Scotland is a truly remarkable destination for a road trip, offering a captivating blend of breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and warm, welcoming people. As you embark on your adventure, you'll find that the diverse beauty of this country is an endless source of inspiration and wonder.
One of the most alluring aspects of a Scottish road trip is the stunning variety of landscapes you'll encounter. From the enchanting, misty highlands to the rugged, windswept coastlines, you'll be captivated by the dramatic scenery at every turn. The journey itself is as enjoyable as the destinations you'll visit, with well-maintained roads that meander through picturesque villages and along spectacular cliff edges. Driving through the lush, rolling countryside, you'll find yourself surrounded by vibrant colors, ancient forests, and awe-inspiring vistas that will stay with you long after your trip has ended.
History enthusiasts will be in their element as they explore the rich heritage that Scotland has to offer. The country is peppered with ancient castles, each with its own unique story to tell. From the iconic Eilean Donan Castle to the imposing Stirling Castle, you'll step back in time as you delve into the fascinating tales of battles, triumphs, and betrayals. Equally captivating are Scotland's charming cities, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, where you'll discover a wealth of museums, galleries, and historic landmarks that showcase the nation's cultural and artistic achievements.
For those seeking outdoor adventures, Scotland is an absolute playground. Hikers can traverse the epic trails of the West Highland Way or the Great Glen Way, experiencing the unparalleled beauty of the Scottish wilderness. Roadtrippers can take on the famous North Coast 500 route, a thrilling journey through some of the most remote and spectacular landscapes in the country. And of course, you can't visit Scotland without experiencing the legendary Loch Ness, where the elusive Nessie is said to reside. Who knows, you might just catch a glimpse of the mythical creature during your trip!
The warmth and hospitality of the Scottish people are legendary, and you'll find that the locals are always eager to share their love for their homeland. From the cozy pubs where you can enjoy a pint and a hearty meal to the friendly B&Bs that offer a comfortable place to rest your head, you'll feel right at home as you explore this enchanting country.
In summary, a road trip through Scotland promises an unforgettable experience filled with natural beauty, fascinating history, exhilarating adventure, and the warm embrace of its people. It is a journey that will leave you spellbound and yearning to return, forever holding a special place in your heart.
One of the most popular and touristy places is, of course, Edinburgh. Medieval castles and their remnants, neo-classical ambience of the New Town, free museums, various viewpoints, the imposing Forth Bridge, and even a beach are only a few of the highlights that Scotland's capital has to offer. Motorists should remember that on weekends and during the festival season, they may experience problems with finding free parking spaces, especially in the centre.
Another city popular among tourists is Oban located at the end of A85 road on the western coast of Scotland. This place is very busy not only due to the presence of tourists but also film makers, who eagerly take advantage of its picturesque and mysterious scenery. The views on the snow-capped summits and Mull, located at a distance of 10 km from the equally scenic Staffa, are especially magnificent.
Those who prefer a slightly cosier place should visit the small village of Sligachan, located on the Isle of Skye. You won't find typical tourist attractions there, but only an old stone bridge and a hotel from 1830. Despite the fact that the Isle of Skye is small, reaching many of its recesses with a car will be difficult owing to narrow and winding roads and various animals that you may encounter.
Speaking of wild and desolate places, you shouldn't miss the Highlands, located on the north-western coast of Scotland. It's hard to find another such place in Europe with dense greenery, pristine nature, and idyllic tranquillity. It is here where you can find Inverness, an ideal starting point for Loch Ness and Fort William located at the foot of Ben Nevis (1344 metres above sea level), the highest peak in Great Britain.
While traveling around the Highlands, it's worth visiting the Cairngorms National Park, the largest area of this type in Great Britain, and Inverewe Gardens, located less than 6 miles away from Gairloch. You can choose Grantown-on-Spey as a stopover. It offers numerous accommodation options and three free car parks.
It's common knowledge that Scotland is a country famous not only for its stunning scenery but also for its eventful past. Castles scattered around the country will remind you about it at every turn. Among the most popular ones, you'll find Blair Castle, with an extensive garden, the 15th-century Cawdor Castle, known for the Shakespearean novel Macbeth, and Crathes Castle, located around 25 kilometers from Aberdeen. Traveling around the southeastern part of Scotland, you should see the remains of Dryburgh Abbey and Melrose Abbey, established in the 12th century. Even though they can't be put into one category with castles, they will be of interest to lovers of old buildings.
