If you’re planning a trip to explore all over Scotland, renting a car may be a great option for you. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about getting a rental car and driving in Scotland, including where to find the best deals.
With lush rolling hills blanketed in green, quaint villages dotting the countryside, and wild beaches begging to be explored, there’s no arguing that taking a road trip around Scotland is the best way to see the country.
While cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow are very accessible via public transportation, getting around the Scottish countryside is nearly impossible without renting a car.
The big cities are great (and absolutely worth seeing!), but you will see an entirely different side of Scotland once you hit the open road.
Renting a car in Scotland will give you the freedom to really explore this special place.
You can drive through charming seaside villages, pop into a charming put for a cozy meal, and stop off at any trailhead that’s calling your name.
It’s pretty freaking magical.
Now, we personally rented a campervan to explore Scotland, but if camping isn’t your thing (we get it!) or you don’t feel comfortable driving a big rig (we also get it!), renting a car in Scotland may be the better option for you.
Before you stick the keys in the ignition (on the right side of the vehicle!), there are a few pretty important things you should know about driving in Scotland…
In this article, we’re sharing how to choose the best rental car for your needs, plus, we’re sharing all sorts of essential tips for driving in Scotland that you won’t want to miss.
Truly, driving in Scotland is the adventure of a lifetime, and we’re here to guide you through everything you need to know to feel comfortable behind the wheel.
- Tips for driving in Scotland
- Parking & gas stations
- Renting a car
- Itinerary for driving around Scotland
Other resources for planning your trip
- Best Time to Visit Scotland: When to Go & When to Avoid
- Best Campervan Hire in Scotland: Ultimate Guide
- How to Plan the Ultimate Scotland Road Trip
- Epic Places to Visit in Scotland
- Perfect 2-Week Scotland Road Trip Itinerary
Tips for driving in Scotland
Whether you are renting a car, a campervan, or an RV, there are some things you should know about driving in Scotland. We thought long and hard about all the things we wished we would have known before our trip, and put them together in one convenient place for you.
Hopefully our advice will help ease your nerves about driving in Scotland and you can learn from our mistakes and avoid getting (expensive!) tickets while on your road trip!
1. In Scotland they drive on the left side of the road
You’re researching renting a car in Scotland, so hopefully you are already well aware of this!
If you’re used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, we have a few pieces of advice:
- If this will be your first time driving on the left-hand side, we’d recommend specifically choosing an automatic vehicle, so you don’t have to think about stick shift and driving on the opposite side of the road.
- You may also want to choose a vehicle that is roughly the size of your own car (if possible) so that you’re only throwing one new thing into the mix.
- The first day will be a little tricky, so don’t plan on driving too long of a distance. Give yourself some time to get used to it, and it will get easier! Pretty soon, it’ll feel totally normal, and when you get home you’ll have to remind yourself how to drive on the right-hand side!
- You got this!
2. There are roundabouts everywhere
They are all over the country – from tiny villages to the big cities – so be prepared. Some of them are very small while others have several lanes.
Be sure to yield to the traffic to the right of you.
3. The roads can get very narrow
Like very narrow.
Many of the roads were constructed long ago when people used horses to get around. Yes, really! So it makes sense that they’re not very roomy.
Keep this in mind, especially if you’re driving a campervan or larger vehicle. We had a few close encounters when we were driving through small villages that had old stone walls lining the street.
There are a lot of 2-way roads that really are only big enough for one vehicle at a time.
When you encounter this, be patient.
You might need to pull over and wait for oncoming traffic to stop. There are often small pull-outs (called “passing places”) for this purpose, so keep a lookout for them.
4. Get an eSIM to help with navigation
We used Airalo to get data during our trip and it was seamless!
Plus, our 10G of data was super affordable, at just $22.50.
It was really nice knowing that we were using local cell towers so we had the best coverage possible. That said, there are some places in the Scottish countryside where cell service is weak or non-existent.
For that reason, it’s important to follow the next tip…
Psst! Will you be traveling in more than one country? Use our ultimate guide to getting an international SIM card, including helpful tips for using your phone abroad.
5. Download offline Google Maps just in case
We always recommend downloading the offline version of Google Maps so that you can still have access to your GPS location and the map when you go out of cell range.
Psst! This article explains how to download offline Google Maps if you’re not familiar with the process.
6. Pack a phone mount
One thing that is often overlooked when renting a car is having a place to keep your phone while driving.
