Most of us in Ireland have bad memories of ferries – either the long trek to London on a Slattery’s bus, or (like me) the horrible childhood memories of taking a smelly B+I ferry full of drunk truckers on the way home from visiting family.
But getting to London by ferry and train is actually a really nice travelling experience, especially if you’re with someone to chat away the hours. The main advantages are that it’s flexible (don’t have to book in advance, come back whenever you like) and price (especially if you don’t know your travel dates well in advance).
You get to travel as comfortably as most first class air passengers, and there’s nobody trying to sell you scratchcards. I’ve get the ferry+train over to London roughly every two or three months for the past two years, and don’t think I could go back to cattle class on the plane.
The best way to get to London from Dublin is as follows (2014 timetable):
- If you’re not in Dublin, travel up the night before (note: your through ticket should cover this journey even if it’s not on the same day as your ferry, I’ve checked with Irish Rail on this)
- Get to Dublin Port for 8:15 – either by taxi or by taking the 7:30 bus from Busaras (price €2.50 – this bus originally leaves Heuston at 7:15)
- Board the Irish Ferries fast craft Jonathan Swift and take the 8:45 sailing to Holyhead, arriving at 10:45.
- After arriving in Holyhead, take the 11:23 Arriva trains service (heading towards Birmingham), and change in either Bangor (Mon-Fri), Chester (Saturday), or go direct (Sunday) for a Virgin Trains service to London
- Arrive in London Euston at 15:39
Alternative route via Dun Laoghaire to London (summer months only)
This option involves taking the HSS from Dun Laoghaire. It only runs for the summer months (it will run from 9th April to 9th September 2014 ). It used to be a better option if you’re travelling from outside Dublin. However the 2014 timetable changes have meant Stena Line takes an extra 30 minutes to cross the Irish Sea, making the whole journey almost an hour longer than it used to be, so this is not the great option it used to be. Unfortunately the return HSS from Holyhead leaves too early in the morning to be reachable from London.
- If you’re travelling from outside Dublin, aim to get the DART to Dun Laoghaire, arriving around 12:30
- Take the 13:15 HSS from Dun Laoghaire
- Arriving at 15:45, take the 16:50 train from Holyhead, changing at Chester for London (16:25 direct on Sundays)
Summary of options Dublin-London
|Dublin to London – option 1||Mon-Fri||Sat||Sun|
|Dublin Port dep (Irish Ferries Jonathan Swift)||08:45||08:45||08:45|
|Change at:||Bangor, arr 12:00 dep 12:24||Chester, arr 13:15 dep 13:35||direct|
|London Euston arr||15:39||15:39||15:45|
|Dublin to London – option 2 (summer only)||Mon-Fri||Sat||Sun|
|Dun Laoghaire dep (Stena HSS)||13:15||13:15||13:15|
|Change at:||Chester, arr 18:26 dep 18:55
Crewe, arr 19:18 dep 19:29
|Chester, arr 18:25 dep 18:55
Crewe, arr 19:18 dep 19:29
|Chester, arr 18:21 dep 18:35|
|London Euston arr||21:06||21:20||20:46|
London to Dublin:
- Take the 0910 direct service from London Euston to Holyhead, arriving at 1250
- Take the Irish Ferries Ulysses slow ferry from Holyhead, leaving at 1410, arriving at 1725
- Take the 12:10 Virgin trains service from London Euston, change at Chester at 14:13, arrive in Holyhead at16:15
- Take the 1725 fast Jonathan Swift service from Holyhead, arriving in Dublin port at 1915
Summary of recommended options
|London to Dublin – Option 1||Mon-Fri||Sat||Sun|
|London Euston dep||09:10||09:10||08:15|
|Change at||direct||direct||Crewe, arr 10:28 dep 10:42|
|Holyhead dep (Irish Ferries Ulysses)||14:10||14:10||14:10|
|Dublin Port arr||17:15||17:15||17:15|
|London to Dublin – Option 2||Mon-Sat||Sun|
|London Euston dep||12:10||11:15|
|Change at||Chester, arr 14:13 dep 14:23||Crewe, arr 13:13 dep 13:27|
|Holyhead dep (Irish Ferries Jonathan Swift)||17:25||17:25|
|Dublin Port arr||19:15||19:15|
Notes on tickets
You can buy a through ticket from any station in Ireland to any station in the UK from any of the Irish Rail travel centres, or by calling Irish Rail in Abbey Street on (01) 703 1885. It’s far cheaper than buying separate tickets: for example a return Limerick-Dover ticket is €120 – incredible value.The tickets are open returns: you can come back whenever you like (within a month).The only decisions you need to make when buying your ticket are when you want to travel out, and what ferry company you want to use. Note Irish Rail can’t book you HSS SailRail tickets, you have to do that direct via Stena.
You have to use the same ferry company in both directions (unlike if you book from the UK). Unless you live on the DART, you’re probably better going with Irish Ferries.
This is a great way to get to the UK, you can just get off in London and start pedalling!
Bikes are carried for free on most UK services, you’ll have to pay Irish Ferries a tenner to take the bike (pay when you get to the port).
Reserving your bike space on the UK trains is slightly complicated, but it can be done (and is free, unlike bloody Irish Rail). Call the Virgin Trains number on +44 8719 774 222 — you won’t have any physical evidence of booking your bike space, and the call centre staff have a habit of shouting “Do you have a reservation number” at you until you give up. Perseverance will get you there though (or don’t bother making a reservation and bring your bike on anyway).
Things to bear in mind
- If the weather is particularly bad, the Jonathan Swift service doesn’t run. It’s worth checking the Irish Ferries website the night before to make sure. I’ve never had a problem. If it isn’t going, you can take the 0805 Ulysses service instead.
- There’s no ATM in Holyhead station/port and the café there has been known not to take credit cards.
The Virgin Trains dining car does not take credit cards (and serves lovely sandwiches).
- If you feel like pampering yourself, you can upgrade to Club Class on Irish Ferries for €18. Free wine, cheese, coffee. Worth it if the ferry is busy. Worth it especially on the Ulysses crossing, which doesn’t have as relaxing an ambience as the Swift. The Stena equivalent is called Stena Plus
- If you’re a smoker, you can buy your fags on the ferry for €6.40.
- You’ll get an antiquated looking ticket, about the same size as an old airline ticket, with your destination written by hand. There are three sheets, the main bit of the ticket (make sure that the ferry companies don’t take this!), an outward ship portion, and an inward ship portion.
- Seat61 page on getting between the UK and Ireland– excellent for explaining your other options, e.g. via Rosslare or Dun Laoghaire
- Irish Ferries status page for tomorrow’s sailings
- Deutsche Bahn journey planner (you can put any station in Ireland and any station in Europe in, and it’ll give you a timetable)
Thomas Bibby, last updated January 2014, firstname.lastname@example.org