Last Updated on February 22, 2023 by Maggie McKneely
Driving in Scotland can be intimidating, especially if you’re used to the right side of the road. But it’s so worth it! Here’s what you need to know before your Scottish road trip.
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Driving in Scotland
Scotland is perfect in almost every way: its scenery is unparalleled, the land is littered with castles, its national cow is furry and adorable, and wearing tartan shawls is completely acceptable. There’s just one thing: they drive on the left side of the road.
If you’re going to explore all that bonnie Scotland has to offer, the best way to go is a road trip. Some of its most epic gems are located down remote roads, miles away from any bus or train station. But for those of us who don’t hail from the British Isles, that means along with dodging free-range sheep herds and learning what to do with roundabouts, we must also drive on the “wrong” side of the road.
My family has never shied away from road-tripping in foreign countries. Driving a 15-passenger van along narrow Greek mountain roads? Check. Maneuvering stick-shift in a snowstorm in the Italian Alps? Done. Driving on the left side was just one more car-related item to check off on our “things we’ve done while traveling” list.
If you’re brave enough to give it a go, driving in Scotland will be one of the best experiences of your life. There’s just nothing like blaring some bagpipe music while wheeling through the Highlands. So if you’re planning a road trip through Scotland but are intimidated by driving there, I’m here to tell you that you can do it! And to calm your fears further, here’s everything I wish I had known about driving in Scotland before I got there, from one right-side-of-the-road-driver to another.
8 Things to Know About Driving in Scotland
The Left Side of the Road
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. Yes, in Scotland, cars drive on the left side of the road. For those of us who aren’t used to that, that sounds terrifying, like having to learn how to drive all over again (and who wants to do that on vacation?!?)
But I found it to be MUCH easier than expected. After a day or two into our week in Scotland, I stopped trying to get into the left side of the car (Riley from National Treasure II, anyone?) and remembered that I needed to use my left hand for shifting and using my blinker. The brain is amazingly flexible and can make the jump to left-side driving pretty quickly. The moments I found to be most difficult were roundabouts, exiting parking lots, and turning right into the correct lane. I found yelling “left side!!” at myself in these moments to be helpful!
And if you’re nervous about being the one bozo on the road who has no idea what they’re doing, remember this: Scotland is an extremely popular tourist destination, and a large number of cars on the road are being driven by people who also have no idea what they’re doing. You’re not alone!
One of the more challenging things about driving in Scotland is that their roads are very narrow, especially compared to the wide highways with luxurious shoulder space that we have in the USA. Those don’t exist in Scotland, even on the main roads. I found staying in my lane to be difficult not because I was driving on the left, but because I had no extra room to play with.
Some of the narrowest roads we drove are extremely popular with tourists – like the main road around Loch Ness. It’s not a hurdle and should not stop you from a Scottish road trip, just be mentally prepared and take your time!
One Lane Roads (a.k.a. Single-Track Roads)
You don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere in Scotland to find yourself driving on a one-lane road – they are all over the place! And by one lane, I don’t mean each car has its own lane. I mean, the road is only wide enough for one car, even though two-way traffic is allowed. So instead of freaking out the first time you’re driving down one and find a truck barrelling directly towards you, helpful to know what to do with these roads before driving in Scotland.
One-lane roads pose certain challenges – like the fact that they are, obviously, one lane, and only one car can go along at a time. So what happens when two cars find themselves driving right at each other? Someone pulls into a “passing place.” A passing place is a small pull-out, extended shoulder placed periodically along one-lane roads. When two cars are approaching each other, the first one to reach a passing place is supposed to pull over and allow the other car to pass before proceeding.
Passing places are on both the right and left sides of the road. Technically, you’re supposed to pull into the ones on the left; if there’s one on the right, stop in the road and wait for the oncoming car to pull in to the passing place on the right before you continue on. However, I pulled into the one on the right many times (hello, confused American here) and no one ever got angry. But if you can remember to do it correctly, I’m sure the Scottish drivers will appreciate it!
Also, don’t be afraid to take your time on single-lane roads. Though these roads tend to be the narrowest and most harrowing, most go to some of the most beautiful Scottish destinations. Stay calm, take a deep breath, and enjoy the stunning scenery out your window.
Speed limits are not always posted, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Scotland has “national speed limits” for different types of roads. If you don’t see a speed limit sign, you can assume the national speed limit for that road is in effect.
