Campervanning Scotland

Why go campervanning in Scotland? Dramatic mountains, stunning coastline and winding roads snaking through the wild, open landscape make Scotland a popular choice for a road trip. The NC500 around the Highlands, for example, regularly makes lists of the best road trips in the world. It is a fantastic route to drive but there are many others, less well known, that are equally as memorable.

Why should you go campervanning in Scotland?

Campervanning is the perfect way to do a road trip in Scotland. Easy to handle like a car, so you can negotiate single track roads. But with the ability to park up and stop wherever you fancy. An impromptu stay by a deserted beach, a cosy base from which to stargaze in comfort out in the wilderness. Or a place to change and warm up with a cuppa after a wild swim in the open air. A campervan opens up experiences you can’t have with a car.

Camper van hire Scotland

Big Sky Campers Guide to Campervanning Scotland

Everything you need to know

One of the best things about campervanning in Scotland is the freedom it offers.  Go wherever you want, whenever you want. Wake up to a new view every single day. Buy fresh seafood and drive to your own picnic spot, park up in the wilderness under the night sky, you even have your own mobile changing room for wild swimming or other outdoor activities. The freedom of campervanning is hard to beat and Scotland is the perfect place to do it.

When’s the best time of year for campervanning in Scotland?

Scotland has year round appeal and with a fully insulated and heated van, you can go campervanning in Scotland at any time of year. Come prepared for the season, however, and be prepared for cold temperatures in the winter. The main tourist season runs from May to September with July and August being the peak months for visitors. September is an increasingly popular time to visit Scotland. There are less crowds and more space on the roads, the weather is still good (often better than August) and, as temperatures cool, there are fewer pesky midges.

Campervanning Scotland in Summer

This is a great time for outdoor living as they are generally the warmest months. There are plenty of things to do as Scotland is buzzing with festivals and other events this time of year. However there are some things to consider if you are planning on a campervanning trip in Scotland during the Summer.

Campervanning Scotland in July & August

July and August are the peak months for visitors to Scotland. The most popular routes, such as the NC500, can get very busy. Popular spots around Loch Lomond and Glencoe and along the route north from Edinburgh and north to Skye via Fort William and Glencoe onto Skye are also at their busiest. The other main route north from Edinburgh, along the A9 through the Cairngorms and around Inverness/Culloden will also be busy.

RV Hire Scotland Summer

Places to wild camp will be far fewer and people may be less tolerant of a campervan parked up for the night outside a designated area. You will need camping permits to camp in the Trossachs National Park in Spring and Summer.  Numbers are limited so make sure you book your permit early.  Plan ahead as much as you can, especially if you are coming to Scotland in the peak months of July and August.  If you want to be sure of a spot on a campsite, or a ferry trip, we strongly recommend you book well in advance. 

When is the best time to go campervanning in Scotland?

Some people prefer campervanning in June or September so they avoid the peak summer months. Everything is still open and there is a good chance of warm weather but there are fewer crowds and the roads are less busy. Big Sky Campers has completely sold out in September the last few years so, if you are planning on a September roadtrip please don’t leave booking your van to the last minute.

Campervan hire Edinburgh

Campervanning Scotland in Spring & Autumn

Campervanning Scotland in Autumn

Because of the numbers visiting in summer, Spring and Autumn are becoming increasingly popular times to campervan in Scotland. It is less busy, the scenery is magnificent at these times of the year and you can get some lovely days for outdoor pursuits. You will get the chance to see another side to Scotland in the shoulder season. Walking through the magnificent golds and greens of Autumn, with a soundtrack of crashing antlers as the deer Rut begins, spotting colonies of seals come in to breed and then snuggling up in front of a cosy pub fire with a dram of whisky are some of the delights of the Autumn season.

Campervanning Scotland in Spring

The Spring is a great time to visit as you have the beauty of the spring flowers and can have some lovely crisp, clear, bright days. This is the best time to visit some of the more touristy destinations like Skye or the site of the Battle of Culloden. Without all the crowds you can really experience the wonder of these magical destinations.   

