We are flying into London at the beginning of May 2008 and plan to make our way (quickly) to Edinburgh for a few days, then on to Ireland for 12 days before flying out of Dublin. For our "country" time in Ireland, we plan to rent a car. We would like to hit 3 or 4 areas in Ireland - currently we are thinking Northern Ireland / Antrim Coast, County Clare, Dingle Penninsula, and Dublin. At this point I am just trying to figure out logistics - easiest way to get from London to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Ireland, where to pick up a car, how long to stay in each area, and how to arrange our Ireland "loop." Any feedback or suggestions are greatly appreciated!
Ryanair and Easyjet both fly out of Edinburgh. Easyjet flies only to Belfast, though. Ryanair flies to either Shannon or Dublin -- I checked for March 2008 -- was 0.49 GBP (plus taxes, etc) to Dublin, or 6.99 GBP to Shannon. Easyjet to Belfast was upwards of 20 GBP. It would probably be easiest to fly into Dublin (more flights available), but it's easier to pick up a car and get used to driving on the "wrong" side in Shannon.
Belfast isn't that far from Dublin, but it will take a couple of hours to get there. The other areas you want to see are in the southwest, which is a much longer drive. You can get an idea of driving times and distances at www.viamichelin.com. Alternatively, you could fly into Shannon and do the southwest area, then drive to Belfast and back down to Dublin for departure.
There are airlines flying from Gatwick, Heathrow and London City to Edinburgh (http://www.airflights.to/Edinburgh/flights-to-Edinburgh/flights-London-Edinburgh.php5)
Rail may be more convenient.
As others have said, assuming you want to get to Edinburgh ASAP, the best way depends upon where you'll land. Which airport?
From Edinburgh you could either fly to Shannon on Ryanair or Cork on Aer Arann, pick up a rental car, and head for the Dingle Peninsula. Work your way north to Northern Ireland and then south to Dublin. Or if you decide that's too rushed, you could skip Northern Ireland and save it for another trip.
Thanks so much for all the feedback - it's much appreciated...
We are flying into Gatwick at 10:00 on Monday the 12th and the train is definitely appealing to Edinburgh. Does anyone know if there's a convenient way to train / ferry from Edinburgh to Belfast rather than fly?
It sounds like you and I have something in common: we both like trains. Nevertheless, I suggest that you fly from Gatwick to Edinburgh on easyJet. Leave at 14:25 and arrive at 15:40. Booked now, the fare is £25.99.
Trains run about once/hour, but the walk-up fare for London-Edinburgh is £126! If you book well in advance at www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com, you can get a fare of £12.40; but that ticket would only be good for one specific time--and it's non-refundable. To be safe, you'll need to allow a MINIMUM of four hours between your arrival at LGW and your departure from King's Cross. Spend those same four hours relaxing at LGW rather than making the mad dash from the airport to the train station.
You can take a train from Edinburgh to Troon (one change in Glasgow), a ferry from Troon to Larne, and either a train or bus from Larne to Belfast. See www.directferries.co.uk for timetables and fares. (The Troon-Belfast ferry is no longer in service.)
I would just make sure the ferries are running. When I was over there in the beginning of October, the ferry wasn't running on one of the days because of weather. We chose to fly because it was faster for us to get to our final destination (Dublin). So it will be up to you on what is faster/easier for you.
I would recommend the train myself, as the line North of Newcastle is one of the most scenic in Britain. It also only takes something like 4h30 to Edinburgh. Edinburgh airport is well-connected to the City Centre via a bus-link, but that's still another 30 minutes or so, factor in check-in and getting to Stansted or Luton (generally where the budget airlines fly from), and it takes about the same amount of time as the train.
You can get a Rail+Ferry ticket from any railway station in Britain, and a convenient route is Edinburgh - Glasgow - Stranraer. The station at Stranraer is at the ferry terminal, and that will take you to Belfast. The crossing is about 3h15, and there are 7 per day. Indicatively, it'll be about £50 each from Edinburgh to Belfast.
Thank you so much for the feedback. I am surprised to admit that we are leaning toward flying London (Gatwick) to Edinburgh, then after 3 days flying again, Glasgow to Cork. There is so much we want to do and see, and the costs just can't be beat.
Again - I value all the opinions shared - I am sure I will continue to have questions as we plan!
If you are flying, remember to check the fees and luggage limits for the airlines. It's not clear which, if any airlines and/or airports, will permit more than one bag and the size limit is not being changed.
Also, the major airlines will limit you to one 20kg checked bag. The discount airlines often have a much lower checked bag weigh limit and many charge you for checking a bag and for checking in at the airport (which you must do if you are checking a bag).
It may end up being cheaper to take train once you factor in all the airline fees. The train is certainly more relaxed - as long as you avoid railworks and big football/rugby game crowds - and you can sometimes get a good deal on 1st class tickets if you book ahead. A nice little splurge on a trip.