Self-drive vacations in Ireland are a trendy way to see the glories of the country, especially since many of its tourist sights and best natural landscapes are challenging to reach using rail or bus networks. Renting a car in Ireland and having your own vehicle gives you the freedom to explore the sights and sounds which most interest you, when you want to, compared to the set itineraries of a tour group!
Coming from the US, a self-drive vacation in Ireland probably means renting a car. Although this is, for the most part, not a complicated process, there are some things you need to know.
Here, we list our tips for renting a car in Ireland, making the process easier for you! We promise there’s really nothing to worry about – even though you’ll be driving on the left-hand side of the road!
Tips for Renting a Car in Ireland
Plan Your trip to Ireland
Having a rough idea of where you want to go during your Ireland vacation before leaving home will make the process of renting a vehicle a whole lot simpler when you get there. At this stage, you definitely don’t need to have an hour by hour breakdown, but knowing the major destinations you’re desperate to visit is a huge plus.
At the very least, knowing your start and end points – most likely dependent on where you’re flying into and out of – will inform where you’ll want to pick up and drop off your rental vehicle.
For most people coming from North America, you will probably arrive and depart from Dublin Airport. On the outskirts of the Irish capital, it is the Republic of Ireland’s main international airport and has all the biggest rental agencies on site.
Believe it or not, picking up your rental vehicle from Dublin Airport is normally cheaper than picking it up from the city center of Dublin!
Book Your Rental Vehicle
It’s advisable to pre-book your rental vehicle, which is why it’s important to know the location you’ll be looking to rent it from. It’s straightforward to do online.
Though it’s unlikely a rental agency will ever run out of vehicles, turning up without a booking means the company might not have any of the size or type of car you’re looking for, and will also result in higher last minute pricing.
While you can drive in Ireland for up to a year on your standard US driving license, you’ll need to be at least 21 years of age to rent a vehicle in the Republic; those aged 21 to 24 will be hit with a surcharge (since this age group is statistically most likely to have an accident). Similar charges sometimes exist for those over the age of 75, for the same reasons.
If you’re traveling as a group, it’s worth considering whether to name more than one driver. Doing this, you can divide up the driving time – but most rental agencies will charge you more for the privilege.
So, if you have specific requirements (see choosing your rental vehicle below), or want to keep costs to a minimum (and who doesn’t?), it’s doubly important to pre-book! A few sites I like to compare rates on are:
How To Choose Your Rental Vehicle
Drivers in Ireland drive on the left-hand side of the road, the opposite side to the US (and most of Europe), with the steering wheel on the right-hand side of the vehicle as a result. However, much of the rest of the car’s systems are identical to US vehicles.
Importantly, the clutch (for manual transmission vehicles), foot brake, and gas pedal (called the accelerator pedal in Ireland) are in the same order from left (clutch) to right (gas).
As you might have already guessed with our mention of the clutch, most vehicles in Ireland – including rental cars – are manual transmission, with a gear shift (on the left side of the driver) and clutch pedal. If you don’t think you’ll be happy driving a manual car, automatics are available. Make sure you make this desire clear when booking. Automatics tend to be a little more expensive to rent, so if you don’t need an automatic, you can keep costs down driving a manual.
Our main Ireland rental car tip when choosing your rental vehicle is to opt for a smaller one! Aside from its highways (motorways), roads in Ireland tend to be much narrower than roads you’ll be used to in the US. Sometimes they are little more than a single lane for both directions of traffic! Choosing a smaller car will make driving around the country much less stressful all round. Bear in mind the number of people you’re traveling with (two-door cars tend to have very little space for the back seats), and how much luggage you’ll have; you’ll want a trunk (called a boot in Ireland) which is large enough to accommodate it all!
Arriving without a booking will almost certainly cost you more. Understandably, the larger the vehicle, the higher the price will be.
Making life a little more complicated, any prices you see online will be a ‘from’ price. In other words, the lowest possible price your rental could be theoretically. You’ll only find the actual cost (generally somewhere close to the ‘from’ price) when going through the booking process to the end.
As is the case when renting a car almost anywhere in the world, you are responsible for fuel costs when renting in Ireland, which means returning your rental car to the agency with a full fuel tank or at least what they gave you the vehicle at.
