The Most Dog-Friendly Ferry to All of Ireland

When we were putting together our itinerary for visiting the United Kingdom in 2017 with our dog, we never considered not hopping across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Considering that we were hiring a car and dogs are not usually allowed to fly in the cabin in the UK, taking a ferry across made the most sense. But what’s the best ferry to take to Ireland with your dog? 

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Dogs on ferry to Ireland: then visit the Cliffs of Moher

Ferry Options from Great Britain to Ireland

There are multiple ferries available between Great Britain and Ireland (both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), with a number of companies offering a variety of routes. On most but not all routes dogs are permitted.

At the moment, there are three dog-friendly ferry options available for travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. You’ve got the choice between the Stena Line Ferry from Cairnryan (in Scotland) to Belfast, the P&O Ferry from Cairnryan to Larne, and the Stena Line Ferry from Liverpool to Belfast.

Dark Hedges
There’s three ferry options that cross to Northern Ireland

If you’re travelling from Great Britain to the Republic of Ireland with a dog, there’re four ferry options available, all departing from Wales. Stena Line Ferry crosses from Holyhead to Dublin and from Fishguard to Rosslare. Irish Ferries also operates from Holyhead to Dublin, plus Pembroke to Rosslare.

Note that dogs are no longer permitted on the P&O Ferry from Dublin to Liverpool. (We took this ferry when returning to England from Ireland, but found it was not at all dog-friendly, so it’s good dogs are no longer permitted.)

For more details on all of these ferries, check out my full guides on travelling to Northern Ireland with a dog and travelling to the Republic of Ireland with a dog.

The Most Dog-Friendly Ferry to Ireland

So, with seven different ferries available, operated by three different companies, what’s the best ferry to take to Ireland if you’re travelling with a dog and aren’t locked into departing from or travelling to a particular port?

I believe that the most dog-friendly ferry to take to Ireland is the Stena Line ferry from Cairnryan (Scotland) to Belfast. We took this ferry ourselves when we travelled from Scotland to Northern Ireland in 2017 and there’s a number of reason why I still recommend this option to other travellers. 

Taking dogs to Ireland by ferry
Consider taking the Stena Line ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast

Pets Travel for Free

Firstly, there’s no additional charge for booking a pet, whether you are travelling in a car or on foot. This applies regardless of whether the pet is to be left in your car (if you have one) or checked into a kennel or travelling in a traveller case.

A Quick Crossing

Secondly, it’s such a quick trip. The total journey time is just 2 1/4 hours, compared to an 8-hour voyage if you’re taking the ferry from Liverpool to Belfast.

On longer journeys, we all worry about our pets holding their bladder. Even if there’s somewhere for them to do their business, often they might to refuse. Plus there’s the risk of them overheating on warm days if they stay in your car. 

Small Pets are Permitted on the Passenger Deck

Unlike on some routes, if you’re travelling with a small pet on this route, you don’t need to leave them in a car. The number one reason why I’ve chosen this ferry as the most dog-friendly ferry is that small pets are allowed on the passenger deck with you!

Whether you’ve got a cat, small dog or other small pets, as long as you keep them secured at all times in a pet traveller case, they’re allowed to travel by your side on the passenger deck. It’s a far more relaxing option for both your pet and yourself! 

Dogs on ferry to Ireland
Schnitzel inside his carrier bag, ready to travel on the Stena Line ferry 

Note that the pet traveller case must be securable via a secure door, zipping or lock mechanism, with your pet totally enclosed. Bags are not permitted, and there is a maximum size of 80cm x 52cm x 52cm, ruling out larger dogs.

In November 2022, it was announced that Stena Line would no longer permit small pets to travel in a carrier onboard this route, due to health, safety and hygiene reasons, but this decision was reversed. (Thanks to everyone who helped signed the petition!) However, there is now the requirement that all pets must travel in a dedicated pet area on Deck 8.

In early 2023, pet-friendly cabins were announced on a number of the Stena Line crossings to Ireland, but not on this short crossing. Instead, a new Pet Lounge will be opening on the ferries on this route in May 2023. No further details have been released – I will share them as soon as they are!

What About Larger Dogs?

If you’re travelling with a larger dog, there’s still the option to book them into a kennel, rather than leaving them in your car. (If you are a foot passenger, a kennel booking is required.)

The choice is up to you – wherever your dog would be more comfortable travelling. If you do plan to leave your dog in your car, it’s better to book an early morning or evening ferry during the potentially warmer summer months.

