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Essential Driving Tips in Ireland for Visitors

by Roberto
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Driving in Ireland! It’s a topic which many visitors to Ireland discuss with dread. The famed roundabouts, the narrow country lanes, the one way streets and the thoughts of meeting a bus on a cliff side road, are all some of the reasons why many choose not to step behind the wheel of a car on the Emerald Isle. Of course the biggest reason is driving on the left. What you need are my essential driving tips for Ireland, to prepare you for a trip that you will never forget.

But let me try to put your mind at ease. Ireland for me is one of the easier places in Europe in which to drive. It’s roads are for the most part, of a high standard, and well paved. Ireland has implemented many safety measures over the last few years, and in 2019 was recognised as having the second safest roads in the EU. So with all that going for it why not give a rental a try on your Ireland vacation. Ireland is best explored by a road trip, as no other means of transport brings you closer to that verdant countryside. And armed with my driving in Ireland tips you should be all set.

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What qualifies me to advise on driving in Ireland for tourists?

I have driven through much of Europe, braving roads in Italy, Greece, Spain and a handful of others. So I’m no stranger to switching from left to right, and learning to drive on the “other” side of the road. It’s not been without its tribulations as anyone who has read my Driving In Europe blog can attest. But they all taught me a lesson, made me a better driver, and have highlighted the subtle differences between driving there and driving Ireland. And at one time I happened to be a learner driver in Ireland too. So I know enough about driving. So without further ado let me take you to my top driving tips in Ireland.


Driving Tips in Ireland

Keep left

So as you all know (I hope) Ireland drives on the left hand side. Otherwise known as right hand drive.

So it’s absolutely imperative that you stay left.

The biggest stumbling block for anyone driving in Ireland for the first time is always going to be this. Driving in Ireland as an American poses the same problem as a European. My first suggestion is pick a transmission you are comfortable with. Most cars in Ireland are manual or stick shift but if you are hiring far enough in advance your hire company should be able to cater for you. I’ve made the switch many times while driving in over ten different European countries and after that initial confusion of where the gear stick is it does all become a little clearer. The pedals remain the same which is at least some good news. Take the time you need in the rental parking lot, getting used to how to drive in Ireland before hitting the road. Those minutes to yourself are incredibly valuable.

A good rule of thumb as a driver is you should always near the lines in the middle of the road, no matter where you drive. If you find you aren’t, then you’ve swayed. Pay particular attention when coming from a secondary road to a primary road in keeping left, as the notion of oncoming traffic can be forgotten on smaller roads.

Beware the junctions on country roads

Driving in Dublin

In a word, DON’T.

Unless you really have to, I suggest ditch your car at your hotel or better still give it back if you can. Visit Dublin at the beginning or end of a trip to facilitate this. Dublin is a series of one way streets, and roundabouts, and is gridlocked much of the day. People are often horrified by the amount of traffic lights on those roundabouts too. A car is a hindrance you don’t need. Take the M50 from Dublin airport to an exit close to your hotel and you should arrive there with little effort.

It’s also a small city, and most of the attractions are easily reached by walking or by public transport. But then again most capitals are not the most pleasant to drive around. If you need any further convincing, take a look at this aerial view of the Walkinstown Roundabout. Most Dubs (ye old Dublin folk) approach this one with fear.

Walkinstown Roundabout from above. Source: Dublin Live


Roundabouts

So how do you tackle a roundabout? This is perhaps the biggest problem for an American driving in Ireland.

Most importantly – always go clockwise on a roundabout.

If there’s only one lane, its straightforward. On approach indicate left if you intend to take the first exit left, right if you plan to go right (then left as your turn is next), but should you plan to go straight on don’t indicate till you are past the first junction then indicate left.

What if theres two lanes? The road in the lead up to the roundabout should tell you which lane you should be in. The left lane is for those turning immediately left or going straight on, and the right for those going all the way around the roundabout. Looking to change lanes? Indicate and wait for an opportunity.

Armed with all those knowledge all you need to look out for now is if there are traffic lights on the roundabout and if there are five or six exits like on the Walkinstown roundabout (don’t stress there aren’t many).

