Driving in Ireland as Americans: Our Experience

My mom, my sister and I recently visited western Ireland together. It was the first time in Ireland for all of us, and definitely our first time driving on the left side of the road! But everything I read had suggested that truly the best way to see Ireland is to rent a car and drive it, and the travel package I booked included our hotel stay plus a car rental, so it had to be done!

We tried to prepare ourselves as best as we could ahead of time for what to expect as American tourists driving in Ireland, but at some point you just have to do it! Here is a bit about our experiences driving in Ireland as Americans.

* disclaimer: all of this information is based on my personal experience while traveling in Ireland during spring 2013. I've also consulted guide books and travel websites where necessary, but please do your own homework as well and check up on the current laws and regulations. And if you live in, or are from Ireland, and notice something I got wrong, please let me know!


Yield to your right!

a roundabout in Ireland One of my good friends, Heather, grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland and she has also traveled extensively. She even lent me her UK cell phone for our trip, just in case! She warned me that the roundabouts would be the most confusing thing, and they were!

We have a few roundabouts in New Orleans where I live, but they are different than Irish roundabouts. In New Orleans, on the famous St. Charles Avenue at Lee Circle there is a very big roundabout, which honestly confused me the first few times I had to drive through it in NOLA.
our GPS while driving in Ireland Once we were leaving the Shannon Airport we got a bit confused at our very first roundabout! If you rent a GPS with your rental car, which I highly recommend, it will probably tell you to “Take the 1st Exit at the next roundabout” or “Take the 2nd Exit at the next roundabout”. I quickly learned why many guidebooks suggest having one person to do the driving and one person to do the navigating while traveling around Ireland as an American tourist. I learned to just look at the purple route that the GPS was showing and tell my sister, who was driving, to drive “straight” through the roundabout or “turn left” or “turn right”.

In some ways, by the end of it, roundabouts seemed like a much more sensible way to deal with traffic than 4-way stop signs back in the States, which seem to cause accidents all of the time! Remember to yield to your right at roundabouts, and let the cars that are coming through the roundabout from your right-hand side go first before you pull out into the roundabout. And if all else fails – do like my friend Heather told me and just follow the cars in front of you, and keep circling in the roundabout until you can pull out into the correct direction.

Passing Lanes

Left is for travel, right is for passing!

Passing lanes on motorways and dual carriageways

driving in Ireland This is one of those things that makes sense if you just sort of flip everything you know about American driving. The bartender at our hotel told us that this often confuses American drivers, and it confused us a bit at first too.

When you’re on what we would consider in the United States an interstate or a highway, there might be additional lanes of travel. In the US, the outside travel lanes, near the exits and on-ramps, are usually the slower travel lanes, while the lanes that are nearest to the inside are the passing or “fast lanes”.

Here at home, we drive on the right side of the road, so the far right lane is the slow lane, while the inside left lane is the lane for passing other cars who are driving slower. In Ireland, you drive on the left side of the road, so the left lane is a slower driving lane, and you pass slow moving cars on the right.


Rent one, it's worth it!

Most guide books will recommend that tourists who plan on renting a car and driving in Ireland rent a GPS. And I totally agree with this, wholeheartedly! However, a few things to note:

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

Even if you're used to driving stick shift, stick with an automatic for this adventure!

driving in Ireland Many guide books note that the majority of Irish cars have a manual transmission. I don’t actually know how to drive a stick shift, but my sister drives one at home, so we volunteered her early on to do most of the driving in Ireland. However, I thought it would be unfair to not give her an option to not drive if she needed it, so I decided to reserve an automatic transmission car for a slight additional charge so I could drive if necessary.

My sister thanked me! Even though she drives a manual back at home, she said that concentrating on driving on the left was enough to deal with, and it was nice to not worry about shifting gears during the process!

Country Roads

Gravel paths and farm animals!

driving behind a cow in Ireland We passed lots and LOTS of sheep while in Ireland, and had one or two even cross our path on the tiny country roads, but this is the only cow we got stuck behind during our journey!

There were also lots of tractors and slow moving trucks that we had to pass on smaller country roads.

Going through Killarney National Park there is also a very narrow bridge, which turns into one lane to pass through it. When we took a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry, the driver told us it was known as the “Kissing Bridge” and that you should kiss your loved one as you passed underneath it and you’d stay in love forever.
the drive up to Priest's Leap Our GPS temporarily led us astray on our way to Glengarriff and Bantry, and we unexpectedly visited Priest’s Leap! The road to the top was tiny, steep, and made of gravel! Read all about our trip up the mountain to Priest’s Leap here.

Do you love Ireland?

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How to Drive in Ireland...for Americans

This is a video by another American tourist about their experience driving in Ireland.
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Classic Cars on Irish Roads

Classic Cars on Irish Roads We passed this neat old car while stopped near Ladies View!

More Cool Stuff!


What do you think about driving in Ireland?

Have you done it? Do you live in Ireland and have any advice for us American tourists??
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  • adventuretravelshop Jun 05, 2014 @ 12:14 pm
    Great lens! What a good idea to teach people how to drive in Ireland -it is very different to the USA I imagine!
  • RubyHRose Apr 16, 2014 @ 3:59 pm
    Congrats on LotD. I've never driven on the left side, what a challenge. Those narrow roads would take some getting use to for me. Ireland castles I so most want to see.
  • MissMalaprop Apr 16, 2014 @ 7:01 pm
    Thanks! Yes, the narrowness of the roads was definitely one of the most harrowing parts of the trip!
  • nicholas-lewis-37 Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:27 am
    The trick is not hire a car at all, the best way to see Ireland is to stick your thumb out and hitch! You meet great people and if they're too drunk you can steer for them too ;)
  • MissMalaprop Apr 16, 2014 @ 7:02 pm
    Good point! I did read Round Ireland with a Fridge before going there, but I don't think I'm QUITE that adventurous, at least not with my mom & sis in tow!
  • FlowerChick Apr 07, 2014 @ 3:55 pm
    Interesting lens! I would love to travel to Ireland one day. My ancestors are from Cork. Thank you for the driving tips!
  • MissMalaprop Apr 08, 2014 @ 12:15 am
    Cork was lovely, I'd wish we'd had more time to explore there!
  • Kimbesa Apr 07, 2014 @ 9:26 am
    I think I could do it! I've visited there, but my friend drove. I agree to get the automatic, because concentrating on the left-hand drive is enough!
  • FledglingStudio_com Apr 06, 2014 @ 10:33 am
    I'd love to visit Ireland someday, but I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge of driving on the "wrong" side of the road.
  • davdlynch Apr 06, 2014 @ 10:23 am
    I've never been to Ireland, but we drive on the left hand side of the road in our country.
    Roundabouts, called mini-circles here confuse me, mainly because there are 2 different sizes of circles which are supposed to have different rules.

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