Are you planning a family road trip to Scotland’s beautiful Isle of Skye? Are you flying into Scotland and need to rent a car for your adventures? Whether you’re an experienced traveler or a first-time tourist, renting a car in Scotland can be an exciting and rewarding experience. But before you set off on your journey, there are some important things to consider. Here’s a quick guide on how to rent a car in Scotland so that your journey is easy and hassle-free.
At the end of our Scottish vacation, Sal and I rented a car at Edinburgh airport for a quick trip to the Isle of Skye. We had an incredible time road tripping through the Scottish Highlands. And we hope our tips our helpful for you in your travel planning.
Why rent a car in Scotland
The best way to explore the Isle of Skye is by car. Renting a car (or care hire!) allows you to the freedom and flexibility to travel at your own pace and take in the sights that interest you most. For example, you can stay longer at a place you enjoy and head out early at another location if you are interested or the crowds are too large. Renting a car and driving yourself will also explore as you want. Stopping at scenic views or the local pub for a quick bite to eat as you drive through Highlands towns. Plus, the drive is gorgeous! If you drive yourself, you can stop at all the scenic stops and overlooks along the way and spend as much time there as you like.
Once you have your car, it’s time to hit the road!
A 5-to-6-hour drive in Scotland
Once you have your car, it’s time to hit the road! The drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Portree in the Isle of Skye can be done in 5 or 6 hours, depending on traffic and the route that you take. If you have more time, however, opt for the longer route that takes you along Scotland’s scenic coastlines. With plenty of picturesque stops along the way, this may be your best option if you have the time and want to make the most out of your trip.
After renting a car at the Edinburgh airport, Sal and I stopped to visit the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland before driving off to the Isle of Skye. Stopping in Stirling instead of driving though Perth added some time to our drive, but it was totally worth it. On the return trip, we drove through Perth. It was nice taking a different route back.
Fun Fact! The United Kingdom uses yards on road signs road!
Yards are almost equivalent to meters if that is helpful to gauge distance. Having no frame of reference to yards or meters, I imagined distance as if I were on an American football field when reading the road signs in Scotland!
Driving on the left side of the road
In the United Kingdom, they drive on the left side of the road. If you are coming from a country that drives on the right side of the road, this may take some time getting used to. A recommendation that I heard in preparation for this trip was to find a nearby parking lot and drive around to get used to navigating on the left side of the road.
Also, roundabouts are common in Scotland. Sometimes they can be challenging to navigate if you are not used to them. So, pack your patience, go with the flow of traffic, and make sure that you pay close attention while driving!
Full disclosure, I did not drive during this road trip. My travel partner, Sal, loves to drive on long road trips and this trip was no different. I was just a passenger along for the ride. So, I personally do not have any experience driving on the left side of the road – yet!
Unfortunately, Buddy could not join us on our Scotland road trip to the Isle of Skye. Buddy was on tour with his choir at this time and while we went north to visit the Scottish Highlands, he and his choir traveled south to perform in venues and music festivals in England and Wales. So, this post will not share his thoughts on road tripping in Scotland with a teen.
However, Buddy and his choir did take a Scottish Highlands tour from Edinburgh to Glencoe and Loch Ness. He took a Loch Ness cruise and got to see the famous highland cows! Buddy’s Scottish Highlands Tour is below in case you are interested in doing the tour!
Buddy loves road trips and I think that he would have loved this one as well. I think he really would have liked the car, especially the novelty of a manual transmission car on the left side of the road. For more on Buddy’s teenage perspective on surviving long road trips, read this blog post!
5 Simple Tips for Renting a Car in Scotland
1. Do not take your rental car to Edinburgh
First and foremost, if you plan on visiting Edinburgh, do not drive your rental car into the city center. There is no need. Edinburgh has public transportation, and the city is also very easy to navigate on foot. If you are renting a car to road trip in Scotland, visit Edinburgh without your rental car at the beginning or end of your trip. That way you avoid the difficulties of navigating Edinburgh’s busy streets. Plus, you do not have to worry about parking.
During our trip, we visited Edinburgh first taking the Airlink into the city and using public transportation to get around. After our short stay in Edinburgh, we took the Airlink back to the airport where we picked up our rental car.
Also, we did not visit Glasgow on this trip, so I cannot recommend whether to take your rental car into Glasgow. But if you have visited Glasgow, or even better road tripped through there, let us know your advice in the comments below!