These days, agencies will be happy to fill up the vehicle themselves on its return, but it will generally cost you more than visiting a gas station for yourself. On that point, don’t be surprised by the cost of either gas or diesel in Ireland; it’s significantly more than in the US.
Gas or diesel?
So, which should you choose – gas or diesel?
Knowing roughly how far you’ll be going will help you understand what sort of vehicle you’ll want – one with a gas (called petrol here) or diesel engine. Diesel vehicles are better for longer journeys, such as if you are planning to drive the 1,500-mile Wild Atlantic Way. Diesel is also slightly cheaper per liter (the way fuel is bought in Ireland). All gas stations (petrol stations) also sell diesel, making it much easier to find than in the US. However, on the average vacation, you probably won’t notice any economic difference between gas (petrol) or diesel.
Either way, make sure you know whether your vehicle uses gas or diesel. The two are not interchangeable. All gas sold in Ireland is unleaded, so if it uses gas, it will use unleaded gas.
Rental Car Insurance
Irish law states that you must have collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance when driving in Ireland. What this means for those renting a car in Ireland is having the additional cost of CDW insurance added to any rental car check. The upside is that if you have any sort of accident, you’re completely covered, and will not have to shell out any more than an excess of a couple of hundred dollars. That’s a definite win in our eyes!
If you have a US credit card, it’s possible you already have CDW insurance and don’t know it! It’s worth it to check your documentation and call your credit card to find out. It’s even worth considering signing up to a new credit card that does offer this. Some credit card companies – annoying – explicitly exclude the Republic of Ireland (as well as Italy) though. Again, it’s up to you to figure that out.
If you’re already covered, take a copy of paperwork as proof. Never one to miss a trick, if you already have CDW insurance, it’s likely the rental car agency will charge you an ‘administration fee’ of around €30. However, even with this fee, you’re still saving money.
Get the Right Card
Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but the primary rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put your rental car on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card you get primary coverage around the world up to $75,000.
That works out great for us since we are nomadic and don’t have a car or home. Car rental companies in Ireland and around the world love to scare customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to Ireland.
Expect a Hold Charge
Every single one of our forty or so rental cars has put a hold on our credit card for the rental period. Holds can range anywhere from a few hundred bucks to $1000+ in some countries. The “excess charge” as it is called is typically stated in your reservation details, but it is easy to miss.
We are aware that they must put this hold on our card, but it can be a huge shocker if you are unsuspecting and end up over your credit limit on your credit card. These excess charges are for scenarios where you disappear with the car and are never seen again, or get in a crash and refuse to pay. Stuff like that.
It’s worth mentioning that distances and speeds in the Republic of Ireland are recorded in kilometers rather than miles. This can make sights seem further away than they actually are, although the winding country roads you’re likely to encounter means travel times are a little longer than those in the US.
It’s unlikely your rental vehicle will have a built-in GPS navigation system, generally referred to as SatNav (satellite navigation); however, it is likely that you will be offered a separate GPS (at additional cost, of course), instead.
Whether you are traveling on your own or as a group, we think navigation – of whatever sort – is a must. It takes much of the stress out of driving on roads you aren’t used to and having to rely on road signage.
You might be happy using paper maps, but it’s not normal for them to be supplied with a rental car, which means you may as well opt for the GPS instead.
Smartphone apps such as Google Maps are a brilliant free alternative, which give you the additional advantage of knowing up to the minute traffic and road conditions. You should download a map of Ireland to your phone from Google Maps while you’re in good WiFi. If you forget to do this, Dublin Airpot has free (albeit slow) WiFi where you can download Google Maps to your phone before you hit the road.
And if you haven’t swapped your US SIM service for a local one and don’t want to spend a fortune on internet roaming charges, there are offline apps such as maps.me that you can download before you go; they have all the same navigation information, minus the traffic reports.
Pick up a Sim Card
I have found Ireland to have some of the cheapest data available. Last time we were there we picked up a sim card for €20 from Three and had unlimited data for the month. Yes – unlimited 4G data. I’m not certain if they are still offering this deal, but it’s worth checking out when you get into the city center.
We often go into the malls to visit the telecom stores. We try to avoid picking up a Sim card at the airport if possible as they are usually more expensive than in the city center.
