10 Tips for Driving in Scotland

Driving in Scotland isn’t as scary as you might think. It also wasn’t the first time I had drove in a foreign county, but it was the first time I drove in a foreign country that drove on the opposite side of the road!

1. Drive on the left

Pretty simple and relatively straight forward. Even the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car.

Do not “forget” you need to be on the left. It can be deadly for both you and locals if you’re driving on the wrong side!

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2. Get an automatic

The manual with a flat tire

I had a suspicion the rest of the world drove manual cars, but that suspicion wasn’t confirmed until I actually went to book a car at the Inverness airport. Manual cars were cheap. Automatics were expensive. They were at least double the manuals and it wasn’t something I could justify spending the extra money on.

Prior to leaving, I got a crash course in driving a manual car from a coworker. It didn’t go as well as planned.

In the end, I reserved an automatic, but they gave me a manual! I drove around the industrial park for two hours, got a flat tire, and they finally gave me an automatic. It was a 15 passenger van (I called it The Bus), but it was an automatic, so I didn’t care.

The Bus

3. Use the correct fuel

Gas (or petrol) is green. Diesel is black. Opposite what it is in America.

Vehicles in Europe are also more likely to use diesel than vehicles in the US or Canada. Check with your car rental company which type of fuel it takes. You do not want to put the wrong stuff in, not only will it break the car strand you, it’ll cost a fortune to have fixed.

4. Singletrack roads and flashing headlights

Many of the roads in the Highlands are so remote they don’t see the need to add a second lane. So the main road will be a single lane going both directions. But what happens when you encounter another car?

This is the road we started sliding backward on due to the ice

There are plenty of places to pull off to the side to let the oncoming vehicle pass. It all depends on who gets to one first, who pulls off. So you don’t want to be barrelling through at ridiculous speeds.

If the oncoming vehicle flashes their lights at you, they are signaling that they are giving you the right of way. Don’t forget to smile and wave thanks as you pass.

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5.  Don’t stop in the road for pictures

I am guilty of this. Living in North Dakota, there isn’t a whole lot here. I see it as perfectly fine to stop in the middle of the road (provided no one is coming), hop out and snap a couple of quick shots before moving on. I’m sure the police would disagree with me. In Scotland, you cannot do that.

There are plenty of passing points and other areas to turn off if you need to stop for a picture. Please use those instead of stopping in the middle of the road.

6.  Drive slowly

Don’t drive like you’re in an around the world race. We’ve already established the roads in the Scottish Highlands are narrow with only enough space for one car in each direction. But some of the roads also wind around rocky outcroppings and have steep dropoffs that will put you in the loch at the bottom if you fall off.

You will have a better chance of being able to take in the stunning scenery around you if you slow down a bit too.

7.  Animals

Scotland and much of the UK is covered in sheep. In the Highlands sheep and other livestock are allowed to roam freely meaning they can and do frequently end up on the roads.

There were times when I felt like I was a shepherd herding my sheep down the road. Curve after curve I drove past, they were still in my way and kept on running down the road.

Sheep, no trip to the UK is complete without sheep in the road

Other animals to keep an eye out for the roads are the hairy Highland cows. These are the adorable fluffy red ones that everyone loves. They are also allowed to free-range, including on the road.

I didn’t see many deer, but there were tons of pheasants and even a few feral goats.

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8. Scottish Weather

Snow flurries in a valley

Weather in Scotland can change in an instant.

One moment you’ll be driving through rain, the next moment its turned into a hurricane with gale-force winds and a few flecks of snow flying past your window.

If you aren’t comfortable driving in changing weather conditions, know when it’s time to stop driving for the day and find a cozy pub.

The road really is impassable during the winter months

9.  Know what the road signs mean

Road signs there are different than at home in the US. Some of them tell you a speed camera is just around the corner, others tell you that the road follows the national speed limit, but doesn’t actually tell you what the speed limit is. Some mean no parking and others are pretty self-explanatory.

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10.  Bring an atlas

Scotland is remote in most areas. I was lucky that my phone managed to stay connected to some cell tower almost the whole way. Even though I did have a signal over 90% of the time, there were still times when the atlas came in handy when we were hunting for the fun mountain pass type roads that weren’t the main way Google Maps thought we should take.

He was chilling on the edge of a road

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Have you been to scotland? Any tips you want to add? Add them to the comments below!

Know someone traveling to Scotland? Share this with them!

And don’t forget to pin it to your ‘travel inspiration’ board!


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