U.S. driver's licenses are recognized in Ireland.
Roads in the Irish Republic are generally good, with four-lane highways, or motorways, connecting Dublin with Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Shannon Airport, Galway, and Newry on the border with Northern Ireland. Service areas with restrooms and food are gradually being added; meanwhile you may have to leave the motorway for comfort stops, usually located in gas stations. National routes and minor roads are slower, but much more scenic. On rural roads, watch out for cattle and sheep. Reckless drivers (surveys say that Irish drivers are among the worst) are also a problem in the countryside, so remain alert.
Road signs in the republic are generally in both Irish and English; destinations in which Irish is the spoken language are signposted only in Irish. The most important one to know is An Daingean, which is now the official name of Dingle Town. Get a good bilingual road map, and know the next town on your itinerary; neither the signposts nor the locals refer to roads by official numbers. Traffic signs are the same as in the rest of Europe. On the newer green signposts, distances are in kilometers; on some of the old white signposts they're still miles. Most important, speed limits are posted in the republic (but not in Northern Ireland) in kilometers.
There are no border checkpoints between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, where the road network is excellent and, outside Belfast, uncrowded. Road signs and traffic regulations conform to the British system.
All ferries on both principal routes to the Irish Republic welcome cars. Fishguard and Pembroke are relatively easy to reach by road. The car trip to Holyhead, on the other hand, is sometimes difficult: delays on the A55 North Wales coastal road aren't unusual.
You can find gas stations along most roads. Self-service is the norm, and major credit cards and traveler's checks are usually accepted. Prices are near the lower end for Europe, with unleaded gas priced around €1.32 in Ireland and £1.28 a liter in Northern Ireland—gasoline prices in the United States are a bit more than half the price in Ireland. Prices vary significantly from station to station, so it's worth driving around the block (if you have enough gas!).
Most roads are paved and make for easy travel. Roads designated with an M for "motorway" are double-lane divided highways with paved shoulders; N, or "national," routes are generally undivided highways with shoulders; and R, or "regional," roads tend to be narrow and twisty.
Rush-hour traffic in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and Galway can be intense. Rush hours in Dublin run 7 to 9:30 am and 5 to 7 pm; special events such as soccer matches also tie up traffic in and around the city, as does heavy rain.
If you're involved in an accident, note the details of the vehicle and the driver and report the incident to a member of the Garda Síochána (the Irish Police) or the Police Service of Northern Ireland as soon as possible. Since traffic congestion is chronic in Dublin, emergency services are more likely to be dispatched quickly to help you and to clear the road.
If your car breaks down, try to stop in a well-lighted area near a public phone. If on a secondary road, remain in your car with the doors locked after you call for assistance. If you break down on the motorway, pull onto the hard shoulder and stay out of your car with the passenger side door open and the other doors locked. This allows you to jump into the car quickly if you sense any trouble. Make sure you check credentials of anyone who offers assistance—note the license-plate number and color of the assisting vehicle before you step out of the car.
The Automobile Association of Ireland, a sister organization of its English counterpart, is highly recommended. The AA can help you or your vehicle only if you are a member. If not, contact your car-rental company for assistance.
An Garda Síochána (Police). 112; 999; www.garda.ie.
Automobile Association of Ireland. 01/617–9999; 0800/887–766; 08457/887–766; 1800/667–788; www.aaireland.ie.
Police Service of Northern Ireland. 999; 101; www.psni.police.uk.
Rules of the Road
The Irish, like the British, drive on the left-hand side of the road in whatever direction they are headed (not, as in America, on the right-hand side). Safety belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers, and children under 12 must travel in the back unless riding in a car seat. Motorcyclists must wear helmets. Speed limits in Ireland are posted in kilometers per hour and in Northern Ireland in miles per hour. In towns and cities, the speed limit is 50 kph (31 mph). On Regional (R) and Local (L) roads, the speed limit is 80 kph (50 mph), indicated by white signs. On National (N) roads, the speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph), indicated by green signs. On Motorways (M), the speed limit is 120 kph (74 mph), indicated by blue signs.
Drunk-driving laws are strict. The legal limit is 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Ireland has a Breathalyzer test, which the police can administer anytime. If you refuse to take it, the odds are you'll be prosecuted anyway. As always, the best advice is don't drink if you plan to drive.
