renting a car in ireland

10 Important Tips for Renting a Car in Ireland – and Driving it!

My 12-Day Road Trip Across Ireland is still one of my favorite trips. It challenged me; it gave me a lot of confidence as a solo female traveler. Some moments were downright hard, and there were moments of such profound joy it’s hard to put into words. It was complex. But the joy of driving myself 1100 km across Ireland is a memory I hold close in my heart. If you are a US-based driver, you will find it challenging, but you’ll soon get the hang of it and find the thrill of driving a car in Ireland.

Renting a car in Ireland has its challenges and was one of my biggest travel blunders to date.

One of the benefits I love about my travel credit cards is the rental car coverage. It’s pretty great and saves me the additional fees associated with renting a car. But many people don’t know that most credit cards do not cover renting a car in Ireland. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are often excluded from their rental car policies. I had run across this information and called my card company beforehand. What I failed to do was get the paper verification.

As I’m standing at the desk, the agent tells me my Citibank Card will not cover the insurance. I was having issues with my Irish sim card in my phone, so the agent even called Citibank using his phone and let me talk to the bank. He was correct; they were not going to insure the car. This meant I had to pay the desk rate for insurance for the eight days I was renting the car. With taxes, this added close to $400 to what was already a big expense on my trip. I have to say, the Avis agent was so kind, but at the end of the day, there was only so much he could do. I handed over my credit card and took my lumps. Lesson learned.

I will add that I would never drive a car in Ireland uninsured. Now, let’s get to the rest of the tips for renting a car in Ireland!

Book directly with the rental car company: I often rent a car through or another third party without issue. Renting a car in Ireland has its own set of challenges, so I would suggest renting directly from the rental car company. If you end up with an issue, it will be a lot easier to deal with the rental car company directly.

As stated above, when renting a car in Ireland, pay for the insurance when booking your car. Online rates are going to be cheaper than paying upon pickup.

Read the fine print! Will they put any financial hold on your card if you pay with a debit card? Credit card? I have had this happen before when I carried a small limit on my card.

Stick shift vs. automatic: I can drive a stick shift. I love it, actually. But when traveling solo, navigating and driving on the opposite side of the road, I was so glad that I had paid extra — double, in fact — to have an automatic. If I was traveling with a friend doing the navigating, I think I’d be comfortable with a stick, but it felt like a lot to do when I was alone. Remember, you’re not just on the opposite side of the road; you’re on the opposite side of the car, so you will shift with your left, not right hand. I just didn’t have it in me.

When picking up your rental car, take pictures of everything! Inside, outside, inside the trunk. Make sure you have a spare tire and a jack. The roads in Ireland can be tricky; if you want to feel secure, you can also pay extra for roadside assistance. I have a whole series of steps I take when renting a car, and I suggest reading through those if you don’t regularly rent cars. Put all paperwork in the glove box and leave it there for easy access if you need it.

Familiarize yourself with where your turn signal, lights and other features are before you take off. Adjust your mirrors and get comfortable. I was so excited to take off that I didn’t do any of these things and was immediately thrust out into the largest roundabout I’d ever been in, right outside the Dublin Airport. I’m pretty sure I just muttered “OMG OMG OMG” repeatedly until I made it out the other side.

Speaking of roundabouts, they are everywhere! Read up on properly using a roundabout if they are not prevalent where you come from. The lanes in Ireland are well marked, but it helps to study the best practices before you go. And again, because you are on the opposite side of the road, you enter the roundabout to the left. Use the outside lane if taking the first exit; otherwise, use the inside lane.

Roads in Ireland are much narrower than most roads in the US. Even on the major highways, my tires were close to touching the lines on both sides of the lanes. It takes some getting used to, and there is little margin for error. Make sure you slow down when going through towns — the road gets even narrower! If it seems too narrow to safely pass cars coming the other direction, slow down to a crawl or stop and let others pass. Take cues from the cars ahead of you. Cars also park willy-nilly on both sides of the road in town, so watch carefully for cars backing up or pulling into traffic. It sounds more chaotic than it is, but it feels very different.

For those of you who live in high-tourism areas, I’m sure you can relate to the frustration of trying to get to work and having someone unfamiliar with the area slow you down. When I was on highways or busy roads, if I were going noticeably slower, I would pull off and let traffic pass me. I eventually got comfortable enough to zip along with the locals, passing other tourists with a bit of smug satisfaction.

I often see people online dismiss driving on the other side of the road as “easy.” Muscle memory is a thing. Even after a week of driving on the opposite side, even when I was enjoying it, my brain was still startled to see a car coming toward me on my right. Making left and right turns onto roads or into parking lots would sometimes confuse me. When turning, I used the phrase “left tight, wide right” as a verbal reminder. It helped.

Let’s revisit the reason for insurance. Narrow roads and unfamiliar territory are a recipe for dings, dents, fender-benders and “mirror kisses.” All of which can cost you money in a rental car. I was pretty lucky but saw some unfortunate blunders, especially from people who aren’t used to driving a stick shift. Ireland is mostly uphill or downhill, which can be a real challenge. I can’t fathom how many clutch replacements they do on those rentals. I had a “mirror kiss” driving through my first town. My side mirror “kissed” the side mirror of another car. We were both startled and kept going, no harm or foul.

I am excited to return to Ireland one day, and I will rent a car in Ireland again. There is no better way to see this country than driving along its roads, stopping along the way to capture the stunning beauty of every rolling hill, every blue-butted sheep and every colorful door. 

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