London to Dublin via train+ferry

Has anyone recently made the journey from London to Dublin using the train+ferry combination vs flying? We are planning a trip for mid-July 2009 and have heard conflicting stories about the experience. Is it a nightmare or is it wonderful? Thanks!

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8640 posts

I haven't used the combination myself, but see here for a detailed description and an enthusiastic endorsement from a true train expert.

Posted by Jean
Dallas, TX, USA
9 posts

Thanks, I actually was looking at that site earlier today. A friend of mine insists that it would be a nightmare - she said she read that somewhere; she hasn't actually done the trip. A friend who lived in London for most of her life has never made the trip either.

Posted by Nicole
Milwaukee
194 posts

I did this trip while I studied in London in fall 2002. It was a nightmare more than it was wonderful. The train ride was very long and lots of train changes. The ferry was really unenjoyable, as we were on it during the night, and tried to sleep on the floor/benches, but that didn't work. On the way back it wasn't as bad, since we were more refreshed, but still. I'd opt for flying!

Posted by Jean
Dallas, TX, USA
9 posts

Thanks, I was afraid you'd say that but thanks for being honest and sharing your experience!

Posted by Peter
Manchester
461 posts

I've not gone as far as London but I travelled Manchester-Dublin back when I was a student. It's a fine travel option but not something I'd do purely for the experience.

It was a good choice for me because at the time I was a student and therefore cash poor and time rich. This was also just before the budget airlines really took of.

I'm not sure I'd do it now - I could fly in a fraction of the time and, by booking in advance, pretty much the same cost. Even if I had to pay more to fly it would be worth it to save the time - who wants to spend most of the day on vacation sat on a train?

Posted by Glenn
Tucson
28 posts

Did Sail/Rail from London to Belfast. It was an interesting enough experience the first time, that we planned on it the second visit. It's a great way to see the UK if you have the time to do so. I imagine that the London-Dublin route would be similar. If you can choose the high-speed ferry service, its a real treat.

Glenn in Tucson

Posted by Jean
Dallas, TX, USA
9 posts

Glenn - how long did it take? Someonetold me it could take up to 8 hours. We were all but giving up in the train until
I saw your post!

Posted by Chris
Puyallup, WA, USA
881 posts

I did bus/ferry 10 years ago, and it was awful. The bus portion was fine, nice, and quite comfortable.

The ferry however, was awful. Full of screaming kids, and drunks doing a 1 day return so they could buy cheap beer in the duty free. It was pretty horrible.

I'd definitely do it again if i was taking a car from England to Ireland. But for just travel, I would fly. It was a neat trip of the boat - but not that neat.

PS - Took the main ferry route into Dublin, forget the departure city, but somewhere in Wales.

Posted by Peter
Manchester
461 posts

8 hours is about right. Look at a map, London to Holyhead takes you diagonally across the country - from south-east England to north-west Wales, then you have to connect to the ferry.

The National Rail journey planner shows the times. Use either Dublin or Dun Laoghaire as the destination.

I'm not sure what you expect from the trip. It's not a quick option but if you have the time and are trying to save money or don't want to fly or really like trains then it's fine. There's nothing special about the train or the ferry - they are just normal services.

P.S. there no duty free between the UK and the RoI and there wasn't 10 years ago.

Posted by Glenn
Tucson
28 posts

It takes about 2 hours for the crossing from Stanraer in Scotland to Belfast, and about 8 hours or so from London to Stanraer. Not sure on the timing on London to Dublin, but probably same amount of time.

However, put that up against the following conditions for flying with Flybe or Ryan Air, or any of the other jails with wings that the UK and the Republic uses for local air transport.

Get up early to get to airport. Get there really early to check in your bags, and get charged some additional fee due to the phase of the moon making your bag 1 oz heavier. Stand in long slow line to have someone paw through your carry on. Get to uncomfortable seats in airport waiting area. Find out that your plane is being rerouted due to mechanical difficulties. Leave waiting area to get new tickets, and then go through security again. Same guy paws your stuff. Go back to waiting area. New flight will leave in 2 to 3 hours. This flight now cancelled due to less people on plane than makes financial sense to fly. Complain loudly at ticket counter again. Say hi to Harry as he paws through your luggage again. Harry asks about the souvenirs you picked up in the waiting room. Get put on flight to nearest other airport, and then get put on a bus from Exeter to Cardiff (oops, this is supposed to be theory, not horrible experience).

Verses - get on train. No additional fee for baggage. Can get up and wander around to hearts content during travel. Most trains have food for sale that you wouldn't mind eating, and a bathroom bigger than a refrigerator box. Scenery out of window is of interesting things, unlike the tops of clouds.

Time spent - ended up taking us about the same amount of time to fly from Belfast to Exeter and then bus to Cardiff, as if we had done rail sail. It was also much more stressful. Your mileage may vary, but rail/sail is a viable alternative.

Glenn in Tucson

Posted by Glenn
Tucson
28 posts

For Peter in Manchester

Note: I live in Arizona, in the US and the train may be a normal local service in the UK, but certainly isn't here. There is an exotic fun quality to the travel on that, enough that I've planned on doing more of it on future vists to the UK.

Also doesn't hurt that my Dad is a retired Southern Pacific railroad engineer, and I spent many of my childhood visits with him on freight trains - and occasionally violated many, many, many federal laws by "driving" the train.

Glenn in Tucson

Posted by Peter
Manchester
461 posts

@Glenn

Your post was where I was aiming when I asked the OP what they were looking for from the trip. She initially asked Is it a nightmare or is it wonderful? which is difficult to answer as the answer is neither. It's simply 3.5 hours on an unremarkable intercity train and the same on a ferry.

As a default the train is much more pleasant than flying and all things being equal I'd always choose the train. In this particular case though I think I'd choose to fly, even with the mild unpleasantness (which I think you slightly exaggerated) for about the same cost I'd take a 3hr door to door trip over an 8hr plus one.

The one clear advantage that the rail/sail tickets have is price. £29 is a steal anyway but this is also the walk up fare - I could walk-up to the counter now and ask for a ticket on the next train to Dublin and this is what I'd pay. You can get similar prices on the low-cost airlines but only if you book in advance on non-flexible tickets.

It's a decision only Jean can make based on her own priorities - how much does she like trains, how important are finances and flexibility, how many days does she have in the UK (can she spare a full day of that to travel...)

As I said in my first post the rail/sail is an option, one I've used myself, but it does have obvious limitations. At the time I had little money and lots of time and it fit my needs, now my priorities are different and I'd probably make a different choice. TBH if I was in the same situation now, with all the budget airlines available, I'd probably fly.

Posted by Jean
Dallas, TX, USA
9 posts

Thanks to everyone for your posts. My husband & I didn't realize it would take so long on the rail/sail option so we are going to fly so we don't spend a whole day of our vacation on the train - and price is not a consideration on this trip since it is our long overdue honeymoon (3 years later...) Someday I will take the train though as I think it sounds like an adventure! ;). Thanks again!