Driving In IrelandEverything is the same ... but the side of the road.

Over the years we've introduced quite a few friends and family to Ireland, always insisting on a self-drive over a bus tour because it gives you more freedom, less structure and allows for quite a bit of flexibility. We've also helped many folks who were on the fence between a bus tour and a self drive, each coming back and raving about how easy it was to drive in Ireland.

To help those of you who are in the planning stages, we've created some content to help educate yourself and prepare for your upcoming self drive vacation to Ireland.

Choosing The Right Car Rental Size in Ireland

Clients often try to save money by choosing the smallest possible car in Ireland and thereby compromising comfort at the same time. Remember, you will spend quite a bit of time touring the countryside by car and you'll want to be comfortable when drifting over the mountains and organizing your day's purchases. Keep these things in mind when figuring out the car rental size:

  • Ireland Roads Are Changing

    The roads in Ireland are becoming increasingly larger with each year I travel back, new motorways detouring around villages and towns and even the smaller mountain roads are being enlarged and walls being constructed. Keep this in mind when thinking about the size car you want to rent -- the roads are becoming larger and those small cars are no longer required for many off-the-beaten path roads. June 2014: Ring of Kerry has been widened as is the Caha Pass down to Bantry. Many new Motorways which are two-lanes in each direction and fast!

  • Petrol/Gas Prices Are HIGH

    With the average price of petrol being just above $9 USD per gallon (June 2014), you do want to get the smallest car for your group to save on petrol and your wallet. The cars are quite fuel efficient and choosing a manual over automatic will also save on fuel (and are more fun on those winding mountain roads!)

  • Automatic vs. Manual Transmission

    Automatic cars in Ireland (as well as the rest of Europe) are not very common and therefore they command a premium, a price you will feel moreso in the peak summer months. If you can drive a manual then I suggest you reserve that -- save on gas, your navigator will relieve the stress of directions and you can concentrate on the road. In the off-season the cost of the automatic upgrade is neglible and you might want to consider that just to make it easier.

  • Length of Vacation Advice

    If you're traveling for six (6) nights or less, going with the smaller car is what I would do to save money as well as fuel. For longer vacations my personal recommendation is to move up one car size from the minimum ... a compact fits 3 with well-packed luggage so if you're going for seven (7) nights or more, upgrade to the full-size to make it more comfortable. Remember, longer trips require more clothes and the trunks don't expand the longer you stay!

Navigating Ireland with Car Rental Maps

The navigator (i.e. your passenger) is just as important as the driving itself because it allows you to keep your eyes on the road rather than the map. A good navigator also allows you to enjoy some of the scenery along the way.

  • Ireland Travel Distance vs. Travel Time

    Reading the map and calculating distance is quite easy but factoring in the slower, narrow roads, small villages and livestock on the roadways... adda bout 30% more time to get to your destination.

  • Follow Town Names

    It took me a few trips to Ireland to figure out that navigating is a breeze when you identify your starting position, your destination and then every town in between. Navigating by town names is the easiest way to find your way in Ireland and the navigator can simply tell you to "head toward Lahinch" at an intersection rather than searching for a road number.

  • Irish Roundabouts

    The navigator can reduce stress by paying attention to roundabouts and telling you, "take the 3rd exit." Each roundabout will have a sign indicating the exits a few meters before you actually enter the roundabout, enough time to position yourself for a seamless entry and exit.

  • Ireland GPS - Global Positioning System

    Ignore everything I just said above, spend the money and let the GPS system tell you when to turn and what direction to go! These little gadgets started appearing in rental cars in 2007 and have come in with favorable reviews so they're now available to everyone. Keep in mind the rural backroads are less known to these technological wonders -- but the major roads and going from town-to-town, no problem. June 2014: We had a data package for our cell phone and used Google Maps a few times to navigate when we couldn't find a B&B.

Parking in Ireland

During my first trip to Ireland my friend Jeannie and I received a ticket in Galway for parking without a parking disc and I don't remember the actual cost of the fine. What I do remember is sitting in a pub and befriending a former Garda (police) who told us not to pay the ticket, "They can't track ya down..." and so we didn't. Back them the computer systems were a bit cumbersome and sharing information wasn't common so we got away with it. These days you'll receive the fine in the mail, compliments of the car rental agency sharing your address and your credit card can be charged as well.

  • Ireland Parking Discs

    All rental cars come with a parking disc and you'll notice it immediately on the passenger's windshield. Normal parking is covered with this disc but keep an eye out for signs when parking in a larger city or town.

  • Ireland Parking Meters

    If you see a parking meter then your disc will not cover you and you'll need to purchase time at the meter. You may not have an actual meter in front of your car, instead you will go to a machine, insert a coin or two based on the amount of time you'll be there and then stick the little receipt on your dashboard.