I'm hopeful for travel restrictions to lift and am planning a trip to Ireland with my Dad (age 88) for 12 days in early Sept. Also joining is my son, age 20, and hopefully my niece (almost 30). A tour isn't going to work well for my dad as he isn't able to walk far (has asthma + knees/hips aren't what they were) and his hearing is quite bad. I can't see him getting up into busses easily either. I'm thinking of flying (from US) into Shannon airport and visiting locations from Galway down south around Kilkenny and back to Shannon. BUT, the driving makes me nervous, on other side of the road! It will be the better way for my Dad to enjoy the trip. Any advise on the rental car driving?
Hi Colleen, renting a car is easy at the Shannon airport. I have driven on the other side in several countries and you do get used to it rather quickly. Your mantra is “stay left, stay left”. The trickier thing is the many round-abouts if you are not used to them. It is helpful to have a good navigator. I drove the Ring of Kerry by myself ( no navigator), but did have car navigation) with my kids in the backseat no problem. Mind you, I am a tad on the adventurous side of the coin. When you rent the car, do some practice down some country lanes ( easy enough) before you tackle the freeway.
Thanks Tammy, I appreciate you sharing your experience. I'm not so adventurous :/ but it's not going to stop me :) I like your mantra, that's great. I know roundabouts, but doing them the other way seems very ungrounding!
We got used to driving pretty quickly in Ireland. Ireland didn't have the traffic that we're used to in the Chicago suburbs. It helps to have a dedicated navigator in the front seat with you, someone to remind you to stay on the left at turns and to keep track of the directions.
A few thoughts:
You don't specify where you'll be arriving from, but if it's from the US then you're all going to be sleep deprived and jet lagged upon arrival after the long redeye flight. Most here agree that getting behind the wheel at all, much less venturing out into unfamiliar traffic patterns, isn't a prudent thing to do immediately after arrival.
While I understand the desire to fly into Shannon and start your trip from there, you might consider flying into Dublin and then taking the train over to Galway for your first couple of nights. Flights into Dublin are typically a lot cheaper than into Shannon, and the short train ride (about 2 hrs) over to Galway would be a chance to de-stress a bit, let the adrenalin wear off, a maybe catch a few winks. A couple of nights in Galway would give you a chance to catch up on lost sleep and generally start to feel human again before collecting your rental car and starting your driving adventure. You could also add an extra day or two if you wanted to take the ferry or fly over to the Aran Islands. Wouldn't need a car for that - Aran ferries runs a shuttle from Galway town out to the ferry landing at Rossaveal. Might be the kind of day trip your Dad would enjoy. At the ferry landing on Inishmore there are pony traps and traditional van tours that will show you the highlights of the island at whatever pace you choose.
Connemara, ie the area around Galway, is our favorite part of Ireland and would frankly be a great way to ease into the learning curve involved in driving on the left.
I agree completely with Tammy that driving on the left really is no big deal. Yes, there's a learning curve to be negotiated, but having a co-pilot to constantly remind you to stay left, watch for conflicting traffic, look for signage, and generally help you navigate will help tremendously. What helps me every time we go over is to look at YouTube videos online - really helps me to become familiar with the whole sight picture, and previewing our daily route by using the street view feature on Google maps helps as well. Might help you too.
In general, driving in rural Ireland is a real pleasure, and I think that after your first day you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.
Make sure you get a car with an automatic transmission. Even if you are used to a standard, it will be one less thing to think about. Also get the smallest car your father will be able to climb in and out of presumably from the backseat. You may want the most experienced driver as your navigator in the front with you (presumably your niece). Remember to look right as you enter roundabouts and that cars in the roundabout have the right of way. Also bear in mind that if you miss your exit from the roundabout you can go around as many times as necessary. I personally prefer doing the Ring of Kerry clockwise since most of he pull-offs will then be on your left and you can pull in and out without crossing traffic. I hope you have a great trip.
Don't rent a car and drive the day you arrive; you will be too jet-lagged to drive safely. A fatigued driver = a drunk driver.
We landed at Shannon and stayed the Old Ground Inn in Ennis, went to Cliffs of Moher. Then set out on the rest of the trip!
I found driving on the left in Scotland surprisingly easy to adjust to, with my wife as a navigator. One thing about the roundabouts, you can go around more than once if you need to, and exit once you are certain :-)
We're hoping to visit Ireland in the latter half of (this) September. I'm with you on hoping for travel restrictions to lift.
