Train travel is one of the best ways to travel, especially in Europe. So it makes sense that visitors to Ireland may assume it’s a great way to get around as well. However, this isn’t always the case. Train travel in Ireland isn’t very extensive and it actually one of the most expensive ways to get around the country.
I’m not saying this to turn you off exploring Ireland by train, it’s just a fact. Ireland’s rail network is limited and only connects a few major cities. Sometimes, routes may require you to backtrack or they may not exist at all. Train travel in Ireland can also be quite expensive, especially if you leave your booking until the last minute.
That being said, train travel in Ireland can be quite comfortable and definitely has some perks that, depending on the situation, may make it the best choice. So, if you are debating exploring Ireland by train, then here is what you need to know.
Ireland’s Rail Companies
Ireland, as an island, has two separate train companies. The republic of Ireland is served by Irish Rail, while Northern Ireland is served by Northern Ireland Railways. They are two separate companies, each operating with their own trains, schedules, and websites. So keep that in mind if you plan on visiting both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland during your visit.
Each website has extensive information on schedules, planning, and fees. You can find the respective websites here:
How to Buy Train Tickets in Ireland
Buying tickets for train travel in Ireland depends on which train company you are using.
For Irish Rail
Irish rail tickets can be purchased online ahead of time. In fact, this is the recommended way to buy your tickets. Booking in advance can save you as much as 50%, so it’s definitely worth your time to do some advanced planning and map out your route so you can take advantage of these savings. It is possible to buy your tickets at the station, however you will pay significantly more and you are also adding extra stress by needing to get to the station early to book.
For Northern Ireland Railways
Tickets for trains operated by Northern Ireland Railways are best bought in person at the rail station prior to your travel time. Some tickets can be bought online, but it’s only a limited few routes and types which makes things confusing for visitors. Your best bet is to just show up early to the station and book in person.
What About an Ireland Rail Pass?
Rail passes are common in Europe and can sometimes offer a better deal than buying the tickets yourself. However, in Ireland, this is not the case. Due to the fact that the Irish rail network is so limited, it doesn’t make sense to buy a rail pass (even though they do exist). You’ll just end up having to backtrack (often through Dublin) which ends up being a huge waste of time. To get the best deal on train travel in Ireland, book online in advance when possible.
Ireland’s Main Trail Stations
As mentioned earlier, the train network in Ireland is not very expansive, so there are only a few stations. The main stations in Ireland (including the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) can be found below. Keep in mind, if you are booking from Dublin there are 2 different stations depending on where your final destination is.
Irish Rail Stations
- Hueston Station (Dublin)
- Connolly Station (Dublin)
- Kent Station (Cork)
- Ceannt Station (Galway)
- Belfast Central Station (Belfast)
- MacDiarmada Station (Sligo)
- Duke Street Station (Derry-London Derry)
There are a few small stations as well, but normally these aren’t of interest to tourists unless your ticket requires a train transfer.
Ireland rail vs Ireland Buses
So, if train travel in Ireland isn’t very well connected and is one of the most expensive ways to travel, then why would you want to travel that way? Well, there are a couple of reasons why train travel in Ireland is good and can be the better option.
The first reason is timing. Depending on the route, train travel might be the fastest option. While there are a few direct buses in Ireland, most bus routes tend to make several stops in small towns and villages along the way meaning that your journey could take hours. In this case, paying more for a faster trip might be worth it.
Similarly, depending on the bus journey, you may be required to transfer buses along the way. It’s not hard, or a big deal, but if you are someone who worries about this type of thing (or just doesn’t want to deal with it) then paying more for the comfort of the train might be the better option.
Another thing that travellers should know is that the buses do not have toilets on board. Trains do. For small journeys this isn’t a big deal, but if you have a small bladder and find yourself bumping down one of Ireland’s windy roads for three to four hours without a toilet, well, you just might wish you had splurged on the train ticket.
Finally, if it’s your vacation and you just enjoy the relaxing aspect of train travel, then that is reason enough as well.
Irish Rail Tours
If you love trains and are really set on exploring Ireland this way, then consider taking an Irish rail tour. These can be day or multi-day trips that will allow you to see the countryside and some of the highlights of Ireland from the comfort of the train. Take a look at the following Irish rail tours to see if any appeal to you:
- Rail Tour from Dublin: 6 Days All of Ireland
- Rail Tour: The Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle
- Rail Tour from Dublin: 2-Day West Coast Explorer
- Belfast & Giant’s Causeway: 2-Day Rail Tour from Dublin
- 3-Day Cork, Ring of Kerry & Dingle Peninsula Rail Tour
- Wicklow Mountains Half Day Wait Tour From Dublin:
Final Tips for Train Travel in Ireland
Train travel in Ireland may not be the best way to travel around Ireland, depending on your itinerary, but it’s not a bad way to travel. If you do decide that you would like to travel Ireland by train then remember to plan out your routes ahead of time (on either the Irish Rail or Northern Ireland Railways websites) and, when travelling through the Republic of Ireland, book well in advance to ensure you get the best deals.