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Car tour in Scotland - tips for planning and tour suggestions

Absolute independence and the possibility to penetrate into the most remote areas. There are certain advantages to touring Scotland by car. Here is what you should pay attention to.

On this page:
»Your own car or rental car
" Security
“East or West first?
»Suggested routes

In contrast to a bus trip, in which every passenger follows a set rhythm, car travelers move around completely freely. If someone wants to stay longer in one place, that's what they do - the car doesn't drive away alone. In addition, spontaneous detours can be made, for example if the operator of the accommodation gives a special tip.

In short: in Scotland, having your own car or rental car is the best way to discover the country in peace. You can also tour freely, but most of them want to at least visit certain sights. And many would like to drive through the country once, i.e. take a round trip by car.

In the following some information on the subject of a car tour through Scotland. They are based on the experiences I made during my own tours. But it may well be that other travelers have a different opinion. Then please leave a comment below.

By the way: In the article Driving a car in Scotland you will find a lot of information about what to watch out for on the roads of Great Britain, which documents have to be carried and more.

Round trip: own car or rental car?

When you're not able to borrow a car from a friend in Scotland, there are really only two options available to you. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Either the tourist makes the long journey to Scotland with his own vehicle, or he rents a car from Avis, Sixt, Europcar, Hertz and Co.

That speaks for the rental car

On the one hand, the steering wheel is on the “right” side here, measured against the road situation. This means that when overtaking or turning right, you can have a better view of the traffic from the driver's seat. On the other hand, you can start the tour with the rental car from almost any point in Scotland. By plane it goes to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow or even with a change up to the Orkneys, and from there by rental car (see flight connections to Scotland).

Disadvantage: You don't know the rented car that well, and the controls and gear stick are arranged differently in British cars. When you book a rental car, you have to pay another few hundred euros. In addition, you may experience frustrating moments with the landlords' hotlines, as in my case with Europcar.

That speaks for your own car

First of all, of course, it's a habit, because everyone knows their own car well and gets along better with it than with someone else's rental car. Most of the time, your own vehicle is bigger than a rental car, as a larger station wagon for two weeks, for example, easily costs more than 1,000 euros. And very important: there is no weight limit for luggage like on an airplane. Jeer can pack his car up to the roof. In addition, the Scots are a little more lenient when they see a foreign license plate - they then also know that the tax is on the "wrong" side and that it can take a while.

Disadvantage: If you live in the south of Germany, the journey to the ferry can take a long time. And then there is only one ferry connection that takes you (almost) all the way to Scotland. It goes overnight from Amsterdam to Newcastle (info on ferry connections). In addition, you have less overview in road traffic. A co-driver you can rely on is then worth gold.

Motorhomes: The king of the road is, of course, whoever takes the car tour with their own caravan. This also works without any problems, because there are enough campsites and, if necessary, the possibility to simply stay overnight in some places - unless a sign "No overnight parking" prohibits it. However, there are singletrack roads in the north and on the islands in particular, i.e. single-lane roads that require a good deal of nerve and driving ability. However, they are all passable as long as there is no explicit warning sign. One of these warnings is for example at the Bealach na Bà mountain pass.

Security: what you need for car tours

If you drive your own car on a car tour in Scotland, then you should arrange a few things in advance:

  • International insurance card ("Green Card"): It allows the liability insurance of your own country to also apply in foreign countries. This card is no longer mandatory in itself, because the valid license plate number on the car is now sufficient as proof even in other EU countries. However, this card helps with claims processing. You can get the green card from your insurance company on request.
  • Regulate headlights: In our cars, the headlights shine more to the right. In this way, the edge of the road and the road signs should be better illuminated. In Great Britain, however, this means that oncoming traffic is dazzled. This must be prevented. Sometimes you can regulate this via the on-board computer in travel mode. It can also be enough to turn both lights down using the rotary control - then you can often see well enough. If none of this works, there are appropriate stickers for the headlights. More about masking headlights for UK here
  • Code D: The EU license plate with the corresponding D marking is sufficient in Scotland. Otherwise you need the good old oval D-sticker.
  • Thorough check: The network of workshops in the north of Scotland is thin. If the car stops somewhere in the Northern Highlands on a Sunday, it is very difficult to find help. So it is better to have your own car checked again beforehand.
  • Navigation device: I won't drive without it anymore. It's so relaxing to be guided.

