7 Tips for Driving in Ireland For an Epic Road Trip

Ireland is a very special place to me. I spent a few months in 2017 living there with a wonderful host family, and I went back recently for a long-awaited Ireland road trip.

I drove around the Ring of Kerry, with a quick detour to the Cliffs of Moher, and I gathered a few tips for driving in Ireland for anyone considering an Irish road trip for themselves.

Let’s make one thing clear – I believe that renting a car in Ireland is really the best way to see the country. If you’re comfortable driving, it’s the only mode of transport I’d recommend on the Emerald Isle, especially if you want to maximize your time.

Before you jump in the driver’s seat though, there are a few things you should be aware of regarding renting a car and driving yourself around Ireland.

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Essential Tips For Driving in Ireland For Foreigners

Driving in Ireland for the first time may feel daunting for some, so I hope these tips for driving in Ireland as a tourist are helpful. As you create the road trip itinerary of your dreams, remember these seven tips. 

1. Choose Your Rental Car Carefully

First of all, the minimum age to rent a car in Ireland is 25 years old.

Automatic or Manual?

In Europe, manual transmission cars are the norm. So, before you get too excited about what appears to be a very cheap rental rate, check whether the vehicle you choose is manual or automatic. 

Automatic transmissions can be much more expensive, sometimes nearly double the cost of a manual. But if you can drive a stick shift and are comfortable doing so abroad, go for it. Otherwise, beware!

Pay attention to your options as you browse European car rental companies online. And remember – the search function tends to prioritize manual transmission options. It’s also worth double-checking your rental confirmation after making the reservation.

PS: We love using Europcar when renting a car in Europe, as we have found them to be hassle-free and reliable in many countries.

Car Size is SO Important

Additionally, for Ireland specifically, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to rent the smallest car possible.

Reject any free upgrade offered, you will NOT want it. I’ll elaborate on this in a later section, but roads in Ireland are extremely narrow, often winding, and with oncoming traffic, always terrifying if you’re not used to driving on them.

If there’s one thing you remember from this post, let it be to rent the smallest automatic car possible!

A Note on Insurance

Also please note, if you have rental car insurance through your credit card, the Republic of Ireland is one of the few countries that, unfortunately, often is not covered by this insurance.

This means you’ll likely need to purchase at least the basic rental insurance whether with your reservation or at the desk when you pick it up. But double check with your credit card first before you do.

Some travel insurance plans may have rental car collision coverage as an add-on option, so also check with your travel insurance before opting for the expensive insurance from the rental car company.

We have even more tips for renting cars in Europe, if you’re interested. 

renting a car in Ireland
Irish roads are full of obstacles — stay alert! © Sydney Baker

2. Driving, Reversed

Even if you’re generally comfortable driving in foreign countries (stick shift or not), don’t forget that in Ireland you drive on the left side of the road. And as the driver, you’ll be seated on the opposite side of the car. And if you opt for a stick shift, you’ll be shifting with your opposite hand.

All this backward-ness takes a bit of getting used to, but eventually you’ll adjust and not have to stress too much. Just be extra careful each time you turn onto an empty road or take a turn, as it can be easy to slip into autopilot and favor looking to your right for oncoming traffic or pedestrians!

Also, roundabouts. There are a lot of them, as they are much more common in Europe than in the USA. Ireland has a fair amount of multi-lane roundabouts, which can be intimidating at first.

Remember the following points for navigating roundabouts in Ireland, and you’ll be fine:

  • Turn left into a roundabout.
  • If turning left (or taking the first exit) stay in the outside lane.
  • If continuing straight (usually the second exit) you can use either lane.
  • If following the entire circle to take a right, use the inner lane.

Take a deep breath before you enter, it’s okay to Clark Griswold it the first few times if you need to.

road trip in Ireland
Sometimes we felt better just getting out and walking. © Sydney Baker

3. Roads in Ireland Can Be Extremely Narrow

While driving in Ireland as an American, you’ll notice motorways, as they’re called in Ireland, are similar to American highways. However, the lanes are slightly more narrow — as is the norm outside of the US. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve ever rented a car abroad before. 

Once you get off the motorway, however, it’s another story! The roads on the Emerald Isle are on another level of constriction and often barely fit two cars side-by-side. Yikes!

You’ll experience many hills with limited visibility, which is especially not fun when you encounter other passing vehicles, people walking, or cyclists. I found that I frequently did not feel comfortable going the full speed limit. Usually, I would go exactly the speed limit or well below it to feel safe navigating the narrow, winding streets in uncertain directions.

I even drove slowly on country roads! Many of the roads appear to be one-ways, because they’re usually only wide enough for a single car. Not the case!

