Driving in Ireland was intimidating to me. I have driven in many countries all over the world, but have never driven on the left side of the road. However, being the person I am I find intimidating situations a challenge and run towards them not away from them. Driving in Ireland, while nerve wracking to say the least, was so rewarding. The scenery on the local roads is some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The lush green fields look like quilts laying across the earth, each green patch stitched together with a low stone wall. The fields and rolling hills are dotted with sheep, rocks and beautiful country homes. At numerous times during our journey we found ourselves very tense while driving and often stopped to switch positions. Yet neither one of us would see Ireland any other way.
We rented a car from Hertz in Cork. From there we decided to drive the rest of the country and Northern Ireland and then drop the car off in Dublin. Renting the car and picking it up was really easy. We used Hertz because they had the best rates. Their office was in the perfect location in Cork to pick up the car and get on the road to Kilarney. We used GPS to get around the country. I would NEVER drive in Ireland without GPS. (In fact I wouldn’t drive in any foreign country without it.)
There are two options to get around in Ireland, one is the highway system the other is the local roads. Each have their pluses and minuses. My recommendation would be to take the highway when traveling any distances, otherwise buckle up, breathe deeply and get ready for an amazing experience. Note: Most rental cars in Ireland are manual since there is less inventory of automatic vehicles it is best to book ahead to make sure one is available for you.
I love to drive a manual car. When we rented our car in Ireland we had no problem renting a manual. What I didn’t take into consideration before driving in Ireland was that the gear shift would be on the left side instead of the right. So balancing between being seated on the right side and shifting on the left was surprisingly not complicated. Maybe once you have put your entire drivers training on tilt your mind compensates, I don’t know but somehow it worked.
Driving In Ireland-The Highways
The highways in Ireland are great. They are in perfect condition, easy to navigate and clearly marked. If you are pressed for time the highways are much faster than the local roads. The lanes are wider which makes driving on the left side much easier.
Driving In Ireland-The Local Roads
Driving the local roads in Ireland is not for the faint of heart. The lanes vary in width from one lane total to barely two lanes. The local roads are lined with either beautiful rock walls (2-3 feet high), or plants. I ended up preferring the plants since the sound of them scraping the window was much better than what the wall would have done to the side of the car. Most of the local roads are clearly marked so getting lost was only an issue for us once.
Be careful about making turns and pulling out of parking lots. Take an extra moment to remind yourself which lane you should be in before you pull out, don’t let your instincts take over. If you do make a wrong turn, or get lost don’t panic, the locals are all great and can help you get back on track, or better yet, use your GPS constantly. When we did make a wrong turn we ended up in the middle of nowhere on tiny one lane roads and would never have made it out without our GPS.
When driving the Ring of Kerry drive clockwise. The tour buses must drive counter-clockwise by law, you should drive the opposite. While it can cause some moments of nervousness when passing one, it is much better than following them. It also gives you the best chance of seeing the sights without the crowds are you are on a different time schedule this way. If you don’t want to pass the tour buses on the narrow roads then start early in the morning or late in the morning to avoid the buses. We preferred to drive the opposite since we didn’t want to leave late and drive the Ring of Kerry in the dark.
When we left Cork we were on the highway. During our journey we transitioned to the local roads in order to see Dingle. As J. drove I found myself incredibly nervous. Being a passenger isn’t usually an issue for me but sitting on the left side of the car gave me a different perspective than what I am used to. All of a sudden I was right next to the walls and plants judging how close we were but unable to make the choices I usually would as a driver. It was the strangest sensation. For me it was more difficult to be the passenger than it was to be the driver. (Maybe I have some control issues? Check out my Fear of Flying post.)
J. is great about remembering to take in the moments along the way. I am more of a get me to my destination type of girl. I was grateful that we followed his lead on stopping while we drove through Ireland. We were rewarded with beautiful parks, streams, mountainous views, ruins and quiet moments we would not have had if we had done it my way.
The best advice I can give you for driving in Ireland is to take your time, be patient. Drive slow if you need to and make sure to stop along the way. You will never be disappointed if you do.
If you have driven in Ireland or on the opposite side of the road from your training I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.