Scotland is spectacular in winter and there's plenty to keep road-trippers entertained. Outside the busy summer peak, you can enjoy visiting some of Scotland's top attractions in peace, and whilst it can be chilly, the crisp air often makes for incredible views. The idea of winter driving in Scotland can sometimes put people off, but if you prepare well and bear in mind these simple tips, there's absolutely nothing to worry about.
Preparation is key for every road trip, but this is especially true in winter. There are some simple steps you can take before you go to help ensure your Scottish winter holiday runs smoothly.
It's advisable to charge your phone fully before setting off on your journey each day. Some very remote areas of Scotland do not have good signal coverage, but in general you should find your phone works well. Remember that in very cold weather, your phone battery may last for less time than it usually does, and that your journey could take longer than planned in poor weather.
Our car hire partner looks after our customers exceptionally well, and we'll always be on hand too if you need us. Please save the Arnold Clark emergency roadside assistance number in your phone. Of course, very few people ever need it - but if you do, you'll be super grateful to your past self for thinking ahead. The Arnold Clark 24-hour emergency number is 0141 332 2622. Please also save the Tartan Road emergency number: 01631 402066.
Before you depart, check the current road conditions and any delays and roadworks through Traffic Scotland. Note that they only cover trunk roads, so if you're going off the beaten track, it's also advisable to check locally (for example, ask your accommodation provider or in the nearest town or village) for any disruption.
At the Tartan Road, we always advise our guests to aim to arrive at their overnight accommodation with daylight to spare. During the Scottish summer, the nights are long and in many places it barely gets dark, but in winter this requires more foresight. Sunsets in December, January and February are very early (can be as early as 3pm) and it may not get properly light until after 9am. You should factor this in when deciding when to set off on your drive, and where and how long to stop along the way. Part of the experience of driving in Scotland is enjoying the amazing views, which is best done in daylight anyway, and we're sure you'll be keen to warm up by the fire with a dram!
Quality, not quantity
For guests travelling in the winter months, we will tend to suggest itineraries where you'll have less driving to do in a day. That way, you can be confident that the distance is manageable, you can take your time over the route, and you know you have time to get from A to B whatever the weather. This gives you the best chance of arriving while it's still light, and should ensure you have a stress-free experience without needing to clock-watch or rush.
Remember, you're on holiday!
Relax, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a slower pace of life as you pause to take in Scotland's beauty and make the most of your winter road trip.
Have the right equipment
Up here in Scotland, we say there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes! Whether or not you share this opinion, there are a few essential pieces of equipment and clothing that will make your Scottish winter road trip more comfortable and enjoyable. You can see a packing list in our guide to Scotland in winter.
For winter road trips, we will normally arrange a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. This gives you additional control in slippy conditions and can improve your confidence and safety on your Scottish winter road-trip.
When you travel with us on Highland routes in winter, we'll include a few extra items in your welcome pack to give you peace of mind for your road trip.
If you can, try to pack some food and a hot drink to take with you, just in case you are out and about for longer than planned.
Even if you don't intend to spend much time outside your vehicle, we recommend that you take plenty of warm clothing, robust footwear and a waterproof outer layer with you on every drive. Hopefully you won't have to use it, but there's nothing worse than being caught in poor weather without the right gear.
Check weather and road conditions
Scotland's weather has a reputation at all times of year, and it can sometimes create challenging driving conditions. Whilst winter isn't necessarily a more difficult time to drive in Scotland than the summer, it is worth bearing in mind the higher potential for ice and snow - especially on Higland routes - and the impact this could have on your journey times, or in rare cases, on the feasibility of the route you plan to take.
Always check the weather forecast before you leave, and have a 'Plan B' if you are unsure whether conditions will be suitable. We are always happy to discuss your plans and options if you wish - just give us a call and we'll do our best to advise you.
Make sure you know where the windscreen wipers and fog lights are on your vehicle, and use them if necessary.
If the weather changes unexpectedly on your route, ensure you are equipped to deal with it (see above).
Choose major or lowland routes
Highland routes and the road less travelled in Scotland can be perfectly feasible to drive in winter. However, if you would prefer to avoid routes that may be prone to weather-related disruption, we can plan an itinerary which sticks to lowland areas and/or major routes which are more likely to be gritted and/or cleared in the event of ice and snow.
City breaks can be an excellent choice for winter road trips in Scotland - check out our guides to Edinburgh and Glasgow for inspiration - and our South West 300 sample itinerary covers well-travelled routes which are mostly at or close to sea level, making for a wonderful stress-free winter adventure.
Driving tips in ice and snow
Use high gears -pull away in second gear where possible, and do not change down to low gears while driving unless absolutely necessary.
Avoid sudden movements - do not brake suddenly or steer violently, as this may cause you to skid if there is ice and/or snow on the road.
Adjust your speed - you should always drive more slowly than normal in difficult driving conditions, and especially when there is ice and snow.
Keep your distance - remember that it will take you much longer to stop in icy conditions, so leave plenty of space between you and other vehicles.
If you feel yourself skidding, turn your steering wheel gently in the direction of the skid - this may feel counterintuitive, but it's the best way to regain control of your vehicle.
The AA has some more great winter driving tips here.