We just got back from an absolutely amazing road trip as a family in Scotland where we spent 10 days exploring Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, and a few stops between the two. It was an incredible experience that I’ll be reliving through pictures for the foreseeable future.
And yes, if you want to take a road trip in Scotland you need to drive on the opposite side of the road and sit on the opposite side car (sounds scary I know, but you can do it).
Even though we were nervous about driving in Scotland versus driving in the US, I’m so grateful that we didn’t let our fear deter us from taking our Scotland road trip.
Scotland quickly became one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited and the Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Be sure to check out my post about everything you need to know before visiting the Isle of Skye if you are headed that way too.
So if you’re wondering about how to drive in Scotland, I’m here to give you all of my top tips about driving on the opposite side of the road in Scotland to help you feel confident and enjoy your trip.
Here is what you need to know about driving in Scotland for Americans (and anyone else coming from places where you typically drive on the right side of the road).
*There are affiliate links in this post. Read my privacy/disclosure policy to learn more.
Is Driving in Scotland as an American Hard?
The answer to this is both yes and no. Driving in Scotland is exactly the opposite of driving in the US in many, large, important ways. For example, you drive on the opposite side of the road, sit on the opposite side of the car and (if driving manual) shift with the opposite hand.
The first 2 hours after renting a car in Scotland were stressful (to say the least). It was very much a joint effort between both of us to keep him on the correct side of the road looking for oncoming cars from the correct direction.
We were constantly repeating our mantra of, ‘Stay left, look right… stay left, look right’. However, by the end of our 7 days of driving on Scotland roads, driving in Scotland felt almost second nature with just occasional reminders needed.
If we can handle taking a road trip in Scotland-you can too!
The Best Time of Year for Driving in Scotland For the First Time
May to September is historically known as the months with the best weather in Scotland. However, our Airbnb host feels that in more recent years, April has had better weather than May.
But of course, with great weather in Scotland comes the peak tourist season which runs from June-August (but bleeds heavily into May and September). Besides driving in Scotland with more traffic at this time, another huge downside to visiting Scotland between June and August are the swarms of midges you’ll be fighting off.
I know it’s unrelated to driving, but if you haven’t heard of midges in Scotland- you need to look them up. We visited Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye in early April and had a fabulous midge-free experience. I’d take slightly cooler weather and no midges over warmer weather any day.
Guided Scotland Tours if You Don’t Feel Up to Driving in the UK
If you still don’t feel super sure about driving in the UK after reading this, there are still ways you can visit remote areas of the country without driving yourself!
We saw loads of guided tours in Scotland (big and small) during our time in Scotland. You can find tours that leave from most major cities and tours that vary in length from one day to multiple days.
Tours leaving from Edinburgh:
Tours Leaving from Glasgow:
Tours Leaving from Inverness:
It seems like booking a guided tour is a great option for many who want to travel throughout Scotland. It’s a great way to take away the stress of planning and driving.
We saw all sorts of tour groups on our trip- some private tours with a tour guide and a single family (how great would that be). And we saw many group tours in Scotland (which may be a more budget-friendly tour option).
Not only would a guided tour take away the stress of driving, but you’d also get a lot of local insights and information about the area.
16 Super Helpful Scotland Driving Tips:
1. Stay Left-Look Right
Something I highly recommend doing when you are driving in Scotland for the first time is to create a simple mantra to repeat as you drive. A mantra that will help you stay on the correct side of the road and correctly look out for cars.
A mantra to repeat becomes especially important when you are pulling out of parking lights, turning at stop lights, and entering/exiting roundabouts.
We would say out loud, ‘stay left, look right’ two to three times every time we felt like we were coming up on a situation where our natural driving instincts were about to take over. It was so helpful to really cement into our brains which side of the road we needed to stay on.
The ‘look right’ part was helpful because when you are crossing a street or entering traffic in the US it is best practice to look ‘left-right-left’. However, in Scotland, you need to look right first (instead of left first) which means looking ‘right-left-right’ to make sure you don’t get hit.