Alternatively, following the announcement in early 2023 that pet-friendly cabins would be available on the other Stena Line crossings from Great Britain to Ireland (Liverpool to Belfast, Holyhead to Dublin and Fishguard to Rosslare), for larger dogs these are probably more pet-friendly.

Other Facilities

The other advantage of travelling on the Cairnryan to Belfast ferries are the excellent facilities onboard the ships. We travelled on the Stena Superfast VII and it felt very new at the time.

All the facilities were of a high standard, with plenty of options available, including multiple lounges and restaurants, plus the option to book a suite, even a spa! The large size of the ship also meant it was a very smooth voyage. 

How to Book

If you’re interested in travelling with a pet on this route, check out the full details on the Stena Line website. I recommend double checking the details for travelling with pets, in case anything has changed. (Scroll down to view the specific details for this route.)

Note that a booking is required for all pets, regardless of how your pet is travelling. This includes if you are carrying your dog onboard in a carrier case, with a maximum number of pets in carrier cases permitted on each voyage. So don’t forget to add your pet to your booking!

The Next Most Dog-Friendly Ferry Option

If you’d prefer to not travel to and from Cairnryan in Scotland, the next best dog-friendly ferry between Great Britain and Ireland is probably the Stena Lines route between Holyhead and Dublin.

In early 2023, it was announced that pet-friendly cabins would be available on multiple Stena Line crossings on the Irish Sea, including this route (plus Liverpool to Belfast and Fishguard to Rosslare). Additionally, this crossing is relatively quick, just 3hr 15 mins, and particularly handy if you’re travelling from southern Great Britain.

Up to two pets are permitted in each vinyl-floored pet-friendly cabin, with water bottles and pee pads provided. Just don’t forget your pet’s water bowl and bed. There’s also a dedicated outdoor area on the Stena Estrid, where you pup can get some fresh air and have a toilet break, but not on the Stena Adventurer.

The alternative options are for pets to remain in your vehicle (if travelling by car), or to be booked into a kennel. Both of these options are free of charge, although pets still need to be pre-booked (on the “Stena Plus & Onboard Extras” step of the booking process).

Check out the details on the Stena Line website (scroll down for the specific details for the route.).

Rules for Taking Your Dog from Great Britain to Ireland

Following the end of the Brexit transition, from 1 January 2021 the rules for pets to travel from Great Britain to both Northern Ireland and Ireland have changed.

Taking Your Dog to Northern Ireland

Prior to Brexit, there was no requirement for a pet passport or anything for your pet to travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. However, pets now technically require a microchip, rabies vaccine, worming treatment (for dogs) and pet health certificate.

However, as of September 2021, it was announced that these new requirement are not being enforced, with checks on all pets travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland suspended indefinitely.

As of early 2023, the proposed new Windsor Framework will see the paperwork requirements for dogs travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland simplified, if the framework is ratified. Under the framework, only a document listing the pet’s microchip number and a declaration that they are not travelling onwards to the Republic of Ireland or other EU countries will be required.

For more information, see my guide on travelling to Northern Ireland with a dog.

Exploring the coastline north of Belfast in our car
Make sure you check the latest rules before travelling to Northern Ireland with a dog

Taking Your Dog to Republic of Ireland

If you’re taking one of the ferries from Great Britain to the Republic of Ireland, there are also some changes following the end of the Brexit transition.

As before, your dog will need to be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies. However, a worming treatment is also required for dogs and GB-issued pet passports are no longer recognised. If you don’t have an EU pet passport issued elsewhere, you will have to head to the vet for a pet health certificate.

For more information, see the UK government website.

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30 thoughts on “The Most Dog-Friendly Ferry to All of Ireland”

  1. Hi we are relocating from Belfast to Wales. My dog has been neutered wormed vaccinated and microchipped do I need to get him the rabies injection and a passport. We will be travelling Rosslare to Fishguard thankyou

    • Lorraine – As you’re travelling through Ireland, you should get your dog a passport and have him vaccinated for rabies, at least 21 days before crossing into Ireland. This is a requirement for crossing country borders within the EU. However, the odds are no-one will check this, certainly not driving into Ireland and probably not even on the ferry crossing. (This is based on my own experience and other reports I’ve read.) However, it could happen, so it’s best to be prepared. Note that the worming treatment usually required to enter the UK or Ireland with your dog isn’t required for travelling between the two countries.

      • We have travelled to Ireland from the UK and our dog’s passport was checked on every occasion. Don’t take any chances. Ensure the vaccinations are all up to date.