Speed cameras and radar are used throughout Ireland. Speeding carries an on-the-spot fine of €80, and if charged with excessive speeding, you could be summoned to court. This carries a much higher fine, and you will be summoned within six months (meaning you could be required to return to Ireland).
Note that a continuous white line down the center of the road prohibits passing. Barred markings on the road and flashing yellow beacons indicate a crossing where pedestrians have right-of-way. At a junction of two roads of equal importance, the driver to the right has right-of-way. On a roundabout, vehicles approaching from the right have right-of-way. Left turns aren't permitted on a red light. If another motorist flashes their headlights, they are giving you right-of-way.
Despite the relatively light traffic, parking in towns can be a problem. Signs with the letter P indicate that parking is permitted; a stroke through the P warns you to stay away or you'll be liable for a fine of €20–€65; if your car gets towed away or clamped, the fine is around €180. In Dublin and Cork, parking lots are your best bet.
In Northern Ireland there are plenty of parking lots in the towns (usually free, except in Belfast). In Belfast, you can't park your car in some parts of the city center, more because of congestion than security problems.
When you reserve a car, ask about cancellation penalties, taxes, drop-off charges (if you're planning to pick up the car in one city and leave it in another), and surcharges (for being under or over a certain age, for additional drivers, or for driving across state or country borders or beyond a specific distance from your point of rental). All these things can add substantially to your costs. Request car seats for children and extras such as GPS when you book.
Rates are sometimes—but not always—better if you book in advance or reserve through a rental agency's website. There are other reasons to book ahead, though: for popular destinations, during busy times of the year, or to ensure that you get certain types of cars (vans, SUVs, exotic sports cars).
Make sure that a confirmed reservation guarantees you a car. Agencies sometimes overbook, particularly for busy weekends and holiday periods.
If you're renting a car in the Irish Republic and intend to visit Northern Ireland (or vice versa), make this clear when you get your car, and check that the rental insurance applies when you cross the border.
Renting a car once you're in Ireland is far more expensive than arranging one before you leave home. Rates in Dublin for an economy car with a manual transmission and unlimited mileage are from about €35 a day and €160 a week to €50 a day and €190 a week, depending on the season. This includes the 13.5% tax on car rentals. Rates in Belfast begin at £25 a day and £130 a week, including the 17.5% tax on car rentals.
Both manual and automatic transmissions are readily available, though automatics cost extra. Typical economy car models include Volkswagen Lupo, Ford Focus, Fiat Panda, and Nissan Micra. Minivans, luxury cars (Mercedes or Alfa Romeos), and four-wheel-drive vehicles (say, a Jeep Cherokee) are also options, but the daily rates are high. Argus Rent A Car and Dooley Car Rentals have convenient locations at Dublin, Shannon, Belfast, and Belfast City airports, as well as at ferry ports.
Most rental companies require you to be over 24 to rent a car (a few rent to those over 21) and to have had a license for more than a year. Some companies refuse to rent to visitors over 70, or in some cases 74.
Drivers between the ages of 21 and 26, and 70 and 76 are usually subject to an insurance surcharge—if they're allowed to drive a rental car at all. An additional driver adds about €8 a day, and a child seat costs about €20 and requires 24-hour advance notice.
Car Rental Resources
Local and international car rental companies in both the Republic and Northern Ireland are listed on www.carhireireland.com.
Argus Rent A Car. 01/488–0057; www.arguscarhire.com.
Dooley Car Rentals. 800/331–9301; 062/53103; www.dan-dooley.ie.
Avis. 800/331–1212; 021/428–1111; www.avis.com.
Budget. 800/472–3325; 01/837–9611; www.budget.com.
Dollar. 800/800–6000; 01/670–7890; www.dollar.com.
Hertz. 800/654–3001; 01/676–7476; www.hertz.com.
Auto Europe. 888/223–5555; 1800/943–075; www.autoeurope.com.
Europe by Car. 800/223–1516; 212/581–3040; www.europebycarblog.com.
Eurovacations. 877/471–3876; www.eurovacations.com.
Kemwel. 800/678–0678; www.kemwel.com.