Exploring pretty and remote villages, heading out early for a hike or just driving as far north as you can are often high on the lists of people wanting to visit the Scottish Highlands. But that can be a bit tricky without your own vehicle giving you some sense of independence.
I’ve driven loads around Scotland as a tourist and it’s always a really enjoyable experience for me – I even don’t mind the winding roads so much!
If I ever need to rent a car away from home (where I live now is a LONG way from Scotland) I always check out and recommend Discover Cars – they are a comparison site that looks at all the rental companies around and shows you what’s available.
If you’re intent on driving around the Scottish Highlands then renting a car for your time in the area makes a lot of sense and you probably have a lot of questions about it. Don’t worry, in this article I’ll be looking at car hire in Inverness, your gateway to the highlands and exploring this amazing land!
Driving in Inverness – what is it like?
If you land at Inverness Airport you’re probably going to want to explore the city of Inverness a little as well – so what is driving in Inverness like?
Inverness is a small city, even by UK standards. For people coming from the US who are used to huge cities, Inverness is probably going to feel tiny!
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some challenges for international drivers though – there are some busy roads and large roundabouts that you’ll have to navigate to get into the city.
In Inverness, the roads around the city are much narrower than you might find in other countries so you’ll always want to be aware of the size of your car (tip – don’t get something too big!).
When driving around the centre you’ll also need to be aware of one way streets and lanes that change quickly – you’ll find signs painted on the roads that direct you as well as road signs. You’ll get used to it quickly, but if you’re spending any time in the built up areas you’ll want to study what roads signs mean!
Parking may be tricky, depending on where you’re staying in the city, but there are a number of bigger car parking lots (multi-story car parks) around. Again, they can be narrow to drive around so my tip is to always just take your time.
Driving in the Scottish Highlands – what is it like?
While Inverness is the city in the area, if you’ve chosen to rent a car in Inverness it’s probably because you want to get out and explore the Highlands and maybe even some islands! So what is it like to drive around there?
As soon as you leave Inverness it’s not all single track roads straight away, there’s plenty of normal roads where you can enjoy driving to explore much of Scotland. In fact, you don’t need to head down single track roads at all if you don’t want to.
There are no motorways in the highlands of Scotland – most roads are single carriageway, meaning that you drive on one lane and the other direction drives on the other.
You may find a few places where you have a dual carriageway (where there are 2 lanes for each direction and a barrier down the middle) but this part of the country doesn’t actually have that many of those – the A9 is one road that is quite a busy one and is often dual carriageway.
Once you get into more remote areas such as the NC500 (the a circular route that hugs the coast north of Inverness and goes round in a loop), or perhaps even on the Isle of Skye you may find the the roads are quieter, but narrower. Sometimes they’ll be so narrow that they are single track – you’ll need to use passing places when others are driving in the other direction!
Most roads are fine to drive but some are a little more treacherous and winding such as the road to Applecross on the west coast. All roads require a little extra care in bad weather too.
Be sure to check out my tips for driving in the Highlands below.
Renting a car in Inverness: Tips and FAQ
Should I rent a car in Inverness?
Do you need to rent a car in Inverness? The answer to this question is going to be dictated by what you want to do in the area and whether there are any other options that would work better.
If you’re a fan of your own independence and want to explore at your own pace then your own car is a good idea. If you want to go on hikes in the area that buses don’t go to then a car rental is ideal. If you want to drive the North Coast 500 then a car is essential! Exploring many of the whisky distilleries near Inverness is also something that a car can help with -although never have a taste if you’re driving – buy some to enjoy later on!
If you just want to explore the city of Inverness and perhaps some of the closer Highland locations then you could get away without a car. You can get to Loch Ness from Inverness really easily, either by public transport or a tour, Culloden is just outside of the city too and there are plenty of small group tours that will take you to anywhere a little further afield.
Scotland does have good public transport, so long as you’re flexible and plan in advance – getting around Scotland without a car can be done, but you need to choose whether that is the kind of trip you want to have.
Here are some tours you might wish to explore when deciding if you want to rent a car in Inverness:
Is there Uber in Inverness?
There isn’t an Uber service in Inverness although there are plenty of private taxi services around. I recommend asking at your hotel for who they suggest to use.
Best Inverness car rental location
The best place to pick up a rental car in Inverness is at the airport – most of the car rental agencies have their depots there. It’s around 10 miles outside of the city.
If you’re arriving in Inverness by train then your options are a little more limited, unless you just pick up your car from the airport. Arnold Clark and Enterprise both have some options in the city itself and offer pick up from the station or your hotel.
Be aware that the car hire companies in Inverness operate normal business hours and most are NOT open at weekends or on public holidays – this may impact your plans so when thinking about your dates bear this in mind!
How much is car hire in Inverness?
The price of car rental in Inverness is going to depend a lot on the type of car that you hire. Small cars are going to be cheapest with larger SUVs being the more expensive options.
