Driving Guide

Ireland Driving Guide

Driving in Ireland is the ideal way to explore this popular destination. Get your International Driving Permit and prepare for the trip of a lifetime.

2023-12-10 · 9min read

Get an International Driving Permit to explore the Emerald Isle's lush, green landscapes and countryside.

Curious about why Ireland is dubbed the "Emerald Isle"? Plan a trip to this island nation and immerse yourself in the lush, green landscapes behind its renowned moniker!

Ireland is celebrated for its spectacular landscapes, deep-rooted folklore, cultural diversity, and lively atmosphere. Going on a road trip offers an opportunity to explore these landscapes and rich cultural heritage.

While the prospect of driving in Ireland may initially seem daunting, rest assured that with enough time and first-hand experience, you'll find navigating the Irish roads an enjoyable part of your adventure.

It is not difficult to drive in Ireland but it does take some getting used to. Even though it is significantly more expensive, renting an automatic car is a good idea if you are not confident with stick shift.

The most common incidents to occur are flat tyres from being too close to the curb on the edge of the road or broken mirrors from hitting branches. Cars and roads in Ireland are much smaller so it can be a little bit intimidating!

Oisin Feeney, a journalist and Ireland travel expert, shares in his post The Definitive Guide To Driving In Ireland For Tourists, published on the Your Irish Adventure website.

Discover Ireland's Charming Countryside

Although navigating Dublin is best done using public transportation, renting a car is advisable to explore Ireland's hidden treasures further.

I chose to drive in Ireland because I wanted to see places and things that I wouldn't be able to access by tour bus. Doolin, for instance, does not allow tour buses down some of their narrower roads. I also like to be on my own schedule. Some days you will want to stay in one location longer. Also, the countryside is gold, and you simply can't see the "thin places" if you are being escorted by a huge tour bus.

Laynie Holmes, a Science writer and outdoor enthusiast, shares in her post Tips for Driving in Ireland (as an American), published on Wander Wisdom.

We've crafted this guide to assist you with the car rental process and acquaint you with the local driving regulations and etiquette in Ireland, ensuring your journey is smooth and enjoyable.

Let's Take a Closer Look at Ireland

Before diving deeper into Ireland's driving culture and etiquette, here are some interesting facts about this country also known as the "Land of a Thousand Welcomes":

Geographical Location

Situated in northwest Europe in the North Atlantic Ocean, Ireland is a geographical gem in the Northern and Western hemispheres. Despite its modest size, the country boasts a diverse landscape characterized by lush greenlands, rolling hills, rugged mountains, and a series of coastal mountains that frame its shores.

Linguistic Diversity

Ireland's linguistic heritage is rich and unique, with Irish (Gaeilge) and English as official languages. Irish, one of the world's most historic and oldest written languages, is prevalent throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

This language echoes through the country's schools, streets, pubs, and regions where Irish is predominantly spoken. As you travel and drive across Ireland, you'll notice that road signs frequently feature both English and Irish, reflecting the country’s linguistic diversity.

Historical Journey

Ireland's history is a tapestry of various eras that have shaped its identity. The land was first settled around 10,000 years ago. Around 3000 BC, the Celts arrived from central Europe, profoundly influencing Irish culture, particularly in literature and language.

The arrival of Saint Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the mid-5th century marked the transition from indigenous paganism to Christianity by 600 AD, leaving enduring traces across the country.

Era of the Vikings and Normans

The end of the 8th century saw Viking invasions, leading to settlements and cultural integration with the Irish. The Vikings established Dublin, Ireland's capital, around 988 AD. However, Viking influence waned after their defeat by High King Brian Boru in 1014. The 12th century brought Norman invaders, who constructed towns, castles, and churches and boosted agriculture and trade.

Road to Independence

In the late 18th century, inspired by the French Revolution, Irish groups sought to reduce Britain's influence. The 1921 treaty between Irish and British authorities led to the creation of the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland, separating Northern Ireland and its six counties.


Ireland operates under a parliamentary democracy with two legislative houses: the Dáil Éireann (Lower House) and the Seanad Éireann (Upper House). Its government comprises executive, legislative, and judicial branches, ensuring a balanced system of governance.

Irish citizens actively participate in direct elections, choosing their president, European Parliament representatives, and local government officials. Ireland conducts five types of elections: local, European, parliamentary, presidential, and referendums.


Ireland, with its rich culture, captivating history, stunning landscapes, breathtaking cliffs, and charming cities, drew 11.2 million tourists in 2018. Opting to spend your holiday in Ireland is undoubtedly a fantastic decision. Driving through Ireland isn't just a road trip; it's a journey through jaw-dropping natural landscapes and picturesque scenery. The experience promises to be magical and unforgettable!

