If you are on a tight budget, getting around Ireland by public transportation is perhaps the cheapest way to see the Emerald Isle.
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If you are under 25, renting a car in Ireland is quite expensive, and for seniors, there may be some limitations as car rental companies in Ireland can enforce their own restriction policies for senior drivers.
So opting for other modes of transportation is a good idea.
Here’s what you need to know:
Rail Transportation Across Ireland
While the rail network in Ireland is pretty good, it is only suitable if you are taking direct routes.
Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is the hub of the network and from there you can get to most big towns and cities in Ireland, except for Co. Donegal.
Iarnrod Eireann (otherwise known as Irish Rail) provides rail transport in the Republic of Ireland.
Here is a look at the rail network in Ireland.
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Getting Around Ireland by Train
My advice if taking the train in Ireland is to do so if you know there is a direct connection available. Otherwise, you will have to switch to other lines, and the journey may take longer than anticipated.
However, if transferring to other trains doesn't bother you, by all means, go ahead and do it.
All-in-all, traveling by train in Ireland is a pleasant experience. However, it is not as extensive as the train you will find in mainland Europe, unfortunately.
All trains have free WiFi as well as a dining car.
There are 8 routes operating out of Dublin, which has two train stations serving different parts of the country.
Heuston Station (named after Seán Heuston, a young railway worker who commanded a nearby post in the 1916 Easter Rising) services the south and west of Ireland, including Cork, Tralee, Limerick, Galway, Westport, Ballina, and Waterford).
Connolly Station (named after James Connolly, one of the leaders of the Easter 1916 Rising) services north and west of the country, including Sligo, Wexford, Rosslare Europort, and Belfast).
Read More: Getting Around Dublin by Train, Bus and Bike
The main routes are as follows:
- Dublin (Heuston Station) to Cork (Kent Station)/Cork to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes. An early morning express service from Cork to Dublin takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Cork cost an average of €30.82, with return fares averaging €64.78.
- Dublin (Heuston) to Limerick (Colbert Station)/Limerick to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 2 hours. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Limerick cost an average of €25.49; return fares average €50.98
- Dublin (Heuston) to Galway (Ceannt Station)/Galway to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 2 hours and 37 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Galway cost an average of €15.99; return fares average €31.98.
- Dublin to Tralee (Casement Station), Co. Kerry/Tralee to Dublin – this is not a direct route, which is why it takes 4 hours and 38 minutes to complete. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Tralee cost an average of €33.99; return fares average €67.98.
- Dublin (Heuston) to Waterford (Plunkett Station)/Waterford to Dublin – the average journey takes between 1 hour and 48 minutes and 2 hours and 20 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Waterford cost an average of €14.39; return fares average €28.78.
- Dublin (Heuston) to Westport/Westport to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 3 hours and 44 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Westport cost an average of €18; return fares average €35.99.
- Dublin (Heuston) to Ballina/Ballina to Dublin – the average journey takes about 3 hours and 17 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Ballina cost an average of €17.99; return fares average €35.98.
- Dublin (Connolly Station) to Belfast (Lanyon Place)/Belfast to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Belfast cost an average of €15.99; return fares average €31.98.
- Dublin (Connolly Station) to Rosslare Europort/Rosslare to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 3 hours. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Rosslare Europort cost an average of €13.75; return fares average €27.50.
- Dublin (Connolly) to Sligo (MacDiarmada Station)/Sligo to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Sligo cost an average of €16.79; return fares average €33.58.
- Dublin (Connolly) to Wexford (O'Hanrahan Station)/Wexford to Dublin – the average journey takes approximately 2 hours and 17 minutes. Single adult fares on trains from Dublin to Wexford cost an average of €12.95; return fares average €25.90.
How to Purchase a Rail Ticket in Ireland
It’s best to purchase your tickets directly on the Irish Rail website since the best fares are offered online.
Depending on the route you are taking, there are different types of tickets you can buy on the Irish Rail website.
They include semi-flexible tickets, which you can amend or cancel up to 24 hours in advance; flexible tickets, which you can amend or cancel up to 60 minutes in advance; and first-class tickets, which you can also change or cancel within 60 minutes of booking.
