How to travel to and from Ireland without flying
Ireland has plenty of ferry services to and from Scotland, Wales and England... and indeed France, many of which link in with bus and rail services. I am Irish, based in London, and so I have tried and tested many of them. There are also excellent bus and rail services within Ireland, described below. If you have experiences of any of these journeys and would like to send feedback, please use the 'add new comment' facility below.
Best wishes, Catherine Mack.
Ferry to Ireland
To book ferry tickets to and from Ireland, see greentraveller's ferry booking system - we've used this unique booking system and have found it a safe, secure and reliable system that takes the hassle out of booking ferry tickets.
There are several ferry options for travelling to Ireland: you can get a fast ferry or slow ferry, travel by foot or as a car passenger, to Cork, Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Larne, Belfast, or Rosslare. Some services do not allow you to travel as a foot passenger, but when they do, you can carry liquids, pushchairs, wheelchairs, bicycles, a surfboard, musical instruments or any other bulky items. Most ferry companies tie in with Sail Rail, an alliance of ferry and rail companies, which came together to offer excellent deals when combining taking a train from several UK stations to Ireland. There are also rail links to and from all French ferry ports, making onward travel for foot passengers straightforward, if travelling from Ireland to France. There are a few anomalies e.g. there are facilities to carry bikes onboard the Larne train, but not on the Rosslare train. If you want to rent a car at Dublin Port, you will pay over twice the price as if you rent one from Dublin airport. However, as transport providers are recognising the demand for greener travel, the infrastructure is starting to respond to demand.
Ferry companies operating between UK and Ireland, France and Ireland are as follows:
With services between Pembroke and Holyhead in Wales to Dublin port, and from Cherbourg and Roscoff in France to Rosslare on Ireland’s south-east coast. Foot passengers welcome on all crossings. A fast catamaran service is available on the Holyhead to Dublin route, which takes 1 hour and 49 minutes, although it is more prone to cancellation if the weather is choppy, in which case you will be put on the next slower crossing. There are rail links to and from Holyhead, Pembroke, Cherbourg, Roscoff and Rosslare, and a shuttle bus link to the city centre from Dublin port (although there is only one to meet the ferry, so you need to be on the ball to catch it. Plenty of taxis, with taxi into city centre for approx. €10). You can travel with your bicycle for a charge of £5 each way although there are currently no facilities for bikes on the train from Rosslare. See Irish Rail for updates on which trains offer bike facilities.
Stena Line offers crossings from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin port or Dun Laoghaire, from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare and from Stranraer in Scotland to Belfast, all of which are open to foot and car passengers. They also have a longer crossing (eight hours) from Fleetwood in Lancashire, England, to Larne in Northern Ireland, but this is not open to foot passengers. On the Fishguard to Rosslare and Stranraer to Belfast crossings, Stena Line has its own rail and sail offers. There are railway stations at Fishguard, Dun Laoghaire, Stranraer and Rosslare for easy, transfers, although there are currently no facilities for bikes on the train from Rosslare or on the DART service from Dun Laoghaire. However, if you have only panniers as luggage, it is only an eleven kilometre cycle into Dublin city centre along the coastline from Dun Laoghaire. There are facilities to carry bikes on the Larne train. If arriving into Belfast, there is a shuttle bus service which meets the ferries into the city centre, as well as a regular commuter service on the 96 bus route which is just outside the terminal gates. See www.translink.co.uk for bus timetables. www.stenaline.co.uk.
