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A Complete Guide for Traveling by Bus in Ireland

Ireland entices visitors with its beautiful countryside and scenic coastline. These settings make traveling cross country by bus an experience in its own right, and the journey can be just as amazing as the final destination. In addition, because the country is fairly small, bus trips rarely last longer than five hours, which makes bus travel a comfortable and convenient way to see Ireland.

Traveling by bus around Ireland allows someone else to take the wheel while you soak up the incredible scenery — and besides, who wants to figure out driving on the left side of the road and reading Gaelic signposts, anyway? Don’t be shocked by friendly locals, who will likely want to chat your ear off for part of the ride. These are some of the island’s best tour guides, so don’t hesitate to ask them about their favorite hole-in-the-wall pub or the best café for an authentic Irish coffee.

Buses around Ireland are run by both public and private operators, which keeps costs low and route options diverse. Coaches also serve the more distant corners of the country, so if you’re hoping to get off the beaten path, bus travel in Ireland is a great option.

Bus companies in Ireland

Bus Éireann is the main state-owned bus and coach operator in Ireland and runs both local and intercity routes. If you’re looking to get somewhere fast, there’s even an express bus service (Expressway) that offers routes with fewer stops between larger cities. Bus Éireann serves all of Ireland, including many of the itty bitty towns where train service is unavailable.

Irish Citylink is a private coach company based in Galway that provides service between some of Ireland’s larger cities, including Dublin, Galway, Limerick, and Cork. There are also several routes to and from some of the country's smaller towns, in addition to the Cork and Dublin airports.

Dublin Express offers routes between the Dublin Airport and the city center, with various drop-off points around the downtown area.

National Express is a UK-based bus company that offers routes between London and Dublin. While this may not be the best choice for bus travel within Ireland, if you’re looking to travel between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, this is a great option.

Translink is a state-owned bus operator in Northern Ireland. All bus services in Northern Ireland are run through Translink, though there are several different branches within the company. Goldline covers long-distance travel across the country, with a few stops in the Republic of Ireland as well. Ulsterbus runs local routes throughout Northern Ireland, including the small towns not served by trains.

Note that while some of these bus companies serve the small towns that are otherwise hard to reach, bus service to less populated areas usually stops in the evening, around 7:00 or 8:00pm. So, plan accordingly if you don’t want to get stranded! In addition, some routes only operate seasonally, especially those that travel to major tourist attractions.

The most scenic bus routes in Ireland

Ireland is known for its picturesque countryside, and you’ll have plenty of options for scenic routes on your Irish bus tour. Some of the most scenic routes in the country include the following:

The Ring of Kerry
Without a doubt, the most famous and arguably the most scenic bus route in Ireland is the Ring of Kerry. Traveling 111 miles (179 km) around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland, this scenic loop features rugged coastlines, countryside lakes, rural seaside villages, sprawling farmlands and more. While many choose to take an organized tour around the Ring of Kerry, with some careful planning, it's completely possible to ride the ring with Bus Éireann.
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Limerick to Galway
While nowhere near as famous as the Ring of Kerry (you’ll notice the lack of a catchy nickname), the bus ride between Limerick and Galway is one of the most scenic routes in Ireland. Limerick is located in western Ireland, just 30 minutes from the Shannon Airport (which can also be reached by bus). Taking the bus from Limerick to Galway will give you fantastic views of the countryside dotted with sleepy villages, historic landmarks and plenty of lush rolling hills. This route is run by Irish Citylink and has several daily departures.
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Galway to Kylemore Abbey
You can then continue on from Galway to the Kylemore Abbey, a scenic route operated by Bus Éireann (route 419). This picturesque trip will reward you with epic views of mountain-backed fjords, verdant valleys, and of course, plenty of charming villages. Once you hop off the bus, you can take the day to visit the abbey, or venture into the nearby Connemara National Park.
Book a bus tour from Galway to Kylemore Abbey

How to book bus travel in Ireland

Reservations for buses in Ireland can be purchased online in advance and then printed or shown via mobile phone when boarding. Search on Wanderu to compare schedules and find the best deal. Buying a ticket in advance is highly recommended. If you can, be sure to reserve a seat so that your spot on the bus is guaranteed.

