Saturday 24 August 2019

Top 10 Irish train journeys: Skip the traffic and travel Ireland by train

Pól Ó Conghaile picks ten of his favourite train journeys in Ireland, from coastal crackers to city commutes

The Derry to Coleraine railway, with Mussenden Temple. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland
The Derry to Coleraine railway, with Mussenden Temple. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland
The DART on Killiney Bay.
Stock photo of commuter train, Longford. Photo: Irish Rail
The Dart suburban rail follows the curve of Dublin Bay.
Photo: The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland
Cork to Cobh. Photo: Irish Rail
Derry to Coleraine Railway. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland
Dublin to Rosslare. Photo: Irish Rail
Kilmeaden, on the Waterford Suir Valley Heritage Railway. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
The Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland
Galway Bay, with the Burren in the background. Photo: Deposit
Belmond Grand Hibernian's 'Wexford' dining car.
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Want to travel Ireland by train? Skip the traffic jams with our guide to train travel both north and south of the border.

1. Derry to Coleraine

Michael Palin once described the journey between Derry and Coleraine (pictured above) as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.

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The first stretch of that route is, in many ways, the sweetest. The train follows the River Foyle into the countryside, whizzing along the sandy Benone Strand before passing beneath the Mussenden temple through one of the country's longest tunnels.

Hop off at the quaint station of Castlerock for a beach picnic or to explore local National Trust properties. It's a coastal cracker.

Details: 048 9066 6630; translink.co.uk

Journey time: 35-45 minutes approx.

Price: From £10/€11 return.

More: Read our Causeway Coast driving guide

2. Dublin to Rosslare

Dublin to Rosslare, CREDIT IrishRail.ie.jpg
Dublin to Rosslare. Photo: Irish Rail

This is arguably the best train journey in Ireland.

Pick your highlight: The Avoca viaduct? Killiney Bay? That slow passage along the waterfront in Wexford town? Michael Portillo even travelled the tracks for an episode of BBC2's 'Great Railway Journeys' series.

The train terminates at Rosslare Europort, but I'd recommend disembarking at Wexford for a mosey, before catching the return trip.

Details: irishrail.ie

Journey time: Three hours, depending on stops

Price: From €14.99 each way (online)

More: 10 great reasons to visit Wexford

3. RPSI steam-hauled excursions

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Photo: The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) maintains a museum (£7/5pp) at Whitehead and a host of real-life Thomas the Tank Engines that it uses to operate steam-hauled excursions on a not-for-profit basis.

Train journeys run regularly both north and south of the border - the Portrush Flyer, a return trip from Belfast) costs from £22/€25 for adults, for example, while a daytrip from Dublin to Kilkenny including vintage carriages hauled by a steam locomotive costs €35 for adults and €20 for kids. Santa specials are especially popular, running from both Dublin and Belfast throughout December (book early).

Blasts of steam and chug-along nostalgia aren't the only reason tickets are quickly snapped up - dining cars include a full bar serving draught Guinness.

Details: steamtrainsireland.com

Prices: From around €12/6

More: All aboard! A €2,270 steam train tour is coming to Ireland

4. Howth to Greystones

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The Dart suburban rail follows the curve of Dublin Bay.

During rush hour, Dublin's Dart trains get crammed and sweaty. Off-peak, they transform into mobile viewing platforms along Dublin Bay.

And what views! Think of Killiney Bay, clickety-clacking through the Aviva Stadium, or the cliff-hugging coastal section from Bray to Greystones... where eagle-eyed travellers can spot seals and cormorants dipping beneath the cliffs.

There are elevated views over the north inner-city (not to mention the gardens of Dublin 4) and no shortage of cafés and coastal walks in both Howth and Greystones.

Details: irishrail.ie

Journey time: One hour 25 mins approx. (without changes)

Price: €6.20/€2.55 (cheaper with Leap Cards). Adult all-day tickets cost €12.15, and there's good value in an all-day, rail-only family ticket priced at €20.

More: Top 10: Dublin from the DART

5. Dublin to Sligo

Commuter, Longford, Dublin - Sligo.jpg
Stock photo of commuter train, Longford. Photo: Irish Rail

Departing Dublin's Connolly Station, this line passes through the city suburbs as it follows the Royal Canal towards Maynooth.

