A Short Guide to Renting A Car in Ireland

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Renting a car in Ireland allowed us to get off the basic tourist path and make our own divergent path in Ireland. We got to explore all of the different sides that Ireland has to offer on our own timeline.

We explored the local side of life in Ireland. We explored the outdoor and nature side of Ireland. We were transported back in time through the historic side of Ireland. Renting a car in Ireland made our trip magical.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Ireland (Travel Guide)

Rent A Car in Ireland or Take A Bus Trip

Renting a car in Ireland

Cant we just stop for a few minutes? Or does anyone else want to stop there? Is something you will be saying and hearing on the tour bus as your traveling around Ireland but you’ll mostly be enjoying the views from the bus window.

Don’t get me wrong, bus tours have their place but with a car we were those people who were checking out the sites and exploring the different castles.

There were so many spots we ended up during our road trip around Ireland that the everyday traveler would not have found or missed on the tour bus.

With a bus trip you only get the basic highlights during the most crowded times of the day. With a car you can take your time and explore the nooks and cranny’s that this country offers, and trust me there are loads of them.

Related Article: Finding Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains

Causeway Coastal Route with cars, a.k.a. Antrim Coastal Road on eastern coast of Northern Ireland, UK.

The flexibility alone wins the argument. On the day we had planned to visit the Cliffs of Moher it ended up pouring rain with thick low fog, so it wouldn’t have been possible to see anything.

We moved on to another part of the country that was sunny and clear and came back to the coast the next day for better weather. We couldn’t help but wonder about those people of the strict bus schedule or day trips from Dublin were doing on their horrible day.

Daily Life on the Road

Renting A Car in Ireland Connemara Peninsula
Off the beaten track on the Connemara Peninsula

We spent two weeks driving around Ireland and while we had enough time to see most of the grand sites, we could have easily spent a month.

The country is amazing and it sucks you into it’s culture. Our drives most days were easy and total driving time averaged around three hours. Once we added stops in though, it would take up most of our days.

There is much to see on the back roads in Ireland and it never failed that we would be driving down some back country roads and come across a hidden castle or monastery.

Panoramic coastal road in Dingle Peninsula Ireland at sunset

The best part is we would be the only ones there exploring it. You just can’t beat that when you are exploring a new place, especially Ireland.

Our days of driving usually consisted of several shouts, including “Just pull over”, “Go back” and “Let’s check that out”.

There is something cool to see around every turn and it never failed we would jump in the car and five minutes down the road we would be pulled over on the side of the road checking out another hidden gem.

Related Article: 9 Castles You Cannot Miss in Ireland

Things To Watch Our For

Renting A Car in Ireland

Tractors

We ran into many farmers who took up the whole road.

Driving Locals

The locals are used to the roads and the drive fast! Often times they don’t move over much either. It is just best to slow down and give way to them. They know the roads and they have places to be.

Sheep

Herd of sheep walking on a small rural road in County Kerry, Ireland

The sheep also own the road. They might be grazing on the side of the road but this will not stop them from ending up on the road.

Speed Limit Signs

Speeds are marked well and most of the time with the roads being so narrow and windy you will not be able to drive that speed.

You do need to watch out for speed cameras, they are everywhere. Highways were 100 to 120 and country roads were 60 to 80. Reading signs are easy. All street signs and highway signs are in English and Irish.

Valuables

Renting A Car in Ireland

You will see a variety of signs while driving but one you should pay special attention to is the car theft signs. Do not leave anything valuable sitting out in your car, this includes your GPS.

Be sure to lock things up in the trunk or glove box BEFORE you stop. Thieves will often watch to see if people lock up stuff in the trunk and then break into your car when you leave.

Tolls

Ireland’s newest and most efficient motorways will require you to pay a toll. This will be around Dublin and between Dublin and Galway. Be sure to check with you rental car company about how this is handled and if you should pay when you pass.

