How to travel to and from Ireland without flying
There are many ways to travel to and from Ireland without flying, thanks to a variety of train and bus services that link with ferry services across the Irish Sea connecting several ports in England, Wales and Scotland with Irish ferry ports. Our team has tried and tested many of them and so we have tried to summarise all the available options in this post based on our experience. In both Ireland and the UK, there are plenty of options for arriving at ferry terminals by rail and bus and for subsequent onward travel by public transport.
Ferries to Ireland
There are several ferry options for travelling between the UK and the island of Ireland: you can choose a fast ferry or slow ferry, travel by foot or as a car passenger to Dublin, Cork and Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland, or Larne and Belfast in Northern Ireland. In most cases, when travelling as a foot passenger, you can also buy a ticket which combines 'Rail and Sail' options to Ireland (see the 'Rail and Sail' section below).
NB the Swansea to Cork ferry no longer runs.
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Irish Ferries runs 'slow ferry' services between Pembroke in Wales to Rosslare on Ireland's southeast coast, and between Holyhead in Wales to Dublin Port. Dublin Port is 6km from Dublin city centre. Foot passengers are welcome on most of these crossings.
Irish Ferries also has a 'fast ferry' catamaran service, Dublin Swift, on the Holyhead to Dublin route, which takes 2 hours, although it is more prone to cancellation if the weather is choppy, in which case you will be put on the next slower crossing. It is often taken out of service during winter months, with more regular services offered from April onwards. Bikes may be taken on to the ferry at a cost of £10.00 each way, which you can add to your online booking. To buy Irish Ferries tickets to/from Ireland, book online here.
Stena Line runs 'slow ferry' crossings from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin Port, from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare in southeast Ireland, from Liverpool in England to Belfast, and from Cairnryan in Scotland to Belfast, all of which are available for both foot and car passengers. Bikes can be taken on the ferry from £10.00 each way. Choose the option for ‘bicycle’ when you book rather than ‘foot passenger’. There are train stations at Fishguard and Rosslare with easy transfers on to the ferry. Cairnryan is a bit more tricky: take a train to Ayr, then a Stena Line shuttle bus to the port (this is available to passengers who have booked using the 'Sail and Rail' facility on Stena Line’s website - see the 'Rail and Sail' section below). To buy Stena Line ferry tickets to/from Ireland, book online at www.stenaline.co.uk.
Offering fast and frequent crossings between Cairnryan 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. If you are bringing a bike, choose ‘bicycle’ option when booking instead of ‘foot passenger’ - there is an additional charge of approximately £9 one-way for cyclists. The Liverpool to Dublin crossing is one of the longest Irish crossings at 8 hours and 30 minutes, with cabins available. Note that all meals are included in the price of the London-Liverpool crossings.
Brittany Ferries - connecting Ireland and France
There are generally two sailings a week between Roscoff in Brittany, France and Cork in the southwest of Ireland. The ‘Cruise’ ferry Pont-Aven goes from Roscoff to Cork on Fridays and does the return Cork to Roscoff on Saturdays. During winter months they also have an ‘économie’ service on board the ‘Connemara’ which is their budget, no-frill service, going from Cork to Roscoff every Monday and doing the return Roscoff to Cork on Tuesdays. The average journey time is 14 hours. Foot passengers are allowed to travel on both these services, and Brittany Ferries carry bicycles for an additional €5 one-way. Choose ‘bicycle’ option at time of booking instead of ‘foot passenger.
Note that Brittany Ferries is also launching two new routes in 2020: A ferry between Rosslare, Ireland and Bilbao, Spain launches 28 February 2020 but booking was not open at time of publication. There will also be a new service between Rosslare, Ireland and Roscoff, France in 2020, but dates are still to be confirmed. For the latest on this see the website of Brittany Ferries.
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company
With frequent and fast crossings between Douglas, Isle of Man to Dublin and Belfast, these services are open to foot and car passengers. You can also bring your bike, free of charge. The Belfast ferry comes into Albert Quay, where you can get a bus to the city centre. See details below for travelling to and from ferry ports.
Rail and Sail to Ireland
Both Stena Line and Irish Ferries offer a combined sail and rail package that you can buy online at RailEasy.co.uk. These combined ferry and train tickets allow you to book from some of the UK’s leading mainline stations to Ireland via UK ferry ports of Holyhead, Fishguard or Cairnryan, then on board the ferry to Dublin or Belfast and, last but not least, onwards throughout the island of Ireland to other train stations. All on one neatly packaged ticket. You can, therefore, cover three countries in one day with some of these packages, with price examples as follows:
£44.50 one-way from London Euston to Dublin ferry port (with 50% off for 5-15 year olds and 0-4 year olds travel free). You can extend your package to include other UK or Irish train stations but the package prices are only from leading city train stations including Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham. So these stations will add an additional cost but if you book well in advance you can get some good value fares on these legs. There is no option to upgrade with these sail rail fares to Ireland, but one of the distinct advantages of this sail rail package to Ireland is that the fares come at a fixed price which don’t increase with peak travel periods or depending on how far in advance you book.
Sail rail tickets travelling from Ireland
If you're starting off from Ireland, you can buy one-way rail and sail packages from any train station in Ireland, with tickets collectable at the Irish Ferries travel desk at Dublin Port (or they can post them to you). More info on the website of Irish Ferries.
Travelling with bikes on trains in the UK and Ireland
It is possible to take bikes on most train services, although restrictions apply so do check with the individual train operator to see what their conditions are. Here are the details for Irish Rail, Northern Ireland Railways, Transport for Wales, Avanti West Coast and Scotrail. You can bring your bike when travelling with a rail and sail ticket to Ireland, but you will need to get a ticket for your bike separately at the train stations and ferry ports.
