Motorcycle Touring in Scotland- the Ultimate Guide

Motorcycle Touring in Scotland- the Ultimate Guide

Planning a motorbike trip to Scotland? Want to know the best riding routes or best places to visit? Here’s everything you need to know to go motorcycle touring in Scotland.

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Motorcycle Touring in Scotland – why you should go!

Scotland is one of the best places to go motorcycling in the UK. The mix of scenery, history and epic twisty roads is just magical.

One of the best things about being able to go motorcycle touring in Scotland is that you can get a feel for the country in a short space of time. It’s not a huge country and you can see an awful lot in just 10-14 days on a Scotland Road trip.

In this guide, we’re going to share with you everything you need to know to go motorcycle touring in Scotland, including how to travel to Scotland with your bike, the best places to visit in Scotland, planning your itinerary and route, where to stay, riding tips and other practical advice to help you have an amazing Scottish road trip.


Motorcycle in Scotland- Where to go

When planning a motorbike trip to Scotland, the first thing you need to do is decide where you’re going (and how long you are going for!)

How long to go for?

You can easily visit and explore Scotland for just a few days or a week and it’s quite easy to navigate around. Of course, if you have two weeks or longer, you can see a lot more of the country.

If you’re riding to Scotland from within the UK or driving with your bikes on a trailer, Scotland is pretty easy to find- just head North!

How long does it take to ride across Scotland?

Scotland isn’t a huge country and you can get across it quite quickly if you use the main roads.

As a guide, Gretna Green (right on the southern border between England and Scotland) to John o’Groats (on the northern coast) takes about 7 hours (360miles and average speed 51mph)

It’s also not a wide country. Oban (west coast) to Edinburgh (east coast) is only 124 miles and will take about 3 hours. (Average speed 40mph)

TOP TIP: As you can see by those timings, you will NOT be driving at motorway speeds for most of the country. The roads are often small and slow. Don’t underestimate how long a journey will take you- especially if you keep stopping to take photographs of your motorcycle in epic places (don’t worry- we all do it.)


Best Motorcycle Routes in Scotland

Some of the best roads to ride in Scotland include:

  • The NC500. One of the most popular but it’s easier to tour it by motorcycle than tour the NC500 by motorhome.
  • The SW300 – one of the most scenic roads in Scotland
Motorcycle John oGroats Scotland- Bikergirl Life
Motorcycle John oGroats Scotland

Best places to visit in Scotland by motorbike

Some of our favourite places to visit in Scotland include:

  • Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
  • Isle of Skye- you can see most of it in 2 days
  • John o’Groats- touristy, but you have to visit at least once
  • Edinburgh- especially the castle and Arthur’s seat
  • The Cairngorms- The biggest National Park in the UK
  • Any of the whisky distilleries
  • Orkney- you can do a day trip to Orkney with your motorcycle, just like we did.

And, of course, you HAVE to watch the series Outlander (or read the books!) – it’s a wonderful way to learn about the history while enjoying some eye candy 😉


When is the best time to visit Scotland?

Scotland is worth visiting at any time of the year, but for different reasons. It never gets crazy warm- top temperatures in August only average 19c and it can (and does!) rain whenever it likes. So always bring appropriate clothing, layers and a coat!

Spring in Scotland

Spring is lovely- as long as it’s after April. The moors and fields are full of Spring flowers and the views are beautiful. Although technically Spring starts on 21 February, the weather doesn’t really warm up until end of April/ May- average temperatures in May are 15c Avoid the Easter holidays if you can- prices get hiked up then and it can get very busy.

Summer road trips in Scotland

Summer is great temperature wise… but there are 2 big downsides to summer- crowds and midges.

Scotland gets VERY crowded in the summer holidays (July and August)- especially around the big cities and attractions, like Edinburgh, Loch Lomond and anything to do with Harry Potter. Also, famous routes like the NC500 become over-crowded with campervans and motorhomes trying to find places to stay (we’ll deal with that shortly.)

