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See: Why hire a car in Aberdeen ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments
The Granite city sits in a geographically remote corner of the UK, but once you get there, can you get around easily using public transport? Or is a hire car all but essential? What are the main Aberdeen car hire options? There are many reasons to rent a car in Aberdeen, but the city and its surroundings can also still be explored using local public transport options, even if your journey choices will be a lot less flexible.
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Why? Visiting Aberdeen using a hire car
Why do you need a car in Aberdeen ?
Reasons why you should hire a car in Aberdeen
- Remoteness — although you will have no problem getting around the city itself, public transport routes starts to thin out massively once beyond the central city area.
- Limited train routes — Aberdeen is right at the end of the East Coast route from London via Edinburgh. There are also regular Scotrail trains from Edinburgh on this route, together with frequent service to Glasgow via Perth and Sterling. The only other train service is a limited frequency (one train every two hours) route to Inverness. Even Inverness by comparison is a rail hub, with routes fanning out on each of the major compass points.
- Backed into a corner – the simple reality is that Aberdeen sits in a corner, and only has one railway line running through it. Of course, the roads are also constrained by this geography, but you can at least drive in your own time. This is a key reason why Aberdeen car hire is strongly advised as the better option.
- Limited attractions — there are relatively few points of interest in Aberdeen itself, whereas the surrounding countryside offers plenty of places to visit.
- Scottish castles – including the famous Balmoral Castle. Without a car, these places are difficult to get to.
Why not? Visiting Aberdeen without a car
Why don't you need a car in Aberdeen ?
Visiting Aberdeen without a car
There are very few reasons not to hire a car for a visit to Aberdeen, unless you’re making a very brief stay in the city itself, and aren’t planning on venturing very far beyond city limits.
- Balmoral by bus: Hardy public transport users can go by bus to Balmoral Castle, which is just next to the village of Crathie on the A93. Allow around 3 hours, up to 8 buses each way per day. You will have to change at least twice outside the summer season.
- Orkney and Shetland — Aberdeen offers both onward flights and ferry services to the Orkney and Shetland Islands. You can take a hire car onto the ferry services, but is much cheaper to go as a foot passenger.
- Scenic coastal rail route — the train route from Edinburgh up to Aberdeen has a number of particularly scenic stretches, especially as it hugs the coast for much of the route. Flying into Aberdeen and out through Edinburgh would be one way to enjoy this route, although the availability of flights there is generally much better than it is to Aberdeen anyway. Another option is just to pick return flights to Edinburgh and take the train in both directions. If you are flying in and out of Aberdeen, then this train route is still worth exploring at least down to Stonehaven, where it goes inland.
- Start at Dyce: A very quick shuttle bus (or taxi) is available from Aberdeen Airport to nearby Dyce station, from where most trains heading south start. Dyce is also the best place to board trains heading to Inverness. This avoids going into Aberdeen city centre and back out again. However, your journey options are still limited to the route heading west to Inverness, and the coastal route heading south beyond Aberdeen.
Largely due to it’s geographical location, Aberdeen has some of the worst access by public transport of any major UK city. I think there’s far more to see in and around Inverness anyway, so I’ve only ever passed through Aberdeen a few times. You can still manage using trains and buses, but your options are much more limited.
Ratings: How does Aberdeen compare?
Hiring | Driving | Parking
Trains | Buses | Local travel
So should you hire a car in Aberdeen? As Scottish cities go, when it comes to train networks, Aberdeen is certainly the weakest link, so to get to other places you would almost certainly end up needing to go by bus. This is not our view of travel enjoyment — buses should be there to supplement train journeys, not as a preferred method of transport in their own right. There are also no truly “world class” scenic railway routes heading out of Aberdeen, whereas there are out of Inverness or Glasgow, and to a lesser extent, Edinburgh.
For this reason, Aberdeen gets our strongest verdict of all Scottish cities that a car is necessary to get the best out of your trip.
Do you or don't you need a car in Aberdeen ?
Is it worth renting a car in Aberdeen just for part of my stay?
Not really – Aberdeen makes a great base for exploring the Highlands, but there are only limited points of interest within the city itself. Unless your plan is to get around the Highlands entirely by bus and train (in which case, make your connection at Dyce and don’t go into the city centre), then you really should hire a car in Aberdeen for the whole duration of your stay.
