30+ Driving in Ireland Tips to Help Tourists Safely Navigate the Country

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Ireland is a stunning country to explore by car, with its rolling hills, dramatic coastline, and charming villages. But driving in Ireland comes with its own set of challenges and differences you need to be aware of.

If you haven't already made your Ireland car rental reservation, be sure to follow these 8 steps to stress-free car rental. You'll learn everything you need to know – including ‘hidden' car rental costs, money saving tips, and all about the insurance required when renting a car in Ireland.

car at Durrow Viaduct, County Waterford, Ireland
Follow the road less traveled- you never know what you might discover!
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Driving in Ireland: Tips for Tourists

A self-drive vacation in Ireland offers the freedom to make your own timeline, toss your itinerary out the window if you find someplace truly special, and follow that intriguing brown sign to a ‘hidden' location.

Keep these tips in mind to make most of your driving experience in Ireland.

The Basics – What Every Driver Needs to Remember

In Ireland, you drive on the left-hand side of the road. This may take some getting used to as most countries are the opposite. And everything in the car is opposite, too. The driver is on the right hand side of the car and the gear shift, whether manual or automatic, is to your left.

Before leaving the rental location learn the basics of your car. Know where the windshield wipers are, as well as the headlights and emergency flashers. Handle any wireless connections and take a spin around the lot before pulling out into traffic.

Always keep left and look right when pulling out into traffic.

Hug the curb on the left while turning to keep from crossing to the right side of the road, and if it's helpful, remember that the driver is at ‘the middle' of the road, closest to oncoming traffic.

When you are on the motorway the slow lane is the left lane, passing happens in the right lane.

The center divide, when there is one, is white. You'll mainly see these on motorways, larger roads, or when a turn lane is indicated in a rural road.

Roundabouts are a common feature of Irish roads. Remember to give way to traffic already on the roundabout and indicate your exit.

Tips for Using a Roundabout

  • Prior to the roundabout road signs will tell you what lane you should use for your exit.
  • If a roundabout is controlled by traffic lights they must be obeyed (this is the only time you should stop in a roundabout).
  • Slow down and yield to traffic already in the roundabout, remembering that traffic is coming from the right.
  • Enter the roundabout and drive clockwise.
  • Know which exit you will need and choose the proper lane.
    • The left lane is the exit lane, be aware that some left lanes will end when they exit and choose accordingly.
  • Do not stop in the roundabout unless it is necessary to avoid a collision (or the roundabout is controlled by traffic lights).
  • Exit the roundabout when you reach your desired exit.
    • Remember to use your turn signal to indicate which exit you will be taking.
  • Accelerate to the speed limit as you exit the roundabout.

Yield to vehicles that have the right of way. At unmarked crossings, the car coming from the right of you will have the right of way. You will also yield to cars already on the motorway as you enter.

No left turn at a red traffic signal. You must wait for a signal arrow or for the light to turn green.

In case of a breakdown or accident know where to find roadside assistance and accident information from your rental car company.

An Garda (the Irish police) should be contacted if someone is hurt in an accident at 999 or 112. These numbers are also active in Northern Ireland, where they will reach the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

For more on what to do if you have an accident visit this An Garda page.

Irish Driving Laws You Need to Be Aware Of

Seat belt use is mandatory in Ireland for drivers and all passengers. It is the drivers responsibility to ensure that all passengers are properly restrained.

Ireland has very strict drink driving laws. The legal drinking and driving limit in Ireland is 0.05% BAC (blood alcohol content).

Children under 150cm (4 feet 9 inches tall) and weighing less 36kg (approximately 80 pounds) should use an approved child safety seat. If your child uses a car seat at home I always recommend purchasing a seat and using their car seat on the flight. For older children the Bubble Bum inflatable travel booster is a terrific travel option.

It is prohibited to use a hand-help mobile phone while driving in Ireland. You may use a car-connected device as long as it is not a distraction.

county road in County Clare, Ireland
I love this road in County Clare. We have encountered tractors and even mini buses on this road.

What You Need to Know About Irish Roads

In 20+ years of visiting Ireland I have yet to become truly lost. Road signs are plentiful and there is usually more than one route to your destination.

In fact, I advise against renting a GPS unit from your car rental company. A map (yep, a real one) supplemented by the map app on your mobile device will get you everywhere you need to go.

Here's how to use your mobile phone in Ireland (and avoid a hefty bill from your mobile provider).

Ireland has 5 road designations.

