The irish road trip is somewhat of a must do if you are planning to visit the emerald isle. Sure there is train and bus links to many parts of the country but to really SEE Ireland, you need to get out there on your own and drive it. Having your own car frees you to drive little scenic roads, take as much time as you want at the many historic sites and maybe best of all you don’t have to be squashed onto a tour bus for hours on end.
Now I’m no stranger to roads trips having grown up in Australia and taken my own American road trip earlier this year. But I have to admit driving around Ireland was something else again. So I’ve compiled a list of tips and advice if you are planning an irish road trip yourself so you can be fully prepared for the experience.
1. Road Rules
Driving in Ireland is just like driving in Australia or the UK. Which is great for me but if you are heading over from America be ready to drive on the opposite side of the road and get behind the steering wheel from the right hand side of the car. The only difference Australians will notice is the indicator and windscreen wiper controls are on opposite sides.
Speed limits are in kilometers per hour unless you head up to Northern Ireland where it swaps over to miles per hour. That in itself is an interesting experience given there are no border controls so you can simple just cross countries without anybody ever knowing.
2. Hiring A Car
Given taking a road trip in Ireland is a popular tourist thing to do you’ll find all the popular car hire companies in Dublin, Belfast and around depending on where you plan to start your trip. I booked my trip with a Dodge Car Dealership, which are sort of like Expedia, just for car hire companies. They’ll query all the providers and come back to you with an option to suit your trip.
When booking your car there are a few suggestions I’d like to offer to make sure you get the most out of your money.
- Opt for a diesel model. You’ll get far better mileage and diesel is generally cheaper than petrol.
- Skip the sat nav device, Ireland’s roads were a mystery to the device I hired.
- Get a small car. Ireland’s roads get incredibly narrow and windy, so much so that unless you are on one of the few motorways you won’t be doing more than 80km/h. Also some parts of the country limit the types of vehicles that can go on certain roads.
- Take out insurance on the car. Excess fees tend to start around the 1000 euro mark and you’d hate to go into that because you scuffed up the bumper. And while you’re at procuring the insurance, you might as well check out the traders policy from Utility Saving Expert that the car owners are mostly so discreet about.
- Check if you are required to pay for tolls or if it is an extra charge to the car hire.
Navigating around Ireland by car is relatively easy, especially once you get out of Dublin and Belfast. Road signs are everywhere and clear to read in my experience. As I mentioned above don’t get a satellite navigation device. I hired one with my car and basically wasted the 70 euros it cost me as many of the roads had changed or just weren’t correct. If you do want some electronic aided support then look at getting a cheap sim card for your smartphone (if unlocked) and use google maps, they at least know where all the roads are.
On top of that taking a good old paper map can be a great help in finding the scenic roads as you road trip around Ireland. They also list many of the historic sites which is helpful for planning out your next days driving from the comfort of a local pub or your hotel room.
Roads in Ireland are best divided into four categories. First you have the nice big motorways which seem to snake their way out from Dublin. You’ll know you are on one of these as you will have to pay a toll for the privilege, cost is around 2-4 euros.
Once the motorways run out you’ll be down to standard single lane roads which do the job, still enough room and the ability to pull off to the side of the road if need be. After that however it starts to get a little more intimidating. The first option will be characterised by its narrow appearance and how nature has taken back its own and encroached right to the edge of the bitumen/asphalt. This is where you are glad to have hired the small car and not the four-wheel drive monster. Even more so as you pass a tractor coming in the other direction at speed and crossing into your lane of traffic.
The last type of road could at times not even be called a road if you ask me. I managed to find these roads all too often while seeking the scenic route or when listening to the sat nav I so stupidly hired. These roads are single lane, have limited places to pull over, are full of blind corners and if you come face to face with another car or worse a bus will require some driving resourcefulness.
To be honest though the last two options are where I saw the best parts of Ireland and what’s a road trip without a bit of adventure, right?