Departing from Birkenhead Port (Liverpool), Norfolk Line has two crossings a day to Belfast or Dublin Port. One of these is overnight and, as it is an eight hour crossing, there are cabins available. Foot passengers are welcome, however note that cabins are not included in the price for a foot passenger, and must be booked separately. If you are travelling alone, you are guaranteed a cabin to yourself, even though they are four-berth cabins. Note that if you want to work on board, plug sockets are two pins, so you will need an adaptor. There are rail connections to Liverpool city centre, however the port is a twenty minute walk from the station, and there are plenty of taxis available. There are bus links from Belfast and Dublin ports to the city centres. There is no shuttle bus meeting the Norfolk Line service, however you can pick up the regular commuter bus number 96 into the city service at the terminal gates. You can also travel with a bicycle on Norfolk Lines, and enjoy the reactions from the truck drivers, who seem to make up the majority of passengers on this route. www.norfolkline.com
P&O Irish Sea
Offering fast and frequent crossings between Cairnryan and Troon in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland, as well as between Liverpool and Dublin. The Liverpool-Dublin route does not carry foot passengers, however the Scotland to Ireland services carry both foot and car passengers. The Troon Express Fastcraft takes 1 hour 50 mins, the Cairnryan Express Fastcraft, 1 hour and the Cairnryan Superferry is 2 hours long. There is a railway station at Troon, about a twenty minute walk from the ferry port. If you are travelling to and from Cairnryan, the nearest train station is at Stranraer, about six kilometres away by taxi or, if you want to go by bike, it’s about a half hour cycle around the shore of Lough Ryan, and P&O do not charge to transport bikes. Arriving in Northern Ireland, there is an hourly train between Larne port and Belfast and you can put your bike on the train. From Liverpool to Dublin, there are two crossings a day, taking 7.5 hours, with cabins available. Bikes can be carried on board the Scottish services, at no charge. www.poirishsea.com
One sailing a week from Roscoff in Brittany, France to Cork in Southwest of Ireland leaving Friday evenings, with an average journey time of 11 hours. Return journey from Cork to Roscoff every Saturday afternoon. There is a local rail and bus service from Roscoff to Morlaix, where you can pick up higher speed trains to other parts of France. In Cork, the port is located at Ringaskiddy port, about 15kms south of Cork city. There a bus connection from the port to Cork city centre, where you can link up with bus and rail services to other parts of Ireland. Foot passengers are allowed to travel with this service, and Brittany Ferries carry bicycles for a small supplement. www.brittany-ferries.co.uk
In 2010, this is a new ferry service between Swansea, Wales and Cork, Ireland. From the Cork’s Ringaskiddy port, there is sto Cork city centre, and from there you can catch an Irish Rail train. In Wales, Swansea Railway Station is located approx. two kilometres from the Ferry Terminal and there is a regular bus service operating from the station to the ferry port. Both crossings leave at 21.00 hrs and arrive at 07.00 hrs. The service is year round, with six sailings a week, and additional services in July and August. Foot passengers and bikes are allowed on board. It is a 20 kms cycle to Cork city centre. At present, this service is not linked in to the excellent bargains with SailRail.com.
Right: Fastnet Lines arriving into Cork
Celtic Link Ferries
Three sailings a week between Cherbourg, France and Rosslare in Southeast of Ireland. This ferry service is predominantly for carrying freight, however it now also carries passengers, often at competitive no-frills rates, and the crossing takes approximately 18 hours. Most services are open to foot passengers (on Norman Voyager vessel only) and cabins are not compulsory on Norman Voyager daytime sailings. www.celticlinkferries.com
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company
With frequent and fast crossings between Douglas, Isle of Man to Belfast and Dublin, of between two to three hours, this service is also open to foot and car passengers. You can also bring your bike, free of charge. The ferry comes into Albert Dock in Belfast, where you can get a bus to the city centre. In Dublin, it docks at Dublin ferry port, where there is a shuttle bus into the city centre, which is just 6kms from the port. www.steam-packet.com
This alliance of train and ferry operators, in Ireland and UK, offer an invaluable service in combining rail and ferry tickets from several UK railway stations to Ireland’s ferry ports, as well as any onward journey you need to make by rail. Note that booking online is not currently available, only by phone (From 00-44-8450 755755, Monday to Friday 0800-2000, Weekends 0900-1700), although the website does enable you to get a quote online. However, it saves time in looking up different rail networks and ferry companies. Just phone them, and they will link it all up for you, and offer very reasonable prices, such as one way from London to Dublin from £38.
