Dublin is the Republic of Ireland’s main point of arrival, Belfast that of the North, while Shannon, near Limerick city in County Clare, is the major airport giving direct access to the west coast. There’s an ever-changing route map of flights between Britain and Ireland – book early to get the best price. Train–ferry and bus–ferry combinations are kinder to the environment and generally cheaper, though of course they take longer.
For those bringing their own car, there’s a wide range of ferry routes from southwest Scotland, northwest England and Wales to Northern Ireland, Dublin, Wexford and Cork. North American visitors can fly direct to Shannon, Dublin or Belfast, but those from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have to travel via Britain, Europe or the Gulf. If you’re thinking of booking an organized tour, there are plenty of interesting options based in Ireland, with an online presence.
It’s never been easier or cheaper to fly from Britain to Ireland. There are dozens of routes available, with new destinations regularly appearing (and unsuccessful routes sometimes being phased out). With so much competition, prices can be ridiculously cheap, especially if you book online. The secret is to book as early as possible: the biggest carrier, Ryanair, for example, offers fares of under £5 one-way if booked well in advance, but these can rise to around £180 one-way if left till the last minute. On top of these quoted fares, you’ll normally be charged £30–40 each way in taxes, fees and charges. Flight time between London, for example, and any airport in Ireland is between one hour and ninety minutes.
A number of ferry routes operate to Ireland. High-speed catamarans (which also take cars) run on some of these routes, though some don’t run in the winter and in bad weather they’re more likely to be cancelled than regular ferries. One of the biggest operators is Stena Line (t08447 70 70 70, wwww.stenaline.co.uk).
Prices vary hugely according to the time of year, and even the day and hour you travel. Most ferry companies have peak seasons of July and August and may charge higher fares around public holidays; generally, it’s cheaper to travel midweek, and to book online and in advance. As an example of prices, Stena Line’s single fares for a car and driver from Holyhead to Dublin Port cost from around £70 off-peak (Tues & Wed) to around £150 peak season (Sat); additional passengers cost £23 per adult, £13 per child, while foot passengers are charged £25 per adult, £15 per child, plus £5 per bicycle.
Combined train and boat journeys from Britain generally use one of three routes across the Irish Sea: Stranraer to Belfast, Holyhead to Dublin/Dún Laoghaire or Fishguard to Rosslare. Journey times are generally quicker than by coach: London to Dublin, for example, takes around eight hours, Glasgow to Belfast as little as four hours fifty minutes.
Tickets are priced on a zonal basis: for Dublin, they range from £27 single from Manchester, for example, including the cost of any of the boats from Holyhead, up to £30 from London; add £18 one-way if you’re continuing by train to Cork, for example. Online, you can book train–boat tickets as far as Belfast, Dublin/Dún Laoghaire and Rosslare through the Man in Seat 61, or direct with Raileasy, or to Dublin through Stena Line (from London, Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool on Stena Line sailings only). Otherwise, you can book tickets by phone with Sailrail or in person at most railway stations in Britain, including through tickets to other places in Ireland.
The main bus services to Ireland are provided by National Express and Bus Éireann, under the brand name Eurolines, crossing the Irish Sea via Stranraer, Holyhead and Pembroke. They can be a fair bit cheaper than travelling by train if booked well in advance, but take far longer. The daily through-service from London to Dublin, for example, takes around twelve hours thirty minutes and costs £58 for a standard return. Direct coaches also run between other major cities in Britain and Ireland; a standard return ticket from London to Cork costs £73, for example. Cheap advance offers, known as “funfares”, can be accessed online, and reductions are also available for anyone under 26 or over 59. Tickets can be booked at any National Express agent, by phoning t08717 818181, or online at wwww.eurolines.co.uk.
Ireland is easily accessible from the US, with several American airlines offering nonstop flights: Atlanta and New York (JFK) to Dublin, plus JFK to Shannon (summer only), with Delta; Chicago to Dublin with American; Newark to Belfast, Dublin and Shannon with Continental; and Philadelphia to Dublin with US Airways. Aer Lingus, the national airline of the Republic, offers the widest choice of routes, including nonstop flights from Boston, Chicago, New York and Orlando to Dublin, and from Boston and New York to Shannon. If booked well in advance, their low-season fares from New York (JFK) to Dublin start at around US$650 return (including taxes), and from San Francisco around US$850. In high season fares rise to US$950 from New York, US$1650 from San Francisco. Flying time to Dublin, for example, is around six hours thirty minutes from New York and thirteen hours thirty minutes, with one change of plane, from San Francisco.
From Canada, Air Canada flies from Toronto nonstop to Dublin during the summer and Air Transat has summertime flights from Toronto to Dublin and Shannon, and from Montreal to Dublin. Flight times are around six hours thirty minutes from Toronto, thirteen hours, with one change of plane, from Vancouver. If booked well in advance, Air Canada’s fares are around Can$1200 return (including taxes) from Toronto, Can$1400 from Vancouver.
Travel from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa is generally via London, or one of the other European or Gulf cities such as Frankfurt or Abu Dhabi which have nonstop flights to Ireland. From Australia and New Zealand, it takes over twenty-four hours to reach Ireland, from South Africa at least thirteen hours. Fares (including taxes) to Dublin from Sydney start at around A$2000, from Auckland around NZ$2500, and from Johannesburg around R6000.