International Driving Permit FAQs

Dreaming of cruising through the lush landscapes of Ireland and exploring the Emerald Isle? Securing an International Driving Permit (IDP) is the first step to turning this into reality!

Ireland, a signatory of the 1926 and 1949 U.N. Conventions on Road Traffic, mandates an IDP for driving on its roads.

Is a Local Driver’s License Valid in Ireland?

A U.S. driver's license is valid in Ireland for up to 12 months for American tourists. If your stay extends beyond a year, you must convert your U.S. license to an Irish one.

Obtaining an IDP is recommended for seamless travel across Ireland's picturesque terrains. An IDP is not just a formality; it's a tool to facilitate interactions with Irish authorities, ensuring a smoother travel experience.

How Do I Apply for an IDP?

Acquiring an IDP is a relatively easy process. Simply provide your details on the application form via the International Driver's Association website, and with a few clicks, you're on your way to getting your permit processed.

Is an IDP Necessary Across Ireland?

Carrying an IDP, alongside your national driver's license, is essential when driving in Ireland, especially if you're an American tourist limited to using a U.S. license for only 12 months.

An IDP is invaluable for exploring Ireland’s hidden gems, provinces, and villages. It serves as a translation of your national driver's license and aids in communication with local authorities.

How Long is an IDP Valid?

An IDP’s validity can range from one to three years, depending on your chosen period and the length of your stay. The International Driver's Association offers options for one-, two-, or three-year validity, catering to various travel plans and durations. Whether visiting for a short holiday or considering a longer stay for work or residency, an IDP is your passport to unhindered driving in Ireland.

Renting a Car in Ireland

Renting a car offers a flexible and more personalized travel experience. Driving allows you to linger in Ireland's top destinations as long as you wish without the time constraints of organized tours or public transport. It lets you control your schedule, allowing you to alter your itinerary immediately or extend your stay.

Car Rental Companies

Ireland has various car rental options, including international companies Alamo, Thrifty, Irish Car Rentals, and Avis. They are conveniently located in Dublin Airport, with other service locations nationwide.

Most accept credit card payments, and their rates vary, so it's advisable to compare options. Whether booking in advance or on arrival, choose from the best car rentals in Ireland to ensure a hassle-free journey.

Required Documents

The necessary documents for car rental in Ireland typically include a valid driver's license, possibly an International Driving Permit (IDP), a credit card, a passport for identification, and proof of third-party insurance. Make sure to understand the rental agreement, as third-party insurance is mandatory and usually included in the rental fee.

Keep this list for future reference:

  • A valid driver’s license (your own country's license and possibly an International Driving Permit)
  • A credit card
  • A passport for identification
  • Proof of third-party insurance

Choosing a Vehicle

When selecting a vehicle type, consider fuel costs, as they can be significantly higher in Ireland compared to other countries. Smaller cars are often more economical and easier to navigate on Ireland's roads. Choices range from economy models like the Ford Fiesta to luxury options and SUVs. Automatic and manual transmissions are available in most rental fleets.

Car Rental Cost

Rental costs start at around $7 per day on average, with the final price depending on the vehicle type, size, insurance, and any additional services or products. These extras might include child seat boosters, GPS, and additional mileage. Optional services like hiring a driver, roadside assistance, and fuel plans can also influence the cost.

Age Requirements

The general minimum age for car rental in Ireland is 21, but this can vary by company. Additional charges may apply for drivers under 25 or over 70. Policies on maximum rental age also differ, so it's crucial to compare companies' age requirements and policies.

Car Insurance Cost and Policy

Insurance is a key consideration when renting a car. Most rental companies include insurance in their fees, while others charge it as an extra. The cost varies based on coverage level. If your insurance covers international car rentals, you can use it.

Moreover, familiarize yourself with the rental company's insurance policies, especially regarding loss or theft of the vehicle, collision damage waivers, and personal accident insurance. Choosing comprehensive insurance coverage from the best car insurance in Ireland is advisable to be prepared for unexpected events.

Understanding Ireland's Road Rules

To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, familiarize yourself with Ireland's road rules and driving etiquette. Here's a breakdown of the key road regulations and safety tips to keep in mind while driving in Ireland:

Key Driving Regulations

  • Minimum Driving Age: In Ireland, you must be at least 17 to drive. Learner drivers require a provisional license and must be accompanied by a fully licensed driver until they pass their driving test. The permissible age for driving varies depending on the vehicle category; for instance, you can drive a moped at 16 and a car at 17.
  • Driving Orientation: Remember to drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, with the driver's seat on the right-hand side. This can be challenging for those accustomed to driving on the right side. A helpful tip is to practice in the car rental parking lot to get accustomed to this orientation.
  • Speed Limits: Ireland uses kilometers per hour (Kph) for speed limits, but in some parts, especially in Northern Ireland, you may find signs in both Kph and Mph. Watch for these changes as you travel between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • Driver's License and IDP: Always carry your national driver's license and an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP requires tourists to drive legally in Ireland and must be used alongside your national driver's license.
  • Drunk-Driving Laws: Ireland enforces a strict limit of 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per milliliter of blood for drivers. Drunk driving is taken very seriously; you may encounter random breath tests.