Having said that, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (held in August) is well worth the cost and crowds- it’s a wonderful experience.


Midge season in Scotland

Never heard of midges? Visit in summer and you will! Midges are flying insects. Scotland has a type called biting midges, which are active between May and September (temperature dependant.) However, the very worst time is July and August where it’s almost impossible to get away from them.

I cunningly married a man who attracts midges, mosquitos and everything else (smart, huh?!) and he got bitten horrendously when we were in Scotland in July. However, even I (who rarely gets bitten and normally sits there smugly while he complains) was attacked by these terrors. So DEFINITELY get some decent protection.

Autumn in Scotland

Autumn is actually our favourite time to tour Scotland. The days are still long and (fairly!) warmish, the leaves look amazing as they change colours, and the busy summer crowds have gone. Roads are clearer and there are still enough hours in the day to explore and see things.

The weather will be chilly from the end of October into November and many places close at end of October, so do your research if there’s something specific you want to do or see.


Winter motorcycling in Scotland

I’ll be honest, winter in Scotland starts around the end of November and runs until April. It gets COLD, there will be snow and you’ll need to prepare your bike and yourself with appropriate gear. The days are also shorter, so you’ll have less time to explore.

Having said that, there are some reasons to visit Scotland in winter, despite the weather, snow and many places being shut.

The best time is Hogmany (New Year’s Eve). The festivities and parties are legendary, especially in Edinburgh and there’s almost guaranteed to be music and dancing at a pub near you.

It’s also the only place to go skiing in the UK, so it’s the place to go to hit the slopes.


Planning a riding route to Scotland

Honestly, it’s not hard to find Scotland- just drive north from anywhere in England! 🙂

From Dover to the Scottish border takes about 6 and a half hours (385miles). The quickest route is to use the motorways- A2/M2/M25/M11/ A1(M)

You could also use the M40/M6, but be warned that the traffic around Birmingham is often awful and it only gets worse on the M6. If you go this route, go as early as possible and avoid rush hours.

Some top tips for route planning:

  • Avoid driving in rush hour where possible (usually 7-9am and 4-6.30pm)
  • Try to avoid driving on the weekends or on bank holidays- LOTS of traffic
  • Alternatively, get up early and do as much driving as possible before the traffic hits, then stop and have a nap somewhere safe- a huge advantage of having a motorhome or campervan with a bed with you!!
Scotland scenic drives

Can I ride to Scotland in the Winter?

Yes, generally the major routes are open all year. However, if you’re not native to the UK you should know that we are AWFUL at dealing with snow and adverse weather (although Scotland is admittedly better than England).

At the first sign of snowfall, expect drivers to do the craziest things, including but not limited to driving at 3mph, driving down the middle of the road, stopping unexpectedly, taking 17 hours to decide if they’re turning and generally forgetting all common sense (I’m British, I’m allowed to say this stuff 😉)


Borders / Customs in Scotland

Scotland is part of the UK. There is no ‘hard border’ between England and Scotland- you can just drive right across. If you are going on a ferry, you may be required to show some ID, but otherwise you don’t need any.

Scotland uses GBP (sterling) as currency. You might receive banknotes with ‘Bank of Scotland’ on them. These are legal tender in England and Wales too. But you do NOT need ‘Bank of Scotland’ bills- Bank of England is fine.

Bringing a dog/ pet into Scotland

If your dog is England or Wales based, you can travel with them into Scotland without any paperwork, although we always recommend carrying microchip details and details of their innoculations, just in case.

If your dog is NOT UK based, you will need to carry:

  • Microchip details
  • Proof of rabies vaccination/ Pet Passport
  • Proof of Tapeworm treatment – must be given between 1 and 5 days before crossing into Britain. The treatment is not necessary if you travel DIRECTLY from Finland, Ireland, Malta or Norway. You do NOT need a second tapeworm treatment for travelling into Scotland if you have already been in England or Wales for more than 5 days.