Speed limit signs look like the one below, with a black number in a white circle outlined in red:
National speed limits:
- Motorways and dual carriageways (multi-lane highways): 70 MPH
- Single-carriageways: 60 MPH
- Urban/built-up areas: Generally 20-30 MPH
Sometimes you’ll see a blue speed limit sign, like the one below. Those signs mean that that’s the minimum speed limit. So no poking along and staring out the windows in those areas!
When I wrote my guide to driving in Tuscany, I complained about the ridiculous amount of nonsensical signs posted along Italian roads. Scotland’s signage isn’t nearly as confusing, and many of them are intuitive or easy to figure out. But there are a few signs that are unclear that you’ll want to know about before driving in Scotland.
Start of Motorway Regulations: When you see this sign, it means all motorway regulations, including the national speed limit, are now in effect. The symbol with two lines and a bridge over it represents a motorway.
End of Motorway Regulations: The opposite of the first sign; all regulations, including the national speed limit, are ending in 1 mile.
No Overtaking: Or no passing, as we say in the US.
Prioritize Oncoming Vehicle: This is particularly important for all those single-lane roads. This means that you need to yield to the oncoming vehicle.
Uneven Road: This isn’t a need-to-know sign, but we saw it EVERYWHERE and never could figure it out until we got home and looked it up. The sign doesn’t necessarily mean the road is uneven, because we saw it in places where the road was completely fine. Perhaps the road was uneven at one point but has since been fixed but the sign was left up. Who really knows? But it’s everywhere, I tell you.
For a comprehensive list of all UK road signs, go here.
Animals on the Road
In much of Scotland, free-range sheep, goats, and cows are quite common. And they act as if the road is as much theirs as it is yours. So just keep your eyes open and be patient if a sheep herd decides to cause a traffic jam!
My family has always gotten an international driver’s license when road-tripping overseas, but you don’t actually need one for driving in Scotland. A valid driver’s license from almost every country is also valid in the UK. For a complete list of valid drivers’ licenses, go here.
I’m used to driving in the Washington, DC area, where everyone is quick to cut you off, flash rude gestures, or slam on their horn if you do something to make them angry. Driving in Scotland was heaven in comparison.
Despite their long history of conquering, maiming, and decapitating their enemies, the Scots are actually incredibly friendly and easy-going. Everyone we met was happy to help us and give advice. And when we made a driving mistake, no one tried to take off our heads.
So do your best to follow the rules, but don’t stress out if you make mistakes. You’re new to driving on the left, and people understand that. Just enjoy your trip!
(But if you STILL don’t feel comfortable driving, you can always take a tour where someone else drives for you!)
With these tips, all of you right-side drivers will be able to conquer driving in Scotland and have an epic road trip. Now if you want to know where to go on your road trip, be sure to check out my 8-day Scotland itinerary!
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This is so helpful! I am going to Scotland (hopefully) this coming summer/fall and will need to remember these.
A road trip in Scotland is so damn high on my list!! Beautiful photos! 🙂
As an Aussie we drive on the left side too! I currently live in Canada and it honestly took me a year to get used to driving on the right hand side! I totally understand your fear! It takes a bit of getting used to! Lucky the roads in Toronto
aren’t super windy like they seem to be in Scotland!
what a helpful post! Theres always a fair amount of anxiety when you have to drive a car in a foreign country!
We haven’t driven in Scotland, but drove in southern England and Wales. They sound like very similar places. The craziest parts were the fast highway roundabouts and the single-lane roads. Trucks would speed down them. We were always the ones to pull off.
I totally forgot they drive on the other side of the road there (e.g. left)! Have been wanting to do a roadtrip through Scotland for a long time. Thanks for the useful information.
Loved this! I’m English but reading something from a right-sided driver is interesting! Did it take much getting used to miles per hour instead of Km? However, I’ve always found the ‘Elderly/children crossing’ signs bizarre. Great post! Glad you enjoyed your trip
These are very helpful tips. I’ve never driven on the left side of the road, but i’ve always wanted to. The only European country I’ve visited was Iceland, we received a $500 usd speeding ticket for going 8 over… I couldn’t believe it. Then when the officer found out we were American, he asked us “if I give you a ticket will your president bomb us?” he was dead serious. THAT was embarrassing because none of us are supporters of the president for that exact reason. Thank you for the driving tips, it will help tremendously when we make it over to Scotland one day 🙂
Lol, Scotlands traffic jam looks a lot better than LA’s traffic jam! I’d love to road trip through Scotland and this was such a helpful post. The elderly sign was so cute 🙂
Driving in Scotland sounds very much like driving in Australia. We too drive on the left side of the road, steering wheel on the right, and have lots of roundabouts. I think I would do ok in Scotland. The scenery and castles would be amazing. The hairy cows are fascinating, I just hope they don’t venture onto the roads!