        • Samantha – Thanks for letting me know! Perhaps they’re becoming stricter on this, compared to the reports I read. I will be adding more details on this, particularly with the changes from Brexit.

  2. Hi, I love your blog, it’s great, thanx for all the information 🙂
    I have a question: my partner and I will be travelling from Switzerland to Ireland probably in February with our 9kg dog. She hates kennels and we would like to stay with her as much as possible. Can I remain in the car with her during the ferry crossing from Cairnryan to Belfast or Liverpool to Belfast if needed? Thanks a lot for your answer and Happy New Year!

    • Thanks and have a great time on your trip! Unfortunately, the ferries that I’ve taken my car on, usually don’t allow human passengers to stay in the car. This happened on our reverse trip from Dublin to Liverpool, plus elsewhere in Europe. I would check with the ferry company directly, to see if they will let you to stay. If not, I would choose the quickest voyage (probably Cairnryan to Belfast) and make your dog comfortable with her bed and familiar belongings.

  3. Hi. We want to travel on the cairnryan to Belfast ferry. Our dog is quite a nervous traveller, and where possible we want to stay with him. After his operation two years ago we bought a doggy stroller, it’s essentially a dog carrier on wheels similar to a child’s pushchair. Can be found on amazon under dog stroller. Please take a look and confirm if your are happy to accept a dog on one of these, I often have walking issues and I can use the carrier to assist me instead of cumbersome crutches. Thank you for your help

    Amazon link.


    • Sarah – Stena Line stipulates that dogs inside the cabin must be in a pet carrier that is a maximum of 80cm x 52cm x 52cm, that needs to be secured by a secure door/zip/lock mechanism and your pet is to be totally enclosed. So unfortunately the pushchair alone wouldn’t qualify, unless you have a carrier case that sits in the push chair. If you require further information, I recommend sending a message to Stena Line directly, such as through their Facebook page:

        • Sorry – I just realised I only looked at the main photo showing the dog sitting up, without being enclosed. I didn’t realise that the top also zipped shut. I’m not sure if it will be okay, due to the maximum size specified. I would check directly with Stena Line.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! We’ve been wanting to travel to Ireland for a while but, thinking our only option would be leaving our pugs in the car or on board kennels, we haven’t. We’re now looking at travelling with Stena later in the year!

  5. This site has been so helpful. I am relocating to the UK from the US and need to take my 2 small dogs as carry on. Ireland allows dogs to be with the passenger as carryon, how easy it to get from Ireland to Paris on the ferry as long as you have your vaccination papers and etc? I’ve been doing so much research and stumbled on your site, any tips, insights are greatly appreciated!!!!

    • There’s direct ferries from Ireland to northern France, and then you can take a train onward to Paris. I’ve written about these ferries in this post: Plus I’ve covered the rules for dogs on trains in France here:

      When heading to France, it’s unlikely your paperwork for your dogs will be checked, based on my experience. (The reverse is the case when returning to Ireland or the UK – including checking the worming was done.) Your EU health certificate you use to travel to enter the EU is valid for 4 months, so you could just rely on that. (Although sometimes the local staff aren’t familiar with it, mainly when checking in for flights.)

      I recommend getting an EU pet passport for both your pets. Take along your EU health certificate to the vet and have them transfer the details. Sometimes they will copy across the rabies vaccination, otherwise they might require a new rabies vaccine. To travel around the EU then you just need the pet passport, with a valid rabies vaccine at least 21 days beforehand.

  6. Stena services to Ireland are not dog friendly. If you find it acceptable to leave your dog I your car for two hours minimum something which on land would get you prosecuted and fined then you can take your dog. The exception is Liverpool Belfast where you can leave them in a cage and get access to them during the voyage but this us also the longest crossing. For truly dog friendly Ferries go to the Scottish Islands with Calmac where they have a separate “doggy class” on the passenger deck which is a passenger lounge where dogs are allowed on leads. And having travelled with them many times I have never seen any problems with the canine passengers on deck. Hopefully other Ferry companies will follow suit. I am sure there is a strong business case for them to do so to attract back passengers like myself who won’t use them till they do

    • It would be great if the ferries would allow more dogs on board, I’ve experienced this elsewhere in Europe. With this particular ferry I was specifically referring to the arrangement where smaller dogs in a carrier are allowed to be carried on board, which is what I was able to do with my dog.

