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how long to spend in Scotland

We are veteran European travelers but this is a tough one.

We are planning a 19 night trip to Europe in mid-late September. We are considering Scotland.

We will not be renting a car due to the left lane driving issue. We will be totally reliant upon trains and buses.

Is a 19 night trip with respect to seeing and doing things too long? We are senior citizens but adventurous.

Many, many thanks in advance.

Richard and Mary Shaw

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, Richard and Mary,

I have never had a holiday in Scotland that was less than 27 days when travelling with Mrs. A. The few times that I've gone solo, it has been for 16 days or more. Having said that. however, I have always rented a car. Like yourselves, I am a senior citizen.

I would say that using public transportation, you should have no trouble at all getting around in Scotland, although service can be sparse in some of the Western Highlands and Islands. There are some islands (Arran, Islay, and Harris/Lewis) where the bus service is excellent; others (Skye, for instance) where the bus service is not quite as good. However, most of Scotland is well served by coach, rail, plane, and ferry. If you have an itinerary in mind, one of our regular contributors, Stuart (isn31c), is an expert on all things regarding public transportation, and can provide you with a plethora of schedules.

If you can extend your holiday past 19 days, all the better.

Don't let driving on the left side of the road put you off hiring a car. About 85% of the cars for rent in Scotland are standard transmission. However, having an automatic transmission, which may cost a bit more, would mean that you could concentrate on the driving, not shifting gears.

In addition to public transportation, there are several tour companies which provide tours lasting from one day to two weeks. If you don't mind sharing your travels with strangers (which you'd do on public transportation anyway), that would be a good way to complement the bus/ferry/train part of your holiday.

Whatever you decide to do, you will love Scotland!

Very best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
15503 posts

I spend a lot of time in Scotland so the amount of time you're asking about is not as long as you think.. It will give you the opportunity to see a good part of a beautiful country.

As stated, Scotland has an excellent train and bus system. For places not easily reached by public transportation, but of interest to visitors, one day tours are the way to go. I've taken numerous tours with Rabbies. Sixteen passengers vans, excellent guides.

Most of the trains are run by Scotrail except for a few sightseeing ones. (Some steam.)

But for all types of public transport, start at Traveline Scotland. There you can get an idea of your public transport options, schedules.

Both Scotrail and Traveline Scotland have apps for your phone.

It's easy to find this schedules and fares on the internet through these sites. Anyone can do it.

Posted by
503 posts

No, 19 nights is not too long! My husband and I, in our 60's, spent 17 nights in Scotland in May. We could have easily spent another week...or two...! We started with five nights in Edinburgh and got our rental car when we left the city. It was easy to use trains for a couple of day trips out of Edinburgh (Stirling and Galashiels).

The driving/navigating wasn't horrible (well, Google did try to direct us across a river once-without a bridge!), but it does take extra concentration. There are many tours available, ranging from day trips to week-long itineraries. Many on this Forum recommend Rabbies; there are also others that may meet your needs.

Posted by
6355 posts

It's interesting that Mike says that buses on Harris and Lewis are excellent. They were before Covid, but there were huge cutbacks by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Outer Hebrides Council) and things have never really recovered. For the population size the services are good, but now needs a degree of planning rather more than elsewhere in Scotland. In particular the town service to Stornoway airport was and still is decimated.
There are no Sunday buses anywhere in the Outer Hebrides, only ferries and flights.
But on the positive side the 'spine' service all the way down the Outer Hebs from Stornoway to Barra has been restored- so can now again be done in a day- 2 ferries and 3 or 4 buses. For about 2 years that service was unuseable due to cutbacks.
Shetland also has really good service. Orkney requires an amount of patience- especially to get to the prehistoric sites.

Posted by
6355 posts

Be very aware of fares information on Traveline Scotland- I have just checked the stated fares on Traveline for three journeys I have taken recently- all major routes- and all are wrong- way higher than the actual fares you will actually pay.
Also some of the timetable information is just plain wrong- key stops are missing, and you have to know an exact stop name. I got caught by that last week, and have just seen an example of that, again on an important route. And there have been two recent cases (on the west coast) on this forum where traveline has tied us up in quite unnecessary knots.
In some ways Traveline is too clever for it's own good.
It is a very useful tool, but not the be all and end all.

