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Driving in Ireland: Everything You Need to Know

Hiring a car to drive around the Irish countryside sounds idyllic but there are important things to know before embarking on your journey. We’ve put together an extensive guide to traversing the Irish coastlines and busy motorways so that you don’t get caught out during your journey.

Driving Tips

In the last 20 years, the roads in the Republic of Ireland have improved dramatically and there are many new, high-speed motorway options for covering long distances. However, Ireland is largely a rural country, and rural traffic is the norm. Expect large, and slow pieces of farm machinery around every corner from March to October. Also, be prepared for wildlife and pets to suddenly cross the road, and know that you might come around a curve to find cows or (especially) sheep resting right in the middle of the road.

Road signs: While warning signs in Northern Ireland are generally to international standards, those in the Republic of Ireland tend to be a bit old-fashioned. Don’t worry: most can be easily understood without problems. Direction signs are in blue for major routes (motorways), green for national roads, and white for local roads. Places of interest are signposted by brown in the Republic and black in Northern Ireland, both with white lettering. In Ireland, all place names will be listed in both Irish and English, and the distances are given in both kilometres and miles. In Northern Ireland, all signs are in English and use miles to communicate distances.

Seat belts: Seat belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers at all times. Children under 36 pounds or shorter than 4’11” (150 cm) must use an appropriate car seat or booster seat which you can add to your rental at the counter for a few euro a day.

Cell phones: The use of mobile phones while driving in Ireland is strictly forbidden. Bluetooth or handsfree devices are technically allowed but the Gardaí (police) warn that these devices are also distracting, and they will issue fines for any unsafe driving. Keep this in mind if you are planning to use your phone as a GPS for directions – and let a passenger be the navigator because the rule in Ireland is that the driver cannot touch a phone at all while operating a vehicle. Most of our standard-size cars come with built-in GPS systems but you can purchase a Sat Nav on your rental for a few extra euro a day, especially handy for when mobile signal is poor.

Drinking and driving: Drinking and driving are taken very seriously in Ireland and few people will risk getting behind the wheel even after one drink. The legal limit to drive in Ireland is 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood – which is lower than that 0.8 legal limit in many other countries. One standard drink is considered enough to put someone at risk of going over the limit, which includes a glass of beer, a small glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits. However, the amount which will put someone over the limit varies from person to person on a number of factors. Road safety experts advocate that nobody planning to drive should consume alcohol.

Speed limits: In the Republic of Ireland, the speed limits are: 50 kph (30 mph) in urban areas; 80kph (50 mph) on single open roads; 100kph (60 mph) on national roads (marked by a green sign); and 120 kph (74.5 mph) on motorways. In Northern Ireland, the speed limits are 50 kph (30 mph) in urban areas; 100 kph (60 mph) on single carriageways; 112 kph (70 mph) on dual carriageways. (Note: a single carriageway is a smaller road with one lane in each direction, whereas a dual carriageway has some kind of divider between the traffic going in opposite directions and usually has at least two lanes in each direction).

Irish Countryside

If you are a resident of the US, Canada or the European Union and you have a valid driver’s license, then you will be able to drive in Ireland. Drivers from other countries will need to obtain an International Driver’s License, but American licenses are automatically valid on the Emerald Isle.

In addition to a valid driver’s license, you will also need third-party insurance which you can purchase from Easirent at the rental counter or online. The conditions in the countryside can be challenging so we would always recommend taking insurance cover to protect the vehicle from accidental damage. Our most common breakdown issue in Ireland is flat tyres when customers take the vehicle into rural countryside or up steep lanes with large, rocky, uneven surfaces and burst their tyres. Purchasing tyre & windscreen cover protects you from the cost of replacing the tyres as well as windscreen chips, frequently caused by loose rocks and stones flying up and hitting the windshield. Recovery and replacement car cover is also an important option to consider, as towns are few and far between in most of rural Ireland and getting stuck in the middle of nowhere during a holiday is the last thing you need(!)

Fuel: Expect most gas stations (called “petrol stations” in Ireland) to be smaller than the standard gas-and-convenience-store option across Europe and America. Gas stations can be few and far between in rural areas, and almost none of them offer 24/7-service. Buying a full tank at the rental company works out cheaper as you will most definitely use it all and it is a good idea to refill once your tank is half empty. Remember that not all gas stations will take credit cards, so you should have plenty of cash. That means euros in the Republic of Ireland and pounds in Northern Ireland. As you go to fill the tank, make sure you double check what kind of fuel the car needs and what kind of fuel the pumps offer. Whereas at many gas stations the pump handles for diesel are green, a green handle means unleaded petrol in Ireland. Always read the label to be sure. And if you make the mistake of filling up with the wrong fuel, do not start the car; push it to the side and contact us immediately. We’ll put you into contact with a mobile tank-cleaner which is costly, but cheaper than losing the engine.

