For most people visiting Ireland from North America, cars are not the best way to get around … for a variety of reasons (see some of my earlier blogs). A combination of mass transit, taxis, and an occasional rental car may be your least stressful as well as a thrifty option for your transportation. In addition, by taking mass transit, you get an opportunity to meet fellow passengers and the drivers; and get a feel for the nuances of the Irish culture. It will take you slightly longer to take mass transit, and it does have some time restrictions, but you can also do fun and productive things while in transit (reading about your next stop, trip journal writing, etc. ). You can also use the time to catch up on your sleep, and be ready to take on the pubs at your destination for the day.😉
I’ll start start with an overview of car rental pricing and then discuss mass transit options and their pros and cons.
Let’s start with cars. To rent a car that will fit four people and reasonable luggage (more than a small “roll-a-board” per person) can be expensive, and the driving can be very tedious.
One may be able to do better, but €350 per week is the going rate for an intermediate car (Ford Mondeo) with an automatic transmission, plus €10 per day per additional driver. If your US insurance company and/or your CC do not cover your rental liabilities then an additional insurance fee applies at about €150 per week. That’s a grand total of about €550 per week. In addition to the rental fees, there will be tolls (€4.80 from Dublin to Galway), and city and hotel parking fees (can be €2.00 per hour in the cities). In addition petrol (gasoline) is currently €1.25 per liter (approximately $5 per gallon)
My experience is that cars give the freedom that Americans tend to need, but adds a level of expense, hassle, and stress that takes away from the holiday. I believe that using mass transit for the bulk of your visit, but strategically adding a day or two of car rental, is a great balance for your holiday. Below are some of the alternatives. During my upcoming blogs I will attempt to point out mass transit options.
IMHO when traveling between major cities in Ireland the most comfortable way is by train. The trains are reasonably clean, comfortable and roomy. Food Carts are usually available on long routes and free WiFi is available. Tables are available to comfortably write/type or picnic during your travels. The train can be more expensive when buying last minute tickets, but is competitive with private bus lines when bought in advance.
The trains are reasonably fast (not bullet train fast). The trip from Dublin to Galway is a little over 2 hours (driving is only about 10 minutes faster).
When arriving at any train station of size, taxis are usually available, or are available in a short time period after calling a posted number at the station. As is usual in the rest of Europe, many moderately priced B&B’s and Hotels are located within easy walking distance of the train station.
If your ticket is bought at least 7 days in advance, the fair from Dublin to Galway can be as low as €14.99 per person. This includes a reserved seat. If the ticket is bought less than 7 days and is a more popular train time, then the price can be as high as €35 per person. A later blog will talk about ordering your tickets on-line and collecting them at the station. Family passes are also available. The Irish Rail website is helpful if you have additional questions.
Irish Rail has an Explorer Ticket that is 5 days out of 15 on Irish Rail for €160. This can be a fixed price and low stress solution for many. This is only available in person at a ticket office. I like this style of ticket because it gives one the freedom to choose a stop … get off and check it out … and possibly decide to leave on the next train…. or to stay the night without moving on to your next planned destination.
Be careful when booking. Dublin has two train stations for long distance trains: Connolly and Heuston Stations. Pearse Station is for DART, the local commuter train. Connolly Station would be used for trains to the North: Belfast and Sligo. Heuston Station would be used for trains to the West and South: Westport, Galway, Cork, and Waterford.
If a direct train is available then trains can be the fastest way to arrive and give you a great view of the Irish countryside. If there is not a direct train, then the journey can take 2-3X the driving time and the ticket may be expensive (unless you have the Explorer Ticket).
All the buses I’ve taken in Ireland have been well maintained and clean. I’ve only experience a full bus a few times. Almost all the buses have free WiFi so that you can catch up on your journal or communications while traveling.
Bus Éireann the national bus company can get you almost anywhere you want to go, but may take time If you are not on an express bus. The non-express buses seem to stop every 15-30 minutes. It’s about €16 from Galway to Limerick. It’s €20 to get all the way to Cork from Galway. So it’s an economical way to get between major locations in Ireland.