If you have four adults plus luggage, you'll need a car on the large side by Ireland's standards. A midsize or full size car will make it easier for your father to climb in and out of the backseat. It will cost more than a compact or subcompact and it won't be as easily maneuverable on narrow roads, but your family's comfort for 12 days should be your top consideration.
All advice is great especially concerning the roundabout. If you miss your exit just go around again. It helps to think of it as a clock and the navigator can tell you to exit at twelve o'clock or three, six or nine. That worked well for us. You will do fine!!
Thank you all! Great advice and tips! I think the plan of flying into Dublin, resting and acclimating and taking train to Galway, before even needing to rent the car is a good plan. Good point on car size! Having a trusting navigator, and bearing in mind I can remain looping around a roundabout till ready to exit 😉 are all good! You’ve given me a boost of confidence to forge ahead on planning. Thank you ☘️
When we visited Ireland I was also nervous about driving but got used to it quickly. If you decide to fly into/out of Dublin then you could rent and return the car there and spare the effort/expense of the train. Once you get out of the airport you're on a major highway over to the Galway area. Several years ago we did this and it was an easy and relaxing way to get used to driving on the other side of the road. Having a good navigator reminding you of the side of the road to be on is also good when you're on a 2-lane. Some of the roads are rather narrow with brush right up to the road edge so be prepared for it scraping your car. BTW - I tried to use my credit card insurance to avoid having to purchase rental car insurance at the counter. They wouldn't let me rent the car without their insurance unless I had a letter from the insurer stating I was specifically covered in Ireland. My next trip I'll try to get that letter and then see if they throw up other roadblocks to make me buy their insurance. One advantage of having their insurance was that I didn't mind the brush scraping against the car on the narrow roads because with their insurance I didn't have to worry about paying for any scratching damage. The total cost of renting the car with insurance for the week was about $230 back in 2018. Our gas cost about $120 for approximately 600 miles. Hope this helps and have fun!
Many here recommend Autoeurope https://www.autoeurope.com/ or Dan Dooley https://www.dan-dooley.ie/ when shopping for rental cars in Ireland. Checking those websites will be a good place to start your search at any rate. A particular advantage of these particular sites/companies is that they clearly spell out what the options are regarding insurance. Drilling down into the fine print of some of the individual company websites to see what's covered and what isn't can be frustrating and confusing.
Most credit cards specifically exclude coverage in Ireland. Some of the premium cards do offer coverage, but their claims process can be pretty convoluted - we've generally settled on just opting for full coverage thru AutoEurope for the convenience and peace of mind involved.
There are a number of discussion threads here regarding the subject of car insurance, and driving in Ireland in general, that are worth researching - can use the "search" feature at the top of the page to have a look.
And yes, do opt for a vehicle with automatic trasmission. The default rental in Ireland will be a stick shifter, and that's an added degree of difficulty that you really don't need for your first time out. It'll cost more (sometimes a lot more) but it'll be worth it.
I agree with Trotter, get the smallest car you can tolerate and an automatic, no matter how comfortable you are with a manual transmission.
We generally rent from Avis overseas. Driving on the man roads is easy, but if you go to some out of the way places there can be some fairly narrow roads. I didn’t find the smaller roads to be well marked so somebody acting as navigator helps. When you do see street signs, note their height since all the signs are at a similar height throughout the country. Believe they are lower to the ground in Ireland, easily blocked by parked cars. When packing, keep in mind that trunks in cars in Europe are generally smaller than in the states, so use the smallest suitcases possible. The amount of luggage you have will help determine the type and size of car you need to rent.
Thank you again to everyone for sharing your experience and advice - I've got it all noted down! Terrific tips here - thank you all
The person in the front passenger seat, i.e., the navigator, should frequently remind the driver to stay left, but not too far left. Especially on smaller, narrow roads, the shoulder can be nonexistent, or a fence or vine-covered stone wall can be really close by. With the driver focusing on staying left of the center, it’s helpful to not get too far over to the left.
Also, on our last trip, we flew in to Dublin, then caught a bus (“coach” in Ireland) straight to Dublin. it passed through downtown Dublin en route, so we got a mini tour of Dublin before falling asleep for a nap before reaching Galway. We grabbed seats at the front of the upper level of the bus. It had a restroom on board, too, and is an alternative option instead of a train.
After enjoying Galway for a couple of days, we picked up our Europcar rental there, on the east end of town.
You do get used it fairly quickly, BUT, in an emergency situation, you tend to fall back to your old ways. Keep reminding yourself of this and you should be ok. And if in doubt of where to go, follow a big truck (another story).