2. Check your license before arriving in Scotland
Before renting a car in Scotland, make sure that your driver’s license is valid in the United Kingdom. You may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) depending on your home country. For the most up to date and accurate information, check out the GOV.UK page on Driving in Great Britain on a non-GB licence to make sure that you have everything you need to rent your car.
3. Be prepared to drive a manual transmission rental car
If you are visiting from a country where manual transmissions vehicles are not as common, and it has been a while since you drove a stick shift, you might want to brush up on your skills before renting your car in Scotland. Manual transmission vehicles are much more common in Europe than in countries in North America, so visitors from these countries may be out of practice! If you have a chance to brush up on driving stick shift before your trip to Scotland, it will help you feel more confident navigating a manual transmission the left side of the road!
Before our trip, I was keen on borrowing my father-in-law’s truck so Sal could brush up on his manual driving skills before embarking on our adventure through Scotland (and Ireland before that!). But he declined. Naturally left-handed, Sal handled the transition to manual transmission on the left side of the road swimmingly.
4. Look for a great deal on your rental car
Keep an eye out for great deals on rental cars when planning your road trip. Many companies offer discounts for extended rentals or if you book early enough. So be sure to shop around and compare prices. Don’t forget about promotional offers like discounts for booking online or loyalty programs that can save you more money! Shop around for cheap rental cars and compare the best car rental companies. And, if possible, try and book directly with the rental company instead of through an online agency as this could not only save you money, but also the hassle of going through a middleman if the booking goes sideways.
We used points from our travel credit card to rent our cars in both Scotland and Ireland. It saved us a lot of money! But there are lots of ways to get a car rental deal. Costo Travel is a good place for car rentals. And you can always shop around!
Bonus Tip: Research the car insurance you will need for your rental car ahead of time. Make sure you are covered!
Some travel credit cards will cover your rental car insurance abroad, but if you go that route, you may need to ask for documentation from the credit card company ahead of time.
Rent your car for your Scotland road trip today!
5. Make sure you know where your rental car company is at the airport!
Before arriving at the airport to pick up your rental car, make sure that you know where your rental car company is located at the airport. Certain rental car companies can be located at different areas of the airport or even offsite, so make sure you know where you are going before you arrive. Also, keep an eye out for any special instructions or directions given by the rental car companies so that you don’t miss any important information regarding pick up or drop off locations once you get there.
This tip comes from experience. After taking the Airlink from our hotel in Edinburgh to the airport, we walked to Edinburgh Airport Car Rental Centre. However, the car rental/car hire company that we rented from, Green Motion Car Rental Service, is not located at this area with the other car rentals. Rather it is about a mile away from the car rental centre.
This mistake on our end led to a lot of confusion and wandering around until we realized our mistake. A 15 minute walk later and we were finally in the right location. Make sure you search the exact location of your car rental, and not just the larger rental car center, before arriving to the airport to pick up your vehicle.
What would I do differently next time: Road tripping in Scotland
Road tripping in Scotland to the Isle of Skye was an incredible experience. If there was one thing that I could have done differently, it would be to take more time for our road trip! We had less than three days total for this road trip.
Sal and I visited Scotland while tagging along on Buddy’s Ireland and United Kingdom choir tour for two weeks. Because of Buddy’s tour schedule, we only had three free days to road trip to and explore the Isle of Skye.
If we had more time, I would have stopped and spent a few days near Callander and spent some time at the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park before heading up to the Isle of Skye. We drove though Callander on the way to the Isle of Skye and it was a really cute town. And the landscape in the area was beautiful. Maybe next time!
And we did not film a Movement Postcard on the road.
What to bring on your Scottish road trip
These are a few of our suggestions. Feel free to modify this list as you see fit!
- Offline road maps
- Refillable water bottles
- A daypack
- And some good music or podcasts!
And Buddy and I wrote a Scotland packing list for families traveling to Scotland in the summer months that also includes recommendations for packing for a road trip!
Renting a car in Scotland to road trip to the Isle of Skye – or some other incredible location – is really worth it! So, pack up your bags, and get ready to hit the road!
Are you planning a road trip to the Isle of Skye? Let us know in the comments below!
Traveling to Scotland?
If you enjoyed reading this, check out these blog posts!
- Exploring the Isle of Skye in One Day: The Ultimate Guide
- 6 Interesting Things To Do If You Only Have 24 Hours in Edinburgh
- 5 Simple Tips for Visiting the National Wallace Monument
- Tips for Visiting the Famous Isle of Skye Fairy Pools
- Travel Made Easy: What to Pack for a Trip to Scotland
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