Many first-time travelers to Ireland often wonder if getting around Ireland without a car is doable.
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Yes, it definitely is. But you will need to plan beforehand to see Ireland's tourist attractions without the hassle of renting a car to get you from place to place.
Read on to see how.
Advantages of Getting Around Ireland Without a Car
If you are uncomfortable about driving on the other side of the road, taking alternative modes of transportation can make a lot of sense.
In fact, if you want to explore Ireland at a more leisurely pace, letting someone else do the driving may be just the way to go.
Getting around Ireland without a car is completely doable.
Plus, it might also be a considerable cost-saver since you won’t be incurring the cost of a rental car and the added insurance you are required to take while driving around Ireland.
Ireland’s transportation network has improved in recent years since there are trains and buses that will take you to various parts of the country quite easily, not to mention the availability of specially themed tours that will bring you to some of Ireland’s most popular attractions.
Here are some ideas to get you started on your travels around Ireland without a car.
Getting to Northern Ireland by Train from Dublin
Northern Ireland is technically part of the United Kingdom. Because it is part of the island of Ireland, it is very easy to get to.
Trains run from Dublin to Belfast daily. They are operated by Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) and Translink. You can get an open round-trip rail ticket from Dublin to Belfast for as low as €25.50 (adult).
Here’s a look at the relatively new Enterprise train ride from Dublin to Belfast that passes through County Louth in the Republic of Ireland and after crossing the border, stops in Newry, Portadown, Lisburn, and finally, Belfast.
Video courtesy of Mark Smith, www.seat61.com.
Once you get to Belfast, there’s plenty to see.
Some of my favorite spots include Belfast City Hall, the civic building of Belfast City Council, which opened its doors in 1906. Plans for the hall began in 1888 after Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status.
Other must-see attractions include a tour of the staunchly Catholic neighborhood, the Falls Road, and the Protestant community on the Shankill Road.
You can see both by taking a black taxi tour. There are several such tour companies in Belfast, providing a behind-the-scenes look into both communities.
While Belfast is relatively peaceful these days, this tour will give you a peek into what Belfast was like during “The Troubles,” the 30-year conflict between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.
Tours include a stop at the Peace Wall (you’ll see President Bill Clinton’s signature on the wall, among others) and other areas where political graffiti is still present.
Titanic Belfast is undoubtedly the city’s most celebrated attraction. It is here that the doomed luxury liner was built. While the museum tells the story of the Titanic, it also tells the story of Belfast itself.
Expect to spend 3-4 hours here in this truly remarkable attraction. Tickets to the self-guided Titanic Experience cost £24.95 for adults and £11 for children aged between 5 and 15. Children under 5 are free.
Accommodation in Belfast
If you want to stay the night in Belfast there are plenty of options.
Voted the best hostel in all of Ireland and the U.K., the Vagabonds Hostel offers low rates (average £50 per night) for a variety of different rooms, including twin (2 beds) and double (full-size bed) rooms.
The hostel also offers dorm-style accommodation in the form of 6, 8, and 12 beds to a room. It also provides female-only accommodation.
Free breakfast is included as is free tea or coffee throughout the day. Check the website for more details.
The Ibis Belfast City Centre Hotel is another option if you’re staying in Belfast for one night. The hotel is located close to the Botanic Gardens in a red-brick Victorian building.
Nightly rates for a stay in June for two people is a little over $200 per night. Parking is free and the hotel offers all the usual amenities you’d expect in a hotel.
What’s to See Beyond Belfast
Using Belfast as your base, there are plenty of day trips you can take that will bring you to Northern Ireland’s most beautiful attractions, such as the Giant’s Causeway, the Game of Thrones filming locations, and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, among others.
Seeing Other Parts of Ireland
If you’re planning on staying in the Republic of Ireland, there are lots of ways to see the most popular tourist attractions there without renting a car.
You could take a number of pre-arranged day trips from Dublin, returning each night to your accommodation, or you could also plan out an itinerary that will bring you to Ireland’s major cities via bus or train, where you will also be able to avail of various tours.
Lots of travel companies offer one-day tours and longer to various parts of Ireland, many of them leaving from Dublin and other big cities.