Public transport connections at ferry ports
There are train stations at most ferry ports (including Holyhead, Liverpool, Pembroke, Roscoff and Rosslare) but here are a few more details below of facilities at some of these and other ports.
Dublin: From Dublin Port there is an hourly 53 bus service to various points in Dublin, including Connolly local DART Rail Station. There is also a private coach service which meets the Dublin Port ferries and takes you between Dublin Port and Westmoreland Street in the city centre, as well as Dublin’s Heuston Station. With fares from €2, you can book these in advance online with Ferrylink, or pay on board. For French and UK rail bookings there's Rail Europe, or for Irish ones go to the national rail operator’s website Irish Rail.
Belfast: If arriving into Belfast on a Stena Line ferry, you come into Victoria Quay. Take the 96 bus from Upper Queen Street, near Belfast’s City Hall, to the ferry terminal. The return service which meets the ferries at the terminal takes you to Donegall Place in Belfast’s city centre. Single adult cash fare is currently £2 single, children £1 single and you are advised to have cash for this one. On the Isle of Man service into Belfast, you arrive into Albert Quay, and the nearest bus stop/station is at Yorkgate approximately 10 minutes walk from the terminal where you can catch the number 2 bus to Donegall Square in the city centre: Belfast bus timetables.
Rosslare: If you arrive into Rosslare ferry port, there are hourly bus services to Dublin and to Waterford. For more information see the national bus operator Bus Eireann. There is also a train station at Rosslare (Rosslare Europort) which is 15 minutes walk from the port. For train times and to book tickets, see Irish Rail. 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.
Cork: If you are arriving into Cork from Roscoff, France with Brittany Ferries, there is very little in the way of public transport. There are taxis at the ferry port to take you into Cork City which is 19km away.
Cairnryan: If you are travelling to and from Cairnryan, you have two options: the nearest train station is at Stranraer, about 6km away by taxi or, if you want to go by bike, it’s about a half hour cycle around the shore of Lough Ryan. However, the easiest is to take a train to Ayr, then a Stena Line shuttle bus to the port. This is available to passengers who have booked using the Sail and Rail facility on Stena Line’s website. Arriving in Northern Ireland, there is an hourly train between Larne port and Belfast Lanyon Place station, and you can put your bike on the train at no extra cost in a designated bike area.
Liverpool: Birkenhead Hamilton Square train station is a 15 minutes walk from Stena Line’s ferry terminal (P&O’s ferry from Liverpool doesn’t take foot passengers) and there is no shuttle bus service. However, you can book a taxi in advance, at this very useful website, Train Taxi, which finds taxis for any station in the UK.
Roscoff, France: Coming into Roscoff port in Brittany, France, 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.
Travel by train within Ireland
Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann)
In the Republic of Ireland trains are operated by the national rail company, Irish Rail, with a network spreading across the country to cities such as Sligo, Galway, Cork, Westport, Tralee, Waterford and Limerick.
The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) is a service local to Dublin, popular for visiting one of the capital’s nearby 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.
There are two central stations in Dublin: Heuston station which generally serves the west, and Connolly Station, which serves the north and southeast. The Luas tram service connects both stations, travelling on the Red Line.
For visitors travelling with bikes, you can take them free of charge on most services outside peak travel times. You need to reserve a bike space on intercity services, however, which you can do at the end of your booking on Irish Rail’s booking facility. For more information on bikes on Irish Rail, click here. Another useful website is Rail Users Ireland, a dynamic organisation which campaigns for better rail services in Ireland.
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 or Trekker passes. They vary in price depending on 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. There is no charge for under fives.
Northern Ireland Railways: Within Northern Ireland, the train 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 Lanyon Place, Botanic (for 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 Lanyon Place station. For more details of Northern Ireland’s train and bus services, see Translink. 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. The Ireland Pass also entitles you to a discount on most ferry crossings with Irish Ferries and Stena Line.
The Luas tram system: 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 covering 67 stations. The Red Line runs east to west through the city centre from Connolly station to Heuston station, continuing towards south Dublin, and terminates in the suburb of Tallaght. The Green Line runs from St.Stephen’s Green in the city centre out to Sandyford Industrial Estate on the south side of the city. 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 not only a great way of travelling between the city’s main stations but also 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. Also available are Flexi Tickets, which allow travel to all zones across the Red and Green Lines.
The Leap card: Save up to 30% on some public transport services in Ireland with a prepaid Leap Card, which you can use on buses, trams and local train services. Read more at Leap Card.
Travel by bus to and within Ireland
Eurolines: This European-wide coach network is a cheap and efficient way to travel by bus between the UK and Ireland. They offer services from several UK towns and cities to Dublin, Belfast and Cork, with connections to many other Irish towns. 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.
Bus Eireann: Ireland’s leading coach service, Bus Eireann, has services to many towns and villages with great value tickets. You can also buy an Open Road Tourist Pass, which allows you unlimited travel on all of Bus Eireann’s services.
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.
Ulsterbus : Northern Ireland’s extensive coach service accesses a lot of rural areas, as well offering its Goldline service - an express intercity service. North and eastbound services from Belfast depart from Laganside Bus Centre - south and west depart from the Europa Bus Centre. 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. Read more on the very useful website Cycle NI.
Please note: The information on this page aims to give you a reasonable idea of train and ferry routes, times and tickets, in order that hopefully there’s enough detail to know what's available, how to plan a journey and where to book tickets. The information was up to date at time of publication, but services do change from time to time and we cannot take responsibility for any errors or inaccuracies we provide. Always confirm details when you book with the relevant travel operator. This feature was first compiled in 2014 and since then it has been updated annually. The most recent update was done in October 2023, but if you are aware of any inaccuracies, we'd really appreciate being informed via our contact page so we can make the relevant changes to the information provided for the benefit of other travellers.