  7. Hey, i am looking to travel from Ireland to the UK around september 2021 all going well depending on the on going situation, im just looking around as i have a rather large dog (bernese mountain dog) i can’t seem to find any pet free cabins, i wouldnt feel comfortable leaving him in the car as he is very sensitive to heat due to his fur. I am just wondering is there any cabins from Ireland to the UK that are pet friendly? Thanks 🙂

    • Laura – Unfortunately, there’s no pet-friendly cabins on ferries between Ireland and Great Britain. Most of the ferries have kennels (also called the “Dog Lodge” on some ferries), but double check the size of these as you have quite a large dog. If you end up needing to leave him in your car, I recommend choosing one of the shorter ferries (the P&O ferry from Larne to Cairnryan is the quickest at 2hr) and booking either an early morning or evening trip, plus ensuring he has access to water.

  8. Hi, this information is all so helpful. We are hoping to take our basset hound and corgi on the Stena Line Rosslare to Cherbourg route and the return trip as well. We booked the “dog lodges” for the crossing as it’s a long trip and there’s no way they could stay in the car that long. Do you know if you have unlimited access to let your dogs out on that route to check on them? I’ve read some really negative reviews on Trip Advisor of the dog lodges on Stena Line and I’m starting to get concerned that it’s not a safe journey. What do you think? If it’s not safe, we will instead get a house sitter and leave the dogs at home for the five weeks that we’re gone. 🙁

    • Sarah – I haven’t travelled before on this exact route, instead I’ve travelled on the overnight Harwich to Hook of Holland Stena Line crossing with my dog, which is slightly shorter. On that ferry you could visit your dogs as much as you wanted, but I found it was best to leave the dogs alone, so they didn’t all start barking. (There were two kennel rooms, so dogs were with about a dozen other dogs.) With that one there was a CCTV channel to watch the kennels on, but I can’t see any mention of that for this ship. I recommend emailing Stena Line to confirm the details for this crossing. I’m pretty sure it’ll be safe, but it sometimes depends on the individual dog and whether they are fine being left in a kennel situation, similar to if they are staying at a vet after an operation. You know your own dogs best, what they are okay with.

      • thanks!! really helpful. not sure if my dogs would be great in that situation so I will weigh the pros and cons because I also know they don’t want to be left behind for five weeks. 🙂

        • Hi Sarah,
          I booked a dog lodge for my 3 dogs on the 8 hour Liverpool to Belfast crossing a couple of years ago, we ended up leaving all 3 in the campervan on the way out, as when I looked at the ‘dog lodges’ which were essentially stacked up crate size kennels in one room, I decided I wasnt happy to leave them in them, but one of them didnt cope very well, so I took him down to the dog lodge and sat on deck beside the lodges on a bench for the whole crossing, so yes you can visit them as much as you like during the crossing (provided it’s the same set up). I’m just hoping I can sit with him on deck for the shorter 2 hour crossing we have just booked too. 🙂

  9. Hi
    Great blog.
    Do you know if dogs need to be in crates if they remain in the car?
    My dog is perfectly happy sitting in the boot but I know the kennel and cage will freak her out as she’s nervous.
    Many thanks.

  10. Hello there. Thanks for weeding out all the info on the tricky issue of post-Brexit travel, but I am still a little bewildered. We are planning to take our dogs to the tip of Ireland (Co. Donegal) for a week but via the Cairnryan to Larne ferry, thereby entering in Northern Ireland then travelling on across the border. Is this alright if we have the relevant paperwork to enter NI, or do we actually have to change our plans and travel much further in order to enter Ireland directly at an approved entry port. So confused, even after checking the government website. What is your understanding please? Many thanks 🙂

    • My understanding is you need the extra paperwork to enter NI, but then there’s no issues crossing to Ireland, it’s the same as it was pre-Brexit. Additionally, I’ve come across reports the extra requirements for NI are still not being enforced, with all the complications of Covid, although it’s always best to be prepared.

  11. Hi just to let you know Stena line has banned any dogs onboard the Passenger decks as of 1st Nov. Not good for my mini dachshund who has separation anxiety. Please sign the petition as a fellow traveller. This ruling is stopping me seeing all my family in N Ireland as I can’t leave my dog in the car or the kennels on his own.

    • I just heard this yesterday – such terrible news! I will sign the petition and monitor the situation – fingers crossed it’s reversed.

  12. None of these options are truly dog ‘friendly’ – there is no way I would leave by dog alone in a car whilst she suffers the motion of the ship; the kennel option is almost as bad. As for the pet carrier, they are borderline cruel.
    There is no reason why one deck can’t be made dog friendly, as on the Isle Of Man ferry from Heysham. Come on ferry companies, stop treating dog owners like lepers


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