Hiring a motorcycle to tour Scotland

If you don’t have your own bike, or don’t want to ride to Scotland, you can easily fly in and hire one. Just make sure to ask how to get from the airport to the rental agency- not all of them are at the airport itself and you might need to book a taxi.

To rent a vehicle in Scotland you must:

  • be at least 21 years old, (certain car categories may require older) Some hire companies have a maximum age limit of 75.
  • have had a driving licence for more than one year
  • show identification (identity card for EU citizens or a valid passport for other nationalities) 

You can expect to pay from around £60/ day for a motorcycle in June out of peak season.


Motorcycle touring in Scotland- what gear do you need to carry?

Unlike motorcycling in France or many countries in Europe, there is NOT a list of equipment you MUST carry in your vehicle for any of the countries in the UK.

That being said, it makes sense to carry this safety gear with you:

  • Warning triangle
  • A tyre repair kit.
  • If you wear glasses you should carry a spare pair
  • Crash helmets are mandatory for motorbike/ moped riders and passengers

Winter tyres are not compulsory, but we highly recommend them if visiting Scotland in winter.

Motorcycle touring on Isle of Skye, Scotland
Motorcycle touring on Isle of Skye, Scotland

What documents do you need to road trip in Scotland?

If you’re driving or riding in Scotland, you need to carry the following documents:

  • Passport (or identity card if from Ireland)
  • Driving licence (check it is in date!) An EU driving licence is accepted
  • Vehicle registration document/ V5 logbook. (See below)
  • Motorcycle insurance documents
  • Breakdown cover
  • Vehicle must be legally taxed and MOT’d
  • Personal travel insurance

You also do not need a green card, IDP or trailer certification if you are UK based. If you are based outside of the UK, please ask your insurer to confirm what they need to provide to make sure you are covered (it varies from country to country.)

Many UK residents choose not to carry their vehicle registration documents with them, as a safety measure against theft. However, you may be asked to present yourself with the document at a police station within a few days. If you cannot do this (if you live outside mainland UK), then you should carry the registration document with you.


Tolls or Vignette in Scotland

You’ll be pleased to know that Scotland does not have a vignette system and there are currently no toll roads. You can just turn up on your motorcycle and ride.


Tips & Laws for motorcycling in Scotland

Scotland has a good road network, including plenty of smaller roads made for motorbikes.

Some basic rules for driving in Scotland:

  • Scotland drives on the LEFT, like everywhere in the UK, but opposite to most of Europe
  • Overtake on the right (NEVER undertake)
  • Speed limits are shown by a circular sign, with a red border and number (in miles per hour)
  • The use of the horn is prohibited in built-up areas from 2330 to 0700 hours.
  • Farm animals or wildlife are common on rural roads- always take care, especially at night
  • At some junctions you might see criss-crossed yellow lines painted on the road. Do not stop in these boxes- stop before them and do not enter until the exit is clear.
  • Many buses in the UK have cameras on the back; do not drive in bus lanes- you will be fined.
  • There is NO rules for headlights to be switched on during the day.
  • Police cars, ambulances & fire engines always have priority- they could use flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights. Pull safely to the side of the road and let them pass.
  • Roundabouts are common in Scotland. Give way to vehicles from your right, and turn left on entering the roundabout.
  • It is common for very rural roads to be single track, with passing places. These places are NOT parking spots- do not leave your vehicle here, you will block the road.
  • Scotland does NOT have on-the-spot fines for driving offences. You will either be asked to report to a local police station within a set period of time, or the fine will arrive through the post.

Speed limits in Scotland

Motorway signs are blue with white writing. Other road signs are green or brown for places of interest.

Speed Limits for motorcycles and vehicles under 3.05t are as follows (unless otherwise signed!)

  • Motorways- 70mph (112km/h)
  • Major roads/ dual carriageways- 70mph (112km/h)
  • Outside built-up areas- 60 mph (96 km/h)
  • Built up areas- 30 mph (48 km/h)

Many residential areas have speed limits as low as 20mph 32 km/h), especially near schools.


