The big decision in getting around Ireland is whether to go by car or use public transport. Your own car will make the best use of your time and help you reach even the most remote of places. It's usually easy to get very cheap rentals – €10 per day or less is common – and if two or more are travelling together, the fee for rental and petrol can be cheaper than bus fares.
The bus network, made up of a mix of public and private operators, is extensive and generally quite competitive – although journey times can be slow and lots of the points of interest outside towns are not served. The rail network is quicker but more limited, serving only some major towns and cities. Both buses and trains get busy during peak times; you'll need to book in advance to be guaranteed a seat.
Ireland's size makes domestic flying unnecessary, but there are flights between Dublin and Belfast, Cork, Derry, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Shannon and Sligo aimed at passengers connecting from international flights. Flights linking the mainland to the Aran Islands are popular.
Ireland's compact size and scenic landscapes make it a good cycling destination. However, unreliable weather, many very narrow roads and some very fast drivers are major concerns. Special tracks such as the 42km Great Western Greenway in County Mayo are a delight. A good tip for cyclists in the west is that the prevailing winds make it easier to cycle from south to north.
Buses will carry bikes, but only if there's room. For trains, bear the following in mind:
- Intercity trains charge up to €10.50 per bike.
- Book in advance (www.irishrail.ie), as there's only room for two bikes per service.
Companies that arrange cycle tours in Ireland include the following:
Go Ireland Has guided and independent tours.
Irish Cycling Safaris Organises numerous tours across Ireland.
Lismore Cycling Holidays Runs tours around the southeast.
Ireland's offshore islands are all served by boat.
Ferries also operate across rivers, inlets and loughs, providing useful short cuts, particularly for cyclists.
Cruises are popular on the 258km-long Shannon–Erne Waterway and on a variety of other lakes and loughs.
Border crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic are unnoticeable; there are no formalities of any kind. However, this may change once Brexit occurs in 2019.
Private buses compete – often very favourably – with Bus Éireann in the Republic and also run where the national buses are irregular or absent.
Distances are not especially long: few bus journeys will last longer than five hours. Bus Éireann bookings can be made online, but you can't reserve a seat for a particular service. Dynamic pricing is in effect on many routes: book early to get the lowest fares.
Note the following:
- Bus routes and frequencies are slowly contracting in the Republic.
- The National Journey Planner app by Transport for Ireland is very useful for planning bus and train journeys.
The main bus services in Ireland:
Bus Éireann The Republic's main bus line.
Translink Northern Ireland's main bus service; includes Ulsterbus and Goldline.
Bus & Rail Passes
There are a few bus, rail and bus-and-rail passes worth considering:
Irish Explorer Offers customers five days of unlimited Irish Rail travel out of 15 consecutive days (adult/child €160/80).
Open Road Pass Three days' travel out of six consecutive days (€60) on Bus Éireann; extra days cost €16.50.
Sunday Day Tracker One day's unlimited travel (adult/child £7/3.75) on Translink buses and trains in Northern Ireland, Sunday only.
Trekker Four Day Four consecutive days of unlimited travel (€110) on Irish Rail.
Note that Eurail's one-country pass for Ireland is a bad deal in any of its permutations.
Car & Motorcycle
Travelling by car or motorbike means greater flexibility and independence. The road system is extensive, and the network of motorways has cut driving times considerably. But also note that many secondary roads are very narrow and at times rather perilous.
All cars on public roads must be insured. If you are bringing your own vehicle, check that your insurance will cover you in Ireland.
Advance hire rates start at around €20 a day for a small car (unlimited mileage). Shop around and use price-comparison sites as well as company sites (which often have deals not available on booking sites).
- Most cars are manual; automatic cars are available, but they're more expensive to hire.
- If you're travelling from the Republic into Northern Ireland, it's important to be sure that your insurance covers journeys to the North.
- The majority of hire companies won't rent you a car if you're under 23 and haven't had a valid driving licence for at least a year.
All big towns and cities have covered and open short-stay car parks that are conveniently signposted.
- On-street parking is usually by 'pay and display' tickets available from on-street machines or disc parking (discs, which rotate to display the time you park your car, are usually provided by rental agencies). Costs range from €1.50 to €6 per hour; all-day parking in a car park will cost around €25.
- Yellow lines (single or double) along the edge of the road indicate restrictions. Double yellow lines mean no parking at any time. Always look for the nearby sign that spells out when you can and cannot park.
Roads & Rules
Ireland may be one of the few countries where the posted speed limits are often much faster than you'll find possible.
- Motorways (marked by M+number on a blue background): modern, divided highways.
- Primary roads (N+number on a green background in the Republic, A+number in Northern Ireland): usually well-engineered two-lane roads.
- Secondary and tertiary roads (marked as R+number in the Republic, B+number in Northern Ireland): Can be very winding and exceedingly narrow.
- Tolls are charged on many motorways, usually by machine at a plaza. On the M50, pay the automated tolls between junctions 6 and 7 at www.eflow.ie.
- Directional signs are often not in evidence.
- GPS navigation via your smartphone or device is very helpful.
- EU licences are treated like Irish licences.
- Non-EU licences are valid in Ireland for up to 12 months.
- If you plan to bring a car from Europe, it's illegal to drive without at least third-party insurance.
The basic rules of the road:
- Drive on the left; overtake to the right.
- Safety belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers.
- Children aged under 12 aren't allowed to sit in the front passenger seat.
- When entering a roundabout, give way to the right.
- In the Republic, speed-limit and distance signs are in kilometres; in the North, speed-limit and distance signs are often in miles.
Republic 120km/h on motorways, 100km/h on national roads, 80km/h on regional and local roads, and 50km/h or as signposted in towns.
Northern Ireland 70mph (112km/h) on motorways, 60mph (96km/h) on main roads, 30mph (48km/h) in built-up areas.
Drinking and driving is taken very seriously; you're allowed a maximum blood-alcohol level of 50mg/100mL (0.05%) in the Republic, and 35mg/100mL (0.035%) in Northern Ireland.
Hitching is becoming less popular in Ireland. Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. It's illegal to hitch on motorways.
Dublin and Belfast have comprehensive local bus networks, as do some other larger towns.
- The Dublin Area Rapid Transport (DART) rail line runs roughly the length of Dublin's coastline, while the Luas tram system has two popular lines.
- Taxis tend to be expensive: flag fall is daytime/night-time €3.60/4 plus €1.10/1.40 per kilometre after the first 500m.
- Uber is in Dublin but is not as popular as MyTaxi (www.mytaxi.com), a taxi app.
Given Ireland's relatively small size, train travel can be quick and advance-purchase fares are competitive with buses. Worth noting:
- Many of the Republic's most beautiful areas, such as whole swaths of the Wild Atlantic Way, are not served by rail.
- Most lines radiate out from Dublin, with limited ways of interconnecting between lines, which can complicate touring.
- There are four routes from Belfast in Northern Ireland, one links with the system in the Republic via Newry to Dublin.
- True 1st class only exists on the Dublin–Cork and Dublin–Belfast lines. On all other trains, seats are the same size as in standard class, despite any marketing come-ons such as 'Premier' class.
Irish Rail operates trains in the Republic.
Translink NI Railways operates trains in Northern Ireland.