When many people think of Ireland, they think of the vast countryside and the windy roads. There are endless roads to explore and cities spaced out around the country that you’ll want to visit. However, you may wonder if it’s possible to travel to Ireland without a car.
Not everyone is comfortable driving in Ireland, and that’s especially true when they drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side. It took me three visits before I was brave enough to learn how to drive there, and that’s because I was determined to do my own road trip around Ireland.
However, even though I know now how to drive in Ireland, it was fairly easy to spend one week in Ireland with no car. Getting around Ireland without a car just requires a little advance planning. This article explains how to get around Ireland without a car and goes over the different options you have when visiting the country so you can still get to where you want to.
This post was first written in March 2021 and last updated in August 2023.
How to Travel in Ireland Without a Car
Let’s go over whether or not you need a car in Ireland for your trip.
Do You Need a Car for Getting Around Ireland?
There are plenty of public transportation options to get around Ireland without a car, as you’ll see in detail below. However, there are a few times I recommend having a car.
If you plan to go hiking in Ireland, it’s likely not going to be easy to get to the trailhead without a vehicle. Some bus routes are available for more popular hikes, but you’ll want to rent a car for at least a few days if you have a couple of hikes in mind.
The same is true if you’re hoping to see some smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns. There is likely little to no public transportation method to get there.
For example, when I wanted to visit the very small town my grandfather is from, my only option was to wait for one bus that came that day and have to spend the night because I would have had to wait for the next bus the following day. I decided the better option was renting a car to leave when I wanted.
If you want to do a scenic drive in Ireland on your own terms, you’ll also need a car. When I did my road trip around Northern Ireland, I needed a car to access some of the hard-to-reach spots as well. You’ll want to check out my packing list for Ireland to help you cut down on unnecessary items before your trip.
That said, here are various ways to enjoy an Ireland itinerary without a car, whether you’re spending 7 days in Ireland or longer.
Join a Group Tour
The most obvious option to get around touring Ireland without a car is to join a group. Taking part in a group tour of Ireland has several advantages, and this is especially true if you’re traveling without a car in Ireland outside of the major cities.
Although Ireland is a small country, its highways congregate around the cities. The countryside can be hard to navigate, with one-way lanes and poor signal in far-flung places like the stunning Irish west coast.
You save yourself the time and hassle of planning a rural area trip by taking a guided tour, and you’ll have a vehicle take you door-to-door! Thanks to the knowledgeable tour guide, you’ll also learn plenty of fun facts about Ireland.
You also won’t have to do too much research since your guide will know the best spots and answer any burning questions you may have. They will also introduce you to locals, giving you an insider’s view of Ireland.
With other travelers in the group, you’ll have a more sociable time than if you traveled solo. Group tours are a common method of transportation in Ireland for tourists, and they’re also an excellent way to see famous landmarks in Ireland if you don’t want to drive yourself. Those who get stressed out thinking about driving in a foreign country find this the best way to get around Ireland without a car.
Here are a few I recommend:
- You can take a quick 2 Day Northern Ireland tour to see Belfast, Antrim Coast, and Giant’s Causeway.
- This 4 Day Southwest Ireland tour is perfect for adding to a stay in Dublin so you can see places like the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Stone, and Killarney National Park.
- To see more of the country, join this 6-Day Southern Ireland tour that goes to Bunratty Castle, the Ring of Kerry, Adare, and more.
Before you go on a group tour, read more about what not to do in Ireland as a tourist!
Train Travel in Ireland
The train is a fantastic method of transport when looking at how to get around in Ireland without a car. Not only is it handy when you travel in Ireland without a car, but the railway goes through some breathtaking scenery.
I will say that if you’re used to train travel around Europe in general, this is a bit different. Trains aren’t easily available to connect you from city to city or run on an hourly basis, but you still can get around Ireland on a train. Train travel is an activity many people want to put on their bucket lists for Ireland, as the views are stunning in the countryside.
What Are the Ireland Train Routes?
The Irish Rail operates over a dozen train routes, and the railway runs in every direction.
These are some of the most popular:
- Dublin to Belfast (although Belfast is part of Northern Ireland, a British territory, the two countries jointly run the route)
- Dublin to Galway
- Dublin to Cork
- Dublin to Limerick
If it’s the scenery and not so much the destination you’re interested in, you won’t be disappointed when traveling to Ireland without a car. The Dublin to Rosslare Airport journey is an exquisite route through Eastern Ireland. The journey between Derry~Londonderry and Coleraine on the Causeway Coastal Route is also sublime (and you’ll have plenty of options for where to stay in Londonderry).
How Often Do the Trains Run?
On Sundays and public holidays, trains come by much less frequently. In most cases, trains between Dublin and the major cities arrive anywhere from four to 15 times a day. Check the timetable before booking anything when traveling around Ireland without a car.
