I always encourage visitors in Ireland to experience as much of the country as possible, the only problem can be how to get around. This is my guide to public transport in Ireland and seeing the country without a car.
How to see Ireland without a car. It is possible to explore Ireland without a car. There are several different methods of public transport available in Ireland. Most of the big cities have their own internal transport links. The main methods of public transport in Ireland are as follows:
- – Air
- – Train
- – Coach
- – Coach Tours
- – Busses
- – Light Rail
- – Trams
- – Taxis
- – Bicycles
- – Walking
Many visitors to Ireland make mistakes when they use public transport, sometimes what seems like the cheapest option might cost you more money in the end. While transport methods that work well in other parts of the world might not work so well here.
How to Get Around Ireland Without a Car
Until recently, Ireland was a poor country. Because of this, the infrastructure is not on the same level as the rest of Western Europe, it can be difficult for people visiting Ireland to explore the entire country, even if they have access to a car. While having a car will grant you the most freedom when in Ireland, it is more expensive and driving down narrow roads on the side you are not used to can be a little dangerous. Remember that you have other options. Don’t forget that even though the roads aren’t great, there are many small airports around Ireland that offer easy access to remote areas.
Dublin has the best infrastructure in the country, if you are staying in here, you will have access to a bus service, two different light rail networks, more taxis than you know how to deal with and many other forms of transport besides. You can easily stay in Dublin and explore the city and the surrounding areas using public transport. There is also a city bike network throughout the city, this is probably the best way to explore Dublin and the network is both accessible and affordable. If none of those sound appealing remember, Dublin is a walkable city and most of its major sites are located close to one another!
If you want to go a little further afield you might need to do some more planning, it can often be quicker to travel through Dublin than going between two different cities. There are public services that operate between every town in Ireland, while most small towns will not have access to train stations, they will be reachable by coach. If you want to get off the beaten track and experience something a little more specific, many companies have sprung up that offer affordable coach tours to beautiful, remote parts of the country.
There are 10 airports in the Republic of Ireland and countless smaller airfields around the country. When the government was tearing up the rail networks, they decided to build runways all over the island, some of which are now international airports. Most people who come to Ireland will enter the country through Dublin airport which is by far the biggest. If you are planning on visiting Dublin, then this is where you should arrive, no question. But if you want to explore the beautiful remote parts of Ireland, you should investigate using another airport.
Shannon airport used to be most popular with transatlantic visitors to Ireland, though many of them now fly straight to Dublin, it is great if you want to see places like the Cliffs of Moher or Galway. There are also airports in some of the most remote parts of Ireland; like Kerry and Donegal. If you need to get there in a hurry, don’t forget that you can fly, and Ryanair is an Irish company offering cheap flights all over Europe. If you want to see some of the west of Ireland on your European backpacking adventure, this might be for you!
Ireland used to have one of the best-connected rail networks in the world. In the 19th century the Great Western Railway would take tourists from London to the far west coast of Ireland (there would be a ferry involved too!), today that is not the case. In the 1930s the Irish government started to tear up all the train tracks in Ireland and now the rail services here are poor by European standards. This has been slowly changing with the economic growth that Ireland has seen in recent decades and most of the major cities and towns are connected by rail.
If you want to travel between cities in Ireland, this is one of your best options. Obviously, it will be quicker and more comfortable than most coach routes, so it is often more expensive. My advice is to use the train (when available) if you miss another form of transport or if you are taking a longer journey. I would consider a journey in Ireland long enough to take the train, if it is 4+ hours. That might not seem like much compared to other countries, but those winding roads can get uncomfortable after a while!
For details on rail travel in Ireland, check out the Irish Rail website HERE.
This is the most affordable way of getting around the island, there are coach routes operating through almost every small town in Ireland. If you need to travel around Ireland cheaply, this is the option that you will likely want to use, however there are limitations to most of these services. The road network in remote parts of Ireland is not great, so you may need to take a roundabout route in order to get from one small town to another. If your route starts to take you all over Ireland, look at the train or going to bigger cities and then on to your desired destination.
There are also guided coach services that will bring you from some of the larger cities and towns in Ireland straight to sights like the Giants Causeway or the Ring of Kerry. These can be great if you are only spending a few days in a larger city like Dublin and want to get the most out of your trip. Most of these tours offer good value for money and you will be able to see parts of Ireland that would otherwise be inaccessible to people without a car. The only issue here is the amount of choices can be daunting!
Cities in Ireland are usually walkable. Most of the accommodation that you are likely to stay at will be centrally located, so you can generally walk to most of the sights when staying in Irish cities. If you need to get further afield there are other options too. Dublin, Cork, Galway and Belfast all have city bike schemes that you can sign up to (with a credit card) cheaply. While all these cities will have regular bus services, Dublin Bus is unique to the capitol, Bus Eireann operates in the rest of the republic and there are alternatives in Northern Ireland.
Dublin also has two rail services unique to it. The D.A.R.T (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) runs along the coast and is great to access places like Bray and Howth from the city centre. The LUAS (“Speed” in Irish) is a tram network that runs from the city centre to suburbs in the north and south. If you choose to use the LUAS, you will have to leave the tram and walk around the corner to change lines. Tickets for all these services can be bought either at the stations (for both rail networks) or from the bus driver, with Irish city busses ONLY ACCEPTING COINS AND NOT GIVING CHANGE. You will need to flag a city bus at bus stops in Ireland, like you would a taxi.
In the republic you can use a prepaid “leap card” for all these methods of transport. These can be purchased from any corner shop.
While Uber does exist in Ireland, it is far more common (and safer) to get a regular taxi. There are many of them on the streets of major cities and taxi ranks are common in airports and in town centres. Taxis in Ireland are considered cheap, with a 20-minute ride costing about €12, though the price will increase after 11pm. This may be your only option for transport at night as public services will stop running at about 11.30pm on weekdays and 12.30am on weekends and public holidays.
If you want to order a taxi, most hotels and bars will have their preferred companies that they can ring for you. If not, apps like mytaxi and lynk are popular in Ireland.
The Best Day trips from Dublin without a car. Some of my favourite day trips from Dublin are to places like Howth, Bray or the Giants Causeway, all of which can be reached without a car.
How to get to the Cliffs of Moher without a car. The best way to get to the cliffs without a car is by public transport from cities on the west coast like Galway or Ennis. If you are staying in Dublin there are guided coach tours that will bring you there and back in the same day.