Bus travel, either short or long distances, is very common across Ireland and Northern Ireland. Buses are on the whole, comfortable, clean and relatively quiet. The city buses are sometimes crowded, especially from the airport. If you can avoid peak times, there’s usually a seat. It’s often cheaper than the train, which in Ireland and Northern Ireland, doesn’t have extensive track like in the UK. It’s always cheaper than taxis, but not as cheap as walking. Depending on your distance, you might enjoy the walk more than the bus.
At first it’s a little daunting, especially if you don’t travel by bus at home. Most of my bus traveling days were over in high school and I can say it is a much more pleasant experience, especially on coach buses. Besides getting to see everything instead of watching the road, you can hear the light lilting voices and laughter of the Irish. People are polite and quiet, mostly listening to music, reading or looking outside. Commuters, students and people nipping into town for the shops are the usual travelers.
There are two ways to find out about a bus schedules, either through timetables online or by the timetable provided at the bus stop. If you’re in Dublin or another major town or city, look up the bus routes online. Times for buses that drive between villages can be viewed at the bus stop. Occasionally buses are not running at the times listed or there’s an issue with the road or the bus, so knowing a taxi service or having a map is always a good idea. For the most part buses are reliable, but sometimes things happen.
Long distance buses drop off on one side of the road (the sidewalk side) and pick up on the other. So if you are dropped off on one side, say coming from Dublin, and the next day you want to board a bus going towards Dublin, you would get on the other side. So the door of the bus is always facing the edge of the road, to pick up passengers, and depending on which way you want to go, you stand on that side of the road. It’s good to look at a map and know which direction you are headed. When in doubt, get in line behind the other people waiting, or ask.
There might be a nice covered bus stop or you might have to search of a round and rusted sign that says: Bus Éireann. It has a greyhound pictured, just like the greyhound bus service. This is for long distance, and can be quite randomly situated. Again if you go a little earlier than the bus is supposed to arrive you can get a sense for where a crowd is gathering.
It can all be a little scary, but everyone is wonderfully friendly, even if they don’t know the answer. Most of the time they’ll walk down the street with you and find the answer, or ask the bus driver for you. It’s good to have your destinations written down so that you can show those you ask. Sometimes the pronunciation of the place or thick accents can confuse situations. You can show the piece of paper if you can’t be understood by the driver or someone helping you. Usually they’ll understand what you’re saying and say it the correct way for you.
Stops aren’t always announced and people get off in the middle of stops. That’s another reason to have a fairly good idea of how the road goes, or have it looked up on your phone. You can always ask the driver to call out the stop, they’ll probably do it for you because they’ll recognize you’re not a frequent rider, but again preparation is helpful.
Buying a return ticket is easier and will usually save you money, especially on long journeys. There’s no need to get tickets ahead, just jump on and tell the driver where you’re headed. You have to pay in cash, and use paper money, not coins, and not hand over large bills, ones and fives are suitable. Although this is more for local Dublin buses, it is just a good principle to keep so that you don’t end up in a jam. I’ve run into having change and no bills, or large bills, and having to run into a shop and buy something just to have the right size of money.