I love traveling by train for the same reasons as Agatha Christie: “To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers, in fact, to see life.”
In the past, most visitors to Ireland have opted to hire a car and self-drive, enjoying the freedom that comes with such independence. Fuel price increases and escalating car hire fees have now made this option financially challenging, causing many to opt to travel by train.
Ireland is a small country with a neat rail network operated by Irish Rail, or Iarnród Éireann. Fares are affordable, especially if you book online, and the ultra-modern trains provide a comfortable environment from which to explore the Irish countryside without the hassle of navigating narrow roads or adapting to driving on the left.
Not only that, but Ireland is home to some of the most scenic train rides in the world, so why not book yourself a 10-day tour of Ireland that takes in some of the country’s most famous landmarks?
Ireland by train: A 10-Day Itinerary
Day One: Dublin to Cork
Given that most overseas visitors fly into Dublin airport, the capital city is the most obvious starting point for any train journey.
After landing at the airport, catch a bus or taxi to Dublin Heuston – the main train station servicing the southern section of Ireland. The trip takes around 30 minutes.
The train trip from Dublin to Cork takes around 2 hrs 30 mins and takes a scenic route that curves around the Wicklow Mountains.
Those with a window seat on the left side of the train will get the best views as the train speeds through Limerick and onto Mallow, where you cross the great River Blackwater.
Half an hour later, the train will pull into Kent Train Station, just outside the bustling city of Cork. A 15-minute bus journey will take you into the heart of the city, where you can stroll through the narrow streets, enjoying the Georgian architecture.
Cork is a colorful and eclectic city with many trendy bars and great places to eat. It’s also home to the famous English Market, which has been providing residents and visitors with fresh fruit and vegetables since the 1600s.
Day Two: Cobh and Blarney Castle
Spending a second night in Cork gives you time to see some of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, namely Blarney Castle and the coastal town of Cobh.
Home to the famous Blarney Stone, Blarney Castle was built in 1834 and is approximately 9km from Cork. The 215 bus will get you to the nearby village of Blarney in around 17 minutes and stops close to the castle’s entrance. There are also guided tours that include the transfer to and from Cork.
Some tours include a stop at the seaport town of Cobh, where the Titanic stopped for one last time before embarking on its famously fateful journey.
Take a stroll past the colorful houses of West View, explore St. Colman’s Cathedral, or learn more about the area’s history at one of the town’s two museums. The Titanic Experience offers insights into the lives of those who boarded the fated luxury liner back in 1912, while the Cobh Heritage Centre uncovers the town’s history and heritage.
If you’re hoping to see both attractions in a single day, you’ll need to take the bus back from Blarney Castle to Cork, from where you can hop on a train to Cobh. The train journey takes approximately 24 minutes each way.
Day Three: Cork to Killarney
Hopefully, the sun’s shining when you embark on the 98-km journey from Cork to Killarney. Taking between 1hr 20 minutes and 2 hrs, this trip takes you back to Mallow before following the River Blackwater through the 300-year-old town of Millstreet.
On arrival in Killarney, you’ll be struck by the colorful buildings and friendly atmosphere. Nestled in a valley, Killarney is surrounded by mountains and areas of natural beauty, all of which are worth exploring either before or after checking into your luxury accommodation.
Take some time to explore the Gothic architecture of St Mary’s Cathedral before heading to one of the local pubs for a pint of Guinness and some traditional Irish music.
If you want to explore further afield, hop on the Killarney Shuttle Bus, which leaves hourly and visits local attractions such as Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey.
Spend a relaxing evening at one of Killarney’s many eateries, sampling traditional Irish fare at the Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder or hunting down something with a little more zing at Khao Asian Street Food.
Day Four: Ring of Kerry
Spend the day exploring the scenic 179-km Ring of Kerry by coach, discovering the rolling countryside, rugged mountains, and sparkling lakes.
Several local tour operators run coach tours of the Ring of Kerry, most of which take between six and seven hours. Along the way, you’ll visit enchanting towns, quaint villages, ancient standing stones, and stone ring forts dating back to 800 AD.
Soak up the panoramic views over Dingle Bay to the Blasket Islands beyond. Visit the picturesque villages of Waterville and Sneem before following in the footsteps of Queen Victoria and relishing the breathtaking views of the Lakes of Killarney.
While some tours focus purely on the delights of the Ring of Kerry, others make an additional stop at Killarney National Park, where mountains, lakes, and ancient woodlands combine to create a mythical wonderland.
Day Five: Killarney to Galway
By far the longest train journey in this itinerary, the trip from Killarney to Galway takes between four and six hours, but if you can’t face that long on the tracks, you can always stop over in Limerick and continue the journey the following day.
During the trip, you’ll cover around 200 km and pass through several counties before arriving in the center of Galway city.
On arrival at Ceannt Station, you’ll be thrown into the hustle and bustle of one of Ireland’s busiest cities. A short walk from the station you’ll find Shop Street, famous for its brightly colored shopfronts and buskers. It’s also where some of the oldest buildings in Galway are situated.
