Hi, my friend and are are planning our trip to Scotland, and are gathering information. Neither of us has been here before, but are very excited. We have been pouring through books and websites but still have many questions. We want to see as much as possible and were thinking renting a car would be the best bet. Any suggestions as to the best way to go about this? We are flying in and out of Glasgow, but don’t relish driving in the city as we learn to drive on the right side😏. Thanks for any and all support you can give us. Ellie
Renting a car is your best bet. Get some good guidebooks and don’t drive in the cities.
Come back when you have specific questions. Driving in Scotland is easy.
Thanks for your response. Who did you rent your car through?
We rented theough AutoEurope. They have US phone and good customer service.
Hi Ellie -
Diveloonie is right, the best way to see Scotland is to rent a car and drive.
If I were you, if flying into Glasgow Airport I would rent a car from there. You can head out towards Loch Lomond and the highlands without going back into Glasgow centre. If you decide to stay in Glasgow overnight after your flight before taking to the roads on the ‘wrong’ side (!), which is often recommended here, it’s a short bus ride into the centre and having a car in the centre is really not much use - it’s busy and parking will be a nightmare as it is in many parts of the UK. Stay overnight, have a look round (whisper it, but I prefer Glasgow to Edinburgh) and take the bus out to the airport to collect your car.
If you are going to Edinburgh, and despite my above comment, I would expect you are, drop the car back at Glasgow Airport on your return from the Highlands and Islands and bus into centre then train over to Edinburgh. Again, no point in paying for a car which you have to find somewhere to leave and not use in Edinburgh. If you plan to stay a night or two in Edinburgh you can book tickets on the train which will allow for that.
Hope you have a great trip. I love Scotland and am headed to Glencoe next month! If you have any more questions of a specific itinerary nature come back to us! Finally if Mike (auchterless) replies here, you can take his advice on all things Scotland to the bank (even if - or especially if - he says I’m talking complete garbage!).
Here is my advice. if you rent a car get absolutely the smallest car you can fit yourself and your gear into. We accepted a car a size larger than we needed and it was VERY STRESSFUL as the roads are so narrow, lined often by curbs and rock walls. Stay small small small and of course pay for the automatic. Buy complete insurance coverage, it will be extra but the piece of mind will be welcomed. We drove all around Glencoe, Fort William area, Edinburgh and out to the Isle of Skye and it was awesome but be aware that it will take you much longer to get around as the roads are as I mentioned. I loved Skye and the highlands. Please take some time to learn the proper way to navigate one lane roads in the UK (you can google it) and become familiar with common road and roundabout courtesies. It is my belief that to get the most from Scotland you will need a car and don't be afraid to hit the out of the way places, they are worth it. good luck Dave
Don't forget that most cars here in the UK have manual transmission. If you need an automatic, be sure to select that option when you book your rental car.
Everything that you've been told so far is good advice. Driving is the best way to see Scotland - you can go wherever you want, stay wherever you want, and enjoy just sitting still, taking in the magnificent scenery, for as long as you want, without being at the mercy of a tour operator's schedule, or a bus/train schedule.
Having said that, you are going to be really tired if you're flying from SEATAC, as it's going to be about a 10 hour flight - even longer if you have a layover. So unlike for folks coming from the U.S. east coast, I'd definitely recommend not packing too much into your first day. As it's your first time over, and you're not used to driving on the left, I agree with everyone who recommended getting an automatic transmission. It will be one less thing to worry about. At least 75% of cars available for rental in Scotland are manual transmission, so an automatic will cost you a little bit more. But it will be worth it.
Just to get used to driving on the left, you should drive a couple of times around the airport. There are a couple of roundabouts, so that will give you some experience. Don't worry, someone will definitely blow their horn at you! Most likely a taxi driver. :( To exit the airport, you pretty much have to get on the motorway (M8). The entrance to the M8 comes up on you really fast, so you'll have a chance to scope it out while you're making that test drive around the airport.
Before you get on the motorway, you need to have a good idea where you're going. You haven't mentioned where you want to go, so if you let us know, we can give you some idea of how to get there. Do you map read, or do you prefer GPS/satnav? The M8 will take you to wherever you want to go; you just need to know which exit to be prepared for, as cars will be whizzing by you at 70 mph. And don't forget that the slow lane is the left lane, so until you're used to driving, stay there as much as you can. Having said that, the left lane can also become an exit lane, so be aware of your road signs and lane markings. As you'll have a navigator, he/she can keep a lookout for upcoming turns and exits.
