Derek and I had tried as best as we could to prepare ourselves for driving in the UK ahead of time. Here are some things we had wished we had been told about driving in Scotland, instead of “don’t drive there! Are you crazy?”. As much as it was a bit stressful at first, we loved it equally by the end of it. With my tips, I hope you are prepared for hiring and driving in the UK.
1. Under 25s Pay a Premium to Hire a Car.
As I’ve mentioned previously in my post “Planning for a December in Scotland”, If you’re under the age of 25, it will cost you a lot more per day to rent a car. Derek and I planned on renting a car for our entire stay, but it was out of our budget at £35/day extra. This was on top of the fact that we couldn’t rent the cheapest car available. Unfortunately, under 25s can usually only rent certain types of cars, and must be at least 21 years of age. We ended up renting from Sixt, as they were the most affordable car hire agency for us.
2. The Driving in the UK is Active.
Even Scottish people will admit their roads are tiresome to drive on. Us Canadians do 10 hour road trips in one day no problem on our wide open, straight roads with ample shoulder room. Scotland is not like that. There are constant twists and turns, slowing down and speeding up, and you are driving somewhere you are unfamiliar with. The most we ever drove in one day was four hours, and that was plenty. Besides, you’ll want to pull over often to check out those jaw-dropping sights.
3. Cars have Manual Transmissions.
Standard cars are more widely available there, and it’s much cheaper to rent one. It’s going to be a workout for you, even if you’re an experienced driver on a standard car. Although it can tire you out, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Don’t think you can go from never having driven a manual care to being a pro in one sitting; it’s just not possible.
4. There are Different Types of Roads.
There are Motorways, A roads, B roads, and unofficially, C roads. Motorways are the best – probably closest to freeways at home. The M90 from Perth to Edinburgh is a good example; with a good shoulder and two lanes it’s simple. A roads are major roads. Pick these ones when planning the easiest route. They’re basically M roads, and are the cream of the crop, such as the A9 from Inverness to Stirling. B roads are okay, connecting you from A roads to other roads. At this point, take it slow and realize the locals have been driving these roads much longer. Pull over and let them pass if you have to. C roads are unClassified roads, generally private or connecting A’s and B’s. They make up the majority of the UKs roads. C’s can be tricky if you’re not used to them, but can’t always be avoided.
5. The UK has One Lane Roads.
I’m not talking about one-way roads or one lane for each direction of traffic. Oddly enough, I’m talking about a road you get to share (It’s fun, trust me). We took the scenic route around Loch Ness (which by the way, is labelled as a B road) and it was a single-track road. Single track roads have “passing places” where there is enough room to pull over and allow other on-coming traffic to drive passed you. In general, It’s courteous to wave to people if they allow you to pass. Derek and I were usually the ones to pull aside first, as we were nervous of the other drivers. Additionally, you shouldn’t park in a passing place, no matter how badly you want to stop and take a photo.
6. Driving in the UK takes place on the left!
I know this is widely known but it needs to be mentioned. In the UK, they drive on the left side of the road. You will get used to it. A trick to how we remembered, breaking our right-sided driving habits was to say “tight left, wide right”, every time we had to turn. If you remember to say this, you will always be turning into the correct lane. Furthermore, realize that cars in the right lane are passing, so give way to them.
I hope you find my tips on driving in the UK useful. Most crucially, realize that you are a guest on these roads, and people who live here are regular commuters. Be cautious and get comfortable at the wheel, even if it means taking time from your trip to drive around for a bit. Tourists can be dangerous in the UK, and causing accidents means more penalties for car hirers in the future.
I apologize for not having much information on driving in the city, as we mostly drove in the country on our trip. If I can give a bit of advice on that, It would be to be aware of public transportation, cyclists, and pedestrians – there is an awful lot more of them in Europe than at home. Parking can be a pain, so use those legs in town! Derek and I did pick up and drop off our rental in downtown Edinburgh (and managed to get a parking ticket our last night).
Moreover, we chose to drive because Derek and I both love road trips as well as the countryside. Skip it if that’s not you, or find other ways to get around. Take a train, a bus, walk, whatever is most comfortable for you. Do any of you have any driving in the UK tips that I missed? Tell me!