Just apply the same principals and if you take the wrong exit, don’t panic, do a u-turn and go back. If I had a fiver for the amount of times I had to do that…

Missed your exit? Just go around the roundabout one more time.

Before long you’ll be a master of the Irish roundabout. If such a thing actually exists.


Indicators

Something to be vigilant of is that Irish drivers often forget to use indicators. Yes I know that doesn’t help you with driving through Ireland’s roundabouts, but I standby my advice to not drive in Dublin where the worst of the roundabouts are to be found.


Speed Limits

The speed limits in Ireland are as follows 120 km p/h on motorways, 100 km p/h on national roads, 80 km p/h on secondary roads, and 50 km p/h in urban areas. In parts of city centres this is reduced to 30 km p/h.

Do be vigilant when crossing the border to Northern Ireland. Often you will only be aware by the speed signs switching from kilometres to miles.

Some Useful tips for Ireland- off the road

Why you should never order a Black and Tan in Ireland.

City Drivers Vs Country Drivers

You should note that drivers in the country are generally a lot more patient than their city counterparts. Irish people often drive somewhat above the speed limit and while they are patient and won’t usually overtake on a dangerous part of the road it’s a good idea to let them pass. If you prefer to take it easy and admire the countryside and the road is wide enough, pull left, or into the hard shoulder if possible. Drivers will generally show their appreciation of you letting them by and you can continue on your road trip without the stress of a parade of cars behind you.

Driving tips in Ireland
No such worry on some of Ireland’s more rural roads

Motorways

Motorway driving in Ireland is probably the easiest part of it all. With only two lanes usually, it’s easy to coast along in the left lane, and overtake the Sunday drivers in the right. Alas the only problem is those drivers who don’t quite gather that the right lane is for overtaking, and not for a leisurely cruise, and back up the whole road as a result. But its still a significant improvement on the tailgating wannabe racers found in certain European countries.

There are only tolls on motorways in Ireland. No other roads have them and they can be avoided by taking the slower country roads. Usually a sign on the motorway will give you a suggested route or you can consult your gps. They cost of tolls usually varies between €1.90 and €2.90, and can be paid by coins, notes or credit cards. You can also get a tag on your car, but it’s hardly worth going through the effort to attain one on a short trip. These are the tag companies.


Driving in towns

Irish towns are not planned or laid out in any particular design and often streets have been the same for centuries. Cars was an afterthought. So streets will often be one way. They are generally not difficult to drive through though. A bigger issue can often be parking.

Kinsale ireland
Be prepared for narrow town roads too.

Parking in Ireland

I would advise to be vigilant in parking. Different sections of the roadsides allow parking at different times of the day.

Read the signs to avoid the fines

In the cities the clampers are notorious and there’s no arguing your case (it’s an automated line). Don’t give them the satisfaction. If I’m somewhere new I generally look for a supermarket or shopping centre car park, rather than park on the street. Then you aren’t racing against the clock, to get back to the car. Parking fines are usually €80 and that puts a real dampener on your day.


Does your car take diesel or petrol

If coming from the US where you put gas in your cars, then there’s bound to be some confusion when faced with diesel and petrol pumps. I advice to ask as soon as you get your car. If you put the wrong one in, it’s not going to do the engine any wonders, and there goes your security deposit. If you still do, call the rental car company and don’t drive the car.

Gas stations are found quite frequently throughout the country, but it’s good practice to fill up prior to tackling any of the major coastal or mountain routes. Avoid filling up on motorways, and near airports and car rental companies as they realise their captive market and charge more. Most service stations are self service and you pay in the shop after you have filled up. I’ve always found Topaz and Applegreen great. For the latest suggested fuel price the AA provides this guide.

Don’t run of fuel on a country road like this

Animals on the road

Don’t be surprised to come across animals on the roads. In parts of the country where dairy is the breadwinner, cows will often be taken back to the farm via the road. Best thing to do is wait it out. Those cows have no intention of going any faster. Neither would you if your udder was full with 8 gallons of milk.

An Irish traffic jam
Driving Tips in Ireland – You have to wait for the cows

It’s a different situation in the mountain regions of the country and the Wild Atlantic Way. Here the roads are ruled by the sheep. Flocks roam where they find grass and often that’s on the side of the road, so care is advised. They will move eventually or inevitably just as you get out of the car to take their photo. If you are wondering why they have paint on their coats, it’s an identifier so farmers know which ones are theirs.