  • Motorways. Designated by a blue road sign with the letter M followed by a one or two digit number. These are direct city-to-city routes on large highways, comparable to interstates in the US. Some motorways will have tolls (more on that below).
  • National Primary Roads. These roads are identified by a green sign with the letter N followed by a number between 1-33. These roads link larger towns together and while many are dual carriage (meaning 2 cars can pass side-by-side without incident) that definition can vary widely based on the size of the vehicle.
  • National Secondary Roads. Also designated by an N, but with numbers between 51-82, these roads link smaller towns to each other, or to larger towns. While this is still a National Road the carriageway will be narrower, likely only wide enough for a single car to pass in certain places.
  • Regional Roads. These link small towns and can be quite narrow and winding. Regional roads are identified by a white sign with the letter R followed by 3 numbers.
  • Local Roads. Also identified by a white sign, with an L followed by a 4 digit number. These are rarely marked on a map and can vary widely in condition – from blacktop road to rocky and grassy path.
  • Unclassified Roads. These small roads may be marked with a letter A or completely unmarked. These roads may lead to beaches, piers, or private farms. Often this road finishes in a dead end of sorts- one way in and one way out.

Speed limits are signs posted with frequency. If you see conflicting signs (which does happen) always opt for the lower speed.

Speed limits in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometers per hour while Northern Ireland uses miles per hour.

Most rental cars will list only km/h. If you need to quickly alter that to mph use this simple formula
1 km is approximately .5 mile. 2 km = 1 mile (roughly).

Speed Limits in Ireland km/mph

  • 50 km/h (30 mph): in towns, cities, and other developed areas
  • 80 km/h: on secondary, regional, and local roads
  • 100 km/h (60 mph): on larger, national roads
  • 120 km/h (70 mph): on motorways
  • 30 or 60 km/h (20 mph): special speed limits may be in place around schools
  • In Northern Ireland, the speed limit is 60 mph outside of built-up areas on roads that aren’t dual carriageways or motorways.
  • Any exceptions to these speed limits will be sign posted and must be obeyed.

It's helpful to note that, unless you are on a wide, smooth road, you are unlikely to drive the posted speed limit. For this reason you want to factor in extra drive time to your trip. A good rule of thumb is an additional 10 minutes for every 30 your map app says your trip will take. Find more itinerary planning tips here.

Ireland has a dozen toll roads, bridges or tunnels.

  • The M50 is a barrier-free digital toll (you will not stop at a toll booth), so be sure to speak to your rental company about how to handle that (some will add it to your bill, others do expect you to log on to the website and pay it). If you are responsible for paying your M50 toll it must be paid by 8pm the day following your travel and can be done online at eflow.ie or at a Payzone station (usually found in a petrol station).
  • The M1, M3, M4, M6, M7, M8, N25, Limerick Tunnel (N18), and Port Tunnel all have barriers that accept cash or contactless (tap) credit card payment.
  • The East Link Toll Bridge (Dublin city centre) does not accept card payment.
  • View the location of toll roads in Ireland on this map.

Toll rates for cars (accurate on date of publication)

  • M1, M7, M8, N6, M8, N25 Limerick Tunnel €2.30
  • M3 €1.70
  • M4 €3.40
  • M50 €3.10
  • Dublin Port Tunnel €12 M-F from 6-10am; €3.50 at all other times
  • East Link Toll Bridge €2.20

Be safe when passing (overtaking). Many of Ireland's roads are narrow and winding and a good rule of thumb is not to pass if you can't see what is coming. On narrow roads watch for passing places and pull to the side to let faster vehicles pass. No passing zones are clearly marked.

Share the road. Always be on the lookout for walkers, cyclists and animals. Cyclists and pedestrians have right of way in Ireland. So do sheep.

Observe and obey all road signs and markings. The video below is a helpful resource.

YouTube video

Ireland Driving Safety Tips

First and foremost, don't drive tired. If you plan to pick up your rental car on arrival in Ireland I recommend traveling no more than 90 minutes from the airport.

Use your navigator. The person in your front passenger seat is your second set of eyes. They should be watching for road signs, other vehicles, people, and animals.

Never go faster than you are comfortable driving. If you notice a line of cars building up behind you watch for passing places where you can pull over to let other cars pass.

Before slowing down or stopping on a road be sure it is safe to do so. Use your indicator so other vehicles know what you are doing.

When driving at night take it slow. Rural areas of Ireland do not have street lights and it is very easy to miss a turn or misjudge distance.

Sheep on Healy Pass, Ireland
This sheep didn't mind having his photo taken as we drove from County Cork to County Kerry along the Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula.

Final Tips for Driving in Ireland

When fueling your rental car know if you need petrol or diesel. There will usually be an indicator on the fuel tank door. Double check your fuel choice before filling.

When in rural areas keep at your tank at least half full – gas stations can be scarce in some regions.

Most towns have paid parking areas that are well signposted. You may also find some street parking. Look for the automated pay centre to pay your parking fee.