Scotland-in-Autumn-whisky-tours

There are also some great indoor and outdoor events that take place in Spring and Autumn in Scotland. Have a look at our month by month guides to things to do in Scotland and our guide to Things to Do in Scotland in Autumn. Most of the facilities will be open from March and until the end of October, so you can still be confident of finding great pubs or restaurants open or a spot at your campsite of choice.

Check that campsites are open all year round

Some parts of Scotland open later and shut down earlier than others. So if you are planning on visiting more remote locations in early March or late October, do check first.  Another bonus to travelling out of the peak months is it opens up your opportunity to wild camp in really special places. For example, you can park right up on the shores of Loch Lomond (in designated places). Here’s a guide to places to camp near Loch Lomond out of season. 

Stunning-Scotland-in-Autumn

Campervanning Scotland in Winter

In winter temperatures drop and a lot of campsites and tourist facilities will shut down after the end of a busy tourist season. However, Winter in Scotland does offer some unique experiences. You can get up close to the winter wildlife, enjoy winter sports or simply experience the beauty of the mountains under snow. In recent years there have been numerous sightings of the Northern Lights during the Winter months.

Can you drive the NC500 in Winter?

Experience the NC500 without all the crowds during the Winter months. It is not a trip to set off on without proper planning but it is becoming increasingly popular with campervanners who want to escape the crowds and see this route at its most dramatic. You will find sufficient campsites that are open even during the Winter to get you round the route. However, some will require you to book ahead so don’t assume you can just turn up on the day. Our campervans are insulated and heated but if you don’t fancy camping out there are some wonderfully cosy places to stay at reasonable rates during the winter. 

Scotland winter wildlife

What is the best type of camper to hire for campervanning in Scotland?

Think carefully about your choice of campervan to rent in Scotland. The larger mobile homes are appealing to people because they have their own toilet and shower facilities but certain places and routes are not accessible to them. You will encounter narrow, winding roads on even some of the better known routes like the NC500. Many roads in popular destinations such as the Highlands are narrow, single track roads. Some of the most popular places to visit in Scotland are only reachable by roads like these. Attempting to drive these routes in a large motorhome will make you very unpopular if you get stuck as they become impassable.

VW Campervan Hire in Scotland

That is why our choice for our campervan hire in Scotland is a VW camper. The vehicle is a great size for the narrow roads, it’s easy to handle and park if you find a secluded spot where you want to linger and enjoy the view. If you fancy a day on the beach, you may even manage to get the vehicle close to the beach. 

Campervan Hire Scotland

There are three main ways to hire a vehicle for a campervanning holiday in Scotland. There are sites where you can book directly with private owners who hire their own campervans out for an additional income, smaller and medium sized independents such as ourselves and the larger, often international companies who have a network of bases throughout the world. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of campervans to rent in Scotland, our campervans still get fully booked in July or August, as do those of the other campervan hire companies who offer similar vans to ourselves.

VW Ruby campervan hire vacation in scotland

What do I need to consider when choosing campervan hire in Scotland?

Be sure you are comparing like with like when choosing your van. Little details can make a lot of difference to how enjoyable your campervanning trip in Scotland is. Check out how the cabin has been converted and whether there is enough storage. The bed needs to be easy to set up each night so check what the sleeping arrangements are and how easy it is to get the bed out when you are ready for sleep.

What equipment should be included when hiring a campervan in Scotland?

Scotland can experience sudden and dramatic changes in weather at any time of the year so make sure you hire a van that has a well thought out interior and will be comfortable to spend time in if you need to shelter from the weather. Equally, ensure that you will be supplied with all the accessories you need for an enjoyable trip. You don’t want to find out you don’t have a corkscrew when you have just parked up for the night in the middle of nowhere. Neither do you want to have to pay extra for things you can’t do without – bedding, towels, outdoor furniture etc.

Campervan hire with everything included

Where can I park up for the night in a campervan?

There are a number of different options for camping in Scotland. Campsites and park ups, wild camping and a network of bothies (very basic shelters with no facilities) that are usually free to use and not usually bookable in advance.

