Many travelers prefer a self-drive or chauffeured vacation that gives them the freedom and opportunity to stop at many places along the way, but are inexperienced with driving in Ireland, these tips will keep you travelling like an expert!
- You are on vacation so relax and take your time. Avoid the temptation to break the speed limits. There are speed traps and cameras everywhere these days. The top limit is 120km (75miles) per hour on motorways. Most primary routes are 100km or 65 miles per hour. Lesser roads or dangerous or built up stretches of primary roads are 80km or 50km per hour.
- Avoid driving in the dark if possible, finding your way during the day will probably prove challenging enough.
- Driving distances in Ireland are very deceptive. Actually it is not the distances that are deceptive, but the length of time it takes to cover them. For instance Limerick to Dublin is 200km (125 miles), but it will take you three hours. Why? Traffic, and lots of it. And since most roads in Ireland are two just two lanes wide, everyone must travel at the speed of the slowest guy on the road. For this reason it is best to assume a speed of 40 miles per hour when estimating how long a drive is going to take you. Of course you then have to figure in stops for lunch, sightseeing and being reduced to tears from sheer frustration. Because it is best to pull over when that happens.
- Don’t drive in Dublin unless you have to. Traffic is a nightmare, signage is confusing and most streets are one way making what you thought would be simple journey a logistical puzzle worthy of a Nobel prize winning scientist. If you are staying in Dublin for a couple of days the best idea is to park your car on arrival and leave it there until you are ready to leave. Better yet, do not rent your car until you are ready to leave Dublin. This will save you on car rental, parking and unquantifiable stress.
- Roundabouts are the curse of the Irish motorist. They are everywhere. You will be an expert at negotiating them be the end of your vacation but they may prove tricky initially. Brush up on the rules on Irish Roundabouts on the Driving School of Ireland website. Also watch out for that purely Irish invention: the roundabout with traffic lights. The same rules apply as described on the webpage above but you must also obey the traffic signals on the roundabout, green for go, red for stop, etc.
- If confused, lost or on the verge of a nervous breakdown please, please stop and ask for directions. You will find the locals most friendly and willing to help. A word of warning though. Irish people love giving directions but unfortunately are not very talented at it. It is a good idea to keep a pen handy – get them to draw you a rough map.
- Finally, I would just like to say that driving in Ireland can be a lot of fun. Sit back, relax, take deep breaths, put on some music and enjoy the ride. Music is probably the best way to beat potential frustration and stress. Be sure to bring cds or an ipod. Failing that here is a quick guide to Irish radio stations:
- RTE Radio 1 (88 to 90fm): Current affairs talk radio with some light music shows2FM (90 to 92fm): Non-stop pop and rock
- Lyric FM (98 to 100fm): Classical with a little jazz
- TodayFM (100 to 102fm): pop, rock and chat.
- Newstalk (106fm): Like the name suggests: people talking about the news
The above are all national stations available countrywide. There are also a large number of regional stations playing a winning combination of pop, rock, country and traditional Irish music.
Looking for the freedom of the open road? How about the luxury of turning up an inviting lane for no particular reason at all? The security of knowing exactly where you’re going to lay your head every night, with all points between A and B an exciting possibility? Then check out Authentic Ireland’s Self-Drive Tours!
More About Driving In Ireland
If you want to see Ireland and I mean really see it properly, there are really only three options open to you when deciding how to get around the country. The first and best option is to walk. There is no better way to appreciate a landscape than to walk through it. But let's be honest this is only practical if you are a hardy student with a long summer to kill or a super fit granny with retirement stretching before you. Second best is to cycle. This is not as crazy as it seems. Forget trying to see the whole country, just pick an area and go for it. You will cover quite a lot of ground in one or two weeks. We will even organize it for you. If cycling still sounds like more energy than you are willing to expend then the third option is probably the one for you. Luckily it is also the easiest and most comfortable. It is of course to drive yourself. You will not have the satisfaction that comes with aching feet or being unable to sit down at the end of the day, but you will be able to go wherever you please, stop whenever you want to and see whatever interests you. This unfortunately is not true with any form of public transport in Ireland. Trains are very limiting as they generally only run between major town and cities. Buses go to most small towns and villages, but there is no chance to stop along the way and it must be said that the most spectacular scenery is in out of the way remote parts of the country that buses do not go near. So unless you are a student, a super gran or an avid cyclist, driving really is the only way.
So how scared should you be? The honest answer is not very. I have been driving in Ireland for nearly 20 years and have never had an accident. OK, there was one, but I was young and reckless at the time and had an entirely unfounded feeling of invincibility working against me. The crash was entirely my fault, but even so I must say the guards were very nice. They took me down to the station and made me a nice hot cup of tea to calm my nerves. So even if the worst happens you have that to look forward to. But there is no reason why it should come to that assuming you have outgrown the fallible invincibility of youth.