More on Pick Up and Drop Off
After all the paperwork is sorted with the rental company, you’ll be asked if you want to be shown around the vehicle. We always feel a little foolish agreeing to this, but it’s always worth it! Unless your rental vehicle is exactly the same as the car you have at home, several systems are likely to be different.
When the agent shows you around, make sure you ask them to show you how all the essential systems function. When you depart, you should be completely happy with using the vehicle – remember, you are legally responsible for it. So, make sure you know how to operate the headlights, indicator lights, hazard lights, and windscreen wipers. Also, be sure to understand how to engage reverse gear (sometimes you need to hold down a button or similar), and how to open the petrol flap and the trunk!
If you decide to pick up your rental car in Ireland at one location and return it to another, just be aware that this is another way rental agencies have of adding to the overall price. You’ll want to balance any additional costs involved with the benefits of leaving the country from a different airport to the one you arrived into. In any case, most direct flights from the US to Ireland arrive at Dublin Airport. On returning home, you’ll need to arrive at least three hours before your scheduled flight time to pass through US security checks.
Inspect and Take Photos
If you run into a guardrail with your rental you’re going to be charged for damages. If someone else ran into a guardrail before you and you don’t note it when you pick up the rental car you could also be charged for damages. Always, always, always, inspect every single rental car you get with great detail – inside and out.
Note any damages with the company and take photos just in case. Cam and I are both meticulous with rental car dings, scratches, windshield cracks, and cigarette burns. Never assume that a scratch or ding is not important or big enough to note. When you return your rental make sure you get a slip signing off that all was okay on the car so they don’t come back and try to charge you later.
We’ve been blamed multiple times for things like “excessive sand on the floor in Mozambique,” random pieces of cheap plastic falling off in Mexico, and we were even charged for a small scratch on the hubcap in South Africa. Take photos and put up a fight if you think you are in the right.
Check Your Charges on Your Credit Card once You Leave Ireland
We’ve had multiple instances of rental car companies charging our credit card for damages weeks after we returned the rental car and they signed off that all was okay. The most memorable example of this happening was with Hertz Ireland (Dublin Airport – which has horrendous reviews).
They signed off that the car was in great shape and full on gas. A few weeks later when we were checking our credit card statement I noticed they had charged our card $120 for fuel. When I called they stated that we returned the car on empty. Thankfully I still had a photo of our return receipt to prove that this was not true. I sent this to their head office, and they still insisted they would charge me. So what did I do?
I took it up with my credit card of course and had them go after Hertz Ireland. All I had to do was provide proof of my receipt and that I was right and the charge was reversed. Of course, I left a bad review on the Hertz Dublin Airport Google page too.
So always document your receipts and take photos – you may end up needing them!
Drinking and Driving in Ireland
This should go without saying, but drinking and driving is a grave offense in Ireland. The legal limit is .5 milligrams of alcohol per milliliter of blood. So pretty much, no alcohol should be in your bloodstream.
The Irish take this very seriously, and most do not drive if they plan on drinking. If you want to go out for a night at the pubs and drink as much Guinness as possible, make sure you have a responsible way back to your accommodation.
Other tips for renting a car in Ireland
It’s a legal requirement for all passengers to wear a seat belt/safety belt at all times when the engine is running, with the Irish Police (the Garda) issuing significant on-the-spot fines to those caught not doing so. Even foreign nationals must pay these fines or face arrest (in any EU nation).
Likewise, it is not permitted to use a cell phone when driving in Ireland to make calls or send/receive SMS text messages. You can use your smartphone for navigation purposes, but it must be hands-free only (such as safely stowed on the windscreen), and you must not program navigation while the vehicle’s engine is running. On the spot fines are currently €60.
In an emergency, you can call 999 or 112 (the Europe-wide emergency number) for police (Garda), fire services, and the ambulance service. Operators for both numbers speak English.
How Much with a Rental Car in Ireland Cost?
Depends on the season! In the summer your rental car will likely be higher than in October.
We’ve scored rentals cars for €200-400 per week in Ireland, but prices can also go a lot higher than that. Some of our tips for getting a good deal on a Ireland rental car:
- The sooner you book, the better
- Do searches on Discover Cars, Kayak, and Skyscanner to see different rates
- Go with well-known companies like SiXT and Europcar. The smaller unknown ones are more likely to nickel and dime you.