Prices also vary due to the time of year with the summer months being more
It’s worth noting that as it’s a small area you might not have a lot of choice in cars to rent – if you have a specific car you want it’s definitely worth booking it well in advance!
Which car should I hire to drive around the Highlands of Scotland?
Small cars are a good idea if you’re basing yourself in an area of Scotland and then using the car to explore from there. Fuel is expensive in the UK and even more so in remote parts of Scotland so an economical car can make a lot of sense. Most small cars won’t have a lot of room for luggage though.
If you’re moving to different areas, perhaps as part of a road trip or NC500 trip then I recommend getting a slightly larger car so that you have plenty of space in the boot (trunk) to store your luggage as you go from place to place.
If you’re planning on really exploring lots of out of the way places in Scotland then an SUV could be a good choice. The roads in Scotland are generally good, but they are winding and of course can get wet a lot so a car that can handle that is worth considering.
Finally it’s worth choosing an automatic car if you’re not used to driving manual gearboxes. While the roads of Scotland can be quiet and tranquil (in some places) it’s probably not the best place to learn a new type of car to drive! Especially if you’re adding in driving on the left for the first time too!
What do I need to rent a car in Inverness?
Before you head off to the Scottish Highlands, here’s what you’ll need to rent a car in Inverness:
You will need a full driving licence for the country that you passed your test in. If your licence is in a different language you may need to get an International Drivers Licence – check with the rental company when you book.
Credit or Debit Card
Most rental companies will need you to pay with a valid credit or debit card. You will struggle to find somewhere that will accept payment in cash.
Often you’ll need to provide this as a security deposit – the companies would then be able to take any excess or deductible from it.
While you technically can rent a car from the age of 21 in the UK, it is quite expensive to do so and you’ll attract a hefty young drivers premium.
If you’re aged 25 and over you shouldn’t have any issues with car hire in Inverness but if you’re younger just be prepared to pay extra.
Car rental companies quotes will include basic car insurance that everyone needs for driving in the UK. Your excess (deductible) may well be quite high though.
You may wish to take out an extra coverage policy, sometimes known as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) which means that if you have any problems, accidents or theft, that the excess is covered as well – this can often be thousands of pounds so it’s worth getting this extra cover.
If you go with Discover Cars this is shown as the Full Coverage option and quite inexpensive – I always choose this for peace of mind.
Child car seats
If you’re traveling to Scotland with kids then it’s worth knowing that they will need to have a suitable restraint when in the car – it’s illegal to drive with kids in the car without them.
Children under 5 will need a proper car seat and under 12 will need a booster seat. If you are renting a car you can add this on to your requirements but be aware that this will increase your costs.
Best car rental company in Inverness
All of the main companies operate out of Inverness where you’ll find:
- Arnold Clark
All these companies are searched when using Discover Cars – this is why I love using it, saves me so much time!
Where to book car hire in Inverness
I highly recommend (and use myself) the car hire comparison company Discover Cars. They’ll go through a number of the car hire companies in the area and get you the best quote for the kind of car you want.
Car Insurance for car hire in the Scottish Highlands
First of all, all cars must be insured to be driven in the UK but if you’re renting then the most basic insurance necessary is included in the quoted price when using DiscoverCars.
What you should be aware of is that if you have an accident while in your hire car, if it’s stolen, you lose your keys or any other incident, you may have to pay quite a steep excess fee.
The excess (deductible) is something that can be overcome by paying what is known as a Collision Damage Waiver or by buying an extra insurance.
Now this is sometimes quite a hefty fee that you only find out when picking up the car at the rental desk where you may feel pressurised to take it – I hate nasty surprises so I like that you can add this as an option when using DiscoverCars. It’s not too expensive either, around £6 per day, so not a bad idea.
Note – even with extra insurance you’ll often need to put a deposit down for the car so be aware and make sure you have a credit card with enough limit.
What about Credit Card Insurance?
You may have some specific credit card coverage that may help them when it comes to renting a car in the UK.
If you’re hoping to use your credit card insurance please do your due diligence and make sure you’ve read all of the small print to see what is covered, what isn’t and what happens if you have to claim.
It’s also worth checking the Full Coverage fee at Discover Cars to see if that is a better option and covers more.
Top Ten Scottish Highlands Driving Tips
1. Drive on the left!
The very first thing to remember when driving in Scotland is that we drive on the left!
That can be enough to make many people worry but try not to – if you’re used to driving in a country that drives on the right, then you probably also have the driving seat in the left of your car. In the UK the driver sits on the right hand side, so instantly it feels a little different and means you’ll be driving with a different sense of awareness.
If you’re driving in an area with other traffic you’ll likely be fine, as you’ll follow others and remember about driving on the left.
You should be extra careful if you’re driving on quiet roads or pulling out of junctions – it can be easy to forget which side you should be on! This is especially important on some of Scotlands more quiet roads and areas.