I don’t know about you, but I love being able to see Google Maps without craning my neck or looking down in my lap. Been there, done that, and it’s not fun (or safe!).
Pack your phone mount from home (or get a new portable one specifically for travel) so that you can have your navigation conveniently displayed. It’ll make getting around so much easier, I promise!
7. Know the speed limits
Speed limit signs are circular and outlined in red. The number on them will be in miles per hour.
Most large highways have a speed limit of 70mph.
If you don’t see a speed limit sign, Google Maps should tell you what it is. However, drive at the speed you’re comfortable with, and allow others to pass you when there are opportunities.
8. There are speed cameras on the highways
There are typically signs letting you know your speed is being monitored by CCTV.
Don’t be a dummy, follow the speed limit and you won’t be stuck with tons of outlying speeding ticket fees.
9. Parking can be difficult in big cities
The most stressful thing about our road trip in Scotland was finding parking in big cities.
If possible, don’t rent a car until after your stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
It’s very easy to get around by walking and using public transport in both of these cities, so having a car is not necessary.
That said, maybe you’ll be staying in one of the big cities in the middle of your trip. If this is the case, we’d advise to make sure your accommodation provides parking. If they don’t, ask them where they’d recommend parking.
If you’re just visiting just for the day, search “public parking” in Google Maps to be led to the nearest lot.
Insider Tip: If you are driving a motorhome, it is also a good idea to view Google Maps in “satellite mode” so you can see if it is a lot or a parking garage. You can also see if it is spacious enough for your vehicle. Sometimes on satellite mode, we would see other large vehicles in the lot, which was a good sign for us.
I will say that our motorhome was a little tricky to maneuver in some public parking lots, as it was bigger than a typical parking space, leading to a few stressful situations.
10. Many paid parking lots monitor using CCTV
For some lots, this means your license plate is recorded the moment you enter.
When you want to leave the lot, the machine will tell you how much you owe based on their surveillance. It’s pretty nifty, actually because you only pay for the exact amount of time you’re parked.
However, sometimes, it’s not so obvious, as illustrated in our experience below…
Word of warning:
Some lots require you to pay for parking up front, but then are still monitored by CCTV.
For example, we parked at a public lot in Inverness where we paid for 2 hours of parking up front.
Our lunch went a little long, and we returned to our campervan 20 minutes after our parking expired. There was no ticket on our windshield, so we thought we were okay.
However, when we returned home, we received an email from our campervan rental company that the vehicle had been ticketed in that lot, and we had to pay a fine of £45.
The lesson here is if you need to pay for parking up front, choose an amount of time you know you won’t exceed, as the lot may be using CCTV to make sure you don’t overstay.
11. Look out for sheep
The Isle of Skye was one place where we saw a lot of sheep.
When driving in rural areas be careful because livestock is likely nearby. There are often signs that warn you of these areas, but you should always be on the lookout.
And in forested areas, like Cairngorms National Park, be on the lookout for deer.
12. There are some really funny road signs.
Keep an eye out for some en route entertainment.
Here are just a couple of funny ones we say while driving in Scotland:
“Elderly People Crossing”
“Red Squirrels 3 ¼ miles” (how specific!)
13. Know what to do in case of an accident
999 is the emergency number to call.
However, it’s also good to know if your rental car company has a number to call for towing or maintenance.
14. Pack this just in case…
Whenever we rent a car or campervan in another country, we travel with this portable jumpstart kit.
While driving the Ring Road in Iceland, our campervan died in a parking lot. We had no cell service. And no other vehicles nearby had jumper cables (as it was a touristy area and most people were also travelers).
It started torrentially raining, and we had to hitchhike to a nearby farm (after knocking on at least 5 other doors!) in order to finally get jumper cables.
Immediately after returning home, we bought this super portable jumpstart kit that allows you to self-jump, meaning you don’t need to have another vehicle nearby.
This is especially a good idea if you’ll be traveling through the Scottish countryside where you might be in some remote areas.
So learn from our travel horror story and pack your own portable jumpstart kit just in case! Hopefully you won’t have to use it, but it will give you peace of mind knowing you won’t be stranded.
And you won’t have to hitchhike in the pouring rain, like we did!
BTW: Yes, you can fly with it! Since the jumpstart kit has lithium batteries, you must pack it in your carryon bag.
