With stunning landscapes and quiet country roads, the Emerald Isle is a destination that basically begs for a road trip. Some people argue that the best way to explore every corner of Ireland is by camper-van. Traveling in a camper-van in Ireland has become more affordable and popular, but the mode of transportation still retains a certain mystique of driving off into the unknown.
However, if you want to be sure of a smooth drive and hope to avoid serious problems (like running out of fuel, which we get to below), driving a camper-van in Ireland requires a certain amount of planning. Camping in Ireland is certainly an enjoyable, but also challenging experience. Be prepared for the trip of a lifetime with these local tips:
Renting a Campervan in Ireland
First things first - if you are living in Great Britain or in Europe and you already own a camper-van, you will more than likely want to use your own vehicle in Ireland. This has several advantages, first and foremost being that you are already familiar with your own vehicle and know how it handles, what its dimensions are, and what that clanking sound in the back is.
Already owning your own camper-van in Britain or Europe does, however, mean that you have to get the vehicle to Ireland. It means you will have to drive to one of the nearest ports and catch a ferry to Ireland. Taking the ferry to Ireland can turn out to be pretty expensive compared to flying but this depends on time and route.
Be sure to check prices and do the math because at times it can actually be much cheaper to catch a flight to Ireland and then rent a camper-van on the island. Companies like Celtic Campervans or Bunk Campers, to name but two, will help.
And speaking of costs - if you do decide on the ferry, it can pay off to stock up on food and snacks before boarding. The prices for meals on board can easily reach the dizzy heights of a luxury restaurant ... minus the luxury, and occasionally minus taste.
In Ireland - Curbed Freedom
Having finally reached Ireland (or picked up your rental), you'll soon be facing another challenge - where to stay. One of the reasons to opt for a camper-van is to have the freedom to stop and stay wherever you like, but this is simply not always possible in Ireland. In many places, you will find posted signs that prohibit overnight stays in parking lots or by the side of the road. Even trickier, other places will have an entrance gate that will only allow vehicles through that are below two meters (about 6 feet) in height. This is enforced with the help of a solid steel so-called "tinker bar" across the road which will do serious damage to the car if it is too high.
The restrictions have come about to discourage non-settled minorities from claiming these areas for semi-permanent residency. Laws have also been passed in recent years that severely penalize overnight or longer parking in restricted areas or without the explicit permission of the owner private land. Tourists will generally be warned to move on and behave in future, repeat offenders may see the offending vehicle impounded.
Several guidebooks do carry the hint simply to ignore signs but this is not recommended and could make it harder for everyone hoping to travel by camper-van in Ireland in the future.
Staying in a Caravan Park
The totally legal way to stay overnight anywhere in Ireland is in a designated area camping area that allows camper-vans. While these may be popular in some parts of Europe, they are almost non-existent or at least very hard to find in Ireland. That means that so-called caravan parks, which are similar to RV parks in the United States, are the best way to go.
As there is no central database for RV parks in Ireland so it requires a bit of research and information from the internet, from booklets or brochures you find as you drive along, on other sites or in tourist information offices. Asking around to find out by word of mouth, amongst fellow caravan users or through the management of the site you are currently staying is another sure way to find your next place to stay.
Prices vary from park to park and do not always reflect the level of the facilities you can find. Generally speaking, caravan parks in Northern Ireland were of a palpably better standard than in the Republic.
Time of the Year
Adding to the confusion is the variable "season" that can be found among the approved RV parks. In Ireland, most caravan parks are open between March and October, usually between Saint Patrick's Day and the October Bank Holiday.
But, and this is a big BUT ... many caravan parks only run at full service only between mid-May and late August. Outside these times you are likely still able to stay there, but all of the advertised amenities may not be available. Call and ask by phone if you need something urgently!
The Gas Problem
When I personally traveled in Ireland via campervan, we had three bottles of gas packed... or so I thought. Actually, I managed to skip checking the bottles properly, only to find out that one was half full, and the others empty. It was seriously time for a refill.
Now here comes the crunch - those bottles of gas you buy and refill on the Continent are not compatible with those in Ireland. The gas is, but the fittings are not. So your bottles cannot be swapped for full ones, they also cannot be refilled without converting (and later reconverting) them. Which will lead to cold, dark nights and no hot food except a takeaway.
The only source we could find was through the Flogas network - you should check with them for possible refill points before traveling, contact email and phone numbers are on the Flogas website.