Eight car free Irish breaks

Eight weekend trips for motorists who’d prefer to explore Ireland by bus or train


When it feels like you spend half your day driving to work and the other half driving home, the prospect of hitting the road for a weekend break can lose its appeal. So hop on the bus, Gus – or the Dart, Luas or train Jane – and set yourself car-free. Here are eight breaks without wheels that won’t drive you around the bend.

1. Wake up in Wicklow

If it’s been a while since you’ve been on a Bus Éireann bus, you’re in for a treat. The newer models have big deep seats, plush upholstery and windows so tinted they’d make a limo blush. There’s free wifi and even a USB jack to power up your phone as you go. Board the 133 in Dublin city centre and you’ll be in Wicklow Town before you know it. Okay an hour and 20 minutes. Stay in the Grand Hotel (grandhotel.ie) for rooms from €50 a night, right in the centre of things. The bus stops right outside. Or opt for one of the growing number of AirBnB options for even less. For the price of very little shoe leather you can join Sammy the Seal as he crosses the road for his tea at The Fish Man restaurant on the quays, or hire a kayak from Wicklow Boat Hire (wicklowboathire.ie) and head up the Leitrim River. The guys will tell you how to time it right so you can float upstream, and then sail back down again, without lifting a paddle.

2. Have a corker of a weekend in Cork

Open-top buses are too good to leave to tourists. They’re also a handy way of getting around if you’ve decided to ditch the car. In Cork, book yourself onto Bus Éireann’s Cork Harbour Great Island Experience, tickets €10 per adult, for a tour that picks up at various locations around the city and takes you to the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, the wildlife park, house and arboretum at Fota Island and the historic maritime town of Cobh. Visit the Titanic Experience (titanicexperiencecobh.ie) visitor centre and leave enough time for a trip with Ocean Escapes Harbour Tours (oceanescapesireland.com) around Spike Island, tickets from €30 per person. Back in Cork city, stay somewhere that’s central like the Imperial, (flynnhotels.com) currently offering Autumn Treat packages of two nights B&B plus one dinner from €169 per person.

3. Shake a leg in Liscannor

You can get to some of the most remote parts of Ireland by bus. A Bus Éireann trip from Busaras in Dublin city centre, changing outside the GMIT campus in Galway, will get you to right to the door of the Liscannor Cliffs of Moher hotel in Co Clare (cliffsofmoherhotel.com). Admittedly it takes the best part of a day (six hours and 48 minutes to be precise) but as long as someone else is behind the wheel, it’s just as nice to travel as it is to arrive. The hotel has two-night weekend stays in a double in October available online from €218 and is the perfect base for a weekend of trekking along the stunning new 18.5km Cliffs of Moher coastal walk (cliffsofmoher.ie).

4. Take a hike in Dublin

Take full advantage of a capital city that is surrounded by spectacular countryside. Take the Luas to Tallaght and head for Sean Walsh Park, starting point of the Dublin Mountains Way, a 43km marked trail taking you through the Featherbed Forest and Glenasmole Valley all the way to Shankill in the east. Break it into stages so you can take your time at points of interest along the way such as the Hellfire Club or the Fairy Castle, a prehistoric cairn on top of Two Rock – the highest point on the trail. Just make sure you’re somewhere near Johnny Fox’s pub in time for lunch, or dinner. Break up your perambulations with an overnight detour on the 44 bus to stay in the ‘Alpine village’ of Enniskerry. Rooms at the Powerscourt Arms Hotel start from €80 for a double (powerscourtarms.com) or Ferndale B&B (Ferndalehouse. com) from €40 per person. dublinmountains.ie

5. Follow a food festival

One way to ensure you don’t need to drive is to build your weekend break around a food festival. Like Napoleon’s army, you’ll be marching on your stomach from restaurant to cookery demonstration to wine tasting – a car would be a liability. There are plenty this autumn that are accessible by public transport. Train it from Dublin to Tralee and then board the 275 bus bound for the annual Dingle Food Festival (dinglefood.com, September 30th to October 2nd) with a 60-venue Taste Trail allowing you sample the best of local fare. The following weekend you’ve a choice of dishes including Kinsale’s 40th Gourmet Festival – reached by getting the train to Cork city and the 226 bus out – and Taste of Monaghan, reached from Dublin via the Number 32 Expressway bus.

6. Take to a tower

If there’s one thing better than living in a city that’s backed by mountains, it’s living in one that fronts on to the sea. Dublin’s got both which is why, for a coastal break in a capital location, all you have to do is hop on the DART. Head north for a luxury self-catering break that is both handy to get to and as remote as you’d like at the Martello Tower Sutton. Built in 1804 and beautifully restored, it sits on the coastline at Red Rock and offers two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living area with balcony, a kitchen in the top storey and 360-degree panoramic views from the roof. Bookable online, weekend breaks cost from €799 – bank holiday weekends from €975 – plus Dart fare. martellotowersutton.com

7. Have a coastal break in the capital

There’s no tastier treat than a seafood break in one of Dublin’s coastal villages. A short ride on the Dart brings you north to Howth, the city’s best-known fishing village. Watch the boats bring in their bounty, fill up on seafood tapas at Octopussys on the pier and walk it all off by climbing up scenic Howth Head. Or head south on the Dart line to Dalkey Village for a seafood platter at Ouzos, which has its own fishing boat and lands its own crab, lobster and shrimp. AirBnB (airbnb.ie) is your best bet for accommodation in either location, with double rooms available in Dalkey from €75 a night and a self-catering log cabin right in the centre of town for €90. In Howth you’ll find a terraced townhouse on AirBnB, sleeping four, from €159 a night.

8. Ditch the motor for music

With a music festival you have the benefit of a packed itinerary without having to pack up the car. Bus or train it to Cork for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival (October 28th to 31st, guinnessjazzfestival.com) where more than 90 city centre venues will be cranking up the volume for acts including Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Loudon Wainwright III and Picture This, among many more.

Or head to Wexford for its 65th Opera Festival (wexfordopera.com, October 26th to November 6th) for performances of Donizetti’s Maria de Rudenz and Samuel Barber’s Vanessa and Félicien David’s Herculaneum. While you’re there, take one of the Opera Tours led by expert guides exploring places of historical interest. These free tours leave the Talbot Hotel car park at 10.30, back by 1pm in time for lunchtime recitals, and if you don’t have a car don’t worry, people who do make room for people who don’t.

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