Whether you’re visiting Northern Ireland on a short break, a newcomer who has just arrived, or a returning emigrant, the reality is that you’ll need to know how to get around once you land. For many people, the safest and most convenient way of doing this is by driving. So, whether you choose to rent or buy a car for your time in Ireland the reality is that you need to be as prepared as possible. Our helpful guide should provide you with all the information you require to make driving in Northern Ireland as seamless and stress-free as possible.
What to expect when driving in Northern Ireland
Like their neighbours to the south, drivers in Northern Ireland drive on the left-hand side of the road, and typically share many of the same rules that regulate roads there. Unlike in the Republic of Ireland, speed limit signs in Northern Ireland are displayed in miles rather than kilometres which is beneficial for drivers from the United States but less so for those from Canada or continental Europe.
One of the challenges that many drivers from North America find when driving in Northern Ireland is the narrowness and windiness of many of roads. If you’re typically used to driving on wide, three or four-lane highways, referred to as motorways in Northern ireland, it can definitely take somewhat of an adjustment getting used to the smaller Northern Irish roads. That said, there’s also plenty of wide and impressive motorways in the region, most notably the M1 which is the longest motorway in Northern Ireland.
Another important point to remember when it comes to driving in Northern Ireland is that the vast majority of cars and vehicles are manual and not automatic. If your driving experience is limited exclusively to automatic vehicles, then you may need to consider what driving habits you need to alter before getting out on the road.
Finally, it is important to remember that in Northern Ireland it is illegal to talk on your mobile/cell phone while driving. You will get a significant fine and three penalty points added to your driving license. Northern Ireland has a strict system in place to make sure the rules of the road are adhered to. This is in the form of a penalty points system that penalizes motorists who are not compliant with the laws that are in place.
Northern Ireland’s road network
Typically, motorways in Northern Ireland are located in the immediate vicinity of Belfast, in Northern Ireland and while driving in Ireland, you will meet motorways around Dublin. They are marked by the letter M followed by a numeral, for instance the M2.
A roads are next in size and connect most of the main cities. Some A roads like the A1 going south from Belfast to Banbridge, Newry and joining the M1 in the Republic, or the A8 going from Belfast to Larne are mostly dual carriageways (two-laned) and fairly efficient. Other A roads are smaller and more likely to encounter traffic congestion. If you are planning trips to or from Enniskillen or Derry, be prepared for slow progress at times.
Beyond the M and A roads there are numerous smaller roads that connect smaller towns, villages and rural areas to each other. Often very scenic, these roads tend to be very narrow and not always well signposted.