SailRail is a UK based organisation, and you can pick up tickets at a choice of UK railway stations, or have them posted to a UK address. If your journey starts in Ireland you can still book via SailRail, but you need to allow ten days for the ticket to be posted, (five working days for Northern Ireland) and there is an extra charge of £5 for international postage. They don’t up the prices for school holidays either, which is a rare thing these days. If you have a train journey in the UK, it is of particularly good value. www.sailrail.co.uk
Travel by train in Ireland
Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann)
There are several rail services in Ireland. In Dublin, the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) is a good way to get around, especially if you are visiting one of Dublin’s coastal beauty spots, as it runs along the coast of Dublin Bay, from Howth in north County Dublin to Bray, just south of Dublin in County Wicklow. There is also a suburban service, and a good inter-city rail service, which is growing all the time due to the current upgrade in stock and track improvements. For all timetables and ticket prices see www.irishrail.ie.It is also worth noting that tourists over 66 years old can also travel free of charge with a Golden Trekker ticket on Irish Railways until the end 2010. See Tourism Ireland's website for further details.
There are two central stations in Dublin; Heuston station which generally serves the West, and Connolly Station, which serves the North and South East, but currently no rail link between the two, although the Luas tram service connects both stations, travelling on the Red Line.
For visitors travelling with bikes, Irish Rail is in the process of improving its bicycle facilities. At the moment you can take a bicycle (for a charge of up to €8) on most intercity services, although times are restricted. The most up to date information can be found on the website, and it works on a first-come first-served basis, with no bike reservation service available. I favour the information on Rail Users Ireland., a very dynamic organisation which campaigns for better rail services in Ireland. There is also a concise list of bike hire companies on Irish Rail’s website.
If you are considering the train and bus as your main forms of transport while travelling around Ireland, it is worth considering one of Irish Rail’s Explorer Tickets. They vary in price depending on whether you are planning on travelling island-wide or not, and the length of your stay in Ireland. Child Explorer tickets are half the price of adult tickets. For one-off trips, families should request a family ticket, which is valid for one or two adults and up to four children less than 16 years. It is available for one day on "off peak" days or all days for a monthly ticket. Day returns are not available for Friday & Sunday travel. There is no charge for under fives.
Northern Ireland Railways
Within Northern Ireland, the network includes places of visitor interest such as Bangor, County Down, Derry and Portrush on the Antrim Coast, as well as Larne for incoming ferry services from Scotland. There are five main stations in Belfast, and services vary out of each. They are Central, Botanic (right beside Belfast’s Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum), City Hospital, Gt. Victoria Street and Yorkgate. There is a fast and frequent service between Belfast and Dublin known as The Enterprise, which serves Dublin’s Connolly Station and Belfast’s Central Station. For latest prices and offers see www.transllink.co.uk. There is also a section on Translink’s website regarding the storage of bicycles on public transport in Northern Ireland, and bicycles are carried free of charge on all Northern Ireland Railway services, including the cross-border Enterprise service, and the train meeting the ferries coming into Larne. There is no reservation system, and they will be carried on a first-come first-served basis. www.nirailways.co.uk
If you are travelling across Europe using a Global InterRail Pass, or an InterRail One Country Pass for Ireland, this can, of course, be used throughout Ireland (not including Northern Ireland). The Pass also entitles you to 30% discount on most ferry crossings with Irish Ferries and Stena Line. You can also use the pass on Dublin’s DART service. www.interrailnet.com
Dublin’s light railway or tram system opened in 2004, and is known as the Luas, which is Irish for light. There are two Luas tram lines; the Red line and the Green line.
The Red Line is 14kms in length and has 23 stops running east to west through the city centre from Connolly station to Heuston station, continuing towards south Dublin, and terminating in Tallaght. The Green Line is 9kms long and has 13 stops, running from St.Stephen’s Green in the city centre out to Sandyford Industrial Estate on the south side of the city. At present, there is no public transport link connecting the two lines, but it is only a fifteen minute walk from, for example, St. Stephen’s Green on the Green Line to Abbey Street on the Red Line. Children under three travel free of charge, and young people up to the age of fifteen (or students in possession of a student card) can buy a child’s fare. Only fold-up bicycles can be carried on the Luas, and there are bike racks at nearly all Luas stops.
