Tips for driving in Ireland: all you need to know to drive safely on the Emerald Isle.
A road trip is one of the best ways if not the best way of all to visit Ireland however, driving in Ireland can pose some concerns to first-time visitors.
Irish roads are famous for being scenic but beautiful drives often come with the downside of narrow roads, unexpected bends and remote locations.
This, plus the fact that in Ireland we drive on the opposite side of the road from most countries and we drive with manual cars, pose more than a headache for many.
This is not to say however that driving in Ireland should not be done: it only means that you need to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road, take some precautions and be extra careful.
The tips below are written on the basis of my personal experience in Ireland: having learned to drive in continental Europe, I know what it means you din yourself suddenly in charge pf a vehicle on the ‘other’ side of the road.
These are my tips to drive safely in Ireland and official resources I recommend you read before committing to an Ireland road trip.
Documents for driving in Ireland
The documents you need to drive in Ireland depend on your nationality and driving license country of issue.
At present, EU, Canadian and US citizens do not need an international driving permit to drive in Ireland and can use their own license. Since this, however, can change with short notice, please do double-check with your local Irish embassy to avoid misunderstandings. You can find a list of Irish embassies and consulates abroad here.
You can also find info on international driving permits here
In Ireland, we drive on the left
In Ireland, we drive on the left side of the road, like they do in the UK and Australia. This means the car has the steering wheel on the drive and you maneuver the gear stick with your left hand.
As you leave the airport/ port area you see signs reminding you of this fact (usually both in English and French) and sometimes you also have somewhat random road signs reminding you that we ‘drive on the left’ on main motorways, however, you are more often than not just expected to know.
In general, once you are on a road with other cars, sticking to the correct side of the road is not hard. The moment when it gets tricky is at crossroads, roundabouts or when you are tired, moments when automatic habits are likely to take over.
The only way to stay safe in these cases is to take your time and avoid at all costs driving when tired or jet-lagged. Do plan an extra day an wait until you are in the best physical conditions before tackling the road.
In Ireland, manual cars are the most common
Automatic cars are not unknown in Ireland but not quite the norm. Unless you specify you want an automatic car when booking your rental car, chances are you will find yourself having to drive with a stick and if you add this to the fact that you may have to handle it with your left hand, it can get messy fast!
I highly recommend you book an automatic car: the possible extra cost will be worth the reduction in stress.
Electric cars are getting more popular
Electric cars are getting more and more popular, especially among private users, and some car rental companies have started adding electric vehicles to their fleet.
To the surprise of many, the availability of charging stations in Ireland is pretty good, however, not all of the charging stations are fast and relying on an electric car for a road trip is still something that slows you down, in terms of the numbers of stops you are likely to need to top it up.
We have an electric car and love traveling wit it around Ireland but it sure takes some extra planning. Especially if going to a remote area, I highly recommend you check the availability of charging stations carefully when planning your itinerary. You can find updated info on the locations available here
Kids need car seats
Car seats are compulsory for kids up to age 12. Car rental companies offer car seats at a cost, usually for all age ranges from baby seats to booster seats.
You can find the official info about car seats rules in Ireland and check if the one you own matches Irish regulations here
Please note: car seats are compulsory in private vehicles but not in taxis. If you need to catch a taxi from the airport into the city, you can do without a child seat, however, be advised that most of these stretches do include a drive on the motorway.
Irish roads are slow
Ireland has some good motorways and if your destination (Cork, Kilkenny etc) is served by one of those, then driving in Ireland is the same as everywhere else.
However, things change when you go into smaller national or local rads and especially in more remote areas. When driving on these, always add extra time to whatever your map says: it always takes much longer than the distance suggests. Do not rush, just plan accordingly.
Driving on Ireland’s narrow roads
Ireland, especially the West of the country, is famous for having very narrow roads and they do indeed pose a bit of a problem to drivers used to motorway driving especially.
I am myself not fond of these roads however, there are some precautions that I find useful:
Go slow: maybe an obvious point but taking it slow is the best way to tackle these roads. Ignore the locals wanting to pass you: if you can’t see behind a bend or need more time to enter a junction, always take your time!
Do not drive at night: after dark, these roads are really dangerous and visibility is minimal. In summer, avoiding the dark is pretty simple thanks to the long hours of daylight. In winter, it takes some more planning: always look at what time sunset is foreseen for the day and make sure you come back before darkness hits.
Take turns: driving long hours on narrow roads can be tiring. If you can, take turns and share the driving with someone else. At least, make sure you take plenty of breaks.
Driving on Ireland coastal roads and mountain passes
Ireland has some famous scenic coastal drives such as the Ring of Kerry and the Antrim Coast. These drives are stunning but can pose issues to drivers as they tend to have vertigo-inducing stretches.
I suffer from a fear of height myself so I can tell you honestly: some of those roads are hard if you don’t like high places! My best advice for these roads is the following:
- Look at the map and plan your itinerary so that you are on the side of the mountain
- Look online on forums and youtube to see what the road ahead is truly like (remember when the Irish say ‘it’s grand’, that literally means it’s ok but usually it is an understated way to say it is not ok at all!!)
- Avoid them: maybe not what you wanted to hear but seriously some roads, if you are afraid of heights, are just a nightmare! We drove the Conor Pass (not a coastal road, a mountain pass) and it was an acrophobia hell. Please, unless you really have to, do your research on the specific road or you may find yourself really stressed! The Conor pass is protected by a small wall but still, if you don’t like high places, it is not a pleasant experience.
Driving in Dublin
Dublin is a busy city with traffic to match. If you come from Rome, London or a big US city, you may expect Dublin to be less busy than back home but you may be in a for a surprise: Dublin traffic is mad!
I highly recommend you do not drive in Dublin and, if you have to have a car in the city. pic a hotel with free parking and good public transport connections.
This is less important in other cities however, none of Ireland’s main cities are great for cars: I recommend you pick a central location for your hotel and explore on foot always.
I hope you found these tips for driving in Ireland useful. Safe travels!