How To Get Around Ireland: The Pros + Cons To Cars, Tours, Bikes and Public Transport

getting around Ireland
Photo right: Art Ward. Left: Martin Fleming

Deciding the best way for getting around Ireland can be the cause of a lot of stress for people planning a trip to Ireland.

Travelling to Ireland is the easy part; you find flights, book them, pack your bags, and hop on the plane. It’s the bit that comes next that takes a bit of careful consideration.

How you choose to go about travelling around Ireland will have a pretty big effect on your entire experience (sometimes positive and sometimes negative) and the amount you spend.

In the guide below, you’ll find the various different ways that you can go about getting around Ireland, from tour buses and public transport to renting a car and more.

Getting around Ireland: 3 Things to consider before you decide

Deciding how you’re going to get around isn’t a decision to take lightly. Your main mode of transport, where it be a car or a bus, is going to have a massive effect on your trip.

There are three different things to consider when making your decision:

  1. Your experience
  2. Your budget
  3. What you want to see

1. Your experience

The biggest thing to consider, in my opinion, is how the chosen mode of transport is going to affect your overall experience while travelling in Ireland. Example 1: if you’re a nervous driver, will having to drive each day cause you stress?!

The last thing you want to happen is that you visit Ireland, rent a car and then spend all of your time worrying about the next time that you have to get behind the wheel.

Or maybe you’re a confident driver and you know that having a car will give you the freedom to do what you want when you want, without having to rely on anyone else. In this case, a rental makes sense as it enhances your experience.

Example 2: Taking part in an organised tour could make your experience nice and stress-free. You won’t have to do any of the planning or organising. Happy days. On the flip side, will being stuck with a group of people that you don’t know get on your nerves?

2. Your Budget

Another massive consideration for when you’re trying to figure out the best way for getting around Ireland is how much money you have to spend. Often, this can be the deciding factor.

Car rental can be expensive if you’re travelling solo. However, it works out nice and reasonable if you’re travelling with a group. Big group tours can be pretty good price-wise, whereas smaller tours can be expensive.

If you’re looking at ways to save money when you visit, hop into our guide to Ireland on a budget. It’s packed with easy ways to save money.

3. What you want to see

Another good way to help you pick the best way to travel around Ireland is to write down all of the various places that you want to visit. If, for example, you’re only visiting big towns or cities, public transport will be fine.

If you fancy visiting places off the beaten track, a rental car or a private driver (expensive) are your best bests. At the end of the guide, I’m going to pop down a few different scenarios and recommend what I think are the best modes of transport for each example.

The best way to travel Ireland

how to get around ireland
Photo by Dariusz I/Shutterstock.com

Before we get into the various different ways of travelling in Ireland, I want to cut to the chase and tell you what I think is the best option and explain why.

The best way to travel Ireland, in my opinion, is to combine modes of transport. This is especially useful for those of you who want to avoid car rental.

Public transport and organised tour combination

A combination of public transport and organised tours is going to be a solid option for those of you that can’t (or that don’t want to) rent a car.

Example: you fly into Dublin and you’re there for three nights. You can get around easily on foot and by using buses, the LUAS (a tram) and the DART (train). You explore the city for two days and take a day tour to Meath on the third.

Your fourth, fifth and sixth nights are spent in Galway. You can spend day one exploring the city. Day two on an organised tour to Connemara and day three on a day tour to Clare.

Rental car and public transport combination

Another solid combination is by using a rental car and public transportation. Let’s say you fly into Belfast. You spend the first day exploring the city. Then you rent a car for a few days and drive the Causeway Coastal Route and then head on to Donegal.

Or, let’s say you fly into Shannon. You rent a car near the airport and then drive to Kerry. You explore the various peninsulas for a few days before dropping off the car and heading to Killarney.

You spend the day in the national park before taking the train to Dublin and exploring the capital. Or you could take the train to Waterford or Tipperary.

Public transport and bike

If you like to cycle, combining public transport with a bike can be a great option. Ireland is home to plenty of incredible cycling routes, like the Waterford Greenway.

Let’s say, for example, you’re living in Dublin and you fancy seeing a bit of Ireland. You take the train (with your bike) to Waterford City and spend a day exploring the oldest city on the island.

You spend the next day cycling the Waterford Greenway. You get up early the following morning and take the train to Killarney and spend the day exploring the National Park and then spend the following one cycling the Ring of Kerry.

How to get around Ireland: The 4 best modes of transport

Healy pass cork
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each of the different options for getting around Ireland. I’ve popped in pros and cons next to each, that are worth considering.

Weigh up each of the options and have a think about how each will affect your experience, your budget and what you want to see.