Posted by
358 posts

You will find plenty to do - but it's whether it's what you want to do. For me 19 nights is for a road trip in South Africa, not a train trip round Scotland. I would consider going on to somewhere else during the trip.

Posted by
639 posts

Our second Scotland visit for 21 days was last year and third visit is 21 more days next year, and it was a struggle to plan either trip to see even a small portion of what there is to see and do. And I should point out we are mile-a-minute types that are always on the move - none of those multiday stays at a quiet B&B in the countryside.

I'm now 73, and I find driving and shifting to be very enjoyable. On last year's trip with another couple, we were fighting over the joy of doing the driving. It really helps to have a good dashboard GPS to eliminate the doubts over your directions. We enjoy finding the out-of-the-way places that you can only access by car.

The roads in Scotland are far better than in our neck of the woods.

Posted by
6774 posts

Hi, Richard and Mary, I spent 22 days in Scotland and agree that the more time you spend there, the better, especially if you rely on public transportation. It will take you longer to get places when you factor in train and bus schedules, waiting time, and so on.

If you don't feel comfortable driving, then so be it, but I am a 68 year old woman who was traveling solo and I had no problems (except for a fear of heights, which kept me from a few mountainous drives). Driving on the left was actually the easiest part of driving in Scotland - after the first few minutes, it just automatically kicks in. In fact, when I got back home, the first time I drove out of my driveway, I headed for the left side of the road!

I did get an automatic (sort of by luck, as I did not order one) and if you do decide to rent a car, I would suggest that you book one with an automatic transmission. As Mike said, it's one less thing for your brain to think about while driving. :)

If you do stick with public transportation, you might want to consider doing some day tours, especially while you are on Skye, which does not have great bus service. That way you will be able to visit the wonderful places on Skye without worrying about how to get there. There is a frequent poster here named Lane, who was in Scotland the same time I was - in fact, we got to meet and have lunch in Edinburgh. But unlike me, he did not rent a car and used public transportation. He didn't post a trip report here but he does blog about his travels and it might be worth looking through his posts. He relied a lot on local tour companies to get him to some of the major sights, especially on Skye but also other places. Here is a link to his page about his Scotland trip:

Posted by
34 posts

Last May/June was our 3rd trip to Scotland. We spent 6 weeks and still didn't see all that we desired. Going back this September for more. Although this month long trip includes western England, Wales & yet another 10 days in Scotland. We always rent a car allowing the freedom to explore outlying non-touristy areas. After the 1st day driving on the left it quickly becomes intuitive. We've found even single track roads on the NC 500 are doable w/o much concern. It's all in your attitude. If think you can't you won't be up for the challenge. And ........ we're in our 70's. It's all part of the adventure. Here's a great site with tips on driving in Scotland ........

Posted by
6700 posts

My wife and I spent 24 days there last year. We could have used more time.

Posted by
6355 posts

For instance something very close to Mardee's itinerary could easily be put together using bus and train in careful mixture, albeit counter clockwise- that way around because of a key connection at Kilchoan for Tobermory which only works southbound to Tobermory and then 3 days a week (due to the connections off Skye via Mallaig).

Posted by
1950 posts

19 days is great and will allow you to see quite a bit of Scotland without being too rushed.

Posted by
886 posts

I did a three week tour as a solo, with a car, and found I could have spent a lot more time there. If travelling by public transit you will need more time to get from place to place, and you will be somewhat limited in where you stay, and what sights you see, as some places are not accessible via transit. I would suggest that before you decide on how many days you need that you figure out what you want to see, then how you are going to get there, and then determine how many days you need. Otherwise, you may find your itinerary I doable with the time you have allotted.

Posted by
1652 posts

We recently returned from Scotland where we spent 16 nights on the ground, and I wish we had an extra week. You won’t be bored!

We are in our 70’s and traveled with another couple. We rented a car with automatic transmission. My husband and our friend’s wife shared the driving. You do get used to driving on the left pretty quickly. The roundabouts were a little bit difficult at first, but you do get used to them, too. I personally think renting a car will make your trip easier and more enjoyable. We also watched videos about driving in Scotland, and the videos explained the rules of the road including single track roads.