Irish Rail Sail
As part of my #AllTheLinesEurope project I planned a trip to Ireland to cover all the railway lines that I hadn’t previously travelled.
The Travel Ticket
The outbound trip was most cost effective using the Rail/Sail through ticket from Bolton to Athlone costing £54.30, plus a £1.50 booking fee. Book here.
My journey was:
Northern Rail Bolton to Manchester Piccadilly
Arriva Train Wales Manchester Piccadilly to Holyhead
Stena Holyhead to Dublin
Irish Railways Dublin to Athlone
The ticket covers all of the journey except from the ferry port into Dublin. A bus service is available that serves Connolly Station, College Green and Heuston Station and other city centre locations.
There are two ferry companies plying the Holyhead to Dublin route: Irish Ferries and Stena. For this trip I chose Stena as I had heard that the onboard service is better than with Irish Ferries. The service was good but I had upgraded to the Stena Plus Lounge onboard so I would expect it to be good!
For this trip I started in Bolton and travelled with Northern Rail through to Manchester Piccadilly. The journey planner had suggested quite a tight connection at Manchester Oxford Rd – knowing that there had been issues with the reliability of Northern Rail I decided to take an earlier train and change at Piccadilly, there are more shops and cafes at Piccadilly.
The onwards train from Manchester Piccadilly to Holyhead was a comfortable locomotive hauled air conditioned train with the added advantage that the windows at the doors opened to enable taking photos. This train also offered an at seat trolley service.
The train passes through Chester and then along the North Wales Coast with good views of the Dee Estuary and Irish Sea. The train passes beneath Conway Castle, with views on the approach of the castle and then crosses the Britannia Bridge to reach Anglesey with views of the Menai Bridge and if you are eagle eyed you will spot Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Station.
At Holyhead you step of the train and arrive at the check in area for the ferries in a few steps. At Check In they tag luggage and issue a Boarding Pass, when checking in they ask for your name which is then shown on the Boarding Pass.
Once checked in you go through to a waiting area prior to boarding buses that drive you onto the ferry. Once onboard there is a lift on the ferry or stairs – if using the lift you may have to wait some time as it is heavily used. Once onboard you have a choice of areas to sit and different food and drink outlets or you can do as I did upgrade to the Stena Plus Lounge for £18.
The Stena Plus Lounge Experience
The £16 entry fee gives access to an exclusive lounge at the front of the ship with table service for food orders.
The entry fee includes tea and coffee, mineral water, soft drinks and wine together with various snacks.
The waiter service allows you to order from the menu, food is payable, I ordered soup followed by fish and chips – both very tasty! Click here for full menu.
Arrival in Ireland
The Irish Sea crossing takes 3 hours 15 minutes – which gives time to enjoy a late lunch and be comfortably delivered to the docks close to Dublin City Centre. To disembark the ship you have to walk back down to the buses that drove you onto the ship, or take the lift, and get driven off to the baggage reclaim and then pass through a passport check. From the docks there is a bus service is available that serves Connolly Station, College Green and Heuston Station and other city centre locations.
The journey from docking to Heuston Station did take a long time mainly due to a delay in disembarking and then the bus getting caught up in evening rush hour traffic. My timetabled connection from Dublin Heuston to Athlone was at 18.30, but I did not arrive until 18.50! I was OK with the delay as there was a later from Heuston to Athlone at 19.35, the last train of the day….
The journey to Athlone was pleasant and arrived on time and my hotel was just over a 5-minute walk from the station.
Would I do this again? Yes! However, if I was travelling on further than Dublin I would be tempted to take a taxi from the docks as it was a little stressful wondering if I would make the connection at Heuston.
To book Rail / Sail to Ireland click here.