Just like in the U.S., I was warned not to travel without a car. It’s too hard, they said. Everything is too far from each other, they said. Ever defiant, this fearful driver declared: I shall take the trains and buses and that is the end of that.
So did I do it? An emphatic YES!
I visited 18 towns, cities, and landmark regions in the month that I was there, traveling mainly by bus.
This means of travel is not super efficient or super affordable, but it’s reasonable enough (€5-20 a ticket depending on how far you’re going regionally). Buying a return ticket if you’re taking a day trip can sometimes save you money. In general, you have to be patient and account for the extra time – or find a way to enjoy it!
The good thing about Ireland is that you will NEVER be bored looking out the window. And despite what my friend Victor told me, I never got tired of seeing the green hills, the cows, and the sheep. NEVAR!
Honestly, you’ll have a good view from wherever you are. ^Here, I’m on top of Knocknarea!
There’s nothing to fear when riding public transport in Ireland. Trains are clean and fast. Buses can fill up, so if you’re traveling with luggage, try to travel light (though you can often stow luggage underneath the bus – I generally like to keep my things close to me as I almost forgot my suitcase-backpack under the bus in Limerick). You’d also best check the time beforehand and buy a ticket as they will be more expensive on board and the driver may not have exact change.
The good thing is, most people are extremely helpful. If you are unsure at any point, ask a friendly face (and there will be many).
One Caveat: You Might Miss the Best Parts
I’m a city girl at heart, so I don’t mind being in the middle of the action. Most of the places I visited were on a regular tourist path, so they were relatively well-connected. That being said, if your goal in Ireland is to see the nature (and/or to travel on your own timeline), you’ll be better off renting a car.
For example, I wanted to stop in Donegal Town after Derry/Londonderry, but since I was planning my itinerary day by day, I asked for advice. Most Irishpeople warned me against it – the lush hiking trails I sought, the coastlines and the natural parks would be largely out of reach for someone traveling like me. There just wouldn’t be buses going where I wanted to go – or they’d be extremely inconvenient. So I continued on to Sligo Town (and don’t regret it).
Still, I’ll have to come back for the “real” untamed nature.
A Word on Day Tours in Ireland
At the same time, I had my fair share of it.
Believe me – I’m generally against tours because I like to explore the beaten and unbeaten paths without help. But in Ireland, day tours are the ruler of the land – for the particular reason that they can be out of reach to tourists, otherwise – and you likely won’t be able to avoid them unless you feel comfortable hitching a ride (and some do, as Ireland is very safe).
A few tips:
- Many of the day tours are extremely reasonable ($25-40). You can often book through your hostel for discounts and priority trips.
- I recommend planning out your “must-sees” in advance if you’re on a tight budget so you don’t overspend, as tours rarely include lunch or entrance fees to the sites you visit.
- Think about how much time you have and what will be in the area of your solid itinerary. For example, for time reasons, I went to Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede instead of Cliffs of Moher. I also took an excellent day tour to Connemara.
There are a few positive sides of tours. They are established with the places they visit, so you don’t have to hassle over entry fees or parking. You also have access to a tour guide who can give you a perspective you otherwise might not see.
I still wouldn’t do a multi-day tour unless I really go off the beaten path in the wide, wide world, but I give day tours the A-okay in Ireland.
Relevant Transport Links
National rail company, Iarnród Éireann
National bus company, Bus Éireann
I don’t want to recommend any specific tour companies here – do your research on location and book through your hostel for discounts!