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Need help with 9 day/night itinerary

Hello! I'm traveling to Scotland for the first time this May. I will arrive May 16th (Saturday morning, from the USA) and leave May 25th (Monday morning). Here is my draft itinerary. I would like to take one or two stops out since this is too much. I need help deciding which stops to delete and then which stops to add to. I love being outdoors and really enjoy hiking. As of now, I will not have a car (it is expensive for 1 person, I would need an automatic, and I'm not thrilled about driving on the left.)

Arrive in Edinburgh Saturday and take train/bus to Glencoe (via Glasgow)
Glencoe - 2 nights
Isle of Skye - 2 nights (I have read that Isle of Skye is not worth it without a car - is this true?)
Inverness - 2 nights (I have read that some people don't think Inverness is "worth it" - thoughts?)
Pitlochry - 1 night (to break up trip from Inverness to Edinburgh and I would explore The Hermitage in the afternoon by taking 40 minute bus from Pitlochry to Rose Cottage)
Edinburgh - 2 nights

Any thoughts/suggestions are much appreciated!

Posted by
1172 posts

Look into the Rabbie's Tours (they do leave from Edinburgh): They have quite the selection and looks like they go where you want to go. It might even be more cost effective as it includes admissions and transportation and will save you time. I believe they will make arrangements for accommodations which are paid separately depending on your own needs. This way you will also have some like minded people to go on hikes with.

Posted by
18355 posts

I'll address the Skye-without-a-car situation since I did that last year.

It is a challenge. There is a useful loop public-bus route around the Trotternish Peninsula. The buses leave from Portree and run in both directions. They're less frequent on Sundays. There is some other bus service on the island (you can get to Dunvegan Castle, for example), but it's true that some popular hiking areas probably could not be reached unless you took a taxi. Another option is a one-day bus tour. Those can get you closer to trailheads than a public bus.

The difficulty I ran into was the weather. It is changeable and wet, though I believe rain is a bit less likely in May than in the month I was there (July). Bus tours generally need to be booked well in advance (they sell out), so you'll be gambling on the weather. If you have a car, you are in a much better position to react to weather conditions. I was on Skye for 3 nights but didn't get to see places like the fairy pools and fairy glen because the weather didn't cooperate.

Posted by
4548 posts

The weather is more likely to be dodgy on Skye than Glencoe in my experience.

Two nights somewhere is only one full day and if you are travelling by public transport, I would suggest that you have 3 nights in each location to avoid the feeling of being permanently on the move.

Inverness is good for history such as Culloden and Cawdor Castle, but Skye and Glencoe are better for walking. Skye can get booked up months in advance and without a car, you are going to be more limited as to where you can stay. Have you looked at a Rabbies tour?

Your last day is a Bank Holiday and therefore accommodation will be busier and more expensive, so book asap.

Posted by
89 posts

Hello outdoorgirl,

I spent 3 weeks in Scotland May 2017. I did not have a car and used public transportation. I would say out of the 21 days my favorite day was the day trip I did on Skye with . It was a wonderful fun day. I used Rabbies to get to Portree from Inverness I simply departed the tour when we arrived at Portree. I enjoyed Inverness very much. The walk along the river, the pubs, several good restaurants. I stayed at Ardconnel house and the host was very gracious to drive me to Culloden. There is also a public bus. I would say the most challenging for me was Glencoe. I spent 2 nights in the little town but the weather was bad and the public bus was actually full so I was that close and did not go through the valley. That was poor planning on my part. Other folks in my B&B had made arrangements with drivers and even the local taxi. I was blessed to have 21 days. I felt the train from Inverness to Edinburgh was enjoyable and not overly long. But I like your idea of staying in Pitlochry.
It looks like your first day you are landing after a transatlantic flight then boarding a train/bus to Glencoe. The town of Glencoe is very small with only if I am remembering correctly a couple of places to eat. There is not a lot there especially if you do not have a car. Just a couple things to think about. Others may have better suggestions for that particular area.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
489 posts

My thoughts are that this whole trip will be problematic without a car.

I will address the weather first. I live on Skye and travel often through Glencoe. The weather is pretty much identical - both west coast locations.

Glencoe is a village and a very small one at that. I get that you enjoy hiking, but I would not want to be out on those mountains alone. Same with Skye, you'd be fine on the lower level walks but I would not recommend heading into the mountains alone, always assuming that you can get to them without transport, because as others have said public transport on Skye is very patchy and mostly based around school schedules.