Driving tips in Ireland
Sheep own the road

You are also likely to encounter some other small wildlife on the roads, such as foxes (especially in cities at night), rabbits, pheasants, deer and the occasional banshee.


Plan your itinerary taking the roads into account.

Not all roads are built the same in Ireland. Check times on google maps and add 30 minutes on for coffee breaks, photo stops and the call of nature. If you are hitting the coast or mountains some roads are single lane, bumpy, and with frequent bends. Realistically you won’t want to drive at 80 km p/h as the speed limits suggests.

Driving tips in Ireland
80 km p/h speed limit here. Are you kidding me?

Google maps

Google Maps has rarely failed me in Ireland travel or anywhere else. As long as your phone is enabled in Ireland (check this with your supplier if coming from the US) then you don’t need to fork out on an expensive GPS. Then…

Download your route offline before you travel

I cannot recommend this highly enough as often parts of the country have little coverage. The offline maps will get you to your next destination, and help you on your driving tour of Ireland. And remember all machines do have their temperamental moments. If it suggests you take a road like this, don’t. Common sense.

Driving Tips in Ireland
You wouldn’t be the first car to get stuck here

Roads can take unusual routes

That said, frequently roads will take the most unusual of routes, through quaint bridges, between castle gates, and even through rivers cascading down the sides of mountains. It is all part of the Irish charm, and the reason why you planned to come here in the first place. Carpe Diem.


Driving the circular routes of Ireland

There are several distinct circular routes that come as must sees in Ireland. It’s important to note that they have a suggested direction that you should take. While it may not seem such a big deal, then perhaps the photo below will explain better. Would you rather be behind a bus on this road or have one coming at you?

Connor's Pass Kerry, Ireland
Not a road to meet an oncoming bus on.

Two of Ireland’s finest circular routes can be found in Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is best driven counter clockwise, and the Slea Head drive must be driven clockwise. Why not follow the links for a sample of what awaits you on your Ireland self-drive tours.

Renting a car in Ireland

All the major rental car companies operate in Ireland and the process is straight forward. A passport, drivers licence and credit card are mandatory requirements. It is highly recommended that you purchase full insurance on your car rental. Despite Ireland’s roads been deemed safe, accidents do happen.

Prices are very much affected by the seasons but are comparative to those in Europe. In terms of the model of car to rent, it is very much down to personal choice. No roads in Ireland require a 4*4, and convertibles rarely suit the Irish weather.

General Rules & Driving Tips in Ireland

  • Driving licences. Canadian, British, European driving and US licences are all valid in Ireland.
  • Seat belts and child seats. It is mandatory to wear seat belts at all times in front and back, punishable by a fine. You are responsible for your own child wearing one, and also for ensuring your child has the correct child seat for their age.
  • Signs are in English and Irish and also conform to a European standard of symbols.
  • Drink Driving. Drink driving is strictly enforced in Ireland and the limit is just under one unit of alcohol. That’s half a pint of Guinness, a glass of wine or a single shot of Jameson. So the units don’t be long adding up. Checkpoints at night and also in the morning are commonplace. Ireland is a fun place if you are drinking. Bear in mind pubs serve late in the west (and often only get going after 11 pm) so if you stumble out late make sure you haven’t taken too many units of alcohol to drive in the morning. Sleep in and take to the road when you are ready.
  • Cyclists must be given 1 1/2 metres space when overtaking. Cycle lanes must not be cycled in unless in an emergency.
  • Bus lanes are on many streets in cities, and can only be driven in during the evening hours after 7 pm.
  • Dipped headlights should be when driving in Ireland at night, and during the day when visibility is poor or it is raining (so very often).
Doo Lough Mayo, Ireland
It’s good practice to use headlights in these conditions

Conclusion on driving in Ireland

It’s not as bad as perhaps it seems to drive in Ireland but I do feel its best to be prepared. Preparation is 9/10ths of the victory after all. Take these tips for driving in Ireland onboard and once you find your feet behind the wheel in Ireland, there is no greater way to experience this country.

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Driving in Ireland
Driving in Ireland

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