When you visit Ireland, you can’t truly experience the country unless you’re able to go on an Ireland road trip. So much of the country can only be seen by car, and renting a vehicle makes it easy to go where you want. I was scared to try driving in Ireland in the past but changed that on my most recent trip to learn tips for driving in Ireland.
I’m happy to report that I successfully drove around the country with no incidents, and I even felt pretty confident at the end. That’s why I wrote this post right after my trip to help you learn how to drive in Ireland as well. Being able to drive yourself can ensure you check off all the items on your bucket list for Ireland as well as see famous Irish landmarks on your way.
These tips on how to drive in Ireland for an American will help you feel more comfortable and get the most out of your trip, so take note of these before you go!
This post was first published in 2020 and last updated on February 2023.
Tips for How to Drive in Ireland
Here are some basic tips for driving in Ireland for the first time when going on an Irish road trip.
Common Questions About Driving in Ireland for the First Time
I had all these questions and more the first time I drove in Ireland as an American, so you might have the same ones. I’m here to make you feel more at ease because it’s worth it to be able to see so much more of the country.
Is driving in Ireland difficult?
The mental stress of thinking about driving in Ireland was worse than when I actually did it. As soon as I got onto the road to spend a day in Dublin, I instantly felt more comfortable. This article goes into more detail, but there are essentially just a few differences to get used to.
Can I drive in Ireland with a US driver’s license?
Yes, Ireland is actually one of the easiest countries to rent a car and just head out on your trip. All you need is proof of your driver’s license to drive as an American in Ireland – no permit required.
Is it easy to travel around Ireland without a car?
Can you travel in Ireland without a car, yes – there are multiple public transportation options available.
However, I highly recommend driving in Ireland for Americans planning their trip, as you’ll be able to see so much more of the country. Some of the best towns are off the beaten path where public transportation doesn’t go, so you’ll be glad when you’re comfortable driving in Ireland as a tourist (speaking of, make sure to read what not to do as a tourist in Ireland).
What side of the road do they drive on in Ireland?
You’ll be driving on the left side of the road when in Ireland (it’s not as bad as you think – read on to learn more).
Renting a Car in Ireland
When researching driving in Ireland for tourists, there are a few items to keep in mind. Unlike other countries, you don’t need an international permit to drive in Ireland. All you have to show them is your regular driver’s license to pass the driving in Ireland requirements.
One of the driving tips in Ireland I recommend is getting a small compact car for your trip from the car rental company. Due to how small the roads are, you’re going to have a hard time getting down some of them if you get a huge vehicle. You’ll also have a more difficult time parking in a larger city with only small parking spots.
Here are some of the car rental companies in Ireland I’ve used before and recommend:
Keep in mind that when you reserve a car online, the end price will most likely be higher. You’ll see what the quote is per day for the vehicle, but the agent will recommend items you add on at the counter. Automatic vehicles tend to go quicker, so I would book these at least a few months in advance.
While you don’t need to buy everything, I do recommend insurance and a collision damage waiver when checking out at the car rental company desk. I’ve heard horror stories of people paying thousands of dollars out of pocket after getting in an accident and not having insurance.
What to Bring on a Road Trip
In addition to all these tips, I recommend bringing the following when you’re driving in Ireland.
- Reusable water bottle – You’ll need to stay hydrated when you’re touring Ireland by car. While it’s tempting to grab a water bottle every time you’re at the store, you’re wasting so much plastic doing this. Bring your own water bottle so you can fill it up and have less of an impact on the environment. I love the LifeStraw brand in particular because there are two filters, so you can fill up your water bottle anywhere there’s water (like your hotel room). You’ll also want this if you do any hiking in Ireland.
- Phone charger – You’ll want to ensure your phones are fully charged when driving in Ireland, so bring a car charger to make it easy. Many vehicles now have USB outlets where you can just plug your regular charger cord in, but this lets you charge two simultaneously. You may also be able to ask if your car rental company has one for an extra price. Make sure to know about Ireland’s voltage so you have the right adapter to charge your phone.
- Hand sanitizer – Sometimes you don’t have a choice where to stop to the bathroom. That includes rest stops that are less than sanitary and don’t have soap on top of that. I always bring hand sanitizer on road trips to keep germs away.
