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Renting a car to go to the islands?

Looking for advice on whether you should rent a car to go to the islands and if so, whether it is better to do so in Edinburgh or train to the coast and then rent? This would be for August 2022.

Thanks!

Posted by
1188 posts

www.visitscotland.com is a good gateway site for handy info. It depends on which islands you'd like to visit. Some islands do not permit non resident vehicles. You can drive to Skye from the mainland...but parking can be hard to find at the favorite tourist spots in season. Taking cars on the ferries depends on timing and reserved space. You can do a walk on and take buses. You can take day tours. Longer local tours will help you with accommodations with separate cost depending on personal need. I have read about stay aboard boat tours which may come at a premium price that you have to book ahead of time. Having a car to drive around Scotland looking at Castles is great fun, but taking island tours without a car might be less hassle.

Posted by
614 posts

Hi Karen,

Welcome to the Travel Forum. There are a lot of islands in Scotland. Which ones are you thinking of visiting?

Posted by
5561 posts

So someone is likely to post that rental car companies don't want you take cars on ferries. So, bacon the day--10 years or so ago, okay it has to be 20 as it was the year of 9/11!--I rented a car and took in on the ferry to Mull. I think it never occurred to me in a country that is literally riddled with ferries would have restrictions on using ferries. To this day, I am not sure if I got away with something when I took my rental car on the ferry at Oban over to Mull or it I was just your normal tourist. But that is what I did. And on 9/11 I drove the car from Tobermory all the way to Fionphort where I took the boat tour to Fingal's Cave and then on to Iona. It was awesome. Blue sky, beautiful sail boats, amazing sea birds, a lovely robins singing in the abby on Iona. You could not have asked for more. Then I got in the car to drive back to Tobermory and I heard an announcer say, "This is the worst day for America. I can't believe that this has happened to America. This is so awful for America, " and so on for about five minutes before I found out what had happened. At the time they were talking about 50,000 dead. It was staggering. By the time I got back to guest hour in Tobermory I was exhausted and found the owner sitting in the dark watching the TV where the towers just keep falling. I will never forget it. Sorry to go dark on a simple query about rental cars, but we are nearing the anniversary and Afghanistan news is so sad. But I hope that it will be better soon.

Posted by
18892 posts

I traveled around Scotland in July 2019 without a car. One problem I ran into was finding lodging that wasn't terribly expensive. Demand really exceeds supply, especially in the island towns accessible via public transportation and in the mainland port town of Oban. I imagine one can do better if not limited to staying near a bus stop, in addition to the other advantages of having a car. On the other hand, you have the expense of the car and the difficulty of parking it. And I suspect the cost of putting a car on a ferry isn't cheap (if permitted by the rental agreement, that is).

Which islands you want to visit, how many days you plan to spend there and what areas of the islands you want to see will affect the optimum approach. For example, there's decent bus transportation on Skye from Portree around the Trotternish Peninsula in both directions, but if you want to take the Bella Jane boat trip out of Elgol, it seems you need your own wheels or a taxi.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks everyone. We know we want to go to Skye and are still doing our research. There are 4 adults in our party. We have 3 days at then of our RS 8 day tour for islands. Which would you prioritize?

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks everyone. We know we want to go to Skye and are still doing our research. There are 4 adults in our party. We have 3 days at then of our RS 8 day tour for islands. Which would you prioritize? We are from the Pacific Northwest and are used to rain and wind.

Posted by
18892 posts

Can you clarify the timing, please. What day does the tour end (after breakfast in Edinburgh, I assume), what night do you need to be ensconced at a hotel in the departure city, and are you flying home from Edinburgh or from Glasgow? Edinburgh's on the east side of Scotland and the islands are on the west side, so there's going to be fair amount of time lost to travel on both the day the tour ends and on the day before you fly home. With a compressed schedule like this, one day can make a lot of difference. I'm not sure how many full days you have to play with.

Posted by
552 posts

With only 3 days to play with you probably should look at the ferry schedule. That might help determine which island you can visit. And with only 3 days I think you are looking at one island, not multiple. The principal ferry line is CalMac, https://www.calmac.co.uk/.

Bear in mind that in August you will want to make a reservation for whatever ferry you choose.

And yes, you should confirm with the car rental agency that you can bring their car on a ferry.

Posted by
4751 posts

Skye will fill 3-4 days. Is your query in addition to Skye?

We found this year that we hadn’t booked early enough to get on a ferry even as a foot passenger as the ferries were running a reduced schedule due to Covid.

As an alternative to the islands and somewhere less busy, could I suggest time in North Ballachulish? Take your car over on the 5 minute long Corran ferry and drive the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It has an island feel. Look for otters, climb the lighthouse, awesome scenery and fantastic cafes tucked away. Spend another day around Glencoe.

If all you have is 3 days then I would opt for something closer to Edinburgh than Skye, as it’s going to take the best part of a day in each direction to drive.

Posted by
512 posts

Edinburgh to Skye bridge is a 5 hour drive minimum without stops or traffic delays. You will find it easier and probably cheaper to rent a car from Edinburgh airport rather than taking public transport to Skye and trying to rent once here on the island. There are only a couple of small places who rent cars on the island (although both are excellent, they won't be the cheapest and they need to be booked well in advance). As others have said there is a bridge onto Skye, or you can get the car ferry at Mallaig (book in advance if bringing a car - rentals cars are OK), or a tiny, historic car ferry at Glenelg (no advance bookings, operates Easter to October 10am to 5pm).

There is plenty of parking on Skye contrary to an earlier post, but you need to be organised and if you want to visit what I call the honey pot sites (Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, Quiraing, Fairy Pools, Neist Point) you need to get to some of them early (or at the end of the day) in order to get parked within reasonable walking distance. Parking areas have been expanded over the last couple of years and Quiraing, Storr and Fairy Pools now have paid parking, the cost of which is designed to cover the outlay in providing the parking and in the case of the Fairy Pools new public toilets.

Skye is certainly worth 3 or 4 days in order to enable you to really experience the island and see more than just those honey pot sites. But you will want to book accommodation and potentially meals well in advance.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
18892 posts

As Skyegirl said, you need to reserve for meals--or at least for dinner; I didn't try to have any lunches in restaurants. This is true not just in the high-end places. Any restaurant with table service is very likely to have no table available if you show up without a reservation.

Posted by
228 posts

There are so many islands to choose from. It would be helpful if you could give us more information as to what you are doing. Where does the RS tour cover - will you be visiting any of the islands on that? Are you planning these 3 days before or after? If before, where do you start the tour and where are you planning to fly into Scotland?

If after, where does the tour end? It has already been pointed out the drive from say Edinburgh to Skye
is going to be 5+ hours PLUS any time for stops. Assuming you need to get back to Edinburgh or Glasgow for flights home, the return journey is going to be a big chunk out of those three days.

Depending on the itinerary, you may want to cut the tour short at say Fort William and head for Skye.

Alternatively, think about Arran instead, which is a lot quicker to reach from Edinburgh or Glasgow. It isn't on the usual tourist itinerary but does have a lot to recommend it . Do a google image search to see what it looks like.