Speed cameras in Scotland

There are many speed cameras in Scotland. Pay attention to your speed- fines are not as severe as if you were motorcycling in Switzerland, but they are still pretty high.

Drink driving laws

Driving under the influence of alcohol is taken very seriously in Scotland and the UK. Scotland only allows 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. As always, don’t ride and drive.


Petrol/ Diesel

There are plenty of fuel stations across Scotland, although they are less common in rural areas. We recommend not letting your tank drop below half-full and filling up when you can if you are driving into remote areas, like around the NC500. As with everywhere, you’ll find the prices slightly higher on the motorways.

Petrol – Unleaded 95 ‘premium unleaded’ /unleaded 97 ‘super unleaded’.  Green handles on pump

Diesel is diesel. Black or yellow handles on pump

Some places are 24h pay at the pump (mainly near cities), but many require you to go into the shop and pay the cashier after you’ve filled up- there will be a sign to tell you what to do. (Leave your bike in front of the pump and make a note of the pump number.)

You can pay using cash or a credit card. European visa cards are usually accepted- remember you will pay the exchange rate. Many places do NOT take American Express.


More useful things to know when motorcycle touring in Scotland

Some more tips to help you enjoy your time touring in Scotland.

Phone Dialling Code: +44

Capital: Edinburgh

Emergency Numbers: 999 will get you police, fire, ambulance and coastguard. Also, 112 (the European emergency number) will also work in the UK

Language– The official language of Scotland is English. Gaelic is also spoken and you may see signs in Gaelic.

Currency– GBP (£ sterling) You can exchange money at banks or many post offices or travel agents. There are also a multitude of ATMs available.

Cards– most major credit and debit cards are accepted. American Express is only taken in large stores (often not at fuel stations)

Timezone– GMT. During summer, the country adopts British BST – Summer Time (UTC +1), which usually ends in the last week of October

Tipping- Tipping is not expected but appreciated. 5% – 10% in restaurants is standard if you are happy with the service.h

Shops– Many normal shops close at 5.30pm, with bigger supermarkets often open until 10pm. Many small shops will not be open on Sundays, but bigger supermarkets and garages may be open for about 6 hours (often from 10-4pm)

Some of the local Scottish dishes to try include:

  • Tattie Scones- also called potato scones. They’re not ‘scones’ with cream and jam, but like potato bread, which is traditional with ‘proper’ breakfasts. Talking of which
  • Scottish Breakfasts- sausages, bacon, black pudding, tattie scones, baked beans, fried eggs, mushrooms… yum
  • Haggis (sheep parts including lungs, heart etc), which is mixed with oatmeal, suet, and seasonings and then cooked in a sheep’s stomach. I’ll be honest, I’ve never tried it…
  • Cullin Skink- a hearty soup made with Finnan haddock (smoked haddock), potatoes, and onions. Also known as smoked haddock chowder in other parts of Britain.
  • Cock-a-leekie soup- basically a soup with whatever’s to hand thrown in.
  • Scottish Shortbread. Traditional biscuits, sweeter than oatmeal cookies- very buttery and sugary. Delicious!

Touring Scotland with a dog

If like us you tour with your dog on your motorcycle, you’ll be pleased to know Scotland is pretty dog friendly and there are plenty of places to walk with them both on and off-lead. They’re allowed inside many restaurants, pubs and cafes- usually just ask if there isn’t a clear sign.

They are not allowed into public places like museums, but are usually welcome on trains and most public transport with a lead.


Using a drone in Scotland

You are allowed to take and fly your drone in Scotland, but it is a legal requirement for all drones weighing between 250g and 20kg to be registered and flown by competent pilots.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority works hard to balance drone users with other airspace users and have lots of information and tools to help. Find out more here.

READ MORE: What’s the best travel drone (and how to choose)

We also recommend getting the Drone Assist app on your phone or iPad, which will tell you where you can/ cannot fly.


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