How to get around Ireland
The island of Ireland is a petite little thing but it can take a deceivingly long time to travel its length and breadth. Although drier than a digestive biscuit found in the back of the cupboard this hopefully useful guide to getting around Ireland by rail and road will help you get from A to B..
Exploring Ireland by car is definitely the most rewarding way to see the best the country has to offer. Most of country’s must-see sights – the Cliffs of Moher, Giant’s Causeway, and the Ring of Kerry to name a few – can only be accessed independently from behind the wheel.
First, the basics:
Drive on the left
Speed limits in kilometres per hour (Ireland) and miles per hour (Northern Ireland)
The motorways spiral out from Dublin’s M50 ring road and most carry a toll. If doing multiple journeys this can add to the expense of driving around but it is worth it for the modern infrastructure that didn’t exist around these parts until surprisingly recently. Some of the tolls are of the classic stop-and-pay variety but others are e-tolls which require online payment by 8pm the next day. Rental companies will normally add tolls to your final bill but check this with them beforehand.
Driving the motorways of Ireland is mostly a joy as, outside of Dublin and the Friday evening commuter rush hour, the roads are generally very sparsely populated. The motorways do only go so far from Dublin before turning into one lane main roads and despite looking straightforward on the map can pass directly through the centre of towns and villages where signposts sometimes disappear for one key point.
Going off the beaten path on the other hand does present its own challenges as the roads can get very small. Plumping for comprehensive car insurance when renting a car is strongly recommended by these two seasoned car destroyers.
The most manageable drives from Dublin are Galway, Waterford, Belfast, Limerick and Sligo which can all be reached in two and half hours or less. Kerry, Donegal and the North Antrim Coast (for the Giant’s Causeway) – some of the island’s most beautiful areas – are a little further at three to four hours.
Journeying to Belfast gives the added bonus of crossing a blink-and-you-miss-it ‘soft’ border with no checkpoints and the only evidence being the change of kilometres to miles and a slight lowering of the speed limit.
Ireland’s railways are on the one hand whole modern, clean and on-time but at the same time aging and underfunded and always a few minutes late. The major drawback is that they’re not as far reaching as they once were. It’s best to use the railways for intercity travel only and to delve into the countryside by some other wheeled means. The most desirable areas to visit, such as Connemara, Donegal and the Ring of Kerry, are virtually untouched by the railways.
Another downside of the Irish rail system, is that it is quite expensive so each journey will mount up.
Trains leave Dublin from two stations – Heuston for most destinations to the west and Connolly for the east coast from Belfast to Wexford.
Ireland’s railways are state owned so you need go no further than www.irishrail.ie which will give you all your timetable and pricing needs.
Coach travel will always be less fashionable to the traveller (especially the backpacker) but in Ireland the comfort, frequency and travel times of coach travel are almost identical to the trains whilst being much cheaper.
All the major cities like Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo and Belfast are very all very well connected to Dublin. There are a number of companies who service the major cities and be sure to research where they depart from in Dublin as it most probably won’t be the main coach station. That being said, the national coach company Bus Eireann does generally go from the main bus station and services the main cities as well as delving deeper into the countryside.
Daytripping from Dublin
There are many companies that offer daytrips from Dublin. Obviously, this lets you see some of what makes Ireland famous in a hassle-free way and also give you the opportunity to make some friends.
This is a great option if only in Ireland for a short time but they are usually quite expensive and can sap the spirit of adventure out of your trip. Furthermore, balance up how much you actually want to see some of the places offered. Daytrips to the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle and the Giant’s Causeway are grueling trips where a very long day will be spent mostly on the motorway. However, sometimes you just have to suck it up if you want to see some of Ireland’s best natural wonders with your short time in the country.
If you’re around your early twenties have a look at Paddywagon (who also have a number of hostels around Ireland) and if a little more seasoned maybe try Irish Day Tours or Wild Rover Tours.
Draytripping from Galway
Just two hours to the west of Dublin, Galway is also another excellent hub for exploring the Irish countryside. This compact city has the rocky Burren and multicoloured Connemara regions and big hitting attractions like the Cliffs of Moher and Kylemore Abbey easily accessible to the north and south.