Another interesting place on the Scottish map is Dunkeld, famous for a beautiful cathedral erected between 1260 and 1501, and Pitlochry, where you can find numerous churches, Victorian buildings, and the Blair Athol whisky distillery.
Suggested Road Trips in Scotland
For first-time visitors to Scotland, several road trips showcase the country's stunning landscapes, historical sites, and charming cities. Here are three recommended routes that provide a memorable introduction to the beauty of Scotland:
The North Coast 500: Often dubbed "Scotland's Route 66," the North Coast 500 is a 516-mile circular route that begins and ends in Inverness. This epic journey takes you through the rugged and remote landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, with dramatic coastal vistas, quaint fishing villages, and towering mountains. Along the way, you can visit iconic sites such as Dunrobin Castle, Smoo Cave, and the mysterious Loch Ness. The North Coast 500 typically takes 5-7 days to complete, allowing time for sightseeing and leisurely exploration.
The Scottish Borders and Edinburgh: For a more relaxed and culture-focused road trip, consider exploring the Scottish Borders and the capital city of Edinburgh. Start your journey in Edinburgh, where you can visit the historic Edinburgh Castle, stroll along the Royal Mile, and immerse yourself in the city's vibrant arts scene. Then, head south towards the picturesque Scottish Borders, where you'll discover enchanting abbeys, such as Melrose and Jedburgh, as well as the rolling hills and charming market towns of this peaceful region. This trip can be completed in 4-5 days, depending on the time spent in each location.
The Isle of Skye and the West Highlands: A road trip to the Isle of Skye and the West Highlands offers a taste of Scotland's dramatic landscapes and rich Gaelic culture. Begin your journey in Glasgow, then head north towards Glencoe, a breathtaking valley surrounded by towering mountains and steeped in history. Continue on to Fort William, where you can explore the majestic Ben Nevis, the UK's highest peak. From there, cross the Skye Bridge to reach the enchanting Isle of Skye, where you'll find the iconic Old Man of Storr, the picturesque fishing village of Portree, and the magical Fairy Pools. This road trip typically takes 5-6 days, allowing time to soak in the awe-inspiring scenery and vibrant local culture.
Each of these road trips offers a unique perspective on Scotland's beauty and charm, providing first-time visitors with an unforgettable experience of this captivating country.
There are plenty of car hire companies that you can find in Scotland. Therefore, all tourists will find something of interest there. Prices vary mostly depending on the size and the prestige of a given company. At most of them, you need to pay a deposit as a financial security. Sometimes, you'll come across age limits. The minimum age is usually 21; however, some places will require you to be 25 to rent a car. A person interested in hiring a vehicle should show their driver's licence and an identity document. It's worth renting a car well in advance, as attractive offers price-wise are sold out in next to no time.
Owing to numerous bumps, road imperfections, and sometimes lack of hard shoulders or traffic barriers, the state of some of the Scottish roads is far from perfect. Driving around Scotland is considered a very pleasant experience thanks to the scenic landscapes and great ambience that are able to compensate for all the inconveniences. A great advantage is the fact that most of the major cities are linked by motorways and expressways.
In Scotland, authorities place strong emphasis on travellers' safety which is evident in the presence of multiple speed enforcement cameras. The maximum speed allowed in built-up areas is 30 mph (48 km/h), 60 mph (96 km/h) on one-lane roads, and 70 mph (112 km/h) on two-lane roads and motorways. It's also worth keeping in mind that breaking the above-mentioned restrictions may result in high fines or even loss of your driver's licence.
Scotland follows left-hand traffic so you should drive in a clockwise direction on a roundabout. What’s more remember that taking over takes place on the outer lane. It's worth keeping in mind that you need to give way in accordance with the road signs. You’ll notice a traditional STOP sign or a triangular sign with GIVE WAY. Whenever there are no signs, you should follow pavement markings (solid line or double broken line).
