best value vegetarian and vegan food in the city.

TU Dublin campuses (and places worth the walk for Trinity and other students)

What’s hot?

TU Dublin is gradually moving into the Grangegorman campus near Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, and it’s starting to transform the already rather hip Stoneybatter area. For the other campuses, there’s no shortage of places to eat or drink on each of their doorsteps. Students of one campus can use the facilities at the others, including gyms.

What’s not?

The scattered nature of the various campuses can make the energy a little dissipated, but there is a student area on all of them, and each site has a local students’ union.

Where to go?

For a quiet drink, there are many pubs around Stoneybatter/Smithfield, as well as The Lighthouse Cinema for food, drink and films. The Bolton Street campus has plenty of pubs around the area, as do the Kevin and Aungier Street campuses.

LGBTI+ bars in the city include Street 66 on Parliament Street, The George on George’s Street, PantiBar on Capel Street and, just around the corner, Panti’s new bar, Penny Lane. Also on Capel Street, Outhouse is a long-standing drop-in community resource for LGBTI+ people.

Where to eat?

There are some places around Grangegorman where you’ll pay through the nose for a coffee, but there’s also the rather magnificent, no-fuss greasy spoon Cowtown Cafe, where you can get classic breakfasts and comfort foods alongside healthier options such as salads, served with a smile at fairly unbeatable prices. Go there.

For students still on or near the Kevin Street, Store Street, and Aungier Street sites – or, indeed, for other college students in the city – Camden Street is a mecca for cheap eats. The Green Bench cafe is rammed out the door at lunchtime: unsurprising, given the quality of its great value soups and sandwiches. There’s Govinda’s on Aungier Street for very cheap albeit sometimes bland veggie food, while Neon17’s large portions at reasonable prices could do for a lunch and a dinner. Just around the corner, Vietnamese take-out Pang does big, glorious, crisp bánh-mì (baguettes jam-packed with fresh Vietnamese ingredients) for just €6.50 – there is a delicious vegan option, but we highly recommend the ginger beef brisket.

For Bolton Street students, just step off campus and wander across to any of the many Asian restaurants and cafes around Capel Street and Parnell Street. M&L may be the best-value Chinese restaurant in the city, while Hilan is a Korean BBQ you can spend most of the evening in for very little money.

UCD

What’s hot?

Over the past few years, the UCD student centre has helped to really transform the campus. Because of its location away from Dublin city, UCD can, despite its scale, feel like a community, and the centre includes a 3D cinema, theatre, debating chamber, gym and Olympic-sized swimming pool.

What’s not?

The sheer scale of the campus can feel daunting for first years, while much of its architecture – particularly the concrete arts block with its low ceilings and brown tiled floors – can feel oppressive. Unlike city centre campuses, once students set foot on it, they’re generally there for the day as there’s not usually much point in taking a bus in and out of the city between lectures.

Where to go?

UCD once had at least three bars as well as the Montrose Hotel just across the road, but there’s just one place to drink on-campus now. This means that UCD students are likely to head into town to drink (see the sections on Trinity and TU Dublin for a mention of some favoured student bars). On campus, the student centre and the Global Lounge – an indoor entertainment hub for game-playing, TV watching, seminars and films – is a popular spot.

Where to eat?

The main restaurant retains its timeless, reassuring grimness, but all the best on-campus food is to be found at Pulse in the Health Sciences building. It serves Costa coffee, made-to-order salads and, for €6, a sandwich with water and a piece of fruit. Centra can be one of the cheaper on-campus food options. The best nearby off-campus option is the Olive Tree restaurant at the Clonskeagh mosque: just a few minutes walk off-campus and offering a delicious selection of Middle-Eastern foods as well as a selection of cheap cooking spices and ethnic foods in its shop.

DCU

What’s hot?

