Things to know before planning your trip to Dublin, Ireland

If you're thinking of a trip to Irish Republic, this post provides lots of
insights and tips to help you plan better. All based on my personal experience and observations during my 5 day visit to Ireland.

#1. Visa for Ireland:
Ireland is part of EU but not part of Schengen. So Schengen visa won't work. You will need a separate visa to visit Ireland. However Indian and Chinese passport holders can avail a scheme called BIVS-British Irish Visa Scheme in which you can enter both UK and Ireland with one visa, with condition that you should enter the country that issued the visa first. (I.e. if visa issued by UK, you should visit UK first and then travel to Ireland from there).  You can apply for BIVS either with UK Consulate or Irish Consulate (both handled by VFS Global in India) depending on where you will be landing first. More details on UK Tourist visa for Indians here

You will typically get a non-renewable 90 day entry into Ireland upon arrival, which is more than enough for tourism.

#2. Flying to Ireland
Dublin is Ireland's main airport. However Dublin gets lot fewer flights compared to various airports around London. There're no direct flights between India and Dublin. Thus it may be a bit more expensive to fly to Dublin compared to London. A lot cheaper option will be to fly to London, spend a day or two and take a short flight (or ferry) to Ireland from there. However plan this in sync with your Visa. (if issued by UK you should land in UK first, if issued by Ireland, you should land first in Ireland)

Besides Dublin, you can try flying direct to Shannon, Cork or Knock airports if it suits your itinerary and budget. (Belfast as well, but that is technically UK)

#3. Travel from Dublin Airport to City
Buses are available to reach Dublin City centre from Dublin airport, typically costs Euro 7. However bus frequency drops greatly after 10 PM, so for late night arrivals be ready to spend on taxi. Finding where exactly your bus awaits can also be tricky for first time visitors- take help from helpdesk staff (located outside arrivals) if you are confused. Google map gives fairly accurate bus information.

#4. Travel within Dublin City
Dublin has a very good network of buses, trains, tams (known as Luas) as well as taxis and tour buses that can get you around the city very comfortably and in time. Understanding how public transport system works can help you select right approach and optimize your savings.

You have multiple options as illustrated below for your commute within Dublin city.
Option 1: TFI (Transport for Ireland) Visitor Card: 
Visitor Card comes with 1 day/3 days or 1 week validity, costing 10, 20 or 40 Euros respectively. This gives you unlimited ride within Dublin city limits for the duration. Details
Pros of Dublin Visitor Card:
  • Lot cheaper than buying a 24 hour hop-on/hop-off ticket (costs 20 Euros online)
  • Unlimited Rides within city limits- no need to worry about balance or top up
Cons of  Dublin Visitor Card:
  • Can't visit outside Dublin city- like can't go to Kilkenny, Cork or other cities. If you're booking day tours to Cliff of Moher or Wicklow or Belfast etc then it is waste of money to have Visitor card and not use it- plan well.
  • A single bus ride costs max 2.5 Euro and there's a 7 Euro max cap even on regular pay as you go Leap card- so unless you're planning to travel a lot, Option 2 might be better.
  • Can't use during next visit- need to buy new card.
  • No personalization, no loss/theft protection.
Option 2: TFI Pay as you go Leap card.
This can be purchased for a 5 Euro deposit plus money can be loaded as you need. I took this option. I paid 5 Euro deposit and loaded with 15 Euro initially, had to load another 10 Euro later. So for about 30 Euros I could manage 5 days. A few Euros are still left in the card and can be used in future visits.

Pros:
#1: Fare Capping: There is a max cap on daily/weekly charge. Like 7 Euros if you use only bus, 10 if you use bus+train etc. So in a way this is better than tourist card-if you're using less,pay less, if you are using a lot, there's a max cap anyway.
#2: Can be used for future visit: You can keep the card as souvenir and unused balance can be used for a future trip or a family member who is visiting
#3 Deposit is refundable- The process is slightly complicated but you can register your card and request for 5 Euro deposit back
#4 Personalization option available: For an extra fee you can have your name and photo on the leap card
#5: Register and get protection against theft/loss: If you register your card, then you can file a complaint and recover unused balance in the card if it is lost or stolen.

Cons:
  • Need to keep an eye on balance and top up if balance goes low
  • 5 Euro deposit applies, refund process is a bit complex
Where to buy Dublin Leap card/Visitor pass? You can buy them online and have it shipped to your address, or can buy them at any of the Dublin Visitor centre shops in person. Some shops may quote a Euro or more than online price for visitor cards.

It is lot of fun to get first row seat in upper deck of double decker bus and watch the road ahead from the height.

Option 3: Hop-on Hop-off Ticket/City tours
Costs around 20-22 Euros and valid for 24 hours from first use- like 11 AM today till 11 AM tomorrow, not necessarily today midnight. There're 3-4 companies that operate hop-on hop off buses in Dublin and there're 2-3 different routes on which they ply. Some buses run every 15 mins, most once in 30 mins

A more customized city tours, amphibious tours (land + water), concept tours like tea tours etc are available- walk into any tourist shop, check the options and select what interests you.

Option 4: Walk
If you are staying Dublin City centre, most key attractions are within walking distance. Might be good idea to walk around on Day 01, buy a travel card/tour for Day 2 onwards and visit far away places.

Option 5: Pay cash to bus driver/buy individual ticket
For buses, trains or trams you can buy a ticket for a specific journey by paying cash or using your contactless card. However driver will not give any change back. Bus journey typically costs 2 to 3.5 Euros if paid in cash Train station vending machines do give change.

#5. Day trips from Dublin
Most popular day trips from Dublin are the following- typically cost 30-50 Euros per person
1. Cliff of Moher Day trip
2. Wicklow Mountain Day trip
3. Belfast/Giant's Causeway Day trip
4. Kilkenny, Cork, Howth, Killarney and other cities in Ireland
5. Man of Isle - Depends on ferry schedule, usually once a week only
6. Liverpool/UK- Ferries available to UK mainland- just a few hours away

#6. Other tips for visiting Dublin/Ireland
1. Booking your trip online could save you 10-20% compared to shop prices. You will need an ability to receive your credit card OTP so plan well. Do check
2. Check for family tickets
3. Check weather- Weather in Ireland is often rainy and windy, not very pleasant. Sunshine occurs only for few weeks/months every year. Plan your visit and day trip factoring weather, else it could be a disappointment. Coach drivers will usually have a less interesting, Plan B destination to take tourists to, if weather is too bad.
4. Right now there's no border check between Ireland and Northern Ireland- but we don't know the new rules once BREXIT happens. If you're visiting Belfast ensure your papers are in order.
5. Multiple Indian restaurants are available
6. Rent a car and drive option is good-particularly if you have a group.
7. Visit duration for Ireland: At least 4-7 days recommended, more at your discretion.

Will write separately about places to visit in Dublin city and about day tours I took from Dublin.

Instead of flying out of Dublin I took a bus to Belfast for 10 Euros, spent 3 nights there and flew further to Edinburgh. I felt spending couple of nights in Belfast is better than doing day trips to Belfast and Giant's Causeway from Dublin. You can plan as per your convenience. 

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