Bus Éireann has an Open Road Ticket that I like. You get unlimited travel for €60 for 3 days out of 6 or for €76.50 for 4 days out of 8. Longer plans are also available at a pro-rated price. This is not the cheapest way to go but gives you plenty of flexibility.
GoBus has direct service between major cities and airports. Dublin Airport to downtown Galway takes about 3 hours or downtown Dublin (near the Liffy river) to downtown Galway is about 2.5 hours. GoBus has routes to Galway and Cork in addition to Dublin.
Citylink is similar to GoBus, but seems to service a few more cities like Clifden and Limerick. The fares range from €15 to €30 per person between major cities (similar to GoBus for similar routes).
I have taken both of these bus lines and they are clean, efficient and friendly.
There are many other private bus operators. The government also publishes a List of Private Operators. The operators cover many smaller communities.
The major private buses (Citylink and GoBus) only service the major cities and airports. Many smaller or less known companies service many small towns and villages along with Bus Éireann. Bus Éireann has local buses that can make the trip long and Express buses that get you there very quickly. The combination of the local buses and the Open Road Ticket allows stopping and exploring smaller villages. Not a good choice? Catch the next bus! Taking the bus is very viable as a main mode of transport for your trip. It will just take a little investigation up front.
There are all sorts of tour buses around Ireland and about April they start appearing on the road … everywhere. This is part of the reason driving in Ireland is so tedious … usually the approaching car has to find a “hiding place” on the side of the road since most roads aren't wide enough room for both a car and a bus without one yielding to the other.
The Irish government provides a List of Tour Bus Operators. In additional, if you ask around during your trip, you may possibly find a “free lance” tour guide to show you around by boat or taxi.
I don’t care for the 3, 5, or 7 day type bus tours. There is not enough freedom for me, but then again I enjoy the planning and I enjoy checking out the local flavor … that sometimes requires a change of plans.
I think the single day bus tours provide a great service, particularly to places that are not easily serviced by train or bus, like Kylemore Abbey, one of my favorites sights ... and a feature of a blog in the not too distant future.
There are several tour operators in Galway that can give you a tour for some of the local sights. Some of them are:
Galway Tour Company
Galway Bus Tours
These allow you to efficiently visit the Cliffs of Moher, Kylemore Abbey, and some of the other sights near Galway.
Taxis are frequently available throughout Ireland, even in smaller cities. Uber is not universally available in Ireland, but Hailo can summon a taxi from your cell. In the smaller villages, it is sometimes necessary to call a taxi, but the wait is usually just a few minutes.
In general there is no tipping for taxis in Ireland. Additionally, the taxi driver will usually round the metered fair down to the nearest Euro … yes down!
If you would like a feel for fares, the government of Ireland publishes a Taxi Fair Calculator. If you are going a longer distance or want a custom tour, then visit the taxi office for a fixed livery fair or an hourly rate. I find that the calculator gives the maximum fair. For instance the route used by the calculator for a trip from Dublin Airport to Heuston Station is the “fastest route” and not the “cheapest route”. We've only paid the fair from the calculator a few times when we had a tight connection with our train. Almost always, the driver told us he was going the more expensive route.
When the weather and your mood come together and you decide that it is time for a ride in the country then a rental car may be the way to go. Many times when looking up relatives, a rental car is almost mandatory. Almost all the Mid to Large cities in Ireland have rental car companies. Here is a link with a list of Irish Rental Car Companies.
Make sure to read my previous blogs regarding driving in Ireland and also make sure your rental reservation is for an automatic transmission. This is particularly important if you have not previously driven on “the other side of the road”.
In the upcoming blogs I will mention briefly some of the mass transit and tour options for visiting each of the sights, you will likely want to revisit this sight if you want to use that option.
This should be enough information to get you started on your transportation planning….. possibly too much 😉
See You In The Pub!
Jet Lag Jack