Parking

Road Cutting Through the Mountains in Ireland

Most sites on the Wild Atlantic Way offer free parking. You will be tempted in many places to just pull over and clog the shoulder, but first look for signs indicating a parking lot. It is much safer for you and your rental car if you are in the car park versus the side of the road.

Need to book a car for your road trip adventure? We use Discover Car Hire for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Do You Need A GPS?

Renting A Car in Ireland
Always something to see in your mirrors in Ireland

Maps are helpful but a GPS is what you really need. While we spent a lot of time looking at the map to plan projected routes, it was when we wanted to get off the beaten track that the GPS helped the most. We could just follow signs of things that interested us and not worry about getting lost.

Can I use the GPS on my phone?

Yes that is an option but phone service in the country can be intermittent and sometimes not work, so the GPS on your phone will not always be a reliable way to navigate.

Just rent a GPS (or bring one from home with Ireland downloaded on it!)  it’s worth the time you will save and its worth just plunking in where you want to go and getting there smoothly.

Road Etiquette-Keep Left

Causeway coastal route in Northern Ireland, one of the most scenic drives in the world

Keep left! All driving is on the left side of the road. The roads can be curvy, narrow and at times just wide enough for one lane and small car.

You will meet all kinds of traffic, from large tour buses and tractors on these roads. Just find a driveway to pull into to let them by, it’s not worth getting into a stand off with them.

If this requires you to back up, then you must do so. They will not get out of the way for you. They may give you a few feet to drive around but your better off just pulling over and letting them by.

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Get the Smallest Car You Can

Renting A Car in Ireland
Narrow roads on the Ring of Kerry

You will need it to fit down the roads and this will also save you on gas. We had 3 people, 3 large backpacks, a duffle bag (camping gear for Africa) and 2 small backpacks in our compact car. It was a tight fit for us but the comfort in navigating the narrow roads was a perfect compromise.

What We Rented

Renting A Car in Ireland
  • Car Rented: Volkswagen Polo 5 DR Automatic
  • Days Rented: 11 (we did not keep our car while in Dublin)
  • Used 3 tanks of gas (rough cost 160€)
  • Total Distance Driven:1976 kilometers
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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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26 thoughts on “A Short Guide to Renting A Car in Ireland”

  1. Thank you for writing such an informative piece regarding the mode of travelling in Ireland. Seeing the unpredictable weather and taking kids along, we opted for a private vehicle. Booking was easy and all the terms and conditions were discussed before signing of the agreement and making the payment. Also, we booked our car in advance as we wanted a compact car but with enough space and I was equally pleased to get what we asked for in a brand new condition. Even driving was easy for us, though it took just a little time to follow the strict ‘keep to the left’ road policy.

    Reply
  2. Two things to take note, first; if you are planning a holiday that also includes England, you cannot hire (rent) a car in Ireland and take it on the ferry to continue your trip in England; nor the other way around. I learned this the hard way. I flew to Dublin, because it was less expensive than flying to London, and was going to use the car I hired in Dublin for my entire 3 week holiday on both islands. It seemed like a great plan, but the execution was, um, executed. Hired vehicles may not leave the islands, either of them.

    Secondly, many people, especially young, broke, or traveling on a very strict budget, people backpack and thumb their way around Ireland (especially) and England (not nearly as many). If you see one or two and have room for them in your vehicle, it’s only polite to offer them a ride. You should only pick them up if you are comfortable in the idea though, and understand they will be grateful.

    Reply
  3. I talked to my insurance company and they said they cover damage to our rental but not liability for the other car. Can you just get liability from the rental company?

    Reply
  4. This is great – thanks! I’m flying into Dublin but going immediately to Galway and ending my trip in Dublin. Would you suggest I rent the car immediately from the airport, or would it be worthwhile to take a train to Galway and then rent one?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • That’s completely up to you! If you’re just planning to drive through and not stop, then take a train and rent in Galway. But if you have time to stop off between the two places, you might like to have a car. Have fun, we love Ireland!

