Driving in Ireland – Things You Should Know

Like so many other travelers, we were excited for our first trip to Ireland.  While we were looking forward to many things during our trip, one aspect we were really pumped about was renting a car and driving in Ireland.  Knowing that there would be some good and bad surprises coming our way, we did a lot of research before our trip about tips for driving in Ireland.  Now that we’ve been there and done that, we wanted to share some of our driving in Ireland tips that we learned if you are planning a trip to Ireland too.

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Photo by Sean MacEntee

Driving in Ireland Tip 1 – Take Time to Plan Your Route 

With so many things to see an do, it can really be difficult to nail down a route map for an Ireland road trip.  Our advice is to search as much as possible, and decide what your must see places are.  Then, work your driving route around those things.

Unless you have a month for your visit, there is no way you will get to see everything.  Sadly, some compromises must be made.  We can assure you though that with good planning, you won’t be disappointed with your experience.

Need to Know:  How to Get an International Drivers License

Lastly, having a good driving route for Ireland planned out will help you to stay on track as well as keep you from getting lost.  Doing some advanced planning for your trip will give you time to carefully take notes about your route, so you won’t get lost…especially on some of those confusing back country roads!

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Driving in Ireland Tip 2 – Get Off the Highway!

Speaking of back country roads, when driving in Ireland you must venture off the main highways into the quintessential Irish countryside.  The views are incredible, and it is so much fun going up and down and all around on the winding roads.  We also loved driving the Dingle Peninsula, a much more quiet option than the famous Ring of Kerry – and so much more enjoyable!

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Driving the quiet Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

We truly loved every moment driving on the back roads in Ireland.  The quaint little towns were so charming, and the people so friendly.  It really made us feel like we were transported into a different era, where life is much slower and calm.

Driving in Ireland Tip 3 – Allow Plenty of Time!

One thing to keep in mind when driving in Ireland is to build in plenty of time into your Ireland self-drive travel itinerary, especially when driving the backroads.  While mapping apps will give you an estimate, we recommend that you add nearly double that time to your plan…just to be safe.  You never know when you might get stuck behind a slow car, or when sheep might decide to block the road.

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Taking a break from our drive – in Killarney National Park, Ireland

Plus, you want to have time to enjoy your trip!  Rushing from place to place is not going to make you feel like you experienced Ireland…it’s just going to make you feel like you drove a lot!  Don’t spend all your time in the car – get out and explore!

Need to Know:  International Travel Checklist

We recommend staying 2-3 nights in a town and exploring the nearby area, as opposed to spending 1 night in 2 or 3 towns.  You will have a much better experience and feel more relaxed.

Search Hotels Ireland 2

Driving in Ireland Tip 4 – Take Extra Care in the Countryside

While the views driving in the Irish countryside are gorgeous, you do need to take extra care.  The roads are quite narrow, and traffic can get heavy.  It’s a little alarming when you have tractors coming at you, as well as a stone wall along one side of the road!

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Careful on those narrow back roads – but they are the most beautiful!

As if that isn’t enough, coming from the States we were still getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road…and the car!  Honestly, it’s not as hard as you might fear.  But you do need to pay extra attention.  And it’s helpful if you have a passenger that can shout “wall, wall” when you start to drift too far to one side.

Related Post:  The Ugly Truth About Renting a Car in Ireland

Driving in Ireland Tip 5 – The Scariest Thing (for US visitors)…

For most visitors from the States, the scariest thing about driving in Ireland is that they drive on the opposite side of the road…and the car!  While this will require some adjustments on your part, it is by no means a reason to freak out.

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Practice driving on the opposite side of the car…and road!

Honestly, it’s amazing how easy it is to get accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road.  You will have to pay a bit more attention, and it is easier if you have a passenger in the car who can help remind you on occasion.

The same is true for driving on the opposite side of the car.  It feels completely weird at first!  But after a few days, you really won’t think much of it anymore.  The hardest part is using your left hand to shift gears, if you have a manual transmission.

Driving in Ireland Tip 6 – a Manual Transmission is the Norm (and default rental car option)

Knocklyon, Co. Dublin - Ireland

Speaking of which, you might be surprised to learn that manual transmissions are the norm for cars in much of the world…including Ireland.  Stick shifts are the standard rental car in Ireland, and they are cheaper to rent.  But if you cannot drive one, or don’t feel comfortable with using it during your trip (driving on the opposite side of the road & car), then you must be sure to specify when you make your car rental reservation!

One of Our Final & Biggest Tips for Driving in Ireland…

We did a lot of research before our trip to Ireland, especially when it came to renting a car and driving in Ireland.  Still, even after all that research even we had a few surprises and had to make some adjustments.  Just remember to stay alert — that’s probably one of our biggest tips for driving in Ireland.  

