Translink is the public transport corporation of Northern Ireland, and operates all public transport modes (except the taxies). It is the parent company of Northern Ireland Railways, as well as the bus-operating subsidiaries.
First up, a quick map of Belfast showing the major or prominent rail and bus stations near the city centre:
Translink runs a variety of bus services throughout NI. These are branded separately as Metro, Ulsterbus, and Goldline. Metro buses serve Belfast and surrounding suburbs; Ulsterbus serves all other towns in NI, with Derry/Londonderry’s citybus service being run under the Ulsterbus Foyle branding; Goldline runs intercity and cross-border services.
Metro buses run fairly frequently and are mostly on time, and tickets can be purchased onboard. The drivers do provide change, but if there’s a long line behind you it would be nicer if you provided exact change instead. There are single tickets, day return tickets, day unlimited tickets, and also a variety of discount cards for various groups of people including senior citizens and students.
There are 12 core bus routes, with each having its own branches down the line, and these branches are denoted by the alphabet after the route number. All bus routes terminate and enters service in Belfast City Centre (Donegall Square around the City Hall), so the route structure is fairly easy to use. The buses aren’t usually very full, but during the evening when the school-day ends they will be filled with school students, so avoid that general time period if you want to be guaranteed a seat.
Metro buses are painted in pink or pink & white, making them hard to miss.
Ulsterbus serves city routes for towns outside Belfast, so you wouldn’t really use them unless you do actually venture to those towns. This also means I am not familiar with them. What I do know is that all Ulsterbus routes are numbered with no alphabetical prefixes to differentiate the various city services, though an exception is the city of Derry/Londonderry. Buses in Derry are run under the brandname of Ulsterbus Foyle, and route numbers feature the prefix “FY” to differentiate them from other Ulsterbus routes. The buses are coloured blue and are very distinctive.
Goldline, on the other hand, is an alternative to the railways for intercity travel, especially to places where the railway network does not reach. It also operates cross-border services to Dublin in partnership with Bus Éireann, and so is a service you might use fairly frequently. Tickets can only be purchased on the bus or at the bus centres like Europa Bus Centre in Belfast as there is no online ticketing system yet. The exception to this is the X1/X2 service to and from Dublin, as tickets can be bought on both Translink’s website and Bus Éireann’s website. Do note that Bus Éireann only sells tickets for the timeslots they operate, whereas Translink sells tickets for all timeslots, so it is more convenient to use Translink’s website. Buses are decently comfortable albeit with a tight legroom which might be uncomfortable for some.
Goldline buses feature a white-blue-gold livery, though some double-decked buses are very blue.
Airport services: Translink also runs airport buses to Belfast’s 2 main airports. Both routes begin in the Europa Bus Centre. Route 300 serves Belfast International, while Route 600 serves Belfast City Airport.
***For the dedicated NIR info page on this blog, click here.***
Rail services are provided by Northern Ireland Railways. It serves a hybrid intercity-commuter function, and the trains look more like commuter trains than intercity ones on the outside. All trains either pass through or terminate in all of central Belfast’s stations of which there are 4: Great Victoria Street, City Hospital, Botanic, and Belfast Central. The only exception to this is the cross-border Enterprise service, which starts its journey from Belfast Central and does not stop until Portadown.
Trains follow a set timetable that is fairly frequent, and are mostly on time. Timetables can be accessed on the website or picked up as a pamphlet at stations with ticket halls. Tickets can be bought from ticket halls, or from onboard conductors if you boarded from an unmanned station. This also means there are no faregates to validate your printed ticket, though there are staff checking everyone’s tickets at Great Victoria Street.
While Belfast Central is technically the “Central” Station, Great Victoria Street is located closer to the city centre than Belfast Central. It is connected to the neighbouring Europa Bus Centre via a 2 minute walk indoors, which makes for a highly convenient connection. As a matter of fact if you’re coming to Belfast on one of the intercity trains it makes more sense to get off here than at Belfast Central, as the only thing that sets Belfast Central apart from Great Victoria Street is the inclusion of the Enterprise service to Dublin.
For timetables, fare/ticket information and a journey planner function, please visit Translink’s website.