DCU’s Helix is a big venue, hosting some well-known acts; this December, rapper Denzel Curry is set to play. Because the main Glasnevin campus is a bus journey from the city, the students’ unions and societies are particularly active – and students who get involved in campus life can get extra credit through DCU’s Uaneen module (named after the late broadcaster and DCU graduate Uaneen Fitzsimons). DCU is also the world’s first autism-friendly campus as well as having the most diverse student population.

What’s not?

It’s such a long walk to the library that you’d have conquered Everest sooner – and you can only hope you don’t need to use the library toilets when you finally do get there . . .

Where to go?

There are plenty of spots for students on campus, with most hanging out around the NuBar, the Mezz, the students’ union or the canteen. Across the road, students can also be found in The Slipper bar.

Where to eat?

Students are wild about the NuBar’s chicken goujons and chips for a fiver, but DCU is fairly well-served by a few restaurants and cafes around campus, with the main canteen offering a good selection. And while it is a good 2km away, The Gravediggers pub is known for its quality food.

NCAD

Students at the National College of Art and Design might hunt me down for sharing this secret: their college canteen, Luncheonette, is easily the best college canteen in Ireland, with food that manages to be cheap and a million miles away from the usual soggy lasagnes and chips, sausages and beans served up on campuses countrywide. It is a gem for all of Dublin – but don’t tell anyone.

Thomas Street is oddly underdeveloped despite being a stop on the tourist trail but nearby Arthur’s is a classic pub serving decent food, while Manning’s Bakery does big portions of food at varied prices, and it’s a nice place to treat yourself to some cake.

Vicar Street is a live music venue right on the college’s doorstep.

Every pub is a student pub in Galway.
Every pub is a student pub in Galway.

Galway

Perhaps more than any other city in Ireland, students are a big presence here. NUI Galway is the main third-level in the city, while the Galway students of GMIT make up the bulk of GMIT’s numbers.

The city is small and quite compact, so students will find all their food, drink, cultural and shopping needs met without having to go too far. The Spanish Arch, Shop Street and Eyre Square are where much of the action is focused, and brave sea swimmers will enjoy plunging into the Atlantic’s icy waters.

NUI Galway

What’s hot?

Galway can credibly claim to be an artistic and cultural hub for the whole nation, and there’s always music, film, literature and general arts festival humming alongside a range of gigs in vibrant bars. Galway is also probably the cheapest university town in Ireland.

What’s not?

Data scientist Shane Lynn has calculated that Galway is the worst city on earth for people who cycle to work or college. Expect to get wet. And while it’s a very artistic town, some of this art can be a bit painful, self-indulgent and hard to avoid.

Where to go?

On sunny days, Salthill is rammed with students. The Crane Bar and the Róisín Dubh are the city’s main live music venues. Galway’s students are perhaps more integrated into the fabric of the city than at other third-levels, so any pub can be a student pub. Galway is an open and gay-friendly city, but Nova is the main LGBTI+ bar – it only really comes to life at the weekends, however.

Where to eat?

Smokie’s cafe is a centrally located place to eat on campus, while the students’ union offers good value dinners in the student bar. McDonaghs on Quay Street is a Galway institution. In general, there are quite a lot of delicious places to eat in Galway, but not all would fit within a student’s tight budget. Galway is also, of course, the home of Supermac’s, and Galway students will fight to the death to defend the local branches as the best in Ireland.

Limerick

Limerick is a transformed city that is palpably on the rise. Home to the University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College (teacher training) and the Limerick Institute of Technology, there’s always a buzz to be found. UL isn’t in the city centre, but students don’t suffer too much as a result, because the campus is probably Ireland’s most beautiful and well-planned.

University of Limerick boasts a beautiful campus. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22
University of Limerick boasts a beautiful campus. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

University of Limerick

What’s hot?

UL is such a beautiful campus that students can happily find plenty of nice corners. There are plenty of clubs and societies to keep everyone busy outside class time.

What’s not?

The distance of UL from the city can be a bit of a pain, while the bars in the rugby capital of Ireland can be quite annoying for people who aren’t mad about rugby.

Where to go?