2. Rent an automatic even if you know how to drive manual
If you don’t know already, manual transmissions are the go-to transmission in most of Europe. This means that if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission (or you just want an automatic transmission) you will need to pay extra to book an automatic rental car.
You’ll also want to make sure you make your booking plenty in advance in case your rental company runs out of automatic cars.
In regards to driving a manual in Scotland, you’ll want to keep in mind that besides sitting on the opposite side of the car, you are also shifting with the opposite hand (don’t worry-clutch, brake, and gas pedals are the same).
We rented a manual car in Scotland because we drive a manual car as our every-day-car and we wanted to save money. However, even being extremely proficient in driving a manual, it added on an additional layer of trickiness and stress that could have been saved by booking an automatic.
If you are not very proficient in driving a manual or have not done so in many years- I recommend booking an automatic.
3. Take Your Time Leaving the Car Rental Shop
It can feel a bit overwhelming opening the door to get in the car and realizing you are actually on the wrong side of the car (just moments after being handed the keys and told to have a great trip 😅). So, no pressure if you need to take a bit of extra time to sit in the car to get your bearings, and take a few deep breaths before leaving the parking lot.
I recommend setting up everything you may need before you start driving (think maps up and running, music queued up, drinks and snacks within reach). Multitasking while driving really shouldn’t ever be done but especially not when just getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road and car.
4. Familiarize yourself with Scottish road signs
Many road signs in Scotland are similar to the US or are self-explanatory. A small example is that what we know as ‘yield’ signs in the US say ‘give way’ in Scotland.
If you want a quick overview of all the traffic signs in Scotland you can find that here on the UK Department of Transport’s website.
5. Think twice about which lane you are entering when turning onto a new road
We found the most common time to want to drive on the wrong side of the road was when we were entering traffic or turning onto a new road. This is when we’d really whip out our ‘stay left, look right’ mantra and visually point out which lane we needed to turn into before beginning the turn.
6. Pullover in passing places to let oncoming cars pass
There are plenty of single-track (aka one-lane) roads to navigate in Scotland (especially the further you get from cities). It seems like I had heard horror stories of people coming upon another car on a single-track-road and having to back up for a quarter mile before being able to find a passing place.
However, that was not our experience at all. All of the single-track roads we traveled had plenty of passing places. Many times, looking down the road we could see multiple passing places coming up which made it easy to know when we should get over for the oncoming car to pass.
And remember that passing places are just that: a place to pass. You should never park in a passing place as that can cause a lot of traffic issues.
7. Give a small wave of thanks when passing
This is pretty common-sense manners, but if a car waits in a passing place to allow you to pass, it’s best practice to give a little wave of gratitude to the driver. You’ll see everyone doing it.
Another gesture you’ll notice is that if both you and the oncoming car stop at the same time you or the other car can flash their lights to tell the other car to proceed while you wait.
8. Remember the fast lane is the inside (right) lane
Just like everything else seems to be opposite about driving in Scotland, the fast lane on the highway is also opposite. Since cars merge from the left, that makes the right (inside lane) the fast lane.
So, be sure to stay to the left on the highway unless you are passing other cars.
9. Roundabouts aren’t as scary as they may look
I know, roundabouts can look intimidating (especially if you are from areas in the US where roundabouts aren’t common). However, roundabouts are actually really awesome for traffic flow and are pretty straightforward once you know the rules.
When approaching a roundabout, slow down or stop if needed (and many times it is) until there is a space for you to merge. Once you are in a roundabout you have the right of way and you should never stop to allow another car to enter the roundabout in front of you.
When you are ready to exit a roundabout, signal that you are exiting and leave in the designated lane.
Remember, that roundabouts in Scotland work opposite to the US and run clockwise (meaning you stay left and look right when merging).
10. Slow Down
We passed loads of road signs which stated in large letters, ‘REDUCE SPEED NOW’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a demanding road sign, but there’s a good reason for it.