Roads in Ireland – M, N, R, L
There are four main types of route in Ireland, all handily graded and signed as such. M stands for motorway – in other words, a highway – and are the largest routes comprising multilane roads with the highest speed limits. They are best for long distances.
N – or ‘national’ – routes are major routes connecting bigger towns and cities. The speed limit tends to be 100 kmh (60 mph), although their winding nature means as a visitor you’re unlikely to want to reach these speeds. Speed limits are just that; limits, not targets. If other vehicles on the road want to pass you as a result, let them, and don’t stress.
R roads are Ireland’s regional roads. They are much narrower, to the point sometimes they can appear as a single-lane for both directions. Go slow on these roads and be ready to pull to the side when encountering traffic heading in the opposite direction. Should you dare, the speed limit for these roads is 80 kmh (50 mph).
The last type of road are L roads. The L stands for ‘local,’ and they are rarely used countryside lanes.
In built-up areas including towns and cities, unless told otherwise, assume the speed limit to be 50 kmh (30 mph – when traffic allows!).
Toll Roads in Ireland
There are 11 different toll road routes in the Republic of Ireland, which basically cover the country’s major M and N routes. Despite the cost (they’re much cheaper than equivalents in much of the US in any case), they are worth using because they will substantially reduce your overall travel time, giving you more time at your destination.
All but one of the toll routes have traditional booths where you pay. Payment is taken in cash, so make sure you have Euros with you. Cashiers are not able to accept US dollars or pounds sterling.
That leaves one toll route that doesn’t have traditional pay booths. This is Dublin’s M50, which uses a barrier-free system where cameras record each vehicle’s license plate (number plate).
You then have up to 8 pm that day to pay, either online, over the phone, or at shops anywhere in the country that display the Payzone sign. If you don’t pay by 8 pm, you will face a fine, which will be passed on to you by the rental company. But check first with the rental car companies, many companies have an electronic tag which pays the toll automatically (before passing the cost on to you).
Our last time in Ireland we rented with Dooley, and this wasn’t included. We forgot to pay the M50 toll a few times, and the find doubled. It was extremely annoying to have to remember to pay this by a specific time every day. I wish they had a better system for this.
Filling Up Your Rental Car in Ireland
Gas stations (petrol stations) usually are well signposted and easy enough to spot because of their similarity to the US version. Needless to say, be sure not to run low on gas. They tend to exist on the outskirts of towns and cities, on major roads in towns, and on the highways.
In the countryside, they can be much rarer. You have been warned! If you can, avoid filling up on highways, where the cost per liter (the standard way of selling fuel) will be higher. (A point to note – fuel is much more expensive than in the US, so it’s essential to take this into account.)
Despite their name, petrol stations sell both gasoline (petrol) and diesel. All gasoline in Ireland is unleaded. Gas stations tend to be self-service, so you’ll need to fill up the tank yourself, although if you’re struggling, someone will be happy to help. The pumps keep flowing until you take your fingers off the trigger, or the tank is full; there are no set volumes/prices to fill up to. To pay, you’ll need to pop inside (afterward).
If it’s a shorter trip, you might not need to fill up. However, if you return your rental vehicle to the company without a full tank of fuel, you’ll likely be charged, and a premium charge at that. Read more of our rental car tips here.
Should You Travel Ireland By Car?
YES! Absolutely! Especially if you want to get into the glorious Irish countryside and stay outside the cities. I have visited Ireland three separate times. The first time I backpacked around Ireland and stuck to buses, which was great. The second and third time we opted for a rental car, and it was well worth it.
Having a rental car means you can go wherever you want, whenever you want and gives you unlimited freedom. There are so many hidden gems of Ireland you will regret not having your own set of wheels to get around. Follow these top tips, and you’re sure to have a great time driving in Ireland!
Thinking about renting a car in Ireland? With our tips, you now have all you need to know about self-drive vacations in this fantastic destination! Now that you have all the information, no castle needs to go unexplored!
What to Pack for Ireland
Are you wondering what to wear in Ireland? The Emerald Isle has drawn many tourists from all over the world to its shores for decades. Perhaps it’s ancestral pasts for so many American’s that draw people to Ireland. Or it could merely be the friendly locals who create such a welcoming atmosphere in a stunning country rich in heritage.