Even when the road is a bit wider, it’s still a tight fit and one vehicle will need to pull off to the side to let the other safely pass. If you’re on a road with a fence or hedge on either side (as is typical in Ireland) there are usually pull-off areas, but don’t expect them to be marked or very large.

Pull-offs are usually just a short part where the road extends a bit more towards the fence. On really tight lanes, it’s not unheard of for one car to have to reverse for a bit.

Just use caution and roll with it.

Related: Best Road Trip Apps for Your Next Adventure

Irish Roads are narrow. one of our top driving tips for Ireland is to take it slow on these tiny roads.
This is a two-way road! © Sydney Baker

4. Mind the Tolls

Many highways in Ireland are tolled and can be paid with a card or cash (so keep your wallet handy) at the toll booth.

However, there is one main toll on the M50, a main route around Dublin, that is “barrier free,” which means there is no toll booth. Instead, a camera photographs your license plate and you pay the toll later, like many tolls across the US now. 

If you plan to drive on the M50, ask your car rental company if barrier free tolls are included in your rental agreement. Some might include them on your bill upon return. If they don’t, you can pay the toll online, by phone, or at any Payzone retail outlets across Ireland.

These toll fees should be paid before 8pm the following day to avoid late fees.

5. And the Animals

Sheep, deer, and horses, oh my!

No seriously, watch out for all three (and anything else you may encounter) on the road. Particularly in national parks and remote parts of the country where livestock might not be fenced in.

Most animals will avoid the road, but every once in a while one will cross without looking both ways (the nerve!), or they’ll wander a bit too close to the edge. Keep your eyes peeled!

driving tips for ireland: keep an eye out for animals on the road
These sheep were safely away from any roads! © Sydney Baker

6. Reading Irish Road Signs

Signs will typically be in both Irish and English, but some parts of the country out west will almost exclusively be listed in Irish, mostly when referring to proper names of places. For the most part, though, other road signs will still have English translations.

It’s also worth mentioning, like most countries outside the U.S., they use the metric system in Ireland, so remember the speed limits and distances are in kilometers!

And if you see a  blue circle with a left-pointing down arrow, that means keep left.

7. Be Realistic About Your Route

This might be my most important tip about driving in Ireland for tourists.

Americans, in particular, have a bit of a reputation for planning unrealistic Eurotrips — two days in Portugal, three days in France, etc. This can be especially true if you’re focusing on a single country like Ireland. Even with a car.

At first, it can seem like you have so many options and even more time since you won’t be dealing with public transportation. However, it’s easy to become a bit ambitious with the number of stops or areas covered.

In Ireland, some parts of the country take longer to reach than you expect, especially if you’re uncomfortable driving up to the speed limit like I was.

I suggest you really map out your route ahead of time and just focus on one part of the country to explore in-depth. Plus, you’ll have more space and opportunity for spontaneity!

Related: How to Get the Most Out of Two Weeks in Europe

tips for driving in ireland: come up with a realistic itinerary
So much to explore in Ireland, so little time. © Sydney Baker

FAQs About Driving in Ireland

Is driving in Ireland difficult? Driving in any foreign country for the first time can be intimidating, for sure. Going into it feeling prepared is key, and following our advice is sure to help, too!

What documents do I need to drive in Ireland? A valid driver’s license from US, Canada, or EU allows you to drive in the Republic of Ireland (and Northern Ireland) as a tourist. If your license is not in English, you may need to also carry an international driving permit.

Which side of the road do they drive on in Ireland? In Ireland, people drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Are seat belts mandatory in Ireland? Yes, seat belts are mandatory for all passengers in a vehicle in Ireland.

What is the speed limit in Ireland? The speed limits in Ireland vary, but the standard limits are 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on regional roads, and 100 km/h on national roads.

To help, we’ve converted km/h to mph for you:

  • 50 km/h = 31 mph
  • 80 km/h = 50 mph
  • 100 km/h = 62 mph

Depending on where you rent a car, the speedometer may be in one or the other, or perhaps both.

Can I use a mobile phone while driving in Ireland? It’s illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving in Ireland. Use a hands-free device if necessary.

Are there any specific road signs or rules I should be aware of? Familiarize yourself with Irish road signs, especially those related to roundabouts, specific speed limits, and proper Irish names of places.

What type of fuel is used in Ireland, and how widely available are gas stations? Unleaded petrol (gasoline) and diesel are readily available at any gas station throughout Ireland. Most stations accept major credit cards.

I hope these Ireland driving tips will help you have a successful road trip! Let us know if you have any questions.

PS: We love using Europcar when renting a car in Europe, as we have found them to be hassle-free and reliable in many countries.

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