Driving in Ireland can be tricky for us Americans. Driving on the left, quirky roundabouts, and teeny-tiny one lane roads that you are sharing with other drivers, animals, and farm equipment. I learned SO much on our recent trip to Ireland, that I knew I had to put together the ultimate guide to driving in Ireland for Americans.
I hope this driving guide for Ireland helps you shake off any stress or anxiety you may have about your trip so you can just relax and HAVE FUN in Ireland.
How to Rent a Car in Ireland
My best advice is rent a car at the airport but NOT on the day you arrive. Most likely, you will be arriving in Dublin, and this is an EASY city to get around without a car. In fact, driving and parking in Dublin can be a huge hassle. Better to enjoy a few days in the city and then pop back over to the airport to pick up your rental as you head out of Dublin.
I wish we had thought ahead to do this. Instead, after watching one too many movies in lieu of napping on the flight, we immediately hopped into our rental car. Jet lagged, and bushy-tailed. I really don’t recommend this.
Tips for Renting a Car in Dublin
We stumbled a bit through the process of renting a car in Ireland, so we wanted to share some tips we came across to help your Dublin car rental experience.
Do I Need an International Driver’s License to Drive in Ireland?
Good news! You do NOT need an international driver’s license to drive your vehicle in Ireland. You DO need to show proof of having a license, so make sure you bring it with to you.
Is it More Expensive to Rent a Car at the Dublin Airport?
No! It absolutely should NOT be more expensive to rent your car at the airport. In fact, if you see a “location” charge – basically an upcharge for picking up your car at the Dublin airport, you’ll immediately want to tell your Irish car rental company to take it off. This is something that some rental companies used to do, but in 2015 this charge was formally removed.
Do I Need to Buy Rental Car Insurance in Ireland?
It depends. Unlike other European countries, a collision damage waiver (CDW) is mandatory in Ireland. While you can waive this coverage if you have a credit card, please double check with your card as many banks DO NOT cover rentals in Ireland. While some cards (especially Visa cards) will cover this, it’s a good idea to check with your bank and provide proof at the car rental office. Car rental insurance in Ireland is VERY expensive and can triple your daily rental rate, so make sure you know exactly what your credit card offers. We used the rental car coverage on our Chase Sapphire Reserve card and made sure to do a screen shot of where we verified that they would cover vehicles in Ireland.
Can I Pay For My Irish Car Rental With a Debit Card?
No, unfortunately you can’t rent a car in Ireland with a debit card, cash, or a check. You MUST have a valid credit card to rent a car in Ireland.
What is the Best Way to Get a Child’s Safety Seat (Car Seat) in Ireland?
The laws of Ireland require children of various ages to be secured in a car seat or booster type seat. Some people may feel better about bringing their car seat or booster from home, and others might prefer to rent directly upon arrival. It’s always a good idea to make an online reservation for your car rental in Ireland so you can request a car seat in advance, as these do tend to be limited in supply
What Type of Car Should I Rent in Ireland?
Here’s my best advice. Rent the absolute SMALLEST car you can make-do with, and make sure you rent an automatic transmission car. Even if you’re the best driver in the world and would really prefer the “fun” of driving a manual transmission vehicle, PLEASE take it easy on yourself. You’ll be sitting on the right side of the car, AND driving on the left. You’re basically going against every driving instinct you’ve honed in over the past however many years you’ve been driving and the last thing you need to worry about on those crazy Irish roads is how your gear shift has switched sides on you. The bad news is that they have limited number of automatic transmission cars AND they tend to be more expensive. I still stand by my advice. Splurge on the automatic transmission, for real.
How Old Do I Have to Be to Rent a Car in Ireland?
Typically, the best rates will be given to drivers aged between 25 and 74. If you are between 21 and 24 years of age, it will be a bit trickier to find an Irish car rental office willing to rent to you and you will for sure have to pay a higher rental rate. If you are under 21, or over 74, you will not be able to rent a car in Ireland.
How to Get the Best Rates for Car Rental in Dublin
Full disclosure, this is a bit tricky. In our experience, you have to be very careful as you compare pricing online because we found that not all Irish car rental companies provided an all-inclusive price and that some seriously nickel-and-dimed you. Unless you have loyalty with a specific American based rental car company, we found that the Irish companies offered the best price once you “added it all up.”
TIP: Make sure that you are comparing the same currency – you don’t want to make a decision based on price and then realize that you were comparing one company’s euros to another’s dollars!
General Tips For Driving in Ireland
I wanted to put together some helpful tips for Americans driving in Ireland. These are the things that we picked up and I hope they will be useful!
