Two cars standing on line at a ferry jetty by the sea

My Top 10 Tips for Driving in Scotland

In this installment of ‘How to plan a trip to Scotland’ we will be looking at the most popular mode of transportation among visitors: the road trip. Driving in Scotland can be intimidating though, especially if you’re new to driving on the left-hand side of the road. These ten tips will give you some guidance and help you plan the ideal road trip for you!

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If you’ve had a look at my introductory guide to planning a trip to Scotland before and you decided renting a car (or bringing your own) is the best way to explore Scotland for you, then read on. If you are not sure yet what is the best way to get around Scotland, and would like to get an overview of all the transport options you have (and more trip planning tips), check out my Scotland 101: Plan your Trip to Scotland guide first!


Alright, now that you are certain that a road trip is an ideal choice for you, let’s get started.

1) Take it slowly

Driving in Scotland can be daunting. If this is your first time driving on the left, make sure to take your time and get used to the new circumstances. Don’t plan to pick up your rental car and then drive for 7 hours straight on the first day – you’d be exhausted!

Take the first day of your trip to get used to driving on the left and only drive a short distance. Drive slowly and think twice about every turn or roundabout. In the beginning it’s tricky doing these things the other way around!

Top tip: Stick a sheet of paper behind the steering wheel reminding you to drive left – obviously not covering your speed indicator…

Looking for a good road map? The Collins Road Atlas Scotland is one of the best maps you could get for your road trip!


2) Invest in an automatic

If you are not comfortable with the idea of driving on the left, doing everything in the car the “wrong way round”, navigating the Scottish countryside and enjoying a bit of your road trip as well, it might be worth investing in an automatic instead of a manual car.

I’m a fairly inexperienced driver, so I feel much safer, knowing that there is one less thing I need to concentrate on – especially when I drive by myself or with someone who’s not a good navigator themselves.

Warning sign for the Applecross road Bealach na ba pass road

3) Don’t freak out

Lots of people stress out when they are driving in Scotland. They let other drivers, who are maybe more confident (or simply have a death wish) dictate how fast they should be driving. Of course you should not knowingly hinder the traffic behind you, but if you have to reduce your pace, take it slowly. Safety first, is the most important rule of any road trip.

Driving in cities in particular can be a nightmare if you are not entirely sure where you are going. Sometimes you only realise you should have turned once you’ve passed the crossing. Again, stay calm, find a place where you can easily turn and continue on your way.

If you’re not comfortable with maps, renting a GPS might be useful. I would not entirely rely on your phone/Google maps, especially since you won’t always get signal up in the Highlands!

you might also like: 50 Travel Tips for Scotland


4) Remember to drive on the left

Duh, right?

You would not be the first person to find yourself back on the right-hand side of the road, only to notice it when you see the oncoming traffic in your lane…

Turning right on bigger country roads seems to be a particularly tricky endeavour – and so are roundabouts. And there are many roundabouts in Scotland. Being aware and reminding yourself over and over to stick to the left, maybe even vocalising it in the beginning can help a lot!

Driving on the left in Scotland

5) Don’t underestimate distances

When planning your road trip in Scotland, don’t underestimate the distances and schedule your daily itineraries generously!

I get it, Scotland looks tiny on the map; distances, like the 235 miles from Edinburgh to Portree, won’t knock an experienced driver off their socks. North Americans in particular are used to far distances; while Europeans have already crossed through two or three countries, they are still on their daily commute to the supermarket. Just kidding – kind of.

Fact is that many roads in the Scottish countryside are windy and narrow – if you have a camper van in front of you, you might as well get comfortable. Traffic can be super busy in peak holiday times. Many roads off the main routes are single track roads, meaning that you have to drive extra carefully, and potentially got to stop at passing places frequently.

you might also like: Packing for a trip to Scotland (incl hiking equipment)

A word on passing places: Thank drivers who stop to let you past – lifting your fingers or hand off the steering wheel is plenty. When going down a hill, try your best to stop for the person going up – people will return the favour when you go up too!

PS: Also make use of petrol stations (gas stations) while you can – the further away from the main roads you get, the less frequent they become!

6) Allow time for photo stops and little walks

As a natural follow up to point 5, make sure to allow for some time for photo stops and little walks. There are plenty of them and Scotland is way too beautiful to just drive through it.