2. Be prepared for roundabouts
You’ll see a lot of roundabouts in Scotland and whether you’re renting a car here as an American where roundabouts are super rare, or as a European where the roundabouts go the other direction you’ll want to take some time to get to know these road junctions.
Sometimes you’ll hear others refer to them as traffic circles, but in Scotland they are always known as roundabouts.
To the uninitiated a roundabout can be confusing so here are a couple of tips for using them:
- Always look for signs as you approach to see where you need to go. Sometimes road signs or markings on the road will indicate which lane you need to be in
- Generally if you’re taking the 1st exit (going left) or heading straight on you’ll want to approach in the left lane
- If you’re going right around the roundabout (any exit after 12 o’clock if you imagine it as a clock face) approach in the right hand lane
- Traffic already on the roundabout has right of way
- Only enter the roundabout if there is a gap and it’s safe
- Always drive around the roundabout in a clockwise direction
- Always indicate when you are leaving the roundabout and check over your shoulder for any blind spots
- Some bigger roundabouts will have traffic lights on as you go around – be aware that you don’t inadvertently run a red light!
3. Road Signs are in English and Gaelic
Once you’re in the Highlands of Scotland you’ll find that some road signs are written in both English and Gaelic. You won’t ever find any signs that are only in Gaelic so don’t worry about reading them. The signs will have the English version and then the Gaelic version written in a different colour above.
4. Be aware of speed limits
Speed limits are shown by circle signs with a red outline. The number shown inside is the speed limit – and always in miles per hour.
It’s a good idea to be aware of general limits before you get in the car:
- In built up areas it’s generally 30 miles per hour. Sometimes around schools it can be lower – 20mph is common.
- On faster roads around towns you can generally do 40mph or sometimes 50pmh – this is indicated along the road at intervals where you’ll see the speed limit sign. They are small and often attached to lampposts or road signs.
- If you’re in a built up area and you’re not sure – assume it’s 30mph. If it’s a higher limit it should have signs periodically on the road.
- Outside of towns and villages it’s normally ‘national speed limit’ – which is 60mph on a single carriageway and 70mph on a dual carriageway
- Always check for speed limits as you’re driving – they can change when approaching villages and pedestrian areas.
5. Don’t drink and drive
With many distilleries around Inverness and in the Highlands it can be tempting to just have a quick taste before getting in the car. While a small taste might be ok to drive with and not take you over the limit I always think it’s best to take a zero tolerance to it – just don’t try it. Buy some whisky for later on when you’re safely stopped in your hotel!
6. Book ferries in advance
If you’re planning to visit some Scottish Islands then you’ll want to book your ferries in advance, especially if you’re traveling through the summer months when it can be busy.
Some ferries run a number of times a day but some will only run once a day and can get full. Remember that some islands don’t allow cars, such as the Small Isles, so you can visit as a foot passenger only.
Also remember that you don’t even need a car to drive to the Isle of Skye! There’s a bridge that connects it!
7. Keep your car fuelled up
If you’re exploring the Highlands of Scotland be aware that fuel stations may well be few and far between, and that they also might not be open all hours as well.
It’s a good idea to always keep your car topped up with fuel and keep an eye on where your next spot might be to fill up. Google maps is always quite handy for this but of course can sometimes have out of date or incorrect info – don’t let your car run too low just in case!
8. Passing Places are not to be parked in!
Passing places are found on any road where there isn’t enough room for two cars to pass. If you’re on a single track road then you’ll always want to keep an eye on where the passing places are in case you need to pull in and let someone else past.
Every year there are always instances of people parking in these passing places and then heading off to explore around – make sure you’re not one of these who do this as it can be dangerous and frustrating for the other road users.
9. Don’t use a cell phone while driving
Using a mobile/cell phone while driving is illegal and if you’re caught doing so can attract a hefty fine from the police.
It’s also really dangerous to do so, especially on winding or busy roads – don’t do it. Find a place to pull over if you need to use your phone or have someone else answer it.
If you need to use your phone for navigation then make sure to have it in a place that’s easy to see or have someone else be in charge of looking at it!
10. Keep an eye on the weather
The weather is really changeable in Scotland, even in the summer months so it’s always worth keeping an eye on it.
Rain can bring treacherous conditions and if you’re travelling late Autumn to early spring there’s always a chance of snow and frost too which again can be dangerous.
If you’re unsure about where you’re planning to drive to I recommend chatting with locals or those at your hotel.
You might also like:
🏴 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴
Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?
YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!
Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.
Do I need a car for visiting Scotland?
YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable
I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Scotland
How to book accommodation in Scotland?
For hotels I recommend Booking.com
For apartments and cottages check out VRBO
Will my phone work in Scotland?
Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.
If you need a SIM for use in the UK I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.
What to pack for Scotland
Keep yourself dry be prepared for any weather is my motto for Scotland! A rain jacket and comfy shoes are a must.
See my post about what to pack for Scotland
Do I need midge spray for Scotland?
YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.
Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!
If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.
What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for Scotland
Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to Scotland.
Do I need a visa for Scotland?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.