Whether you're stopping off in Dublin for a city break or planning a longer stay, you most likely are going to have to manage the transport system at some point. The city’s main form of public transport is the bus, which is distinctively yellow in colour and operates in most parts of the city and its suburbs. After this, parts of the city are served by tram and rail services. We realise that finding your feet in a city is always challenging so we’ve come up with some handy tips to make sure you blend in like a local when using the city’s public transport. Whether you’re looking for a transfer from the airport or a night bus to your homestay, our Dublin transport tips should keep you on the straight and narrow.
If you're flying into Dublin Airport, then you will arrive in the north of the city. There are a couple of options for getting to the city centre where you will find further links to the rest of the Dublin and its suburbs. Dublin Bus, the city’s main transport service, runs the Airlink 747 that operates from 6 am (7 am on Sunday) until 11.30 pm from the airport. The bus stops at both Connolly and Heuston train stations as well as at several points in the city centre. You can buy tickets from vending machines as well as Dublin Bus staff at the airport for €6 or €10 for a return ticket.
The alternative is to take the Aircoach, which operates several routes serving the city centre as well as the suburbs of Ballsbridge, Dalkey, Bray, Sandyford and longer routes to Cork and Belfast. Tickets can be purchased online or from Aircoach staff just outside the arrivals hall. While it is more expensive than the Dublin Bus service, it is also quicker, and if your host family lives along one of these routes, it’s your best bet.
If you’re not careful, you can end up spending quite a bit on transport in the city, so the best way to save is to do what the locals do and get yourself a Leap Card. Leap Cards are pre-paid cards for the bus, rail and trams in the city. Reduced fares operate on these, and special tourist and language student Leap Cards also exist. The Leap Visitor Card is designed for short-term trips to the city: it is valid on all public transport in the city for three days, including on the Airlink 747 service, although not on the Aircoach.
Leap Visitors can be purchased in the Spar shop in the arrivals hall of terminals 1 and 2 of Dublin Airport and from the Travel Information Desk in terminal 1. At €19.50, they are a bargain. Language students looking for a Trainee Leap Card can purchase them from their school.
If you are planning a longer stay, then you can buy a regular Leap Card which you top-up when you need to. Credit for these can be purchased at any newsagent shop with the Leap Card or Dublin bus symbol outside as well as at any tram (the Luas, the Irish word for speed) or train station.
If you don’t buy a Leap Card, buses do accept cash fares, but this must be exact change only, and no notes will be accepted by drivers. Bus fares are calculated based on the length of your journey, and full details of fares can be found here. When using the tram or the suburban rail service (the DART), prepaid tickets must be purchased from vending machines in the station before boarding. Luas cards can also be topped up here, should you choose.
Once you’ve got your tickets sorted you need to use your Leap Card like a local - the last thing you want is to fall at the last hurdle! Using a Leap Card on the Luas or DART is fairly straightforward, simply tag on at the station you enter (to enter a train station, this gives you access to your platform) and then tag off once you arrive at your destination. You can’t exit a DART station without doing this, but make sure you don’t forget on the Luas! Otherwise, you’ll end up being charged the full fare.
However, the bus is slightly more complicated. If you are using a Visitor or Trainee Leap Card, then you simply tag on when you enter the bus at the green machine to the right of the door. If you are paying by cash place your money in the coin drop in front of the driver and tell them where you would like to go. If have a pay-as-you-go Leap Card and are planning a short journey, this is also where you tag on.
While the bus is the main transport for Dubliners as a whole, in some areas, you are better off using a different way of getting around. If you want to make a trip to any of Dublin’s coastal suburbs and villages, then the DART is the quickest way to travel and offers some stunning views of Dublin Bay along the way. The Luas too is a faster form of transport and serves some suburbs as well of the tourist attractions including Kilmainham Gaol, Collins Barracks Museum and Busáras where you can find bus links to other parts of the country.
If you’re staying in the city centre, there is also an alternative form of transport that will allow you to enjoy the sights and sounds of Dublin up close: the Dublin Bikes scheme is a rental scheme operated throughout the city centre. Long term rental cards are available to those living in the city, but if you’re just stopping by, you can purchase a 3-day pass for €5 from any of the Dublin Bike stands that accept credit cards. After that, your first half hour of cycling is free, and a gradual charge is incurred after that.
Lastly, there are some handy apps out there to help you navigate the city. Google maps is your best bet for walking or cycling, but Dublin Bus offer their own app that offers real-time information and timetables throughout the city. To use it, simply look up your bus stop by address, route or bus stop number which you will find written (and in Braille) on the stop. A more comprehensive app that covers train, bus and Luas in the city is also operated by Transport for Ireland. Both are available for free on iPhone and Android.