When you rent your car, which you'll be doing from here, make sure that your boot (trunk) has enough room for your luggage. You'll see luggage sizes (usually a large suitcase is considered a 24 inch model) when you start to pick out your car. Best not to worry about the size of the car; go for luggage storage instead. Don't go higher than a Class C rental, unless you absolutely have to. You won't have to drive in Glasgow; the M8 goes straight through. Unless you're heading toward the Erskine Bridge, in which case you won't be anywhere near Glasgow. If you're visiting Edinburgh at any point on your holiday, try to find lodging that has free parking, and get around the city by bus/taxi/Shanks' mare. By the time you get to Edinburgh, you'll have plenty of driving experience under your belt.
I have to ask - are you Outlander fans? If so, there are many places to visit, some within an easy reach during your first day. What time do you expect to arrive in Glasgow? If you're really tired when you arrive at the car rental area (which is now outside the terminal - a short walk), the rental agent will try to talk you in to things that you don't need. Make sure that you know exactly what you want before you get to the counter. And take the full tank option (pick up full, return full). There is a filling station at the airport, next to the hotels. Save your receipt from the last fill up, in case you need it upon return.
That's about all the information and recommendations I can give you right now, until you specify a destination or destinations. I can tell you, though, that you are going to absolutely love Scotland!
Very best wishes,
p.s.: Last dozen or so trips, I've rented through Avis or Hertz.
Glasgow airport is on the right side of the city for heading to the Highlands, so you don't have to drive through the city. The airport has direct access onto the freeway that takes you to the Erskine bridge and the road on up to loch Lomond and the Highlands.
However I would generally advise against getting a car straight after arrival off a transatlantic flight, particularly one from the west coast, as it's not a good idea to drive on strange roads whilst jet-lagged. You will likely find on your arrival day that you're exhausted and all you want to really do is sleep. As such it would probably be best to stay in Glasgow for that day and your first night and then pick up ahire car the next morning at the airport.
If you really want to get going that day then I would limit to somewhere within an hour's drive of the airport at most, perhaps loch Lomond for instance.
My daughter and I will flying into Glasgow in September for 9 days!! We are super excited also. I will be following this thread.
Thank you to all of you who are responding to my questions. My friend and I did some planning and scheming and came up with a rough draft of our trip. We are actually flying into Glasgow from Dublin after a two week tour with Celtic Quilting Tours. Your tips about not trying to drive when we come in is well founded as we will be very tired after Ireland. So this is what we came up with so far. 2 days in Glasgow, then pick up car. Drive to Oban for ferry ride, stay the night, and then head up to Skye for 2 nights, exploring along the way. From there we thought of using Inverness as our home base to see The highlands and Cullodan for Two to 3 days And over to Spey side area to check out the distilleries. (I do love Scotch😌) We are thinking of then continuing south for a couple of days and are not sure what is the best bet. We’d like to go to St Andrews if possible. Then to Edinburgh for 3 or so days. Then back to Glasgow to fly out. Perhaps we could return the car somewhere outside Edinburgh as it sounds like we don’t need one there. Other things we are looking forward to are talking with the local people, castles and museums . We plan in staying at air b&bs and taking in the local pub grub😊. Any suggestions?
Hi again, Ellie,
If you're going to end your holiday in Edinburgh, you could drop your car off at EDI, and take the tram (or bus) in to town. Then when you're ready to leave for Glasgow, you could take the train from Edinburgh Waverley or Haymarket back to Queen Street Glasgow, and take the express bus to the airport from there. Since there are two of you, then a taxi to the airport would be a better bet.
Your other option would be to take the 900 bus from Edinburgh to the Buchanan Street bus station in Glasgow, then the 500 express bus to Glasgow Airport. Total travel time would be about two hours, and the 900 bus runs about once every 15 to 30 minutes. Both buses are operated by Scottish CityLink.
Make sure to let the car rental agency know of your one way drop off plans. There's no extra charge, but if you don't tell them in advance, they'd figure out some way of billing you!
Once again, best wishes!
p.s.: Elgin, Grantown-on-Spey, or Dufftown would all make excellent places to stay while you're on your Speyside whisky exploration. Don't forget the Glenmorangie distillery in Tain, which is an easy drive from Inverness, and Talisker, while you're on Skye. After you're finished on Speyside, you could head down to Royal Deeside, visit some of the castles there, then head down to Stonehaven via the Slug Road (A957) from Crathes. Or straight down through Huntly and Inverurie on the A96, then the A90 down to Stonehaven. That would give you a chance to visit Dunnottar Castle, then take the coast road down through Montrose and Arbroath, and cross the Tay Bridge at Dundee, on your way to St. Andrews. There are other ways to get to St. Andrews, but that route would give you the most scenery and the most places to see that are unlike what you've already seen.