The UL arena boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a top-class gym. The courtyard is usually bustling, especially on Tuesdays when it hosts a weekly farmers’ market. The Munster rugby squad regularly train in the arena. The campus bar, The Stables, has a cracking atmosphere and hosts regular gigs. Off campus, Dolan’s Warehouse is less of a warehouse than it sounds and more like one of Ireland’s best live music venues. Angel Lane is a popular nightclub for the city’s students.

Where to eat?

Because it’s a trek away from the city, most people eat at one of more than a dozen restaurants or cafes on the campus. La Cucina offers hearty Italian food at reasonable prices. Students quite rightly love The Chicken Hut on O’Connell Street and Turkuaz Kebab House on Cornmarket Row.

Around the country

Maynooth University

What’s hot?

Under its president, Philip Nolan, this university – relatively small by global standards – has grown in stature and ambition. It feels like a university of two halves: the south campus has preserved its magnificent 19th-century architecture and and reflects the historic roots of the institution. The north campus, by contrast, is much more modern in appearance and reflects the university’s outward-looking nature.

What’s not?

Although Maynooth University is the beating heart of the surrounding town, it’s still some distance from Dublin or other major towns. Yes, there’s a very good train connection – and good bus connections too – but for those who have to drive, parking can be a problem.

Where to go?

Maynooth is Ireland’s only proper student town and students have a huge impact here. The university’s relatively new library is particularly impressive, not just as a place to study but as the central place to hang out, whether in the Starbuck’s or in one of the many seating areas with their beanbags and couches. On campus, there’s a students’ union bar which hosts regular music and comedy acts. Just outside the campus gates, there are many bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from. The Brewery Coffee House is a popular spot, while Maynooth students like to drink in, among other pubs, The Roost and especially The Duke and Coachman, a late-night bar and nightclub.

Where to eat?

The Phoenix restaurant is the main on-campus eatery and there’s also Chill Restaurant in the students’ union as well as Starbuck’s in the library building. Off-campus, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from in the town but not necessarily a huge amount of cheap eats: Beetroot probably offers the best value food, with loads of healthy veggie options, while students are flocking to Yeah Burgr. Picaderos is a popular spot for a meal out: there’s always lunch specials on offer and, at time of writing, these include three tapas for €11 or a toasted soft roll with chips and salad or soup, as well as tea, coffee, juice or still/sparking water for €10.

Waterford Institute of Technology

What’s hot?

The weather. Compared to the other places in Ireland, the sunny southeast gets a reasonable amount of sunshine. And, with Tramore’s beaches and the Comeragh Mountains on the doorstep, there’s plenty of opportunity to really enjoy the weather. Public transport to and from the college is, by all accounts, fairly frequent and reliable.

What’s not?

When it comes to culture and amenities, Ireland’s fifth-largest city just can’t compete with Cork, Dublin, Galway or Limerick. WIT is the only major third-level in the city and a relatively intimate place to go to college: chances are you’ll keep meeting the same familiar faces.

Where to go?

On the WIT campus, the Dome Sports & Social Club is the main bar. Off campus, The Foundry is the big student hangout, but not the only option. Henry Downes is a Waterford institution. Mondays and Wednesdays are the big student nights. On sunny days, students congregate on the campus’s many green spaces.

Where to eat?

The Hot House Bistro, Brown’s Road, Oscars Cafe and The Gallery all serve food on campus. Many restaurants and takeaways run student offers during the week.

Music and entertainment

Dublin

Student and student-friendly nights abound throughout the week, including Dicey Reilly’s and D2 on Harcourt Street and, of course, the ultimate student night club: Copperface Jack’s (also Harcourt Street). Camden Street – and, in particular Ryan’s, The Opium Rooms, The Palace and Flanagan’s – has popular student night spots. There are still some good club nights for more discerning music-lovers, while Whelan’s and The Grand Social are among the venues with the best live music.

In Cork, student nights and popular bars include Havana Brown’s on Hanover Street and An Bróg on Oliver Plunkett Street. Sadly, The Bailey has changed hands and is now targeting over-23s. Crane Lane and Coughlan’s are stand-out music venues.

