By Spreet Aulakh on January 11

A guide to driving in Europe

Exploring Europe by car offers fantastic opportunities. With so many incredible cities and locations connected by road, travelling by car affords you a freedom not given by other forms of transport. If you’re thinking about taking a drive across Europe, there are a few things you need to aware of - especially if you’re considering renting a vehicle. We’ve flagged major points below and pointed you in the right direction to find more specific information for your trip.

Europe car rental

If you’re renting a car for your trip around Europe, first you’ll need to tackle the rental desk. Thankfully, the process of booking and collecting a rental car is very similar in Ireland and Europe.

Booking online before you travel is always preferable. It means that your vehicle should be waiting for you at the rental collection desk and will make the process easier if you’re hiring in a country where you don’t speak the language. If you do choose to book online, you can reserve your vehicle from home and pay when you collect the car.

When booking, bear in mind any currency exchange that needs to be accounted for when paying. If you’re renting outside the Eurozone and paying on credit or debit card, currency exchange rates may affect what you think you’ll be paying. Check with your rental car provider about what exchange rate will be applied to your payment.

When you arrive at the rental desk, you may be offered a range of extras including vehicle upgrades or excess insurance. Don’t feel pressured into buying these if you think you don’t need them. You can book excess insurance from before you get to the rental desk and doing so may save you money.

Carefully read over the rental agreement before you sign. If necessary, request the agreement in your native language. The company is obliged to provide you with this. Check through for any additional fees that may be incurred, such as the standard damage tariff, before signing.

Once you’ve got your keys, look over your vehicle to ensure everything is as it should be and take photographs if you can. After a thorough check has been completed you are ready to start your trip.

Driving rules in Europe

The most important things to be aware of when driving in Europe are the legal restrictions on the road. These can vary country to country, so it’s best to check up on the specific requirements of each location you’re travelling to. We’ve highlighted some major points to be aware of.

What side of the road does Europe drive on?

One of the first things you’ll need to know is which way to turn out of the rental lot.

In Ireland, as in the UK, we drive on the left-hand-side of the road. The vast majority of Europe, however, drives on the right. The only exceptions to this are Cyprus and Malta.

If you’re worried about driving on the right-hand-side, consider renting an automatic vehicle, which gives you one less thing to worry about by eliminating the need to change gear with your right hand.

Speeding fines in Europe

Speed limits and speeding fines vary country to country. Check speed limits and signs before you travel. As in Ireland, speed limits in Europe are set in kilometres./p>

Be warned, fines vary significantly. In Albania, fines are as low as €20. In Norway, however, fines come to the equivalent of up to €944, along with an unconditional jail sentence.

Toll roads in Europe

A number of European countries, including Greece, Italy, France and Spain, have highway toll charges that must be paid to travel on motorways.

In many counties you can pay this toll using a credit card, but if you’re travelling outside the Eurozone a currency exchange will apply. For this reason, it may be useful to hang on to loose change, helping you to pass through tolls quickly and without danger of additional expenses.

Some countries also require you to display vignettes in your car window to evidence that you have paid the relevant road tax. This includes Austria, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Switzerland and others. In some countries, you’ll need a vignette to drive anywhere, but in others they’re only required on certain types of roads. Research which of these are necessary in countries you’ll be visiting before you go.

Driving requirements in Europe

If you are 18 or over, you’re able to drive in all EEA countries on a full Irish driving licence. In Austria, Hungary and the UK, you can drive from the age of 17.

If you’re driving in Europe, outside of the EU, you’ll need to apply for an international driving permit (IDP). These are available to all full Irish driving licence holders, they cost €15 and you can obtain one through AA travel services.

Rental car age restriction

Although you can legally drive across Europe from the age of 18, you may find that rental car companies have additional age restrictions.

The minimum age for rental that you’ll find is 21, but most suppliers require a minimum age of between 23 and 25 years of age. If you’re under 25, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to pay a young driver surcharge when renting a vehicle.

Bear in mind that most car rental companies won’t rent to those over 75 either.

Car rental in Europe between countries

One of the major bonuses of renting a car in Europe is the ease with which you can travel between countries. But bear in mind there are some limits to where you can go.

The insurance of your hire company may not cover all countries, so check ahead that you’ll be covered everywhere you want to visit. This has nothing to do with the insurance you choose but is down to the insurance of the rental company themselves.

You might be tempted to choose a ‘one way’ rental option, where you can pick up your car in one country but drop it off in another. This tends to be expensive, however, so it’s advisable to build your trip in a loop so you can drop off where you picked up – saving you money in the process.

It is possible to take a rental car from Ireland or the UK to Europe, but in these cases, you’ll often be subject to a surcharge for taking the car out of the country and across the channel. It might be cheaper to just hire when you arrive on the mainland.

With a quick look into this information, you’ll be all set for your European trip.