Two weeks in Ireland without a car?
September 20, 2016 11:08 AM   Subscribe

I’ll be in Ireland in October, but won’t be able to rent a car (no license). Is it enough of a disadvantage that I’d be better off visiting just Dublin, leaving other areas to be properly explored with a car on my next trip?

I’ve read conflicting things about traveling in Ireland without a car and I’m all turned around.

I am considering the following options:

A. Spend a week in Dublin with day trips to Newgrange, Wicklow Mtns, etc., then take Ryanair to Lisbon (maybe?) for a week.

B. Split a week between Dublin and Galway (Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands); spend a week in Lisbon.

C. Spend the whole 2 weeks in Ireland, traveling by bus mostly (Dublin, then probably Galway/Dingle/Ring of Kerry/loop back up to Dublin).

D. Something else?

This is my first time visiting Ireland and I mostly just want to avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time messing around with tickets, timetables, etc. So if it's significantly better to have a car, I'd rather save the car-friendly areas for my next trip than try to see everything by bus/train.

Help! Thanks MeFi.
posted by taupe to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Some friends of mine did Dublin, Galway, Dingle, and the Ring of Kerry via bike tour. Is this something you'd be up for?

I believe they shipped their road bikes overseas to do this, but maybe it's possible to rent a bike or join up with an organized tour group that provides them?
posted by Sara C. at 11:10 AM on September 20, 2016

Oh that sounds awesome! Unfortunately, I'm not in good enough shape for something like that.
posted by taupe at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2016

Take the train and local buses! A friend and I explored the Cliffs of Moher, Dublin, and Galway/Aran Islands without a car. At one point we took a school bus whose driver kindly stopped for us in the rain... Much to the raucous delight of the kids on said bus (silly tourists!)

Sorry... You said you didn't want to do that... Can't delete the comment.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2016

I'd say the rule of thumb would be, you can get to places pretty easily without a car; it's much harder to get around places. Going from Dublin and spending a day or two in Cork or Galway would be easy enough, but the ring of Kerry and the Cliffs would probably be a pain. Esp. Kerry. I'm sure there's some kind of coach tour options, but you'd be entirely beholden to their schedule, no way to say, stop in a village for a snack or check out a castle or two as you're passing.

If I were you I might go for the week in Dublin/week in Lisbon option, but you could def sneak in an overnight in Galway if you wanted to see a bit of the West. The train should be ~2 hours or so?
posted by Diablevert at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I spent several weeks in Ireland in 2009. I was able to get around and see all kinds of tourist sites by using a combination of taxis, city busses, trains, and tour busses. I spent most of my time around Dublin but also made it to Galway and the southwest coast.
posted by Alterscape at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2016

This might be perfect for you if you don't have the stamina for biking-- I have always wanted to rent a narrow boat and tour the canals of Ireland. In particular the Grand and Royal canal systems go north and east from Dublin, respectively, with gorgeous scenery and lovely small towns along the way. The Royal Canal I believe terminates in Shannon, although I could be wrong. Anyway I personally could happily spend months exploring these gentle waterways, living in a narrowboat. It has some of the best combinations of touring and living in a portable house. Looks like there are many companies that will set everything up for you. Here is a Flickr pool of photos to get you inspired. Have fun on your holiday no matter what you choose!

And if it turns out particularly well, (or awful, for that matter) then come back here and tell us all about it.
posted by seasparrow at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't come to Ireland and only do Dublin. The option to split with Galway sounds great -- it's incredibly easy to get to Galway City by train or bus. Getting out to the Cliffs of Moher or Aran Islands is do-able, but would be a hassle. But a week split between Dublin and Galway City is totally do-able and would be a great trip, combined with a week in Lisbon.
posted by EtTuHealy at 12:39 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ireland is lovely, though I don't have much to say about getting around without a car.

