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Planning trip to Scotland for next Summer

There will be at least 3 of us going and possibly 6, depending on if the others can take off work. I think it's cheaper to fly in to Glasgow. I'm in Kentucky but can fly out of the Cincinnati airport if I can find a cheaper flight out of there. I'm thinking of staying the first night in Glasgow to recover from the flight. The next day take a train to Fort William so the next day we can ride the Jacobite train. I first have to find out what if any hotels/apartments are available there. From there I have no clue. I also am not sure if we should do the train trip last instead of at the beginning of the trip. Maybe take the train to Edinburgh, stay 3 days or so and then rent a car to explore some out of the way places and then drop the car off in Glasgow and do the train ride. I'm also thinking of bypassing most of the touristy places to avoid the crowds. It's going to be June when we go. Or just fly directly into Edinburgh even though it may be more expensive? Our trip will be about 2 weeks or so. I'd like to spend at least 14 full days in Scotland. Any ideas about trip planning would be great. Part of me wants to see Skye but then I think of all the people and maybe think going to another island that's less well known/crowded would be better. Castles and historical places would be of interest, along with some short hiking trips. I'm 57 and the others coming with me will be in their 20s. One reason for spending time in Edinburgh, I think they are more drawn to the big cities than I am.

Posted by
6384 posts

There is no need to pay more to fly into Edinburgh — the two cities are so close, fly into whichever is cheapest.

Posted by
506 posts

Glasgow and Edinburgh are a short train ride apart so no need to fly into Edinburgh if it's more expensive for you.

As for car rental. That is likely to work out cheaper if you return it to the same place you rented it from, so personally I would rent for the whole trip, especially as you are going to need a large vehicle to fit 6 people plus luggage. Just a quick note on terminology for car rentals. I believe in the States you would look to rent a 'van' for 6 people. Here in the UK a van will get you a commercial vehicle with 3 seats in the front and the space in the back taken up for cargo! So you don't want to be renting a van.

The Jacobite train needs to be booked far in advance, so that might dictate when in your trip you get to do it.

Don't believe all the scare stories you hear about Skye being too crowded. There are a few 'honey pot' sights (Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, Quiraing, Neist Point) that get busy but if you do your research and look for hikes and walks in other parts of the island you will have a fine time and discover the real Skye. Have a look at www.walkhiglands.co.uk to see the multitude of places you could walk on Skye. The scenery is spectacular wherever you are on the island, and to be honest I am bewildered as to why tourists insist on a quick look at the sights they've heard of before dashing off to the next 'must see' spot. Another reason people think Skye is overcrowded is because accommodation is at a premium and needs to be booked well in advance. But if you think about it, there are only 11,000 people living her permanently, so there just isn't the population and demand to support large hotels year round. What there is are a few very nice small hotels and many, many bed & breakfasts. You just need to be willing to book well in advance if you want to stay on the island.

What I would suggest in terms of planning your vacation is to sit down with your party and talk about what you want to see/where you want to go, with a map of Scotland spread out on the table (or on your computer screen), and to use resources like the Visit Scotland website to help you plan. You can plot the things you are interested in on a map and then work out your itinerary, then maybe bring it here to seek feedback on whether it looks doable.

I hope this helps, and I'd be happy to help critique an itinerary once you've got a plan.
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
3151 posts

I wouldn't rent anything but a small/mini type car for the Highlands. A vehicle that sits 6 comfortably will be a chore to drive and park.

Anyway, be familiar with how single lane or 1-1/2 lane bridges and viaducts are posted, and note that this happens often on full speed highways so pay attention. Do not expect the major highways to have 1 full lane width for both directions at all locations!

Here's the equivalent of the US "Single lane bridge" or other width restriction https://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/06/03/65/6036577_1200b68b_original.jpg

Here's another common sign in Europe that can't easily be figured out from the graphics, helpfully also posted in English at this location
https://c8.alamy.com/comp/HMYN56/priority-over-oncoming-vehicles-road-sign-brough-derbyshire-england-HMYN56.jpg

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, k588,

First of all, congratulations on your new governor!

