The best way to experience Ireland is by car. While a good percentage of Europe is easy to explore by train, Ireland is a country that begs for a road trip. Ireland lacks an extensive rail network, so your choices are to travel by bus, on an organized tour or by rental car. If you want to truly experience Ireland you must visit a variety of towns, cities, the countryside, and coastline. There are so many gorgeous castles, stone circles, megaliths, gardens, coastline, and ruins and there is no way you’d make it easily to most of them without a rental car.
A rental car allows you to take unexpected detours and side trips on your own schedule. When looking for the best rental car experience in Ireland I suggest Irish Car Rentals.
A Bit About Ireland
The island of Ireland is located in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George’s Channel. It’s about the size of the U.S. state of Indiana. Like many European countries, Ireland is small; 84,421 square km or 52,456 square miles. There are currently 48 countries in Europe and Wikipedia lists Ireland as the 23rd largest. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.
Many people who visit Europe and do a multi city trip only see the major cities. Many people travel to Ireland and only see Dublin. As I mentioned above, when planning a trip, make it a road trip through many towns in the country. Ireland is a beautiful country, the people are extremely kind and friendly and you’d be cheating yourself out of the experience to get to know this wonderful country.
When renting a car there are a few things you should know in advance.
Ireland Rental Car Tips
1. You’ll Be DRIVing ON THE LEFT
In Ireland, the driver’s seat is on the right-hand side of the car and you’ll be driving on the left side of the road. If you get a manual (stick shift) you’ll be changing gears with your left hand. If you’re coming from the USA or any other country that doesn’t drive on the left side of the road, this sounds much worse than it is. After a day it will feel totally normal. The trickiest thing about driving on “the other side of the road” are right-hand turns and roundabouts. A general rule of thumb is to always look both ways before turning onto a road.
Why do they drive on the left? In the past, almost everybody traveled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent.
2. Ask for a car with GPS
This was extremely helpful. Our car came with a built in GPS and it made life so much easier! We could pre-program locations for the day and then simply go to the history and set the driving directions. Check to see if your car comes with a GPS and if not, bring yours from home. Don’t count on using your SmartPhone, as you may not have coverage and you’d be roaming unless you change your plan in advance.
3. Put your co-pilot to work
One of the most helpful things while driving in Ireland was my co-pilot. I visited Ireland with my son and it was his job to tell me how close I was to the left side of the road. It takes some time behind the wheel to know where you are in the lane and especially how close you are to the left side. It is deceiving at first. Per my co-pilot, I was always closer to the left side of the road than I thought. He was also responsible for programming the GPS and helping to look for signs and directions.
4. Don’t Drive in Dublin
Whenever possible, avoid driving in cities until you have some behind the wheel practice. Cities such as Dublin are very easy to navigate on foot, by bus or by taxi. I suggest you rent a car at the end of your stay in Dublin. That is exactly what I did. I picked up our rental car on our last day in Dublin and headed straight out of town and to the motorway. The few minutes I drove in Dublin were stressful and it was so great to get on the M4 motorway.
5. Plan a route
As I mentioned, Ireland is fairly small. You can get to almost anywhere in Ireland within 3-4 hours. Day one of our Ireland road trip, we drove from Dubin to the West Coast of Ireland and the town of Westport. This was only a 3-hour drive. It was also great practice to drive on the main highway for a few hours and get used to driving on the ‘other side’ of the car and road.
Do some research in advance and plan a route. The hardest thing about a trip to Ireland is choosing where to go. I had to narrow down my list of the many places to I wanted to visit by about half. I spent almost two weeks in Ireland and it wasn’t enough. I can’t wait to go back and see more. Above is the route we took on our trip.
Note: We started and ended our trip in Dublin.
The roads in Ireland are really well marked. We got turned around only once and that was because of road work being done in a city and we had to take a detour and our GPS kept taking us back into the city. This was the one and only time we used our IPhone to jump on Google directions.
The other thing about navigating Ireland is you will most likely end up on a variety of roads; major highways, narrow roads through smaller towns and even narrower country roads.
The roads, especially in the country and small towns can be extremely narrow. This is a great time to put your co-pilot to work again. Knowing how close you are the left side of the narrow roads is a great help in staying centered in your left side lane. Above is an example of a two-lane country road. As you can see, some roads don’t have a center line.
7. plan time for unexpected stops
As you head from one location to another, you will come across lot’s of signs for castles, view points and landmarks. Plan extra time to take a few unplanned stops to discover some hidden treasures.
8. WATCH FOR ROUNDABOUTS
There are way more roundabouts than I’d like. Roundabouts will have several exits. Listen to the GPS or keep your eyes open for signs to know which exit you need to take in a traffic circle. The circles are really well marked, and if you miss your exit you can do an extra loop around the circle. Once you get comfortable with the circles, they are a lot of fun.
9. WATCH OUT FOR sheep
The only traffic jam on the island will be caused by sheep. Not joking! Just stop and let these little guys cross the road safely. You might even have time to snap a few pictures of them as they make their way off the road.
10. CAR INSURANCE
After I rented my car with Irish Car Rentals, I called my insurance company. I thought that I was going to be covered by my car insurance company plan. Turns out, my insurance company didn’t cover me in Ireland because of the “driving on the other side of the road” thing. With many car rental companies in Ireland, they charge a pretty hefty deposit (a hold on your card of set sum) at the time you pick up your car. Make sure to check in advance so you have the money available on your credit card. Overall, this is the only downside I found to renting a car in Ireland. But, I’ll tell you that it sure made me extra careful about driving.
If you purchase travel insurance it may include rental car coverage. We use World Nomads travel insurance which provides us with car rental coverage as well as tons of other coverage medical, theft, delayed baggage, etc.
I can’t imagine traveling in Ireland without renting a car. Without question, it’s the best way to explore this beautiful country.
So what are you waiting for? Check out Irish Car Rentals and plan your trip to Ireland.
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Traveling To Ireland Soon?
5 Indispensable Items to Pack for Ireland
- Get the Lonely Planet guide to Ireland.
- Get a good quality mirrorless camera for capturing your trip. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- Weather is unpredictable, so bring a lightweight umbrella and rain jacket (even in summer you may find areas chilly and rainy)
- Waterproof hiking boots. I love Keen because they are lightweight and super comfortable.
- A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
Read More About Ireland
Thinking about renting with Irish Car Rentals? Ask your questions in the comments below!
Thank you to Irish Car Rentals for providing me with a rental car and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.