Campsites

Scotland is blessed with a plethora of camping and glamping sites of different styles and sizes. Some of them are in idyllic locations with unbelievable views. Some have great facilities for families. Others are very small and simple. The facilities and spaces available for campervans will vary from site to site. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. If you want to get a place in the summer months at your chosen campsite, one with particular facilities or even one with spaces at all – book early. 

Best places to camp with a campervan in Scotland

Park Ups

There are also places where you are able to park up for the night for a small fee. These usually have minimal facilities but you may be able to fill up with water or dispose of rubbish. You can search the app Park4Night for places or check local area guides to find these. Some of the islands that don’t have many campsites do have designated camping park ups that you can book. And some of the national parks will designate spots where you can park up and camp. In the summer months, you may need to book and pay for a camping permit to make use of these, out of season they are usually free of charge. However, not all of these are available all year round so do check before relying on them out of season. 

Wild camping

Wild Camping is a legal right in Scotland – but only for people in tents. You don’t have a right to wild camp with a campervan. That being said, if you find a spot away from it all and want to spend the night some places will tolerate this. Just make sure there are no farm animals near you and that you are not on someone’s private land. If in doubt, ask permission. Scotland is very tolerant of the fact that people want to ‘get away from it all’ and that a big draw is the real sense of wilderness that many regions offer. But it is absolutely imperative that when you leave you leave NO TRACE of you ever having been there. That means rubbish, fires and human waste.

Bothies

In the remote parts of Scotland there is a network of rural stone huts, usually privately owned, that are left unlocked and available for people to spend the night in. They are there to give hikers and travellers somewhere to shelter from the weather or stay for a night, possibly two. They are not intended for people to base themselves in for a holiday! It might be possible to get the agreement of the owner to stay for longer but you will need to contact them and get their permission first. 

Campervanning Scotland stay in a-bothy

Many of these are very basic indeed – assume there will be nothing there apart from the actual structure and you won’t get a nasty surprise. So that means that there is no water, electricity, toilet facilities, fuel, kitchen equipment or even a kitchen. You may need to share the space with others. Some do have sleeping platforms but someone else might have got there first so it could be a stone floor you are sleeping on.

Why stay in a bothy in Scotland?

So, that all sounds a bit rough, why stay in them? Well, most bothies are in remote locations and you could wake up to a view in complete solitude that you wouldn’t be able to experience any other way. Some are like little stone cottages and will have fireplaces and kitchens. If you can carry your own fuel and supplies in you will be able to get cosy and comfortable. Spending a night in a bothy can be a wonderful experience and well worth the hassle of getting all your supplies to it.

Mountain Bothies Association, Scotland

Many bothies are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association which is a charity with much of the work being done by volunteers. You can find a lot of advice about bothies and where to find them on their website. The whole system is run on goodwill, so If staying in a bothy please follow the Bothy Code. 

Campervanning Advice & Tips

  • Book early

    Campsites can and do get booked up in the Summer. If you have a particular spot in mind, book it several months in advance

  • Choose the right spot to park up

    If you don’t have a hardstanding, when you park up for the night make sure that the land beneath you is firm and that you are not on a slope

  • Watch out for the wind

    It is best to park head into the wind when you pop up the roof or to find a more sheltered spot. If it is windy or very exposed then don’t  use the awning as it acts like a sail!

  • Heavy weather

    If it is raining heavily or very windy then keep the pop top down. It can also be very noisy in the campervan if there is a squall!

  • Check everything is secure before driving off

    Check that the gas is turned off  and everything has been packed away and secured, inside and out before driving off. 

  • Keep your battery charged

    The leisure battery in a campervan will give you a couple of nights of power but try to use an electric hook up every 2 or 3 days to keep it charged

  • Be prepared in cooler weather

    The leisure battery will need more regular charging in winter. If you get caught out by extreme weather you’ll want to have heating and electricity. 

  • Be prepared in warmer weather

    Top up your water when you have the chance, in case you need to stop somewhere unplanned and without facilities

  • Be prepared for any weather

    Weather changes in Scotland fast. Make sure you have clothes for all conditions, and sufficient changes of clothes

  • Keep some food in the fridge.