Cost of Ireland Train Travel
A cross-European comparison revealed that public transport in Ireland is generally affordable, which is great when you want to figure out how to see Ireland without a car. It’s more expensive than Portugal or Germany but generally much cheaper than England, France, or Denmark.
The most popular routes give you a good idea of what you can expect to pay. The range is quite broad, but you can expect to score on the lower end if you follow our bargain-hunting tips.
- Dublin to Belfast — from €17.99 to €38.00 ($21.71 to $45.85)
- Dublin to Galway — from €17.99 to €36.65 ($21.71 to $44.22)
- Dublin to Cork — from €21.49 to €59.20 ($25.93 to $71.43)
- Dublin to Limerick — from €14.99 to €47.80 ($18.09 to $57.67)
There are some ways for you to save money when you visit Ireland without a car. It won’t surprise you, but booking your rail tickets at least seven days in advance is a great way to save some cash.
The Irish Rail’s website has a section indicating the lowest online fares available. Round-trip fares are also substantially cheaper than buying two standard one-way tickets unless you’ve scored a deal on one-way fares.
Eurail passes are valid in Ireland, which is fantastic if you’re on a multi-country trip. Irish Rail also offers a family ticket for two adults and four children.
The Trekker Four Day pass also gets you four consecutive days of unlimited travel for €110. The Explorer Pass offers five days of unlimited journeys out of 15 consecutive days for just €160 for an Adult and €80 for a child. Both of these passes are only available at ticket offices.
How Long Does it Take to Travel by Train?
Like most European countries, Ireland’s relatively small, so it won’t take too long to get from A to B. Most journeys last less than three hours.
- Dublin to Belfast — 2.5 hours
- Dublin to Galway — 2.5 hours
- Dublin to Cork — 2.5 hours
- Dublin to Limerick — 2 hours 45 minutes
Look up train times and buy tickets online.
Bus Travel in Ireland
Bus travel is a much more widespread form of public transportation in Ireland than hopping on the railroad. Many people consider it the best way to see Ireland without a car due to how many different places you can go.
Buses are much cheaper and cover many of the small towns the railway doesn’t when looking for how to travel Ireland without a car. The country is celebrated for its rural charm, so there may come a time when you need to jump on a bus.
This doesn’t mean that you should neglect train travel but rather that you should be ready to combine it with bus journeys. While you’ll find a direct line from Dublin for most significant towns, there’s no such thing between Cork and Waterford or Killarney and Limerick. In these cases, you’ll need to use the bus.
Bus Éireann is the national operator for bus travel in Ireland, transporting passengers to more than 3000 destinations in Ireland. While buses are subject to traffic, they can take the same time as trains and are cheaper when traveling in Ireland without a car.
The cost decreases further when you purchase an Open Road Tourist Travel Pass. For €60, you can travel on three days out of six (you only travel on three of the six days the pass is valid for); for €126, you have unlimited transport on seven out of 14 days. Many people choose this method when looking for how to travel to Ireland without a car.
Exploring Dublin Without a Car
Visiting Ireland without a car is especially easy in Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. The city center is small, so you can easily walk from attraction to attraction while learning fun facts about Dublin. If you stay in a central Dublin hotel, you may not even need public transportation.
But if you’re planning to go a bit off the beaten track when staying for 3 days in Dublin or longer, you’re likely to need some other form of transport. The public transport system is very efficient, so you shouldn’t have any difficulties getting around Dublin, Ireland without a car.
Traveling by Bus
Unlike many other European capitals, you won’t find a subway or underground in Dublin’s historical heart. This means that the bus is your new best friend for public transport! You’ll want to read how to take a bus from the Dublin Airport to the city centre before you go.
Dublin Bus is the name of the public bus service. The bus stops have blue markers with the company logo. Make sure you flag down the approaching bus: it may feel a bit silly when you’re standing under the stop, but they don’t always stop automatically.
Before getting onto one of the double-deckers, count out the exact fare in coins — no cards or bills accepted, and they don’t give change.
Get a map to understand the different zones in the city. Stages 1 to 3 cover most of the city center and cost €2.15 (or $2.60). A trip between the center and the airport is €7 (about $8.45).
Tip: Book a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket if you’re just in town for the major sites or on a tight schedule. It’s a bit more costly than the public bus, but it is much more convenient (you won’t get lost or waste time walking from a bus stop to the attraction itself), and you’ll score discounts on attraction entrance fees.
Traveling by Bicycle
Cycling from site to site is eco-friendly, super affordable, and fun, and Dublin is one of the top 10 bicycle-friendly cities globally, thanks to 74 miles of bicycle tracks. A three-day pass to the city’s bike-share service costs just €5 (or $6).
