Ireland train tours

Galway is Ireland’s westernmost city, on the very end of the train line out of Dublin. It’s the gateway to the Aran Islands, home of possibly the world’s best oysters, and has its own Latin Quarter, thanks to its historic trade links with Spain, Portugal and France.

The city is a popular stop on the Wild Atlantic Way – the 2,500 km-long scenic coastal driving route from Donegal to Kinsale. But it’s also just a 2.5-hour train ride across the country from Dublin, and part of a Wild Atlantic Way by train vacation.

Whilst you can’t travel the actual Wild Atlantic Way by train – there’s no line along the coast – you can visit some of its highlights with minimal driving if you go with a company that can organise transfers from the station. In this way, you can visit one end of the route at Kinsale in County Cork, and the city of Galway in its middle.
Get close to Ireland’s true highlight on its trains – not its coast road, its cliffs or its cities – but its people.
“This trip is designed to take advantage of what exists,” says Chris Hendrie. He lives in Ennis, County Clare, and has been designing trips for our expert Ireland rail partner McKinlay Kidd for years. Since arriving in Ireland, he’s been sure to add his favourite places onto itineraries – adding in transfers by car and ferry to reach them when the train isn’t possible. “No one is building new train lines in Ireland.”

The best rail vacations in Ireland come with support from an experienced operator like McKinlay Kidd, who can fill in the gaps in the network with transfers, keeping the trip low carbon and low-stress.

It means that when you alight at a station in an unfamiliar place, there’s a friendly guide or driver ready to greet you. When you get to Ennis, Chris’s home town, you’ll have insider tips of the best live music venues.

Ireland’s vanishing railways

“The Irish rail system isn’t particularly extensive,” says Chris. “There’s no train in County Donegal and there’s only one train line in Northern Ireland.”

Ireland was reported having the fourth highest transport emissions per capita in Europe in 2021 – in no small part because less than five percent of journeys are taken by train.

If you’d come to Ireland in the 1920s, you’d have been taken aback – the rail network then was a vascular and intricate. It has since halved in size and been partially dismantled. Some of the routes have been converted into brilliant cycle paths.

For travelers, one of the repercussions is that it’s easy to navigate. You’re generally either traveling out of Dublin, or back in. Most of Ireland’s most celebrated attractions are on the west coast, so you tend to travel to the end of the line and journeys aren’t much longer than three hours.

People, places & pubs

The hospitality industry in Ireland is first class. Everyone just wants you to have a terribly good time.
The green, white and yellow trains that trundle out of Dublin fit Ireland well. They’re relaxed, convivial spaces and get you close to Ireland’s true highlight. Not its coast road, its cliffs or its cities – but its people.

“The Irish really know how to welcome people,” says Chris. He speaks fondly of Ennis, his home. “On hearing an accent most people will be asking questions – ‘What brings you to Ennis?’ they’ll say. People say good morning in the street; it’s disarming in that way.”

“The hospitality industry in Ireland is first class,” agrees Dwight McGann, who travelled on our Ireland vacation by train. “Everyone just wants you to have a terribly good time.”

“Sit at the bar and have a chat with some of the local people,” Michael Worthley, another of our travelers, agrees. “Much of Ireland has rapidly changed in the last 10-15 years and a great way to understand that is to hear how from its people.”

In Galway, people are far easier to prise open than their famous oysters are. And over the border in Belfast? “People are some of the funniest and friendliest you’ll ever meet,” says Chris. “The humour is black as coal.”

Exploring Ireland off the rails

Since most rail journeys in Ireland aren’t very long, you can expect a packed itinerary once you alight at the station.

“There’s loads of stuff to do,” says Mark Worthington, head of product marketing at McKinlay Kidd, who also runs our Wild Atlantic Way guided rail tour. The bars are unmissable, as are the Aran Islands. But there are stranger activities too – such as seaweed foraging?