Driving in Ireland: Frequently Asked Questions

Should I drive in Ireland?

Yes! Driving in Ireland is not as difficult as it may seem. As long as you pay attention to the road, obey traffic signs, and remember to keep left, you'll be grand.
A confident driver with a safe driving history will easily adjust to driving on ‘the wrong side of the road'.

Do I need an international license to drive in Ireland?

For most visitors to Ireland, the answer is no.
Those from United Kingdom, United of States, Canada, Australia and EU member states will not need to provide an International Driving Permit. International Driving Permits where required, must be accompanied by the original domestic license of the driver. 

Do I need a car in Dublin?

No. Dublin is a compact and walkable city with plenty of affordable public transportation and taxis.
If you do take a car into the city centre know that parking is limited and can be expensive.

How do I rent a car in Ireland?

Car rental in Ireland isn't as straightforward as it is in other places. You have a few important choices to keep in mind as you choose your rental car – from size and transmission to rental company and insurance coverage.
Learn Everything You Need to Know About Car Rental in Ireland (2023)

Does Google maps work in Ireland?

Yes! All you need to use Google maps in real time is a data signal. Or you can download your map when you have wifi and use it offline.
Here's more information on how to use your mobile phone in Ireland.

Does Ireland have toll roads?

Yes. Ireland has about a dozen toll roads, bridges, and tunnels.
Average cost is €2.50. All can be paid with cash, and most also use contactless (tap) pay.

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Jody Halsted
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13 COMMENTS

  1. I would also add book your car rental months in advance of your trip. If you wait until you get off the plane there may be no cars to rent. Also it is possible to get an automatic but they are scarce although if you follow my advice and book it far in advance it’s very possible. The prices are higher for automatics too but again, book it in advance and shop around and you will find a good deal. An other tip is for people over 75 yrs. of age, people looking for car rentals will need a doctors note to possibly show at the airport indicating the driver is indeed in good health and ok to drive. I have to say that if you are interested in all the wonderful historical sites of Ireland, definitely rent a car and bypass all those bus tours. For more info on Irish history before you travel check out this blog. celticthoughts.com

      Great advice, Brighid! You definitely take a chance by not booking a car in advance. In summer high demand limits walk-up availability. And in the off season not as many cars are kept on lots.
      I advise my clients to have cars and first nights lodging booked – at the very least – before arriving in Ireland. If you have specifics – for example, a castle stay is a MUST – you should also have that arranged.

        You just brought something else to my mind. That first night stay!! Accommodations, like here in the U.S will only let you get into your room around 2 or 3 o’clock and most first time American travelers do not realize how much jet-lag they will have. They will not have slept the night before because the night actually didn’t exist. They’ll just want to have a quick nap at least before going out exploring so here’s my advice. Check with the place you are going to stay that first night and see if they will let you into room early, if not book an extra night, the night before actually. The problem is most flights from U.S get into Ireland in the morning and nothing is open. You can get a quick bite at the airport but you need a room after that. I was so tired my first trip to Ireland I slept in a chair seated upright in my B@B. The proprietor insisted he would let us in room early but what he thought was early was 5 hours later!!

          Definitely good advice! Near Dublin you’ll find hotels are often prepared for early arrivals and will let you into your room if available. B&Bs don’t have the staff to do that, so contacting them before arrival is always advised.

          After multiple trips to Ireland I can usually power through my first day. I find it best to be active- a body in motion stays in motion and all that…

    I’m going to Scotland this summer and this is one of my top concerns about the trip. Thanks for the tips! Do you recommend renting an automatic transmission? Does that make it easier to drive on the left?

      Hi Vero – and thanks for the great question!
      If you can drive a manual transmission, it’s not that difficult to adjust to shifting with your left hand. If you can’t drive a stick-shift, I would highly recommend paying extra for the automatic. You don’t need to learn to drive a manual while getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road!

      I definitely think that makes it easier to drive when you don’t know where you are going. Also you can bring your own GPS or rent one. Automatics are scarce so be sure to book it far in advance.

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    […] Another interesting aspect of this tour is that it is semi-escorted.  The way I understand it is that you are escorted from town to town, but while in that town you go your own way.  It gives you quite a bit of freedom while handling what can be most nerve wracking for people who have never visited Ireland before- driving on the left. […]

    […] Eoin was kind enough to write a guest post for Ireland with Kids just a couple of weeks ago about the Irish Gaelic You See on Roadsigns. It’s a great post and very helpful to those visiting Ireland and planning a self-drive trip. […]

    […] get even more tips in the comments section as well! Jody over at Ireland With Kids also added her Tips for Driving in Ireland on her blog. Have a look! […]

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