The midlands stretch varies between low-lying countryside, stops in Mullingar and Longford and close brushes with bodies of water such as Lough Bofin, before crossing the River Shannon at Carrick-on-Shannon.

The approach to Sligo is from the south - watch out for Knocknarea, atop of which Queen Maeve is said to be buried, before disembarking.

Details: irishrail.ie

Journey time: Three hours approx. (depending on stops)

Price: From €18.99 each way (online)

6. Cork to Cobh

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Cork to Cobh. Photo: Irish Rail

Departing Kent Station, the journey to Cobh lasts just 24 minutes, but boasts more scenic gems than the entire Cork-Dublin InterCity route.

The route makes its way over the Belvelly Channel, with stops including Little Island, Fota Wildlife Park and Carrigaloe, before arriving into Cobh's redbrick station.

This port town was the final departure point for RMS Titanic in 1912 - it's just one of the stories brought to life in Cobh Heritage Centre.

Details: irishrail.ie

Journey time: 24 minutes

Price: From €3.50 (single; one-way)

More: 10 Great Reasons to visit the Ring of Cork

7. Waterford & Suir Valley Railway

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Kilmeaden, on the Waterford Suir Valley Heritage Railway. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

It's a small train. And a small track. But the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway is a big idea - a community heritage project taking passengers for an evocative jaunt along the old Waterford to Dungarvan line.

The station is Kilmeaden, the ticket office is an old train carriage and several dinky carriages are tugged along a hidden stretch of the River Suir by a Simplex locomotive that helped excavate the Channel Tunnel.

If you like this, try Donegal's Fintown Railway - a three-mile spin on the county's only operational railway or the Stradbally Woodland Railway in Co Laois.

Details: 051 384058; wsvrailway.ie

Journey time: 50 minutes (March-September)

Price: €9/€4; family rates from €20

More: Small Wonders: 25 best small attractions to visit in Ireland

8. Dublin to Belfast

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The Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland

Viaducts (and the views from them) are the scenic highlights of this inter-city route jointly operated by Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnród Éireann.

After Malahide in Co. Dublin, keep your eyes open for two other viaducts, one crossing the River Boyne at Drogheda and the other, the 18-arch Craigmore Viaduct, stretching a full quarter-mile through Co. Armagh countryside.

The Wi-Fi is very patchy, but parts of the trip are beautiful.

Details: irishrail.ie or translink.co.uk/enterprise

Journey time: 2 hours and 15 minutes (depending on stops)

Price: From €18.99/£17.40 each way

9. Ireland's 'Orient Express'

Belmond Grand Hibernian Train, Wexford Dining car.jpg
Belmond Grand Hibernian's 'Wexford' dining car.

The Belmond Grand Hibernian could be a contender for one of the world's great train journeys... as well as its most expensive.

Operated by the same company that runs the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Royal Scotsman, the Grand Hibernian is operating two, four and six-night itineraries around Ireland starting from €3,200pp - including meals, drinks, entertainment and excursions. And yes, they book out...

20 opulent, en-suite cabins, two dining cars and an observation car were refurbished at specialist outfitters Mivan Marine Ltd. in Belfast. If you can afford to ride the rails in style like this, who cares where you're going?

Details: + 44 20 3117 1300; belmond.com/grandhibernian

Journey time: 2, 3 or 6 nights

Price: From €3,200pp (two-day itineraries)

Read more: All aboard! My dream journey on Ireland's only luxury sleeper train

10. Dublin to Galway

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Galway Bay, with the Burren in the background. Photo: Deposit

Similar to the mountains and charming arrival of the Mallow-Killarney trip, the best is kept for last on this Inter-city staple.

After swinging past Oranmore, the train hits a coastal stretch along Galway Bay where, on a good day, views stretch as far as the hills of the Burren (above).

Prior to that, the gorgeous iron railway bridge over the River Shannon at Athlone is an engineering marvel - it dates from 1850 - and the boggy midlands bring their own, slow-burning charm, before the train crosses Lough Atalia and lands passengers at Eyre Square.

Details: irishrail.ie

Journey time: Two hours & 40 minutes (depending on stops)

Price: From €18.99 each-way (online)

NB: All prices subject to change/availability. Fares are far cheaper if you book online in advance. This story has been updated to reflect price and timetable changes.

Read more:

All aboard! My dream journey on Ireland's only luxury sleeper train

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