As far as I’m concerned, picking up a rental car in Dublin, Ireland and setting out on the open road is the best way to explore Ireland. Sure, tour buses take you through the Emerald Isle’s major highlights, but you can’t stop when you see a picturesque scene along the road or spend the afternoon strolling ancient streets.
When you rent a car, on the other hand, you have total freedom to plan your itinerary and see those off-the-beaten-path destinations in Ireland with no rush. There’s no shuffling on and off tour buses, or a pre-determined itinerary that keeps you from doing fun things like horseback riding through Killarney National Park.
However, there are a few things you should know about driving a car in Ireland before you hit the road.
1. You’ll Be Driving on the Left Side of the Road
The moment you unlock your rental car in Dublin, Ireland, the reality that you’re driving on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, will really hit you. But I promise you, you don’t need to panic. You can definitely do this.
Mentally preparing to drive on the left side of the road before your trip to Ireland and renting a compact car will go a long way in keeping you calm when it’s time to pick up your rental car in Dublin, Ireland. Realistically, driving on the left side of the road will only be weird for the first day.
You get the hang of it surprisingly quickly—just remember to go around the roundabouts starting on the left. That took me some getting used to!
2. You Want an Automatic Vehicle
If you’re not experienced driving manual on the LEFT SIDE of the vehicle, then you definitely want to get an automatic rental car in Ireland. It doesn’t matter if you drive a manual at home or have tons of experience—it’s different when you’re shifting gears with your left hand. I drive a manual and it hurts my brain to even think about shifting gears with my left hand while adjusting to driving on the wrong side of the road.
Plus, there are tons of hills in Ireland, including in cities with bumper to bumper traffic, like Cork. One wrong move and you’re going to roll right back into the car behind you. So just do yourself (and your passengers) a favor, and get an automatic vehicle for your Ireland road trip.
3. You CANNOT Forget to Pay the M50 Tolls
Most tolls in Ireland are drive-throughs, not much different than what you experience in the US. However, there’s one road (that you will definitely be driving on), that requires you to pay the toll online or in-person at a gas station.
This road is the M50 highway that runs right around Dublin, Ireland. Paying the M50 Toll isn’t hard at all, you just have to remember to pay it on time. The M50 Toll is due by 8pm the day after you drive on M50, and there’s a penalty fee for late payments.
Here’s the easiest way to pay the M50 Toll in Ireland:
- Go to https://www.eflow.ie/ on your phone or laptop.
- Have your rental car license plate number ready.
- Enter your information and pay the toll with your credit card.
There’s no need to mess around with paying it in a gas station—it’s that easy!
4. You’ll Be Driving on Some Really Narrow Roads
Some people get really nervous driving on cliffs or narrow roads, and those people may be challenged in Ireland.
All throughout Ireland there are beautiful, wide highways, like you’d expect in any modern country. But there are also roads so narrow you need to pull your side mirror in if you want to keep it.
Along the coast and in the mountains, there are also single lane highways with small pull offs spaced along the road so you can easily pull off to let a car heading towards you pass by.
The narrow roads in Ireland are nothing to worry about. It’s just something to keep in mind as you plan your road trip of Ireland so you and your passengers aren’t surprised.
5. You May Pay Extra If You’re Crossing the Border to Northern Ireland
Notify your car rental company if you plan on crossing the border into Northern Ireland to see sites like the Giant’s Causeway, Belfast or Dark Hedges.
Why? Because Northern Ireland is a separate country that’s part of the United Kingdom. Traveling with your rental car to Northern Ireland means you’re taking the car “abroad” and the rental car agent needs to add additional insurance to your car so you are covered in Northern Ireland as well. (Though I always decline insurance and use the included insurance on my Chase Sapphire Credit Card.)
In addition, rental car companies sometimes charge a “cross-border” fee. This could be a set fee or an additional charge per day on your rental car policy. After you reserve your rental car, simply search “cross border fee Ireland to Northern Ireland [rental company name]” to learn if your company charges a fee. Or, you’ll find out when you pick up the rental car in Dublin, Ireland!
6. You Should Reserve Your Car in Advance on DiscoverCars.com for the Best Rate
Before booking your rental car in Dublin, Ireland, be sure to check the rate at DiscoverCars.com.
DiscoverCars consistently has lower rates than the other car rental booking sites and it’s where I always book my rental cars now. Book your rental car for Dublin, Ireland here.
7. This Will Be One of the Best Road Trips of Your Life!
Ireland is going to blow you away—seriously. For as popular as it is, I believe this travel destination is still hugely underrated!
This tiny, green speck of a country has so much to see. Beaches, mountains, parks, history, live music, culture—you name it, Ireland has it in buckets. And on top of all that, the people are amazing. They’re so genuinely friendly and helpful that you’ll never want to leave.
So plan to stay out late at a pub listening to Irish “trad”, drink one (or three) too many pints of Guinness and for the love of all things Irish, don’t skip the Guinness Storehouse Experience in Dublin! I didn’t go until my second visit to Ireland because I figured it must be an overrated tourist trap and it turned out to be so interesting and fun!
Hundreds of people read my Ireland articles every month and email me with questions or tips for their trip—so feel free to do the same! Happy travels!