Ireland Travel

Traveling Ireland By Bus: Your Guide

February 9, 2020
The old head in Kinsale Ireland

So you’re planning to go traveling around Ireland by bus but you don’t know exactly how it will work? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Ireland is a gorgeous country and a very popular one to visit. With its beautiful scenery, rich and haunting history, and friendly reputation, it’s no surprise Ireland boasts over 11 million overseas tourists per year!

While a lot of those tourists rent cars to drive around the country sightseeing, not everyone is comfortable doing so, especially if you are from one of the 66% percent of countries that follow right-hand traffic laws. If you are one of those people, you might be wondering if it’s possible to have a rich and fulfilling trip to Ireland without driving a car yourself.

Before going to Ireland last spring, I wasn’t sure how to go about researching this and didn’t find a lot of helpful things in existence on the internet, which prompted me to write this post. I’m here to tell you that yes, you can, in fact, get around Ireland solely by bus and public transport and guide you through the process.

Traveling Ireland By bus

Traveling Ireland By Bus: Your Guide

Benefits of Traveling Ireland by Bus

If you’re not completely comfortable with the idea of driving in a foreign country, let alone a country where the entire traffic system is set up opposite of yours, traveling Ireland by bus is an appealing alternative. Luckily, Ireland has a pretty extensive public transportation system that is easy to figure out and use.

You’ll find that by traveling by bus you will have fewer worries and stress because you won’t need to worry about adapting to their road system. Also, depending on where you are traveling, it’s not always easy to find parking (particularly in larger cities like Dublin or Belfast). Traveling by bus will eliminate this stress.

The only downside is that you are limited somewhat in where you travel. Ireland has a lot of tiny rural towns that you will only be able to visit by private car. You are also committed to the bus timetables vs your own schedule.

That said, I spent almost 2 weeks in Ireland traveling solely by bus and was still able to see many amazing sights! You will just have to weigh these factors when deciding for yourself how you plan to travel around Ireland.

The dark hedges in Northern Ireland, one of the places visited by bus
The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

Traveling Ireland by Bus vs Train

Why not do your traveling in Ireland by train? While it’s true that in a lot of European countries it’s much easier to travel by train, in Ireland the buses are a more convenient (and more affordable choice).

The train network in Ireland is mainly between the larger cities, so even if you do travel by rail between major points, you will still most likely have to include a bus ride as well. The one advantage of the train is that it’s generally faster with fewer stops. If you need to make a quick trip (for example, to or from Dublin) for your plane or to catch a bus to a smaller city, then a train might be more convenient.

map of Ireland

Self Guided Bus Travel

A fairly easy and inexpensive way to see Ireland by bus is to travel by way of large bus companies that run between the major hubs in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is also sometimes called “hub travel” and is the best way to see the country on (somewhat) your own terms without renting a car.

The national bus company of Ireland is Bus Eireann which provides transportation throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. They have a very extensive route map with hubs in the larger cities of Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Derry (Northern Ireland) and Belfast (Northern Ireland).

During our 2 week trip to Ireland, we took Bus Eirerran from Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Belfast and had a great experience. It’s easy to check the time tables online so you can plan your trip, and you can generally buy your ticket right at the station before you depart by cash or credit card.

The only thing to be aware of is that you will have to line up in order to board your bus and the line is first come, first serve. Catching our bus from Cork to Galway I was a bit worried we wouldn’t make it on because the line was really long (it was a Sunday). To be fair, they may have added a 2nd bus but I wasn’t sure and it made me really nervous! I would definitely recommend getting to the station early to give yourself time to buy your ticket and get a good spot in line, especially if you are traveling on a weekend day.

Other main bus services include:

  • AirCoach, which mainly runs between the Dublin Airport and other locations such as Dublin City Center, Belfast, Cork City, and smaller Dublin suburbs
  • JJ Kavanaugh, another bus service that caters to routes between the Dublin Airport, suburbs and other city hubs.
  • CityLink, offering routes between Dublin Airport & Center to Cork Airport & City, Limerick, Galway & Clifden.

