Considering self-drive in Ireland? Wondering how difficult it is?
We've rounded up all the pros and cons by asking our VagaGuides and past guests.
Now read on to answer all of your concerns about self-drive in Ireland!
The Key Advantage of a Guided Tour Vs. Self-Drive
If you takeaway only one reason to take a guided tour over a self-drive vacation to Ireland, it's this:
We guarantee you'll see MORE on your Vagabond or Driftwood tour than you will do with a rental car and a pile of maps.
Seeing everything you want to see: it's the main challenge facing all tourists.
Cliffs of Moher. Giant's Causeway. Blarney. Galway. Dingle. You'll hit all the must-see sights of Ireland on your Vagabond or Driftwood Tour. But by timing visits outside peak hours, our amazing VagaGuides will ensure you miss the crowds and see these major attractions at their very best.
Aside from the headliners, we'll also take you off the beaten track to places that would be hard to find on a self-drive vacation to Ireland.
We've been refining our itineraries since 2002. We know the best lodgings, the places to visit, the most fun activities to do and the most delicious restaurants to eat in.
No need for long hours of research either!
How Flexible are Guided Tours?
Two big concerns which might tempt you towards self-drive in Ireland over guided tours.
The good news is that all Vagabond and Driftwood tour itineraries have flexibility baked-in. No two tours are ever the same.
While our scheduled tours follow set itineraries; the routes and attractions are by no means written in stone. At the outset of each tour, you VagaGuide tour guide will be keen to hear what each passenger wants to get out of their tour. This helps us tailor sights and activities to the group.
Why can we do this? Our tour groups are small.
There's a maximum of 15 guests on the more relaxed-pace of Driftwood Journeys of Discovery and with no more than 13 on active Vagabond Cultural Adventures.
The small-group size of our tours gives us (and YOU!) this flexibility.
What's the Best Ireland Tour Itinerary?
Ireland may not look like a big place. But navigating around the countryside in Ireland is deceptively hard.
Irish roads are predominantly single lane. Large motorways and expressways are clustered around large cities.
Did you know there are no freeways in Donegal, for example?
What's more, phone and GPS signal can be unreliable in off the beaten track locations.
What's the alternative? Simple! Take one of our guided tours. But don't take it from us...
"We saw things we never would have known to visit had we gone off on our own.
And we never had to worry about a thing-they took care of every detail, especially the driving!!"
Yes, that's a real TripAdvisor review from one of our happy Vagabonds (August 2019). And it's typical.
Guided Tours Are More Sociable
There's no doubt that our guests bond.
"We made numerous friends along the way, including fellow passengers, local artisans, and the occasional sheep or horse!"
(Yes, this is a real, live TripAdvisor review from September 2019).
Although Irish people are famously friendly, making real connections and friendships can be challenging when you travel independently. But this happens again and again for our Vagabond and Driftwood Tours guests. It's one of the most rewarding parts of taking a guided tour of Ireland.
Past guest Elizabeth told us that:
"Since my husband doesn't want to travel abroad any more, I would be the only one driving. We previously visited many European destinations and always rented a car. I never thought I would go on a tour; I always wanted to travel independently.
But I longed to visit Ireland again, and since I was traveling solo, I began researching tours. I'm so very happy I took the plunge and booked with Vagabond Tours.
The connection with my fellow travelers and the tour guide (Damien) added so much to my trip. Best travel decision I've made in recent years. I especially appreciated the small group size and Damien's stories, jokes, and the background info he provided."
As you can see, our guests get to know each other and their tour guide very well. We make fun and laughter a top priority. Our cultural stops and optional activities will help everyone onboard bond.
Perfect if you're a solo traveller.
Did you know? Many of our past VagAlumni keep in contact long after their tour through our Vagabond & Driftwood Facebook group.
Get to Know Your Guide
The small-group nature of our tours holds another advantage: not only will your friendly VagaGuide tour guide be on first name terms with you, they'll get to know you properly, and vice versa.
Our compact tour vehicles mean that you won't have to shout to get your tour guide's attention!
Driftwooder Kathleen summed up her feelings about self-drive vs. touring in Ireland for us on Facebook brilliantly:
- You can enjoy every moment as someone else is driving.
- You can have that Bushmills or Writer's Tears or Kilbeggan with lunch (or breakfast, poured over oatmeal porridge at Ballygally Castle) because someone else is driving.
- The someone else who's driving may be a witty raconteur and delightful singer like Driftwood guide Mark Doherty. How Can I Experience The Real Ireland?
Experiencing The REAL Ireland
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but you may find it hard to see non-touristy things in Ireland on a self-drive vacation.
Our VagaGuides are all local and experts in all things Irish. They pride themselves on their insider knowledge of the best hidden gems around the island.
Since Rob led his first Vagabond tour back in 2002, we've built strong relationships with local suppliers and residents of the towns and villages we visit.
This means that you, as our guest, will receive an authentic Irish experience. We'll introduce you to our friends. Hear their stories, ask them questions and get a feel for what life is really like in Ireland.
Katy and Neil are typical of the characters you'll meet on a Vagabond or Driftwood tour. They're the chef and hotelier, respectively, at the family-owned Gougane Barra Hotel.
When your tour arrives at Gougane, Neil will be there to welcome you with a few words in Irish - this is the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht area after all! He'll explain Katy's evening menu in person. And he'll be there to wave you off in the morning.
The location of Gougane Barra is far off the beaten path in West Cork. Even most Irish people don't know it!
Like to know more? Email us your questions on firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Different Is Driving in Ireland?
Driving in Ireland may look similar to back home. But there are some key differences.
🤞 Difference #1: Narrow Irish Roads
Irish roads can be nerve wracking to drive but beautiful to look at. Narrow winding lanes with stone walls on either side makes for picture postcard images. But if you are not accustomed to driving on roads with limited space, a guided tour could be the best option.
⚙️ Difference #2: Driving Stick
Irish rental cars tend to have manual transmission. If you're used to driving automatic at home, make sure you rent an automatic.
👈 Difference #3: Driving on the Left
We drive on the left in Ireland. That means Irish cars are right hand drive (steering wheel and controls on the right).
🛑 Difference #4: Speeds in KMs
In Ireland, speedometers display speeds in kilometres per hour. Speed limits and distances on road signs are also in kilometres.
♻️ Difference #5: Different Road Layout
Road layouts are different in Ireland too. We ❤️ roundabouts!
What is a roundabout?
Where you might find a crossroads in North America, you'll most likely find a roundabout in Ireland. When entering a roundabout, you give way to traffic from the right.
Dan told us why he opted to tour for his first visit to Ireland:
It was my first time out of the states, and my first trip to Ireland. I was also doing the trip solo. Several factors such as driving, possibly getting lost, created some anxiety about being out in Ireland all by myself.
I knew I did not want a normal bus full of people tour. Vagabond offered activities and a small group. Also the tour visited many of the sites I wanted to see, especially the Skelligs. Loved that we hiked, kayaked, etc.
This tour gave me the confidence to go back to Ireland and do a self drive trip. Could not have done that without this first tour.
Added to all of the above, remember that Irish people giving directions have a uniquely poetic style.
Watch this comedy video to get a flavour:
If this all seems like too much to figure out, leave the roundabouts to our expert VagaGuide driver guides.