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Driving in Scotland

Hi I am planning a 21 day driving holiday in Scotland in May 2019 I have read on the forum that the roads are in poor condition and driving is very time consuming with poor roads and traffic congestion. I drove is Ireland last year (starting in Dublin and ending in Dublin) The driving experience was fabulous! Narrow roads, lots of sheep but overall a great drive. Can anyone comment on this please
Thanks Caroline

Posted by
2565 posts

I've done two driving vacations in Scotland (May 2015 and May 2016) and I would not say the roads are in poor condition at all. But, similar to what you experienced in Ireland, they are generally narrow. Many of them have rough stone walls on the sides, and they are often steep and winding up and down hilly terrain. (I don't think we encountered any sheep blocking the roadway; maybe a hairy coo or two...)

The point that I think many of us try to get across to newbies is that you can't look at the mileage between two destinations and assume you'll be driving at 55 to 65 mph the whole way as you'd do in many parts of North America. Naturally Scotland can have traffic jams in the big cities, especially at rush hour. On narrow country roads you can get stuck behind a slow vehicle, but people are usually very good about pulling off the pavement to let others pass. People who know the roads (especially those intrepid CityLink bus drivers!) sometimes drive pretty fast even when doing so doesn't seem very safe. When you're traveling and trying to navigate and also enjoy the view, you probably don't want to push it speed-wise.

Posted by
1 posts

Agree with prior comment. We drove for 2 weeks this past late May and early June and I would say the roads were actually better than many I’ve experienced in the US. Yes they are narrow and you have to be considerate of others at passing areas. Good news is 99.9% of the travelers are incredibly considerate to other drivers. We drove primarily to and around islands, 90% of the NorthCoast 500, into the Highlands and back to Glasgow. Only time I was ever nervous was when I met big RVs....was more concerned for them than myself as I wouldn’t want to tackle the roads in a vehicle like that. We had a 7 passenger vehicle and it was perfect. It does take more time to get from point A to B but no complaints given the amazing scenery. Take your time and enjoy all Scotland has to offer! It’s a wonderful place! We also drove in Ireland and would agree the roads in Scotland are very similar. Would say we drove on more 1 lane roads in Scotland our last 2 trips but all were in fine shape w/ plenty of passing places.

Posted by
2681 posts

It’s been a few years, but I recall the roads being in very good condition. Of course there will be some congestion by larger towns, and narrow rural roads in places and in smaller towns/villages. If you had no problem in Ireland, Scotland should be a breeze. I thought Scotland was easy to drive around for the 18 days we were there.

Posted by
83 posts

I just drove for two weeks this past September. I actually had a conversation with someone about the roads - we noticed a lot of work. In the Highlands there has been a lot of work done to improve drainage. The roads are in great condition.

Posted by
5019 posts

I have read on the forum that the roads are in poor condition and driving is very time consuming with poor roads and traffic congestion

That's utter nonsense.

The roads are fine. Some may be narrow, but the conditions are perfectly good. Time consuming? Perhaps in some places, due to weather, small roads, and other factors, but hey, it's beautiful country, you're not going to zoom through it as if it was an interstate highway across Montana.

I think you would find that driving in Scotland is a lot like driving in Ireland (maybe with a bit more vertical terrain, depending on where you are).

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, Carol,

I've had one month driving holidays in Scotland in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. I've never had any problem with the roads in Scotland, even on some of the more remote islands. The only really bad road I've encountered was the A863 between Dunvegan and Osa. That was this year. The road was just chock-a-block with potholes. But they'll probably have it repaved by the time you get there, if you're going that way.

Sure, some of the roads are narrow, and there are a lot of single track roads with passing places in the Highlands and Islands, but I've never encountered anything but courteous drivers. I'm sure that there is always going to be a David Mesher out there. Hopefully you won't encounter anyone like him on the roads.

As drtrupper advised, just take your time and enjoy all of that magnificent scenery. As you've already driven in Ireland, you're probably familiar with roundabouts and single track roads. If you're not, check out the Highway Code website. There's information on both.

