20 Tips for How to Drive in Ireland for Tourists
Tips for Driving a Car in Ireland
Are you planning a trip to Ireland? You will absolutely love it! It is one of the most beautiful countries. Its luscious, green hills and beautiful countryside are straight out of fairy tales.
When I was considering renting a car in Ireland, I had many questions about safety and logistics:
- Is driving in Ireland safe?
- How do I navigate?
- Should I get a manual or automatic?
- What type of insurance should I get?
- Which rental car company should I go with?
- How do I pay the tolls?
- What is it like driving on the left side of the road?
I wavered back and further between going with public transportation or driving by myself. I made the commitment to drive by myself. These 20 tips are for people from the United States of America and anyone who is not used to driving on the left side of the road.
Do I Need an International Driver's License?
No. If you have a U.S. driver's license you do not. Just be sure to check age restrictions with your rental car company.
To Drive or Not to Drive?
I only recommend driving in Ireland if you are a confident driver. Absolutely rent an automatic rather than a manual (even if you are comfortable). Spend the extra money! Navigating and driving on shoulderless roads is just too much to focus on at once.
Top 20 Tips for How to Drive in Ireland as a Tourist
- Rent an automatic well ahead of time. Even if you are comfortable driving a manual, spend that extra money! Dodging sheep and trucks while navigating on huge hills without shoulders is too much to do while driving stick!
- Rent from a reputable company (also called "care hire"). I rented from Europcar at Dublin airport (Terminal 2). They were great!
- Purchase the expensive most comprehensive insurance. You will see many cars with scrapes across the side. Don't chance it and spend that extra money.
- Rent a GPS device. This is a must! Also be sure to activate the GPS voice instructions. I used a "Tom Tom" when I was traveling.
- Rely on GPS coordinates, not addresses. Many times, my GPS device had no idea what I was trying to find. That's when I started relying on GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude). It's easy to find this info—see below.
- Activate your lane departure warning. This was especially helpful in my car. I could tell on narrow roads when I was either too center or too left. This is helpful when passing in narrow areas.
- Petrol = gas = green! Unlike in the states, gasoline is called "petrol" and is indicated by green coloring. Diesel is black. Do not mix these two up!
- Don't drive fatigued. I decided to take a red eye from the the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.A. I arrived in Dublin at 8 am totally fatigued and jumped into my rental car right away. This was a bad idea! I was so tired. Don't drive fatigued.
- Use the MyTaxi app. If you need to get around, MyTaxi is an excellent app that lets you hail a taxi to and from. There is also great public transportation (bus and train) options.
- Schedule your flight arrival into Dublin to avoid rush hour traffic. I took to the road at 11 a.m.—this allowed me to get used to driving on the left side of the road when things were calmer.
- Carry toll money. All tolls are 1.90 euro (currently). There is someone at the booths to collect a toll and you can pay with larger bills (5,10, 20, 50 euro) or with credit card. Or simply pay with 2 euro (coins)—it's quick and easy.
- The M50 is the only toll you have to pay online (or at a booth). It was easy to pay online (described below).
- Drive with your lights on. This helps drivers see you.
- When driving through a busy intersection, follow the car in front of you. Yes, just blindly follow them. This helped me most when I was overwhelmed driving through a city.
- Use the shoulders. Shoulders are sparse, so keep an eye open for opportunities to pull over and let people pass. Use shoulders to pull over and take a deep breath if you are overwhelmed.
- Embrace the idea of roundabouts. Roundabouts supplement stop signs in Ireland. If you are to take the first exit, stay left. If you need to take a 2nd or 3rd exit, stay right (center).
- Always look right. Oncoming traffic is coming from the right. Remember this when walking too.
- Gas stations have free wifi. If you are lost, pull into a gas station. Many of them have excellent work stations and free wifi.
- Watch out for livestock. Sheep will sleep in the road at night in the countryside. They don't care about you, but you should care about them.
- Stop if you think you can't pass. If a huge tour bus is coming at you, hug the left barrier and stop. Let the experienced driver do the passing.
Driving in Northern Ireland
Driving into Belfast (N. Ireland) with Southern plates may make you stand out but it is not a reason not visit. Times have changed. Just be smart. I visited Shankhill Road and was a little ignorant driving through some of the neighborhoods but everything was fine—be respectful, mindful, and aware.
Km to Miles Conversion
Not as confusing as it seems. I generally halved anything in km to convert it to miles. The conversion is much closer to 1 km = .6 miles, but halving it works just fine. Think of it this way, 1 km to drive? .5 mile. 2 km = 1 mile (roughly).
Tips for Renting a Car in Ireland
I could not recommend this any more, rent an automatic, spend the extra money, and do this months in advance. No matter how comfortable you are driving stick, you will thank me later. There is just too much new stuff to manage to go with a stick (hills, huge buses, no shoulders, roundabouts, livestock, navigation, passing).
Which Company Should You Rent From ("Car Hire")?
