Information and advice about driving a rental car around Scotland, UK
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Year Visited: 2022
Time of Year: May
Driving in Scotland
Driving through the mountains of Scotland was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of our trip!
Renting a car in Scotland, ironically enough, was my least favorite part…
If you are considering renting a car in Scotland, or any part of the UK, here are some tips and helpful things to know about driving there.
Planning a road trip through Scotland? Check out my top 5 prettiest places to visit:
Here is the perfect 1-week Scotland road trip itinerary for you!
Where to Rent a Car in Scotland
At the Airport
If you are flying into Scotland, the best place for renting a car is right at the airport. You will most likely be flying into Edinburgh, but you can also fly into other large cities, such as Glasgow or Inverness (we arrived in Edinburgh, so all the specific information in this article relates to Edinburgh Airport).
Even if you are not flying in, and are arriving by train like we did, I still suggest going out to the airport to pick up a rental car. That way you can avoid driving through the city centers.
When you arrive at the airport, follow the signs for transportation into the city and car hires.
At the Edinburgh Airport, you will see the bright pink awning for the trams to the city center (pictured below). On the other side of that will be the parking lot for the rental cars. The office is at the far side of the parking lot.
More information on booking a rental car at the Edinburgh Airport.
At the Train Station
We arrived by train and rented a car at Waverley Station in downtown Edinburgh. There are several different car rental companies you can choose from. We went with Enterprise.
I would not suggest this for two important reasons:
Driving in downtown Edinburgh is NOT fun!
Enterprise charged my credit card TWICE in the month after we returned home (read more about that in this section).
In order to avoid having to drive through downtown in an unfamiliar city (on the left side of the road), I would suggest traveling to the airport to pick up your rental car, even though this will take more time.
How to get to the airport from the city:
It takes about half an hour to get to the airport from the city center (or vice versa) by public transportation.
From the airport to the city:
If you are at the airport, trying to get into Edinburgh, you can’t miss the bright pink awning for trams to the city centre, which is right next to the rental car parking lot.
You will want to take the tram to the stop that is nearest to your hotel, but likely it will be one of the two last stops, which are right in the city center:
St. Andrew Square
From the city to the airport:
If you are arriving in Edinburgh by train, you will arrive at Waverley Station, which is right in the city center. It’s a 5 min. walk to the tram stop at St. Andrew Square.
I would suggest doing this, instead of booking a rental car at the train station, to avoid driving in the city.
To ride the tram:
You have to pay for your ticket at the kiosk before you get on the tram (kiosk pictured above).
They will not ask for your ticket on the tram, but when you arrive at the airport you will have to show it, so make sure to hold onto it.
Other Car Rental Options
It is usually cheaper to book a rental car somewhere other than the airport or train station, as you have to pay a “convenience fee” (because it is the most convenient!).
Some rental companies, like Enterprise, will pick you up and drop you off. However, they will only drop you off at the same place where they picked you up.
So if you fly in, get picked up at the airport, and then are going on by train after you return your rental car, they will still drop you off at the airport. And then you will have to get another ride to the train station.
As an American renting a car in Scotland, I have A LOT of questions. So here are answers to all of the questions I had before (or during) our trip:
What side of the road do they drive on in the UK?
In the UK they drive on the left-hand side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
What kind of car should I rent?
A lot of cars in the UK are stick shift, so if you do not want to drive manual, make sure you ask for an automatic when you book it. Even if you do know how to drive stick, remember you will be driving on the left-hand side of the road, so if you’re used to the right, everything will be opposite for you.
You will have to pay more for an automatic, but it is worth it when you’re driving in an unfamiliar place on the opposite side of the road.
I would also suggest booking as small a car as you feel comfortable in. The roads are narrow, and parking spaces are small, so trying to navigate the 10 passenger van you accidentally booked (it happens) is not going to be fun.
You will see both familiar and unfamiliar road signs.
Traffic lights in the UK are easy enough to understand. You go on green, you wait on red (this is not Dr. Strange’s multiverse!).
The thing I appreciate about the traffic lights in the UK is, when it’s about to change from red back to green, it shows the yellow and the red, so you know it’s going to turn soon!