Best wishes for your holiday, and as they say in Scotland, "Dinna fash yersel!"

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5461 posts

Wow, not sure where the problems are coming from, but I love driving in Scotland. I rented a car this summer and my only issue was making sure I could get gas with my American credit card. It can be tricky, but nothing that you can not deal with. The roads were in fine condition. So, the main thing to understand is that it is not the land of expressways/four lane high ways. Rather, this is the land of the single lane road where you wave to the oncoming traffic rather than curse them out. I currently live in NYC and have done more miles in Scotland than the US in the past year. It was wonderful.

Posted by
5435 posts

I find driving in Scotland stressful (and I love to drive!), but the roads are in good condition. It's just that they seem to me to be very NARROW when faced with the oncoming CityLink bus or camper or 18-wheeler.

Posted by
679 posts

We are doing it next May. I am an anxious passenger but am looking forward to seeing the wonderful countryside.

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, Nancy,

If you're an anxious passenger, best to do the Bealach-na-Ba counterclockwise. :)

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
1239 posts

As you have driven in Ireland most of it is going to be similar. Keep to the left except where overtaking, get an auto box if concerned, learn what the signs say.

One thing that does seem to surprise visitors, drivers in parts of the country can appear to you to drive fast on the narrow roads. The single track roads in rural areas have the same 60 mph / 100 km/h limit as the main A82.

Allow faster drivers to get past.

Posted by
43 posts

Hi Carol, I agree with the other posters that driving in Scotland isn’t bad, it’s even fun at times, especially since you’ve had practice in Ireland. I drove in Scotland in September- it was my first time driving on the left, which gladly wasn’t too hard for me to get used to. One thing that no one has mentioned yet is that you need to pay attention to the speed limits, there are cameras that track your speed, or at least there are signs that say so. I don’t know how often tickets are issued, but I wouldn’t want to get a nasty surprise. Also, Although we didn’t pay extra for a navigation system, our car came with one anyway and we were really glad to have it. Enjoy Scotland, it’s amazing!

Posted by
78 posts

On a related topic: Parking. I have found that securing parking in some European cities (most notably, Italy) can be a real pain. Is Scotland parking-challenged? I am hoping to park a rental car near attractions as well as my hotel, B&B, hostel, etc.

I have no problem driving on the left side of the road, but I am trying to figure out whether to keep a rental car for the entire 3-week trip to Scotland (basically will tour the whole thing: North, South, East, West, and islands) or whether I should do a combo train and rental car as needed. Any thoughts?

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, Marti,

Keep the car the whole time, unless you're starting out your holiday in Edinburgh or Glasgow. If you're starting out in either of those cities, you won't need a car until you leave.

You shouldn't have any trouble finding a place to park anywhere in Scotland outwith those two cities. It can be difficult to find parking in Aberdeen on a Saturday night, and parking in central Dundee is expensive (!), but other than that, just be sure to carry a decent supply of 50p, one pound, and two pound coins for the meters. Most of the metered parking involves putting the required amount of coins in to a centrally located meter, printing out a timed ticket, and placing it on the inside of your windscreen on the driver's side.

Almost every hotel/B&B/hostel in Scotland has its own dedicated car park. There are some hotels in the center of larger towns (i.e.: Inverness) where you may have to pay to park, but that's the exception, not the rule. I recently returned from a 30 day holiday in Scotland, and I don't think that I spent more than eight to 10 pounds on parking during that time.

Many smaller towns have a centrally located car park where you have to pay a small amount, but there's usually a sign directing you to a free car park. Don't ever park where a double yellow line has been painted next to the kerb, and if you're street parking, check the street signs for day and time restrictions.

You can also park for free, for a limited amount of time, at many of the supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Co-op, etc.). However, be sure not to stay beyond the posted time limit (usually 90 minutes or two hours). There are draconian fines for doing so. There used to be car park guards at many of the supermarket car parks. However, many of them have been replaced by CCTV.

As they used to say in the old Esso commercials, "Happy motoring!"