Traveling by Tram
If you’re heading out of the city center, you can take the LUAS. This is Dublin’s tram system, which connects the suburbs to the heart of the city. The trams are fast, but they are very popular and crowded during rush hour. You’ll appreciate them when looking for things to do in Dublin in December, as you’ll stay nice and dry.
Traveling by Train
The train is best if you’re exploring the outskirts of the city since it’s designed for commuters, and it’s also convenient during the winter months in Ireland. You can try DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) trains for a trip to the pretty Malahide Castle or Howth. Just note that they can be packed in the mornings and evenings.
The Suburban Rail Network is best for trips to Dublin’s off-the-beaten-track commuter towns. There are fewer trains in the middle of the day and on weekends.
Traveling by Taxi
You won’t have any trouble finding a taxi cab in Dublin, and it’s certainly a comfortable way to get around. It’s ideal for late-night journeys and when it’s cold, such as when visiting during December in Ireland. Naturally, it costs more than taking public transport for solo travelers, but it might work out cheaper if you’re traveling in a group.
Save up to 50% off attractions with the Go City Pass! It’s a great way to save money if you plan on visiting multiple sights in Dublin.
An Itinerary for Getting Around Ireland Without a Car
First, you need a public transport map when planning a trip to Ireland without a car. This helps visualize the distance between destinations and decide what order to follow.
A second pro tip is to base yourself in a handful of well-connected towns and take day trips into the surrounding areas rather than stay a night at every destination (there are plenty of day trips from Dublin as well as Belfast day trips to explore).
Here’s a sample Ireland itinerary without a car:
Stop 1: Dublin
Ireland’s capital city sits on the east coast. You could easily spend a week in Dublin, but try to get in at least three nights in Dublin, and that’ll give you enough time to explore Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle, and The Old Library at Trinity College Dublin.
For convenience, book a hotel in the city center. This way, you don’t even need to use Ireland’s public transportation in the city. You can also check out some of the best bed and breakfasts in Dublin.
Stop 2: Kilkenny
Kilkenny’s not hard to reach when figuring out how to travel around Ireland without a car. The train arrives in an hour and forty minutes from Dublin, but you could also travel by bus, which is cheaper and takes the same amount of time.
St. Canice’s Cathedral and the impressive Kilkenny Castle are some of the highlights of a city tour. The town is compact, with sites within walking distance, so you don’t have to stay longer than a night.
Find a hotel in the city center.
Stop 3: Cork
There’s no direct train line between Kilkenny and Cork, but the bus takes just two and a half hours. Visit Cork’s attractions: the English Market, the Shandon District, and the ‘South Parish’ Walk, for instance.
While in Cork, take the train out to tour Cobh, the charming coastal destination with a museum dedicated to the Titanic. There’s also Blarney Castle, where legend holds that you’ll gain a silver tongue if you kiss the stone!
With so much to do, you won’t regret spending two to three nights staying in quaint Cork.
Stop 4: Killarney
You’ll reach Killarney within an hour and a half of leaving Cork, whether you go by train or bus. Try to stay in Killarney for at least two nights to see the city and take a couple of day tours.
Killarney is the ideal base for day trips to the eponymous national park, the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, and the Skellig Islands, all of which are beautiful. If you’d like to spend more time in the countryside, you can easily swap Killarney for the Skellig Islands.
Stop 5: Limerick
From Killarney, hop on the bus to Limerick (there’s no direct train connection). The journey takes just under two hours.
Many people skip Limerick, but that’s a pity because it has plenty of historic charm and artistic buzz. The medieval King John’s Castle and the Limerick City Gallery of Art are some iconic attractions.
Limerick isn’t a place you get FOMO over, but it is an unforgettable experience for those who visit.
You’ll want to book your hotel in Limerick in advance.
Stop 6: Galway
Once you board the train to Galway, you know you’re heading for the famed west coast of Ireland. The trip lasts just under two hours, and then you can check into one of the beautiful B&Bs in Galway.
When you’re ready to explore Galway, head to St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, which Christopher Columbus visited, and admire the Spanish Arch in the city walls.
Galway is a fantastic base for venturing into the rugged countryside of Ireland’s west coast. A day trip to the Cliffs of Moher is an unforgettable experience on the coast of Ireland.
Meanwhile, you’ll find tranquility touring the Aran Islands. You could also opt to spend time in the Burren, a desolate landscape that’s now a national park. Whether you only spend one day in Galway or have more time, you’ll want to stop here for a bit.
Budget one to two nights for a stay in Galway.
Final Thoughts on Traveling in Ireland Without a Car
As you can see, traveling in Ireland without a car is possible when you plan ahead. Whether you take the train, the bus, or a combination of public transportation in Ireland, you’ll still be able to access most of the country during your trip.