- Snacks – I touched on it above, but I love easy snacks like KIND bars. They’re low in sugar and give you fiber and protein to help you last until you get to your next meal. As tempting as it is to have junk food, you’ll easily eat through your bag of chips or candy since they don’t fill you up.
12 Essential Tips for Driving in Ireland
Here are some of my best tips for how to drive in Ireland from personal experience.
1. Know Everything is Swapped
Depending on where you live, you’re going to be a bit confused when you first get your Irish car rental. The first thing you’ll notice is the driver’s side is on the right instead of the left like it is in countries such as America. That means the stick shift is also on the left, which takes some getting used to.
In addition to being on the right side of the car while driving in Ireland, you’ll also be driving on the left side of the road.
While beginning to drive is the only thing that will make you feel comfortable, I like to mention this as one of the first tips for driving in Ireland so you can mentally prepare yourself. This was really helpful for me before I started my 7 day Ireland road trip.
2. Practice Before Going Into the City
You’ll likely pick up your Irish car rental at the Dublin Airport in a parking lot, but when you’re driving in Ireland for the first time, don’t just take off. Take your time getting to know your rental car by seeing how you turn on the engine, windshield wipers, etc., before you leave your spot.
Once you’ve got that down, practice driving around the parking lot. This put me at ease before I had to get on the road and spend one day in Galway.
If you can, try practicing on the freeway first before going into a busy city like Dublin. I had to go straight to the city after getting my car, and I can say it was very stressful driving in Dublin, so try the freeway before the city. Driving on the left in Ireland is easy on freeways, as everyone’s going the same way, so you don’t have a choice.
That said, if you’ll be spending a few days in a big city like Dublin getting adjusted before heading out on your trip, I actually recommend waiting to get your rental car. You can easily get around Dublin without a car, and it’ll save you money for a few days.
When driving in Ireland in the cities, don’t rush. I found myself having to take a second to think about which side of the road to get on when in big cities. However, the nice part is there are often other vehicles on the road to give you a big clue on which side to be on.
3. Understand the Metric System
If you’re from America, you’re used to seeing miles and gallons when driving. However, an essential driving in Ireland tip when you rent a car is to understand that you’ll see kilometers and gallons instead.
While it’s easy to follow the speed limit signs since both the signs and your speedometer are in kilometers, it gets trickier buying gas. I was so confused about exactly how much I would be spending until I filled up for the first time at the gas station.
Keep in mind these conversions: 10 gallons = 38 liters and 100 kilometers = 60 miles
4. Stick to the Speed Limit
Once you start feeling more comfortable driving in Ireland, you might be tempted to speed, but Ireland is not the place to go over the speed limit. There are many windy roads and narrow paths, so you could easily hit something. There are also so many scenic drives in Ireland that you’ll want to take your time, such as when you’re headed out to visit the Cliffs of Moher.
I know it sounds like a joke, but roaming sheep are a real threat. I got stopped multiple times during my Ireland trip with sheep on the road, especially when visiting castle hotels in Ireland in the country.
5. Don’t Always Rely on GPS
Don’t fully rely on GPS, as it isn’t always accurate. While driving in Dublin or Belfast is easier, smaller towns tend to be less accurate. Look up where you’re going ahead of time so you’re aware of what roads you should be traveling on. Also, pay attention to the spelling of the town you’re going to, as some Irish towns are very similar in spelling.
Another trick I like to use is looking up my destination on my phone when I’m on the hotel’s wi-fi. If you keep the app up, you’ll be able to see the blue dot move (which is your location) and use it to get back on track if you get lost.
If you’re traveling with a passenger, have them get directions for you and look for signs so you can solely focus on driving. When I went to my grandfather’s small town outside of Donegal, GPS did not help at all.
6. Have Money for Tolls
Another one of my tips for driving in Ireland is sticking to the freeways if you want to take the faster routes during your trip. Most of them do have tolls, so you’ll need to be prepared. Unlike back in the day, there is now a lane that takes credit cards if you have no cash or coins on you.
However, it’s much easier and quicker to have loose change on you so you can drive through and keep going. There are booths for exact change where you can throw the coins in the basket and keep going. Additionally, there are booths for coins if you don’t have exact change and want the remainder back.
If you’re on a big road, such as the M50 by Dublin, you can actually pay your toll online. You just need to make sure to do it before 8 pm on the following day, but this saves you the hassle of stopping at the booth.
