How to Get Around Ireland as a Solo Traveler

how to get around Ireland

One of the most common questions I get asked about planning a trip to Ireland is the best way to get around the island. After five solo trips to Ireland where I’ve had the opportunity to explore major cities as well as smaller towns, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to get around Ireland, especially as a solo traveler. 

While the most common way people want to travel around Ireland is with their own car, I have yet to rent a car. I’ll admit it. The prospect of driving on the opposite side of the road and navigating narrow roads alone terrifies me. Additionally, it’s not the most economical choice as a solo traveler.

In fact, I have an entire seven day Ireland itinerary where I share with you exactly how to see the best of Ireland utilizing public transportation. Make sure you check that out if you decide that’s how you want to plan your Ireland trip.

If you’re still evaluating how you want to get around Ireland, this comprehensive guide will share with you all of the transportation options so that you can make the best decision to get the most out of your Ireland adventure.

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Ireland travel resources

Getting to Ireland

First things first, getting to Ireland. I assume if you’re reading this, you’ll be visiting Ireland from a different country. There are five international airports, Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Kerry, and Belfast. I recommend using Skyscanner and Google Flights to find the best price for your route and then book directly with the airline.

However, as most Irish adventures start off at the Dublin Airport, which is served by major airlines such as Aer Lingus (my personal favorite), I’ll assume that’s where you’ll be starting as well.

Getting to Dublin

If it’s your first time visiting Ireland, you’ll likely spend a few days in Dublin. Once you make it past customs and collect your luggage there are multiple options for getting into Dublin city center from the airport

The most cost effective way is via bus. There are three bus routes on AirCoach that will take you into Dublin city center in approximately 30 minutes. Return ticket prices start at €9. You can purchase your tickets in advance and show it to the bus driver on your phone. Visit this website for route information, journey times, and to purchase your ticket.

Alternatively, you can hire a taxi upon arrival to take you straight to your Dublin accommodations. This is more expensive, ranging from at least  €25-€30 depending on your destination and traffic. Uber is not available in Ireland, so follow the signs for Taxi to reach the taxi stands. Make sure the meter is on!

You could also hire a private transfer. This is the most expensive option, but might ease your nerves if it’s your first time traveling solo abroad. This will cost at least €100 and needs to be arranged prior to your arrival.

If you decide to rent a car, I recommend waiting until you’re done exploring Dublin before doing so. If you haven’t driven in Dublin before, it can be quite hectic, especially if you aren’t used to driving on the left side of the road. But we’ll get into renting a car in Ireland in just a couple more sections.

Getting Around Dublin

Getting around Dublin is incredibly easy with multiple public transportation options, such as Dublin Bus, the LUAS (Light Rail), and DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit). A Leap Card purchased upon arrival provides ease of travel for 1 day (€8), 3 days (€16), or 7 days (€32). 

This is a physical card that you can use on the following transit options in Dublin such as:

  • Dublin Bus (not valid on tours like the Hop on Hop off bus or Bus Éireann)
  • Go-Ahead Ireland Dublin City services
  • Luas
  • DART + Commuter Rail (including Dublin city and county)

Using the leap card will allow you to forget about the cash and individual fares and simply tap and go. You can use this to take day trips to stunning places like Howth and Bray. The train ride from Dublin to Bray is absolutely worth it as is the cliff walk once you get there.

I mentioned hop on hop off buses above. This could be a great alternative to public transport that will allow you to see the best of Dublin when you’re short on time. You’d be able to easily get to places like Kilmainham Gaol and Phoenix Park which are a bit further away from the city center as well as Temple Bar, Teelings Distillery, and more.

Check ticket prices here.

Finally, there is an alternative to Uber, it’s an app called Free Now (formerly My Taxi). It works exactly like Uber does. It’s only available in the major cities like Dublin, Cork, and Galway. I used it a few times after a late night out and it got me safely back to my hostel.

How to Travel Around Ireland: Car Rental

Rental cars are the preferred method of transportation as it allows travelers more freedom to visit small towns and get a bit off the beaten track. Rental cars allow people to take their bucket list road trip whether that’s the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, or driving the Wild Atlantic Way.

If you’ve decided that a rental car is the best option for the remainder of your trip, then when you’re finished exploring Dublin, head back to the airport. The Dublin airport (and the Shannon airport if you’ve flown in there) offer a number of rental companies that will get you set up with your own vehicle.

I recommend using Discover Cars to rent your car. 

Remember that manual cars are more common in Ireland so specify that you want an automatic transmission, if you do. I don’t recommend trying to navigate Ireland’s country roads while also learning how to drive a manual!

As a solo traveler, renting a car may be a more expensive option as you’ll have to foot the entire rental car bill and the price of gas. But if you want a bit more freedom, it would make for a really fun trip.

Since I’ve never actually rented a car in Ireland (at least not yet!), please check out this post from a fellow travel blogger with great tips for renting a car in Ireland

How to Get Around Ireland: Take the Bus

How have I gotten around Ireland without a car for five trips? I make excellent use of Ireland’s bus network. Through long distance bus routes, local buses, and even hopping on the back end of a tour bus, I’ve been able to travel not just to major towns but to smaller towns and bucket list destinations like the Aran Islands.

