Technically, I guess this post should be called “Tales on Rail, Bus, Boat, and Underground. And A Little Bit of Airport Express Train, Too.” After spending three weeks in Ireland, I decided I wanted to travel to London for my final weekend abroad, and I thought it would be fun to sample different types of transport along the way.
Here I’ll compare the different methods of transport I used and debate about which one was my favorite (hint: a huge deciding factor for me is how much pain au chocolat is available at any given moment on any given form of transportation. In this regard, the ferry wins.)
While in Dublin, I used the City Sightseeing Bus for transportation (and, of course, for some sightseeing). Buses make me somewhat nervous when I’m traveling around a new city (I’m always paranoid I’ll miss my stop!) so I like these sightseeing buses because I know exactly where each one is stopping every single time. No room for error.
The bus commentary is available in 7 languages, and you can ride the bus as often or as little as you like during the time that your ticket is valid. And two children aged 4-12 travel free with each paying adult!
Bus options: Dublin City Sightseeing Tour (available for 2 days of travel), or local buses (pay on-board; most require exact change!)
Ferry is the only way to get from Ireland over to England. You could swim, I guess, but just — please just take the ferry, ok? The ride lasts for about three hours, which is just enough time to thoroughly enjoy all of the on-board amenities. And there are a lot of them! My favorites: the bar, the movie theater (showing two movies: one for kids, one for adults), convenience store, restaurant, cafe, and gambling machines (why not, I guess).
There are also seats and tables scattered throughout, many of which were being used for morning naps (the ferry left at 8am and it was a Saturday, so I’m guessing there may have been some hangovers happening).
Ferry information: Britrail Irish Sea Crossing (you’ll receive a voucher in the mail. Simply present your voucher at the ticket counter when you check-in and check your luggage). The company operating the actual ferry is called Stena Line. You have a choice of departure times: you can take the ferry from 8am to 11:35am, or the one from 9:15pm to 12:30am (for the night owls).
The train that takes you from the ferry station to the heart of London is lovely and easy! The ferry arrives in Holyhead, Wales, and the ferry station is located in the same building as the train station. I didn’t believe it was going to be that convenient at first and so I kept asking everyone if the train station was ACTUALLY really right there, next to the ferry dock. A train official eventually just took me to the platform and pointed to the train tracks. Mystery solved.
The train makes a few stops in little towns along the way, letting travelers on and off, and altogether the journey is just short of 4 hours. In first class I was sitting in a 4-person arrangement with a table in the middle (as you can see the photo above), and for a few stops I had the whole train car to myself! There were electrical outlets near each of the window seats, so I was able to get some work done in between the glasses of wine I was offered by the train staff. I was also provided with a complimentary meal (included in the price of my ticket).
This train was a high-speed Virgin train, and in addition to the meal I was able to enjoy other on-board amenities like free WiFi, a bar/shop car, and free newspapers. You can read more information about this train here.
Train ticket or rail pass? This depends on how much you plan to travel through Europe. If this is your only train ride, a ticket is probably the way to go. Your ticket will include a seat reservation in the price. If you plan to take three or more train rides during your trip, you’ll definitely want to look into a rail pass. Always price out both tickets and rail passes to see which is the best bet for your particular itinerary!
Train tickets are available in first and second class, and the list of rail passes covering Britain is located here.
4. London Underground
Every city seems to have its own name for the metro system — in New York City it’s the subway, in Chicago it’s the L, in Paris it’s the metro, and in London it’s the underground. I used a London Travel Card to make my way around the underground and bus system in London.
If you’ve had experience with a metro system in a big city before, then the London Underground will be pretty intuitive for you. The only thing you need to remember is that you need to swipe your Oyster Card or underground ticket when you enter the station AND when you exit the station.
If this is your first metro experience, don’t be intimidated! It looks harder than it is. There are maps in every single station, and people were always very willing to help if I ever needed to ask anyone a question. If you’re a newbie then I definitely recommend looking into an Oyster Card or a London Travel Card (the travel card came with my London Pass). These cards are refillable and easy to use, and they’ll save you the stress and time of having to buy a ticket every time you go to the station. These cards can also be used for buses, as well.
Underground options: Oyster Card, London Travel Card (available for purchase by itself or as part of the London Pass, which will also grant you free entry or discounts to London’s most popular attractions and activities.)
5. Airport Express Train
Getting the airport is usually such a stressful thing. Why are airports always located in the middle of nowhere? Why does luggage seem so much heavier when you’re trying to get the airport via public transportation?
Thankfully, airport express trains are becoming more popular in Europe, with the Leonardo Express in Rome, the Geneva Airport train in Switzerland, the Brussels Airport train in Belgium, and of course the Heathrow Express airport train in London.
The Heathrow Express leaves from Paddingon Station in London, meaning that it is easily connected to the rest of the city by bus and underground. My hotel was a 20 minute ride on the underground from Paddington station. Tickets for the Heathrow Express are issued in Print at Home format, so make sure to print your ticket from your hotel or an Internet cafe before heading to the train station.
The awesome thing about Heathrow Express tickets is that they are pretty flexible as far as train tickets go. Even though you have to buy a ticket for a certain direction (airport to city, or city to airport), you can still use the ticket for the other direction, should your plans change. Your ticket isn’t attached to any specific train at any specific time, so if you decide to head the airport early, or if you’re running a little late, and you get to Paddington Station at a different time than you originally planned, you can just hop on a different Heathrow Express train. Trains leave every fifteen minutes.
I traveled first class on the Heathrow Express and even though the ride was only about 15 minutes long, there were power outlets and complimentary magazines and newspapers. There was also air conditioning, which is a blissful thing during a London summer.
So which mode of transport ended up being my favorite? Trains will probably always be my first love above all other forms of transport, but the ferry ride was pretty fun and it was extremely stress-free and easy to figure out. I also really enjoyed the Heathrow Express, as it was my very first airport express train experience and I felt like a really important person because I got to ride in first class.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Tales on Rail series! We’ll be following along with more Rail Europe staff on upcoming trips to Europe in the coming year. Don’t forget to tag your own #TalesOnRail on Instagram and Twitter as you make your way through Europe!