If you are coming from the USA, Australia, Italy, or anywhere other than Britain and France, then the only reasonable way of getting to Ireland is by air.
But if you happen to be in Britain or France, then why not take the ferry? It's slower, often cheaper, more relaxed and an adventure all rolled into one. The shortest crossing from Britain to Ireland is P&O via Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland, taking only an hour on the fastest vessel or two hours by conventional ferry it really is a short journey.
The longest journey is LD Lines sailing Rosslare in the south-east of Ireland to Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic Coast of France. This is a mammoth journey that takes up to 22 hours!
There are quite a few ports around the coast of Ireland but nearly all the crossings will take you into an east coast port - with the exception of Cobh in Co. Cork.
Ports - Going clockwise around the island:
- Dun Laoghaire
Situated in East Antrim, Larne is one of the most important ports on the island of Ireland and the shortest, quickest passenger crossing from Ireland to Britain operates from Larne Port to Cairnryan, Scotland by P&O. Larne lies south of the famous Glens of Antrim and makes an ideal arrival port for northbound visitors heading into the Glens or on to the Giant's Causeway coast.
Getting to Larne
Located 22 miles north of Belfast, Larne is easily accessible sitting at the end of the A8(M) a dual carriageway under motorway regulations that links into the M2 to Belfast and on to Dublin. Larne is the northern terminus of the E01 route, linking Larne, Belfast, Dublin and Rosslare Port on the east coast of Ireland. Trains also operate to Larne and Larne Harbour railway stations.
Sailing Routes from Larne
P&O Ferries are the only operator from the Port of Larne and run regular sailings to Cairnryan and Troon. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company run special sailings to the Isle of Man when the famous motorbike racing event the Isle of Man TT is taking place.
The website for Port of Larne is: http://www.portoflarne.co.uk/
The second largest city on the island of Ireland and the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is no stranger to ships. Home to Harland & Wolff, Belfast was the building place of the Titanic, probably the most famous ship ever to have set sail on the ocean waves. Continuing this maritime theme Belfast Harbour is set to build a new cruise ship berthing dock to allow the next generation of cruise ships to visit the city. 2013 will see 60 ships, about 110,000 people, visiting Belfast.
Getting to Belfast
It's hard to miss Belfast, as the chief city in Northern Ireland most of the main roads will lead you to the home city of notables such as George Best, Alex Higgins, CS Lewis and the great Roy Walker.
Sailing Routes from Belfast
Stena Line operate from Belfast to Cairnryan in 2hrs 15mins with up to six sailings per day. They also sail to Birkenhead for Liverpool up to twice per day, taking 8 hours. The Isle of Man Steam Packet also operate sailings to Douglas
The website for Belfast Harbour is: http://www.belfast-harbour.co.uk
Arriving in the largest city in Ireland is quite a thing, seeing the Wicklow Mountains appear on the horizon, closely followed by the 207m high iconic twin towers of the Poolbeg Power Station. 1.7 million passengers come through Dublin Port annually. Dublin of course should need no introduction here but it does make a great location for a photo tour.
Getting to Dublin Port
Ireland's motorways radiate out from Dublin like the spokes of a wheel making Dublin Port very easy to get to. With easy access from the M50 and M1 via the Dublin Port Tunnel and from the south via the East Link (both tolled roads), the port lies at the east of Dublin City on reclaimed land where the Liffey meets the Irish Sea. Buses connect the city centre with the Port, there are no trains; taxis or a long walk may be the best way to get there. Don't walk at night though!
Sailing Routes from Dublin Port
Four ferry companies operate from Dublin Port: The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Irish Ferries, P&O and Stena Line. Destinations are Holyhead in North Wales, Liverpool and Douglas on the Isle of Man. Irish Ferries also operate a Dublin to Cherbourg service once a week.
The website for Dublin Port is: http://www.dublinport.ie
Dun Laoghaire - UPDATE: There are now no passenger sailings from Dun Laoghaire
The ferry route to Dublin and connecting with the London-Holyhead coach and train routes followed by a short trip on Ireland's oldest railway, the journey from London to Dublin via Dun Laoghaire was once the main route between the two cities. The Irish Mail train left London and travelled via Chester to arrive at Holyhead, passengers transferred onto the ferries crossing the Irish Sea to Dun Laoghaire.
Getting to Dun Laoghaire
Situated at the southern end of Dublin Bay, Dun Laoghaire is easily reached from the southern section of the M50 and via the N11 from Dublin. Regular DART commuter trains run to Dun Laoghaire from Dublin and other points on the East coast.
Sailing Routes from Dun Laoghaire
As of now there are no passenger ships serving Dun Laoghaire with the announcement by Stena will not run its summer HSS sailings.
There is only one sailing from Dun Laoghaire now to Holyhead on board the Stena HSS. This sailing is seasonal, running from March to September (22/03/2013 - 10/09/2013).
The website for Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company is: http://dlharbour.ie/
Rosslare Harbour was developed in 1906 by some of the railways to serve ferries between the southeast of Ireland and south Wales. It sets in what is called the 'Sunny Southeast' which sees the longest recorded sunshine hours in Ireland, surrounded by sandy beaches and traditional villages.
Getting to Rosslare
Rosslare is situated in Ireland's southeast in Co. Wexford. The N11 connects the port with Dublin, although this is not dual carriageway for all its length. The journey from Dublin to Rosslare takes approximately 2hrs 30mins. The N24 and N25 link Rosslare to Cork and the southwest.
Sailing Routes from Rosslare
Rosslare is Ireland's most international port with passenger ferry sailings to Wales and France. Irish Ferries sail to Cherbourg and Roscoff in France and to Pembroke in south Wales. Celtic Link's Rosslare to Cherbourg route has now been taken over by Stena Line who also sail to Fishguard in south Wales. 2014 also sees LD Lines sail from Rosslare to Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France.
The website for Rosslare Eurport is: http://rosslareeuroport.irishrail.ie/home/
Cobh / Port of Cork
Cobh has a maritime history unlike any port in Ireland, it was the last port of call for Titanic before its Transatlantic journey. Cobh also saw mass emigration across the Atlantic to America, particularly during and after the Famine. Almost half of the six million emigrants from Ireland over the 100 years to 1950 left from this port, in most cases their last sight of Ireland.
Getting to Cobh
Located close to Cork in the massive harbour, one of the world's largest, on Ireland's south coast. The N25 will bring you here as will a regular train service from Cork City.
Sailing Routes from Cobh
Only one regular ferry sailing from Cobh is to Roscoff in Brittany with Brittany Ferries. This is not a year round service. Formerly the Swansea-Cork ferry route operated directly to south Wales, bypassing the road journey from Rosslare to Cork but is currently not in operation.
The website for Port of Cork is: http://www.portofcork.ie