Many of the roads outside of the larger cities in Scotland are curvy, have blind corners, may be wet, may have animals crossing, and can be quite narrow. These road signs are here to help you be safe and to let you know that yes, you actually do need to slow down.
And remember, you’re driving on the opposite side of the road on the opposite side of the car so your reaction time and reflexes may not be up to the same level that they usually are.
11. Pay for your gas inside the gas station after filling your tank
This was wild to us. In Scotland, you fill your car with gas and THEN go inside to pay for the gas you have already filled your car with. I’m sure this isn’t the case at all gas stations in Scotland, however, it was at all of the gas stations we visited.
In our experience there wasn’t even an option to pay with a card at the pump (however we did see some after-hours pay stations that accepted cards).
We assumed that like in the US where if you don’t pay at the pump, you must go inside to pay first and then fill your car with gas.
But, surprisingly, that wasn’t the case! We’d fill our car, then go in and pay by telling the gas station attendant which pump number we had used or just by pointing at our car through the gas station windows.
If you pull up to a gas station and aren’t sure how to pay- just go inside and ask. Everyone we ran into was super nice and willing to help with anything we needed.
12. Pay for an extra driver if you want to take turns seeing the scenery
When we booked our rental car in Scotland, we only paid for one driver. However, looking back it may have been better to pay for two drivers.
Only having one driver just meant that my husband never got much of a break from driving (which we did hoursss of) and he often missed out on seeing some of the incredible scenery we passed.
So much extra focus was needed to drive that he rarely felt like he could look around to enjoy the beautiful views. I’d point out waterfalls or animals we were passing and he’d say, ‘Wow, I really wish I could see everything you’re seeing.’
13. Know that your drive may take a bit longer than Google Maps says
We found that when driving in more remote areas of Scotland (think the Isle of Skye) it would often take us 10-15 minutes longer to arrive at our destination than what Google Maps would say (for a 30 minutes-1 hour drive).
I think this was mostly because of waiting for cars to pass on single-track roads and for driving more cautiously if it was raining etc. It’s not a big deal, but something to keep in mind if you are trying to get somewhere at a specific time.
14. You can Drive in Scotland with a US License (remember to bring it with you)
The nice thing about renting a car in the UK is that you can rent it with a valid driver’s license no matter the country you are from (meaning no international driver’s license is needed).
If you want to check just to make sure, you can check out this handy tool on the UK’s government website which will tell you everything you need to know.
15. Check out Economy Bookings for a good rental car deal
When we rented a car in Scotland, I found rental prices to be quite steep. However, after searching multiple times on Economy Bookings I was able to get a smoking deal (like hundreds of dollars less than I expected to pay).
I’m not usually one to book through a third party, but a family member had also booked a super inexpensive car rental via Economy Bookings and they had a totally great experience. Because of their experience, I tried it out too and it was so great.
I was so pleased to save sooo much money on our car rental- it made it possible for us to keep the car for more days than expected which really helped out with our trip planning.
I recommend doing multiple searches via Economy Bookings over a period of time before booking. I found that sometimes a random deal would pop up that hadn’t previously popped up and I was sure to book it as soon as one did.
16. You may need to remind yourself to keep to the right once you return from your trip
Something a little funny is that we spent so much time and effort drilling into our heads to keep left in Scotland that we had to remind ourselves to keep right on the road once we returned home from our trip.
There *may* have been once or twice when we realized we had pulled out onto the wrong side of the road 😅.
It probably won’t be an issue, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
And those are all of my tips for driving in Scotland! I hope you feel more confident now with what you know about UK driving. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below- I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Check out these other posts, I know you’ll love them:
- The Ultimate Guide to the Isle of Skye with Kids: 21+ Things to Do & Top Tips
- 21 Best Things to Do in Edinburgh With Kids + Top Tips
- The Only Itinerary You Need For a Day Trip to Edinburgh (+ Map)
- 18 Things To Know Before Visiting The Isle of Skye in Scotland