In the Republic of Ireland, long-distance bus services are operated by Bus Éireann, which also provides local service in Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. There's only one class, and prices are similar for all seats. Note, though, that outside of the peak season, services are limited; some routes (e.g., Ring of Kerry) disappear altogether.
A new chapter in Bus Éireann service opened several years ago with the addition of their Expressway service. Expressway buses go directly, in the straightest available line, from one biggish town to another, and stop at a limited number of designated places only. There's sometimes only one trip a day on express routes. Their other divisions comprise commuter buses, as in the rest of the world, and then a kind of community service bus that rambles around the countryside passing through as many villages as possible, and stopping wherever anyone wants to get on or off, allowing as many people as possible to get to the nearest big town at least once a week. This used to be the only kind of bus service 30 years ago, which is why Bus Éireann so proudly trumpets their Expressway network.
Rural bus services shut down at around 7 or 8 pm. To ensure that a bus journey is feasible, buy a copy of Bus Éireann's timetable—€3 from any bus terminal—or check online. Many of the destination indicators are in Irish (Gaelic), so make sure you get on the right bus.
In Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, all buses are operated by the state-owned Ulsterbus. Service is generally good, with particularly useful links to those towns not served by train. Ulsterbus also offers tours. Buses to Belfast run from London and from Birmingham, making the Stranraer-Port of Belfast crossing. Contact National Express for that specific route.
Prepaid tickets don't apply to a particular bus time, just a route, so show up at least 30 minutes early to get a seat. If one vehicle is full, you will have to wait for the next bus.
Fares and Passes
You can buy tickets online, or at the main tourist offices, at the bus station, or on the bus (though it's cash only for the latter option). A round-trip from Dublin to Cork costs €22 and Dublin to Galway return is €19.
You can save money by buying a multiday pass, some of which can be combined with rail service. There are also cost-cutting passes that will give access to travel in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. An iLink Card costs 55 for seven days' unlimited bus and rail travel in all parts of Northern Ireland—a really good deal when you consider that a one-day ticket costs 15. In the republic, passes include the Irish Explorer Rail and Bus Pass, which gives you eight days' bus travel out of 15 consecutive days for €245. The bus-only Irish Rover Card costs €190 for eight days' travel out of 15 consecutive days across both Northern Ireland and the republic. Contact Bus Éireann or Ulsterbus for details.
An Irish Rover bus ticket from Ulsterbus covers Ireland, north and south, and costs 56 for 3 days, 127 for 8, and 188 for 15. It also includes city center bus travel in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, and on the Metro services in Belfast—but not Dublin.
Bus Éireann (01/836–6111 in Republic of Ireland. www.buseireann.ie.)
Eurolines (08717/818–178 in U.K. www.eurolines.co.uk.)
Ulsterbus (028/9066–6630 in Northern Ireland. www.translink.co.uk.)
Citylink (091/564–164 within Ireland. www.citylink.ie.)
Aircoach (01/844–7118. www.aircoach.ie.)
FODOR'S GO LIST
These are the top 25 trips we're looking to book right now -- and we hope you'll join us!More
View deals in Ireland for vacation packages, hotels, airfare, and more from our partners!More