You can also buy tickets at various tourist offices, the bus station or on the bus itself. If you buy your ticket on the bus, be sure to have cash (exact change) to pay for it.

Tickets are usually purchased for a single journey or a return trip, though some passes are also available for frequent travelers. Some companies allow you to purchase tickets for specific dates and times, while others offer tickets for a specific route that can be used within three hours of the reservation as long as there are seats available.

If you buy your fare in advance and need to change or cancel your bus ticket, you can usually do so up to an hour before your scheduled departure time. This varies by company, so be sure to read the fine print when purchasing your ticket.

Tips for finding deals on bus tickets in Ireland

Although bus travel in Ireland is already one of the cheapest ways to travel, there are a few ways to eke out a deal on your upcoming trip.

Buying your tickets online in advance is generally cheaper, especially if you are traveling during peak season. Ticket prices usually go up as you get closer to the date of travel. In addition, discounted rates are available for students, children, and families with Irish Citylink and Bus Éireann.

Daily/monthly cards & passes
You can save money on bus tickets by booking a multi-journey bus pass with Irish Citylink or Bus Éireann. Usually, these passes offer 10 rides for a discounted rate that can be used for a specified period (7-10 days). However, the multi-journey tickets appeal mostly to commuters because they only permit travel between two specified stops.

Irish bus carriers also offer family fares, which let groups of two adults with two children purchase discounted one-way or round-trip tickets.

Types of bus services available in Ireland

Bus service is fairly similar across all major bus companies in Ireland.

If you’re looking for the fastest way to get from place to place by bus, Bus Éireann offers an Expressway line with fewer stops than their regular service. The Expressway mainly serves larger cities rather than the small countryside villages.

If the smaller towns are what you’re interested in, you’ll find routes with both Bus Éireann and Irish Citylink.

Those in search of a bus to and from the airport will find designated routes with Aircoach, Irish Citylink, Dublin Express, Expressway (Bus Éireann) and JJ Kavanagh. Some of these companies only service the Dublin airport and downtown area, while others connect passengers to airports and major cities around the country, including Cork, Galway and more.

Getting to the bus station in Ireland

Most major cities in Ireland have a designated coach station located in the city center, which makes getting to the bus station a breeze. These stations usually have waiting areas, cafes and restaurants, luggage storage facilities, and restrooms available to passengers. Most stations also have display screens with info about departures. You could also download the Bus Éireann real-time app to see where your bus is.

In the smaller towns and villages, long-distance buses will utilize the local bus stops to drop off and pick up passengers. While this may stop traffic for a few minutes, it’s convenient for travelers as these stops are typically located in or near the town center. Note that many smaller town names will be displayed in Gaelic. You may have to ask a local if you have questions, but rest assured, they will likely be more than happy to help!

No matter where you’re departing from, be sure to arrive at the station at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure time. This is especially important if you don’t have a specific seat reserved.

Getting on the bus in Ireland

To get on the long-distance bus in Ireland, you’ll need a copy of your ticket - either digital or printed. Although no passport is required for bus travel between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, you will need a valid photo ID to board any long-distance bus.

It’s not possible to reserve specific seats for every journey, so if you want a good spot on the bus, be sure to arrive at the stop or station at least 30 minutes in advance so you can queue up early.

Note that long-distance coach service in Ireland is notorious for running a bit behind schedule. This is not always the case, however, so it’s important to be on time for your trip. Just don’t be too alarmed if the bus has not arrived by its scheduled departure time!

On-board experience on Irish buses

Long-distance bus travel in Ireland is a pretty cozy experience. Because the country is relatively small, travel times are succinct - typically under five hours no matter where you’re headed!

Service varies widely depending on which bus you’re on. Even within the same company, some coaches offer more amenities than others. Newer buses have all the amenities you associate with long-distance coach travel, including WiFi, bathrooms, charging ports, reclining seats, and climate control systems. However, if you’re stuck on an older model, you may have to fend for yourself when it comes to onboard entertainment.

Coach service in Ireland does not offer any food or drink onboard, but you’re more than welcome to stock up ahead of time and eat while you ride. This does not apply to alcoholic beverages, and you may be denied boarding if you appear drunk!

Top bus routes in Ireland

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