There are no “Stop” signs, as we see in the US. Instead they have “Give Way” signs, which are basically the same idea as a stop sign.
Parking Pull-Off Area
You will see a lot of the blue signs with the “P” for parking that indicate a pull off area is coming up. They are especially helpful if you are new to driving in the UK, it’s pouring rain, you can’t see anything, and you’re going about 40 mph in a 55 zone with a line of cars behind you.
These are super helpful spots if you need to pull over to let someone pass, or you want to stop to take a picture of the beautiful scenery. It seems like there is one every few hundred feet, so they are quite numerous.
When you’re road tripping around Scotland (or England) you will see brown “attraction” signs. Any sign that is this color indicates a tourist attraction, and usually a place to use the restroom (more on that later).
Are there traffic circles/roundabouts?
Yes, there are a lot of traffic circles in the UK.
The biggest thing to watch out for are THREE LANE TRAFFIC CIRCLES!
This was legitimately terrifying and unexpected. We did not realize how many lanes were going to be simultaneously going around this circle. Pay close attention to what exit you need, and what lane you should be in for that exit. And make sure you stay in your lane as you move into the circle, as it gets confusing once three rows of traffic start going in a circle together…
We only saw a three lane traffic circle on the major highway (or carriageway, as they call it) between Edinburgh and Perth, so they are not everywhere.
Are there tolls in Scotland?
No, there are currently no tolls in Scotland. The country abolished them in 2008 (yay!).
However, they may reintroduce tolls in the future as a way to decrease traffic and reduce carbon emissions.
How is the price of gas calculated?
The price of gas (or petrol) always looks so expensive, because instead of pounds per liter, it is listed as pence per liter! As you can see in the picture below, we spent about £71 on 40 liters of gas (which filled the tank).
When we picked up our rental car, the gas light was on, and it was literally almost empty, so we had to fill up right away. We had the rental car for four days, and we filled up again two days in, but we really didn’t need to fill it as much as we did.
Our car was very fuel efficient, and even turned off the engine when we were idling at stop lights.
Driving on One Lane Roads
Are there one lane roads in Scotland?
Yes, but they are not as common as you might think.
We only drove on a one lane road a few times:
To get to the Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye
To get to our hotel in the little town of Dornie
To stop for ice cream at a dairy farm on the way back to Edinburgh
We could easily have driven our route around Scotland (even around the Isle of Skye) and not hit any one lane roads, so if it matters more to you to avoid them than to go somewhere in particular (like the Fairy Glen), you can.
You could also drive to the Isle of Skye and stay in Portree, and then book a tour around the island so you wouldn’t have to drive yourself.
Are there sheep on the roads in Scotland?
We did see a lot of sheep next to the road. Like, lying down, taking an afternoon nap right along the side of the road. So they could easily have gotten up and moved into the road later.
But the only time we saw sheep actually in the road was with a farmer on the way to the Fairy Glen. We just had to wait/go slowly until he (and the sheep dogs!) got them out of the way.
So yes, it’s possible, but it’s not common.
How do you pass on a one lane road?
There are a lot of “passing places” on the one lane roads in Scotland. They are clearly marked with a white sign, and will have a little pull off spot just like you see with the blue parking sign on the main roads (but just big enough for one car).
If you see a car coming, you can pull off into the passing place and wait.
I’ve read that sometimes you have to back up to reach the nearest passing place, but they are fairly common, and we didn’t have to back up to any. We were very careful to pull over whenever we saw someone in the distance.
Just go slowly and keep your eyes out for other cars, and you’ll get through just fine.
Where to Stop for the Bathroom
I’ll be honest, I don’t always appreciate the perks of living in America. But after driving through a country with no road side rest stops… I definitely appreciate America more!
For me, the hardest part of renting a car in Scotland was: WHERE DO I GO TO THE BATHROOM??? Since there are no rest stops, it’s hard to know where to go.
So I kept of list of places where we found bathrooms, just for you. You’re welcome.
Most places will either require you to pay for parking, or to pay to use the toilets. Or to pay to buy a coffee at a cafe so you can use their toilet. There is no such things as a free toilet.
