What are the most scenic train routes in Ireland?
— Erin McCullen via email
Good news! The rail lines in Ireland tend to run through exceptionally beautiful areas and offer views you might never see via car or bus.
Here are my favs:
Shear Variety: Sligo to Dublin – A great mix of scenery on this route with the mountain landscape of The West, transforming to gorgeous countryside, and then running along the fantastic parkland beside the Royal Canal on the way into Dublin (pictured above).
Enchanted Journey: Mallow to Killarney – This magical trip through the quiet countryside includes lush green mountains and a charming arrival in Killarney.
Hills & Mountains: Dublin to Belfast – The route connecting the two capital cities takes you along the coast with marvelous views of the Mountains of Mourne.
Farms & Fields: Limerick to Galway – Newly re-opened, this line runs behind the farms and fields of Clare with picturesque views of cows, sheep, rock walls, and a few old churches and cemeteries thrown in for good measure.
Coasts & Fields: Dublin to Wexford – Coastal views on this trip are only outdone by the landscape in the heart of Wicklow and the rural scenes of Wexford.
What can you tell me about train travel in Ireland?
— Angela Brown via Facebook
Having spent two weeks aboard Irish trains last summer, I can say it was a nice change of pace from my usual car hire travels. Train travel is by far the most relaxing form of transportation, but it also comes with more restricted routes and timetables when compared to car and bus.
Train routes tend to radiate from Dublin, so traveling between Dublin and towns like Cork, Galway, Sligo, and Waterford is a breeze. Meanwhile, traveling between towns that aren’t on the same spoke can be challenging… like my attempt to get from Kilkenny to Killarney. Both towns are on trainlines, but getting between them required some backtracking and schedule negotiating to make it work.
Although I’ve heard many offhand remarks that Irish trains are likely to be late, I found the schedules were quite accurate. Of the twelve trains I boarded, one was delayed eight minutes; otherwise everything was on time.
At larger stations there were staff on hand for me to ask “Where do I catch the train to…?” At smaller stations, schedules were posted, and although they were accurate, they didn’t always state on which platform the train would arrive. I never felt entirely confident until I talked to someone. Fortunately, fellow passengers on the platform were always helpful, and the staff onboard incoming trains were extremely helpful… even when asked about the arrival of a different train.
Ireland’s fleet of trains is only a few years old, so the cars are sleek, clean, and comfortable. In my two-week train trip last summer, even the bare bones transit car connecting Limerick Junction to Limerick Station was in good condition. Most trains have audio announcements and digital displays signaling upcoming stops (some rely just on the audio).
- For many itineraries, a combination of bus and rail transport will efficiently cover most of Ireland.
- Tickets can be purchased in advance, and rail passes are also available, but except for the most popular routes at the busiest times, tickets are easily purchased on the day of travel.
- Modern trains provide adequate room for luggage, but packing light is always a good idea for public transportation.
- Even if your ticket has a seat number, it appears any plans for reserved seating have been abandoned except for special events.
- Major routes offer a snack cart at peak times. Their sandwiches, crisps, candies, and beverages exceeded my expectations for grab-n-go food. Most stations offered vending machines with larger stations offering full snack bars.
- Schedules are often different on weekends, so do extra research if you traveling on a Saturday or Sunday.
- Travelers with mobility limitations should realize that some smaller stations require taking stairs and a pedestrian bridge to reach a platform. If you have mobility concerns, you should contact Irish Rail before your journey to find out how to get assistance.
- Train stations are usually within walking distance from city centre, but that can mean a 20 minute walk.
- Dublin has two main train stations Hueston and Connolly… both can be challenging for newcomers to locate without getting some advice. The Fair City is also home to the Luas light rail line and the DART commuter lines.
Use the comments below to add your Irish Rail tips.
Here are some photos of the trains and train stations in Ireland:
Photo by Bart Busschots