Read More: 5 Scenic Train Rides to Take in Ireland
First Class Travel on Trains in Ireland
Irish Rail offers a number of first-class travel experiences on specific routes in Ireland.
The CityGold ticket is available only on the direct Dublin to Cork route.
When you book your seat online, you'll see your name on an LED display above your seat. A complimentary newspaper is included in addition to other perks such as extra legroom, ergonomic electronically-adjustable seats, overhead and table lamp lighting, and an extended table, to name a few.
The Enterprise Plus ticket is available for passengers going from Dublin to Belfast on the “Enterprise” train.
Perks include a complimentary newspaper, spacious lumbar support in a fully-adjustable seat, extra legroom, in-seat audio, and adjustable blinds.
The Premier Class ticket available on the direct Dublin-Tralee line and on the Dublin to Cork line includes transport in a dedicated “premier” coach, your name above your seat, ambient table lighting, and more.
While you can certainly click on the First Class option (if it's available for the route you are taking), a more cost-effective strategy is to buy a standard ticket, then go back on to the Irish Rail site again.
Be sure to go back to the main page of the website, and enter your origin, destination, and the same dates that you originally entered. A pop-up should appear saying something like this: “customers who have a valid standard class ticket but wish to upgrade to first class should also use this section.”
Then, click Free Travel Pass or Valid Ticket underneath the destination details. At this point, you should click on the Go button and a new set of results will appear, offering you the first-class fare at a cheaper price than if you had originally chosen the First Class option, to begin with.
If you are traveling with a bicycle or a pet, both are allowed on trains in Ireland. If you can fold your bike, it is free to take it onboard. Small dogs must be kept on the customer's lap while on the train. Assistance dogs are allowed too but must have the designated medallion that is clearly visible to the conductor.
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Special Deals for Tourists
As a tourist, you can avail yourself of a few travel deals operated by Irish Rail. They include the following:
- Trekker Four-Day Ticket – available only at train stations across the country. Four days of unlimited travel on a train in Ireland will cost you €110 from the date when the ticket is issued. This price is for one adult only. This is a pretty good deal given that you can hop on and off any train that you like with the same ticket.
- Explorer Ticket – this is for adults and children. Tickets must be purchased at any train station. You can avail of unlimited travel for 5 days out of 15 consecutive days on all Irish Rail lines. The cost per adult is €160 and €80 for children.
Special Train Tours for Tourists
You may not know that Irish Rail offers special train tours of Ireland through its collaboration with Railtours Ireland – First Class, a tour operator that will get you to many of Ireland's popular destinations, perfect for travelers who don't want to drive.
Don't let the “First Class” title throw you off. Most of the tours are actually quite affordable.
Tours range from one-day tours to Bunratty Castle, the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, Bay to a 6-day tour of Ireland on the Emerald Pullman private train. Multi-day tours include accommodation, most meals and admission costs to the various attractions included in the tour.
Traveling in Northern Ireland by Train
Traveling in Northern Ireland is totally doable by train if you don't want to rent a car.
Translink operates five main routes, all of them coming out of Belfast.
Trains run north to Coleraine, where the line splits (one making the short journey to the seaside town of Portrush) and the other going to Derry.
Two major commuter routes connect Belfast with the port of Larne in County Antrim and the bustling town of Bangor in County Down.
Another route heads south, accessing Newry and Portadown.
The journey from Belfast to Derry is totally worth it if only for the scenery alone. It takes about 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Be sure to sit on the right-hand side of the train.
As you get closer to Derry, you'll pass along the Foyle Estuary, underneath a tunnel with Mussenden Temple overhead, and coming out the other side, you'll get fabulous views of the ocean at Downhill Beach, one of the most beautiful in Northern Ireland and a filming location for the HBO series Game of Thrones.
You even get to the Giant's Causeway from Belfast's Lanyon Station by train.
Trains run every hour from Monday through Saturday and less frequently on Sundays. Once you reach the Coleraine Buscentre, you'll want to look for the bus (either 170 or 402) that will take you to the Giant's Causeway.
