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How to travel to and from Ireland without flying

Posted by at 09:37 on Wednesday 26 November 2014

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. Our team has 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, The Greentraveller Team

Ferry arriving in to Dublin Port from Holyhead. Photo: Irish FerriesFerry arriving in to Dublin Port from Holyhead. Photo: Irish Ferries

Ferry to Ireland
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. 

Sail Rail - Train and Ferry to Ireland
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 via Holyhead, Stranraer or Fishguard as well as any onward journey you need to make by rail. Train services are operated by Virgin, ScotRail and Arriva Trains Wales and ferry crossings by Irish Ferries or Stena Line.  The service is an excellent way to travel without flying or driving. You can buy tickets online at the Raileasy website or at any National Rail station in England, Scotland or Wales. Prices work out very reasonably, such as the Manchester-Dublin route which costs from £33 one way or the London-Dublin route which costs from £38 one way. 

If you're travelling from Ireland, Raileasy is currently only able to post to addresses in the UK so tickets for journeys departing from Belfast, Dublin or any other Irish station will need to be collected from a UK station with ticket on departure facilities before the date of travel or sent to a UK address by post. Alternatively, you can buy SailRail tickets from a number of Irish stations, including: Athlone, Ballina, Claremorris, Dublin Connolly, Dundalk, Drogheda, Ennis, Galway, Longford, Mallow, Cork, Tralee, Killarney, Waterford, Limerick, Limerick Junction, Sligo, Thurles, Tullamore and Westport.

Bikes may be taken on ferries (though check you can take them on the connecting train!), with the usual supplements of £5.00 for Stena Line ferries, and £9.00 for Irish Ferries, both payable at the port. Under 5s go free and under 16s are half price.

Ferry companies operating between the UK and Ireland, and France and Ireland:

Irish Ferries
With services between Pembroke in Wales to Rosslare on Ireland's south-east coast, and Holyhead in Wales to Dublin port. From France, there are services from Cherbourg and Roscoff to Rosslare, and from Cherbourg to Dublin. 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. Bikes may be taken on to the ferry at a cost of £9.00 each way, payable at the terminal with no reservation required. There are rail links to and from Holyhead, Pembroke, Cherbourg, Roscoff and Rosslare, and from Dublin there is a coach service which runs between 02.30am and 13.50pm which will transport you from the port to various points in Dublin, including the Connolly DART Rail Station. More information on the coach schedule and fares may be found on the Irish Ferries website, and please note that it is possible to book tickets for this service along with your ferry ticket. If you take the train from Rosslare, you will have to pay a supplement to take a bicycle on. See Irish Rail for updates on which trains offer bike facilities.


Stena Line
Stena Line offers crossings from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin port or Dun Laoghaire, from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare and from Cairnryn in Scotland to Belfast, all of  which are open to foot and car passengers. Bikes can be taken on the ferry at a cost of £5.00 each way, payable at the ferry terminal, no reservation required. There are railway stations at Fishguard, Dun Laoghaire, Stranraer and Rosslare for easy transfers. If travelling with a bike, it is now possible to take it on to most train services, although restrictions apply. From Rosslare, you will have to pay a ticket supplement, details of which can be found here. The DART service from Dun Laoghaire allows bicycles on but only at certain times, including weekends. When planning your trip, check the Rail Users website to see if you will be travelling at a time when bikes are permitted.  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. If arriving into Belfast, there is a commuter service on the 96 bus route which is just outside the terminal gates. See Translink for bus timetables. If arriving into Rosslare, there are hourly bus services to Dublin, and numerous to Waterford. Information on timetables and fares for these services can be found on the Bus Eireann website. www.stenaline.co.uk.

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. 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. Alternatively, there is a local bus between the two. Check out the schedule on the local timetable. 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.poferries.com

Brittany Ferries
One sailing a week from Roscoff in Brittany, France to Cork in Southwest of Ireland leaving every Friday, and arriving in Cork on Saturday morning at around 11am, with an average journey time of 14 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. This Cork Guide can provide more information on these services. Foot passengers are allowed to travel with this service, and Brittany Ferries carry bicycles for a small supplement. www.brittany-ferries.co.uk                                            

Celtic Link Ferries
Three sailings a week between Cherbourg, France and Rosslare in the 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 and cabins are not compulsory on daytime sailings, with the option to book just a seart instead. www.celticlinkferries.com

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company
With frequent and fast crossings between Douglas, Isle of Man to Belfast and Dublin, 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

Travel by train within 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. Bicycles may now be taken on to these trains, although only at certain times, viewable here. 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.

Map of rail travel in Ireland. Source: Irish RailMap of rail travel in Ireland. Source: Irish Rail

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 good search function on visitdublin.com for looking up bicycle hire companies.

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.translink.co.uk. 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.

InterRail tickets
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. www.interrail.net

bray to greystones trainLUAS
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. Also available are Flexi Tickets, which allow travel to all zones across the Red and Green Lines. 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

Bus Eireann
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 €137 for eight days travel (out of 16 consecutive days). Half-price tickets for children.

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.

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.

>> 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.

>> For all our ideas for eco holidays in Ireland, see: Green Holidays in 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. This feature was originally written and research by Catherine Mack and has been updated and revised in 2014 by Hannah Fitz Gibbons.


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