I scoured the internet for tips for driving in Ireland before our first trip.
Driving on the left-hand side of the road intimidated the heck out of me. Would we scratch the car? Get an accident? Or worse?
Could I flip the orientation of the road in my head?
Would the worry and stress of an unfamiliar driving environment ruin our trip?
I am glad to say that we did not get into an accident and driving on the left did not ruin our trip. Driving ourselves in Ireland was one of the only things we got right on our first trip. We made plenty of other mistakes.
If you’re a nervous Nellie like me (or even if you aren’t), I highly suggest doing a little prep work before arriving in Ireland.
The tiniest bit of preparation can make a huge impact on your trip.
I’ve gathered all my favorite tips for driving in Ireland. You can be prepared and, dare I say, even confident in your ability to drive on the left before you leave.
Pre-Travel Tips for Driving in Ireland
#1: Use Google Street View to better prepare you for driving on the left.
First, pull up Google maps and find a location in Ireland. Click on the little man in the lower right-hand corner and drag him anywhere you see a blue line on a road. This will give you a car level view of the road and the surrounding area.
Then, drive the Google car from the airport to your first destination. This way your first time driving on the left you will already have a good idea of what road conditions will look like before you arrive.
Check out all the different road types (motorways, national roads, and rural roads), road signs, and traffic patterns. You can randomly select different roadways or drive as much of your planned route with the Google Street Car as you like. The important thing here is to get an understanding of the different types of roads you will encounter.
You can also use Street View to find your accommodations and attractions. Make note of what you see. Is the driveway hidden? Are there signs? Any landmarks stand out to you? If you go too far what do you see?
Finally, I always like to use it to check out sites, attractions, and accommodations before I book. Do I like the location? Will I be staying in town within walking distance to everything or on a beautifully remote country estate?
#2 Get the extra insurance.
If you haven’t read up on insurance in Ireland, here is a quick version:
You need specific insurance to rent a car in Ireland called Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance.
This reduces your liability for damage to the vehicle to about €2500 or so.
With those small Irish roads, you’re not likely going to want to risk having an extra €2500 bill at the end of your trip.
So you can purchase additional insurance called Super Collision Damage Waiver, which reduces your liability to € or at most €100.
Ahhh, the relief!
Your credit card may cover CDW, but it may not.
If it does, you should know that you’ll have a hefty hold on your credit card account for the duration of the rental. If you do have any damage, they will charge your card right away for whatever it will cost to fix it. You will then file a claim with your credit card company to get the charge off your card.
To file a claim, you’ll need documentation–pictures, police reports, estimates, final bills, etc. (just like you would if you had to file a claim with your insurance company at home).
Even if your card does cover Ireland, I still recommend getting SCDW for the first time driver in Ireland.
No one wants to have to worry about damages while on vacation. It is just so nice to laugh when you get a scratch and toss those keys back in without a worry at the end of your trip.
There is a lot more detail you’ll want to know about renting a car in Ireland, but get the SCDW. You’ll be happy you did. :-)
#3 YouTube is your friend.
There are some amazing YouTube videos that teach you how to drive in Ireland!
Dane Tyghe is a certified driving instructor for Ireland. He has an entire channel dedicated to driving in Ireland. I am a big fan of his commentary drives, where he demonstrates different driving situations from roundabouts to tight streets. You name it, I think he’s covered it.
I also love dashcam videos that allow you to see the different types of roads, traffic patterns, and obstacles that might get in your way as you drive in Ireland.
#4 Rent an Automatic
Unless you drive a standard car every day, go for an automatic. Driving on the left is a difficult adjustment. Add manual operation–shifting with your left hand while your feet stay the same–makes it even trickier.
You’re on vacation, make it easy on yourself!
#5 Traveling with more than four adults? Consider renting two cars.
Between luggage space, legroom, and deciding when is the best time to leave a pub, it can be nice having two cars with a large group.
You can book a “people-mover” (like a minivan) for groups between four and seven people, but driving large vehicles can be cumbersome on those tiny roads.
#6 Go with a smaller vehicle if you can.
That brings me to vehicle size.
If you’re offered an upgrade to a nice large SUV, politely decline and go with a smaller car. Not everyone agrees with me on this one, but speaking as an American traveler not used to driving on the left, I always liked having a smaller car so I can zip in and out of spots a little more easily.
You don’t have to rent the smallest car, but you’re not likely to need a lot of extra space.
#7 You don’t need an international license.
The purpose of an international license is to translate your English license into several languages so that other countries can read it in their native language.
Since they speak English in Ireland, you are all set if you already have an English license.
You don’t need anything special to rent a car in Ireland.
#8 Check how many pieces of luggage fit in your rental car
Any chronic over packers here? You are in good company. You should have seen the bags I had on my first trip!–I’ve got it down to a science now.
One thing that helps me resist packing too much is knowing I don’t have an endless amount of luggage space in the trunk (or the boot) of the car. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen visitors head back to the rental counter because they can’t fit their luggage in the back of the car.
Pay attention to how many pieces of luggage you can actually fit in your trunk by looking at what the rental car site says on the booking page. Then, pack less than that (easier said than done, I know!).
With souvenirs, shoes, and all sorts of other things that find their way into our rental vehicle, the less I take the more I can bring home!
Tips for Driving in Ireland When You Arrive
#9 When driving on the left (or the right), the driver is always closest to the middle of the road.
This tip for driving in Ireland has saved my sanity (and probably my life!) more times than I can count.
When you drive on the left in Ireland, the driver enters the car on the right-hand side. When you drive on the right in the USA or Canada, the driver enters the car on the left.