The Luas is a great way of travelling between Dublin’s Heuston and Connolly stations, or for reaching places of interest such as The National Museum at Collins Barracks, The Guinness Storehouse, the Irish Museum of Modern Art or Kilmainham Gaol. Tickets can be bought at machines at every Luas stop, and are available as single, returns, or 1, 7 or 30 day passes. www.luas.ie
Travel by bus in Ireland
This European-wide coach network is a cheap and efficient way to travel between UK and Ireland, with connections to many other European countries. They offer services from several UK towns and cities to Dublin, Belfast and Cork, with connections to many other Irish towns. Their brochure is extremely detailed, giving connection times throughout Ireland, as well as the names of the shops or pubs, outside which the bus will stop. One of the biggest advantages of Eurolines is that they take you directly to the city centre or the port, so no worries about transfers, taxis or trailing luggage. www.eurolines.com
Ireland’s leading coach service has services to many towns and villages. It also has an impressive selection of ‘Tourist Passes’ such as the Open Road Pass, which allows you unlimited travel on all of Bus Eireann’s services, the Irish Rover Bus Only Pass which allows unlimited travel on any of Bus Eireann’s services as well as Ulsterbus services in Northern Ireland. For those wishing to combine rail and bus travel, check out the Irish Explorer Bus and Rail allowing unlimited travel on these services (not including Northern Ireland) for €245, for eight days travel (out of 15 consecutive days). Half-price tickets for children.
Bus Eireann cannot guarantee it, but if there is enough room they will carry bikes in the luggage compartment. It costs €11.00 per single journey. Folding bicycles are carried free of charge, but they must be in appropriate bags. The main coach station in Dublin is Bus Arás, located on the Red Line of the Luas on the north side of the River LIffey near Connolly railway station. www.buseireann.ie
Northern Ireland’s extensive coach service accesses a lot of rural areas, as well offering its Goldline service - an express inter-city service. North and East bound services from Belfast depart from Laganside Buscentre - South and West depart from the Europa Buscentre. Times and fares are available from Translink, an organisation which has integrated Northern Ireland’s public transport facilities, and provides information on one website. Their journey planner is an excellent way of working out which form of transport you need to take from one place to another. Bicycles are carried free of charge if the bus has a boot and space is available. Fold-up bicycles can be carried at any time on-board the vehicle. www.translink.co.uk
Travel by car in Ireland
To hire a car from Dublin Ferry Port, Dun Laoghaire Port, Rosslare, Belfast Docks, Cork Ferryport and Larne Ferryport, see Dan Dooley car hire.
For more information about holidays in Ireland: Green Accommodation and Holidays in Ireland
Read Catherine’s latest blogs on SailRail and Travelling to Ireland by train and ferry with children and reviews of places to stay in Ireland, including:
Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway
Cnoc Suain, Spiddal, Connemara
Coopershill, County Sligo
Delphi Mountain Resort, Leenane, County Galway
Gregans Castle Hotel, County Clare
Tawnylust Lodge, County Leitrim
Tory Bush Eco-Loft, Co Down Northern Ireland
>> for all our ideas for eco holidays in Ireland, see: Green Holidays in Ireland.
Catherine is the author of ecoescape: Ireland.
Please note: this page aims to give you a reasonable idea of train and ferry routes, times, fares, and how to buy tickets in order that (hopefully) there’s enough information to know what's available, how to plan a journey and where to book tickets. The information on this page was up to date at time of publication, and although we will make every effort to update services provided, we cannot take responsibility for any errors or inaccuracies we provide. Timetables and fares do change throughout the year (ferry companies in particular have been known to cancel services at a moment's notice) so please treat all train and ferry times and fares as a guide, and use the links provided to double-check them using the official railway and ferry websites wherever possible. Always confirm details when you book.