Renting a car and driving in Scotland has the major advantage that you alone decide where to stop and for how long. Make use of that!

In my itineraries I try to always point out a few lesser known spots for little walks and photo ops – make use of them!

7) Consider the time of the year

Could there potentially be snow on the road, or a strong winter storm? Are you traveling around a national holiday, or during a major local event? Do your homework and try to anticipate what else could slow down your journey.

8) Watch out for farm animals & wildlife

Ever since I found out that in Norway if you hit a reindeer on the road, you have to pay a hefty compensation to its owner (double if it was pregnant), I’m even more aware of watching out for wildlife on the road. Add my veganism into that, and you know why I’m telling you this.

Particularly in the more rural areas of Scotland, chances are high for wildlife or farm animals, such as deer or sheep, to be on the road. Don’t hit them!

you might also like: The best Road Trips in Scotland


Driving in Scotland can be intimidating, but these ten tips will give you some guidance and help you plan the ideal road trip for you!

9) Check & book ferries in advance

Island hopping is easy with a rental car – just make sure to check ferry times in advance. On some routes and certain times of the year it is advisable to book in advance, to avoid long waiting times at the harbour.

Other routes, such as the ferry to the Small Isles, operate passenger ferries only.


10) Zero Tolerance

Don’t drink and drive. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it is good to remember that the legal limit of alcohol is 50mg in 100ml of blood. This is lower than in England, but it’s best not to drink at all when you drive!

You can find more information, such as speed limits and license requirements here.

Have you ever been driving in Scotland before? What would your top tip be?


Planning a trip to Scotland?

Find accommodation, book your rental car or a guided tour with Rabbie’s.

Book day trips to explore the country or get advance tickets for attractions.

Read up in a travel guide and prepare for hikes with OS Explorer Maps.

Get your rain gear in place and browse my packing list.

Book your Glasgow tour with me or let me plan your itinerary.


Driving in Scotland can be intimidating, but these ten tips will give you some guidance and help you plan the ideal road trip for you!
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13 comments on “My Top 10 Tips for Driving in Scotland

  1. I will be hiring a car in March when I come for my first time. It will be my first solo trip, my first time driving on the left. I’m waiting 5 days to drive so I can get used to street signs and desensitize myself to being on the left. Then, I’m going to take a guided trip from Glasgow into the Highlands the day before I hire my car so I will already know the first part of my route out of Glasgow toward Inverness.

    • That’s such a good strategy for anyone who has the time to get used to the left-hand side traffic slowly! Have a great trip in March 🙂

  2. Stephen Harrington

    Right-trained drivers, SLOW DOWN approaching roundabouts. Look for your desired road number (A894) and the Pipestem associated with it. Scotland is very helpful as the road numbers are actually painted on the road (most of the time).
    Forget about sorting out place names AND roadnumbers simultaneously! You can’t recognize the names (e.g., Aberthweytheth, Llylwhistfuffle, etc.) if you are not familiar with your location, route, or your eyes are tired and your frontseater keep yelling “edge right!” when you KNOW you have to be left.
    IF you come to a multi-pipe roundabout and you must take the 3rd or higher pipe, cut to the middle and then work your way out to your pipe. If you exit on 1 or 2 pipe, you can hug the left of the circle and exit.
    Finally, USE YOUR SIGNALS!!! Good luck!

    • Round abouts definitely take some getting used to!! Good point about the road numebrs – I also find it important to keep track of those. That’s also the kind of information your GPS (at least my Google Maps) gives me to direct me!

  3. Great advice. We arrived in Glasgow from Canada and took a bus to Fort William instead of driving. The next day we took a hop-on-hop off open top bus and got to learn the street signs, driving habits, etc. in the area. Following day we got in our rental and drove to Skye. Worked well for us. Love your blog!

    • That’s an awesome way to ease yourself into it! It’s so important to drive with confidence and knowing the traffic rules!

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  8. Great post! I totally agree with all of them!

  9. The perspective in that last photo with the curving road is great, with the house in the distance! 🔮🙏

    • Taken on the beautiful island of Unst – the northernmost inhabited island of the UK (one of the Shetland Islands)! 🙂

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