In this article, we share practical driving tips for Ireland and what to consider when planning a road trip in the stunning Emerald isle.
Driving is one of the best ways to explore the remote landscapes of Ireland. Having your own car allows you to visit the country at your own pace and to reach those beautiful and dramatic viewpoints you are likely to be after when planing a stay here.
However, driving in Ireland is notoriously different than in many other countries and it poses challenges if you are not used the peculiarities of Irish roads so I feel some preparation is required.
I learned to drive in Italy but moved to Ireland over a decade ago and it took me a while to adjust. These are the main safety tips I found and still find useful when driving in Ireland.
Please note: this post is written based exclusively on my own experience. It does not intend to replace official information about the rules of the road in Ireland and is simply an overview of what I believe can be useful to know when planning a road trip in Ireland.
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Practical driving tips for Ireland
The main challenges visitors face when first driving in Ireland have to do with driving on the left and the very narrow roads you encounter especially in the most remote parts of the country and in the scenic West.
These roads can be hard to get used to if you are used to motorway driving and do require extra attention. Their narrow width doesn’t always allow to gauge quickly whether the road is large enough to accommodate two vehicles passing a the same time, and this means you may have to slow down or even stop often.
On top of this, some of the most scenic roads can pose problems to drivers with a fear of heights. While this is not specific to the country, I feel it is worth mentioning: Ireland doesn’t have high mountains but it does have tall cliffs and this means many roads are quite scary if you are not happy in high places.
Stay on the left
I am going to start with an obvious but necessary point: in Ireland, we drive on the left. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car and the gear stick is on the left of the driver. The pedals are in the same position as in American of continental Europe cars: the gear is on the left, the break in the centre and accelerator on your right.
Signs reminding you of driving on the left are usually well visible near airports and when entering the motorway and become more scarce or non existent on local, smaller roads.
While it may seem obvious to remark on the need to drive on the left side of the road, it is remarkably easy to forget about it and let driving habits take over.
Always take your time before entering any road, however small, and always look all directions when entering crossroads. Enlist the help of other passengers in the car to be an extra pair of eyes too.
Familiarize with the gear stick
Automatic cars are not unheard of in Ireland but they are not common and not always available from your car rental agency.
If driving an automatic car is important to you, make sure you put a request in at the time of booking and keep checking as your trip get closer.
Since getting a manual car despite reassurance of the opposite can happen, it is ideal if you can familiarize with the gear stick before coming to Ireland or even just with short local drives before tackling longer stretches.
Ireland has several types of roads. Motorway driving is available between some of the main cities (Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick for instance) and is a fast way to get from point A to B.
Smaller roads are either National roads (green signs, names beginning with N and followed by a number) and regional roads (white signs, names starting with an R followed by a number).
National and regional roads vary immensely when it comes to size and ease of driving. Some national roads are dual carriageway and straight, others are smaller, bendy and very narrow.
These narrow roads are those usually posing safety risks for the inexperienced driver and the only way to stay safe on them is to go slow and take your time.
Don’t let impatient locals who know the road well and are in a hurry make you drive less safely than you are happy to!
Expect to pull over often
Maybe the hardest thing to the get used to in Ireland is the fact that not all 2 way traffic roads allow for a lot of space for two cars to pass at the same time.
Especially if not used to Irish driving conditions, you will find yourself pulling over often and letting the car facing you pass. Locals seem to trust the size of the road but after over a decade here I still believe pulling over is often the safest option!
Occasionally roads are marked as one way or may have a one way bridge in between a two way traffic stretch of road.
Again, in this case there is no need to panic: just slow down, gauge who is coming from the other other side and take turns.
Usually on these roads the traffic is not heavy so a slow pace is all you need to keep safe.
Evaluate carefully mountain and coastal roads if afraid of heights
Some of the most scenic roads in Ireland are across mountain passes and along the coastline, especially in the West of the country.
These roads are likely to stay as a highlight of your trip to Ireland but evaluate carefully if they are suitable for you in case you suffer from fear of heights
Some roads in Ireland truly are terrifying for people with acrophobia and are better avoided. A notoriously ‘scary’ road is the one along the Conor pass in Dingle and, for many, the one up the Sally gap in Wicklow, just to name a couple.
If you have reasons to believe the road you are about to take can pose issues to your driver, check online for tips on that specific stretch (I usually search ‘driving + name of road with fear of heights and find a remarkable amount of info!)
Get a good map
As much as I love google maps, when driving in Ireland nothing beats a good current paper map. You can get hold of one at most car rental agencies or get them online before you travel: make sure you get a recent edition for the most updated info.
Factor in more time than you think
Slow roads in Ireland mean that even short distances sometimes take time. The best comparison I can find is with driving in American National Parks.
The roads are gorgeous but slow so factor in the time needed and enjoy the view!
Don’t run out of petrol
Diving along the motorway in Ireland will make you think there are no petrol stations in the country and in a way, this is true!
Gas stations in Ireland tend to be away from the motorway, tucked into local villages (this is done on purpose to encourage you to visit).
Make sure you fill your tank when you have the opportunity and be prepared for long stretches of road with no services, especially in the most remote parts of the country.
Pick the right pump
I picked up on this just this year, as I found myself in the USA staring at a gas pump terrified of picking the wrong one.
At present, in Ireland, black pumps are for diesel and green ones for unleaded petrol.
Pay toll roads
Some roads in Ireland are pay roads. On the motorway this usually is well indicated and you can pay at the toll station with either cash or card.
In other locations such as the ring road around Dublin, there is no toll station and payment can be made online after use of the road.
This is well signposted along the relevant roads: just make sure one of your passengers take a note of the relevant website.
Have cash for parking
In many towns and cities parking is available by pay and display. The machines accept coins but no cards so it is important to have cash on you at all times.
When there is no pay and display sign, it is likely OK to park unless there are double yellow lines at the side of the road: they mean parking there is illegal.
Don’t drive in Dublin
This may sound a bit excessive but I highly recommend not to drive in Dublin. The city is simply not car friendly and traffic is crazy, much worse than you may expect in a city this size!
If you can, leave the car at your rental agency when arriving in Dublin or park it at your hotel (find some of our favourites here)
Public transport in Dublin serves the city centre reasonably well and it is an excellent, much less stressful way to visit the city.
Never drink and drive
This applies everywhere in the world but I do feel like stressing it for Ireland as the temptation to get in the car after a quick drink in a pub can be strong.
Drinking and driving is illegal, checks are frequent and the safety risks immense so staying away from alcohol, if driving, is the way to go.
Pubs, even traditional ones, are well equipped with soft drinks and non alcoholic alternatives and some even have designated driver discounts to help everyone stay safe on the road.
I hope you found these quick tips about driving in Ireland helpful.
Stay safe and happy travels!
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