You will most likely be arriving in Terminal 2 and Dublin airport. If this is the case, you will want to schedule your arrival during a time where there will not be as much traffic (rush hour times are the same)—drive after 11 am and avoid 3-5 pm. I went with Europcar and had a great experience with them. They were nice, reliable, and their customer service was great. Have them activate your "lane departure warning" on your car or check the manual to do so. This setting indicates when you are veering across the divide or too close to a wall or the shoulder.
You Will Need a GPS Device
You will WANT a GPS device. I used a Tom Tom. This is a must! Many times my phone navigation was absolutely. Addresses were totally useless in my GPS device too. I ended up relying on GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude). This is far less confusing than it seems. You will also want to active the "voice" directions on your device. I forgot to do this the first day and it was SOO confusing.
How to Find GPS Coordinates With Google Maps
- Find your destination in Google maps.
- Right-click the red marker.
- Select "What's here."
- GPS coordinates post at the bottom off the page.
- Record them by hand (verify them); take a picture of them with your phone.
- When you enter them into your GPS device (use "Longitude, Latitude"), do it as follows: 51.931583 -8.571271 (Don't forget the space.)
When Lost, Navigate to the "City Centre"
Sometimes my coordinates wouldn't get picked up in poor signal areas. Occasionally, I was able to use my phone to navigate to nearby businesses. Most of the time, I simply typed in the city center (centre). Go to "Directions" and simply type in "Country Cork"—it will offer the "city centre." Go with that until you arrive, then enter your GPS coordinates. Finding the city centre is safe and will get you to where you need to be.
Paying Tolls in Ireland
Paying tolls can seem intimidating, but it's really not. You have probably already heard of the M50 and all that crazy stuff. It's really not that complicated. Here's what I recommend.
I arrived in Dublin with some emergency money. I had exchanged US dollars for 40 euros (dealt in 10s) just to keep on me in case I needed it—I got change at the airport when I bought a snack. Every toll booth will have a live person there except for the M50 (takes a picture of your license plate). This means that you can pay in euros (big bills are accepted, too—5, 10, 20, 50 euros) and credit card. I only paid in cash. If you have euros on you when you arrive in the airport, you can break some of your larger bills by buying a snack. Euros are easy to pay with.
Each toll booth is 1.90 euros
You can use euro coins (use two 1 euro coins or one 2 euros coin.). These work perfectly. People are nice and won't get impatient with you fumbling. The toll lines are not bad at all either.
How to Pay the M50 Toll in Ireland
This was actually super easy for me. I believe you have something like 24 hours to pay the M50 toll. It simply takes a picture of your plates. I read about there being booths at gas stations, but I simply went online to eflow.ie and clicked "pay a toll." You enter your car's ID (plates or rental ID on the car keychain) and add your credit card. Enter your credit card manually (it did not work for me with the autofill). It's around 3 euros+ in total. SUPER EASY!
Driving in Northern Ireland
I definitely wanted to check out Belfast in Northern Ireland. You may have heard about the history of Northern Ireland, and it would certainly be wise to do some research and reading about the history of the conflict so that you can be educated and understand not only the people, but the intense emotions surrounding the topic. Primarily, this ongoing conflict is between Protestants and Catholics, British and Irish.
Years of violence took place, hence the sensitive topic of the Irish car bombs. You should certainly take your time to visit this area to see the powerful murals that line the buildings of the streets. Shankhill Road is one such area I visited, as well as the peace wall, and several surrounding murals. My car had southern plates, and you will certainly stand out in that sense. I sensed ongoing tension, but let me remind you that things have changed very much.
Tips for Driving in Belfast
Plan to visit during the day, park in a public area, and don't be oblivious to the surrounding neighborhoods. Pay people respect—this is their home. Don't go around snapping photos like a tourist, basically. It was really worth it to me to visit Belfast, especially because my friend who I was visiting was from here. You will see Irish and North Irish (UK) flags flying on opposite sides of the road. It's intense!
Note: Note that there is a currency change to pounds instead of euros in North Ireland. Also, you need to let your rental car company know that you will be entering into North Ireland when you pick up your car.
A Great Video Tutorial for How to Drive in Ireland
Petrol = gas = green!
How Is Driving in Ireland Different? Traffic Rules
Most importantly, you should verify that your car takes gas "petrol" and remember that at every gas station this is indicated by green. Diesel is in black! Do not mix this up! Also, you fill up before you pay. So simply fill up your tank, walk to the register, and tell them which pump you were on.
Driving on the Left Side of the Road
No joke, when I picked up my car (you will be driving on the passenger's side AND driving on the left side of the road), I freaked. I had watched several videos beforehand, and one help tip was to adjust the mirrors. I adjust my left mirror to angle downwards so I could see how close I was so the left wall/barriers.
