Mini burgundy car parked on the side of the road in the Scottish Highlands, on a cloudy day. In front of the car, there is a sign that says "Passing Place". The area behind the car is completely fenced off, with green and brown rolling hills of the Highlands behind the fence.

15 Things to Know Driving in Scotland as a Tourist

Driving in Scotland is the best way to get around and discover hidden gems of this beautiful region.

If you’ve seen Outlander or any photos of Scotland, you already know that the most scenic places are in the countryside. 

Public transport can only take you so far on a schedule, and getting a taxi everywhere will quickly drain your travel budget.

That’s why I rented a car during my one-week trip to Scotland! It was a great way to discover the country and see more remote places like Glen Coe and the Isle of Skye.

Let’s get right into what you need to know and the best tips for driving in Scotland!

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15 Things to Know Before Driving in Scotland 

Parking lot with a row of cars at the Edinburgh Airport in Scotland, taken in the evening with blue skies. There are a few street lamps behind the cars lit up, and a hotel at a distance lit up with pink neon lights.

1. Car Rentals are Expensive 

Car rentals in Scotland are expensive at first glance but take a look at the cost of taxis and shuttle buses. 

Taxi fares get expensive quickly, especially if you’re planning on leaving Edinburgh or Glasgow to go explore the Scottish Highlands. A taxi ride from Edinburgh to Inverness starts at £170.  

When planning my Scotland itinerary, I found it cheaper to rent a car than take taxis, shuttles, or tours everywhere. I was changing hotels almost every night and had many adventure activities planned, that were much slower to reach by public transit or couldn’t be reached without a car. 

With a rental car, you have the freedom to explore without worrying about schedules. And there’s so much to do your schedule will be jam-packed!

Figure out what you want to do while in Scotland and see if the cost makes sense for you.

A row of three cars in a parking lot, taken on a cloudy day. On the left, the car is a grey Ford, with the license plate that says "SI3 ODL". In the middle is a burgundy Fiat, with the license plate "WO2I MXW". On the right is a navy blue minivan. Behind the cars, there is a wall dividing them and a red train passing by.

2. Knowing What Vehicle to Choose

One of the great things about driving in Scotland is that you don’t need a 4×4 or SUV unless you want one. The roads are paved almost everywhere, so it makes choosing a vehicle easier because it’s more about comfort than necessity. 

I do recommend not getting a mini car though unless you are travelling solo. 

I accidentally rented a Fiat 500 and it was like trying to cram 3 people into a clown car. My knees were uncomfortably in the dashboard and there was almost no room for luggage and souvenirs. 

Also, make sure you rent an automatic and don’t get a standard by accident (unless you know how to drive one).

3. Don’t Need an International Driver’s License

Unlike many destinations where you need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), you don’t need one to drive in Scotland

While there are variations in rules for some nationals, driving in Scotland with US license, Canadian license, EU license, or basically any other permit written in English is allowed!

Just double check the expiry date before you go! Mine ended up being expired and my travel partner had to do all the driving.

A street in Scotland on a cloudy day, with old light brown buildings on each side. On the left, there is a McDonald's the golden M sign on it. There are is a McDonald's employee in red, and 2 children and another adult wearing red passing by. On the streets, there is a grey car driving away from the photo on the left lane. On the right lane, there is a red car driving towards the right side of the photo. This photo demonstrates what it's like to drive in Scotland as a tourist.

4. Drive on the Left Side of the Road

In Scotland, they drive on the left side of the road.

If you are used to driving on the right side of the road, like us Canadians, it will take some getting used to. 

Driving in Scotland for the first time can feel intimidating, but the key is to take the time to think it through and stay alert, especially at intersections and roundabouts.

In Edinburgh and Glasgow, there are dedicated right-turning lanes at major intersections. Roundabouts enter on the left, going clockwise instead of counterclockwise.

When in doubt, just follow the car in front of you. We found it much easier to drive outside of Edinburgh and got the hang of driving on the left before our 1-week trip was over.

Get an automatic vehicle if you aren’t used to driving on the left side, to not have to learn two things at once. We accidentally got a standard, but luckily we had practice driving on the left in Antigua.

Photo shows two people on the front seats of a car, with the dashboard featuring a map directing the driver. Beyond the front mirror, is a freeway in Scotland taken during sunset with the sun on the right side of the photo. 

A few yards away from the car, there is an orange truck. There is also a car driving on the opposite side on the right.

On the left side, there are trees and a brick wall.

The driver is on the right side, steering the car, while the passenger is on the left side. This is to demonstrate that people in Scotland drive on the left side, unlike in the US and Canada where they drive on the right side.

5. Drive on the Right Side of the Vehicle

If you thought driving on the left side was confusing, Scotland vehicles are right-hand drive, with the steering wheel positioned on the right side of the car. 

While your foot pedals are in the same order, your gear stick, wipers, and signal are all reversed from driving in Canada and the US. You might try to signal and accidentally turn on your wipers a few times before you get the hang of it. Or more than a few times like us.

If you aren’t used to sitting on the right side to drive, use extra caution, especially when navigating roundabouts and tight corners.