Using Mobile Phones While Driving

Holding and using a mobile phone for texting or calling while driving in Ireland is illegal. Use a hands-free kit to avoid distractions and potential accidents.

General Driving Standards

Ensure your vehicle is in good condition, with a full tank and all safety equipment intact. Familiarize yourself with traffic signs, signals, and the speed limits to drive safely and legally.

Wearing seat belts is mandatory in Ireland for front and rear passengers. Children shorter than 150 cm or weighing under 36 pounds must use appropriate child restraints or booster seats.

Speed Limits in Different Zones

Understanding speed limits is essential for a smooth and safe journey. The following are the specified limits for each zone in Ireland:

  • Urban areas: 50 kph (30 mph)
  • Motorways: 120 kph (74.5 mph)
  • Single open roads: 80 kph (50 mph)
  • National roads: 100 kph (60 mph)

Overtaking Laws

  • Overtake only when it's safe; always overtake on the right side. Do not overtake in risky situations or where visibility is poor.

Right of Way

  • At unmarked crossings, vehicles from the right have the right of way. In roundabouts, this rule also applies. Exercise caution and give way to larger vehicles on narrow rural roads.

Observing Traffic Signs

  • Ireland has various traffic signs, including regulatory, warning, service, and guide signs. Familiarize yourself with these signs to navigate the roads safely.

Driving Etiquette in Ireland

Going on a driving journey through Ireland's quaint country roads is an experience like no other. However, it's crucial for tourists to be well-versed in local driving etiquette to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey.

Here's a guide to help you navigate potential challenges and maintain etiquette on Irish roads:

Handling Car Breakdowns

Encountering a car breakdown can be stressful, but knowing how to handle it ensures a safer experience.

  • Quickly Move to Safety: If your car starts failing, promptly steer it towards the hard shoulder, keeping clear of the main traffic.
  • Use Hazard Lights: Activate your hazard lights and keep the sidelights on.
  • Evacuate the Vehicle: Swiftly exit the car and guide all passengers to safety behind the roadside barriers.
  • Avoid DIY Repairs: Do not attempt to fix the car yourself as this could be dangerous.
  • Call for Assistance: Use your phone or the nearest emergency telephone to contact a breakdown service or the Gardaí (Police). While calling, ensure you face the oncoming traffic for safety.
  • Stay Safe While Waiting: Remain behind the barriers until help arrives. Only re-enter traffic cautiously when it's safe to do so.
  • Special Considerations for Disabled Drivers: If unable to leave the car, turn on your hazard lights, stay inside, and call for emergency services.

Police Stops

If signaled to pull over by the Gardaí (Police), remain calm. Reduce speed, use turn signals, and cooperate with courtesy. If document checks are requested, comply willingly. Remember, it's a routine practice for traffic control, and maintaining a calm demeanor is key. Having an International Driver's Permit (IDP) can be handy.

Asking Directions

Remember the following guidelines when asking for directions:

  • Be Courteous: Approach locals politely when in need of directions. Most Irish people are fluent in English, making communication easier.
  • Useful Phrases: Knowing some basic Irish phrases like "Tá mé ar stra" (I'm lost) or "Cas ar clé" (Turn left) can be helpful, though not essential.
  • I'm lost – Tá mé ar stra
  • Left – Er clé
  • Right – Er dheis
  • Keep going straight ahead – Gabh díreach ar aghaidh
  • Entrance – Bealach isteach
  • Exit – Bealach
  • Turn left – Cas ar clé
  • Turn right – Cas ar dhies

Here are some of the commonly used words in Ireland:

Take note of the following when approaching checkpoints:

  • Respond to Gardaí: Answer their questions honestly and present any requested documents, including your IDP.
  • Be Prepared for Breath Tests: Random checkpoints may include breath tests for alcohol, so avoid drinking and driving.

In Case of Accidents

First, do not panic, then do the following:

  • Contact Emergency Services: Dial 112 (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) or 999 (Northern Ireland) to report the incident and provide details.
  • Wait for Assistance: Stay at the scene and wait for emergency responders to arrive.

