I have just returned from a lovely weekend with doop's family (very early Xmas dinner! there were roast potatoes) in Belfast. During our very smooth return voyage (Belfast-Stranraer-Glasgow-London), it occurred to me that we are now expert in the various ways to get from London to Belfast overland. From there it was but a step to the conclusion that I should document this experience. Executive summary is below the table.
|Route||Route detail||Price (single)||Time||Epicness||Other notes|
|Holyhead/Dublin (overnight)||Train to Holyhead, ferry then bus to Dublin, train to Belfast||£42 RailSail||13h30 (overnight)||High. Lots of waiting around in Holyhead. On way out: sleep on nice-ish sofas on ferry & fairly comfortable seats on second train. On way back: hideous 4 hours on Holyhead station floor. NEVER AGAIN.||Daytime route might feel less epic (no need to attempt sleep) but probably even more boring. There is a pub near the station at Holyhead which was open till 2am last Thursday & had a 50p pool table. It also had karaoke in the other bar & someone throwing up in the Ladies, so, yes. Holyhead not the classiest of locations.|
|Cairnryan/Larne*||Train to Stranraer, cycle to Cairnryan, ferry to Larne||~£60??||~13h30||Moderately epic. V v v early (0539) start from Euston when we did it outbound (cheap train issues). Unsure of timing inbound; possibly also quite epic. Fair amount of waiting around.||Not sure they take foot passengers (also, 6mi from Stranraer station). Nice bike ride to Cairnryan, also a v nice cafe in Stranraer for lunch which mitigates the waiting around part.|
|Stranraer/Belfast||Train to Stranraer (change at Glasgow), ferry to Belfast||£46 daytime RailSail**, >£50*** overnight||12h daytime, 16h overnight (but mostly on sleeper)****||0539 start from Euston daytime on way out; otherwise all matches up well, pretty non-epic. Overnight coming back beautifully smooth. Trains overnight going out appear not to match very well. Ferry actually quite nice, ditto Belfast Port.||Technically haven't actually done this one outbound either daytime or overnight; but Cairnryan route is the same trains. Nice Italian cafe in Glasgow station available for the hour wait there on the daytime option; or there is time to find a Boots to buy a replacement Mooncup (just for example).
Came back on the sleeper this time, and it was lovely. Ferry & train matched up beautifully; sleeper train a genuinely pleasant experience involving whisky in the lounge car.
|Troon/Larne*||Train to Troon (change at Glasgow), ferry to Larne||??||9h returning||Trains don't join up with ferry v well, and very early start. Otherwise civilised.||Haven't done this Troon-Larne, only Larne-Troon. Only runs in the summer. No foot passengers, I think?|
* Endpoint for these is Larne, not Belfast. Train from Larne to Belfast Central is I think about an hour; they're not wildly frequent.
** I am *sure* this was a lot more expensive about 9 months ago, the last time I looked at this route.
*** £25 Glasgow-Belfast (RailSail). Then you need to buy the London-Glasgow leg, which if taking the Caledonian Sleeper is more complicated. IN THEORY you can get £19 bargain berth overnight sleeper tickets; in practice it's nearly impossible, although if you can be flexible about the dates, you can get £39-£49 singles. From £53.50 for an advance sleeper (£88 standard non-advance); from £25 for advance seated sleeper (£51.50 standard non-advance).
**** Add an hour for the journey between central Belfast & the port. I confess we got a lift on this occasion, but I believe there's a bus which is free to Stena passengers.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: I think if neither time nor money were a factor, my preference would be to go via Stranraer both ways, in the daytime on the way there & overnight on the way back. If time is a factor & money is available, overnight out via Holyhead and back via Stranraer is a reasonable compromise between cost/comfort/waiting around (avoids taking a day of leave just to travel, avoids the hideous overnight return via Holyhead, saves money on the outbound less-hideous Holyhead trip especially given that outbound overnight via Stranraer is fairly epic). If cash-poor but time-rich, daytime both ways via Stranraer is only £4 each way more expensive than Holyhead and way, way nicer (the only real disadvantage being the very early start from Euston). The Larne option was OK but a bit faffy.