Bus travel in Ireland sometimes gets a bad reputation for running late, but I’ve never had a problem. I find that the buses are clean, safe, and comfortable. They also usually have WiFi and power on board so you can stay connected.

One of the main bus services in Ireland is Bus Éireann and it’s a great place to start when planning your travel itinerary. With Bus Éireann, you can use their long distance routes from Dublin to Galway, Cork, Limerick, and Sligo among other destinations. Bus Éireann also has local routes that will take you from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher and Doolin or Ennis, for example.  

Another great bus company I’ve used is CityLink. I’ve used it to get to and from Galway from Dublin. I’ve also used it to get from Galway to smaller towns like Clifden and Westport. 

If you want to get from Dublin to Belfast, you can take the Aircoach. In a few short hours you’ll be in Northern Ireland. 

Ticket prices are generally reasonable around €20 one way. It’s a few euros cheaper if you buy in advance online. Also, if you purchase online, you have priority for a seat over those who want to purchase at the bus. Many routes do fill up so if you need to be somewhere (like the airport) at a certain time, make sure you plan ahead. 

The other drawbacks to bus travel are that it can take quite a bit longer and require changing buses stations. Many times buses go through Limerick so you may have to wait a bit at the station for your next bus. You may also have to do a combination of long distance buses with local routes to get to smaller towns. But if you’re flexible, I think it’s a great option for getting around Ireland.

If you ever get confused about where you’re going or aren’t sure where to get off, feel free to ask the bus driver. They’re generally very helpful and will make sure you get where you need to go.

How to Get Around Ireland: Ride the Train

On my most recent trip to Ireland I took a long distance train from Westport to Dublin on Iamród Éireann, or Irish Rail, for the first time and found it quite easy to navigate. I’d bought my ticket in advance online but had to move the date of travel a few times, which was very easy to do.

With the ticket, you’re assigned a seat on the train, which I also liked. It actually says your name on the small overhead display screen. So if you have a preference for where you like to sit, you can choose it when you book your ticket online. 

Prior to this I’d taken shorter distance trains from Cork to Cobh and of course used DART for day trips from Dublin

There are two main rail stations in Dublin, Dublin Connolly and Dublin Heuston. Ticket prices are comparable to bus tickets with a one way fare from Dublin Heuston to Galway being about €30. Ticket prices do rise as you get closer to the date of travel, so it’s best to book this in advance. 

If you’re considering using Irish Rail for the majority of your travel throughout Ireland, check into their rail passes geared toward tourists to see if it would save you money. There are three options:

  • Trekker Four Day Pass: allows adults unlimited travel on Iamród Éireann in the Republic of Ireland for four consecutive days for €88.
  • Explorer Pass: allows adults and children 5 days of unlimited travel in a 15 consecutive day period on Iamród Éireann in the Republic of Ireland for €128 for adults and €64 for children. 
  • Leap Visitor Card: this works for DART and commuter services in the short hop zone (ie: day trips out of Dublin to Howth).

See your rail pass options here.

Apps to Help with Bus and Train Travel

There are a few apps available to help you plan your bus and train journeys. I recommend trying the following apps:

  • TFI Go: allows you to purchase tickets on your phone
  • TFI Journey Planner: this brings all of your transit options into one place so you can see how long it will take and how much it will cost to get from point A to point B.

There are two others as well, one that will give you live updates and one for cars. You can check them out here. But I think the top two are great places to start. Honestly, they should just combine them all into one app!

See all of your app options here.

How to Get Around Ireland: Take a Guided Tour

The final option for getting around Ireland is to take a guided tour! Now bus tours aren’t alway something I recommend, but I’ve done quite a few in Ireland and found them to be informative and fun. Plus you usually stop for a pub lunch which I enjoy.

I wouldn’t recommend relying heavily on this option as it can be quite expensive and draining to have to be on someone else’s timetable. But I think if you use it as an addition to your trip rather than the whole trip, it works out well.

For instance, if taking public transport to get somewhere will take too much time and effort, perhaps a bus tour is a solid option. You could take the train across to Galway and then take a guided tour to Kylemore Abbey which is one of the best day trips from Galway (ahem, I’ve done this, 10/10 recommend). 

How to Get Around Ireland: Combine A Group Tour with Public Transportation

In the intro of this post I mentioned joining the back half of a group tour. On one of my trips to Ireland, I was in Doolin, but I wanted to get to Kinsale, literally the other side of the island. There really wasn’t a great way to do this with public transportation that wouldn’t take an entire day.

I stopped into the tourist office to check out my options with an expert. He recommended I join the back half of a group tour that would be leaving the Cliffs of Moher to go to Cork. He gave me the contact information of the bus driver and I set it up for the following day. I met them in a local pub after they’d seen the Cliffs and on the way back to Cork I got to see the Burren and Bunratty Castle. Once I arrived in Cork, I took a local bus to Kinsale!

It may be that during your trip to Ireland you use a combination of transportation options to make your trip as easy as possible. Remember the best option for getting around Ireland varies depending on your itinerary, budget, and time frame. You may want to rent a car to really get off the beaten path or you may just want to see the major cities so hopping on a couple buses makes the most sense. No matter how you decide to get around Ireland, I know you’ll have an amazing time. If you ever get confused, always ask at a tourist shop or the bus driver. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction! Have fun!

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