I kept going to the driver’s side trying to get into the passenger seat.

A single track road in the Scottish Highlands for drivers, taken on a cloudy day. There are three black and white posts on the right side of the track, and one post on the left. The poles are standing on some lush green grass.

At a distance, there is a sheep grazing on the grass, a creek, a few bushy trees scattered, a white house on the left, and hills with the single tracks.

6. Be Prepared For Single Track Roads

As you leave Edinburgh behind and head towards the Scottish Highlands, the roads get progressively narrower. You’ll quickly get to single-track mountain roads from the 3-lane Central Scotland motorway outside of Edinburgh.

While driving scenic mountain roads in Scotland is the major part of the experience, single-track roads can be stressful. 

These roads are only wide enough for one vehicle, so they are best enjoyed when you’re the only one on the road.

It can be frustrating if somebody is driving right behind you, and there is no space to overtake, so they are pressuring you to drive faster instead of enjoying the view. 

Also, it is quite an experience going uphill and seeing there’s another vehicle coming toward you and you have to find a passing place to move so you can both pass. 

A passing place in Scotland, taken on a cloudy day with dry brown grass and a single tree on both sides of the road. At a distance, there are some brown mountains. A few yards away, there is a car driving towards the mountains.

A passing place is where you are supposed to stop and let the driver on the opposite side pass by. This is a common type of road in Scotland.

7. Dedicated Passing Places

If you don’t know what a passing place is, it is widening in single track roads where you’re supposed to stop to give way to the car coming from the opposite direction.

These are very common when driving Scottish Highlands, as the narrow, winding roads weren’t designed for heavy traffic.

There are no rules on which vehicle passes first, so you need to be aware of other road users to know when it’s time to move into the dedicated passing spots. 

Usually, the car closer to the passing place goes in and stops. Remember to always go to the passing place on your side of the road (the left side).

A road with two lanes in Scotland, taken on a bright and sunny day with minimal clouds. On both sides of the road, the grass is lush green with some trees, and it's fenced off. There are also signs on both sides of the street that say "Thank you for driving safely"

8. Know the Speed Limit

Speed limits in Scotland are lower than you might be used to in Canada and USA. 

The standard speed limit for driving in built-up areas is 30 mph (48 km/h). 

The speed limit increases on single and dual carriageways and motorways to 60 mph (96 km/h) and 70 mph (112 km/h) respectively. 

You’ll also see signs with locally set speed limits throughout the country, where the road conditions require lower driving speed.

It is important to respect speed limits as there are speed cameras along the roads, and you can get stopped by the police and fined. The minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine! Your rental car might notify you like mine did, beeping when we were in average speed camera zones to be mindful.

Funnily enough, if you see a blue speed limit sign, that is the minimum speed! It means that if you want to slow down and enjoy the scenery, you should park and get out of the car.

A roundabout in Scotland, which is a circle painted white on the road and arrows directing drivers to go in a clockwise direction. On the front of the photo shows some fresh green grass. There is a treeline at a distance with green and brown trees, charming white houses with brown roofs, and deep brown mountains. This photo was taken on a cloudy day.

9. Roundabouts are Everywhere

If you think driving in Scotland is easy so far, wait until you hear about the Scottish roundabouts. 

The ones with several lanes are complicated enough on their own, but add driving in the opposite direction to that equation! Yes, driving rules in Scotland are the same as in the UK so the roundabouts go in a clockwise direction.

While driving in major cities, you have to be in the correct lane that will exit where you want before you get into the traffic circle. And then the road slowly spirals you towards your exit.

And the roundabouts on the edges of Edinburgh are intense! Getting to my one hotel near the airport was quite the challenge! We definitely messed the first one up but the locals adjusted to us, sorry about that.

A road in Scotland with grass and trees on both sides, with brown mountains at a distance on a cloudy day. On the road, there are two potholes that got patched.

On the left side of the road, there is a triangular-shaped white sign with a thick red outline. In the sign, there is a thick line that curves to the upper right area, signaling the driver to turn right.

10. Beware of Potholes and Scams

You need to pay attention to potholes when driving, as many roads in Scotland are in surprisingly bad condition

The number of potholes in Scotland is among the highest in the country, and Glasgow is nicknamed the pothole capital of the world! 

While it is an exaggeration, you should be aware of potholes, especially when driving on country roads.

They warn you when you pick up your rental car, but I personally found them not as bad as the ones in Central America. I damaged my rental car in Costa Rica driving into a pothole, so I learned my lesson. 

While watching out for potholes, also watch out for rental scams. I fell victim to a tire damage scam after dropping off my car in Edinburgh at the Enterprise Airport location. They told me I was covered when I bought the rental insurance, but all of a sudden didn’t cover it so I had to pay out of pocket. Which is sad, because I generally like renting with Enterprise.

A road in Scotland, taken on a cloudy day. This photo was taken from Melissa's rental car, as there are raindrops on the front window. There is an oncoming car on the opposite side, which is on the right side. This indicates that people in Scotland drive on the left side.

There are trees, grass, and brown hills at a distance. On the left side, there is a river or a creek.

