Driving in Ireland was our first experience driving in another country. Out of all the things we needed to book and schedule ahead of time the rental car was the most stressful for us. I searched all over the internet for stories of someone’s personal experience and only found a few that fit what I was looking for. We had heard horror stories about car rental places charging hundreds of dollars extra to people’s accounts and then the process of having to deal with it once back home in the US. We were just unsure of the process and not clear on what it would be like. If you are in that same boat- this post is for you!
Chris researched all the insurance options available; at first it seemed like it was going to be way out of our budget. There was a lot of noise to get through on the internet. But it turned out to be just fine and here are the steps to take when thinking about rental car transportation in Ireland.
Why We Rented a Car
There are many good options for transportation in Ireland. The first step is deciding which destinations are most important to you and what sort of help you will need getting around. In this case we needed to get from Dublin to the other side of the country to see the Cliffs of Moher. Keep in mind that distances in Ireland are much shorter than you would imagine. In the time it would take us to drive from Knoxville to Nashville we had made it all the way across the country of Ireland. We chose a B&B that was very close to the cliffs but by looking on Google Maps we could see that it was still going to be a bit of a hike to get from our B&B to the cliffs, any restaurants and the Doolin Pier for our boat ride by only walking. Also, if we didn’t rent a car we would need some way to get from the train or bus station to our B&B- we would end up paying for a taxi. So, our best choice at that point was to rent a car.
In case you are interested these are some of the possible routes we considered for getting across Ireland:
- Take a train to Galway, a bus to Co. Clare and then walk or taxi to the B&B
- Take a train to Galway, rent a car, drive to B&B
- Fly into Shannon, rent a car, drive to B&B
- Fly into Shannon, hop on a bus to Co. Clare and walk to B&B
- Rent a car in Dublin and drive across Ireland to B&B
The second options there – the train to Galway – would have been a great choice. There wasn’t much to see on the interstate drive we took and it would have saved a lot of stress if we had taken a train out of Dublin. We could have relaxed and watched the country side go by together and then seen the same amazing views driving down from Galway. At the time, we decided against it because we would have needed to be at the train station at a specific time and we wouldn’t be able to stop on the road to see anything. Time is a huge resource when you travel and we didn’t want to spend our morning in Dublin rushing to the train station to make a specific train. We also didn’t really understand how much there would be to see (or not see). Because we took the interstate there wasn’t much to stop and see. I’m sure if we had taken back roads the whole way the car would have given more of a pay-off (again, that would have taken many more hours and time is a valuable resource).
Here is a route we could have taken to stay off the interstate completely (still going through the Burren). I’m sure this would have given us many more photo opportunities and would take about 5 hours according to the map. I would add about 2 more on for stops and breather breaks because driving on back roads of Ireland is no joke.
Here are the times in case you are interested:
Dublin to Galway by train is between two and two and a half hours. (At this time the rate for one ticket from Dublin to Galway is about 35 euros/$39.00. Don’t forget that you will need to pay for the return trip too).
Dublin to Co. Clare by car (through Limerick) is about two and a half hours.
Galway to Co. Clare by car is about an hour and a half.
Renting a Car
If you’re going to rent a car in Ireland I would highly recommend Dooley Car Rentals. They had friendly quick service, the car was in great shape, comfortable and worked well, pick up and drop off were easy and there were no crazy hidden charges on our card when we got home. In fact, they charged us less than the full $100 of insurance money they had at their disposal. They have locations all over Ireland including Dublin, Shannon, Cork, Galway, Kerry and Limerick. We got the smallest car we could preparing ourselves for the roads and parking spaces being smaller than what we were used to. The only different renting a car in Ireland as opposed to the states (that I’ve experienced) is that they go over all the previous damage before they hand you the keys. You can see from the sheet that the car already had a lot of scratches. Note to self- if you rent a car and they give you one with tons of scratches on it already – you’re probably going to be adding more.
When you check in for your car all you need is your passport and driver’s license. Signing the insurance papers was a quick process. We were also given info on how to pay for the tolls. On Irish motorways you will pass under electronic tolling towers. Sometime before 8pm the following day you need to pay the toll. You can pay online- you just have to remember to do it. If you don’t the car rental company will charge it to your card.
They also gave us some great maps! We didn’t use them but now that we’re home I’m going to iron these out and hang them on my wall.
We had our sweet little red Scoda for three days and the total cost with insurance was $274.89 in US dollars. Totally worth it.
What It’s Really Like to Drive in Ireland
So, now on to the actual driving part. Driving on the correct side of the road isn’t very hard. There are stickers on the windshield of the car to remind you and everyone else is driving that way too. The trickiest parts were that everything is opposite, the Irish like to drive fast, the roads are narrow and there are a lot of round-abouts in Ireland. If you aren’t familiar with driving in a round-about I would recommend finding one near you to practice. Here in the southeast we don’t have many and the ones we do have are usually only one lane. These in Ireland are serious round-abouts with up to four lanes in them and one feeds right into the next one. Just remember- you can go around as many times as you want/need to! No need to panic. Drive around the circle a time or two until you understand the way traffic is moving and then move over into the far lane and take your exit.
Once you get merged onto the interstate it is just like driving in the US. Except it isn’t. There are no billboards. There are ruins in the distance of some old castle; but no run down houses that should have been torn down years ago. You can take one of the exits that come around every now and then and drive into a village type area but you aren’t going to see a super Walmart. Everything is pretty. Everything is clean.
These interstate signs were very easy to follow.
Once you get off the interstate things can become a bit more harrowing. We drove through the Burren which is a national park so think about driving through the mountains to get to Pigeon Forge – the roads are narrow and winding.
Our first turn off the interstate brought us to this road. Notice that on the sign the attractions are listed in brown, the towns in green.
And our first glimpse of an Irish backroad-
In Ireland you don’t actually have a side of the road that’s yours and one that is mine. In Ireland you have a shared road and when you come upon another person driving towards you, you move over as far into the bush on the side of the road as you can to let them pass. Sometimes it is a giant tour bus and you might need to totally stop your car or even back up to get to a spot where they can pass. And this would be do-able for us Americans used to huge vehicles and ever expanding roads to hold them except that the Irish drive very fast. So the driver’s attention really needs to be on the road and not on the gorgeous scenery. (At least until one is very familiar with it. I would assume Irish people don’t have such a problem). This is where the dilemma of whether or not to drive comes in – the driver – Chris – wasn’t getting to see much of anything and not enjoying himself very much.
On the other hand, the scenery is out of this world beautiful.
And you can pull over on the side of the road and walk down little paths like this one.
Getting Ready for Irish Driving
Be as prepared as possible before you go. Here is a good tip if you are going somewhere new: Check it out on googlemaps. You can get down to street view and if you leave the directions up on the left of the screen you can try to follow them. This is great practice for making left hand turns driving on the opposite side of the road.
And here is a little video on Irish roundabouts!
There are so many things to experience and learn in Ireland when you have the benefit of your own transportation. And I wouldn’t trade the experience I had with my husband driving around Ireland for anything. I would highly recommend giving driving in Ireland a try! If you have any questions about renting a car in Ireland, comment below. We’d be happy to help!