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Driving Ireland

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

Ireland – the land of castles, cliffs, golf courses and sheep. SO MANY SHEEP. I think there’s something like 9X more sheep than people and let me tell you, if you ever leave Dublin, you’ll notice.

The hardest part, I think, about planning a trip to Ireland is trying to decide what to see. There’s so much, from Temple Bar in Dublin to the Cliffs of Mohr to the Waterford Crystal factory. It’s almost impossible to do everything in one trip, which means if you want to see even half of it, you are going to have to suck it up and rent a car and drive on the wrong side of the road. Trust me – it’ll be worth it.

We were in Ireland for 9 full days. We had a ton of things on our plan before we left, and while we did see a lot of it, we got screwed by the timing and a bit by the weather. We also ended up adding a few things based on suggestions from the locals, and boy were they right.

In this post, I’ll outline the trip and how we did it. Then at the bottom I’ll link to separate posts about each area we stayed in. Dublin, Cork, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle and Limerick, and Galway.

Below you'll see the general route that we took. On each of the individual blogs, I'll map out our daily stops.

The Rental Car: We originally reserved a rental car on Expedia through whatever the cheapest company was at the Dublin airport. Our plan was to pick it up when we landed and then park it at our hotel in Dublin for the days we were there. We also purchased insurance through Expedia because we’d heard that rental insurance was 100% required in Ireland due to the state of the roads.

This plan did not work out. At all.

Fun fact, insurance on Expedia for rental cars is only applicable in the continental US. That means if anything had happened, we would have been held 100% liable. We got lucky to even find this out, because the girl at the rental car company said it had happened to people in the past and that we needed to double check. She was right. Luckily, Expedia said that they understood and refunded me the cost of the insurance. We hadn’t paid anything for the rental yet, so that was helpful.

Instead, we went up to the Avis/Budget desk and the team there was able to match the rate that Expedia had quoted us and gave us a great deal on insurance. That said, we went from paying around $300 for the car to over $600. Luckily we had three people so it wasn’t too bad once we split it but still – that’s a lot for 9 days.

In addition, the line/wait for the rental car was really long and it put us behind about an hour the day we were supposed to leave, so either go early or plan to wait. You think you’re done waiting once you get to the desk in the airport, but once you get through that and head out to the lot, the line to actually get the vehicle is even longer.

The next thing to keep in mind is when you’re renting a car abroad, if you can’t drive a manual, you’ll be paying at least double if not triple for an automatic. This also means you likely have to buy the more expensive fuel. And in Ireland, gas is super expensive.

Cabs vs. Uber:

The other piece was that we ended up going into Dublin in a cab and then going back for the car before we left a few days later. It made the car rental cheaper and it meant we didn’t have to pay for parking at the hotel. We thought it would save us money, but in the end I’m not sure if it did because the cabs to/from the airport were pretty expensive. THERE ARE NO UBERS IN IRELAND – and a lot of the cabs only take cash, so have Euros with you when you arrive.

Driving on the wrong side of the road:

Lastly the major piece – most people worry about driving on the wrong side of the road. Trust me, you get used to it much more quickly than you’d expect to. The most difficult part will be the roundabouts. Just remember to always go left. Have someone in the front seat with you at all times that’s watching google maps because it’ll remind you as well.

The other thing that most people don’t know about Irelands roads is that a lot of the non-highway roads are super narrow. You’ll likely get passed by locals and have cars come straight at you going rather quickly and you’ll have to drive basically on the shoulder. This is why they require rental insurance. You will hit trees and probably get scrapes on the sides of the car. So, I’d highly recommend taking pictures of your vehicle’s damage before you leave the rental car location. Also check your gas tank – if it’s not full, either take a picture or show it to the people. Ours wasn’t so we brought it back at the same level and had the picture to prove it.

Our Itinerary:

This is a link to the google doc that we used to track our travels around Ireland. It includes the hotels, the sites we wanted to see, and a budget page. Feel free to take it and use it. We almost always create something similar when we go on big long trips. It helps a lot, especially with calculating who paid for what and where.

What I loved:

I’ll touch on individual stuff in the more detailed sections of the blog, but here’s the highlights. This is mostly going to be unique stuff instead of the normal tourist stops that you’ll hear about, but we did all of those too.

What went wrong:

  • The rental car situation – see notes above regarding driving around Ireland

What I may have done differently:

  • Looked more closely at opening/closing times of the castles. In May, most public museum-type places close at 5pm. Often with the driving distances, we’d arrive right at closing. Once you get to June however, they stay open until 6pm.

What we chose to skip:

  • Northern Ireland – we just didn’t have the time. This meant no Giant’s Causeway but we’ll end up going back one day

  • The Aran Islands – we didn’t have the time for this either – it’s a full day trip. That said, the trips get cancelled pretty often due to bad weather, so you really have to get lucky.

General Tips and Tricks

  • Always listen to the locals – they’ll give you way better advice than Trip Advisor

  • Know that the hotels out in the country are generally a bit more run down than what you’ll find in the city

  • Spend a few days in Galway and not that many days in Dublin. You won’t regret it

  • Buy tickets for everything you can in advance

  • Expect lines at the touristy locations (Blarney Castle, the Cliffs of Mohr, etc.)

  • Weather in Ireland is always unpredictable - bring a rain jacket any time of the year. Assume the Cliffs will be incredibly windy. Check the weather constantly. We went in May and half of our trip was drizzling and 60 - the other half was sunny and 70. My friends went a month later and it was freezing and pouring rain.

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