I would have thought that the cost of renting a small automatic car would be offset by the extra time you will gain from not hanging around waiting for buses and trains and the additional flexibility it will give you to get to the most spectacular scenery. Even relying on the Glasgow to Skye bus via Glencoe requires reservations as they get terribly busy in the summer. Likewise the bus from Skye to Inverness and then down to Edinburgh (although you could do that bit by train).

It's not a trip I would want to make on my own and by public transport.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for all the quick replies. My main goal is to decide which destination(s) to remove so that I can spend more time in less places. While it is often more fun traveling with a partner, I enjoy traveling by myself, and it’s better than staying at home and not exploring. I’m very responsible and safe and have no intentions of climbing summits by myself. Thanks for the Rabbies tour suggestions - I will definitely check it out. I know traveling with a car would be easier; however, I am from the States and don’t know how I feel yet about driving on the left. I’ve done lots of research and know that public transport is not impossible. It seems like from everyone’s responses that Glencoe might not be worth it and Skye isn’t worth it without a car. I’m leaning towards possibly 4 nights Edinburgh, 4 nights Inverness (or maybe 3 and add a night in Glasgow), 1 night Pitlochry - and doing day trips from Edinburgh and Inverness (probably with Rabbies). Any other suggestions are welcome!

Posted by
914 posts

To be honest, I would take out what I couldn’t easily access by public transportation if you don’t want to drive, while balancing that with what interests you after researching.

You could easily spend 3 full days (4 nights) in Edinburgh alone - maybe more if you venture out to Stirling or Roslyn Chapel. Oban is easy to reach, as is Fort William (with a day trip to Maillag). Another factor is where you can find accommodations, since those tend to fill fast and early.

Rabbies tours seem to be very popular for day trips, although I haven’t taken one. I think I would definitely take out Skye for this trip.

Posted by
489 posts

Rabbies are very popular and they are also one of the best regarded by locals because out of season their crews come back and volunteer, repairing footpaths and fences that have been eroded or destroyed by tourists.

That said, your stops will be very short on any kind of a mini bus tour, so you will mostly be seeing Scotland from the window of a small bus. Your revised plan sounds OK, but for someone who loves being outdoors and hiking seems like a lot of time spent either in cities or on tour buses. Inverness is a working town with little to detain the tourist, but from there you could get out to the coast for some bracing beach walks or you could walk part of the Great Glen path.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
73 posts

I personally don’t think you should miss Skye. I was determined not to miss it, despite not renting a car. 20 years ago when my son was 10, we back-packed for 3 weeks through Ireland and Scotland using public transport. We took the Scotrail sleeper from London, and arrived Kyle of Lochalsh the next morning. From the train station we boarded a bus which took us over the (then new) bridge to Skye. From Kyleakin, we took a Post Bus (small mail delivery vehicle mentioned in Ricks guidebook) through Broadford, and to a BnB (Coriusk House) in a southwest peninsula near Elgol (old name Elagol). There was nothing around except glorious hills, red deer in the fields every morning, sheep, highland cattle, and a long walk down to the stunning Elgol harbor. The BnB had only 3 rooms, and they also served dinner if you wanted it- fresh local scallops, And other local products, so knowing this in advance, we were not needing a vehicle. We walked/hiked every day, trying different routes, —-on day 1 a border collie befriended us and joined us on our rambles every morning after breakfast. From Elgol harbor, there was a boat tour (called Bella Jane) to an inland loch Scavaig, so we reserved this one day and walked a mile to the harbor, took the boat at around 10 am, along with others who had driven to Elgol for the same boat trip.
It was spectacular - there were seals everywhere, eagles, and the most beautiful clear blue water. After docking near the loch, We had to climb a bit to reach it, and it was more than I imagined, land-locked, deep, and stunning -
Yikes I’m rambling - what I’m saying is that these 5 days without a car were the best days of our entire trip. One more thing, on our last night, the BnB owners invited us to a Ceilidh, a friends birthday party, with trad music and lots of unexpected joy. So, you never know what will happen - no, we did not experience all of Skye, but we experienced the real Skye. Like life, it’s what you make of it.
PS -As of now, there are mini van tours of Skye starting from the town of Portree, going to most of the Natural and historical sites. If you stay in Portree you will have everything you need in walking distance and the opportunity to explore with a mini van tour or on the island bus, and maybe meet other travelers to hang with. Go for it.

Posted by
3882 posts

I just want to mention - I'm doing the 3 day Isle of Skye with Rabbies and decided to book Portree accoms on my own instead of having Rabbies do it - we will be there May 9/10 (which I see is a bank holiday weekend according to google) but depending on your budget - I found accoms few and far between and expensive. Even the youth hostel for the weekend we are there was $180 cdn a night. Hotel rooms were in sparse supply (might be easier for one as opposed to 2) and there were only 6 airbnb's in the 'downtown core' for our stay - and one was a camper van. Found one for $140 a night. (My budget is generally $75-100cdn)

So once you pin down your dates if you decide to go to Portree, don't wait too long to book your accoms! Thru the week might be better than a weekend.