15. Don’t drive after a pint
This one should be obvious. At this point, we should all be able to agree that drinking and driving is wildly dangerous.
However, this is on our list because Scotland has some of the strictest drinking and driving laws in the world. Since 2014, their laws are even more stringent than England, Ireland and Wales.
The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05%, whereas this limit is 0.08% in the USA and England.
This equates to less than one glass of wine or pint of beer.
So if you plan to have a drink with a meal before hopping behind the wheel, make sure it’s a non-alcoholic one or that you give yourself enough time between the beverage and driving.
16. Don’t get distracted by the scenery
This is a tough one because Scotland is freaking beautiful, but, keep your eyes on the road!
It can be tempting to want to look at all the stunning scenery, so when the urge strikes, look for a pull out (there are plenty!) where you can pause and enjoy the landscape.
Parking in Scotland
Most parking lots we encountered – whether in the city or countryside – required payment.
Be sure you read tips #9 and #10 on the list above for some parking-specific tips.
Gas stations in Scotland
First things first: Gas is called petrol in the United Kingdom.
That’s right, you will be filling up your tank at petrol stations.
Another thing to point out for all our friends from the United States is that in Scotland, gas is sold by the liter.
So even though the price may seem cheap, that number you see is for a much smaller amount of gas. (FYI a liter is just about ¼ of a gallon.)
It’s not uncommon for vehicles to use diesel. Be sure to clarify what type your car takes before pulling out of the rental lot.
Our motorhome took diesel, and we found it was available at every petrol station we stopped at, so it wasn’t really an inconvenience.
Petrol stations are located all over Scotland; but just like driving anywhere in the world, it’s smart to fill up before going into more remote areas just to be safe.
Driving in Scotland FAQs
Have more questions about what it’s like to drive in Scotland? We’ve got your driving and car rental questions answered!
Is driving in Scotland difficult?
The answer to this question is very subjective and depends a lot on you and your past driving experience.
To be honest, it takes a minute to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road if it’s not something you’re used to. But after 2 days or so, it started feeling pretty normal.
The hardest part about driving in Scotland, in our opinion, was navigating the narrow roads. This was especially true for us as we were driving a large motorhome.
How expensive is gas in Scotland?
Well, it ain’t cheap!
And compared to what we pay at home in the United States, prices for gas in Scotland were higher.
Gas prices fluctuate, so it’s hard to put a number here. But when we visited in September 2022, we filled up our tank three times and each fill up was just over £100. Remember, this was for a campervan, so a car with a smaller tank will be less expensive.
If budget is important for you, be sure to factor the cost of gas into the cost of your car rental.
Do I need an international drivers license to rent a car or campervan in Scotland?
Most likely, no!
Unless your home country’s license is in a non-Roman language (Japanese, Russian, etc.), you will not need an international drivers license.
Can I cross from Scotland into England with my rental car?
Yes! There is not an immigration check at the border or any customs, so you’ll have no problem traveling between Scotland and England in a rental car.
How old do you need to be when renting a car in Scotland?
The driving age in Scotland is 17, however, you must be 21 years old to rent a car.
It is worth noting that, like many places around the world, most rental car companies will have a “young driver fee” for those under 26 years of age.
How to choose the best rental car for your Scotland road trip
Feeling pretty confident about driving in Scotland after soaking up all those tips?
Good! You’ll be more prepared than most people renting a car in Scotland.
I think you’re just about ready!
But first, there are a handful of things that are very important when choosing a rental car for your Scotland road trip…
Trust me when I say these factors can make or break your experience.
Here are some factors to consider as you’re choosing your Scotland rental car:
Manual vs. automatic transmission
Many vehicles in the UK are manual transmission.
Keep this in mind when searching for a rental vehicle, and be sure you know what you are renting.
Automatic transmission vehicles will cost more, but it will likely be worthwhile if you’re not used to manual.
Also, learning to manually stick shift while on the opposite side of the car than you’re used to can be a challenge.
Location of pick up and drop off
If you plan to pick up the car and drop it off in different locations, be sure to put this in your search query as it can affect the price.
Insider Tip: If you have flexibility in your itinerary, you may want to play around with different options so you can see which is the most budget-friendly.
Size of vehicle
In general, we’d recommend getting the smallest size vehicle that will work for you.
Obviously, you’ll need one that will fit your luggage and your party; but don’t go big just because!
