On our trip to Ireland we decided to rent a car for most of the trip, except for our time in Dublin. We looked at different options and because we were there in September, outside of the tourist season and I have lived/driven in Europe before, we thought we could handle the left-side driving and narrow roads. We definitely made the right decision for us, but we had our adventures with it too. Here are a few things to keep in mind when driving in Ireland.
Size – Make sure you get a smaller car, this is a place where bigger is not necessarily better. The roads are narrow, lanes are narrower than what you’re used to in the States, and parking is limited. We wanted a small car but ended up in a small compact SUV and it worked fine, but I wouldn’t recommend a full size SUV or large sedan.
Insurance – Insurance will be a huge chunk of your car rental. I would recommend using a credit card that offers rental car insurance on it. But make sure to call them in advance and make sure that your insurance is valid in Ireland. Most credit card companies exclude Ireland in their insurance policies because of the Irish laws. Citi Advantage does cover Ireland. You will need to get a letter of coverage dated within 30 days of your trip – they will require to see it. Electronic copy worked okay for us. Even with the Citi insurance, we still had to get additional insurance for things not covered by the Citi policy, but we were able to save a lot of money.
Gas – A lot of cars in Europe use diesel gas, so be careful when filling the tank. Usually I ask at the rental car place which fuel the car uses, but if you forget, it’s also written on the gas cap. You do not want to put the wrong gas in, you will need a new car if you do.
Back-up camera – Check to make sure your rental car has a back-up camera / Bluetooth. Most of them do, but you don’t want to get stuck with a car that doesn’t.
Automatic transmission – Most cars in Europe still have standard transmission, so when you’re booking your car, make sure you select the option for automatic. The last thing you want is trying to changing gears with your left hand while driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Putting a seatbelt on correctly was enough of an issue for me.
The large tourist attractions like Cliffs of Moher and restored castles operating as hotels had large parking lots that you would expect. But the majority of ruined castles, cliffs and nature attractions had small parking lots of pull off parking only. We didn’t have any issues with parking, but we were there off-season. I can see how parking would get filled up really fast in peak season. Also, some city parking lots only accept local coins, so make sure you have some with you if you plan to park in cities (Euros in Ireland and British pounds in Northern Ireland).
Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road
Driving on the left side of the road seems intimidating, but your brain adjusts pretty quickly to it. However, there are a few things that you really need to pay attention to:
Pulling out and turning – When you are pulling out onto a street or turning on a road, make sure you’re not driving out of habit and pay attention, cause your brain will want to turn on the wrong side of the street.
Roundabouts – Ireland is full of roundabouts! If you’re from the US and haven’t driven roundabouts much, brush up on the driving rules related to them, especially when there are two lanes of traffic going through. I had a friend who got to Ireland and started driving, thinking “this left side thing is easy, I can do it.” And then he got to the first roundabout and had no idea which way to go or what the rules were. So, it’s worth it to spend a couple of minutes to look it up.
Watch your instincts – Driving is mostly done by habit and instinct, without consciously thinking about it. That’s a great thing since our autopilot brain is much better at processing large amounts of information coming at us while driving…until your habits are different than what you need. For example, a lot of the roads are pretty narrow and there isn’t a lot of traffic on them, so you’ll end up driving in the middle of the road most of the time. Which is okay, until a car comes from around the corner headed your way and your instinct kicks in and you swerve to the right to avoid it instead of to the left. Now you’re head on with oncoming car. This actually happened to us, fortunately my friend was able to swerve back to the left just in time. So, don’t drive out of habit, consciously think about it when conditions change.
Addresses and Getting to Places
When we were planning our trip I noticed that a lot of the hotels and attractions didn’t really have full street addresses, some just had a street name, some didn’t even have that. I was concerned about being able to find places – turned out Google Maps was pretty good at it and we didn’t really have any issues. Here are some examples of addresses: Waterford Hotel is located at The Island, Waterford; Blarney Castle’s address is Monacnapa, Blarney.
Other Driving-Related Items
Google Maps – Make sure you download off-line maps since you may not have reception or want to pay international fees. Even if your phone is in Airplane mode, off-line maps for navigation will work. Do not use Apple Maps – most of Europe operates on Android phones, so locations on Google Maps will be much more accurate and up-to-date.
Music – Download music to your phone, unless you want to listen to spotty Irish radio the whole trip.
Chargers – Don’t forget your car charger or USB cord for your phone.
Check out our post on Top 10 Places to Visit in Ireland
If you’d like to pin this post, here is an image: