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.