You can check each company’s individual website to see if they offer the destination you are trying to reach. Some smaller or more remote destinations will be impossible to reach solely by public transport, but by getting yourself to a hub you will have the option of doing a private tour or taxi from there.

The Old Head of Kinsale

Bus Tour Groups

Another option of traveling Ireland by bus is going on a pre-arranged guided tour bus. This is not an option I prefer because I like the freedom of choosing my own timetable and having a bit more flexibility. However, if you do enjoy not having to think about or plan your trip in great detail, this might be a good option for you!

If you go with this option all you have to do is book the tour, pay a deposit and wait for your trip to begin. With this option, your daily schedule, hotels, and even most dining options will be pre-planned for you. Internet searches will bring you countless options for routes and itineraries and you can choose a tour that caters to your personal needs and interests. Make sure to spend time looking through your options and reading reviews of former participants to see if the tour is a good fit.

If you are solo traveling, a tour can also be a good way to not feel so alone and meet other travelers. If you’re worried about traveling with others in your own age range (stereotypically bus tours are known to attract older travelers or young families only), check the reviews to see if there is any information about the age of the average participant. TourRadar is a website where you can search tours specifically by age range to find something that suits your needs.

Another option would be to combine hub travel with a tour if you want to mainly travel between major cities but want to also include a trip to a more remote spot with more guidance. For example, while we took a public bus from Dublin to Belfast, we also did a Game of Thrones Tour from Belfast for a day with a large group and were able to see more sites this way like the Giant’s Causeway and Dark Hedges. We also learned a lot from our guide!

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Sample Ireland Bus Trip Itinerary

If you’re still not sure if and how traveling around Ireland by bus can be done, I also wanted to provide you with a sample Ireland Bus Trip Itinerary! This is based on the route that my friend Molly and I took last spring and I felt we were able to see a lot of the country this way.

Destinations: Cork City, Kinsale, Galway, Belfast, Dublin

Day 1: Arrive at Dublin Airport
Take Bus Eireann from Dublin Airport to Cork City
Spend the night in Cork City (Stay: The Townhouse)
Dinner Recommendation: Market Lane

Day 2: Spend the morning in Cork City
Lunch Recommendation: Tara’s Tea Room (Cork)
Take an afternoon bus to Kinsale from Cork City Bus Station (Parnell Place)
Sleep in Kinsale (Stay: Kinsale Cosy Studio)

Days 3-6: Kinsale
See my post on A Getaway in Colorful Kinsale, Ireland for all the details of our Kinsale stay!
Morning of Day 6 take a bus to Cork City.
Grab lunch on the go in Cork City (depending on the timing of your bus)
and take bus from Cork City Bus Station (Parnell Place) to Galway

Days 6-8: Galway
We spent our whole time in Galway in the city but from Galway you can also take a group tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher, Burren, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, and the Aran Islands.
Morning of Day 8 Take a bus from Galway Coach Station to Dublin Airport (Express), then bus from Dublin Airport to Belfast (Express). Note this was our longest travel day at about 4 hours of travel total.

Days 8-10: Belfast
See my post 2 Nights in Belfast for all the details of our Belfast stay, including information on our Black Taxi Tour and Game of Thrones tour.
We returned to Dublin by way of our Game of Thrones Tour, which originally left from Dublin in the morning and picked us up in Belfast. We stayed on the bus at the end of the tour, saving us a separate bus ride to Dublin.

Days 11-12: Dublin
Day 12: Depart from Dublin Airport

Whether you’re planning on spending days or weeks in Ireland and don’t want to rent a car, I hope this guide is helpful and shows you that it is not only possible to travel Ireland by bus but also recommended if you are uncomfortable driving a car there. Go n-éirí an bóthar leat (may the journey be successful for you)!

Visiting the town of Kinsale while traveling by bus in Ireland
View of Kinsale

Don’t forget to PIN this post for when you plan your bus trip through Ireland!

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2 Comments

  • Reply Marie ONeill November 25, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks so much for the information! Want to go, don’t want to be tied to a tour, but don’t feel comfortable driving. Started looking at trains but never really though about buses. Excellent!

    • Reply Allie Marie December 4, 2020 at 10:14 pm

      Oh I’m so glad it was helpful Marie!

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