Last updated on November 25, 2023
Can you make a round trip around the Irish island by train?
Strictly speaking, no, because there is no railway line that goes around the island of Ireland.
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Do you have to give up the idea? No, you don’t have to, because you can combine the existing train lines with bus connections.
And so you can still make a trip pretty much around the whole island of Ireland – by public transport!
I’ll show you how in this article.
Why do I know my way around Ireland? Because my family and I, who come from Germany, have been living in Ireland for a few years (second home.). In summer we run our motorbike rental business here, south of Dublin (www.easycruiser.tours) and also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
But we don’t just ride motorbikes or cars, we also ride buses and trains – so let’s get started:
Rail routes in Ireland
Dublin is not only the capital, but also the centre of Ireland – politically and in terms of transport. Geographically, Dublin is not in the centre of Ireland at all, but on the east coast.
Practically all major motorways start in Dublin and radiate out into the country like half a spider’s web. It’s the same with the rail connections.
You can go from Dublin in all directions, you can go to Dublin from all directions, but moving across is probably not provided for.
But let’s leave the polemics aside and use the realities as best we can: there’s a main line to the north that goes to Belfast.
There is a route to the north-west, towards Sligo, one to the west, via which you can drive to Westport or Galway, one to the south-west, which leads via Limerick to Tralee or Cork, or even to Waterford.
And then you can take the southern route via Wexford to the ferry port in Rosslare.
The Irish train company is called Irish Rail (https://www.irishrail.ie). You can find the route maps at: https://www.irishrail.ie/en-ie/train-timetables/timetables-by-route.
Rail routes in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland also has its own train company, Translink (https://www.translink.co.uk). You can find their route maps at: https://www.translink.co.uk/timetables?LocationId=&Name=&LocationType=&TransportMode=Train&page=1.
Northern Ireland is much smaller than the Republic of Ireland, so the rail network is also much smaller. From Belfast you can travel mainly to Dublin, or to Londonderry/Derry. There is also a connection to Bangor, on the north-east coast, and one to the ferry port in Larne.
That’s it? Yes, pretty much so!
Bus connections on the island of Ireland
In addition to the rail network, there is a large and well-developed network of long-distance bus connections. From Dublin, these travel in practically all directions of the country – and even across it!
The main routes, also between the smaller towns, are very well covered by Bus Eireann (www.buseireann.ie).
In addition, there are numerous local bus providers that serve specific regions, such as Wexford Bus in the Wexford region.
Where the big ones don’t go, Local Link goes. These are minibuses that also go to the smaller towns. However, these may run at very irregular and long intervals, or you may even have to book your own journey by telephone. We will therefore not take a closer look at Local Link.
So how do you find suitable bus connections? Firstly, with Google Maps: Enter your start and destination in the search mask and switch to the bus symbol, then you will be shown the public transport options for your route.
And then there’s Rome2Rio, a website where you can also find public connections.
An example of a round trip around the island of Ireland by train and bus
I have put together an example of a round trip for you. This is not intended to be a complete travel plan, but it should make it easier for you to start planning your own trip.
We start in Dublin and travel once around the island. Important: There are many sights outside the cities that you should definitely include in your trip.
One example is the Cliffs of Moher, which you can visit on a day bus tour from Galway. Or you can take a day trip from Killarney around the Ring of Kerry and to the Kerry Cliffs.
There are also towns where you can easily plan a double night stay, or from where you can drive to the coast for a day.
So you can add day trips and sightseeing to the round trip.
But let’s first look at how you can actually travel around the island? And that could look like this, for example:
Day 1: By Train From Dublin to Belfast
Day 2: By train from Belfast to Londonderry/Derry
Day 3: By bus from Londonderry/Derry to Sligo
Day 4: By bus from Sligo to Ballina and on by train to Westport
Day 5: By train from Westport to Galway via Athlone
Day 6 By train from Galway to Limerick
Day 7 By train from Limerick to Killarney
Day 8: By train from Killarney to Waterford
Day 9: By bus from Waterford to Wexford
Day 10 By train from Wexford to Dublin
So, you’ve already done a very good virtual tour around the island. Add a few excursions or sights and you have a first draft for a two-week round trip by train and bus around the island of Ireland!
Have fun planning your trip to Ireland!
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Photo credits: Cover photo by Kartikeya Rana on Unsplash