However, one thing of note, vaguely off-topic: When I was in Ireland for a horseback riding inn-to-inn trip about 12 years ago, I noticed that the Irish tended to be a little more... lax about safety than I was used to, coming from the litigation-happy US.

So, for example, when we got there, they asked us what kind of horse we wanted to ride and what our riding experience was like. My sister and I were pretty honest (and got wonderful horses) but another pair of girls said, "We want really big, really fast horses!" They were given horses way too hot for their experience level, and one of them ended up falling on the first ride and injuring her hip, and they had to skip their weeklong trip all together. When my sister and I were ready to head out the following day, they sort of threw our stuff in saddlebags, gave us a rough map, and said "See you in a week!"

Now, I was used to being bored on organized trail rides in the US where they won't let you do anything more than walk in a single file line, so getting to gallop on the beach was lovely! But we also got lost a few times during the week (in the rain, with no cell phone service), etc. I found it eye-opening to rely on ourselves for safety judgements rather than some hovering person concerned about liability. Refreshing at times, worrisome at times, but definitely eye-opening.

It's possible this was specific to that stable, but I'm not so sure - one of the top links about renting canal boats says "No licence is required to hire one of these boats, and tuition is given at the starting base."

So, all this to say, if you do something like renting a narrow boat or a bike, they may literally say "Here's how you make it go, here's how you make it stop, here's a rough map, see you in a week!" Which could be amazing! Or could be terrifying, based on your skill set and openness to adventure.

However, I'd recommend being *really* honest about your skill set in Ireland in any situation like this, because it seems like they will take you at your word - even if your word is kind of an inflated brag.
posted by bananacabana at 12:40 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband and I just spent 10 days in Ireland without a car. I was similarly nervous about the seeming consensus that you need a car to really experience Ireland, but getting around by train/bus/walking turned out really well and convenient. We spent 4 days in Dublin, then took the train to Killarney and used that as a hub to hike to Muckross House and do bus trips to see the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. We tend to be pretty independent travelers, so I wasn't quite sure about the bus tour idea but the guides were entertaining and we both could enjoy the view out the window rather than concentrated on driving windy roads. It is true that you're beholden to the tour bus schedule and don't have control over breaks for photos, lunch, snacks. I had originally hoped to stay in Dingle for exploring the Southwest because it gets good reviews as a lively town, but we compromised to stay in Killarney because it had earlier public transit options - and found the town touristy but perfectly fine as a hub, and with excellent ice cream options as well.

Then, we took the bus (with an easy connection) from Killarney to Galway and stayed there for 3 days, enjoying the city, taking the bus/ferry to Aran Islands for a day (highly recommended!) and taking a bus to the Cliffs of Moher to hike for a half day. Contrary to one of the comments above, it was not a hassle at all to get to those locations -- it does take time, but with direct buses it really not longer than a car would take. We then took the train back to Dublin.

All in all, very easy - I purchased the major bus/train tickets in advance online, but schedules were frequent so I think you would do fine buying at the station. I will give the caveat that we're more transit savvy than most because we don't have a car at home and traveled through South America by bus, but I have no hesitations recommending a public transit itinerary for at least those major places in Ireland.

Have a great trip!
posted by purplevelvet at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

I spent about a week in Ireland in 2010 with no car. I don't even remember feeling at a disadvantage - we easily got around via bus. I think I would have been incredibly stressed out if we were responsible for a car rental with no knowledge of the roads or the rules.