While planning your irish road trip you might plan out your intended route and highlight a list of places you intend to stop at. When you estimate the time using tools like google maps and so on be sure to double everything it says. While many of the roads have speed limits of 100km/h you’ll be lucky to get up to 80km/h. on top of that I estimate you’ll stop twice as often to grab photos and just admire the view because Ireland is beautiful. As the driver stopping will be the only way to enjoy the view and grab a photo because when you are moving you’ll be concentrating on the narrow road in front of you, trust me.
Do ask locals where you are staying for tips on places to eat. Guide books are great but nothing beats word of mouth advertising from someone who knows the area. My best meals and some cute little pub’s were found this way, everybody is friendly so don’t be shy.
Just about every historic site will charge you entry. Even middle of nowhere neolithic burial grounds which is really just a few rocks laying about. It might only be 3-5 euros but it adds up quickly so keep it in mind as you plan your journey around the country.
Ireland weather is unpredictable at best so expect four seasons in one day. While the summer months are always going to be a better time to visit that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have rain.
And my last tip is to take your time. There are so many places to see or stop off at and even though the country is small you’ll miss plenty. Enjoy what you can and once you are home start planning your return visit.
Have you taken a road trip around Ireland and have a tip you’d like to share? Then leave it in the comments below to help others looking to do the same.
How much a road trip would be around Ireland!!!
Andi is that meant to me how much FUN would a road trip around Ireland be 🙂
Great tips for those planning a trip to Ireland! Thanks for sharing~
Great tips! Although we lived in London for nearly five years we unfortunately never made it to Ireland. Would love to do this road trip one day when we get back there
Carmen I was the same, lived there for two years and never made the trip. It’s definitely worth it as there is so much to see and the roads are amazing to drive.
My first road trip around Ireland was scary as [email protected]# to say the least hahaha… The roads especially killed me, being Canadian & having most of our highways be 2-6 lanes in each direction. Can’t wait to travel more when living there though! Already have a few spots scoped out I’d like to drive to that I didn’t visit before. Driving is definitely a must in seeing Ireland. x
Hi Jacquie, I can so see how your trip was scary. While there are many roads that just lead off into amazing scenery with open spaces, there are still many other narrow roads that leave very little room for cars to pass.
In Australia I’m used to the space as well and even though we have a lot of single lane roads there is still plenty of wiggle room so to speak.
I’d love to drive around Ireland to see the beautiful scenery. I was in Dublin for a few days once, but I really didn’t do much justice to the country.
Yes Andy a couple of days in the country is far too short. Don’t get me wrong, Dublin is nice and has a bit to see but its just a small small bit.
I was just looking into a road trip around Ireland, so this post came in perfect time!
Annette I’m happy to have timed my post for you 🙂 Enjoy the trip when you get over and if you need some tips on what to see and do I’m currently writing up a series of posts for all the different counties I visited.
Well, I haven’t visited Ireland… but I would love to! And I think a road would be a great idea!
Well, I haven’t visited Ireland… but I would love to! And I think a road trip would be a great idea!
A friend and myself are looking into this as we speak. How many days would you suggest to getthe most out of Ireland if you were to hire a car? Would this be cheaper then to get a bus from place to place for a backpacker? Great idea!.
Hi Jaimi, the days will depend on where you want to go and what you want to see. I had almost two weeks and that didn’t cover everything.
Bus travel would easily be cheaper as I spent around $1000 AUD for car hire, insurance and fuel just for that time. In saying that a car lets you go more places than the bus does so its a bit of a decision for you.
Its a difficult one as I think a car is needed to explore well as it gives you so much freedom.
Ireland seems to be the place to go latley around the blogging world – have really enjoyed your Ireland series! nice work 🙂
Hi Rebecca, Yes Ireland has certainly become the top destination for bloggers of late but thats mainly due to TBEX rolling into town there at the beginning of October. I’ve a few more posts to go in my Ireland series so hope you enjoy those as well.
