20 Helpful Driving Tips to Have the Best Ireland Road Trip
We spent 7 amazing days on our Ireland road trip, which means we have several tips for driving in Ireland. Driving in an unfamiliar area is never easy – let alone driving in a foreign country. And for us Americans, let’s not forget about driving on the opposite road! There were SEVERAL differences that we had to adjust to, but with a good spirit, we managed to make it through our Ireland road trip (even with a car accident). With that being said, we learned a few things along the way that we think will help prepare for your Ireland road trip. So without further ado, here are our 20 helpful tips for driving in Ireland.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
This is one of our biggest driving tips for Ireland. There is nothing easy about driving in Ireland. Losing your focus or driving recklessly can lead to huge mistakes. Not only are you driving on the opposite side of the road (with the exception of some countries), but you also have to share the most narrow and single lane roads.
1) Everything Is Opposite
There are only a handful of countries that drive on the left side of the road, Ireland being one of them. Almost everything is opposite – steering wheel is on the right, fast lane is on the right, street lights and more. Take your time getting acquainted with the adjustments.
2) Sharing the Road
There will come a time when you will have to get even more uncomfortable. Driving down the most narrow roads is never easy, but when you add oncoming traffic to the mix it becomes very stressful and unnerving. Driving through the country was always okay because we could pull off into the grass and the oncoming car would drive slowly by (or vice versa). It was while we were driving on the Ring of Dingle and around Kerry that became difficult. While driving on narrow roads on the cliffs, oncoming traffic would have nowhere to pull to the side of the road. So one car will have to make the decision or sacrifice to drive backwards until they come across an area to pull aside letting the oncoming traffic go through. Our best advice, follow the flow of the traffic and be patient.
Renting Your Vehicle
There are so many small details that can help make for a great Ireland road trip and they all start at the rental car.
3) Automatic vs. Manual
As we have said, driving in Ireland is not easy. If you are not comfortable driving a manual vehicle, we HIGHLY recommend you rent an automatic vehicle. Yes, it is the more expensive option, but can you imagine driving on the opposite side of narrow unpaved roads with a manual vehicle? It is truly not worth the stress. Rent an automatic vehicle.
4) Get to Know Your Vehicle
Get familiarized with your vehicle before leaving the rental car grounds. Make sure everything in the car works before you leave i.e. air conditioner, radio, headlights and more. Not that we would have known before we drove off the lot, but when the rain started to come (inevitable in Ireland), we realized our rental car’s defroster was working poorly. It made an already uneasy driving situation even more stressful. At one point we could not see and had to pull over before we caused an accident. We also had a mishap with figuring out how to lock our car, luckily we fixed it without even trying to.
5) Car Insurance
Prior to our Ireland road trip, we read that car rental companies REQUIRE car insurance. If you have a credit card that provides car insurance, like Chase Sapphire Reserve, you must ask your credit card company for a written document stating the car insurance agreement.
As we briefly mentioned, we got into a car accident and fortunately our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card covers up to $75,000 worth of damage to our car. However, we have now learned that they do not cover damage on the third party vehicle. So, play it safe and make sure you have rental car insurance for both you and the third party.
6) Must Have Car Features
We are firm believers on having three car features for road trips: GPS, cruise control and USB compatibility. Luckily our cell phones had access to international data (check with your cellphone provider), so we did not need GPS on our car. It almost goes without saying that GPS is a dire necessity for driving in a foreign country. Cruise control is also a helpful car feature because there are times when you will be driving over 30 miles on a straight highway. Lastly, in this day in age, a USB outlet is needed to recharge electronic devices and to connect to the car to listen to your GPS or playlist – very essential.
7) Finding the Best Deals
We book our rental car through two reliable companies, either Costco or AutoSlash. Both have saved us several hundred dollars. Recently, Costco has been saving us more, but in the past we always used Autoslash. Can you believe we got an automatic car for seven days during Easter for only $105 with Costco!
Basic Need to Know Driving Tips
These next few tips are all around helpful for your Ireland road trip. From road signs, to gas information and snacks, this category has it all.
8) Road Signs
We found that the northwest part of Ireland has limited signs of the road. We would drive for miles without a single speed limit sign. Ireland is well known for their unpaved, single lane and winding roads. While driving in those circumstances with oncoming traffic, we would just use our best judgement on speed. Of course, slow down and move to the side of the road as quicky as possible with oncoming traffic or on a sharp turn. Ireland really trusts drivers to drive carefully. When coming into small towns, we would notice SLOW painted white on the road, but other than that, no speed limits.
While we were driving in the southwest part of Ireland, we noticed they are more westernized with their road signs and have them more frequently. They are also more common when entering and leaving towns.
9) Wheels Go Around Roundabouts
We first drove through several roundabouts during our road trip through Italy, so this was one familiar territory for us. Even with our experience, we still found ourselves exiting the wrong turn a couple of times. If you are uncertain which exit your GPS is referring to, just go slow and go around the roundabout again. Also, always remember to yield to the oncoming traffic from the turns before you.
