Many international visitors to Scotland stick to the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The majority of the country’s castles and large, historic houses are in rural areas, so you may want to rent a car to visit them. Trunk roads, known as “A” roads, link Scottish regions, while 12 designated National Tourist Routes pave the way for exploring the wild landscape of the Highlands or the dramatic northern coastline.
Car Rental Companies
Rent from large international companies like Hertz and Europcar or a smaller local company. The Scotland National Tourism Organisation website carries an up-to-date list of car-rental companies. Do advance research to get the best price as rental rates can vary widely; there are better deals on rentals lasting a week or more than leases lasting a few days. Choose from vehicles that include small cars to American-style SUVs. There's no avoiding the steering wheel being on the right, but if you would prefer an automatic transmission, specify this in advance. Stick-shift rentals are usually less expensive.
Drive in Scotland using your United States driver’s license or an international driving permit. A valid passport and vehicle insurance are also necessary. Although any qualified person age 18 or older can drive on public roads in the United Kingdom, rental companies require drivers to be at least 21or older. Your U.S. insurance policy won't cover your Scottish rental, but your car rental quote includes the cost of “third party” – or liability – insurance, the legal minimum required to drive on British roads. This covers any damage caused to another person, animal, vehicle or property but not the cost of repairing your rental car. The insurance offered by the rental company generally includes a large excess or deductible, but you can reduce it by purchasing excess-reimbursement insurance, either from the rental company or from an independent company such as the Automobile Association.
Driving in Scotland
You’re probably aware that British traffic travels on the left and passing takes place on the right. The rules of the road also differ from those in the United States. Reading a copy of the “Highway Code” is a good way to familiarize yourself with British driving regulations; you can view the entire code free online at the British government website. Penalties for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are harsh and can include a jail sentence. It’s also illegal to use a cellphone or other similar device while driving, although hands-free models are permitted.
Gas stations in rural areas often operate shorter hours than those in major towns and cities, while many stations across the country do not open on Sundays. With this in mind, keep enough gas in your tank to reach your destination and fill up the tank on Saturday if you plan to cover a lot of miles on a Sunday. All drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts in any car, no matter where they are sitting within the vehicle. Children under 12 who measure less than 4 feet, 5 inches tall must use an appropriate child seat – your rental company will be able to advise you on this.