The best way to see the Emerald Isle is with a car. Sad but true.
Ireland’s lush countryside, plunging cliffs, and charming villages can be difficult to reach due to slow public transportation and narrow roads. For many, renting a car in a foreign country (where everyone drives on the other side of the road) isn’t a big deal. If you are one of those people, good for you. Now stop reading.
For those of us that hate the idea of renting a car while on holiday, Ireland may seem out of reach, but it’s actually possible to see quite a lot by using various modes of transportation and a little bit of creativity.
The trick is to first prioritize what you want to do and see (and be realistic based on the amount of time you have). Pick one or more central locations that are in close proximity to the spots you want to visit (a good rule of thumb is to choose one central location for every 4-5 days you’re there). From those central locations, identify modes of transportation that you will get you to where you want to go.
During a recent 12-day trip, I split my time in Killarney (located in the southwest side of the island) and in Dublin (located on the east side). From these two locations, I reached almost every corner of the island, including as far north as Belfast and Giant’s Causeway.
How to Get Around Ireland Without a Car
Hire an Inexpensive Private Driver
I listed this option first because it was by far my favorite way to travel. Getting a private driver for my entire trip was not an affordable option for me, and even getting an expert guide for a single day was expensive. In the end, I found a practical and more affordable solution. I hired a local taxi driver in Kerry County to take my friend and I around the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.
For a flat fee of 220 Euros per day, South Kerry Taxi offered tours of some of the best spots on the southwest side of the island. The primary benefit of the private driver is that you’re getting a local’s perspective on the best stops to make during the tour, and you get to move at your own pace. Our driver took us to isolated spots not accessible by tour buses (due to narrow roads) and we had the chance to stop whenever we wanted to take as many photos as we wanted.
Hiring a private driver was the best decision I made during my trip. I was able to reach several spots not accessible via tour bus, including the Ballycarbery Castle and the Kerry Cliffs (both on the Ring of Kerry).
If you’re not staying in Kerry County, be sure to research local taxi companies in other spots around the country as they’re likely to offer similar services.
Book Day Tours
If hiring a private driver isn’t an affordable option, the next best thing is a day tour.
By US standards, Ireland is not a very big country and in the span of 6-7 hours you can travel great distances and see quite a lot. During my trip, I booked several day trips using local tour operators. I particularly liked Wild Rover Tours out of Dublin as they run a pretty efficient shop, however, Paddywagon Tours runs very similar options with slightly different schedules.
The primary benefit of a day tour is that you get to see a lot in a short amount of time and these are obviously much more affordable than a private driver. The bad news? These tours are a bit rushed and you only get a short amount of time in each location.
Here is a tip. If you don’t enjoy the rushed nature of day tours and would like to spend a bit more time in a location you’re visiting, you may be able to book your tour pickup and drop-off on different dates. During a tour with Wild Rover from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, some of the passengers on our bus arranged to be dropped off in Galway on the day of our tour and to be picked up by another Wild Rover bus two days later. This way, they got to spend a couple of nights in the city instead of 2 hours like the rest of us (this would obviously need to be arranged with your tour company ahead of time and you’d need to find your own accommodations).
During my trip, I booked several bus tours from Dublin that took me as far as Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
Use the Train to Reach Larger Cities and Towns
The train system in Ireland is not as convenient and fast as in some other European countries, however, it’s very useful when you’re trying to reach larger cities and towns. During my trip, I used the train to get from Killarney to Dublin and the process was simpler than I thought. The country is surprisingly well connected, however, you’ll likely need to make some train changes if you’re traveling longer than 2 hours.
Below is a map of the train system. My trip from Killarney to Dublin took less than 4 hours and cost 31.49 Euros. I had to change trains in Mallow but the wait for the second train was less than 5 minutes.
If I had more time in Killarney, I likely would have hopped on a train to Cork and spent a day wandering around the city. And although I chose to visit Belfast and Galway by booking a day tour (since these tours included other stops along the way), I could have easily visited both cities using the train.
And there you have it, visiting Ireland without a car is indeed possible! For more information regarding all of the modes of transportation I used, see my tour itinerary below:
Tours from Killarney:
- A Tour Around the Ring of Kerry: South Kerry Taxi
- A Tour Around the Dingle Peninsula: South Kerry Taxi
- Trip to Dublin: Ireland Rail
Tours from Dublin:
- Cliffs Of Moher and Galway Day Tour: Wild Rover Tours
- Giants Causeway, Belfast, and Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge: Wild Rover Tours
- Glendalough, Wicklow, and Medieval Kilkenny: Paddywagon Tours through Kennedy & Carr