     In the more remote parts of Scotland you can’t guarantee a shop when you need one. You’ll be glad you came prepared when you find the perfect spot to park up and enjoy a picnic. 

Driving on Scottish Roads

Scotland has some amazing scenic roads, and it is no wonder that people can’t wait to get out on them in a campervan. Depending on the time of the year and your driving route, you may have the road to yourself. However, in peak season and on particularly popular routes, such as the NC500, you may encounter more traffic than you expected. Some roads are very narrow and winding so there are certain things you should be prepared for when driving Scottish roads

Leave enough time for your journey

Don’t underestimate the time it will take to get from A to B in Scotland. If you are used to driving long distances at home, you may not realise that what looks like a short drive on the map can actually take a fair bit of time. So plan your route carefully and leave yourself plenty of time. As well as driving roads that may be narrower and more winding than you are used to, you may encounter adverse weather conditions, heavier than expected traffic or even wildlife on the road. Also, don’t underestimate unplanned stops to take in the view. The joy of being in a campervan is that you can stop somewhere beautiful and have lunch with a view.  

Road trip Scotland

Driving on narrow roads

Many Scottish roads, including those to some popular destinations, are narrow, single track roads. In the wilder areas, there are no farm fences and so sheep, cattle and wild goats roam the roads.  Sometimes you just have to wait!  This is all part of the charm of campervanning in Scotland will be something to enjoy as long as you have left yourself enough time. Please don’t try to usher cattle (especially Highland Coos) off the road. They are pretty stubborn and the Coos can be feisty.

Passing Places

Take it slowly and if you see a motor home then be prepared to give way, back up or pull into a passing place and just let it pass. Their wing mirrors are a weapon and they are often driven by people who are inexperienced at driving such a large vehicle.

Use passing places on single track roads if you encounter another vehicle coming in the other direction. Do not pull onto the verges as they are often much softer than they look and you may well get stuck in the peat. They can also be full of moss covered rock.

Road etiquette

If you meet oncoming traffic close to a passing place the general rule is that the vehicle with the passing place on the left pulls in. However sometimes the nearest passing place could be a way behind you and then there are no  hard and fast rules about who has the right of way.  Please be courteous and give way to others.

 Please do not park up in passing places. On these narrow roads, passing places are essential and must be kept clear so the road does not get blocked. Passing places are not for parking/sleeping.

Driving on the left

Driving on the left can take a bit of getting used to so it is wise to leave time to familiarise yourself with the campervan and get the hang of a left hand drive vehicle. The roads close to our HQ are quiet and a great place to have a little practice before setting off on your road trip adventure. Some of the rules of the road you are used to may not apply. For example, unlike in France, there is no expectation that you always give way to the right (or left in our case) unless they have a Give Way or Stop sign. So don’t pull out expecting oncoming traffic to stop for you! Also, the direction of travel around a roundabout may not be clearly indicated.  

Getting Fuel

Fuel is generally available – most supermarkets up north sell fuel and small towns are usually supported by a small independent petrol station. Many now have self service facilities so that you can fuel up 24 hours – but that is not a given. Some local petrol stations will be shut by 5 and may take a lunch break without self service facilities.

Driving routes in Scotland without petrol stations

Other routes are less well served by petrol stations. If you are crossing Scotland from Inverness to Gairloch – the A9 has no ‘facilities’ unless you pull off the main drag and into one of the towns like Aviemore or Pitlochry. If you are intending to travel on the diagonal or cross country anywhere north of Inverness or Fort William then make sure you have a full tank before you set off on your journey.

Campervan trip to Skye

Visiting Scottish Islands in a Campervan

Ferries to the islands are used regularly by locals as well as tourists so booking is always advisable. You will need to book well in advance in peak periods. Always book ahead to Mull, Islay, Arran and the Outer Hebrides. You can book ferries via the Caledonian McBrayne website. You can buy tickets for specific routes or an island hopping ticket. If you are planning to go to Skye on the ferry in the tourist season, then it is wise to book several months in advance. Our VW campervans have the benefit of being classed as a car for all ferry bookings, which keeps the costs of travelling to the islands a bit lower. 

Campervanning in Scotland

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