Driving in Ireland can be fun and exciting and it’s a great way to see the country, but as almost anyone that has driven there will agree, sometimes it can be a bit of an adventure. From winding narrow roads, to roads with no lane markings, animals on the road, the weather conditions, and quite a few other hazards, it’s a wonder anyone gets around. Well they do, and if you’re prepared for what’s in store, then you will too.
I always advise friends in the US who are visiting Ireland to rent a car that is no bigger than what they need. (for cost-effectiveness reasons I generally rent with Budget Rent-a-Car) When driving in most parts of the US (maybe with the exception of inner-city driving) there’s plenty of room for each car. When driving in Ireland you’ll find you’re not afforded so much room. I’ve heard people say “it’s like driving in a bike lane!” A little bit of exaggeration, but you get the point.
Drive on the left
Cars in Ireland, like England, Australia and a few other countries, are driven on the left hand side (opposite of the USA). Of course the car’s steering wheel is then on the right, which can take a little getting used to for a lot of tourists. A good tip that I try to use, is to stick a little note somewhere you’ll see it every time you sit in, to remind yourself to drive on the left. It may sound silly, but plenty of people have made the mistake of driving on the side they’re used to, which can obviously turn out for the worst. I’ve had plenty of chuckles to myself when, after spending a lot of time in the US, I’ve sat in to the car in Ireland and reached for the wheel, only to realize I sat in at the wrong side. I’m glad my error stopped there, and was not more serious, like pulling out on to the wrong side of the road.
Renting a car
Renting a car in Ireland is similar to renting a car anywhere else in the world. You will need a valid license and usually a credit card or cash deposit. Check the insurance and license requirements before you go. All the major car rental companies, Budget, Hertz, National, Avis etc, have offices there, so you won’t have a hard time finding a rental. Like I mentioned above I generally rent with Budget Rent-a-Car. I find them to be quite reasonable on price, which is probably the only thing that differs with the car rental companies. Customer service, car types etc are usually comparable no matter who you choose to give your money to.
What may come as a surprise to a lot of tourists though is that almost all cars in Ireland are manual (stick shift) and not automatic. Of course the rental companies do offer automatic cars, but the cost factor is significantly more. If someone in your group can drive a manually operated car then you’re gonna save a few Euro/$. And you’ve found your designated driver 🙂
Some rules and tips
1. Turning on a red light is not allowed. 2. Roundabouts (traffic circles) are very common, so do a little research on them if you’re not used to them. Basically the traffic in a roundabout has the right-of-way and entering traffic must yield. 3. Road markings are a bit different e.g. double yellow line = a US red zone (no parking). 4. Parallel parking is very common, so you will find a space faster if you can do this. 5. Don’t be afraid to ask people you pass for directions. Directions are usually given by land markings and not road names. 6. Talking while on a mobile/cell phone is not allowed.
Driving in Ireland is probably the best way you are going to see the country, and probably the most affordable too. It also gives you the freedom to go where you please and when you want. You will be able to take in some spectacular scenery and take detours to some amazing little places that you may not be able to do if you are on a tour bus.
Enjoy, and be safe!
Check out Renting a car in Ireland on IrishAmericanMom.com for more tips on driving in Ireland.