To add to what Jacqui and Tom have already advised, if you do end up being a party of six, you're definitely going to need to rent what is called in Scotland a "people carrier." Although the term "SUV" has now become fairly standard across the UK. As in the US, there are several sizes of SUVs. You'd need a seven passenger if you end up with six people. Examples would be the Peugeot 5008, Skoda Kodiaq, or the Ford Galaxy. If you do end up with six people in your group, you will probably want to reserve as soon as you've finalized your plans, as those vehicles are at a premium (and command a premium price!).

If your travelling party ends up being three or four, you could easily get away with a class D four door sedan. Make sure that you have enough space in the boot (trunk) for everyone's luggage.

Moreso than the roads, a vehicle of the size of a seven passenger SUV will be difficult to park, especially in multi-story car parks. Those car parks were designed for much smaller cars. Most of the roads in Scotland are okay for an SUV type vehicle. If it's your first time over, I would not suggest tackling the Bealach-na-Ba, unless you have nerves of steel.

I'm assuming that you'll be doing all of the driving. You can add an additional driver, but you need to be aware of age requirements. If memory serves me correctly, the minimum age to hire a car in Scotland is 25. People younger than 25 can hire a car, but the premiums for doing so are quite steep. There is also an additional (daily) premium for each additional driver.

To add to Tom's reply, I'd highly recommend getting a copy of the UK Highway Code book. It has everything you'll need to know about driving in Scotland, including how to drive on single lane roads with passing places. It's similar to what you would get from your local DMV, but with lots more information, including photos of every highway sign you might encounter. The Highway Code book is available through Amazon, or Amazon.co.uk.

You definitely won't want to have a car in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but if plans necessitate that you have the vehicle for the entirety of your travels, make sure to get lodging that provides a parking space. As far as lodging is concerned, with anywhere between three and six of you travelling, you may need to reserve lodging well ahead of time. If there are no couples in your group, twin bedded rooms are really hard to find. Some of the hotel chains (Premier Inn, Travelodge) have a bed plus a sofabed in their rooms. However, there are no chain hotels west of the Caledonian Canal. You may want to consider hostels. Most are fairly modern, many with private rooms, and are a far cry from the uncomfortable bunkhouses of the late 20th. century.

June is not quite peak season, so you shouldn't encounter quite as many other tourists as you would in July and August, which is when school holidays are in Britain. You definitely don't want to miss out on Skye, but there are many other islands to choose from if you're looking for less crowded places. The Outer Hebrides, for one, and the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Canna, Muck), can be places to really escape the crowds. But as Jacqui pointed out, there are many places on Skye outwith the main tourist attractions where you can hike for hours without encountering anyone.

As far as flying in to Edinburgh vs. Glasgow, you should weigh the cost of flights plus public transportation between the two against the cost of hiring a car for the extra days. As I already noted, you don't need a car in either city. The public transportation is excellent, taxis are everywhere, and parking can be quite costly. Plus there's the hassle of avoiding the dreaded bus lanes and bike lanes.

As Jacqui advised, come back when your plans are more concrete, and we'll provide more advice.

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
12 posts

Skyegirl, I am tired of those multi-town trips. I did it with my kids and two other people in Germany & France in 2009. We actually missed a couple of places because we just were worn out and not getting out and on the road quick enough some days. My daughter, her friend and I just went to Japan this summer and it was another miserable paced trip. My daughter insisted on seeing Kyoto. I just wanted to see Tokyo and visit family so we wouldn't be running around so much. We also visited one of our previous exchange students for a day outside of the city. We were running around so much and miserable. My Japanese family meant well and wanted us to see as much as possible but it wasn't fun a lot of the time. When I first thought about this trip to Scotland, thought about booking a Rick Steve's tour but then my daughter told me she hated being on a schedule. I wanted to do it to get some of the history while we traveled around and not having to drive on the left side of the road. But then decided I want a more leisure trip this time.

