One of the most exciting and terrifying adventures for an American to do when traveling in Ireland is to drive on the opposite side of the road. Oh yes, we are just thrilled by the idea (hear the sarcasm in my voice? Good). We want to wander those ancient back roads of Ireland. We want to see the undiscovered sights and witness sheep crossing the road. Then again, those teeny, tiny roads freak us out so much that panic starts in before we’ve taken off.
Oh, and if you really want a treat, rent a manual transmission vehicle. Try shifting on the left as well as driving. The rental car agents won’t just laugh at you when you try to get into the driver’s seat on the left. Oh no. They will take the car away from you when you rip out the clutch on the way out of the parking lot. Driving in Ireland with a US license and ingrained American rules of the road can be tricky at first, so staying calm is half the battle.
Have no fear though, my brave American (and any other right-side-of-the-road drivers) friends! You CAN do this. Your brain will adjust. You just need to pace yourself, avoid major cities when you land in a fog of jet lag, and take things slow. No Speed Racer reenactments in Ireland, please. There are enough tour buses trying to run everyone off the roads as it is.
Can you drive with US license in Ireland?
Good news for U.S., Canadian and European Union residents! You don’t need to get an international driver’s license. You can drive with a US license in Ireland and Northern Ireland, as long as it is valid while you are traveling. You must also meet the usual car rental age requirements (check rental car agency for details). The same goes for Canadian and EU citizens. So, save yourself the $15 (or so + passport photo costs) on that international license when going on a trip to Ireland. Just don’t forget your home country driver’s license.
Rules of the Road
- Drive on the left
- The left lane is the slow lane on the highway
- There are roundabouts on the highways
- In general, you can expect roads to be labeled as such
- N + a number = a highway.
- R + a number= larger roads.
- L + a number =smaller roads.
- If there is no number, you are basically on a tractor road
- Your GPS is messing with you.
- Tour buses get the right of way. Always. If it is bigger than you, figure out how to pull over safely and just stay put until you can pass.
- Drive during the day; it’s dark out there!
Driving on the Left Side of the Road
The biggest hang up most people have is driving on the left side of the road. Now, granted, I think driving in Rome during rush hour is hilarious, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I also hit a sideview mirror and almost crushed a bicyclist while trying to parallel park in Dublin our first hour in Ireland. Driving on the left, if done in a smart way, is easier than you are giving yourself credit.
Getting your feet wet driving on the opposite side of the road
First off, don’t drive directly into the city. If you plan on spending a few days in Dublin, grab your rental car when you are ready to leave the city. You won’t need a car while in town, so save the cash and the headache. Parking fees will just add to your budget, as will those added rental days.
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If you are flying into Shannon, head out of town immediately. Shannon is a very small airport and you can get onto the major roads within minutes. Driving on the highways is the fastest and easiest way to get comfortable on the left side of the road. Get used to where your body is positioned, where your mirrors are and where that left side of the car is in relation to the lines on the road. Once you get to those smaller roads that left line will be crucial.
Slow lanes and fast lanes
Just like in the U.S., there are passing lanes on the highway, or as I like to call them “the slow lane” and the “fast/let’s get there already” lane. This is true in Ireland as well, but just as you drive on the opposite side of the road, so too are the lanes. The left lane is the “slow” lane, while the right lane is the passing lane.
Mind the Right Road Line… and the Left
One of the hardest things to get used to is watching that right line as you drive down the smaller roads. You will meander over into the middle of the road, scared to get too close to the left side. This is all well and good if no one is coming, but when another car comes and you whip over to the left and have only a stone wall to bounce off of things to not end well for you or the wall. Know where you are on that right line at all times. Keep an eye on the left line as well, so you know how much space you have if a larger truck or tour bus comes down that tiny lane as well.
Roundabouts in Ireland
Traffic circles or Roundabouts in the middle of the road are another big stress for people. Everyone thinks they will enter them on the wrong side. Really, there is no way for you to do that. There are arrows EVERYWHERE directing you into the roundabout. Other cars are also going through that same traffic circle with you. Just follow them. Do be mindful if you are in the inner or outer lane though.
LOCAL DRIVER TIP: The left lane on a roundabout is used to go to the first and second exits on a roundabout. The right lane in a round about is for the third exit only (or any other exits after 6 o’clock).
Your GPS will be a devil and a saint
In the States, I rarely use my in-dash GPS. “She” is generally useless and has no idea where she is going. The Google maps app on my phone is better 9 out of 10 times. However, in Ireland, my GPS gal was my best friend. Here’s why:
- The screen was in a better position and larger, so I could more easily follow them.
- I didn’t have to use up all of my data.
- Directions were generally more accurate, or at least the GPS knew where I should be going.
- My GPS took me on some very tiny roads Google never would have taken me down, which led us on a few wild adventures. We saw more of the tractor roads in Ireland than most locals probably know about in their town.
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Drive in Ireland during the Day
Nervous drivers should drive during the day as much as possible. Ireland is very dark at night. Those tiny winding roads can be intimidating. For instance, my father wanted to see the moon shining on the Cliffs of Moher. His GPS got him to what he thought was the parking lot, but he couldn’t find the visitor’s center, which is built into a mountainside.
We are all very happy he did not attempt to walk out and find the Cliffs of Moher without one of us, least he fall over the Cliffs. Goats, sheep, birds and people are walking on those roads, and even on the highway it can be very dark out in the middle of the country. If you are not a confident driver, get to your destination by sundown for all of our sakes.
More Random Ireland Driving Rules to Remember
- A tight white dashed line means it is a two way traffic street
- Learn what a few of the signs mean before you go
- Traffic cameras are everywhere. If your GPS tells you one is coming up. Do not ignore it.
- Toll roads do exist. Have small change on hand whenever possible.
Read our guide to Renting a Car in Ireland now!
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