1. Travelling around Ireland in a car

One of the best ways of getting around Ireland is by car. A car gives you the freedom to go where you want when you want, without having to rely on public transport or tour providers.

Now, like all of the modes of transport listed below, there are pros and cons to using a car for your Irish road trip. It’s worth weighing these up before making your final decision.

Advantages

Getting around Ireland by car has far more advantages than disadvantages. The main advantage is freedom; being able to go where you want whenever it tickles you fancy makes this a very attractive mode of transport for many.

  • Freedom and flexibility
  • You can map out your own Ireland itinerary
  • And you can change it as you go if you like
  • It can work out cheap if there’s a group of you to share costs

Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantages of using a car to get around Ireland is that it’ll be expensive for solo travellers and it’s likely to make the trip unnecessarily stressful for some drivers.

  • If you’re on your own, it can be expensive
  • If you’re a nervous driving, it can make the trip stressful

How to rent a car (without the hassle)

If you read our no-BS guide to renting a car in Ireland, you’ll know that the car rental industry in Ireland is… confusing. In my opinion, they deliberately make it tricky to understand in a conscious attempt to squeeze as much cash out of you as possible.

I’m not the only one to think this, either – there have been numerous exposes done that have revealed how car rental companies in Ireland trick people into buying extras that ramp up the price.

If you read our guide on how to rent a car in Ireland without the stress, you’ll find everything you need to know without the confusing jargon.

Driving in Ireland (safely and confidently)

If you’re debating using a car for getting around Ireland but you’re worried about the narrow country roads and the different rules of the road, don’t be.

Driving in Ireland is fine, once you take the time to understand the ins and outs of it. In our guide to driving in Ireland for tourists, you’ll discover how to have a (hopefully) stress-free time while you use a car to get around Ireland.

2. Getting around Ireland with a tour company

Another popular way to get around Ireland is by using a tour provider that organises all-in tours of Ireland. These tend to be pretty popular and they vary in terms of group size and trip length.

One quick word of warning: if you’re booking a tour of Ireland in advance, make sure to do plenty of research in advance. Be crystal clear on what’s included and what’s left to pay for.

Advantages

  • They’ll do all of the hard work
  • There’s no need to think about car rental, itineraries or any of that craic
  • It’s less stressful
  • You’ll explore Ireland with a group of people that you’ll (hopefully) have a laugh with
  • Most organised tours have experienced guides who’ll give you an insight into the areas that you’re exploring along with local history and knowledge

Disadvantages

  • Tours, especially the larger ones, tend to be very inflexible
  • They can be expensive (the smaller tours tend to be far pricier than the larger ones)
  • You can get stuck with a load of people that irritate you (hopefully this won’t be the case)

3. Getting around Ireland with a private driver

If you’ve deep pockets and money isn’t an option, a private driver is a solid option for travelling around Ireland. Now, this is definitely a less popular option, as it’s costly and there are far less providers.

If you fancy going down this route, do PLENTY of research – you’re going to be stuck in a very small space with this person for long periods of time – you need to find someone that’s going to enhance your experience and not hinder it.

Advantages

  • If you pick the right guide, you’ll tap into a wealth of knowledge that’ll ensure you see everything from tourist favourites to hidden gems
  • This is a flexible way of travelling around Ireland – yes, you’ll have to have your accommodation booked in advance, but you can see what you want to see when you want to see it
  • A private driver is also a handy option for those of you that want to do part of a trip with a guide and part on your own

Disadvantages

  • It’s expensive
  • You need to do thorough research to ensure that you get the best bang for your buck
  • If you end up getting a guide that you don’t gel with, you’ll be stuck in a very small space with them each day, which isn’t ideal

4. Using public transport

Public transport in Ireland isn’t great. It’s often delayed, buses and trains can just not turn up at times and it is in no way flexible. It’s also limited in terms of where it brings you.

Personally, the only way I’d every recommend public transport for getting around Ireland is if the person wants to visit cities and towns that can be accessed by train, or if they’re happy to do a very set trip and not step off the beaten path.

Advantages

  • It can be the cheapest option if you’re travelling solo and visiting Ireland on a budget
  • Trains and buses run frequently in the busier towns and cities in Ireland
  • It can work out well if you combine it with private tours

Disadvantages

  • Public transport can be unreliable
  • Trains, in particular, can be expensive if they’re not booked in advance

Some final thoughts on the best way to travel in Ireland

Hopefully, when you weigh up the pros and cons of each method of getting around Ireland, you’ll have a clear picture of which option will suit you best.

As I mentioned above, I think the best way to get around Ireland is by combining public transport with a rental car. With that being said, public transport combined with organised tours will suit many to the ground.

If you’re still struggling to decide, pop a comment in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to help you out when I get the chance to.

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

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