Tom, I think if all 6 people come we will just rent two separate cars. I wasn't planning on being a driver. My daughter will be 24 next year and my son 28. I also don't want a big vehicle on those roads, I don't think. Parking places are probably small too?

Auchterless, we don't have any problem staying in hostels. We did it in Germany and had another planned for France but didn't make it to that one. We had an International Hosteling card membership back then. Should we get some for this trip?

Thanks for all the replies, will check out all the links and the Uk Hwy code book too.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi again, k588,

Hiring two cars is a good idea. I had thought about it after I posted the last reply. That way, not everyone has to go to the same places. You can make your Scottish visit as leisurely as you'd like. Our first time over, we put 4,000 miles on the clock in four weeks. So I know what you mean about packing too much in to your holiday.

If you do end up hiring two cars (which will probably end up costing you less than one SUV), you should probably invest in a couple of "burner" mobiles (cell phones) for your time over so that you can keep in contact. Providing, that is, that you don't already have cell phones that will work in Scotland.

Your son should have no trouble hiring a car. You may want to check on the age restrictions; I'm fairly sure that the minimum age without paying extra is 25.

As you have two full weeks, you should be able to see a great deal of Scotland without feeling rushed. I'd recommend getting a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Scotland, which is considerably more comprehensive than the Steves' guide. You can probably order it through ILL at your local library, if they don't already have a copy. That way, you can determine if you want to invest in your own copy. The latest edition just came out in April. ISBN is 978-1786578037. The libraries may just have the 2017 edition, ISBN 978-1786573384.

You don't need an IYHA card to stay in hostels in Scotland. Some of the SYHA hostels have stricter rules than the independent hostels. As I mentioned earlier, many of the hostels have private rooms (usually twin bedded), and some even have en-suite facilities. We've stayed in hostels on Skye, Eigg, and Rum, and in Kingussie, and have enjoyed our privacy. (We're of an advanced age, so we value having our own room.) I'd recommend making advance reservations for the hostels, as well as any other lodging, as there will be six of you travelling. Some hostels have yurts, which would be ideal for a party of six.

Good luck with your plans. Be sure to come back on here and let us know when you have more questions.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
12 posts

Auchterless, we Americans all have international plans on our phones. Two of us will be coming from Spain and they travel all over Europe so I'm sure their phones will be okay too. I do have the Lonely Planet guide book but have only glanced at it. I have Rick Steve's on it's way. I also bought a road map, a Phillip's navigator that looks to show all the smaller roadways. My daughter was going to be one of the drivers but my son will do it or I will and then one of the 2 coming from Spain, they're both over 25. Thanks for the information.

Posted by
216 posts

Hey!!!

We are former Kentuckians... While CVG is a very nice airport, the price just really cuts like glass. We are actually living in Tampa now and of course Tampa International tends to be as bad. On a different note, I would maybe suggest looking into a budget flight from CVG to JFK then snagging a nonstop flight to EDI if that is of interest. We were able to snag a Delta flight from TPA-JFK-EDI for only $1180.00 round trip for the both of us. Obviously, I have never been to Scotland yet but I agree that I would like to see some of the off beat and path places. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you my word document with our itinerary.

Posted by
12 posts

NursCyn, yes, I'm interested in your itinerary! I've been reading some in the Lonely Planet guide book. Finally my two kids have spoken up about where they want to go, Loch Ness and Loch Lomand. I'll check out flights to other cities. Thanks!

Posted by
3151 posts

Checking Icelandair from Chicago, for summer flights to Glasgow with luggage run about $800. You could leave a car at a hotel for the duration with a stay-park-fly option. Typically Icelandair prices only rise over time.

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks Tom, I did check out a few airlines from Chicago, no the one you mentioned and found one under $800 on United. I have rewards with them now and American so am trying to stick to those airlines. Depending on if this if still good when I book our flights, at least one of them will be free!

Posted by
54 posts

Loch Ness and Loch Lomand. I'll check out flights to other cities.

Do all you can to help them drop Loch Ness. Mediocre, rammed with tourists and, big news, the same number of monsters as the other 46000 Scottish Lochs.