Is it worth renting a car in Aberdeen even for backpackers, students and other travellers who are on an extremely tight budget?
Probably not – based on price alone, you will get better value travelling by train and coach, especially if you book well in advance. It’s also easy enough to arrange coach or minibus tours of the Highlands or of the Isle of Skye from Inverness, and even if none of these options will give you the same flexibility as renting a car, they will almost certainly still be better value.
Should I hire a car in Aberdeen if I am planning on staying in the city / downtown?
Yes – even if you are staying right in the centre of Aberdeen, you will want to go out of the city, and in particular you want to go and visit the Cairngorms National Park. You really should hire a car for this.
Bear in mind that reaching places like, for example, Aviemore is usually going to mean going through Inverness and making a change, so it will be quicker to drive. Hotels right in the city centre are unlikely to provide free parking, but Aberdeen is sufficiently compact that you should be able to find a hotel with free parking around the edge of the city centre that is within easy walking distance, or short bus ride from the centre.
For example, the Village Hotel group are one chain who are known to provide free parking on all of their sites, and they have a location on the western side of the city. In total, about half of all hotels in Aberdeen will have free parking for guests.
I usually try to avoid driving if I can – so should I hire a car in Aberdeen?
No – we would rate Aberdeen is the most car focused major travel destination in the UK, but you will still find far more options for onward travel by bus and train then you will in many other places in Europe. If you are visiting Aberdeen from North America, then you will probably find that the choice of public transport (or transit) in Aberdeen is actually quite good, and you will also find a much wider range of onward connections via Inverness.
I am a train enthusiast – do I still need to hire a car in Aberdeen?
Absolutely not – you may well have already taken the train up to Aberdeen via Edinburgh, a route which takes you across the world famous Forth Bridge as well as the rebuilt Tay Bridge. Further to the west, you have a choice of three of the most spectacular train rides anywhere in the world; the most impressive one being the Kyle line from Inverness. Heading south from Inverness, you also have the Highland mainline which can take you back towards Perth, whereas the West Highland mainline can be joined at Fort William by taking a coach connection from Inverness. However, if you only plan to take one or two train trips, then you should still hire a car in Aberdeen, and then just use park-and-ride at local stations. Other than in the centres of Aberdeen or Inverness, you should be able to park for free at most stations in the Highlands and 0Aberdeenshire.
I am mainly interested in history and architecture and urban/cultural attractions – should I hire a car in Aberdeen?
Probably – Aberdeen is a wealthy city, and this means that it has an impressive range of cultural attractions relative to its size, but the real star here is still the scenery, so as per the general advice above, you’re probably will still want to rent a car. If you’ve tried looking up the bus schedules to get to Balmoral Castle (you will have to change twice, eventually back on to the same bus, due to shift restrictions), then you will agree that you really do need to get a car in Aberdeen if you want to see any castles other than those in the city centres!
How many people would we need in the car before a rental becomes better value than using transit?
If there are two or more of you travelling together, you are probably going to find that it’s worth hiring a car in Aberdeen. The only real exception would be for much younger travellers who may have difficulty obtaining a rental car package without paying a substantial supplement. Generally, for solo travellers, it is going to make more sense to travel around by scheduled bus, tour bus or train, but renting a car might still be more convenient.
We are senior citizens, should we rent a car in Aberdeen?
There are no particular reasons why senior citizens shouldn’t hire a car in Aberdeen, at least up until the age limits imposed by the rental companies, usually around 70 to 75.
However, UK residents who have a Senior Railcard will be able to get one third off all train travel, and this will apply in Scotland as it does in England and Wales, even though English concessionary bus passes are not valid here. Travelling by train from Aberdeen is also usually quite stress free – the lines in this part of Scotland are nothing like as busy as they are in the central belt, and reliability is usually quite good, but service patterns are often very irregular, especially if you want to travel over to Inverness and then try and find a connection from there.
Do I need a rental car if I am flying into Aberdeen airport but staying in another destination outside Aberdeen?
Probably, yes. Even if you are staying in another town which has a good bus service, or which is on the main railway line, you will then still be quite restricted in terms of where else you can visit from there.
If I’m planning on touring around, is this best done in a rental car?