We visited Limerick, Shannon, Dingle, and Dublin. The only reason we didn't see more is that there wasn't enough time.
posted by amicamentis at 1:07 PM on September 20, 2016

The bus and train service is much more robust than in the US. We were based in Cork, but went everywhere we wanted to go on bus. We did end up on a couple of "adventures" when the towns we went to weren't very walkable, but almost every town we did go to (Galway, Waterford, Dingle, Kerry, Kinsale, Ennis, Dublin, Belfast, and others) were quite walkable. We wanted to see the Cliffs of Mohr (DO NOT MISS) so took the bus to Galway, then took a specific cliffs charter to the cliffs. You do not need a car.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:13 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

As one living most of the year in Southwest Ireland I can assure you that traveling without a car is doable but does require some planning--coach, train, tour coaches, day trips etc. I want to second/third/fourth the comment that do not spend all your time in Dublin--After several days a large City is a City is a City . I am partial but I would suggest Dublin>Cork>Killarney rather than Galway. As far as I am concerned Cork is the quintessential Irish City--culture. history, manageable size, reasonably cosmopolitan and gives you ready access to some of the most striking and beautiful parts of Ireland. Killarney is a major tourist destination but October is off season--Killarney has the advantage of offering ample lodging (all types/costs) and readily available transportation for traveling to the Ring of Kerry, Beara Peninsula, Dingle, Cliffs of Mohr, Killarney National Park ( a must) etc. You can also return by train/plane/coach to Dublin from Killarney and/or Cork.
I will be returning to Kerry in mid-October if you like I would be glad to exchange emails, offer solicited/unsolicited recommendations and meet up with in 50 KM of Killarney if you are in the area. I live in Kenmare which is about 30 minute drive from Killarney. Whatever you do--take your time--do not travel every day and just "be there".
posted by rmhsinc at 1:54 PM on September 20, 2016

If you get to Galway you can take a tour bus from there to the cliffs of Mohr and the Burren (sp?) and there are other one day tours. You can also take a ferry out to the Aran Islands and see the prehistoric stone fort among other things. The train from Dublin to Galway is nice and it can be done by bus as well, there is a fine motorway connecting the cities. You can see lots without a car. Both Galway and Dublin have the on and off bus tours within the city that take you to many sites and you can stay at the ones you like and catch the next bus when ready to go on. If you are interested in Irish history don't miss the Famine ship and memorial or Killmainham (sp.) jail in Dublin.
posted by mermayd at 2:00 PM on September 20, 2016

Bus, definitely. You can bus everywhere. I'm going to just flat out assume you're from the US? I'm from Canada, and if you've travelled at all, North America's huuuuge... Ireland's bitty. I wouldn't want to paint it or anything, but the bus I took from Dublin to Galway, coast to coast, was two and a half hours. So if you adjust the time and distance in your head you'll see you can get to quite a few places!
posted by Zack_Replica at 5:12 PM on September 20, 2016

Seconding the Aran Islands. In fact, I would be tempted to spend a week just on the Aran Islands, staying in B&Bs on all three islands. Walking the big Island end to end can take two or three days (or more), and it is the most heartwrenchingly beautiful place I've ever been. And very, very Irish. The two smaller islands are worth a visit, too. Read Synge's book on Aran, and if you fall in love with the place, Tim Robinson's two books. You could spend a lot of time on buses going from place to place to place in that amount of time, but taking it slow and soaking in a place might be more your style. If so, I highly recommend taking the train to Galway, the bus to Rossaveal, the ferry to Kilronan, and your feet into every nook and cranny of Inishmor.
posted by rikschell at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Isn't the Cork Jazz Festival in October? I love Cork but it will be a madhouse that week, be warned. If you do go to Cork the English market is a must.
posted by fshgrl at 7:53 PM on September 20, 2016

It's pretty easy to get around Ireland using the bus or the train, but one thing to remember: Sunday schedules can be seriously limited, so make sure if you're traveling on a Sunday that the bus is actually going. A lot of routes run much less frequently to the major tourist areas, and some run not at all to lesser-visited places.

I know you didn't want to spend a ton of time futzing with transit schedules, but do keep an eye on the service levels on weekends v. weekdays.
posted by pdb at 3:27 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Echoing buses and the train. We spent 10 days in Ireland and visited Galway and Dingle and we didn't feel at a disadvantage. You'll see lots of tourists riding the buses and trains.
posted by cobain_angel at 2:47 PM on September 22, 2016

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