After exploring the city on foot, you’ll need some refreshments, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. The Gourmet Tart Company makes an excellent cup of coffee and has a wide range of cakes and pastries, while the Tigh Neachtain serves craft beers with a bit of history on the side.
Enjoy some of Galway’s vibrant nightlife, but don’t stay up too late – you’ve got a busy day tomorrow!
Day Six: Cliffs of Moher and Aran Islands
The Cliffs of Moher is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions, and for good reason. They tower some 700 feet above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, providing rocky homes for thousands of seabirds, including a large colony of puffins.
Although most visitors view the cliffs from dry land, passing beneath this impressive landmark is just as spectacular, so why not get the best of both worlds with a full-day tour?
This tour operates from Galway and takes visitors through the picturesque villages of Ballindereen and Kilcolgan before boarding a ferry to the smallest of the Aran Islands.
Spend some time exploring the natural beauty of Inisheer Island before heading back past the Cliffs of Moher to the village of Doolin. From there, your guide will take you to the top of the cliffs where you can soak up the spectacular views of the islands and the wild Atlantic Ocean.
On the way back to Galway, you’ll pass again through the Burren before passing through the lively town of Lisdoonvarna, which is famous for its annual matchmaking festival.
Day Seven: Galway to Dublin
Today you’ll take the train back to Dublin, a route that takes you through the historical town of Athlone on the River Shannon, and onto Tullamore, where the famous Irish whiskey Tullamore Dew is made.
The journey takes around 2 hrs 30 minutes so, if you leave early enough, you’ll arrive in the capital in time for lunch and some more sightseeing.
Why not spend the afternoon in one of the city’s two great cathedrals, or pay homage to another much-loved Irish institution with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, where you can also enjoy a pint in the rooftop bar?
If you still need to pick up some presents for your friends back home, why not head to Grafton Street, where you can enjoy the street entertainment and discover the creations of some of Ireland’s best designers?
Day Eight: Dublin to Belfast
After just over a week in Ireland, it’s time to head north to the city of Belfast. This two-and-a-half-hour train journey takes you along the eastern coast of Ireland, so a seat on the right will give you the best sea views.
The train terminates at Belfast Lanyon Place on the banks of the River Lagan and just around the corner from one of the city’s oldest attractions. St. George’s Market is a vibrant, colorful place where you can sample the finest local produce and listen to live music.
Venture a little further afield, and you could spend the afternoon browsing the art galleries of the Cathedral Quarter, visit the Belfast Titanic Museum, or stroll around the grounds of the City Hall.
Belfast is a welcoming city with lots of quirky eateries and historic pubs. Grab a pint of the black stuff at The Crown Bar, which was once a great gin palace, or sample some traditional Irish recipes at Holohan’s Pantry.
Day Nine: Belfast to Londonderry
No train journey around Ireland would be complete without experiencing what Michael Palin describes as “one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world.”
The journey from Belfast to Londonderry takes around 2 hrs 30 mins, so the return trip will take up most of your day. It’s well worth it, however, for the journey between Coleraine and Londonderry, where the train meanders along river banks and sandy dunes.
As you pass through Coleraine, you’ll see the Mussenden Temple teetering on the cliff’s edge before the train trundles through the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
If the thought of spending all day on a train leaves you cold, why not book a day trip to Giant’s Causeway instead?
Day 10: Belfast to Dublin
One last train ride marks the end of your Irish adventure, so make the most of it by booking a window seat on the left-hand side of the train.
Once back in Dublin, you’ll have just enough time to do some last-minute shopping and sightseeing before catching your flight home with a suitcase full of souvenirs and a heart full of memories.
Is it Easy to Travel by Train in Ireland?
Modern air-conditioned trains and newly upgraded lines make traveling around Ireland by train comfortable and enjoyable. The booking process is also simple, and you can save money by buying your tickets online.
Is it Possible to Tour Ireland by Train?
While you can travel much of Ireland by train, hiring a car is more convenient if you want to explore the more rural areas. In the northwest of Ireland, train lines are limited, mostly running to and from Dublin.
Is the Irish Rail Scenic?
Ireland is full of rugged beauty and breathtaking landscapes, so it’s virtually impossible to travel the country without some scenic highlights, and this train tour has many.
The trip from Cork to Cobh offers some spectacular sea views, while the journey from Dublin to Belfast reveals miles of rolling countryside and long swathes of coastline.
What is the Longest Single Train Journey in Ireland?
The train from Dublin to Tralee covers 332km and takes approximately 4 hours.
Is it Possible to Tour Ireland by Train?
Yes, although options are limited in the northwest.
Does Ireland have a Luxury Train?
The Belmond Grand Hibernian once provided luxury train travel around Ireland but ceased operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are now plans to relocate the train to a European destination.
If, as Agatha Christie maintained, to travel by train is to see life, then this journey is the perfect way to see life in modern-day Ireland and reflect on the lives that were sacrificed in its battle for independence.
From majestic mountains to turbulent seas, this itinerary reveals the diversity of Ireland’s countryside while introducing you to life in its bustling cities and vibrant villages.
Better still, when you travel by train, you gaze out of the window and soak up the views without worrying about getting lost or driving on the wrong side of the road!
"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.