How to Survive Your First Day of Driving In Ireland
Take a deep breath. You’re on vacation. The best thing you can take on your first day of driving in Ireland is your good humor. You will totally get through this, scary as that first roundabout might be, and by the end of your trip, you’ll be so proud of everything you accomplished!
How to Get Comfortable Driving in Ireland
It’s a good idea to sit in your car for a few minutes and get your bearings. Make sure you know how everything works. Our vehicle came with a GPS system, and it was programmed in German. Luckily for me, my husband speaks German and eventually figured out to get it back to English, but this could have added serious stress if we had already taken off!
Once you know how everything works, start driving around the parking lot. I know you’re excited to get on your way and experience everything Ireland has to offer, but trust me. A few minutes of getting used to sitting on the right side will go a long way.
Driving on the Left in Ireland
Every time we hopped in the car, I’d start chanting, “tight left…..wiiiiiide right. Tight left….wiiiiiiide right” I did it so often that my 4 year old started doing it with me. My husband would pretend to roll his eyes at me, but I secretly think I was helping. Which brings me to an important point – if you are the passenger, please do everything you can to make the driver comfortable. Driving on the left in Ireland can be stressful!
Wikipedia also has great information on road signs you might encounter while driving in Ireland.
Do I Have to Pay Tolls in Ireland?
Yes. Well, maybe. There are definitely toll roads all throughout Ireland, but if you are using your phone’s GPS, you can usually map your route to exclude toll roads. This is what we did most of the time. Please be aware that you might not ALWAYS have the option to bypass a toll road, and Irish toll booths are not set up to take credit cards. Make sure you have cash on hand, and preferably exact change.
How to Plan a Driving Route For Your Irish Vacation
Even if you have opted for a rental with navigation or will have cell phone data to use the GPS on your phone, I think it’s a good idea to have a physical map. If you’re a AAA member, you can get these for free. This is another good option, or my personal favorite is the Rick Steve’s Ireland Planning map.
A few times during our trip, we found ourselves in remote locations without great cell service, and one day the cell towers were knocked out as we were driving through an unknown stretch of road. We were able to quickly pull over, consult our paper map, and confidently continue on to our destination.
I also recommend using a route planner tool to help you plan out the best itinerary. These types of tools include tourist destinations, and it’s a great way to maximize taking in all the sites you want to see! Make a list of your “must-see” sites so you can create a great game plan! Looking for a suggestion? Our favorite city was Galway – full of music, night life and pubs to check out. As you leave Galway, I suggest a quick stop at Dungaire Castle, before heading over to the Cliffs of Moher for a beautiful hike!
What to Pack For an Irish Roadtrip
We love taking road trips all throughout Europe and have a small list of things we bring along to make our trip better. Here are our favorite picks:
- Guidebook – It’s great to refer to as you’re cruising along and this one is our hands down fave!
- Travel Picnic Set – This cute set has everything you need for an impromptu picnic – fork, spoon, knife and bottle opener all in one. Some of our favorite meals consisted of bread, cheese, fresh fruit and Irish beer picked up from local markets and enjoyed with breathtaking views.
- Refillable Water Bottle – This one is super cute. You will pay for bottled water all throughout Ireland, so a great way to save some cash is to have a refillable water bottle that you can carry with you and refill at your hotel.
- Car Phone Charger – It’s super helpful to have a car phone charger for your cell phone, especially if you are using it for GPS navigation as this drains your cell phone battery VERY quickly.
Do You REALLY Need to Rent a Car in Ireland?
Opinions might differ on this, so the answer here is – it depends. Ask yourself, are you ok with sticking to just the bigger cities, or do you prefer to see the smaller towns, villages, and sites along the way? Are you an independent traveler or ok with tagging along in a large group?
The transportation system in Ireland operates much like a hub-and-spoke system. In order to get to the smaller cities, you will have to connect through Dublin each time. This takes up a great deal of your precious travel time if you are interested in spending time in the countryside.
Good news, if you’re planning on spending most of your time in Dublin, you can totally get away without renting a car. And there’s enough to do to keep you busy.
Looking for ideas? Check out this itinerary for 2 days in Dublin!
If you want to see all that Ireland offers – the rural farming towns, the quaint waterside villages, the lively towns like Galway or the rugged beauty found in the Burren, you’re better off renting a car.
Driving in Ireland really made our trip. I’m so happy we decided to rent a car even though we were a bit nervous at first. I’m hoping my tips will help you gain confidence to do the same.
And just look at all the cool things we would have missed had we not rented a car in Ireland:
Travel happy, friends!