Whether you are visiting Northern Ireland for a short trip or planning on making it your new home, the reality is that you will need to be aware of your travel options. Belfast may have a rich history of shipbuilding but nowadays the most common way of getting to and from Northern Ireland is by plane.
That said, if you are moving to Northern Ireland from the UK, the Republic of Ireland or even continental Europe then car, ferry or a combination of both may be a realistic option for you. Finally, although not perfect, there is a decent public transport network, especially in Belfast and the surrounding areas which allow those travelling or moving to Northern Ireland to do so without the need of their own car or van.
But first, air travel, and Northern Ireland’s three main airports.
Belfast International Airport
As the largest airport in Northern Ireland and the second largest on the island after Dublin Airport, Belfast International Airport is a key international hub for those travelling to and from Belfast and across Northern Ireland.
Belfast International Airport, which is located close to the small village of Aldergrove outside of Belfast, serves a range of European destinations, as well as locations in the United States and Cuba. In 2018, over 6.2 million passengers traveled through the airport, marking a 7.4 percent increase compared with 2017.
The airport is home to some of Europe’s biggest airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic and is well serviced by the nearby M2 motorway as well as a regular bus service with shuttles direct to the Europa Terminal in Belfast city centre operated by Translink.
Belfast City (George Best) Airport
Named after one of the city’s most famous sons, Belfast City (George Best) Airport is in recognition to the former Manchester United and Northern Ireland football star. The smaller of Belfast’s two airports, Belfast City (George Best) Airport serves destinations across the United Kingdom, as well as small number of continental European cities.
One of the other perks of the Belfast City Airport is its proximity to Belfast city centre – located a mere five kilometres (three miles) from Belfast City Centre and across from Belfast Port in county Down.
In 2018, over 2.5 million passengers used the airport and it is had daily and weekly flights from well-known airlines such as Aer Lingus, British Airways and KLM.
City of Derry Airport
Located seven miles outside the city of Derry/Londonderry on the north-westernly tip of Northern Ireland, City of Derry Airport offers a small airport experience with regular flights to cities in Scotland, England, and Mallorca (Spain).
Historically, the City of Derry Airport, formerly the Londonderry Eglinton Airport, has its origins from World War 2 when it was used as an RAF airbase before being transferred into commercial use in the 1960’s. The airport experienced peak traffic in the 1990s and early 2000s as airport improvements were implemented and direct flights to the UK and further afield increased.
Unfortunately passenger numbers have been declining at the airport in the past decade with Ryanair, the main airline operating out of the airport, pulling a number of flights from the airport since 2014.
The primary destination for sea travel to and from Northern Ireland is Scotland, and if you are travelling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, or even continental Europe, and want to bring a car or other bulkier belongings with you then this may be your best bet.
Two ferry routes operate between Scotland and Northern Ireland, offering a combined total of 84 sailings per week. P&O Irish Sea operates one route, Cairnryan to Larne, which is just outside of Belfast and which runs 7 times daily. Stena Line operates the other, the Cairnryan to Belfast route, which runs five times daily.
In addition, given the relative close proximity of Northern Ireland Dublin, you may choose to ferry from the UK to Dublin Port, Dun Laoghaire Port or even Rosslare Port further south in county Wexford and drive across the border to Northern Ireland.
Travelling to Northern Ireland from Dublin Airport
As Ireland’s busiest airport, it should come as no surprise that many visitors and people moving to Northern Ireland opt to visit the country via Dublin Airport. Sure, flying to Belfast International Airport may be more convenient but given that there is currently only one transatlantic flight to Belfast, it may make more sense for you to land in the Republic of Ireland before moving north.
If you choose to pursue this route, then you need to know that there are train and bus options that will get you from Dublin to Belfast city centre. However, if you want a quicker and more efficient service then we recommend taking the bus. Aircoach and Translink (in conjunction with Bus Éireann) operate this route, and typically offer an hourly service that has a travel time of approximately two hours. There is also a regular bus route from Dublin to Derry, which includes additional stops in the western part of Northern Ireland.
Alternatively, Dublin airport has a range of car rental providers that could be perfect for you, especially if you plan on taking a shorter trip, and many car rental companies allow drop-offs in Belfast or elsewhere in Northern Ireland.