Posted by
189 posts

Picking up on celtic0103's comments - she is talking about 20 years ago. Do post buses still run? I thought they had been phased out some years ago.

Public transport isn't brilliant on Skye and is mainly geared to get people to and from work or school. Of ypou are wanting to go to Skye, it would make sense to do it as part of a short tour. Check our Rabies or Timber bush, both ot which get good reviews.

If you are determined to do it under your own steam, then you need to get accommodation booked ASAP as Syke is very popular and accommodation books up really quickly.

Posted by
155 posts

Do post buses still run? I thought they had been phased out some years ago.

They do not run in my area of Scotland that's for sure.

They used to and you had to give 24 hours notice at the local post office so that the postie had time to tidy up the inside of the vehicle. That's what I was told by the postmaster anyway :-)

Posted by
489 posts

Here is some up to date information about Skye. I live here, so can promise you this is accurate.

There is no post bus. The only public buses are run by Stagecoach. You can look their schedules up on line. It is mainly centred around getting kids to and from school. Citylink run the buses from Uig, via Portree and Broadford off the island to Inverness and Glasgow (via Fort William). I repeat - THERE IS NO POST BUS ANYMORE.

Coruisk House still exists. I suggest you look it up on Trip Advisor. It is in a remote but beautiful location. They have expanded considerably and I do not think they are the same owners as 20 years ago. The current owners are retired lawyers who left England to open a restaurant with rooms on Skye. Again I suggest you check the reviews. It is absolutely inaccessible by public transport.

I think the B&B scene here has changed considerably here in 20 years. You are very unlikely to be taken to a ceilidh by any B&B owners as I suspect they are mostly too tired at the end of the day to do any dancing (in season anyway!). There is live music in some of the pubs and your B&B host will gladly point you in the right direction.

The Bella Jane boat trips out of Elgol still run and are fantastic.

I hope this helps.
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
592 posts

Hi outdoorgirl, we visited Scotland this October and LOVED it! Wonderful country and incredible hiking. Do you have your flights yet? I would suggest a minimum of three nights on Skye. Four would be better. We did a lot of hiking and could have used more time. The All Trails app is awesome. You can download your hikes ahead of time and use it offline. It will track your path exactly on the map (or off of you detour) which is incredibly helpful. Definitely don’t underestimate the need for waterproof gear. My husband didn’t believe me and we had to buy him a pair of shoes in Portree.

We toured Culloden and Clara Cairns but did not actually stay in Inverness. Knowing what you’re trying to achieve, I’d say you could cut those two nights and add to Skye. Inverness is absolutely worth it, but if you’re cutting it’s a good place to look at cutting.

You will still not have one day for hiking Glencoe area; are you ok with that?

I will second the Rabbie’s recommendation. We did a day trip tour with them and it was great.

Driving in Scotland, even on Skye, was not as bad as some of the roads we found in western Ireland. Having a car gives you a lot of freedom but I completely understand your reasons for not wanting one.

Posted by
2 posts

Hi outdoorgirl!

First off I love the idea of going to Pitlochry.. It's such a cute town, and has a distillery and castle to explore. I think Skye is best with more time and a rental car, as public transportation isn't the best up there it seems... The hikes aren't as bad as I read in a couple of the comments.. you could easily do Storr and the Quiraing solo, as long as you're smart with your own capabilities.

Glencoe isn't all it's talked up to be.. It's rather crowded, and while it's pretty, its not THAT great.. and the actual town of Glencoe is really small and very overpriced! Though if you are in that area, you could walk around the lochs and enjoy Glen Etive as well.

Inverness is lovely. We lived there for 6 weeks during our 2.5 years in Scotland. There are great walks along the river, and easy day trips out to the Black Isle, Culloden, distilleries in the area, and Loch Ness/Urquhart Castle. I think without a car, Inverness is a great little hub!

Have you considered Oban at all? We really enjoyed all of our trips to Oban. It's a cute fishing village with a distillery, a number of castles nearby, and gorgeous views of the Western Isles. You can even take day trips from Oban to the nearby isle.. across the Sound of Kerrara is a place you can't take a car and instead can only walk around the island. There's meant to be a nice castle there too. Oban may be a good option with not having a car to get around!

We have a travel blog with loads of information and tips on traveling in Scotland.. but are still building out our Scotland page after living there.. I'd love to answer any questions or give you more tips on things that interest you that I mentioned above!