Driving in Ireland seems to be on everyone’s bucket list, and for very good reason. To say that Ireland is beautiful is an understatement. It is far better to say that Ireland is spectacular. If given the chance, I would be there now.
After several trips, we have found that the best way to see Ireland is by car. Now, I know the idea of driving on the left side with the steering wheel on the right can be intimidating if not downright frightening. I must admit; my first time driving in Ireland caused me to have a minor panic attack. But trust me, it is worth it.
There are several things to know before driving in Ireland that can be very beneficial. These are things I learned before, during, and after several trips to Ireland.
Let’s get started.
Left Side is the Right Side.
Every morning, before we hopped in the car for our daily excursions, I would remind myself of this. An easy way to think about this is the driver is always closest to the middle of the road. Much of Ireland’s country lanes are two-way roads so remembering where you’re supposed to be is important. When lanes become larger, like the motorways, I tend to stay on the left to let faster traffic pass on the right. I found this to be far less stressful.
Manual is King
Most cars outside of the US are manuals. I was fortunate to have learned to drive manual when I was 16 so the thought of driving a manual never bothered me. If this is not an option, reserve and specify an automatic early on in your planning. Automatics are rare and pricey so plan accordingly.
Kilometers, not Miles
Mileage markers are posted in kilometers. The first time I traveled with friends here they had a minor meltdown when they saw the distance and speed from one location to another. I quickly had to explain the difference between customary and metric units of measure. One mile is about 1.6 kilometers so 60 miles is about 96 kilometers.
The Roads are Tight
Ireland is an old country. Outside of the big cities, the roads are narrow. Many of these roads have walls bordering them. According to our car rental agent from Sixt Car Rental in Dublin, the number one accident among tourists is scraping the walls with their rental car. Get to know your car before hitting the open road.
Smaller is Better
When renting a car, we’ve learned to not get the larger upgrades that are offered. We get the smallest car that will still provide comfort for our luggage and us. When you have to share the road with large tour busses, the smaller cars maneuver so much better.
Know the Limits
Motorways have a speed limit of 120 kilometers per hour unless there is a work zone in progress. Most regional roads are 60 to 100 kilometers per hour. You won’t see too many traffic enforcement officers on the roads but do be aware, there are traffic cameras everywhere. Speeding tickets are expensive. Lastly, the speed signs can be hard to spot and are about ½ the size of US signs. Know what to look for beforehand. See below.
Ireland is a small country in comparison to many of its neighbors. However, this does not mean seeing the top sites will be easy without some planning. Know the distances and double the time. It’s so easy to want to pack too much into any single day. Unfortunately, the reality is it takes longer than expected to get from one site to another. We rarely plan more than three sites in a day. Most of the time, we plan only two so that we can linger in a place and enjoy the surrounding rather than rush from one site to another. Plus, this allows us to plan another visit to Ireland.
Know the Roundabout Rules
Roundabouts can be intimidating but the rules are actually quite simple. As you enter the roundabout, stay left if you are exiting the first two exits. Stay right if you are exiting exits 2, 3, or 4. See the picture below.
Have a GPS or a Personal Hotspot (my personal favorite)
Street signs are confusing. I always carry a paper map. However, I love having access to Google Maps as I’m driving. With a personal Internet hotspot, using Google Maps has been a breeze. I bought my personal hotspot through Vodafone and I love it! It cost me about $50 USD and a local sim card ($20 is enough for a month’s usage). I don’t have to worry about loosing satellite connection nor do I have to guess at traffic delays. Google Maps has helped me avoid many traffic jams by offering me an alternative route. Plus, I can use my own personal phone via the Internet instead of relying on free Wi-Fi locations that are open to everyone. These lovely devices can be rented at many car rentals for about $12 per day.
Be Patient and Share the Road
The Irish are probably the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They are also very patient drivers. Learn to share the road with other drivers and farm animals. There have been a few times we came to a stop because the local sheep decided to take their time crossing the road. Don’t get frustrated; this is all part of the Irish experience. Sharing the road with tour busses is also important. Remember, they have a harder time maneuvering than you do. Pull over and let them pass instead of trying to squeeze through a tight spot.
Driving in Ireland does not have to be difficult. In fact, I look forward to this more and more upon each visit. If Ireland is on your bucket list, consider an Ireland road trip. The memories will be worth every little bit of hesitation.