      Reply
      • There are very good bus connections to Galway too. I still think a car is better but you not need it in Dublin at all. In Galway city also not. Same for Cork but anyehere else you need a car.

        Reply
        • Hi Bianca, Obviously you don’t need the car to explore the actual cities once you get there. Of course, there are other ways to get around Ireland including bus, train and tour in addition to renting a car. It’s all a matter of preference, for us, we like to make many stops between the big cities to explore nature and take photos, which is why we chose to rent a car in Ireland over the other options. Cheers!

          Reply
  5. I’ve traveled to Ireland from the U.S. many times, and also lived there for 8 years ….renting a car is easy but be SURE to use a MasterCard since they DO provide rental car insurance in Ireland. I got a letter from them with my policy number and brought it with me to show the car rental agency … it saved a LOT of money — but be aware that Ireland car rental agencies will not tell you about this coverage. You have to set it up before your trip. I’ve used it many times and it’s very easy.

    Reply
  6. We just returned a week ago from our driving tour of Ireland…and I agree that it is the best way to go. We too were able to explore more of the back country and make our own schedule…I think a tour bus would have driven me crazy! I would like to echo some of the above posters in regards to insurance. Ireland is one of the countries that credit card companies and insurance companies will not cover. We too were shocked at the mandatory insurance cost…our rental went from $200 to $800 with insurance included. Just be cognizant of this when planning your travel budget.

    Reply
  7. hi, found your article via pinterest! thank you so much for writing down your experience.
    i’m going to ireland in june and not quite sure wether to rent a car or to use a bus. really nice to see the total cost of gas but could you also describe the rental prices? how much was your total cost on rental car?

    Reply
    • Hi there, glad you liked the article. We loved road tripping around Ireland!! It is one of our favorite countries. Car rental prices are really going to depend on what kind of rental you want, what agency you use and how long you want to rent for. We find that care rental prices fluctuate from year to year also. If you are thinking about renting a car, I would recommend jumping over to a site like kayak or priceline to price them out for your dates. Have fun!

      Reply
  8. Great post but you didn’t mention the car rental insurance rip off’s, huge credit card holds, etc. Did you experience any of that?

    Reply
    • No, we didn’t have any problems with that. The car rental process in Ireland was standard to anywhere else in the World that we have rented a car.

      Reply
  9. Fantastic advice for driving Irish roads safely. Driving in a foreign city can be overwhelming so it’s nice to have some kind of outline. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  10. Driving yourself is the way to go but take one crucial tip: deal directly with the local car rental company from the beginning. Do not use a middle man to find you the ‘best deal’ especially during high season.

    Reply
  11. Renting a car is 100% the way to go in Ireland! I think we did 8 days total, and you are right, the flexibility is key. Our friend planned to propose to his girlfriend at two different stops along the way (Cliffs of Moher being one), but he hated how many people were around. I didn’t know what he was planning, but I really wanted to see a kind of obscure sight, so we veered off our planned course for the day. We had the entire place to ourselves with an epic view, so when my husband and I wandered off he popped the question. We took gorgeous photos of their engagement, all possible thanks to our detour!

    Reply
  12. I totally agree that renting a car in Ireland is the way to go. Matt and I loved having the flexibility to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted and for as long as we wanted! The Ireland countryside is beautiful and absolutely blew us away! One thing did come as surprise to us though, the cost of the mandatory insurance! It turned a rental car deal into quite an expensive cost. In the end it was worth it, but we wish we would have been able to work it into our budget ahead of time.

    Reply
    • Yes, renting a car is the way to go. We saw so much of Ireland that the box tours miss out on. The insurance is a bummer, I think it varies based on the company you rent through. We have coverage through our travel insurance policy. Glad you loved Ireland, so did we and we can’t wait to return.

      Reply

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