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The best way to travel between Manchester and Dublin is by train and ferry not Ryanair

I've been travelling across the Irish Sea since I was 6, and in my opinion the best way to get from Manchester to Dublin and back is by train and ferry using Arriva Trains Wales to Holyhead and Stena Line fast ferry to Dun Laoghaire. From London you can take Virgin Trains to Holyhead. It's comfortable, enjoyable, relaxing, you can get some work done, and it's cheaper than you'd think. Please note fares and timetables change all the time, so be sure to find the most up to date information.

Ryanair: Cheap fares but with a catch or two

Ryanair offer relatively low fares but at a price:

  • You have to book in advance to get the cheapest fares.
  • There are check-in baggage fees, credit and debit card fees, and other fees
  • If booking at very short notice, the fares can be very high.
  • You are tied to your travel dates and times unless you want to pay a large amendment fee.
  • You have to get to and from two airports and pay the fares on public transport.
  • You have to go wait in queues, turn out your bags and pockets, go through security checks, submit to carry-on restrictions, switch off your electronic items, sit in a restricted space and strap yourself in.

If you need to get there and back the same day, then there is no doubt the plane is best. But if you have a little more time, then the train and ferry may be a better option. And believe it or not, it doesn't take that much longer.

I have compared the journey from Piccadilly Station (former London Rd) in Manchester to Connolly Station (former Amiens St) in Dublin travelling by plane and train/ferry, departing Manchester mid to late morning, and arriving in Dublin late afternoon. I'm assuming there is one piece of check in luggage.

From Manchester to Dublin by train, plane and bus

To allow for possible delays or train cancellations, it's advisable to arrive at the airport at least an hour and a half before departure time. The afternoon Ryanair flight to Dublin is at 1.45pm, check in closes 40 minutes before at 1.05 pm, so you should aim to be at the airport around 12.15pm. Remember there's a walk of around 10-15 minutes from the station platform to the Ryanair check-in desk in Terminal 1. Hopefully the moving walkways are not out of order. To arrive by 12.15 pm, at Manchester Airport, you need to take the 11.53 am departure from Manchester Piccadilly, arriving 12.14 pm.

You stand in line, check in, go through security, walk to the gate, wait for boarding to commence, get on the plane, strap yourself in, the plane taxis to the runway and takes off at around 2pm.

After just 40 minutes or so in the air, the plane lands at Dublin Airport and parks at the terminal at around 2.55 pm. Then you need to walk from there (wear a good pair of shoes!) to the baggage collection area. Depending on how busy it is it could be 45 minutes to an hour before you emerge in the arrivals area. Then you wait for the next airport bus, probably the one at 3.50pm. You will arrive at Connolly Station at around 4.30 pm.

Total journey time from Piccadilly Manchester to Connolly Dublin: Four hours and forty minutes.

Ryanair Boeing 737 outside Dublin Airport old terminal building.

From Manchester to Dublin by train, fast ferry and DART

Now the train/ferry - There's a direct train to Holyhead at 10.03 am, but we will take a later train bound for Llandudno, and change at Chester. Our departure time is 11.16 am. As soon as we are on the train, we have over an hour of relaxation or work time. I prefer to work on my Apple laptop - but then I doze off! Too many late nights! The train arrives at Chester around 12.20. It's off the train and over the footbridge for the train to Holyhead, which leaves at 12.35.

More snoozing, creativity, or admiring the scenery of North Wales, especially Anglesey. The train gets into Holyhead at 2.30 and from the platform, it's just a short walk into the terminal.

After a couple of minutes waiting in line, you go through a brief check-in procedure where you give in your bag, provide your name, and receive a boarding card. Security checks are not stringent, and it's a short walk along the ramp and onto the turbine-powered catamaran-style fast ferry, the HSS 'Explorer'.

The journey on the fast ferry is an hour and a half. You can walk around, enjoy a meal, have some of the black stuff - it tastes good - admire the views, have a cigarette on the rear deck (if you smoke, I don't), sleep, chat to fellow travellers, and before you know it you're in Dun Laoghaire at 5.30. The DART station is just opposite the ferry terminal. At around 6pm, you are at Connolly Station in the centre of Dublin.

Total journey time: six hours forty-five minutes.

DART train at Tara Street Station Dublin heading south towards Dun Laoghaire

By plane or train/ferry to Dublin

The walk-up price in 2014 is around 60 return - it's the same when booked a week or a month beforehand: The DART to Dublin is 3.05 euros.

If you walked up to the Ryanair desk at Manchester Airport and booked a ticket to Dublin for immediate departure it could cost you around 150 or possibly nearly 200. Of course, with Ryanair, it goes without saying, if you book via the website a couple of weeks in advance, you'd probably find the lowest fare is 9.99 or 12 including taxes, a seemingly unbeatable fare. But this is the 'stripped down' fare. It still needs to be 'dressed' with further charges.

Visiting Ryanair.com on Tuesday 31 Dec 2013 and entering a departure on the following Monday 6 January at on any of the four flights from Manchester to Dublin, the fare was 36.99. Returning Wednesday 8 January, the two morning flights were 9.99 one way and the two later flights were 25.99

Baggage fee: 15 departing from Manchester. 15 departing from Dublin

So departing on Monday and returning later on Wednesday, the total cost is 92.98

Don't forget the cost of transfers to and from the two airports on the outward and return journeys:

Train Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport single journey 4
Airport bus Dublin Airport to Connolly Station single journey 4.10 (6 euros)

So in total the return journey comes to just over 100!

Okay, this is not the cheapest fare. If you can book in advance, be flexible about your travel dates, and take only carry-on luggage, then you can fly from Manchester to Dublin and back for 19.98.

And since I first wrote this article, I've noticed that Ryanair have made their charges more reasonable. The website offers a better user experience. The low fares are still available.

Ryanair is unbeatable for longer journeys across Europe, and offers a very good service - I've used it quite a few times. And I love the views from the plane, if the weather is clear.

But if you have a little more time to spare, then in my opinion, the journey by train and ferry between Manchester and Dublin offers a more relaxing alternative to the plane, and can still be cheaper.

Stena HSS leaving Dun Laoghaire harbour

To sum up, here are the advantages of the train and ferry:

  • A very reasonable walk-up fare of around 60 pounds return (2014 prices - please check the latest fares)
  • High quality uninterrupted relaxation or work time on the train and fast ferry
  • Flexibility of booking - you can change your outward journey at no charge. The return leg doesn't even need to be reserved
  • No stringent security checks
  • No need for photo ID
  • Far more generous baggage allowance.
  • A much shorter distance to walk.
  • Fabulous scenery along the North Wales coast and around Dublin Bay
  • Eat, drink and relax on the fast ferry

For up to date information go to: Stena Line Arriva Trains Wales, Virgin Trains, Ryanair and Aer Lingus

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-06-18

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