We are 2 fit senior adults and will be in Edinburgh next April for a first time visit to Scotland. We plan to use Edinburgh as our base but want to see other areas also. We want to visit St Andrews for sure and one or two other interesting and beautiful areas of which I know there are many! We considered trying to do the West Highland Line on our own. I thought perhaps a driver or a tour would be a better choice for us. I would welcome suggestions and advice.
St Andrews is very easy to do on your own- there is a direct coach-bus from Edinburgh Bus Station every hour (although a bus service they use coaches which are exactly the same as used on long distance coach routes within Scotland and to London)- there are two routes- the fast route which stays inland so is not very scenic, or the nearly 3 hour route which hugs the coast all the way up.
Or the slightly faster route is the train to Leuchars, then a bus (the #99) every few minutes into St Andrews.
The West Highland line is a very long day if done independently on the train. You have to change at Glasgow Queen Street. You would have to leave before 7am and would not get back until about 10.30 pm.
You could do it as a tour, but that will not get you beyond Fort William (ie- not all the way to Mallaig, on the Jacobite steam train part of the route) and will take you through Glencoe. While Glencoe is very worthwhile that is not the same route as the train which goes over wild Rannoch Moor where there are no roads- so pros and cons to either train or tour.
I just returned from a 6-day trip based in Edinburgh. I took two day trips with tour companies, one to the West Central Highlands and one to St. Andrews. Here's my report in case you might find it helpful.
Thank you so much for this information. I think we can easily do the St Andrews day trip on our own. We will have to give some thought to the Highlands trip. It would be a very long day. Can you recommend a day trip from Edinburgh?
I see you are from the Lake District which is another place we have on our bucket list.
The company everyone recommends on this forum for Scottish tours (1 day or longer) is Rabbies
We returned from Scotland a few weeks ago, and we saw Rabbies tours/vans everywhere. They are obviously very well liked and respected.
Are you not interested in renting a car? I think having a car will give you a lot of flexibility. I admit I did not do the driving, but my husband and our friend’s wife shared the driving. They got used to driving on the left very quickly. They also watched a video about driving in Scotland, and learned the rules about driving on the left and driving on one-track roads. Just thought I would mention this in case you are concerned about renting a car.
I took these 2 rabbie tours in may:
They are both long days on the van, but well worth it to see the highlands without driving.
I preferred the first one linked about, loch ness, etc. even though the boat ride on loch ness was my least favorite part of that tour. The second tour I linked above, west highlands etc. was too many lochs for my liking.
I found the rabbie’s tours to be very well organized and both of mine had great guides.
These van tours are very popular, with good reason, but there are a lot of other tour vans (other companies in addition to rabbies) at each of the stops. So, there are lots of people at the stops even though only around 16 on your van. Despite that, I would certainly take the tours again and am looking at a rabbie’s tour for my trip to Ireland next year.
Thank so much for your input..I will check out these two Rabbie Tours. Happy to know they were enjoyable despite the long day. How do your meals work out? Are there places to eat at the stops you make? Just curious because I have read mixed reviews on that aspect of the tour.
On the 2 tours that I took, there were plenty of options for food. The tour will make several shorter stops for bathroom breaks and I believe most, if not all, of those had options for a snack. Then the tour has a longer break for lunch where you have time to eat. The loch ness tour, if you do the boat ride, you do have less time for lunch as you need to eat and then line up for the boat ride. On both tours, I brought along a protein bar “just in case” and never needed them.
I always worry about availability of bathrooms on tours. 😊 Plenty of bathroom breaks on both tours. A few you did need cash for. There’s also a free bathroom at the bus station where both tours will start from. There’s room on the vans if you bring a bag or an extra coat and don’t want to carry. I like a sear near the front so I can be one of the first ones off at the stops. So, once they announce that your driver has arrived, head outside quickly to check in with him or her and then get on the van.
I’m happy to answer any other questions if you have any.
Here are the pictures I took from each tour. I put them in a google photo album. The links are safe to click on.
definitely better scenery I thought on the loch ness tour.
EDITED: i deleted the bad links and replaced with new ones that should work.
I would love to view your pictures but the link is not working for me.
The links are not working for me either, on laptop and on tablet.
By the way I was surprised and pleased on a recent visit to find that the bathrooms at Edinburgh Bus Station were free, as they had always been chargeable, a rare positive change arising from Covid.
Currently traveling back from Scotland now after having a wonderful trip with my family (parents in your same age range).
I agree with St. Andrews, and I would suggest going to Glencoe on a tour no matter what, that was rhe best bit of the highlands IMO and isn't too far from Edinburgh. Stirling was great and would also be an easy trip from Edinburgh and Dunfermline was a surprisingly nice town with an historic Abbey and Carnegie history.
If you are not already seeing Glasgow as part of the trip I would 100% suggest going there. I loved Kelvingrove museum (great works but even better layout+descriptions), the University of Glasgow, and the Hunterian Museum. I also enjoyed at little Moroccan Cafe called Finnieston Fez, but that may be personal preference.
Yep, those work now!
Thanks for the suggestions of seeing Glencoe and Glasgow. Any other suggestions are welcome. Did you stay in a hotel or an Airbnb? I am looking into both.
You might find the seond half of my trip report helpful:
Two of my favorite days were my day trips to North Berwick and Dunbar. Super easy by train and a nice escape from the crowds.