IT WILL FEEL WEIRD! There's no way around it. I actually left the Dublin rental car facility, drove around in a loop, and pulled back in to catch my breath. Yes, it was that overwhelming. Take your time when getting situated. The best advice I was given by the rental car agency employee was:
- Avoid traffic, drink a coffee.
- Pull over and take a deep breath if overwhelmed.
- Follow the car in front of you through an intersection.
- If you think you can't pass, just stop.
Road Indicators and Traffic Rules
There aren't stop signs but there are roundabouts. I actually much prefer roundabouts over stop signs now! Here's what I learned about roundabouts.
- If you need to exit immediately, stay left (think of it as staying in the lane closest to the exit). Use your blinker, too.
- If you need to exit the 2nd or 3rd exit in the roundabout, sometimes it's no problem because it's a double lane, stay right. Use your blinker and check over your left shoulder when exiting.
- If you are lost, go around again, and again, and again, until you feel good exiting.
The Center Divide Is Not Yellow
The center divid is a white checked line. This can be confusing, but most roads have one lane of traffic either way, so pretty obvious.
Instead of traffic lights going from green to yellow to red, the lights go from red, to yellow, too green. So you will see the yellow light right before you hit green again.
Always Look Right
Always look right—whether driving or walking—this is oncoming traffic.
Driving Feels Like a Game of Chicken
When you first drive the country roads, you will feel like you are playing a game of chicken. You have cars barreling at you with no center divide. It's scary! Go slow, but you will get used to it.
Passing Is Possible
You are allowed to pass where indicated, and many times on the larger roadways there is a nice white-checked shoulder where slower traffic will drive to let other cars pass. Simply straddle this line and drive at half the speed—the other cars will get it.
Can't Pass? Stop
Tour buses will come at you at times when there is no lane divide. Pull as far left as you can (to the shoulder, eve if there isn't one), and simply stop. Let them squeak by with 2 inches of space. They're more experienced.
Watch Out for Narrow Shoulders
Many shoulders have ditches and soft grass—don't get stuck or get a wheel off the road.
If you are driving in the countryside, you may want to know how to change a spare tire. I took this chance, but there is a possibility you could get a flat when you are way out there. Though I imagine, people are pretty helpful.
I literally had herds of sheep running towards my car in the morning, lambs nursing in the road, and lambs sleeping in the road at night. Pay attention!
Speeding and Police
There are "camera" signs everywhere that you enter a town, tell you to slow down. I've heard these don't work, but who knows. You won't want to speed anyways. The police presence "Garda" is low and their cars are well marked with neon blue and green checkers.
Parking wasn't too challenging at all. A lot of it was parallel, but there are many car parks in the cities. Just be sure to carry change. I couldn't use my credit card on some machines. Mind the time zones and parking regulations—they are fond of putting the clamp on cars.
If you are coming down a pass or on a narrow road, the car that is going uphill yields—that is, they back up into the nearest shoulder. This can be sketchy but the locals are pretty skilled.
Honking and Road Rage
Everyone was pretty nice. I was never honked at. You might get the occasional fist (I got one from a biker and from a man in the countryside when we came around the same blind shoulder). For the most part, no one honked—except in Dublin—and generally people just look at you with a "Are they okay?" expression when you're doing something stupid.
Driving in Dublin
You don't need to! There is plenty of ways to get around. I downloaded the MyTaxi app which was super easy (better than Uber and Lyft)—you can prearrange ride so the airport and you the system is way may secure. Cars are clearly marked and people have solid IDs.
- Bus and train transportation is also available and fairly nice—digital signs post arrival times.
- You can also rent a bike called "JustEat"—get the bike app, rent the bike, ride it, park it at any of their automated locking facilities. Super easy.
I dropped my rental car off at the Dublin airport (Terminal 2) after 10 days and took a Taxi into town (you can also take the bus from the airport). It was super easy. I walked about 16 km in two days in Dublin just sightseeing. You won't want a car there.
Why I Chose to Drive in Ireland
I chose to drive in Ireland because I wanted to see places and things that I wouldn't be able to access by tour bus. Doolin, for instance, does not allow tour buses down some of their narrower roads. I also like to be on my own schedule. Some days you will want to stay in one location longer. Also, the countryside is gold, and you simply can't see the "thin places" if you are being escorted by a huge tour bus.
My Driving History
I grew up in California and drove some pretty sketchy freeways—Highway 1 (on the way to Santa Cruz), Highway 1 (Big Sur, cliffs), Highway 89 (Lake Tahoe, steep), and San Francisco (hilly, traffic). All of these roads prepared me for what I would encounter . . . mostly.
Should I Drive in Ireland?
I wouldn't change anything about my trip. Driving 2800 km in Ireland was well worth it. You will want to seriously think it through though. I always recommend as with any road trip, carry extra money, water, and food. You never know where you might get stuck. People in Ireland are nice and helpful—road tripping around was a blast. If you are 80% committed to driving and 20% terrified, you will be fine. If you are 50/50, you may want to use public transportation instead. Happy travels!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Layne Holmes