Galway students flock to McSwiggans for drinks and Carbon for nightlife (followed by Supermac’s of course). The Róisín Dubh is a beloved music venue.

In Limerick, Dolan’s is one of the best music venues in Ireland; the same venue holds the popular Cabal nightclub. The Big Top at Milk Market and the Library Bar also host top-class acts and are popular with students.

For more information on Ireland’s music scene, check out Niall Byrne’s comprehensive and regularly updated blog, Nialler9. com.

Cheap eats and drinks for students

– reader recommendations

Dublin

– At 7.30pm, Kokoro do half price of all their sushi so you can get a decent amount of sushi, a miso soup and a drink for about a fiver! – @Saharcasm

– @SimonsPlacecafe is great for coffee, sandwiches and cakes – Lynn Boylan, @LNBDublin

– Bounce Back on Thomas St in Dublin is a v unassuming little Mexican place, that does excellent food at really good prices. They do a bean burrito for just €4, and they do excellent quesadillas for about €5 – @CheapEats

Madina Desi Curry Mary St, Sichuan Chilli King Parnell St, PhoViet Parnell S, Boco Bolton St, Black Sheep Capel St – to be fair last two aren’t cheap for beer but the food is cheap & v cheerful – @fennaldo

– Soup Dragon on Capel Street – soup with salad or bread or rice cakes #glutenfree only €4 – best lunch in town! Varied menu everyday. Never disappoints – @EmmaCConway

– Pillar Bar does two cocktails for a tenner every night of the week. Wok Inn used to be mad cheap like €3 a box, gone up a bit but still amazing value – @Thanks_Eli

– Boco on capel st/bolton st 100 per cent for food, Proof pizza on Thomas St does great cheap pizza plus a deadly vegan one. The jug on Francis St has a great vibe and cheap enough pints – @seamusthewalrus

– @DaMimmoDublin (Italian) on the North Strand! Divine! Shouk in Drumcondra (Mediterranean) is class too – @MartinsLeftLeg

– Passion for Food. Probably the best Kebab shop in Dublin, on Clanbrassil Street and one on Camden St too – @CoreYouthServ

Cork

– White Rabbit, Sakura, yuen ming yuen, Wabi Sabi – @pamelora

– Koto, 14A, the Old Oak student lunches (soup, sandwich, chips and coffee for €5) and Ramen’s 6 before 6 all in Cork. The Strasbourg Goose is good too. Pints: the Corner House, An Spalpin Fanach and The Abbey Tavern – @ClaraghLucey

Galway

– The Galway Cakery in Moycullen. Absolutely delicious Lebanese food. Great options for vegans and veggies as well. Highly recommended – @scrahallia

– @PapaRichGalway! Starters for a fiver. Mains, a tenner. HUGE portions and ALL freakin delish. Also the market at St. Nicholas in Galway. Loads of cheap eats. Special shout out to the Beantree’s pea and potato curry for €4.50. Fills you up, pure comfort food and is vegan! – @mitsuko45

Xian a Chinese street food place in Galway and Dublin, authentic and always packed, and best spice bag in the country in my humble opinion! – @ArleneAnna97

Sligo

– Sligo Kebabish takeaway is super cheap for food esp pizzas best place to go out on the cheap is the Leitrim bar – @melissa_mcguirk

– Swagman Bar (multiple recommendations)

– Had a great meal in Flipside in Sligo recently – @italianfoodie

– Earley’s bar and grill, Bridge St – @ConorGriffin90

Waterford

– Waterford food: Toms Kitchen, Kyoto, Blackfriars, Slice

Waterford Drinks: Tully’s, Uisce Beatha, Geoffs, The Fat Angel – @ciarap0wer

Countrywide:

– Any of the red basket meal deals in Eddie Rockets – Dublin. €7.95 for burger/hotdog/tenders, chips and a drink – @ItsLouiseOC

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