Still it would be wrong of me to give the impression that driving in Ireland is a breeze. There are many obstacles to contend with. The primary one being that we Irish, like our English neighbors, drive on the wrong, or left, side of the road. Why do we do this? Why because the English do of course. Virtually all former British colonies drive on the left. And why did the English decide left was best? Well, back in the 1700’s in feudal times, when men walked or rode horses and carried swords or lances, they tended to carry them in their right hands. It was always safer to have a stranger on the road pass on your right so that your good sword-fighting arm was between him and you in case of an unprovoked attack. Hence any sensible feudal person who walked or rode down a road tended to do that walking or riding on the left side. We may have traded our horses for SUVs in recent years, but we have retained the wary tradition of driving on the left.
So why, nowadays, do the whole of continental Europe and America drive on the right? They used to hug the left side of the road too you know. As usual a French man is responsible, one Napoleon Bonaparte as it happens. You see Napoleon was left-handed and when he went about conquering Europe at the end of the 18th century he insisted his army march on the right side of the road. Pretty soon the whole of Europe bar England and Ireland was marching on the right. Napoleon was a pretty persuasive guy. But what about America? Well, after kicking the English out, the Americans decided to add insult to injury by adopting the French means of getting down the road, namely on the right.
These days you are unlikely to meet a lance wielding knight coming against you on the road in Ireland, but it is still safer to drive on the left simply because everyone else does. Luckily it does not take that long to get the hang of. It also helps that the roads leading from Dublin and Shannon airports are divided 4 lane roads. This means you could not drive on the wrong, i.e. right, side of the road even if you wanted to. The danger comes when you stop thinking about it and there are no markings forcing you to drive on the left. Be particularly careful when turning from one road onto another, say at a t-junction. If there is no visible traffic it is easy to turn onto the wrong side of the road without thinking. Getting used to the controls being on the right side of the car happens naturally I think. If you drive a manual or stick shift, it will feel a little weird initially but again you will find that your brain quickly adopts. However, unless you are very comfortable driving a manual shift, it is definitely best to opt for an automatic car rental while in Ireland.
A common complaint about Irish roads is that they are narrow and treacherous with more fast bends than a Scalextric. This is true but only when you get off the primary routes and venture into more remote areas. Roads between major towns and cities have been drastically improved in recent years, though there is still plenty of work to be done. The problem is Ireland’s most scenic areas tend to be remote and consequently you will have to negotiate those truly scary roads if you want to visit them. Such roads claim to be two lanes wide but this is fantasy. Most likely you will have to pull in to the side to let the other car pass. That is the key to driving on these roads; be constantly aware of the fact that a car approaching from the opposite direction will require you both to slow to a crawl in order to pass. This just means that instead of following the ridiculous speed limit of 80km (50 miles) per hour you keep it closer to 25 to 30 miles an hour. Many roads on the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas in Kerry have the added thrill factor of being built into the side of steep mountains or sea cliffs. This shouldn’t make you any more frightened, just a little more careful.
Which brings me to the final ‘obstacle’ to be overcome when driving in Ireland. This one annoys me the most because unlike the first two it is unnecessary. I am not sure who is in charge of signposting in Ireland but whoever they are they deserve to be punished severely. Signage is often misleading but more frequently is simply missing. You are almost at your destination, feeling quietly confident when you come to a cross roads devoid of any signposts, or even more frustrating, ten different towns are signposted but the one you are looking for, or there are signs pointing down two or three out of the four possible roads. One road, the one you are sure is yours is sans signpost. It often appears to me that signage is so bad, vague and often downright wrong that it must be deliberate. If that is the case I have to take my hat off to the authorities’ twisted sense of humor. If not, I must bow to their superior levels of incompetence. Whatever the explanation there is an easy solution: always have a map on board and never be afraid to roll down your window and ask for directions.
Of course, you could avoid all this stress and drama by hiring a chauffeur to do the driving!
Transportation and Touring Options
There are 3 categories to choose in our packaged Ireland vacations. And we offer a variety of routes, lodging options and fun-filled activities in each category, as well as a fully customized self-drive tours!
Decide which one is best for you!:
Create Your Own Ireland Self Drive Vacation
Create Your Own Ireland Self Drive Vacation
Create your own Ireland self-drive vacation based on what you want to see and do in Ireland. You are in control. Our Custom Self-Drive Tours are completely flexible. You decide where to visit in Ireland, how long to spend and what type of...
5-Night Pure Ireland Vacation
5-Night Pure Ireland Vacation
Our Pure Ireland vacation is just that - the very best of traditional and authentic Western Ireland in just 5 nights! Arrive and depart from Shannon - a small airport in the heart of the west, and a pleasant change from the bustle and stress of...
Authentic Luxury Northern Ireland Tour
Authentic Luxury Northern Ireland Tour
Our Authentic Luxury Northern Ireland Tour will delight your senses at every turn! Enjoy stays at some of Ireland's top hotels, spas and resorts, while indulging in a wide range of unique and awe-inspiring activities and events. Upgraded,...