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5 weeks in Scotland

Does anyone have a suggested itinerary for this long of a visit? I don't want to drive. :). I arrive at the end of August and will be there through the first week of October.
Thanks in advance!

My family and I did 2 weeks in Scotland without a car and loved it. I hate driving in foreign places as well. Scotrail is the train system. There are intercity buses. The RS guide was a big help. You can start in Edinburgh and ride city buses and taxis. You can train to Glasgow, Oban, Inverness, etc.. You can bus between Oban and Inverness. You can join a Rabbie's tour for part of your 5 week trip. We did two single-day trips with Rabbie's and enjoyed them. A friend did a multiday trip with them. Rabbie's basically provides transportation between sites and arranges B&B's. Then, you explore various sites on your own. Small groups. Oban - take boat trips out to the Hebrides Isles. No car needed. Just walk to the dock and catch your boat. Many different boat tours available. Check-out Cal-Mac, Gordon-Grant, small cruise ship of Hebrides Islands. Some tours are wildlife trips. The small cruise ship looks cool. (We didn't get to do this.). Plan on one week for Edinburgh. Just keep asking questions.

Posted by
2926 posts

In 5 weeks you can see quite a lot of Scotland without having to rush from one place to the next. As the previous commenter says, the rail network and bus services are pretty good, not to mention the ferries. In addition to the RS guide, take a look at http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/index.html for ideas.

Here is a suggested list of destinations, just FWIW. I'll assume you are flying in & out of Edinburgh.

Spend your first 3-4 nights in Edinburgh. Take a day trip to Roslin Chapel (about half a day, by bus -- buy a day pass and you can use the bus again in the evening to go our for dinner).

Next, Stirling and onward to Glasgow. How many nights you spend in Glasgow depends on your interests. Heading north from Glasgow, stop at Luss (bus) or Tarbet/Arrochar (train or bus) to enjoy Loch Lomond. The boat trips on the loch may still be running; check Cruise Loch Lomond and Sweeney's.

Continue by bus to Inveraray, at least 2 nights (I can recommend Brambles for lodging and the George Hotel for dinner). Inverary Castle is beautiful and the town has good shopping for Scottish woolens. By bus you could take a day trip to Lochgilphead & Kilmartin Glen or onward to Tarbert, which has a ruined castle associated with Robert the Bruce. On the same bus route is the Auchindrain Township outdoor museum -- a must if you're interested in the history of ordinary people.

Next, Oban and ferry connections to the Hebrides, maybe 4-5 nights? And then Fort William and the Jacobite Steam Train. Depending whether you want to deal with the fairly inconvenient public transportation on Isle of Skye, take the Mallaig ferry to Skye or else return to Fort William. There's plenty to see around Fort William with Glencoe, Fort Augustus, etc. so plan 3-4 nights.

Now you go along the north shore of Loch Ness, stopping at Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition. Stay in Inverness 3-4 nights and take a bus to see Culloden Battlefield and Cawdor Castle.

By train from Inverness you can travel south on the main route to Pitlochry. Along the way are Dalwhinnie (distillery tour) and Blair Atholl (Blair Castle).

Head east to Dundee and onward to St. Andrews if you have any interest at all in golf. The British Golf Museum is great, even for a non-golfer, and the Old Course Hotel is not all that expensive (and it has an indoor swimming pool).

Return to Edinburgh and Bob's your uncle! (I haven't added up the nights, but I'm sure this is all doable in 5 weeks.)

Posted by
1094 posts

If I had that opportunity - and I won't have until I retire in three years - I would

  1. go to Oban,
  2. take the ferry (https://www.calmac.co.uk/oban-castlebay-barra-ferry-summer-timetable) to Castlebay
  3. hop-scotch my way to Stornoway with busses and ferries, and then
  4. take the ferry (https://www.calmac.co.uk/stornoway-ullapool-lewis-ferry-summer-timetable) to Ullapool.

I took that trip before I started working (35 years ago) and I still cherish the memories.

Posted by
556 posts

Wow, I wish I had been able to spend that much time! If you are not going to rent a car, though, the extra time will be needed to get where you want to on public transit. I would also recommend taking a look at https://www.secret-scotland.com/ just to get some itinerary ideas. If you have an interest in highland games and bagpipes then the Braemar games may be of interest to you. They take place the first weekend in September, and you can get a day trip there from Edinburgh https://www.braemargathering.org/
Some people tend to bypass Inverness up north, but if you don't have a car it is a good place to get tours to see some more northern areas. The Culloden battle field and visitor center is nearby as well as many other places https://www.rabbies.com/en/scotland-tours/from-inverness/1-3-day-tours?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIk_yuyrS21QIVi6J-Ch1pqwgBEAAYASAAEgK06vD_BwE I didn't manage to get out to the Orkneys with only three weeks, but it is on the top of my list for when I go back. I started my trip in Edinburgh, where I spent six days, I did two day trips from here then spent the rest of the time wandering the city. There is a lot to see in Edinburgh so don't leave too soon. If you want to make the hike up to Arthur's seat that can take as much as half a day depending on the route you take. I rented a car in Edinburgh and did a loop tour, heading first to St. Andrew's then up through the middle of the country to Inverness, then across to Isle of Skye, down the west (detouring to Applecross) to Oban and eventually ending up in Glasgow. Since you are not going to rent a car you will have to figure out the most efficient way to get around by bus/train, or even some short tours. Rabbies has many tours from one day to several days that may be a more efficient way of seeing some places that public transit may not go. I would also check out the forums on the Lonely Planet web site as there are generally more people there travelling by public transit and you will get some great advice
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/europe-uk-ireland/scotland. You will find that it is fairly easy to get to a town by bus or train, but often the small towns have no public transit to get you to a place you want to see, which is why I ended up renting a car. You will find many tour companies will offer day tours from the larger towns, but not from smaller places so it will probably work best if you do a mix of small town stays where you can easily walk or get a taxi to place you want to see, and larger towns that offer more in the way of day trips and public transit. Try to minimize the days you travel from one place to the next as much as you can. You don't want to see Scotland from the window of a train or bus. You will need to start booking accommodation as some of the smaller places won't have too many options. I also travelled in September, and started booking places a few months in advance and still got many no vacancy emails.

The train ride between Glasgow and Oban is beautiful. I recommend traveling to Oban this way. Check out Rabbie's Isle of Skye trip. I agree about having several bases over 5 weeks and exploring from them. Here is a skeletal itinerary that you can add to.
Edinburgh - 1 week. Train to Glasgow. Maybe visit Glasgow. (I know nothing about Glasgow.) Take a Rabbie's multiday trip to Isle of Skye. Train from Glasgow to Oban. Do some cool boat trips from Oban. Look into a multiday boat tour. Take a bus to Inverness. Spend 3 nights in Inverness as a resting/regrouping point. Good place for restaurants, laundry, Nessie, Culloden and Clava Cairns, and chilling out in general. Then, launch your next phase from Inverness. 5 weeks is a good long while. Lucky you! If you like birds - bring compact binoculars. Be sure to invest in a high quality packable raincoat with a hood and carry it with you EVERYWHERE.