Can you manage a holiday in Ireland by just using public transport? You can, but beware: The best way to travel around Ireland is by car—no contest.
What if a visitor does not want or simply cannot use a car? There are alternatives available, none of them perfect, yet a combination of road and rail travel is an interesting option.
Traveling by Bus
By far, the most sensible, budget-friendly and convenient way to travel Ireland without a rental car is using the bus, in Dublin and nationwide. Cross country services are numerous and a variety of ticket options, though at times confusing, can make bus travel very economical. Connections between the major towns are generally fast, frequent, and reliable.
Local services tend to be even patchier and require some planning if used for touring. Even major attractions might not get serviced more than once or twice a day. This is the curse on the tourism industry being geared towards independent car users.
If you plan on visiting several attractions in any area, enquire about organized tours at your hotel or local tourist office. In most tourist areas, these services are provided by Bus Éireann or local companies.
Getting There by Railway
While it is not impossible to travel around Ireland by rail, the choice of places to visit will be limited. Generally, the railway will bring you to a central destination, and from there you will have to rely on other modes of transport. More than likely, buses. Add the fact that Irish railways are not known for cheap fares or luxury, and bus travel becomes a sensible option in many cases.
But on longer journeys the train may be better value for money—travel times are usually shorter than on a bus, there are toilets on board, and you can stretch your legs by walking about a bit.
The main routes out of Dublin (Connolly and Heuston stations) are:
- Connolly to Belfast Central
- Connolly to Sligo
- Heuston to Ballina (via Kildare, Athlone and Manulla Junction)
- Heuston to Westport (via Kildare, Athlone and Manulla Junction)
- Heuston to Galway (via Kildare and Athlone)
- Heuston to Limerick (various routes)
- Heuston to Killarney and Tralee (via Mallow)
- Heuston to Cork (via Mallow)
- Heuston to Waterford (via Kildare and Kilkenny)
- Connolly to Wexford and Rosslare
The main routes out of Belfast are:
- Belfast to Dublin Connolly
- Belfast to Bangor
- Belfast to Larne
- Belfast to Portrush (via Coleraine)
- Belfast to Derry (via Coleraine)
The main cross-country routes are:
- Limerick to Ballybrophy (via Nenagh)
- Cork to Cobh
- Tipperary to Waterford
Note that there are also organized rail tours from Dublin to main Irish attractions available, these sometimes include accommodation and can be an alternative to a self-guided tour. If you are a fan of trains, be sure to check out our full guide to Irish train museums.
Travelling Ireland on a bicycle is an interesting proposition and was the preferred mode of transport for touring students in the 1970s and 1980s. Then the "Celtic Tiger" roared, and "no-frills-airlines" brought a massive influx of visitors. Suddenly road traffic exploded, making riding a bicycle on many roads definitely an adventure sport.
If you stick to the main roads, you will have to share these with enthusiastic (but not necessarily competent) other drivers and (even in the remotest areas) 18-wheelers. If you leave the main roads, you will find winding lanes with high hedges on both sides and sizeable potholes to navigate. And wherever you ride, you will have to face strong winds, frequent rain, and some long and steep inclines.
Should you still be keen on exploring Ireland by bicycle, here are some helpful hints:
- Always wear hi-viz clothing with reflective stripes.
- Never ride without reflectors and working lights between dusk and dawn.
- Never ride side by side with another bicyclist on winding roads—oncoming traffic cutting corners is a common hazard.
- Never take your eyes off the road for potholes, gravel, and other common hazards. Stop if you want to admire the scenery.
- Make sure that you have at least one change of clothing, and your valuables stay dry even in torrential or prolonged rain.
Gypsy Caravans were long touted as the "typical Irish holiday" (though most Irish people would not agree) and acquired an air of ethnic eco-tourism. Generally, a unique way to see a small part of the island. Temporary "gypsies" will have to stick to a certain area and a selection of roads. Consider this mode of transport only if you want to spend lots of quality time with your traveling companions!
Hiking or walking all over Ireland requires loads of time and stamina. It is not really an option unless you are planning a very long holiday.
Walking the way-marked trails of Ireland, however, is an option—several routes have been laid out and made accessible to the determined rambler. A good idea if you are used to hillwalking and have the time to go a considerable distance.
While hitch-hiking should not be considered especially dangerous in Ireland, the usual precautions should be taken. But even the most optimistic hitch-hiker will soon find that the reluctance to pick-up strangers has increased in Irish drivers.