Driving on the opposite side of the road is only the start of a driving vacation in Ireland! How to Survive Driving in Ireland with rental car tips will help plan an enjoyable tour to meet your needs and create a trip of a lifetime to the beautiful Emerald Isle.
Ireland is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ll never forget the first time I traveled there for work and walked out of the plane door to breath in the cool air. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being ‘home’.
The feeling only strengthened with the kindness and humor of everyone I met on my multiple trips. I’d mainly spent time in Dublin, Cork and north of Dublin however never had the need to drive there until taking a trip with my family this summer.
It’s not for the faint of heart for those used to driving on the opposite side of the road! I learned several things I am passing along today for your travel planning to the Emerald Isle!
I made this video from the passenger seat to post on Instagram Stories while we were traveling. It gives a sense of one of the more nerve wracking aspects to driving in Ireland: the size of the roads and lack of shoulder (or a 6-inch shoulder bordered by a stone wall waiting to scrape the side of the car as you acclimate to driving on the opposite side of the road and the size of your rental car).
Americans are used to sprawling, spacious roads with ample shoulders. Driving in Ireland requires compact thinking, possible nimble maneuvers on smaller roads and as the rental car reminder says on the bottom of the passenger window ‘Drive On The Left’ of the road.
It’s easy to spend time in the main cities of Ireland without a car. There is plenty of transportation and frankly it’s more enjoyable to tour and not worry about driving on the opposite side of the road or parking a rental car. Unless you are on an organized tour however it’s not possible to get out into the wilds of Ireland, exploring the coastline in the west or smaller towns off the beaten track. If like me you enjoy exploring and taking the road less traveled these tips on how to survive driving in Ireland will come in handy!
How to Survive Driving in Ireland with Rental Car Tips
Reserve an automatic transmission car early
I found myself awake in the middle of an angst-ridden night researching car rental in Ireland. We pulled our trip together rather spontaneously and most rental car agencies have a very limited number of automatic transmission cars.
At first, I wasn’t worried as both my husband and I know how to drive a stick shift. Then it dawned on me that trying to drive a manual transmission car with the stick on the left while trying to retrain my brain to drive on the opposite side of the road was akin to rubbing my stomach and patting my head simultaneously without killing someone.
If you prefer an automatic transmission vehicle, rent early and print out your rental reservation to present when picking up the car. I’ve heard of travelers showing up after reserving an automatic to find all that was left were manual transmission cars. We rented through Avis and had no issue.
Rent the smallest car that will fit your needs
Ireland is not a country designed for large vehicles. We rented an Audi sedan which would not be considered large by American standards but seemed mammoth when negotiating parking spaces and anything other than the main motorway. It’s far easier to get around in a smaller car.
Check the trunk size of the rental car online for your luggage requirements
Fortunately, my husband had done research to learn the trunk or ‘boot’ size of the cars in Ireland are smaller than what we are used to in the U.S. Most of the online rental car companies will detail how much luggage can fit in the trunk of the car and they mean it. We had four travelers for over two weeks of travel. We got very creative about our packing and purchased rolling duffle bags that were soft sided allowing them to squish together more easily than hard sided luggage. Even with renting the largest possible car, we ended up with a few smaller laptop bags wedged between kids in the back seat. Pre-plan your space needs before you arrive in Ireland.
Buy extra insurance
Did you know your credit card company probably covers you when renting a car abroad? Call to verify this and the coverage. We used a Chase Bank card and indeed they covered us and suggested we did not need any additional insurance. After reading the statistic that over 60% of Americans return their rental cars in Ireland damaged, we opted for the rental agency’s coverage too!
Review driving rules and traffic signs before going
When we were driving in Dublin we encountered some signs and traffic light sequences we’d never seen, and that were not intuitively obvious. Some rules of the US roads may not be legal in Ireland as well. Though an international driver’s license is not required as of the writing of this post, you are expected to understand the rules of the road. These links for driving information, road signs and driving tips will help get a jump on driving habits that you might not know!
Rent a GPS
Rental car agencies offer GPS rental and using coordinates for locations is much more popular in Ireland than in the US. It made all the difference when we left Dublin for the wild shores of the west coast of Ireland. I also used Google Maps via my international cell phone coverage but depending on your plan it can be expensive.
Check your lodging for parking before arriving
We ended up selecting our lodging based on whether they offered parking as many places do not. When in cities like Dublin or Cork you really don’t need a rental car and it’s easier to get around without one walking, using taxis or public transportation.
Parking is in limited supply and becoming familiar with different driving rules in a busy city is tough. It’s easier to pick up a car when leaving the city rather than to bother trying to drive and park it in the bustling streets. We also found unless we were doing things like touring the Wild Atlantic Way or going to the Cliffs of Moher, leaving the car at our lodging in places like Galway and Kilkenny, and taking a taxi into the city center for dining or walking around was far more relaxing.
Watch for unexpecting things on the road
Like sheep. When taking the roads less traveled especially you can come upon a blind turn and find yourself in a flock of sheep wandering the road. Or maybe a large bus that has no intention of getting our of your way. Be aware especially on the blind curves and don’t be surprised to come face to face with a car large enough that disallows both of you to pass safely. Relax and be flexible.