10 Tips for Driving in Ireland
Renting a car and driving in Ireland is one of the best ways to explore the country, especially if you want to discover a few off the beaten path gems. But it also takes some getting used to, especially if you are not used to driving on the left. Here are some tips for driving in Ireland:
1. Drive on the left
That would be very helpful. But most people say that they get used to driving on the left fairly quickly. Roundabouts and traffic circles pose the biggest risk to make a mistake. When turning, my husband and I used the mnemonic saying:
Right is Wide
Left is Tight
Another way to remember is that the driver is always sitting towards the center of the road. Please be aware that some people tend to drive close to the left edge when they are not used to driving on the left.
2. Beware of narrow country roads
Once you leave Dublin and the main motorways, the roads get narrower and narrower. Sometimes they are so narrow, that you need to back up, so oncoming traffic can pass. Driving around Ireland on those winding country roads can be romantic and beautiful, but if you are not used to it, you should take it slow. Pay attention, drive slowly, especially before curves and hills, when you don’t know what the road holds in front of you. You never know if there is a flock of sheep in the middle of the road or some other obstruction.
3. Get a smaller rental car
One way to make driving in Ireland easier is by getting a smaller rental car. Carhire.ie, where we rented our car from, offered me an upgrade to a luxury SUV. I politely declined and I am so glad I did. Our small red Hyundai was perfect for my husband and I, including our copious amounts of luggage.
Unless you are traveling with a large group, there really is no need to drive a huge car in Ireland, and smaller cars have many advantages. You’ll save on gas, find better parking spots, and the winding country roads will be a lot less intimidating if you drive a small car.
4. Take your time
Don’t rush it. Driving around the stunning countryside in Ireland is just as much fun as getting to the actual destination. Slow down and take it all in.
Yes, the distances are short in Ireland, especially compared to the US, Canada, or Australia, but due to the roads, it might take you a lot longer. Google Maps does a pretty good job at guestimating your driving time, but most likely, you will want to stop frequently to check out the cute little towns, or to take photos of the marvelous landscapes on your way.
5. Get a rental car from a reputable company
Make sure that you rent a car from a reputable company. We decided to work with Carhire.ie for our road trip through Ireland and were extremely satisfied. Carhire.ie is actually serviced by Europcar, but you usually get a better price. Europcar is one of the largest rental car companies based in Europe, so you know you are in good hands. Our rental car only had a few thousand kilometers on it, the pick-up and drop-off went fast and painless, and we were not hit by any additional charges or fees, which is so often the case when you rent a car abroad.
Carhire.ie/Europcar has locations in all major Irish cities and then some, so it doesn’t matter if you do a full circle tour or drop your car off at a different location than your pickup.
6. Driver’s license rules and age restrictions to rent a car
If you are renting a car in Ireland, you need to make sure that you can do so legally. Most rental car companies require you to be 8-12 years over the legal driving age in your home country. This doesn’t mean you have to have had your driver’s license for that long, but for example, if you are from the US or Canada, the legal driving age is 16 and the required minimum driving time is 9 years. This means you have to be at least 25 years old to rent a car in Ireland.
There are also restrictions on renting a car if you are over 70 years old. Each rental car company has their own regulations. Some might not rent you a car at all, others will require you to have a higher insurance, other, like Carhire.ie, require a note from your physician that you are fit to drive.
Do your research and make sure you are eligible to get a rental car in Ireland.
7. Get your rental car outside of Dublin
Most tourists start their Ireland adventure in Dublin. After you spend a few days exploring the Irish capital, enjoyed a few Guinness in Temple Bar and are ready to head out, I highly recommend getting your rental outside of Dublin, especially if you are not used to driving on the left. That way, you don’t have to deal with traffic, one-way streets, navigating in the city, all on top of figuring out how not to drive into oncoming traffic.
Most rental car agencies also have a location at the airport, so take your hotel shuttle there, and pick up your rental car outside of Dublin. You can jump right on the motorway and slowly get used to driving on the left.
8. Get a “Learner” sign
This trick, I stole from Rick Steves: Stop by a gas station and get yourself a big yellow “Learner” sticker. You are not allowed to drive on the motorway with it (just take it off, if you do), but people will cut you some slack and keep their distance from you.
9. Get an Automatic
I grew up driving a stick shift. But when I booked our rental car, I made sure we’d get an automatic, because I did not want to deal with driving on the left AND shifting with my left hand. The price was almost double, but I highly recommend it for anyone who is not used to driving and shifting on the left.
Yes, it may be more expensive, but in the end, you also want to enjoy the drive around the remarkable countryside and not be constantly stressed out about driving on the left, tiny road, shifting and more. Make it as easy as possible for yourself, so you can enjoy your road trip around Ireland.
10. Don’t Drink and Drive
Yes, I know, Irish beer, whiskey, and gin are delicious and you should take advantage of tasting them in their natural habitat during your Ireland vacation. But don’t be stupid. Get a taxi, an Über or MyTaxi and be smart. It’s not worth it.
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