11. Watch the Weather

Scotland’s weather can be unpredictable, with conditions ranging from sunshine to rain and fog within a matter of hours. 

The best time to visit Scotland for road trips is summer because scenic routes are prone to weather-related disruptions. 

The less travelled roads in the Highlands are not the first to be cleared if it snows, so you might need to drive in snow and icy conditions.

You can check traffic conditions live, so you know about major traffic disruptions, including weather warnings. 

A storm was coming in to the east coast when we were getting ready to drive from Inverness to Fort William. So we quickly had to move up the time of our Loch Ness cruise and get on the road earlier. We got caught in some rain but missed most of the storm.

A road in Scotland at night, which is pitch black at a distance. The photo was taken from Melissa's rental car, so their beams are shining some light. You can see the grass and bushes on both sides of the road, the center divider painted, and a deer walking by on the right side.

12. Keep an Eye Out for Wildlife

Scotland’s countryside is home to plenty of wildlife, including deer, sheep, and highland cattle

Exercise caution, especially when driving at dusk or dawn, and be prepared to slow down or stop for crossing animals.

We saw 10-12 deer in the span of 5 minutes while driving from Skye after the Old Mann of Storr hike to Fort William at night. 

13. Pay for Gas Inside

You won’t have a problem finding gas stations when driving in Edinburgh, as they are everywhere. 

I prefer the ones next to large shopping centers, as they are easy to reach, you can pay at the pump, and you can get road trip snacks in the supermarket at the same time!

However, once you leave the city, gas stations are more scarce, and you should plan your trip accordingly so you don’t run out of gas!

Also, many of these countryside gas stations aren’t open 24/7

They have staff working there, and you’ll have to go inside the shop to pay for gas once you fill up your car. 

Double-check which type of petrol your rental car needs – diesel or gasoline! It is usually written on the cap, and you don’t want to load the wrong kind accidentally.

A paid parking lot in Scotland at Urquhart Castle with 5 parked vehicles, taken on a sunny day with a few clouds and bright green and orange trees.

14. Paid Parking

While you won’t have to pay tolls on Scottish roads, you’ll have to pay for parking nearly everywhere

If you want to save money, consider picking places to stay in Scotland with free parking.

I was prepared to pay for parking in the cities, but I was surprised to see parking machines even on trail parking in the mountains! Even for the Fairy Pools hike.

Luckily, almost every machine also takes cards, so you don’t have to worry about having coins on you.

And when you pay for parking at hiking trails, you will have access to staff, nice paved lots and clean washrooms. So the cost felt reasonable.

A road in Scotland taken at night, with navy blue skies. There are silhouettes of the trees on both sides of the road. The photo was taken in Melissa's rental car, and their beams are shining a light on the road, which shows a row of lit up bend warning signs.

15. Drinking and Driving

It goes without saying but never drink and drive. 

Scotland has strict laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, with severe penalties for offenders. You can even be banned from Scotland driving!

The drink drive limit in Scotland is 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, which is different than the limit in the rest of the UK which is 80 mg.  

To stay under a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.05%, an average adult can drink less than one drink in an hour. 

However, you’re in a foreign country and you don’t know the roads, so it’s best to be 100% sober and focused. Or leave your car at the hotel and take a taxi.

Driving in Scotland FAQs

Is Driving in Scotland Difficult? 

Driving in Scotland can be difficult depending on where you’re from. If you’re not used to driving on the left side of the road and the right side of the car, it will take some getting used to. Roads in the cities are fairly standard, but most countryside roads are often narrow and winding. 

Is it Easy for Americans to Drive in Scotland?

Driving in Scotland as an American can be challenging as you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheel is on a different side of the car. Once you’re used to the switch, you shouldn’t have a problem driving! 

Can You Drive in Scotland with a Canadian License?

Yes, you can drive in Scotland with a Canadian License for up to 12 months from your date of entry. 

Is it Safe to Drive in Scotland?

Yes, it is safe to drive in Scotland as long you follow Scottish driving law. Be aware that many countryside roads are single track and respect speed limits. If you’re not used to driving on the left, be particularly cautious when entering roundabouts and crossroads. 

How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Scotland?

It depends on where you start and which places you want to visit. If you simply want to drive from south to north of Scotland it takes about 6-7 hours. However, one of the most popular scenic driving routes, North Coast 500, takes about 5-7 days to complete.

Is it Difficult to Drive in Scottish Highlands? 

Driving in the Scottish Highlands is different than what you’re used to. Single track winding roads with passing places make for an interesting experience and can be challenging depending on your driving experience. 

Final Thoughts on Driving Around Scotland 

Driving in Scotland as a tourist can be challenging but it is well worth it!

The stunning landscapes of the Scottish countryside are not all accessible by public transport, and renting a car can be cheaper and gives you more freedom than joining tours.

I spent a week driving around Scotland, visiting Edinburgh, Inverness, Fort William, the Isle of Skye, and many other iconic landmarks.

If you’re ready for a Scotland road trip, it’s time to book a rental car and start planning all the adventure activities to do in Scotland!

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