IRELAND - GETTING AROUND
The Republic of Ireland has three international airports -- Dublin, Cork and Shannon -- while Northern Ireland (which is technically part of the United Kingdom) has one in Belfast.
Getting around Ireland by air isn`t the most convenient way to travel if you are staying within the country. There are several regional airports, including Galway, Knock, Sligo, Waterford and Kerry, but considering how small the country is, it is far more cost- and time-efficient to drive or take the bus or train than it is to fly.
Renting a car is perhaps the easiest way to explore rural and remote areas across Ireland, though traffic has become increasingly heavy on major routes. Getting around Ireland has become far more convenient in the last several years, thanks to the introduction of new highways that connect most major cities of the Emerald Isle. Prior to the construction of major thoroughfares like the M1 and M4, driving from one major hub to another could take the better part of a day or more. Most Irish people over the age of 15 have tales of all-day family drives from their rural villages to Dublin, Galway or Cork, complete with references to cows or sheep blocking traffic on country roads. Thankfully, this isn`t the case today.
Driving in Ireland takes a certain amount of skill. For Americans, there`s the whole other-side-of-the-car, other-side-of-the-road thing to contend with -- just remember to stay left and you`ll be all right. On highways (known as freeways to Americans), there are typically two to three lanes; rarely will you find monster four- or five-lane thoroughfares in Ireland. As on most European highways, the fast lane -- which is always on the right -- is used solely for passing slower traffic.
See All About Driving in Ireland
Travelling by train is one of the most relaxing ways to see the glorious sights of Ireland. With no maps, no traffic jams and a cup of tea from the trolley, a train trip could be just the ticket. Dublin is the central hub for almost all train services, with routes fanning out to all big cities and many towns. Relying solely on trains to get around Ireland isn`t recommended, as it is not possible to travel to all parts of the country by rail. However the trains serve most major hubs and are a great way to see the country, particularly for longer-haul journeys, and buses can provide transport from major train stations to smaller areas if you`d rather not rent a car in between train rides.
Irish Rail offers service to all major cities in Ireland. The trains are not luxurious but are generally comfortable, with most longer-haul route trains featuring onboard toilets, dining cars and/or snack carts. Wi-Fi is available on Irish Rail trains, though the service can be patchy at best.
The main lines fan out from Dublin towards the southern and western coasts, but there are few links between them, and some counties (such as Donegal and Cavan) have no rail links at all. So a trip visiting various towns becomes difficult as you need to return to Dublin to connect to your next city.
The North`s rail service is restricted to just a few lines running out of Belfast. Services are generally efficient and the rolling stock has been recently updated.
It`s easy to travel between the Republic`s larger towns and cities by public transport. However, it`s common for small towns and villages to have just one or two bus services per week, often geared towards market days. Transport in Northern Ireland is equally sparse in rural areas, with just a few train lines across the region, though the bus network is pretty comprehensive. Though by no means luxurious or glamorous, traveling by bus is probably the most convenient and budget-friendly method of transportation around Ireland. For long-haul travel, bus travel is very affordable and tickets can be purchased in advance through BusEireann.ie. Bus connections are available between all major cities and are reliable and comfortable, and as of last year most of these buses offer free Wi-Fi.
Local bus service is a different story. The inter-city bus services are known for frequent delays and occasional bus breakdowns, but they are still a cheap way to get around a metro area if you`re on a budget and not tight on time. To catch a bus, you need to wave at the bus driver as the vehicle approaches; buses will not stop just because there are people waiting.
Apart from some steep ascents, occasional poor road surfaces and an unpredictable climate, Ireland provides ideal territory for cycling, one of the most enjoyable ways to explore the country`s often stunning scenery. There are a number of way marked trails.
Across the island, minor roads in rural areas are generally quiet, but major roads are well worth avoiding due to heavy traffic. Bikes are easy to transport over long distances by train, but less so by bus, though note that you can only take folding bikes on DART and commuter services in the Republic. The cost of taking a bike on an inter-city service ranges between €2.50 and €15 depending upon the length of the journey. Folding bicycles incur no charge. Taking your bike with you on Bus Éireann costs an additional €11.50 single, however long your journey, though drivers are not obliged to take a bike and may in any case only have room for one. Private bus companies will sometimes allow bikes to be carried, though usually only if booked at the same time as your seat; prices vary according to the company. In the North carrying a bike is free on both Ulsterbus services (provided that space is available – folding bikes can be taken on board) and the railways (as long as room is available and, in the case of commuter routes, it`s after 9.30am Mon–Fri).
Thanks to a rise in insurance premiums, far fewer places in the Republic now rent out bikes, though Dublin does have a city bike scheme, and there are still just a small number of outlets in the North, meaning that it`s always wise to book your wheels well ahead.
Eurotrek Raleigh (t01/465 9659, whttps://www.raleigh.ie) is the largest distributor of bikes in Ireland and its website lists a number of its agents offering rental. It`s best to contact one of these directly, and bear in mind that local dealers, including some hostels, may often be cheaper. Rental rates are generally around €20–25 per day, €80 - 90 per week and rising to €100 a week if you want to leave the bike at another agency, with an extra charge of €5 per day or €20 per week for hiring panniers, though a helmet is usually included free. A deposit of anything from €100 to €200 is also required. When collecting your bike, check that its brakes and tires are in good condition, and make sure that it comes equipped with a pump and repair kit. If you`re planning on cycling in upland areas it makes sense to rent a bike with at least sixteen gears and preferably 24.