Procedures in the event of an accident don't differ from those in other European countries. Of course, you must stop, provide the details of your insurance, and call the police if need be. Motorists travelling along motorways can use special machines that will connect them to the Police Motorway Control Centre to get appropriate help.
Drinking and driving will result in high fines. The allowed blood alcohol content is 0.08%. Penalty payments and penalty points can be expected in case of talking on the phone while driving and travelling with young passengers in an inappropriate way. Children younger than 12 years should travel only in special child seats.
Remember! When planning a longer trip, you shouldn't forget about regular control of your petrol level. Even though there are plenty of petrol stations in Scotland, they are often poorly marked on less frequented roads and the distance between them can be really large.
When planning a road trip in Scotland, there are a few important factors to keep in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some key aspects to consider:
Weather: Scotland's weather can be unpredictable, with frequent rain and rapidly changing conditions. Always check the weather forecast before setting out and be prepared with appropriate clothing, waterproof gear, and footwear. It's also wise to have a flexible itinerary, so you can adjust your plans if needed.
Driving on the left: If you're not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, take some time to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations. Be especially cautious when navigating roundabouts and overtaking other vehicles.
Narrow roads: Many of Scotland's rural roads are narrow, winding, and often bordered by stone walls or hedges. Drive cautiously, be prepared to pull over and allow oncoming traffic to pass, and take your time to enjoy the scenery.
Single-track roads: Some areas, particularly in the Highlands and on the islands, have single-track roads with passing places. Be mindful of oncoming traffic and use passing places to allow others to overtake or pass. Remember to give way to vehicles approaching from the opposite direction.
Livestock: In rural areas, you may encounter sheep, cows, or deer on the roads. Drive carefully and be prepared to stop or slow down for animals crossing or grazing near the road.
Fuel: Petrol stations can be sparse in remote areas. Plan your route to ensure you have enough fuel for your journey, and fill up whenever you have the opportunity, especially when heading into more remote regions.
Navigation: While GPS devices and smartphone apps are helpful, it's a good idea to have a detailed paper map as a backup. Mobile phone coverage and GPS signals can be patchy, particularly in remote areas.
Accommodation: Scotland can be busy during peak tourist seasons, so book your accommodation in advance to avoid disappointment. If you prefer spontaneity, consider traveling during shoulder seasons when demand is lower.
Midges: These tiny biting insects are common in the Scottish Highlands and islands, particularly from May to September. Bring insect repellent, wear long sleeves and trousers, and pack a midge net for your head if you plan to spend time outdoors.
By taking these factors into account and planning accordingly, you'll be well-prepared for a memorable and enjoyable road trip through Scotland's stunning landscapes and charming towns.
The best time for a road trip in Scotland largely depends on your preferences and priorities. However, the months between May and September are generally considered the most favorable for exploring the country due to milder weather, longer daylight hours, and the abundance of outdoor activities and events. Here's a breakdown of these months to help you choose the ideal time for your Scottish road trip:
May: This month often experiences pleasant weather, with fewer rainy days and the countryside bursting into vibrant colors. May is also typically less crowded than the peak summer months, allowing you to enjoy popular attractions with fewer tourists. However, be prepared for the possibility of encountering midges, particularly in the Highlands and around bodies of water.
June: June offers the longest daylight hours of the year, with some areas experiencing up to 18 hours of daylight. This allows you to maximize your sightseeing and outdoor activities. The weather is usually mild, and tourist crowds have not yet reached their peak.
July and August: These are the warmest months in Scotland, with average temperatures ranging from 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F). These months also coincide with the peak tourist season, so expect more crowds at popular attractions and higher accommodation prices. However, you'll also find an abundance of events and festivals during this time, such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
September: As the summer crowds begin to dissipate, September can be an ideal time for a road trip in Scotland. The weather remains relatively mild, and the autumn colors start to emerge, creating stunning landscapes. This is also a great month to enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking and wildlife watching, with fewer tourists around.
While May through September generally offer the most favorable conditions for a Scottish road trip, it's essential to remember that the weather can be unpredictable. It's always wise to pack layers and waterproof clothing, regardless of when you choose to visit. If you don't mind colder temperatures and shorter days, the off-season months can also provide unique experiences, such as snow-capped mountains and fewer crowds, but some attractions and accommodations may have limited availability or be closed during this time.