Great tips-this takes a lot of fear out of getting on the road in Scotland!
Scotland will be my next trip; in the planning stages so this is perfect timing! Thanks.
So helpful! I could have used this before I drove about Scotland without learning what the priority arrows meant. I now use this opportunity to formally apologize to the drivers of Scotland. Thanks for the tips!
I have driven in Scotland too! And many times in Ireland. The driving on the left side, as you said, is really not hard to get used to. The smaller roads can be a bit more difficult for those of us used to wide roads. I always tell my travel clients (I’m a travel planner) to pack their patience and leave plenty of time to get from point A to point B and they’ll be fine. Beside, enjoying the scenery, especially in Scotland, is why you are there. Great post with helpful tips!!
First post I’ve been able to find that has a great explanation for road signs in the UK! I’m heading there in 2021, pinning and saving this for future!
This is such a great guide. I hope more people will read this before driving in Scotland. Being from the UK I didn’t realise how many of these things were an issue for tourists but we encountered so many people struggling with the roads. I kept trying to find a good resource to direct people too and couldn’t find one so this is great!
What an adventure. Thanks for all the helpful tips and information on the signs there. Pinning for when I go!
I think learning to drive on the left in Scotland is a really good idea. The roads are less busy and although there are roundabouts, you can get used to them pretty fast once you’re on the road. This is a much better area to learn than the madness of London!
I think the main issue is the really narrow roads. They can be a bit terrifying before you get used to them. Sooo worth braving them for the epic scottish views!
This is a great post. My first time driving on the other side of the road was in Scotland. I cried the first day and I still shudder at the sound of “at the next roundabout” but by the third day I felt like an expert. LOL!
OMG driving on the other side of the road totally freaks me out!! But your post is so helpful! Maybe it’s doable after all!! Scotland is a total dream destination for me- can’t wait to get there one day!
Ah, my friends and I did this a few years back and it definitely took some getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road! The highland cows are so adorable! <3
I love that you included the signs and what they mean here. It seems so basic when you live somewhere, but then you go somewhere new and they can be so different. Great overall tips.
A road trip in Scotland is so high on my list! Especially after binge watching Outlander :p.
Really great tips! We were just there and could have used these. Thanks so much for posting!
Holy cow! this is something I wouldn’t do! we typically don’t drive at the destination, moreover if the signs are terribly different and the driving habits, like you know, the side you drive on! Good for you if you have this kind of courage! 🙂
I never drove before but your driving guide is definitely educational! I love your sense of humour as well – loved your captions.
So Many good tips, I want to go to Scotland this year so this article is just perfect for me! Thanks for sharing!
It was perfect the first time. I learn so much from you as well! Keep it up great post.
Great piece. You are making me want to travel to Scotland soon. Can’t wait till the lock down is over.
Awesome def on my list & my cousin lives in Scotland.
Love the comparison to DC
As someone from the UK who has driven in quite a few different countries i can understand your problems! Especially in the depths of the wild and outside cities, a great article for those who are new to driving in the UK
I don’t drive, but I’m sure these tips are very useful for those who do! Anyway, it was interesting to read the article – I just imagined myself on a road trip in Scotland – would go anytime!
Lol. Oh, these tips do indeed come in handy, don’t they? Lots of animals on the road and lots of teeny tiny roads, all while driving on the wrong side! 😉
Real a great place i have visited this place before 2 years. I am from Dundee. I visit this place with my family.
Really a great place for enjoyment
I will visit this place with my family. Great job is done by the government by adding signage illustrating signs across the road.
real a beautiful place in Scotland. I have fixed this place few month before
This is the only article I’ve found that provides a thorough explanation of UK road signage! The year is 2021, and I’m planning a trip there.
We are going on a Scotland road trip in September and I am quite nervous about driving. We are getting the car on the way out of Edinburgh and dropping it off before we get into Glasgow, so driving on less busy roads out of the city hopefully won’t be as harrowing for me. I hope I don’t wreck…
We certainly plan to do a long road trip in Scotland one day. We would like to be able to see the amazing scenery at our own pace. We are used to driving in Europe so the narrow roads would not be a surprise. Although we would have to refresh our rusty skills for driving on the “other” side of the road. Road signs are sometimes a mystery when we see ones that we have no idea what they mean. But always funny to see signs for elderly crossings.