Exploring the West
To get a glimpse of the west coast, many tourists head to Galway. The West of Ireland capital is a lively city with much to offer.
To get to Galway from Dublin, I suggest taking a train as your journey will be more comfortable. Trains leave from both Connolly and Heuston train stations in Dublin.
The round-trip fare from Dublin to Galway for an adult is approximately €21.69.
Since Dublin is the main transportation hub in Ireland, all trains begin there and fan out to various cities and towns throughout the country.
Dublin has two main train stations, Connolly Station and Heuston Station.
The main long-distance routes from Dublin include:
Dublin Heuston to Cork, Tralee, Limerick, Galway, Westport, Ballina, and Waterford and Dublin Connolly to Sligo, Wexford, Rosslare Europort, and Belfast.
If you want to get to Galway by bus, there are also plenty of choices.
After you’ve explored the city itself, give yourself time to see what is outside of Galway.
A popular destination for many is the Aran Islands, a group of three islands about 45 kilometers (28 miles) off the coast of Galway, where Gaelic is the predominant language.
Inishmore is the largest of the islands and the most popular, with more than 50 different historical monuments dotted across its landmass.
The most impressive of these is called Dun Aengus (pronounced “Dhun Aingus”), a prehistoric fort built during the Bronze Age.
A number of tour companies will bring you to the Aran Islands from Galway.
Among them is Aran Island Ferries, which will bring operates the popular Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher Cruise, the only one leaving from Galway City.
All others take passengers by bus from Galway City to Rossaveal, which is about 23 miles west of the city, and from there to the islands.
Seeing Ireland By Coach Tour
A bus tour can be a great idea if you have a limited amount of time in Ireland and you really don’t want to do any of the planning yourself.
Booking through a tour company can save you a lot of hassle.
My advice is to do your homework beforehand and ask yourself some basic questions.
Do you want to travel with a big group or enjoy Ireland in a more intimate setting? Do you want to stay in a hotel for one night or stay for two?
If the tour company includes two-night stays in a particular destination, you’ll get more of a feel for the place than if you arrived at 8 p.m. at night and then took off halfway through the next day.
Most importantly, know how much you can afford before you book anything.
The tour companies listed below are experts in providing group tours to Ireland.
CIE Tours – this is by far the granddaddy of all tour companies. CIE Tours has provided packaged excursions to Ireland and Britain for the past 87 years. It currently organizes tours to Ireland, Britain, Scotland, Eastern Europe, Italy, and Iceland, as well as combination tours of Ireland and Scotland, Ireland and Britain, and Ireland and Iceland.
The cost of the 7-day-6-night tour is approximately $2.015. This does not include airfare, although CIE Tours will book that for you if you wish.
CIE Tours also offers year-round deals and promotions, including military discounts, savings for solo travelers, and student discounts, among others.
Railtours Ireland is a tour company that aims to accommodate the “independent traveler.” While the company offers plenty of one-day tours, you can also plan your entire vacation in Ireland around a Railtours packaged excursion.
Most travel is done by train, although on some tours, transfer to a coach bus is necessary.
The cost of the All-Ireland Tour is €1,656 per person, which includes accommodation and breakfast each morning.
The tour covers a large part of the Wild Atlantic Way and Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland. Passengers will also visit Cork, Blarney Castle, the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, the Aran Islands, and much more.
Accommodation, including two nights in Killarney, two nights in Galway, and two nights in Dublin is included in the total cost.
Wolfhound Adventure Tours promises to uncover Ireland’s hidden secrets in a fun, adventurous way.
The 5-day “Ireland West and Wild” tour includes hiking, biking, horse riding, seaweed baths, and surfing to places as diverse as the Aran Islands, Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher, Galway City, the Sligo coast, and more.
The total cost of the tour is €1,395, which includes accommodation, breakfast each morning, bike hire, guided wilderness hikes, and more.
Getting around Ireland without a car is not only doable, it also guarantees that your vacation will be stress-free.
Whatever way you want to get around Ireland is entirely up to you.
If budget is a concern, I would advise using public transportation as much as possible and then book day tours once you get to your destination.
Creating an itinerary beforehand is a good idea so you know exactly what parts of Ireland you’ll be visiting from day to day.
Let me know in the comments below if you're thinking of traveling around Ireland without a rental car.