What if you decide to rent a car? Then above all you need a valid driver's license. Remember to book another driver who also has his papers with him. Alternating driving is simply more pleasant on longer journeys.

Listen carefully when you sell your insurance at the rental car counter. Above all, how much personal contribution remains in the event of damage.

And here too the tip: take your navigation device with you from Germany if you have one. Booking there will be too expensive.

Direction: clockwise or counterclockwise?

In principle, most of the car tours take place along the coasts, such as the new North Coast 500. And that makes sense, because this is also where most of the settlements and sights are located. The higher it goes to the north of the country, the less there is inland. The only question is: in which direction do you drive along the coast? Up in the west and down in the east, so clockwise? Or the other way around?

Basically there are two things to consider: First, the Scottish weather. On average, it rains twice as often in the west as in the east of the country. If you prefer to say goodbye to Scotland in good weather, the chance increases with a round trip clockwise. The second criterion is the landscape and the settlement: the landscape of the east is not as wild as the west. The east is also a little more densely populated.

My recommendation: I like going up the coast in the east and down in the west. The weather can be a bit worse in the second half of the trip, but from a scenic point of view, the counter-clockwise drive offers a delightful increase. Especially if you also build in the Isle of Skye.

Suggested routes: How can I plan the tour?

Finally, you have to keep an eye on the time quota. A round trip by car from Edinburgh in ten days is sure to work out well if you stay on the mainland. But then you miss the very charming landscapes of the Highlands. For example with the Isle of Skye, which certainly offers one of the most beautiful backdrops in Scotland. And the Outer Hebrides are also extremely worth experiencing.

But for a big tour of Scotland and the islands, the traveler should estimate three weeks.

I have recorded some ideas for tours here. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Route suggestion "Highlands coast"

Nice round trip through the heart of the Highlands to the coasts and back, with the Isle of Skye.

Main sights: From Edinburgh, through the Cairngorms and Speyside, to Elgin, Culloden, Inverness, east coast with Dunrobin Castle, north coast with Smoo Cave, west coast to Ullapool and via Applecross to Skye, to Fort William, through Glen Coe back to Edinburgh

Areas: Speyside, Inverness-shire, Sutherland, Isle of Skye, Argyll & Bute

Disadvantage: No Loch Ness, no Outer Hebrides, no Islay

Time: 14 days, including arrival and departure days and two days in Edinburgh, three nights on Skye, otherwise daily stages.

Possible extension by three days of Orkney.

Route suggestion "Highlands total"

Car tour with all the interesting places in Scotland. There is also enough time for excursions and hikes.

Main sights: Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, Islay, Oban, Isle of Skye, Ullapool, Inverness / Loch Ness, Dufftown, Pitlochry, Edinburgh

Areas: Speyside, Inverness-shire, Isle of Skye, Islay Argyll & Bute

Disadvantage: No Outer Hebrides, north of the Highlands is missing

Time: 21 days, calculated with arrival and departure days and two days each on Islay, Skye, Speyside and Edinburgh, otherwise daily stages.

More details about this tour with a detailed description and the possibility of booking can be found here.

Route suggestion "Hebrides Tour"

Car tour through the heart of the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides with their Atlantic beaches. Then the whiskey island of Islay.

Main sights: Edinburgh, Glen Coe, Great Glen with Loch Ness, Inverness, Ullapool, Outer Hebrides, Isle of Skye, Road to the Isles from Mallaig with Glenfinnan and the “Harry Potter” Jacobite Steam Train, Oban, Islay, Pass “Rest and be thankful “, possibly Glasgow, Edinburgh

Areas:Inverness-shire, Outer Hebrides, Isle of Skye, Argyll & Bute

Time: 21 days minimum to spend enough time on each of the islands.

Possible extension through the Isle of Mull.

Route suggestion "Quick & Dirty"

Some just don't have much time. Eight days are very few days in Scotland, but even then you can do at least one interesting lap.

Main sights: Edinburgh, Inverness, east coast with Dunrobin Castle, north coast with John o’Groats, Smoo Cave, west coast to Ullapool and via Applecross, via Loch Ness to Fort William, through Glen Coe back to Edinurgh

Areas:Inverness-Shire, Sutherland, Argyll & Bute

Time: Eight days, with one day in Edinburgh, the rest are daily stages depending on your needs.

Possible extension through the Orkney or Isle of Skye.

Further suggestions can be found in our booking a trip, where we also show various tours and offer them for booking.

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