At the end of May, Jonathan and I crossed an important country off of our travel bucket list with a trip to his ancestral homeland, Ireland. Ireland was actually the first country we’ve ever visited where we rented our own car to get around. Let me just say, it was a total game changer. In fact, I think that it’s really the only way to do Ireland properly. Here’s what we loved about it.
It Opened Up the Country
The thing we enjoyed the most about our trip to Ireland was how much of the country we were able to see. Granted, Ireland is a small country compared to the United States or even to other countries in Europe. You can drive from end to end in just a few hours. But having a car gave us access to all of the major tourist sites as well some places that were off the beaten path.
When we traveled in Italy a few years ago, we planned our trip around a few key cities and took trains between them. Even though we spent time in Rome and Florence and Cinque Terre (and a day in Venice), I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface of Italy. We were only in Ireland for 8 days, but I left feeling like we’d experienced so much more of the country because we saw so much of the country outside of the cities.
We Could Make the Most of Our Time
We were only in Ireland for 8 days with a 3 day hop over to Amsterdam tacked onto the end, and we wanted to see as much as possible without exhausting ourselves. Driving made it easy to schedule our days so that we could see as much as possible as we moved from city to city. On the day we drove from Kilkenny to Cork, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel and at Blarney Castle along the way, still getting to Cork in time for dinner and some live music at the pub.
Even though we were moving around a lot, we didn’t feel rushed at all, and each bit of driving we did only lasted a couple of hours max, so the trip was broken up into very manageable chunks.
Last summer we traveled in Germany where my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were living. When they joined us for a weekend in Berlin, it took them nearly 12 hours of train-hopping to get from their home in Tubingen up to Berlin. Dealing with indirect routes meant spending an entire day traveling without even the option to explore along the way. Not to mention having to sprint from one train platform to another to make all of the tight connections.
We especially appreciated having the car when it came to getting to more remote places. For example, on the day we drove from Dingle to Galway, we decided to drive out to the Cliffs of Moher “on the way” (It’s not exactly on the way because they aren’t really on the way to anywhere) before continuing on to Galway. We probably could have done this by taking multiple buses or booking some sort of tour, but it was so much easier to drive there ourselves, spend as much time as we wanted, and then continue on straight to our B&B in Galway.
We Could Be More Flexible
On the flip side, we also loved the flexibility of being able to change our plans on a whim. If we stayed out late one night and wanted to sleep in the next morning, we could. All we really had to worry about was eventually ending up wherever we were staying the next night.
I also loved having the flexibility to make spontaneous decisions. The morning that we left Cork, we drove to Kinsale, a small seaside town where we planned to spend a few hours before continuing on to Killarney. We were so enchanted with Kinsale that we ended up staying for most of the day. Sure this meant we didn’t have that time in Killarney, but Kinsale ended up being one of our favorite stops of the trip and we probably wouldn’t have made the decision to stay if we’d had to a bus or a train to catch.
Having a car also opened up our accommodation options. One of my favorite places that we stayed on our trip was an AirBNB about 20 minutes drive from Kilkenny town. (Book it here! This place and the hosts were amazing!)
Y’all. There were fresh eggs and freshly baked bread, and IT CAME WITH A DOG NAMED ZELDA. I seriously doubt we would have considered a place like this if we’d been relying on public transportation because it wouldn’t have been convenient.
We Enjoyed the Journey
Half of the beauty of Ireland is in it’s winding country lanes, fields of wildflowers, and rolling green hills. Driving through the countryside was often just as much fun as the big sites were. In some cases, driving was really the only way to get an amazing views. Also, I could blast Ed Sheeran as loudly and as often as I wanted to. (Hint: it was very loud and very often).
One particularly great drive was getting out to Dingle. There are two options for driving to the Dingle Peninsula, one that is relatively flat and goes around the mountains, and one that takes a winding route up into the mountains and through the Conor Pass. We went for the Conor Pass. It was one of the most stunning drives I’ve ever taken. Granted, it seemed likely we would fall of the edge of the cliff at any moment and/or scrape the side of the rental car on the sheer rock wall of the mountain, but it was worth it. Every bend in the road was a new view, and we stopped at every spot we could to walk around, climb higher, and take pictures.
As it turns out, large buses are not allowed on this route because of the steep grade and the narrow roads. So if we hadn’t had the car, we probably would have missed out on this entirely.
Our trip to Ireland was one of my all time favorites, and having the car was a huge part of what made the experience so enjoyable.
So all of this is to say…driving through Ireland…WOULD RECOMMEND!
Tips on How to Save Money on a Rental Car in Ireland:
- If you are able to drive a manual transmission rather than an automatic you will save a lot of money on the rental.
- Check with your credit card company to see whether they offer insurance coverage for international car rentals. Both the Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards offer this feature (which does work in Ireland). This is completely free as long as you use your credit card to pay for the rental. You do have to get a letter from the credit card company confirming their coverage, but by using this you can waive the expensive insurance from the rental company and still be fully covered in case of an accident.
- Get the smallest car you can get by with. This probably sounds obvious as smaller cars are usually cheaper to rent and it will help you save on gas as well, but it’s also helpful to have a small car for driving on narrow country roads without accidentally losing a mirror.
- If you are doing a driving tour of Ireland you are probably going to start or end in Dublin (or both). You don’t need a car to get around Dublin since the tram and public buses are convenient and easy to use. Rent your car when you are ready to leave Dublin or return it as soon as you arrive in Dublin.
- GPS is an additional cost with a rental car. In my opinion, you do not need GPS if you have a smartphone. Even if you do not have data for your phone while in Ireland, you can use the Maps.Me app to download the maps of Ireland before you leave. This will give you turn by turn directions, and your phone’s GPS system will still locate you without using data.*Note: Lots of cars do not come with aircon as a standard feature. This is probably fine if you are traveling fall through spring, but it’s something to be aware of if you plan to travel in the summer and are sensitive to heat. If you do decide you need aircon, finding a car that has it may add to the expense.
**Also note, if you are American, you DO NOT need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Ireland. I don’t know about drivers from other countries though.
We rented from the Avis at the Dublin Airport. I know the general advice is not to rent from the airport, but for various reasons, that was what we needed to do. I don’t have any loyalty to or affiliation with Avis, I’m just sharing my experience. This was the approximate total cost to rent a manual transmission car with aircon for 5 days.
$118.57 Car Rental, 5 days
$100.00 Approximate – Gas
$20.00 Approximate – Parking/Tolls