Weather Conditions

As most people will tell you, Ireland gets a LOT of rain. If you are travelling December – February then you will likely get stuck in snow too. At Easirent we ensure our vehicles are fit for the road and topped up with all the necessary components but we don’t provide snow tyres and advise customers to be extremely cautious of driving during heavy snow, rain or fog. When daylight hours are shorter and it gets misty from the rain then visibility becomes reduced and drivers will slow right down, especially on country lanes so don’t go whizzing around the corners and over hills. If the weather is that bad, most attractions will be closed so always plan ahead and check the forecast or call the place first before setting out.

Must-See Spots

The accepted Irish Bucket List states there are at least thirty must-see beauty spots and attractions across the country that you have to visit before you die. With so many breathtaking natural phenomenons, you will be spoilt for choice. Here are Easirents’ customer favourites…

  1. Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry – Ireland’s most beautiful National park.
  2. Malin Head, Co. Donegal – the Most Northern Point of Ireland.
  3. Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim – one of the most unique rock formations in the world.
  4. The Peace walls, Belfast – a very interesting spectacle left over from the time of “The Troubles”.
  5. The Guinness Factory, Dublin – Ireland’s No. 1 tourist destination.
  6. Brow Head, Co. Cork – the Most Southern Point of Ireland.
  7. Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin – the final resting place of Ireland’s most famous leaders.
  8. Newgrange, Co. Meath – a prehistoric grand tomb monument.
  9. The North West 200, Coleraine – the largest annual sporting event in Ireland.
  10. The Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry – one of the most charming places in Ireland.
  11. Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare – Ireland’s most visited natural attraction
  12. Sean’s Bar, Co. Westmeath – the Oldest Bar in Ireland…and the world!
  13. Leap Castle, Co. Offaly – the world’s Most Haunted castle.
  14. Glenoe Waterfall, Co. Antrim – Ireland’s Most Dazzling waterfall
  15. Carrauntoohil, Co. Kerry – Ireland’s tallest mountain.
  16. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Co. Antrim – a famous rope bridge near Ballintoy to the tiny island of Carrickarede.
  17. Ballymastocker Beach, Co. Donegal – Ireland’s most exquisite beach.
  18. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin – Ireland’s Most Famous Prison
  19. Croke Park, Dublin – an Irish sporting association which organises and hosts two sports, Gaelic football and Hurling.
  20. The Blarney Stone – Cork – a popular tourist site in Ireland, attracting visitors from all over the world to kiss the stone and tour the castle and its gardens.

Local Laws

Driving on the left: The most important rule of the road in Ireland is: keep left.

In Ireland, you must drive on the left side of the road. This means more than simply remembering to keep left. It means that everything you do as a driver in Ireland will feel like the mirror image of what you do without thinking when driving on the right. Remember that the more important side-view mirror is on your right and the interior rearview mirror on your left. If at all possible, drive a few minutes in the Easirent parking lot before getting on the road, just to get used to the driving-backwards feeling. Driving on the left side of the road may feel surprisingly obvious when everybody else is doing it, but drivers who are used to keeping right tend to forget and let old habits take over, especially after breaks, on lonely roads, and in the morning. Whenever you come to a stop or need to turn, take a moment to remind yourself to stay to the left.
Driving on the left means that you will always pass traffic islands to the left, and drive through a roundabout in a clockwise direction. You must make a left turn when accessing a motorway (which is the Irish term for a major highway) and remember to join traffic on your right side. Some people find that it actually helps to have a small post-it note saying “stay left” on the dashboard.

At unmarked crossings, the car from the right will have right of way, and the same goes for cars already in a roundabout. In the Republic, yellow signs with black markings give instructions at marked crossings, with a graphic approximation of the layout with thick lines denoting the right of way, thinner lines representing roads that have to yield. On rural roads, which tend to be very narrow, it is best to let large cars and buses have the right of way just to be safe – unless they are clearly stopping to yield to you.

In case of Emergency: As well as your essential travel documents (passport, international driver’s licence, rental agreement) we would recommend keeping proof of your insurance in the car with you, as well as a first-aid kit and visibility vest. Your breakdown number is on the back of your rental agreement number and usually included on the keyring of the vehicle key fob.

If you need to reach emergency services in Ireland for any reason, 112 and 999 will both connect you to the emergency operator regardless of if you are in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland vs the Republic of Ireland

Remember that the traffic laws will differ slightly depending on if you are driving in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland, which are two different countries.

There are no toll roads in Northern Ireland, but they do exist in the Republic of Ireland and often cut down travel time significantly when compared to older, country roads. You will stop at toll booths to pay when entering toll roads in Ireland, with the important exception of the M50 around Dublin, which uses the eFlow Barrier System. You will pass through this system if you are travelling to or from Dublin Airport, but there are no physical toll booths. Your car’s license plate will be photographed and you must remember to pay the toll online or at a designated kiosk before 8 p.m. the next day. If you use the toll road and don’t pay in time, Easirent will pay the fine and charge your card.

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European Office: 38 Main Street, Swords, Co. Dublin K67 E0A2, Ireland

US Office: 100 SE 20th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316, USA

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