We've lived in Ireland for over 6 years without owning a car and we've managed to see nearly every corner of the Emerald Isle. It's true, there are some places that are best experienced by hiring a car (I'm thinking back to Dingle on St. Patrick's Day weekend) but there are plenty of other places in Ireland that are easily accessible by train thanks to Irish Rail. Here are my picks of the best destinations in Ireland accessible by train starting closest to Dublin and working our way further afield.
Hop on the DART Train for a Day in Howth
Living in Dublin, we're lucky to have the DART train running up and down the coast making for easy day trips out of Dublin city. Howth is one of our favorite destinations for walks along the Irish Sea, eating great seafood, and wildlife spotting. For an added adventure, take the ferry to Ireland's Eye for some fine birding.
Read more about Howth and Ireland's Eye on Sidewalk Safari: Take a Day Trip to Another World with a 15 Minute Ferry Ride to Ireland's Eye from Dublin's Howth Harbour
Ride Dublin's Commuter Rail to Maynooth for a Photowalk
Maynooth is just slightly further afield from Dublin clocking in at about 45 minutes by train from Dublin City Center. Maynooth is one of my favorite destinations in Ireland for a photowalk. The charming old campus of Maynooth University offers endless photo-ops. Combine this with an atmospheric ruined castle and gardens of wildflowers and you've got a fantastic day out from Dublin.
Read more about Maynooth on Sidewalk Safari: Things to See and Do on an Instagram Photowalk in Maynooth, Ireland
Get Your Groove on with a Train Ride to Kilkenny
Kilkenny is our go to town for festivals and fun. Kilkenny is just an hour and a half by train from Dublin, We've visited for the Kilkenny Roots festival a few times. Kilkenny packs its pubs with folk musicians from all over Ireland and the world. Most gigs are free but a few of the bigger name acts are ticketed.
If you visit Kilkenny for a music festival you'll definitely be busy in the evenings, but what is there to do during the day? Kilkenny has one bad-ass castle and hiking trails on the castle grounds. You can also check out the arts and crafts complex near the castle. The Smithwick's tour is another highlight and is the only brewery tour I've been on featuring a centuries old ruined abbey.
For more about Kilkenny, see:
Traverse Ireland from East to West with a Train Ride to Galway
If you invest two and a half hours on the train ride, you can get all the way across Ireland to Galway. Galway is a quintessential university town with a lively town center and raging river and rapids coursing through it. I particularly love the National University of Ireland Galway campus in the Autumn when the ivy covered buildings light up in red foliage.
Galway is also a great starting point for a road trip around Connemara in Ireland's Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region). You'll need a car to effectively explore the wilds of Connemara but you can shave nearly 3 hours off that drive from Dublin by taking the train to Galway.
For more about Galway and the surrounding region, see:
- A Walking Tour of the National University of Ireland, Galway
- A Wet and Wild Weekend in Connemara Ireland
Aw, Go On So and Take a Train Ride to Cork City
Corkonians are a lively bunch and Cork is one of my favorite cities in Ireland. You can get to Cork City from Dublin by train in about two and a half hours. You'll be endlessly entertained in Cork's lively pubs filled with fascinating locals eager to buy you a pint and great music. This is starting to become a theme but I love exploring university campuses and University College Cork is very atmospheric and picturesque.
For highlights of the best things to do in Cork City, see: Ten Things to Do on a Weekend Citybreak in Cork
Ride the Rails to the North and Experience Belfast
Consider taking the train ride 2.5 hours north to experience Northern Ireland in Belfast (bring your passport because Northern Ireland is part of the UK, not the Republic of Ireland). Experience the North's troubled history with a walk among the political murals on Falls Road.
Continue the exploration of history in Belfast with a visit to the amazing and interactive Titanic Museum; one of the best museums I've ever been to. The Titanic was actually built in Belfast and you can see the dry docks where she was housed before her tragic maiden voyage not far from the museum.
Lift the weight of history from your shoulders with a trip to St. George's Market for great food, treats, and crafts.
For more about visiting Belfast, see:
Take the Train West for a Weekend in Westport
Westport in County Mayo is about three hours from Dublin by train. Westport is one of our favorite towns in Ireland. We love the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival held here each year. We also adore the Great Western Greenway for cycling and walking.
The grounds of Westport House are worth a stroll to see the idyllic swan boats (Note: there is an admission fee)
Views of Croagh Patrick will greet you at every turn in and around Westport.
For more on visiting Westport and the surrounding area, see:
- How to Have a Toe-Tapping Time While in Town for the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
- Cycling the Great Western Greenway on Electric Bicycles - From Achill Island to Westport Ireland
- How to Spend a Weekend in Westport, Ireland on a Rail Holiday from Dublin
Chew, Chew, Chew, Your Way by Train to Sligo
The train journey from Dublin to Sligo town takes a little over three hours. I absolutely loved Sligo. This county has heart! From stunning scenery, poetic history, charming urban areas featuring award winning restaurants like Eala Bhan, and easily accessible coastline, Sligo has something for everyone. In particular, Sligo is definitely an up and coming foodie destination. Check out custom adventure and food experiences along the Sligo Food Trail.
For more about visit County Sligo, see:
- Why Sligo is the Next Big Foodie Destination in Ireland
- An Irish Roadtrip Weekend In and Around County Sligo Experienced Through the Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats
I love that it's possible to cover Ireland from end-to-end in about 3 hours by train. Thanks to Irish Rail, for giving us countless weekend trip ideas.