Be sure to sit on the left side of the bus for the best coastal views and to get a glimpse of the Dunluce Castle ruins.
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Bus Transportation Across Ireland
If you want to see the more rural parts of Ireland without renting a car, it is best to take a bus.
Bus Eireann is where you be able to purchase your tickets.
Unlike the rail system, Bus Eireann operates buses all across the country, reaching the most rural of places.
For tourists, an open return travel pass is a good idea.
A day return travel pass is valid for both outbound and return travel within a 24-hour period. A monthly travel pass can also be purchased, which is valid for outbound and return travel within one month.
Both types of tickets can be purchased directly from the bus driver.
In addition, Bus Eireann also offers a 10-journey travel pass, which can be purchased online and on the bus. It is not available at vending machines.
Such a pass is valid for 10 journeys between two points, all taking place within 7 consecutive days. You can find more information about this pass and other travel options on the Bus Eireann website.
Other Bus Services in Ireland/Northern Ireland
There are several other bus services in addition to Bus Eireann that you should know about, including private bus companies that offer services to commuters, students, and tourists. They include the following.
This bus company operates up to 20 daily return routes originating in Dublin City Center, Dublin Airport, Cork, Galway, and Ballina in Co. Mayo, offering fares as low as €13 one way.
Facilities onboard include reclining seats, free WIFI, onboard charging facilities, and more.
This bus company promises to offer its passengers a luxury experience (all affordable, I might add) to various cities in Ireland.
Their Dublin to Waterford via Kilkenny route is one of the most popular. They also offer an airport service as well as a convenient service to various events across Ireland.
This bus company is part of Translink, which also oversees the train service in Northern Ireland. From Belfast, you can get any number of trains to other parts of the province.
Its Goldline Express service from Belfast to Derry is very popular, and it also operates a service between Belfast and Dublin Airport.
Traveling in Dublin Using the Bus and Train Services
Using public transportation in Dublin is recommended.
The most cost-effective way to do this is by purchasing a Leap Visitor Card.
You’ll get unlimited travel on Airlink (bus transport from the airport to various points throughout Dublin), Dublin Bus, Go-Ahead Ireland Bus, the Luas, and the DART commuter rail system.
The Leap Card cannot be combined with any other hop-on hop-off tour bus deals.
The card can be used for 1, 3, or 7 days of unlimited rail travel but only in what is known as the “Short Hop Zone” (see graphic below).
That includes stations within the Dublin City area, from north to south and east to west.
The cost for 1 day/24 hours of unlimited travel is €10; €19.50 for 3 days/72 hours; and €40 for 7 days/168 hours.
Purchase it online or at the bus and travel information desk and at WHSmith in the T1 Arrivals area of Dublin Airport, as well as in the Spar shop at the T2 Arrivals area.
The card can also be purchased in various places in Dublin's city center.
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Getting Around Dublin's Transportation Hub Using Free Apps
If you're tech-savvy enough and you use an Android, the free Citymapper transit app can help you navigate the city's buses and trains. It also helps users find cabs and bike services.
The TFI Real Time Ireland App from Transport for Ireland is available for free on the Apple app store and on the Google Play store. The app combines real-time information services from Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus, Go-Ahead Ireland, Iarnród Éireann, and the Luas.
The Moovit app is also useful when navigating Dublin's and Ireland's transportation systems. It is available on Apple and Android platforms.
Eurail Pass in Ireland – Is It Worth It?
If you plan to travel extensively throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland by train, then this is a good deal.
Traditionally, the Eurail pass, to be used only by non-European residents, has been popular with people in their teens and 20s.
If you are under 28, you can avail yourself of Eurail’s Youth Pass.
If you happen to hold dual citizenship and like to travel around Europe with your EU passport, you can still avail of rail deals by purchasing a pass from Interrail at the same price as the Eurail pass.
The most popular deal is the 8-day unlimited travel pass for $345 for one adult. Travel on as many trains as you like over 8 consecutive days or use the travel days within the span of a month from the date you purchase the pass.
Other options include:
- the 3-day pass for $182
- the 4-day pass for $219