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?
Note: It was recently announced that from 1st November 2022, Stena Line would no longer permit small pets to travel in a pet carrier onboard their Cairnryan to Belfast route. They stated this was due to health, safety and hygiene reasons. However, it has now been announced they are reversing this decision.
One change that will take place from 1st November 2022 is that pets and their accompanying passengers will now be required to travel in a designated area on Deck 8. Additionally, it is stressed that bags are not a suitable carrier, which needs to totally enclose your pet and have a secure door/zip/lock mechanism.
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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.
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.)
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.
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!
The one hard part? I found it hard to resist slightly unzipping the bag of my dog, Schnitzel, to give him a little pat – running the risk of him trying to escape! (And if you don’t keep them secured at all times, including on the outside decks, there’s the risk they’ll be sent back to the car deck.)
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.
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.
It’s up to you – where ever 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.
If you are a foot passenger travelling with a pet, a kennel booking is required.
The other advantage of travelling on this route 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 Liverpool and Belfast.
While you won’t be allowed to bring your dog on the passenger deck, you can pre-book and pay £15 to check them into the dog lodge on the Promenade Deck. Here you’ll be able to access them during the journey, and even exercise them under controlled conditions.
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. It is still not clear what will happen longer term.
For more information, see my guide on 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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