Often when renting a car in the USA, we opt for a larger vehicle to have the extra space. However, as we mentioned in the driving tips above, the roads in the UK are much, much narrower than in the United States and Canada. Trust me when I say you’ll be happy you went for the smaller vehicle.
If this will be your first time driving on the left-hand side of the road, we’d recommend renting a vehicle that is similar in size to what you’re used to driving at home.
This will make the transition to the opposite side of the road a bit easier, as you will only have one major difference to deal with at a time.
Before choosing the cheapest rental car possible, we’d really recommend considering what it will be like to drive that specific vehicle.
Is it automatic or manual?
Is it a different size than you’re used to driving?
Budget should definitely be a factor, but make sure that you’re not cutting corners, as you want to feel comfortable behind the wheel when driving in a different country.
Insider Tips: We like using Rentalcars.com to compare prices between different companies. Before making a booking, we like looking at reviews of that specific rental car company location on Google Maps to make sure it is a reputable branch and we won’t have issues with customer service.
We found that it was not necessary to have 4-wheel drive on our Scotland road trip.
Unless you’re planning to drive in very remote areas or in the wintertime, 4WD isn’t a necessity.
We almost always turn down the CWD insurance offered by the rental car company, as we book rental car reservations using a credit card that has rental car insurance.
Check the fine print of your credit card to see if this is covered. Hint: Most major credit cards do!
Psst! We have more info on travel credit cards here.
Also, we NEVER travel without travel insurance. This should cover your rental car as well. But as with anything, be sure you check the fine print.
Renting a car in Scotland
We personally like using Discover Cars when we rent vehicles around the world, as they gather options from all sorts of rental companies in one place.
It makes it really easy to compare prices and vehicles so you can determine which is the best option for you.
Search & Compare Rental Car Prices
- Discover Cars: We personally use this aggregate site to compare rental car prices from all the big name companies and get the best price possible.
- RentalCars.com: We’ve had good experiences finding rental cars with this site in the past.
When you pick up your rental car, don’t forget these 2 things…
There are two things you don’t want to forget when you are picking up your rental car:
Take photos of the exterior
Hopefully you’ll never need these, but if the rental car company tries to charge you for damage that wasn’t your fault, you can prove it was already there.
We’ve personally never needed to dispute this, but it’s a good practice no matter where in the world you are renting a car.
Ask where the spare tire is
I always forget about this, but Ben comes in clutch and asks about the spare.
Heaven forbid you get a flat tire while driving in the Scottish countryside… you don’t want to be standing on the side of the road trying to search for your spare tire!
Want the perfect itinerary for driving around Scotland?
Raise your hand if you don’t want to spend hours of time researching and you just want all the info right at your fingertips!
If your hand is up, keep reading…
If you like the research, all the power to you! Feel free to use our itinerary outlines as a starting point as well as our city guides for ideas of things to do (we’ve got a bunch of them!):
- Things to do in Edinburgh
- Things to do in Glasgow
- Things to Do in Isle of Skye
- Things to Do in Inverness
- Places to visit in Scotland (including some of the smaller towns)
But if you want to save some hours of your life, we’ve already put in more than enough for you and us combined. Trust us.
And we’re happy to share everything we learned — from digging through reviews, Youtube and all sorts of Internet rabbit holes, as well as actually being in Scotland and taking our very own dream road trip!
We’ve curated what we think is the perfect Scotland road trip, and we want you to be able to copy our route!
In this 2-week itinerary, you’ll find:
- Can’t miss sights and experiences
- Where to eat
- suggestions for what to order
- Where to stay (whether you’re camping or doing hotels)
- the best campsites to stay on the route
- unique guesthouses along the way
- Insider Tips
- Suggestions for extending this trip
We’ve spent hours of research putting this all together, just for you!
In full transparency, this is a paid itinerary since it has taken an incredible amount of time for us to create.
However, we keep all of our paid itineraries affordable – just $17 for an entire 2-week itinerary. We think this is an incredible value considering almost all your planning will be done for you!
Are you planning a trip to Scotland?
We have lots of resources on travel in Scotland and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Scotland Travel Homepage for everything you need to know, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- Best Places to Visit in Scotland
- Best Campervan Hire in Scotland
- Insanely Fun Things to Do in Edinburgh
- Best Airbnbs in Edinburgh
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We want to hear from you!
Are you planning on getting a car rental in Scotland and still have questions? Leave your comment below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!