When you're deciding how to travel around Ireland on your vacation you have a few things to consider… How long your vacation will last, what you want to see & do, how much control you want over your route, and your budget all play into your final decision on how to get around Ireland.
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What is the Best Way to Get Around Ireland?
As always the ‘best' anything varies from person to person based on many factors. This article breaks down the options of train, bus, boat, and automobile travel in Ireland.
Traveling Through Ireland by Train
When using trains in Ireland it is best to remember that Dublin is the ‘hub' of train travel.
Trains in Ireland travel from Dublin to Ireland's major cities with smaller town stops in between.
Consider using the train if you plan to explore urban areas, a few days in one, then off to the next.
One thing to keep in mind- if you want to explore outside the town at all, be prepared to hire a taxi, walk, or rent a bike. Out of larger cities you may find day tours to popular destinations like the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher or Giant's Causeway.
In the Republic of Ireland, the rail system is Iarnrod Eireann, while in Northern Ireland it is Northern Ireland Railways. While the two connect in Belfast a ticket from one system is not valid on the other.
Tip: If you decide to use a trail as your main mode of transport, Irish Rail has tourist rail options (scroll to the bottom of the page): a Trekker 4 consecutive day pass and an Explorer 5 day pass for any travel during 15 consecutive days.
Traveling Through Ireland by Bus
If you're traveling through Ireland by rail it's likely you'll find yourself on a bus sooner or later.
Both Iarorod Eireann and Translink have combination tickets for bus and train transport, for when you want to visit locations the train just doesn't go.
Leap Card – Republic of Ireland
Belfast Visitor Pass
Dublin and Belfast both have superior public transportation, while Ulster Bus and Bus Eireann can get you to most towns around Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Bus travel can be highly affordable, especially if your plans are to stay close to your lodging or take day tour trips.
You will also find many private bus companies operating through Ireland that are offer direct transport from airports or city-to-city routes. A few to keep in mind are Citylink, Aircoach, Expressway, and GoBus.
Regional bus companies also operate throughout Ireland. TFI, Transport for Ireland, is a good resource for bus routes in Ireland.
Ireland Vacation Packages
Many Ireland vacation packages combine airfare, accommodations, and transportation, often coach travel.
Use these tips to decode Ireland vacation packages before you buy.
Can You Travel in Ireland by Boat?
Though you can't travel ‘through' Ireland by boat you can hire a boat for a vacation on the River Shannon.
Or you may hop aboard a cruise that circles Ireland with stops in a few port cities.
Exploring when you get off the boat, or ship, would be on foot, on a tour, or with a private guide.
But you will find that boats are prevalent in Ireland, and are likely to play a part in your trip.
You may utilize one of the ferry services you'll find near the coast. Shannon Ferries which crosse the River Shannon is probably the best known. And many coastal areas have boat trips of all sorts.
Driving in Ireland
While the idea driving in Ireland may strike fear into some people –
driving on the left (aka ‘wrong' side'), roundabouts, and those narrow, winding roads – it really does provide absolute freedom to follow your own path, change direction when you spy an intriguing brown sign, and visit so many places that trains and tour buses just don't go.
Driving and car rental is something that is covered extensively on this site
but there are a few things you'll want to remember:
- Most visitors do not need an international driving license, your valid national driver's license is all you need. (You can ask your car rental company if you need clarification).
- In the Republic of Ireland speed is measured in kilometers per hour while Northern Ireland uses miles per hour.
- Motorways in Ireland are modern and wide. National roads have 2 distinctions, Primary & Secondary, and can vary in width and condition. Regional and local roads may be narrow, paved or unpaved, and lined with stone walls & hedges.
- The Republic of Ireland has a few toll roads. Most can be paid on site. The M50 around Dublin is the exception. The toll for this barrier-free road can be paid online or in gas stations that offer Payzone. Northern Ireland has no toll roads.
- Road signs in the Republic of Ireland display placenames in both Irish and English. In Gaeltacht areas only Irish is used.
Use these links to learn more about driving and renting a car in Ireland:
- Driving in Ireland: Tips for Tourists
- Everything You Need to Know About Car Rental in Ireland
- Ireland Car Rental Over 70: Myths and Facts
Hiring a Private Driver Guide
If you don't want to drive but still want the ability to blaze your own trail, consider hiring a private driver guide or chauffeur for your entire vacation or just a day trip.
To get the most out of your experience be sure that your driver is a certified tour guide.
Learn more about hiring a driver guide and request a quote here.
The trick to enjoying your vacation in Ireland is to know how you like to travel. You may find that you use multiple methods of transportation during your travels.
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Yes, your American license will allow you to drive in Ireland. Some car rental companies will require that you have held the license for at least two years. And do be sure to check the minimum and maximum rental ages for your car rental company.