“Go at low tide and roll your trousers up,” says Mark, describing the tasting tour you can do on the shore with a local expert. “There’s one that by all accounts tastes just like black truffle.”

This trip tries to be car free – but not completely. As well as a couple of small transfers, there are a few Irish ‘cars’ that you should try, if you can. In Killarney, jaunting cars have been used for over 200 years. These aren’t motorised – the ‘cars’ are horse-drawn carriages and were used as public transport long before the railway came. Tourists can still ride in one today, thanks to a family who has run tours in the area for generations.

On the Aran Islands, you’ll need something with a bit more horsepower. “We have a guide who has a specially adapted Land Rover,” says Chris. “It will take you way off the beaten track – you’d never go there on your own.”

Cinematic scenes, from Derry to the Aran Islands

The scene out of the train window in Ireland is often a director’s dream – sun lighting one half of the world and rain lashing the other.

It’s ironic that an island that is unassuming and very rural finds itself in spotlights over and over. Game of Thrones continues to bring visitors interested to see the Northern Irish landscapes behind some of the famous scenes of the television show. Thanks to nostalgic nineties sitcom Derry Girls, the city of Derry/Londonderry has experienced a massive revival.

At the time of writing, the Aran Islands are getting ready for their close-up after featuring in 2022 awards season darling The Banshees of Inisherin, part of which is filmed on Inis Mór. To visit the set, you need to swap the train for a ferry at Galway, and a guide will meet you on the island to take you around.

You’ll be keeping your eyes peeled at every stop, trying to discover what the next source of cinematic inspiration will be as you pull away from the station.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Ireland or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Places to visit by train in Ireland


Ireland’s rail network radiates out from Dublin’s three major railway stations. Before you embark, make sure you stroll around the city’s walkable center, via stout at the Guinness Storehouse and a library of treasures at Trinity College, before the train takes you west into Ireland’s rural landscapes.


The rail network in Northern Ireland looks very sparse on a map. However, there is a direct train to Belfast from Dublin. Once you’re here, swap the train for one of the city’s famous black cab tours, which give you an unflinching account of the city’s recent history.


Galway is a waterfront city on right the Wild Atlantic Way. In the evenings, the glow from dozens of pubs draws you in from the cold, and as soon as you open the door you’ll hear trad music from flute and fiddle. Just outside the city, you can swap folk for rock, marvelling at the striking geological formations of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.


A small town in County Clare, two stops down the train line from Limerick, friendly Ennis feels like home – if your home happens to have dozens of pubs, that is. These aren’t just watering holes: there is a thriving trad music scene in town, that’s long been fostered in its bars.


Far down in the south of the country, among its highest mountains, you’ll find the town of Killarney, and its provincial park, centerd around three lakes and some of the country’s oldest woodland. Unsurprisingly, this pretty place is one of the highlights of the Ring of Kerry scenic driving route.

Rail journey travel times in Ireland

A rough idea of the travel times by rail between attractions in Ireland.

Highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way by train

    Dublin to Galway: 2 hours 30 minutes Galway to Ennis: 1 hour 20 minutes Ennis to Killarney: 2 hours 40 minutes; change at Limerick Killarney to Dublin: 3 hours 30 minutes

Dublin, Galway & Belfast by train

    Dublin to Galway: 2 hours 30 minutes Dublin to Belfast: 2 hours 20 minutes


Escorted rail tour or self guided rail vacation?

If you want to travel in a friendly small group, then consider an escorted rail vacation for great craic. Going by train in a small group means that you’ll have a tour leader with you for the journey, and you’ll always have someone to talk to at the bar.

If you’d rather explore at your own pace, go for a self guided vacation. You’ll get all your tickets and accommodation booked for you, and still be met by tour guides in the destinations, but you’ll have peace and quiet in the evenings and on the train – or a chance to make your own friends, if you get chatting to other passengers.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Yoshihiro] [Intro: Yoshihiro] [People, places & pubs: Morgan Lane] [Dublin: Alex Block] [Practicalities: IrishFireside]