7. Take Advantage of Rest Stops
One part I absolutely loved about driving in Ireland was the rest stops. I’m used to having rest stops in America that are just mediocre bathrooms at best, and you must keep driving to find food. Instead of having to find a grocery store in one place and a restaurant that everyone agrees on somewhere else, everything is combined here.
They have about half a dozen different restaurants, and a small grocery store in the rest stops in Ireland. I don’t know why America hasn’t caught onto this yet! Many of them also have free Wi-Fi, so take advantage of this if you need to eat lunch while checking where you’re going next.
Another nice thing about these is if you get stuck in an infamous rain shower that spring in Ireland brings, you’ll have a place to wait out the storm and stay dry. You can also stock up on some Irish souvenirs while you’re there.
8. Stock Up on Snacks
Along with my recommended Ireland packing list, snacks are very important during a road trip! There are plenty of places to get snacks when driving in Ireland, but they can be spread out.
When you’re in between big cities, you might drive for a while without seeing any stores if you’re in the country. Make sure you get plenty of water to stay hydrated (I always recommend a refillable water bottle).
Healthy snacks like protein bars and nuts will always be the best choice, as they’ll keep you full until your next proper meal. However, as an American driving in Ireland, you’ll want to try a few Irish snacks, such as my favorites, Taytos and Club Zero. I always grab these when I visit Ireland!
9. Fuel Up in Big Cities
In addition to being stocked with snacks, you’ll want to fuel up before heading off into the country when driving in Ireland. You might go for an hour or so before running into a gas station, so it’s best to be safe and top off your gas.
While more crowded in the city, I got gas while visiting Belfast, so I was ready to go exploring on my road trip around Northern Ireland.
You can also use your GPS to show you where the nearest gas station is on your route to help you plan when to get gas.
I tend to be on the safe side and refuel when I’m down to half a tank if I’m not sure how long I’ll be driving. That’s a personal preference though, so you can decide if you want to follow my Ireland driving tips for this one.
Another important tip for driving a car in Ireland is to know if your gas takes petrol or diesel. Most rental cars will take petrol, which is indicated by the color green. Diesel tends to be for larger vehicles and will be indicated by the color black.
10. Understand How Roundabouts Work
While every country has roundabouts, it’s surprising how few people know how to use them correctly. You’ll see roundabouts everywhere in Ireland, so one of the best tips for driving in Ireland is knowing how they work. When used correctly, they’re a very efficient way to keep traffic moving and your car from idling.
When you approach a roundabout, slow down and yield to any traffic on the right. Ideally, you won’t have to stop fully and can smoothly merge so traffic doesn’t back up behind you. If you’re taking one of the first two exits, get in the left lane. Otherwise, get in the inner lane if you’ll be taking one of the last exits.
If you panic and miss your exit, don’t worry – you can just stay in the roundabout and exit the next time. These are easier than you think once you start driving in them.
11. Use Caution on Country Roads
Irish country roads are very narrow and are essentially what feel like one-way streets. There usually isn’t a center line, so you have to use your own judgment on how far over to the left you should be. When I can see down the road for a while, and no other cars are coming, I tend to drive down the center.
However, when you’re going around a corner, always slow down and hug the left side. Seeing another car coming can be impossible at times, so using caution will help avoid an accident. I had to do this many times when I drove to different country house hotels in Ireland, but I eventually got used to it.
You’ll also come across many bridges on these roads where only one car can fit. The car that approached it first has the right of way, so make sure to give them enough space to get off the bridge while you wait. There are also times you’ll be going straight on a very narrow road when another car approaches, so try to look for a patch on the side where you can pull over to let them pass.
12. Know How European Cars Work
One of the most surprising driving tips for Ireland I wish I knew was the engine shutting off at a stoplight. I thought the vehicle had died and started to worry, but I realized this is normal. When your car idles for a few seconds, the engine automatically shuts off (this is much more common in America now, but at the time, I hadn’t seen it before).
However, as soon as you let go of the brake to apply the gas, it will turn back on. You don’t need to do anything different, but just be aware this will happen. If you’re driving in Ireland as an American, this may not be a surprise now with how many newer vehicles have this, but I was confused at the time.
I hope these tips for driving in Ireland will help you feel confident driving yourself! Comment below to let me know which ones you used.