SailRail information - Thomas Bibby


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):

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. Board the Irish Ferries fast craft Jonathan Swift and take the 8:45 sailing to Holyhead, arriving at 10:45.
  4. 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
  5. 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.

  1. If you’re travelling from outside Dublin, aim to get the DART to Dun Laoghaire, arriving around 12:30
  2. Take the 13:15 HSS from Dun Laoghaire
  3. 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
Holyhead arr 10:45 10:45 10:45
Holyhead dep 11:23 11:23 11:50
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
Total time 6:54 6:54 7:00
Dublin to London – option 2 (summer only) Mon-Fri Sat Sun
Dun Laoghaire dep (Stena HSS) 13:15 13:15 13:15
Holyhead arr 15:45 15:45 15:45
Holyhead dep 16:50 16:50 16:25
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
Total time 7:51 8:05 7:31

London to Dublin:

Option 1:

  1. Take the 0910 direct service from London Euston to Holyhead, arriving at 1250
  2. Take the Irish Ferries Ulysses slow ferry from Holyhead, leaving at 1410, arriving at 1725

Option 2:

  1. Take the 12:10 Virgin trains service from London Euston, change at Chester at 14:13, arrive in Holyhead at16:15
  2. 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 arr 12:50 12:50 12:43
Holyhead dep (Irish Ferries Ulysses) 14:10 14:10 14:10
Dublin Port arr 17:15 17:15 17:15
Total time 8:05 8:25 9:00
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 arr 16:15 15:55
Holyhead dep (Irish Ferries Jonathan Swift) 17:25 17:25
Dublin Port arr 19:15 19:15
Total time 7:05 8:00

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.

The ferry companies have now started offering SailRail bookings directly on their website – booking is available from the Irish Ferries homepage, or Stena have a special page on SailRail.

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.

Bringing bikes

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.

Useful links:

Thomas Bibby, last updated January 2014, [email protected]

7 thoughts on “SailRail information

  1. Brilliant! I’ve always said that Sail’n’Rail is brilliant. The only point I would make is that the drunken truckers are not a problem – it’s all the kids from 5-17 years that are the problem. Apart from that, your analysis of how Dublin to London, or Dublin to John o’ Groats or Land’s End, can be done was perfect. Ann and I have travelled this way for about 6 or 7 years now. For our next holiday in September we will be going to see Leonard Cohen in Verona and then we’ll get a train through northern Italy, Switzerland and on to Brussels, then we’ll get a train from Brussels to London and Sail’n’Rail from London back home to Dublin. A problem is that Irish Ferries call it Sail and Rail, while Stena say it’s Rail and Sail, (or the other way round).

    1. Hi Gerry, you’re right, the kids can be a pain — I find a bottle of wine shared with a friend can be a good way of lessening the pain!
      Good luck with your trip to Italy – last time I took the sleeper from Italy it was wasn’t so nice, but the man in Seat 61 reckons that a new company have taken over the service now…

  2. Thank you for taking the time to post this very useful information. I’ve travelled by boat and train to London quite a few times and I love doing it this way. They don’t exactly make it obvious what the options are, so it’s great to see it set out clearly like this!

  3. Thank you for the information! My friends and I are travelling from Canada to Dublin to London at the end of the June and I’m going to pitch this as an option for the Dublin-London connection. Cheers!

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