Rent a Car & Self-Drive in Ireland


There are 3 key differences when driving in Ireland (compared to the USA)

  1. You drive on the left side of the road.

  2. The steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle.

  3. For manual transmissions, the gear shift will be on the left side of the steering wheel (thus you will shift with your left hand). The pedals, however, are in the same position as cars in the USA.


Everything just seems backwards - steering wheel is on the right, you shift with your left hand, a right turn means crossing oncoming traffic, roundabouts (and there’s a lot of them) are traveled in a clockwise direction, etc. In addition, the roads are narrow and winding, the streets in town, many times, have cars parked on both sides of the street leaving very little room to drive through. Add to all this a rainy day, trying to navigate directions and then big tour buses (called coaches) coming against you. It can be very tiring driving in Ireland. You will be mentally exhausted after 4 to 5 hours of it in a day.


If you’re a good driver, can remain calm/relaxed when driving in challenging situations and can navigate tight situations, you should not have a problem driving in Ireland. Rural, country roads (those roads that start with the letter R) are the most beautiful to drive but can, also, be the most challenging.


Renting a car is a good option if you want to get off the beaten path and drive where the scenery is the best - Ireland's back roads. Go where you want, when you want & stop for each of those great photo ops.


Considering you will have to pay for the car rental, plus car insurance, plus fuel, the cost of this option can be expensive. 



  • This is a great option if you’re interested in visiting the rural, more remote destinations and attractions - of which there are many in Ireland.

  • You can stop (for a scenic photo, a historical site, a meal or something to drink) whenever you want. And then get going whenever you want. It’s the best way to see Ireland.


  • This is a more expensive way to see Ireland than taking the bus and/or train.

  • If you are the type driver who might have trouble adapting to the challenges posed by driving in Ireland, this can be a more stressful way of traveling.

  • Not a good option when overnighting or spending time in the large cities like Dublin, Belfast and Cork City. You don’t need a vehicle in these destinations. There’s excellent public transportation, plus parking can be challenging.


Important to know


Car Insurance is a little complex in Ireland. If renting a car, make sure you thoroughly understand the car insurance process - it’s different than most other countries. Here's a few highlights:

  1. Third Party Liability Insurance protects you from liability resulting from property damage, injury, or death caused to anyone or anything outside of your rental car. This coverage is compulsory in Ireland and is included in the basic rental rate.

  2. CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) covers damage to your rental vehicle - there are two options: CDW with an excess means there is a deductible that you must pay and an authorization will be placed on your card for this amount at time of pickup (note: you are responsible for any damage up to and including the amount of the deductible) AND CDW with no deductible (also called Super Cover or Excess Waiver) means the insurance covers 100% of any damage. 

  3. Note that CDW might not cover Theft or damage to certain vehicle parts like the windshield, car roof, the undercarriage and possibly other parts. Make sure your insurance policy includes these items.

  4. NOTE: some rental companies only recognize coverage supplied by their rental company or an Irish based Protection Company. Most credit cards do not offer coverage in Ireland. If you have a credit card that offers collision and theft coverage in Ireland, it's absolutely imperative that you provide written proof from your credit card company when you pick up your vehicle at the rental counter. If there is any vehicle damage upon return, the estimated damage cost must be settled by you and then you will have to collect from your credit card company. The rental agency will not invoice your credit card company. We do not recommend trying to use your credit card coverage in Ireland.

  5. A word of caution: things like damage to the vehicle because you put the wrong type of fuel in the tank is not covered by your insurance policy. Some cars take gasoline and some take diesel. Make sure you know which one your car takes. It should be noted on the little door that covers the gas cap.


This is the most complicated part of renting a car in Ireland. With our Custom Ireland Itinerary Service, we will help you through this entire process - even booking your reservation for you.



  1. During the pandemic, most car rental companies sold much of their inventory. As a result, current inventories are low and the resulting car rental prices are higher than in the past.

  2. Currently (December 2021), you can drive between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland without any immigration processing. There is no border crossing formalities. Most rental agencies will allow you to drive between the two countries; however, it is wise to double check at time of reservation.


Things to consider

  • Vehicles drive on the left side of the road which means the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. It’s a different mindset than driving in the USA.

  • Roads, primarily the country roads where all the scenery is located, are narrower, very curvy and winding. The high trees and shrubs along the side of the road make for many “blind” curves so you have to be able to react quickly to oncoming traffic or bicyclists/sheep ahead of you. In some regions like Donegal, the greenery is low to the ground so you don’t have the blind curves which makes driving much easier.

  • You share the road with bicyclists, walkers and even sheep when on narrow country roads.

  • There are many coaches (tour buses) on the roads and sometimes they will infringe onto your side of the center-line.

  • Most rental cars have manual (stick shift) transmissions. The stick is located between the two front seats meaning you will be shifting with your left hand. The three pedals are in the same place as in the USA - gas on right, brake in middle, clutch on the left. Note that many manual transmission vehicles have six forward gears and one reverse gear. When driving on country (rural) roads with turns, narrow lanes, oncoming traffic, there will be A LOT of shifting. If you’re interested in an “automatic”, it should be requested at time of reservation. Automatics are more expensive than manual transmission vehicles.

  • GPS is very helpful when driving in Ireland. We do not recommend purchasing GPS through your rental company. It’s too costly (€15 to €20 per day on average). If you have an Ireland SIM card with data, you can easily use a GPS app like Google Maps or Waze on your phone. We have found good cell coverage throughout the island.

Is this a great way to see Ireland?

  • Yes, if you want to get off the beaten path (so to speak) and see a lot of the back road areas in the country. This is where the best scenery is.

  • Yes, if you want the flexibility of traveling “on your own schedule”.

How does this impact my choice of lodging options?

  • When renting a car, you have the most flexibility when making your lodging choices. You can stay at city hotels or rural bed & breakfasts. If in a city or town, you can walk to food, beverage, shopping, etc. If you’re in a rural location, you have your vehicle to get you there.

Price perspective

  • Typical costs include: Rental rate, car insurance, fuel (gas or diesel), parking fees, toll fees (although this is not costly).

  • This can be a good option when a family or small group are traveling together. This will be a more expensive option, than bus or train travel, for a solo traveler or even a couple possibly.


Ease of use

  • This is not the easiest to use option. The whole car insurance process, navigating the various roads and trying to find your way make this one of the more complex modes of transportation. However, you can pretty much go wherever you want, whenever you want.


Are reservations suggested?

  • Yes, reservations should be made in advance prior to departing on your trip. You will generally find cheaper prices and a better selection of vehicles. Car insurance is usually cheaper when booked in advance.


Our suggestions

  • If you feel the driving challenges won’t bother you, then rent a car and self-drive. If you really don’t think you can deal with driving on the left, the narrow roads, etc. then select another form of getting around. It's important to select the option that works best for you.

  • If renting a car, obtain car insurance through the car rental company and select the “no deductible” car insurance option. It is more expensive; however, the piece of mind knowing you can drop off the car at the end of your trip and walk away is worth it. 

  • Regarding car size, smaller is better. It is easier to drive a smaller car on the narrow, winding roads, especially in town when cars can be parked on both sides of a two-lane road. Parking is easier. Pulling off to the side of a country road to take photos is easier with a smaller car. Smaller cars generally get better gas mileage.


  • Remember to take your state drivers license and make sure it is a VALID (not expired) license. You do not need an international driving permit.


How Book Ireland Travel can help you

  • There’s a lot of things to consider when renting a car AND self-driving in Ireland. We’ll work with you each step of the way so you are comfortable if this is the option you want. Our assistance will help reduce the worry and the stress of renting a car and self-driving.