Even as you start to get comfortable with driving on the opposite side of the road, or shifting a manual transmission with your left hand — surprises will come at you.  Whether it’s a suddenly narrow or rocky road, sheep in the road, tractors…or a wall seemingly touching the side of your car!  Just keep your wits about you and stay alert when you are driving in Ireland and you will be just fine.

Editors Note:  This post was originally published in February 2016, but has been revamped and updated in 2019.


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Photo Credits: Photos under CC 2.0tpsdave, mwitt1337, Christian_Birkholz, caisabelle, Sean McEntee

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14 thoughts on “Driving in Ireland – Things You Should Know”

  1. What are the back roads like? I hate windy roads here in Australia, but that’s mostly because I feel the speed limits are obscenely high for the quality of the roads. But the back roads in these photos look slow and meandering, which I love!

    1. Hi Vanessa – thanks for reading and for the comment!

      The back roads are wonderful in Ireland…but they are not all created equal! We found that you can usually go at your own pace, but it depends on traffic. In some areas, traffic can get heavy and some cars might be going fast – while others will be going super slow (and don’t forget those tractors and sheep crossing the road!). So it can really depend. Overall, we loved driving around Ireland on the meandering roads and going at our own pace. We didn’t feel rushed — just be prepared for some narrow spots and watch out for those rock walls right up against the road sometimes!

      Cheers & happy travels!
      – Liz

  2. Vacations with Mom

    Best advice I was ever given for driving on the other side is the following. Don’t think about am I on the right side or left side. That gets confusing, especially if you get flustered and need to make a quick decision. Instead, just know that as the driver, you always want the center line of the road to be next to you. If you’re driving and you notice the curb next to the driver-side door, you’re on the wrong side. This makes it so easy.

    1. Thanks for reading – and for the comment! That is great advice – we definitely agree that you shouldn’t dwell on it, because it might make you worry more!

      Cheers!
      Liz

  3. I’ve done some google map trips thru Ireland and plan to go there someday. One question I have is, I’ve noticed some back roads are so narrow there looks like room only for one car. What do you do if you meet a car coming from the other direction? Who yields and how do you make space to get around each other? Thanks.

    1. Hello Mark – thanks so much for reading.

      That’s a great question – you are right, many of the sideroads are super tiny in Ireland. Usually, there is space to barely get around each other by pulling a bit off the road. In some rare instances though, there may be a rock wall blocking you. At times, one of the cars may need to actually back up to a point where they can move off the road.

      This is pretty rare, usually there is just barely enough space for 2 small cars to pass. It’s usually only an issue with big trucks…but we’ve definitely seen it. Overall, it’s just a part of life in Ireland – so people are used to it and locals know how to handle it. So don’t worry — but do be cautious.

      Happy travels to you!
      – Liz

  4. Another interesting thing about driving in Ireland is that sometimes the signage is a little different. For instance, we were on a road where it was all painted on the street. First, “SLOW” then “SLOWER” then “SLOWEST” and finally “DEAD STOP”. We were all laughing after we passed that one!

    1. Hi Sandy – how funny!!! I wish we would have saw that sign, definitely would have gotten a photo. It’s nice to see the different signs and humor all around the world. Thanks for reading and happy travels to you!

      Liz

  5. I took my Mum to Ireland back in the early 90’s and while used to driving a stick shift (I drove a stick shift in San Francisco for several years), the manual choke came as a surprise and the roundabouts totally flummaxed me, as we had to deal with them exactly the opposite from the way we do in New England. almost killed a cyclist, the first one that I entered. fortunately i was going very slowly and he had time to wobble out of the way.

    1. Hi Judy – thanks for reading and for the comment!

      Driving a stick shift in San Francisco?!?!?! I can’t imagine (and I love driving them)! Very true, when you add the round-a-bouts in the mix, there’s even more to deal with if you aren’t used to it. There aren’t many round-a-bouts here in the States, so it’s something we have to get used to every time we go back to Europe.

      Happy travels to you!

      Liz

  6. To add to this, the speed of those sign lane roads (two way) is much higher than we typically drive in North America. Move over to the side as much as you can and let faster drivers pass. Also, when you rent a car, remember all of their vehicles tend to be much smaller and may not hold all of your luggage especially if you are a family. Also, there are a lot of traffic circles. Make sure you read up on how to navigate them properly or you will end up in a mess.

    1. Hi there Alanna – great tips, especially about the luggage for a family. Cars are smaller…and so are those trunks – so it’s definitely something to consider, especially for the overpackers out there!

      Thanks for reading!

      Liz

  7. The one thing that I found surprising the first time I drove in Ireland was how impatient all drivers were. I was being flashed at and honked at the second I was past a vehicle and hadnt moved back in the driving lane.

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