Visitor Centers (or Centres)
Look for visitor centers along your route. For instance the Glencoe Visitor Centre or the Glenfinnan Viaduct Visitor Centre.
You will usually have to pay a few pounds for parking at a visitor center, but then will not have to pay to use the toilet.
Other Tourist Attractions
In addition to visitor centers, you can find other tourist attractions along your route. If you see a brown sign, that indicates it’s a tourist attraction, and therefore it will likely have a bathroom (or toilet) (or water closet) for you to use.
You may have to browse around in the gift shop for a while (or buy yourself an ice cream…darn), but that is a small price to pay for an empty bladder.
Some signs will say W.C. on them. That indicates a “water closet,” which means there is a toilet there!
A lot of towns have community centers, and these have toilets (see the sign for the Dornie Community Centre above). We did not use the bathrooms at any of the community centers, so I don’t know if you have to pay to use the toilets, but you do have to pay for parking at the Dornie Community Center.
Road Side Cafes
Sometimes you can find a little cafe/coffee shop along the side of the road where you can stop to use the bathroom. And then buy a cup of tea. And then have to go to the bathroom again.
We found a really cute chocolate shop to stop at on the way to Dornie.
Gas (Petrol) Stations
If all else fails, the gas stations are a good bet (although even those are hard to find!).
And if that fails… then just find someone to ask, and they will point you in the right direction.
Scams to Avoid
It’s unfortunate that I have to write this section, but the good news about my credit card being charged over $400 in the month after we returned our rental car is that I can share with you my tips to make sure it doesn’t happen to you!
Long story short, the Enterprise we rented from at Waverley Station charged my credit card a second security deposit the day after we returned the rental car, and then charged my card again several weeks later, for what they finally informed me was a “bulge in the tyre” they had found during a “second” inspection.
I had to email them multiple times to even get a reply, and at first they denied the extra charges, and then said they would come off in a few days, before finally, a month later, admitting they were for damage to the car.
According to Google, this is not that uncommon when traveling overseas.
So here’s what to do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you:
Ask for a copy of your signed inspection when you return the car.
Take your own photos of the rental car, both when you pick it up and when you return it.
Keep all the records of your receipts, transactions, and communications with the rental car company.
Keep track of what you paid for the car, and if anything from the rental company was charged after you returned it.
Contact the rental car company if you notice any charges that shouldn’t be there.
If you cannot work it out with the rental company, you can contact your credit card company and file a dispute. They will likely remove the charges for you, if you have copies of your receipts.
Beautiful Drives in Scotland
Finally we are to my favorite section! Scotland is truly an amazing country to drive through!
Here are some of the best places to drive in Scotland:
Through Glencoe Valley
Glencoe is famous as one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, and it actually lived up to its fame. Even in the pouring rain, this part of Scotland blew me away (thankfully it stopped raining long enough to get pictures when we went back the next day).
There are a lot of pull off spots to take pictures. You can just stop right at the viewpoint and get a stunning photo, or you can follow a trail down into the valley and walk around for a while.
Fort William to Mallaig
We didn’t actually drive this road, but we witnessed the beauty of it from the Jacobite Steam Train that we rode from Fort William to the seaside town of Mallaig.
The route takes you along the water and white sand beaches of Scotland’s west coast, up to Mallaig, where you can take a ferry to the Isle of Skye.
Book the ferry ahead of time if you want to take that across to Skye.
Fort William to Dornie
This was my favorite part of Scotland (although maybe just because the view wasn’t obstructed by never ending pouring rain…)!
Even if you’ve been inundated with pictures of Scotland, they can’t compare to the actual feeling of driving next to these majestic mountains and realizing how small you are.
And at the end of the road is the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle, my second favorite part of Scotland!
Dornie to Portree
If you keep going past Dornie, you can take the Skye Bridge to the beautiful Isle of Skye.
I personally liked the drive to Dornie better, but this island was also stunning, with road side waterfalls and views of the sea.
The Visit Scotland website has a helpful article about driving in Scotland.
Here are 16 essential tips for driving in Scotland by some of my favorite travel bloggers.
Any more questions?
If you have any other questions about renting a car in Scotland, be sure to email me, so I can ask my husband (who did the actual driving…)!
Planning a road trip through Scotland?
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