You have gotten some good advice here. I want to add one thing about navigation. I have driven all around Scotland without any satnav. It does take planning and thinking a bit ahead as they use landmarks and destinations for navigation more than just the A9 north. I found that it was really helpful to look at the planned route, and look at the towns and sights that are between me and my destination. Since I was traveling solo, I would actually write down a list of the places whenever I was going someplace new and didn't want any sidetracks. But you will have a navigator! That's a tremendous advantage. I would still do the planning. :) But don't be afraid to explore a bit. It's a small island and you really would have a hard time getting seriously lost. Just don't do it when your B&B lady has said that she will only be around at a particular time or if you are trying to get to the TI before it closes.
Hi once again, Ellie,
You shouldn't be too tired if you're just coming from Dublin, as it's only about a one hour flight, and you'll be in the same time zone. However, if you're planning a couple of days to explore Glasgow, you're much better off without a car. It's a really difficult city to navigate by car, especially for a first timer. Dedicated bus lanes have made driving worse, even for locals. The public transportation system is excellent, and taxis are relatively inexpensive.
You will love "Glesca"!
"I wish I was in Glasgow, with some good old friends of mine
Some good old rough companions; some good old smooth red wine
We'd talk about the old days and the old town's sad decline
And drink to the boys on the road
That good old place I miss so much now sees some better days
But still we talk about it as we go our separate ways
Yet Glasgow gave me more than it ever took away
And prepared me for life on the road
I belong to Glasgow, that's how the old song ran
Ask anyone who's lived there and you will understand
You can take the man from Glasgow, but not Glasgow from the man
It prepares you for life on the road
We had a similar itinerary as what you're planning except Glasgow (we trained to Edinburgh from London, got our car, and then dropped it when we returned to Edinburgh as our last stop before flying out). My husband drove the entire time, as I was too nervous with driving on the left side, and he only made one real boo-boo when a local flew around a blind corner and he went to the right side to pull over, instead of the left. We rented through Hertz. As for your question on where to stay, we stayed at a B&B in Inverness and hit Culloden and went up the coastline to visit Glenmorangie and Dunrobin castle (the latter was one of our favorites, esp. with their falcon demo). You didn't mention the timing of your trip, but if it's June - October, I highly recommend the Leault Working Sheepdog demo, about an hour from Inverness -- turned out to be one of our favorite things we did. I found that hotels/B&Bs in Scotland were often the same price or cheaper than Airbnbs, esp. for just two people, so it's one of our few trips where we didn't stay in a vacation rental at any time.
Ellie here again. I’m so thankful for all of the collective wisdom of fellow travelers. I will take what I’ve learned from you to Scotland. We’ve basically done all the work we can from here, so now it’s all about reading and and going about the business of fun traveling.. Feel free to add anything else you feel would be helpful. One quick question...we’ve made sleeping arrangements for the busiest cities, but if we fall in love with somewhere and want more time there...do we have 24 hours to let places know we are changing our schedule and will it be difficult to find another place in June? Thanks again!
In answer to your questions, your cancellation time will depend on how you made your booking. Some hotels may allow you to cancel with 24 hours notice, unless you've paid in advance to get a lower rate. Premier Inn is pretty good about that. B&Bs are another story. As B&B owners rely on your custom for their livelihood, it would be best to give them a lot more notice than 24 hours. You could offer to pay the B&B owner if they can't fill the room. Check to see what the small print is with your booking arrangements.
If all else fails, you may just have to bite the bullet and pay for your night that you're giving up, and pay for an extra night in the town/village with which you've fallen in love! Or hope that the next town is close enough that you can make a day trip back to that town.
I'm sure this happens frequently; I've had it happen to me a couple of times over the years.
In answer to your second question, yes, lodging will be difficult to find in June, especially as you travel farther north and west. It wasn't always this way. When I first started traveling to Scotland in the 70s (1970s, I should add!), finding accommodation was never a problem. You just drove in to a town, and there were B&B signs everywhere. Hotels were never full. Now that Scotland has become a major tourist destination, things have changed! Now you need to book six months out in some areas.
Anyway, you're going to love Scotland!
Best wishes once again!