Travelling to Northern Ireland is now easier than ever before. Whether you are flying in from the other side of the globe, or driving up from the Republic, Northern Ireland is accessible via land, sea and air.
Travel to Northern Ireland By Air
Northern Ireland has three airports:
Belfast City also known as George Best Airport
You might also want to consider Dublin airport. Though 100 miles from Belfast, the good road system and good transport services means you can be there quickly.
Travelling to Northern Ireland from America, or further afield?
Dublin is probably your best option. Most major airlines fly to Dublin rather than Belfast so you will have more options.
If you do fly to Dublin, the easiest way to travel to Northern Ireland is to take the bus.
There are three bus companies that service this route: Ulsterbus, Bus Eireann, and Aircoach.
Services are regular, and very reasonably priced. They stop at Newry, Banbridge, Hillsborough, Lisburn and Belfast.
However, services do not always run at night and at peak travel times during the day the buses get full quickly. You might want to book in advance, or risk some delay.
Alternatively, try one of the London airports and then connect. This is easier today in that there are a number of low cost and regular airlines that have multiple flights every day to Northern Ireland airports.
Beware of lost connection flights:
Low cost airlines will usually not take responsibility if your inbound flight is delayed and you lose your connection.
So you might want to arrange it in such a way that you spend a day in London. Or that you book your onward flight with one of the major airlines as one ticket in which case your connection is assured.
Travelling to Northern Ireland from Europe or Great Britain?
Both Belfast airports and Londonderry have good connectivity.
Try the low cost airlines like Easyjet, Ryanair, Jet2 and BMI service over 100 routes so chances are you will find one that suits you. If you book well in advance and choose your dates carefully, you can get REALLY cheap flights.
Beware of extra costs.
Some of the low cost airlines will charge you extra for services that are standard in other airlines.
So before you make your booking check not only the advertised price, but the total price once you have made all selections.
Travel to Northern Ireland By Sea
Take the boat only if you are bringing a car. Otherwise, it is easier (and often cheaper) to fly.
There are numerous options.
Option 1: Scotland to Belfast/Larne – Stena Line or P&O Irish Sea
This is the shortest route, it takes about three hours on a normal boar, or just over an hour on a super-fast ferry.
The downside: If you are coming from the south of England it means a long drive to south-west Scotland to take the boat.
Option 2: Liverpool to Belfast/Larne – Norfolk Line or Stena Line
This trip takes over 10 hours. You can either travel overnight, or over the day.
Travelling to Northern Ireland overnight sounds ideal, you leave at night, sleep on the boat, arrive fresh and relaxed in the morning.
The downside: This is probably the most expensive option.
By contrast, the day sailing can be the cheapest of all options. You can opt to have a cabin, or stay on deck. A free meal is often included with the ticket (check when you book).
Option 3: Holyhead to Dublin/Dun Laoghaire – Irish Ferries or Stena Line
Three hours on a ferry, an hour and a half on a super-fast ferry. Usually slightly more expensive than Scotland to Belfast/Larne.
The downside: You have to drive to Holyhead in north-west Wales, and then from Dublin to Northern Ireland.
In our five years in Northern Ireland we tried all three options, some several times.
If you don't mind spending some extra cash, the night sailing of Option 2 is the best.
If you are not pressed for time and want to save $$ or ££, the day sailing of Option 2 is the most cost effective.
Liverpool is easily accessible from most of England and you arrive at the heart Northern Ireland. You can have a cabin and rest during the trip and enjoy a good meal on the way.
If you are coming from Scotland of Wales, options 1 and 3 are best respectively.
Travelling to Northern Ireland from Mainline Europe
You can either cross by boat from France to the Republic. This is nice if you want to stop over in the Republic. If, however, you are in a hurry to reach Northern Ireland, it is a long trip made on secondary roads.
Another option is to cross the English Channel by boat to England and then go for one of the three options above.
Travel to Northern Ireland By Land
Since Northern Ireland is part of an island, the only way you can come by land is from the Republic of Ireland.
However, if you are a tourist from America, chances are that you have gone to the South first and are now considering travelling to Northern Ireland.
The roads connecting South to North are generally small (as with most roads in the South) and not always in the best state of repairs. So, count on a lengthy trip even if the millage involved is not high.
However, if you are in the Dublin area, then it all becomes so much simpler.
The M1 is the main artery that leads from Dublin towards the North (just to make matters confusing, there is another road named M1 that starts is Belfast and heads south-west but the two are distinct).
If you take the M1 from Dublin and avoid the rush hour, your trip will be quicker and more pleasant.
From Dublin it is about 60 miles to the border, 66 to Newry, the first main city in the North,75 to Banbridge and about 100 to Belfast. The road is motorway until Newry and dual-carriage way from then on. Currently they are doing road works around Newry which can cause delays at rush hour, but otherwise it should be smooth driving.