Ireland Driving Tips

Ireland Driving Tips

When planning our trip to Ireland, we knew we wanted to rent a car and drive around ourselves. I do the majority of our travel planning when we go on trips. But one task that I consistently delegate to D is renting the car. Renting a car in Ireland does present a few logistical challenges when coming from the United States. I thought it best if D offered what he learned. So, here’s D with his Ireland driving tips.

On about our fifth day in Ireland, we realized that we had no plans for lunch. So we did what any self-respecting American does while traveling abroad- we googled the nearest McDonalds. Once we arrived, I pulled directly into the drive-thru, entering from the wrong direction and prompting the McDonalds worker in the window to poke her head and wave her hands frantically. Truthfully, driving on the left when you’re accustomed to driving on the right can be disorienting. So if you are planning a trip to Ireland, be prepared for some tricky situations. With that, here are some quick tips for driving on the Emerald Isle.

On renting a car in Ireland

Choose your driver wisely… if you can

My wife is not a big fan of driving, particularly in foreign countries, and our eldest child is five, so the driving duties fell to me. I think my family vastly overvalues my driving capabilities, but I was willing to give it a go. Truthfully, you can’t really get around the island any other way, so unless you plan to spend all your time in one place, you will need to bite the bullet and rent a car. While there is plenty to do in Dublin, we wanted to see more of the country, too.

Be prepared for the rental company to put a hold on your card

As a warning, the rental companies will put a hefty, several thousand Euro hold on your credit card if you don’t buy their insurance. I presume that they’ve had enough experience with us crazy right-lane drivers to know that a significant security blanket is required. I am happy to report that we returned our vehicle fully intact, despite my best efforts to wreck it, and the rental company removed the charge from my card a few days later.

Get to know your vehicle

Once you are in the garage, take a little extra time to get familiar with your vehicle. If you are accustomed to driving in the States, you will notice some subtle differences, apart from the obvious ones. Many of the vehicles in Ireland, for example, are diesel. I did a pretty close inspection and noticed a sizable gash in one of the passenger-side tires. I reported that to the sleepy-eyed gentleman behind the counter in the garage. He looked it over once and seemed unconcerned (yikes!), but he took a picture and noted the damage was present before we had the car in our possession.

Ireland Driving Tips

Once inside the vehicle, take your time getting comfortable with it; there is no rush, so just relax. Most of the vehicles in Ireland come with a standard transmission. You can pay extra for the automatic, but if you are comfortable driving a stick shift, you can save a little money. We rented a stick shift, and I am happy to report that it was not overly difficult adjusting to shifting with my opposite hand. The clutch is still the pedal to the far left, so no need to panic. Once I was familiar with the car, I drove slowly out of the garage to allow myself ample space to get accustomed to driving while sitting on the right side of the car.

On Driving in Ireland

Irish countryside roads can be very narrow and windy

Imagine you are driving down an idyllic lane in the countryside, enjoying the wonderful panoramic views to either side of you, without a care in the world. Now get that image out of your head because that’s not what driving in the Irish countryside is like. Once you leave the more urban areas, the roads can get very narrow. At one point, we were driving what seemed to be an already narrow road when we came upon a sign warning that the road narrowed ahead! We were incredulous, but soon enough we came to a bridge just wide enough for a small car. We crossed the bridge while holding our breath, only to encounter a large dump truck coming in the opposite direction. I have no clue how that truck fit on that road.

The roads in Ireland are not unlike the roads in Central America- windy, twisty, and not truly intended to accommodate two-way traffic. The exception is the main highways and roads in and around the larger cities, which were wider. I suggest sticking to the highways as much as you can.

Watch out for the roundabouts

You should also be aware that Irish roads are full of roundabouts. At one point in our journey, we had to cross through five consecutive roundabouts, spaced at half-kilometer intervals. We were all a bit motion-sick after that. The roundabouts can get confusing, so pay close attention to the signs before you enter and while you are going through. Luckily, my children thought I was just having fun as I drove in circles looking desperately for the sign that would tell me which exit to take.

Driving on the opposite side is not as bad as I thought

It took some adjusting, but I was able to get comfortable driving on the left after our first day. Dublin is full of signs warning you to stay on the left and guiding you to the correct side of the road. It was clear to me that the signage was designed to accommodate tourists. Ireland is one of a minority of countries that drive on the left, and it appears they have gone out of their way to help foreign visitors, which I appreciated. I recommend taking it slow the first day, even if the drivers around you grow impatient (remember that hold on your credit card!) And, though the roads in the countryside are narrow, as already mentioned, they are generally well-marked and maintained.

Ireland Driving Tips

We planned all of our routes ahead of time, and we purchased a Wi-Fi connection from our rental car company so we could have access to GPS while we were there. Side note: get the Wi-Fi from the rental company. It was worth every penny since it allowed us to use our phones to look up directions on the fly.

I hope you find these Ireland driving tips helpful. Driving in Ireland was an adventure, but very doable. I hope you have as much fun as we did!

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