10) Avoid Tolls
Avoiding tolls is not only budget-friendly, but you will see more of the Ireland countryside, which is what an Ireland road trip is all about! If you do happen to drive through a toll, you can pay for them immediately at a grocery store. The only exception is driving in Dublin, you will have a bill from your rental car company when you return home.
11) Getting Gas
Gas is by the liter and much more expensive than United States. The average price of gas we saw (March-April 2018) was €1.35 a liter for unleaded and €1.25 for diesel. For our seven day Ireland road trip we spent between $200 to $250 with an economy sized car.
Like most things in Ireland, getting gas is also a little opposite than in the United States. Unleaded gas is the green pump, whereas diesel is the black pump. You will also have to pay for your fuel inside the gas station. The nicest gas station we came across was Applegreen. They donate a portion of their profits to charity and have freshly baked pastries, a Subway and plenty of road trip snacks.
Also different from the United States, is buying gas from the rental car company. Most times, filling up your gas tank on your own is cheaper than the gas rates at a rental car company. However, in Ireland it was cheaper to buy a full tank of gas with our rental car company. It was at least .15 cents cheaper.
12) Pack Snacks!
Snacks are essential for any road trip, so find a gas station or grocery store and stock up. You MUST buy yourself some Taytos, they are potato chips cooked in sunflower oil. They come in many decilcious flavors like smokey bacon, salt and vinegar or cheese and oinion. We recommend buying them at SuperValu or Tesco for grocery stores (bring your own bag at grocery stores, you will have to pay for them) and AppleGreen for gas stations.
13) Create an Awesome Playlist!
A great music playlist is essential for any road trip. Mix up your playlist with some traditional Irish music to go along with the Irish countryside and some pump up music for the mornings to get your day going.
Planning Your Ireland Road Trip
We love to plan our trips, but we always know that anything can happen that is out of our control. So be prepared and consider these tips when planning your Ireland road trip.
14) Expect Things to go Wrong
When it is all said and done, no matter how much you plan to the “t”, things will go wrong. Some may be out of control like traffic or pouring down rain, other times it can be a wrong turn and your GPS will not reroute. The situations can be countless, so take a deep breathe and remember to enjoy the beauty of Ireland surrounding you.
15) Be Felxible
When you plan your trip, leave room for flexibility in your driving route. You will most likely come across unqiue places you never read about on the internet. You will want to stop and take photos or explore – we highly encourage you to do so! With that being said, we also encourage you to allocate for at least an hour of your driving route for this flexibility.
16) Book Refundable Hotel Rates
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous ones. Anything can happen during your Ireland road trip that will make you miss your final destination. So book hotel rooms with a refundable rate in case you have to cancel. We were lucky to always make it to our final destinations, but there were some close calls.
17) Never Expect Your Driving Route to be Perfect
We used Furkot and absolutely loved it! It is a website that plans every minute of your road trip, but when you make plans, you never REALLY know how long you will spend at a castle or Giant’s Causeway. Or as we said above, you never know what things could go wrong or extra sights you may stop at. From our experience, we NEVER made it to our final destination on time.
18) Create Routes for Breaks
Ireland is a small country, you can get from Dublin to Cork in around three hours. However, three hours is still a long drive and when you have a 7 day Ireland road trip – you will get tired of driving. So create a driving route that will allow for some sightseeing breaks. There are SO MANY beautiful castles, ruins, abbeys and more to explore. From Galway to the Cliffs of Moher alone there are at least three stops you can take.
Driving to Northern Ireland
If you plan to drive into Northern Ireland, (which we highly recommend for your Ireland road trip), here are some more helpful driving tips.
19) Northern Ireland Fee
Prior to our Ireland road trip, we were told that we would incur a fee to drive into Northern Ireland. Renting with Alamo, our fee was €30, but when we looked at Enterprise we saw their fee was €150! So it appears that each rental car company has their own rules for their clients driving into Northern Ireland. When you are at the rental car desk, you must tell them that you plan to drive to Northern Ireland (don’t try to lie because if anything were to happen outside of Ireland the price can be worse). However, when we told Alamo we were driving to Northern Ireland, they just gave us advice about driving there. We asked about the fee and they said that they do not charge extra for their clients to drive into Northern Ireland. We have heard different stories, so all we can recommend is you prepare for the chance to pay extra to drive into Northern Ireland.
To cross into Northern Ireland, there is a small fee for a toll, but when you have your GPS avoid tolls, you will pass the border with no problem. We actually almost missed the Northern Ireland Welcome sign because it happened so fast.
20) KPH to MPH
We recommend doing some preimlinary research on KPH to MPH or vice versa. We had friends driving throughout Ireland the same time as us, and both of our cars did not have a speedodometer that featured both KPH and MPH. When driving in Ireland the speed is in KPH, but when you cross the border into Northern Ireland, the speed changes to MPH. With our car not being able to tell us the MPH, we had to look up and convert it ourselves with slow cell data.
We hope these tips are helpful for your Ireland road trip. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!
Christina + Adam