Ireland is a small, compact country which makes it perfect for exploring by car. Unlike other countries around the world with fascinating attractions and destinations, getting to the sites you want to see isn’t too difficult as the distances usually aren’t too bad, though you do need to keep in mind local driving laws and customs.
Firstly and most obviously, Ireland drives on the left, and the position of the wheel and shift stick is different accordingly. The Republic of Ireland uses metric measurements (kilometres and metres) for distances and speed limits, while Northern Ireland uses miles and yards. In Ireland, you yield to traffic coming from the right at junctions where there are no traffic lights and it is never legal to break a red light even if nothing is coming (although it does happen). When entering a roundabout, you also yield to traffic already on it.
These changes can take time to get used to, and as you’ll likely only be in Ireland for a short time, why not consider a private chauffeur driven tour of the country with Elegant Irish Tours? You’ll see the country’s world famous attractions in the company of an experienced driver guide who takes you directly to your destination, meaning you won’t have to worry about getting lost or driving on the wrong side of the road. This not only saves you time, it also allows you to sit back, relax, and enjoy your adventure to the Emerald Isle. You can visit the Giant’s Causeway, kiss the Blarney Stone, and walk atop the Cliffs of Moher on an exclusive private tour for your group.
If you would prefer to tour by yourself, it’s a good idea to invest in both a map and a satnav when picking up your rental car, as GPS systems are useful in the cities but can send you down tracks which were clearly built long before vehicles came onto to the scene in more isolated and rural parts of the country (when possible stick to motorways, National, and Regional (R ) roads and this won’t be a problem).
There are tolls on most motorways, and they only accept Euros. The motorways are a great way to traverse the country, but the network is mostly centred on linking Dublin with the rest of the country. In other words, there’s a motorway from Dublin to Cork and another from Dublin to Galway, but if you want to get from Cork to Galway, you’ll mostly be travelling on lower class National (N) roads. One downside of travelling by motorway is that you may miss interesting locations, or be unsure of which exit to take to visit something you see from the road. Motorway service stations are also few and far between, meaning that in most cases, if you want food, drink, or the chance to stretch your legs you’ll need to come off the motorway anyway.
Given Ireland’s compact size, just pack your bag, collect your rental car, and head for the countryside to begin an unforgettable road trip which only needs to last a few days to bring you to some mesmerising attractions and beautiful locations across the country.
Below are some destinations to consider on your travels.
Galway – The Republic of Ireland’s third largest city, Galway is nevertheless quite small and provides visitors a fantastic mix of urban life and the tranquillity of the countryside just minutes away. Galway has a very busy night life scene, in part thanks to its vibrant student population, and many fine traditional Irish pubs where you experience the city’s legendary ‘craic’ over some excellent food and a good pint.
The city serves as a gateway to some of Ireland’s most beautiful scenery, including Connemara to the west, the Burren to the south, and Lough Corrib to the north. Each of these makes for a perfect drive and you’re sure to see spectacular scenery as you travel in any direction. Galway makes a great base for exploring the West of Ireland, and it’s a good idea to stay for a few nights if you can.
Doolin – A tiny village (if it can even be called that, there’s no ‘centre’ as such), Doolin is a rural haven and a unique location worth visiting if you find yourself in the West. You’ll have stunning coastal drives on your doorstep, as well as the village’s world famous traditional music in its three pubs and particularly delicious seafood. Doolin is also perfect if you want to visit the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, Galway City, or Bunratty Castle. The area offers spectacular scenery and will give a glimpse into what Irish life is like outside of the big cities.
Dublin – Yes, Ireland’s most spectacular natural beauty is generally found outside the capital (though there are some stunning spots on the shores of Dublin Bay and in the Dublin Mountains), the country’s most famous city is well worth visiting if you’re exploring by car. Parking is expensive in Dublin compared to the rest of Ireland (typically €2.50 or more per hour in car parks and on-street parking isn’t much cheaper), so keep that in mind if you plan to visit. The city boasts gorgeous Georgian squares, excellent free museums, plenty of shopping opportunities, and much more.
The Wild Atlantic Way – Everyone’s heard of the Ring of Kerry, but if you have time, consider driving the longest designated coastal driving route in the world, the Wild Atlantic Way. This 1,500 kilometre route begins in northern County Donegal and follows the west coast of Ireland as it twists and turns along the bay’s and inlets of Ireland’s Atlantic shoreline. It’ll take a week or so to make the journey, but you’ll be treated to some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery along the way. The route will take you through quaint towns, jagged mountain passes and passed long, sandy beaches. The great thing about driving in Ireland is that you can stop where you want along the way. You could chance simply finding accommodation during your route, but in high season especially it’s a good idea to book a room at various hostels, B&Bs, or hotels along the way.
Other Destinations – The locations mentioned above are only a handful of the possibilities open to you. Yet they represent the best locations to sample every facet of Irish culture, lifestyles, and history. These diverse destinations are ideal for those looking to experience all of Irish life, but there are plenty of other locations to consider. Explore the delightful Swiss Cottage in County Tipperary, travel to the lighthouse at Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southern point, or discover the ancient site of Newgrange, a sophisticated Stone Age calendar and burial location older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza.
Elegant Irish Tours can also take you to castles, golf courses, luxury hotels, and ancient abbeys on tours through some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery. You’ll see the best Ireland has to offer, without the hassle of arranging your own transport, paying for fuel, or losing your way.