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
98 posts

Thanks to all for the advice. I loved driving in Ireland the landscape was always changing! It was amazing. We were 3 Canadian nurses and we had a little Canadian Beaver bobble head in the back window to let drivers know we were tourists. I did find to country road speed quick but no different than at home when you know the roads. We simply put on hazards to let faster drivers pass
Thanks for the update Caroline

Posted by
458 posts

I saw a rental car here on Skye with a hand written sign in the back window saying, "We are French. We are sorry. Please pass"! A bit of humour never goes amiss I suppose.

On the narrow single track roads that you will encounter in the Highlands, the etiquette is to indicate left, slow down and pull into (always on the left side) the nearest passing place to let faster traffic past.

Good luck with your vacation.
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
448 posts

Carol I did Scotland driving and then a few years later did Ireland, the reverse of your plans. I found driving much easier in Ireland but that may be a result of having had two weeks of Scotland driving prior to Ireland. I did not find any "poor" road conditions in Scotland just roads that were often very narrow and often bordered by curbs and stone fences, not what we have in the US very often. The curbs for me were tough to judges as it was my first driving on the left experience and as you know from your Ireland trip it takes a while to adjust to where you are in your lane. We encountered many more single lane roads in Scotland and it is good to have an idea how to negotiate with oncoming traffic on those roads. I found the single lane roads in Scotland had many more "passing spots" on each road than we found in Ireland. Once you adjust to the single lane w/passing spots its pretty easy if you pay attention. Do some research on the proper way to pass and to allow passing on the single lane roads over there, it will be helpful. I couldnt find the website I had that had a tutorial but it is out there if you check around. Get the smallest car you can squeeze into as you will be rewarded with easier parking, easier turn arounds when you realize you missed your turn, and easier staying in your lane. If I return I will pay extra for insurance coverage for wheel and tire damage, it is easy to damage them on roads bordered by curbing and some auto insurance policies don't cover tires and wheels. Don't let the rental company upgrade you to a larger car, you will regret it. Give your route a view on Google Street View prior to leaving for extra prep work!! I wish I was returning to Skye and the highlands!

Posted by
37 posts

There are so many replies maybe I missed this but the trickiest thing for me when I first started driving over there years ago was understanding the two lane roundabouts. I suggest looking at youtube videos so you know when to be in the left/outside lane or when to be in the right/inside lane. Long story short - imagine a clock and you are entering at 6:00. If you are going to turn before or at noon, then you should be in the outside lane. If you are turning after 12:00, then be in the inside lane and move to the outside after 12:00. But always check before moving over because many tourists don't understand and stay in the outer lane the entire time.

Like anywhere-there are great roads and bad. I tend to go off the beaten path where there can be stretches with a lot of potholes, vary narrow, and with heavy brush alongside. Drive carefully while remembering that an oncoming car can be just around the corner.

One more thing to learn is who gets the right of way on single track roads.....Always use the passing place on your side. Don't cross the road to use the opposite side. If you see an oncoming car, see who has the closest passing place - you may have to back up. If there is a passing place across the road close to you, slow down so the oncoming car can pull into that spot. Google it- I am in a hurry so you will probably find it written more clearly :)

Posted by
1239 posts

Ok, just a few additions as a local.

For the purpose of this thread the following codes will be used S = Single followed by the number of lanes in total, D = dual, there is a physical barrier.

On any S road, it does not matter, the speed limit is 60 mph (100 km/h). Single track S1, 60. Main road S2, 60.

Drive to your comfort. If you are on an S1 on Mull, the needle on your Hyundai is lurking at 45 mph (70 km/h) and someone is so close behind you, allow them to pass, and relax. As they say in Frozen 'let it go'

Keep to the left. Always keep to the most left lane going. On D2, think that the one in the middle is Beto O'Rourke. You need to be Bernie Sanders. Keep Left.

On roundabouts, remember France has far more than the UK. France also has more McDonald's, go slow, go clockwise. On it you have priority, and remember the locals know how to use them, they will yield where needed.