We spent almost 6 weeks touring Ireland and loved every moment of it! We went in March and April this year and booked well in advance(6-9mths). We got an amazing deal through Avis (promo email connected with our Etihad flight booking) and only paid $400 AUD for a brand new diesel Nissan SUV for the 1st 4 weeks leg of the trip, that’s $100 a week!. We did 4000 km in that time and still didn’t see everything we wanted to. I would definitely suggest that if you’re going over for a decent holiday to drive yourself and book self contained cottages. We did this and stayed a week at a time in various spots and planned it so that we could cover a few counties from there. I do have to say though that I developed an absolute phobia of driving once we got into the rural areas. 1 more recommendation – get an automatic! There are SO many steep hills and when you have to pull over or reverse back it would be much easier if you weren’t in a manual. I dreaded the thought and at 1 point suggested we take a “short cut” as was advertised on google maps and boy did I regret it. I was almost in tears as it was getting dark and the track we were on was nothing more than something we’d call a bushwalking track here in Australia but with the sharpest blind corners I’ve ever seen. Hope I haven’t put you off, just do it and you’ll come out stronger 🙂 We now want to move to Ireland – it is an amazing place! Good luck
Hi Fiona, thanks for the info and nice work on getting the discount on the car.
While I didn’t have any problems with hills in the manual car I had I do know its more expensive to get an automatic so people will need to keep that in mind. And yes driving in the more remote parts of Ireland are an adventure to say the least, certainly not for the faint of heart as I found out as well.
These are some good bits of advice! We took a trip to Scotland recently, and these would apply there as well. We would really like to be able to see Ireland as well.
I’m reading through your blog and I really appreciate the helpful advice you give, especially as I find its hard to find good travel blogs by fellow Aussies.
I have a question – its not related to this post but this is your most recent and I really would love some help!
I’m looking to backpack overseas for a year. I’ll have just graduated high school. I would like to travel Europe for the year (is that even possible visa wise?) I’ve travelled in the past but with groups and the conditions have always been primitive so I’m not shy of roughing it. This time however it will be my own independent adventure.
My question for you is – IS THIS POSSIBLE?! visa wise, expenses wise etc etc. I mean how much would something like this cost? Can I earn money over there? How can I make this dream a possibility? and if the details I’ve said about it aren’t possible, what can I alter to make this possible for myself?
Hi Genevieve, there are some restrictions visa wise on Europe. You can only be there for 3 months in every 6 months so essentially in a year you can only do Europe for 6 months. You can stay in the UK for 6 months and Ireland separately for another 3 so that should let you stay abroad there for the year you intend, it will just need some planning to ensure you don’t overstay anywhere.
In terms of making money you can’t work unless you apply for a working holiday visa and they are only available in certain european countries. many opt for a working holiday visa in the UK like I did as it lets you stay there for 2 years to live and work allowing you plenty of time to explore Europe.
Cost wise is very relative. I spent around 6k AUD travelling 15 different cities in Europe some 3 years ago. It will come down to how you intend to get around, what you want to see and so on.
If I was doing it all again right out of school I’d get a 2 year working holiday visa in the UK and use that as the launching point to work and travel and just take it all from there.
Hiya. As an Irish person, I enjoyed reading your article about driving in Ireland, however you forgot to mention the possibility of meeting cows or sheep on the road in rural areas, or snacking by the roadside! Re roundabouts, you must give way to traffic coming from the right.
What month did you go on this road trip? I live in Australia and I’m planning on going, but can only go during the summer, but it would be winter over there, so do you think it would be worth it? thanks 🙂
Hi Josephine, I took the trip in August of 2013. Going in our summer would certainly make for a wet/cold road trip I think as I was really lucky with the weather in August. I’d almost wait until very late summer for us if you do plan to go that way they’ll be coming out of winter and into spring.
I could just google this but I’m too lazy right now. Could a 21 year old hire a car relatively cheap in Ireland or is it the same as Australia where it’s basically impossible unless you’re willing to pay thousands of dollars?
Hi Lauren, I don’t believe they have different rates for your age to hire the car but insurance might be a different story.
I did a 7 day road trip with my sister around the south of Ireland and can’t wait to go back with my husband in June/July to explore Ireland further. It was enchanting and one of the best holidays. We stayed in B&B’s and loved the people, the history and the beauty of Ireland.