So no matter which side of the road you’re driving on or which country you are in, the driver is always going to be oriented toward the middle of the road.
In our family, my husband Joe is almost always the driver and I am the navigator. He holds his composure well and I am a good communicator.
But when I do drive I say “driver is in the middle…driver is in the middle…” over and over again.
Remembering this keeps me from sliding into the other lane out of habit.
#10 Pump first pay later.
You will find many gas (petrol) stations in Ireland without credit card machines at the pump.
Go ahead and pump your petrol (making sure you are filling up with the right fuel–a very easy mistake) and go inside to pay after you’re done.
If you’re not sure what to do or how to operate the pump–don’t hesitate to go in and ask. Just another opportunity for a fun conversation.
#11 Put a reminder on your phone now to pay the M50 toll.
If you plan on renting a car from the Dublin Airport, chances are that you will pass through the barrier-free toll on the M50 between exits (or, as they call it, junctions) six and seven.
This barrier-free system allows you to simply drive underneath cameras rather than having to stop and pay a toll at a booth.
It makes driving through what is already a somewhat congested area much quicker.
The catch, however, is that you have to go online and pay the toll by 8 PM the following day.
Now paying a couple of euro online isn’t usually a big deal, but when you’re on vacation it is incredibly easy to forget to do it (ahem, speaking from experience here…).
So do yourself a favor, the moment you know which day you’ll be picking up/dropping off your vehicle put a reminder in your phone (heck, put two!) to go online to Eflow and pay your toll.
If you forget to pay before the 8 PM deadline you can still pay it a few days later, but you’ll incur a fee. If you forget entirely, you’ll likely get an unwelcome souvenir from your car rental company several weeks after you’ve returned home–an invoice or a charge for the late toll, plus a penalty fee from the car rental company for processing it all.
Most car rental companies don’t offer transponders anymore (kind of like the E-Z pass in the US toll system), but of course, check with your rental car company.
#12. Approach a roundabout just like it is a yield sign.
One of my biggest concerns about driving on the left on our first trip was roundabouts.
Even though I logically knew how they worked, I was still nervous to approach my first one with traffic coming in the opposite way I thought it should.⠀⠀
By trip two or three, I shifted my way of thinking about them and it helped me so much:
When you come to a roundabout simply think of it as if you were approaching a common yield sign. No biggie. If traffic is clear from the right, get on, and find your exit. If not, wait your turn as you would at any ol’ yield sign.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Exits are usually clearly marked in advance before the roundabout.
It’s not as tough as it looks. You got this! ⠀
#13 Don’t expect to find everything (easily) with a GPS.
I love a good GPS, but nothing beats a paper map or a paper map/GPS combo.
If you expect to only use a GPS (phone or Garmin/etc.), you may find yourself taking an extremely scenic route more often than you intended. This can be great for spontaneous adventures, but sometimes you need to get where you’re going in the most direct way.
Following your GPS along with a paper map will allow you to make better decisions about which routes to take and get you where you’re going more easily.
#14 My two favorite tips for driving in Ireland in one:
Pull over often, and never let someone make you feel like you need to go faster than you feel comfortable.
This is one of my favorite tips for driving in Ireland out of the whole bunch.
In Ireland, you will find small pull-offs on the side road every few hundred feet. I hereby permit you to use them very liberally.
If you find that you have one car behind you or five cars, pull over. Let them pass.
Whether they are locals or other visitors when you have someone behind you who wants you to go faster than you, let them do it!
Then you can go back to enjoying the countryside at a leisurely pace.
#15 Use your navigator.
The front seat passenger should be the designated navigator.
While they have the advantage of getting to look around slightly more than the driver, they don’t entirely get off the hook.
Navigators–you are the second pair of eyes. You give directions, look for signs, traffic, tractors, and sheep. :-)
Use your hands to point to a location you want the driver to go. A clock’s time also helps the driver to visualize which direction you want them to go (i.e. exit at three o’clock).
When I don’t use my hands or clock directions, I have, on occasion, said left when I meant right.
Pointing and using clock time helps to ease the mix up between left and right even for the navigators. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
If you are heading out on a solo adventure (hooray! You are going to love it).
Don’t worry about not having a co-pilot.
Use the rest of these tips for driving in Ireland to prepare you and don’t hesitate to pull over often to check your directions against a paper map. Jut go with what you have! You will be fine (and likely have plenty of adventures to share when you get back).
#16 Avoid driving in Dublin
Dublin has just about everything you could want in a capital city. History, art, music, nightlife…
It also has narrow roads, one-way streets, and traffic signs where you least expect them.
Simple answer–don’t drive in the city. You don’t need to if you’re flying in and out of Dublin.
Grab a cab or take the bus to the city center and then back. Pick up your rental car at the airport and hop on the M50 to take you in just about any direction you want when you’re ready to explore the countryside.
Easy peasy and I’d argue it takes the same amount of time to travel to the airport and driving from there as it does going to a city center rental desk and navigating the city streets on your own.
#17 Buy something at the airport when you arrive so you have coins in your car.
Besides the M50 toll outside of Dublin, all other tolls require cash or a card.
I like grabbing a few snacks at the airport just so I have some euro coins on me to keep in the car for other tolls (and so I have an excuse to buy some chocolate).
Ok–how do you feel? I hope these tips for driving in Ireland give you some confidence about driving on the left. You can do it! Promise. :-)
If you are looking for help planning your trip, check out my services or grab my free packing list below. I am an Ireland Travel Coach, a modern travel consultant for savvy travelers that can book experiences on their own, but want extra know-how from an Ireland destination expert.