The cost of a road trip in Scotland can vary greatly depending on factors such as your travel style, accommodation preferences, and dining choices. On average, a budget-conscious traveler can expect to spend around £50-£70 per day, while a more luxurious experience might cost upwards of £150 per day or more. These estimates are inclusive of accommodation, food, transportation, and activities.
When considering the cost of renting a car, it's important to take into account the type of vehicle, rental duration, and any additional insurance coverage. Generally, renting a compact car for a week in Scotland can cost anywhere from £150 to £300 or more. Longer rental periods may offer better daily rates, while larger or more luxurious vehicles will typically have higher rental costs. It's also essential to factor in fuel expenses, which can vary depending on your route and driving habits. In Scotland, petrol prices can fluctuate, but as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, they were around £1.25 to £1.35 per liter.
Accommodation costs can also vary widely, with budget options like hostels and guesthouses ranging from £20 to £40 per person per night, while mid-range hotels and B&Bs can cost between £50 and £100 per night. High-end hotels and luxury lodges will typically have higher rates. It's worth noting that booking in advance and traveling during the shoulder or off-season months can often result in lower accommodation costs.
Food expenses will depend on your dining preferences. Eating at local pubs, cafes, and takeaway shops can be a budget-friendly option, with meals costing between £10 and £20. Mid-range restaurants may charge between £20 and £40 per person, while fine dining establishments can cost significantly more. Preparing your meals and purchasing groceries can also be an economical choice, particularly for longer road trips.
When planning your road trip budget, be sure to include any entrance fees for attractions, activities, and parking charges. Additionally, consider any incidental expenses such as souvenirs and tips. By carefully considering these various factors and tailoring your trip to suit your preferences, you can enjoy a memorable road trip in Scotland that aligns with your desired budget.
To make the most of your road trip in Scotland, having reliable guidebooks and road maps on hand is essential. These resources can provide invaluable information on attractions, accommodations, dining options, and detailed road directions. Here are some recommended guidebooks and road maps for your Scottish adventure:
Lonely Planet Scotland: This comprehensive guidebook covers various aspects of traveling in Scotland, including top attractions, off-the-beaten-path destinations, and tips on local customs and culture. The book also features detailed maps, itineraries, and practical advice on transportation and accommodations.
Rick Steves Scotland: Rick Steves is known for his expert advice and insider tips for budget-conscious travelers. His guide to Scotland covers top attractions, lesser-known gems, and recommendations for accommodations, dining, and sightseeing, all with a focus on making the most of your time and money.
Rough Guides: The Rough Guide to Scotland is another excellent option, providing in-depth information on Scotland's history, culture, and attractions. The guide also includes tips on accommodations, dining, and off-the-beaten-path experiences, as well as detailed maps and practical advice for navigating the country.
DK Eyewitness Scotland: This visually appealing guidebook offers a wealth of information on Scotland's top sights, including maps, photographs, and illustrations. The book covers the country's history, culture, and attractions, with suggestions for accommodations, dining, and activities.
Ordnance Survey Road Maps: Ordnance Survey is the national mapping agency for Great Britain and offers a range of detailed road maps for Scotland. These maps are known for their accuracy and readability, making them an excellent choice for navigating both urban and rural areas.
Michelin Road Atlas Great Britain & Ireland: This road atlas covers Scotland as part of the larger Great Britain and Ireland region. The atlas features clear and easy-to-read maps, with comprehensive coverage of motorways, main roads, and secondary roads.
AA Road Map Scotland: The Automobile Association (AA) offers a detailed road map of Scotland, featuring an easy-to-read layout and clear cartography. The map includes information on road distances, scenic routes, and essential tourist information.
Philip's Navigator Scotland: This spiral-bound road atlas provides detailed mapping of Scotland, with an emphasis on navigation and route planning. The atlas includes information on road classifications, distances, and notable landmarks.
By equipping yourself with these guidebooks and road maps, you'll have the resources you need to plan and navigate your Scottish road trip, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey through this enchanting country.