Generally, yes – the Scottish Highlands and Islands are naturally very popular with touring motorists, but getting a rental car isn’t the only way of moving around. Travelling by train and bus, you can still see places like the spectacular done robing Castle further up the east coast, you can continue deep into sky by bus, and combine this with a train trip on the Kyle line if you want, and there are usually buses integrating at both ends of the island ferry routes.
The roads in the Highlands tend to be very winding, with many smaller roads often using passing places, and some drivers will find this quite stressful. If you travel around the Scottish islands by car ferry, you get to benefit from the “Road equivalent pricing” fair capping (see above), but many car rental companies will still require you to take out daily ferry insurance, and this can be an unwelcome extra expense.
Should we try to visit Aberdeen without a car because that’s better for the environment?
It’s difficult to make the environmental case for train travel on very rural Scottish routes, which often have very low passenger occupancy rates, so fuel consumption per person would be much higher than on busier routes further south.
It’s not unreasonable to point out that none of these Highland lines would be built today if a so-called “business case” had to be made based on current usage, yet the trunk routes between Aberdeen and Inverness and the Central Belt still have an important role to play in terms of providing an alternative to the heavily congested main highways (A9/A90). There are no electrified lines north of Falkirk, so all of the mainline trains you take will be using diesel.
Should I hire car in Aberdeen to start a road trip?
Absolutely – we’ve included a suggestion for a sample Scottish Road trip which could start in either Edinburgh or Glasgow and then taking in the West Coast and the Isle of Skye. This route would certainly pass through Inverness, and it would be easy enough to include Aberdeen in this loop. You may also find a better combination of flight and car hire deals in Aberdeen if you are making a comparison with Inverness. If you are planning on taking a road trip which includes more places to the south, then generally speaking, the best Scottish car rental deals are in Edinburgh or Glasgow. This is also where you will find a much wider choice of inward flight, including direct long haul flights from the USA and Canada. However, by starting your road trip from Aberdeen, you do at least have direct access to the Cairngorms.
Should I rent a car in Aberdeen and return it somewhere else?
Advice on One Way Rentals from Aberdeen
Maybe, especially if you have a driving route in mind which starts in Aberdeen and then ends up in another major Scottish city, in particular in Edinburgh or Glasgow. However, I would usually expect this to be cheaper if you do it the other way round, since the one-way fee is often determined on a mileage basis, whereas the actual rental fee is going to be more competitive further south. On the other hand, depending on your flight or train options, it might be worth hiring a car in Aberdeen and then dropping it off in Inverness. Any one-way rental fee could be better value than having a long drive back to where you started (but that is still only going to be about 2 hours, so not really long by North American standards!).
Should I rent an RV / camper / caravan in Aberdeen, instead of a car?
Yes, touring with a camper is very popular in the Scottish Highlands, especially with the recent promotion of the NC500 coastal touring route. Many visitors with campervans simply bring their own vehicles over from the Continent, but there are also several places which will provide campervan rentals in Aberdeen.
Needless to say, if you are visiting from North America, then you will find that fuel prices in the UK are significantly higher here, and you should also be warned that prices tend to rise further still as you head north or west from Inverness. However the cost of fuel should be balanced against the cost of staying in hotels or bed and breakfasts – something that can be extremely difficult during the July and August peak season. Remember as well that even roads classified as “A” roads (i.e. trunk roads) can still be single-track in some places, including on some recommended scenic drives (like the NC500). Always observe local etiquette and signs which advise any slower vehicle to pull over and allow faster drivers to pass. In some cases, the roads will not be suitable for a large camper van.
Should I hire a car from Aberdeen Airport, or from the city centre?
Generally, in the UK, you will get a better deal from on-airport car hire. This is because airports tend to have much bigger parking lots, as land is cheaper than in the city centre. You should not expect to pay an extra airport facility fee like you do at some airports in the USA.
If you do rent a car in the centre of Aberdeen, you do at least have the advantage that the major hotels, railway station and the port are all close to each other, so there are a few car hire options within this area. However, some rental offices are further out, and some may be at the airport, so make sure you specifically request “Aberdeen STATION”.
I’m moving to Aberdeen – do I need a car to live here?
Commuting in Aberdeen is very different to being a tourist. The city is compact enough that you can get to most places using a combination of bus and walking. This is not a very cycle friendly city, and you will need a car in Aberdeen if you need to commute to any of the major office locations around the edge of the city – this is an oil town after all!
 Technically the City of Aberdeen is separate to Aberdeenshire.