On a recent journey between London and Dublin, we decided we wanted to try something a little different and opted to ‘Sail and Rail’, rather than fly as we usually do. The ferry was something we’d never tried before but were keen to experience, and in the end, we were really glad we gave it a go, as it turned out to be a lovely way to travel.
‘Sail and Rail’ encompasses a number of deals offered by several ferry companies and UK train companies, which sell tickets altogether as a package on one itinerary. Depending on when you go, it can work out to as cheap or even cheaper than flying and also presents a unique way of travelling between Britain and Ireland.
How long does Sail & Rail take?
Altogether, our Sail and Rail journey took approximately 8 hours. We departed Euston Station in central London at just after 9am and our train journey to Holyhead in Wales took approximately 3.5 hours. We had about an hour in Holyhead and our ferry departed at around 2pm, arriving to Dublin Port at 5:15pm.
What is the Sail & Rail experience like?
We found the Sail & Rail experience to be altogether pleasant. The train is quite comfortable and fast (if you wish to reserve specific seats, you must book in advance through National Rail), which I’d definitely recommend doing, especially if you’re travelling in a group of two or more and want to sit together. Your Sail & Rail ticket gets you on board any train heading in the direction of Holyhead, so you can end up on a variety of train companies – we happened to be with Virgin and found the experience cosy enough – there’s a food carriage where you can buy basic sambos and snacks, though we’d suggest stocking up on a few eats before departure.
For our trip, we chose to sail with Stena Line, although Irish Ferries do very similar crossings and offer the Sail & Rail package, as well. We’d be tempted to try them next time for comparison’s sake. The Stena Line ferry itself is massive, with several levels. As a foot passenger, you mostly spend time on the lounge level, which consists of several huge lounge areas with a variety of different seats, tables and chairs and plenty of windows on the off chance you get a sunny day for your crossing.
There’s a bar serving various alcoholic tipples, a coffee bar and a small cafe counter that does hot meals. There’s also free wifi on board, which worked perfectly for me throughout the duration.
The crossing takes about 3.5 hours and can range from quite smooth to fairly rough, depending on the weather.
Sail & Rail: Need to Know
- Prices for Sail & Rail vary, depending on the time of year and day. Our tickets were around €180 total for two foot passengers, return.
- Don’t bother upgrading to the “Stena Plus” service, as the regular class lounge areas are huge and comfy.
- Take snacks – it’s best to pick up snacks either in London or Dublin before departure, as Holyhead has precious few eating options and the on-board cafe, while convenient, has a fairly limited menu.
- Beware the weather – poor weather conditions on the Irish Sea can often cause cancelled or delayed ferries, so keep an eye on the weather and consider flying during the winter months.
- Seasickness can be a problem in poorer weather, so if you suffer from it, bring along some seasickness tablets just in case.
- Don’t count on Holyhead – the ferry terminal at Holyhead is nearly bare of amenities (there is one tiny snack stand) and, in bad weather, can be a cold and fairly uncomfortable place to spend time. The town of Holyhead is a short, bracing walk from the terminal and boasts a couple of pubs, a supermarket and little else.
In the end, we found Sail & Rail to be a really relaxing way to travel. While it certainly takes longer than flying, you benefit from no luggage restrictions, a huge relaxing lounge and train carriage, dining options, etc. We also found the lack of airport bustle to be a wonderful reprieve, so if you aren’t crunched for time or are looking for a budget transportation option between Ireland and the UK, Sail & Rail is a great choice.