General Driving Tips

  • Seatbelt Use: Always wear your seatbelt, a mandatory requirement in Ireland.
  • Avoid Phone Use: Refrain from using your phone while driving to stay focused on the road.
  • Adhere to Speed Limits: Respect posted speed limits for safe driving.
  • Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with local road signs and regulations for a hassle-free driving experience.

Remember, being well-prepared and understanding local customs and regulations can make your driving experience in Ireland both safe and enjoyable. Avoid legal complications and ensure a pleasant trip by adhering to these guidelines.

Driving Conditions in Ireland

Planning to traverse the picturesque landscapes of Ireland? Whether you're crossing from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland or venturing through the rural heartlands, it's essential to grasp the nuances of Irish roads and driving conditions.

Improvements in Irish Roads

Over the past two decades, Ireland's roads have seen considerable improvements, with new motorways enhancing long-distance travel. However, remember that Ireland's charm lies in its expansive rural areas, where encountering livestock blockages and slow-moving farm machinery is part of the authentic Irish experience. These unique scenarios contribute to the distinct and memorable journey across the Emerald Isle.

Accident Statistics

While Ireland is generally a safe country to drive in, accidents do occur, primarily due to drunk driving, failure to wear seatbelts, and speeding. In 2019, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) reported 130 fatal collisions resulting in 140 fatalities. This data places Ireland at 172 out of 183 countries in terms of road traffic accidents, indicating a relatively safe driving environment compared to other nations.

In 2022, the most common vehicles on Irish roads included the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Golf, and Skoda Octavia. These models reflect Ireland's preference for practical and efficient urban and rural driving vehicles.

Toll Roads

Ireland features several toll roads where payment methods vary. Some tolls accept card payments or online prepayments. Notable toll roads include the M20 Barrier, M1 Gormanston to Monasterboice, and the M3 Clonee to Kells.

Road Situations to Anticipate

Here's a short overview of how to handle unexpected road situations that may arise.

  • Rural "Two-way" Streets: Expect to encounter narrow two-way roads, particularly in the countryside. Mutual courtesy is usually observed when two vehicles cannot pass simultaneously, with one vehicle pulling over.
  • Varied Road Widths: Many roads, especially in rural areas and small villages, are quite narrow, adding to the charm of your journey.
  • Changing Road Signs: Be aware that road signs may switch from kilometers to miles, indicating a crossover between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • Sheep Roadblocks: Encountering sheep on the road is a quintessentially Irish experience, particularly in rural areas. While it may cause slight delays, it's a great memory to share with loved ones.
  • Floods: Ireland's lush greenery owes much to its frequent rains, which can lead to flooding, especially on country roads. It's wise to check the weather and road conditions beforehand.

Driving Culture

Irish drivers are known for their friendliness and adherence to road rules. Their courteous nature is evident in rural areas, where drivers often pull over on narrow roads to allow others to pass. Ireland's lower ranking in traffic accident statistics reflects the standard of safe driving that's prevalent across the country.

Ireland's Top Attractions

Ireland, a land steeped in rich culture, intriguing history, and natural wonders, attracted 11.2 million visitors in 2018 alone. Here are some of the best places to visit in Ireland:

Wild Atlantic Way

This sprawling western coastline of Ireland is a breathtaking blend of high cliffs, vibrant towns, bays, and beaches. The Wild Atlantic Way is a road trip paradise renowned for encapsulating Ireland's untamed beauty, including Europe’s tallest sea cliff, the Slieve League. This route is a visual treat and a testament to Ireland's rugged and extensive coastline.

Achill Island

Achill Island is a haven of stunning landscapes, which might be a photographer's favorite. With its winding coastline, dramatic rock formations, towering hills, and expansive ocean views, the island offers a picturesque backdrop. Known for its scenic Atlantic Drive, Achill Island is dotted with quaint villages, sandy beaches, and numerous hidden treasures waiting to be explored.

The Causeway Coast

This coastline is a mosaic of breathtaking sights and mythical stories. Beyond its wild and rugged beauty, the Causeway Coast is famed for its association with the popular HBO series "The Game of Thrones" and its rich tapestry of legends. It is an ideal destination for those seeking a road trip with a mix of sightseeing and storytelling.

The Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry offers an unforgettable journey in the majestic Killarney National Park. The drive around this ring provides panoramic views that encapsulate the essence of Ireland's scenic charm. Renowned for its picturesque landscapes, the Ring of Kerry is a quintessential Irish road trip experience, offering a blend of natural beauty and tranquil vistas.

Get an IDP to Explore Ireland

Treat yourself to a holiday exploring Ireland's sights and landscapes. Don't forget to pack your camera and passport, and ensure you have your International Driving Permit for driving in Ireland. Journeying through Ireland is more than just a typical road trip; it's an enchanting adventure amidst breathtaking natural beauty!


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