We are taking our first trip to Scotland (9 days) in early May. We have reserved four nights in Edinburgh (we can't go for less time because my daughter is meeting us with only two days left in Edinburgh and we want to visit St. Andrews) and then wish to leave early the next day to possibly tour Stirling Castle and then drive to a relatively interesting town (possibly as far as Mallaig?) for the night. We were thinking of going to Skye by ferry but would the drive to the bridge provide nice scenery? Unless the ferry is especially nice we wouldn't have to do it. We will stay on Skye for two nights to hopefully maximize the chance for good weather. Is 2 nights enough on this length trip? To get to Skye from Edinburgh, we are interested in a scenic drive (through the Glencoe Valley? and then the road to the Isles?) My question is, is this too much in a day? If so, the first thing we would probably remove is Stirling Castle and do that as a day trip from Edinburgh.) We are already doing a day trip to the Falkirk Wheel and Kelpies so could we combine the castle with that? However, we could change the trip in any way. We had planned a day trip from Edinburgh to St. Andrews but I noticed someone in another topic said that St. Andrews was a long day trip. I had thought it was around an hour to get there by car? Thank you so much for any suggestions you might make!
Both ways to get to Skye have beautiful scenery. The drive from Mallaig from Fort William is gorgeous. The drive from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh is gorgeous. So, you don't need to use scenery as the basis for the decision. :) Instead, map out the best route for you. I truly think that you can rarely go wrong. yes, the north shore of Loch Ness has more traffic than the south shore, but compared to what? I don't know where you live but compared to wear I live now, NYC, and where I've lived in the past--Madison WI, Chicago, IL, Columbus OH, Bay area in California, and even Lafayette IN, the traffic is pretty mild. Nothing I've seen in Scotland comes close to the tourist tat of the Wisconsin Dells or Gatlinburg Tennessee! And I had a great time at both those places. So, I think that your plan to head for Mallaig and take the ferry to Skye is a great one. Think about coming back to Edinburgh via Kyle of Lochalsh and the Bridge. There are at least a couple of routes. Leave yourself more time than you think you'll need as the roads are wee and the scenery calls for you to stop an admire it.
Edinburgh to St. Andrews is more like 2 hours each way by car, especially if you count navigating in/out of Edinburgh, depending where you are staying and parking. And then there's lots to see in St. Andrews and the interesting areas are rather spread out.
If you stay two nights on Skye you'll have enough time to get the feel of the place and to drive to many of the isle's beautiful destinations. Will you see everything there is to see? No, but you'd need a month for that, IMO.
Traveling back, I put in a vote for the northern shore of Loch Ness because that way you can see both Urquhart Castle (informative walking tours and costumed interpreters are included in the entry fee) and the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition (a fairly scientific immersion in the history of "Nessie" sightings). We were there on a Sunday in May and didn't encounter any heavy traffic or crowds.
My friends and I drove from Edinburgh to Skye in one day in 2015 (through Glencoe). It was kind of a long day but there was definitely gorgeous scenery along the way. We also spent two nights in Skye. Watch out for the single lane roads on Skye!
be sure to chck that your rental car is covered by insurance if you travel by ferry. I have not heard any horror stories about cars and ferrys in Scotland but did see in the small print that my car was not going to be covered for damage on a ferry. I probably am overthinking this and my guess is most people take the ferry and cross their fingers when it comes to damage on the ferry. Be aware the weather can stop the ferrys from running so keep an eye on the weather and have your alternative route roughed in your plans. We actually had to leave Skye a day early because high winds were going to close the bridge. We drove thru Glen Coe on the way out to Skye and it was an awesome beautiful drive but we did it in two sections, spending a few days in Ft William/Glen Coe area before going on out to Skye. We did drive directly from Skye back to EDI the northern route and with no stops for sight seeing it took us 4 hours or so with light traffic most of the way. We were there in middle October. I'd go to Skye again in a second, it was one fantastic spot!!
This business of insurance for cars on ferries is much debated. A few years ago I posted on TripAdvisor to get local advice and the general view from checking with rental agencies that as long as you stay within the UK you will be okay. If you leave the UK you had best discuss this with your car rental agency. Think about this people. What is one of the key parts of Scotland's economy? Tourism. What is one of the places that many--all?--tourists want to visit? The western isles. Is it logical to think that the Scottish Rental Car agencies would make it impossible to visit the islands with your rental car? Of course it isn't. Is it so unusual to use a ferry in Scotland that you would have to have special rules?
So, see this discussion. As is pointed out the ferries are part of the regular transportation network. They are not optional--its's how you get to these destinations. It's not a joy ride. When in doubt ask. I think from reading on the web that this may come from general warnings when you rent through AutoEurope. This is an aggregator and their rules are aimed at people taking the ferry from Brindisi to Greece, or France to England etc. And you can usually overcome these restrictions by paying more money. AND remember it's the company that you end up renting from, not AutoEurope whose rules apply. BUT in Scotland the ferries are within the country and so there shouldn't be restrictions.
Actually, I wish Rick would have someone investigate this and post it in his Ferries Tips section.
I've done some research, sharing it separately with Pam, and this is my summary:
- The important, universal rule is that you must tell the rental agency where you’re going and read the fine print to be sure you understand the contract.
- Most rental agencies do allow you to take UK cars at least to the closest UK islands, but pre-approval is necessary when booking through Auto Europe. That approval step probably includes them confirming with the supplier.
- Rules vary even more (and permission or additional insurance may be necessary) to take UK cars to Ireland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, or the Continent.