Scotland and UK by car; Where to fly into and worth driving to London?

Hello, My Mother (in her 70s but fit) and I would like to visit London and Scotland starting the end of September. We love scenery, museums, castles and easy walks. We are from California and I was thinking of flying into Scotland, renting a car and touring for a week and then either returning the car back in Scotland or continuing driving down to London, where we would fly back after another two weeks. Reading about the traffic in London, price of fuel and train tickets, I am unsure what is the best way to travel.

  1. Fly into which city in Scotland? If we return the car to another city in Scotland, have we missed the advance bookings for the trains Scotland to London?

  2. Is it worth to drive down to London – what to see along the way and how many days are needed? I only know that we would like to see Stonehenge but am open to any suggestions.

  3. Should we drive to London or maybe drop the car somewhere close to avoid London traffic?

  4. Do you recommend any tour group for the Scotland portion? We looked into a few but they seem pricey.

  5. Any tips of where to stay at any places in Scotland or London (budget-mid range) and any travel cards we should buy for discounted entry?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by Lesley
Sidney, BC, Canada
425 posts

1) If you want to concentrate on the west of Scotland (Glasgow, Oban, Skye.) fly into Glasgow, if the east (Edinburgh, Stirling, Inverness, Dundee) then Edinburgh would probably suit you better.

2) You drive from either Edinburgh or Glasgow to London in a day but you will see nothing but Motorway. You can drive down in about 5 days visiting the Lake District, York, Durham, Lincoln, maybe the beautiful University cities of Oxford and Cambridgeor take the detour to Stonehenge (and, if you go to Stonehenge, why not visit Bath, Salisbury and Wells while you are about it - all historical towns with lots to see).

3) Definitely drop the rental car outside of London. You don't need to cope with the traffic, parking etc. London has good public transport.

4) Doing a tour in Scotland is a good idea. You will actually get a chance to look at the scenery instead of keeping your eyes open for oncoming traffic on narrow roads, sheep or cows on the road, deer crossing etc. Crunch the numbers by figuring out how much doing a tour would cost versus doing it yourself (car rental, food, accommodation, entrance fees etc.). What appears expensive may not be as much as you think.

There are various websites dealing with Scottish tourism - visithighlands.com and visitscotland.com areboth quite comprehensive that can provide you with a lot of information.

Posted by Mary
Leesburg, VA, USA
228 posts

Hello,

Regarding your questions:

1 - My favorite city in Scotland is Edinburgh. In fact my husband and I are flying there towards the end of September also.

2 - Check out recommended driving routes and stops/sights in Rick Steves guidebooks. But, based on what you mentioned as far as interests, I think you would both enjoy a stop in York for a day or two on your way to London either by car or train. If you want to see Stonehenge you can find any number of companies that do day trips there from London.

3 - I can't address driving in the UK from first hand experience (my husband and I don't want to put the rest of the populace in danger!), but from other friends who have done it, I would recommend getting rid of the car in Scotland and taking the train into England. We love the UK train system, very comfortable and convenient; and the city of London has such excellent public transportation that a car is not necessary. Besides, the headache of dealing with the high volume of traffic, driving on the left, price of fuel, and the Congestion Charge just isn't worth it.

4 - On past trips to Scotland we used Edinburgh as our base, and took day trips from there. We used Highland Experience for a couple of one day trips, and Highland Explorer for a 2 day trip. Both companies were excellent, but I'd give the edge to Highland Experience for guide knowledge and personality.

5 - Our favorite place to stay in Edinburgh is Fraser Suites - right on the Royal Mile, across from St. Giles Cathedral. It's very convenient to all the sights, restaurants and pubs, a short walk from the train station, with very comfortable and clean rooms, friendly staff, and a laundry room for guest use. We have stayed at some B & B's that I can also recommend, just ask if you want more details. In London we enjoy staying at the London Lodge Hotel, 134-136 Lexham Gardens, Kensington. It's a short walk from the Earls Court tube stop, and has a lot of good restaurants and pubs nearby.

I'm sure others will chime in with suggestions - hope this helps.

Isn't planning fun?

Mary

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1050 posts

Years ago we kind-of did it in reverse of your plans, starting in London, taking the train to Edinburgh for a few days, then back to London by train, stopping in York for a couple of nights. Quick trip, and for better or worse we flew into and out of the same city (London).

In just 2 more weeks, we're going again, flying from the US to London, then immediately flying on a cheap Virgin Air flight to Edinburgh to tour Scotland by car. We're not visiting England this time, just Heathrow long enough to transfer planes.

If you're not looking at spending some time as described above to see the great places between Edinburgh and London, a flight will get you back to London fast and pretty cheaply, allowing you more time and money for trips to Stonehenge, Oxford, Bath, etc.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3832 posts

I think it's a great idea to stop in Scotland first....The length of day is starting to shorten and you have more outdoor things to see and do in Scotland.

I wouldn't worry about which city to fly into. Get the one with the best fare. From either airport it's an easy bus ride into the city and from there it's less than an hour train ride to the other city. Or, the drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh airport to either city is short. I would recommend not having a car in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Pick one up when you are ready to see the countryside.

I would not drive all the way to London. As has been pointed out there are some great things to see on the way if you want to take the time to include that in your trip. The border country of Scotland is wonderful and has it's own interesting history with the Reivers and wars with England. The Abbey's, Sir Walter Scott's home, Traquair House, Hadrian's Wall, the Debatable Lands and more all await your exploration. Then there is the north of England...If you just wanted to see the border, you can probably drop the car at Carlisle and take the train to London. Or, you can drop it at one of the cities on the East Coast.

I don't think that you need a tour group. Scotland at that time of year is not crowded, you can travel together in a small car quite easily. I took my parents when they were in their 80's on a trip to Scotland. We loved it. Let us know what you're interested in seeing and we can help you plan it. One thing to think about doing is heading north immediately and seeing the highlands firsts, for a few days. Then head back to Edinburgh where you can drop the car. Or if you decide you want to drive south, tout Edinburgh or Glasgow for a couple of days and then head for the countryside before going south.

Let us know where you want to go in Scotland there are lots of B&B's that are very affordable. I stayed at The Walton in New Town in Edinburgh. I like staying a bit away from the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is not a big place and you can get around. In Glasgow I most recently stayed at the Premiere Inn near George Square. It's not very picturesque, but it's convenient. I love staying at The Bridge in Dunkeld. One of my favorite small hotels is The Anderson in Fortrose on the Black Isle outside of Inverness.

But, tell me more about your dreams of Scotland so we can help with the trip. BTW if you haven't explored Undiscovered Scotland, do check it out. Another resource for accommodation is the VisitScotland site. And if you are interested in history, Historic Scotland looks after many of the historic sites. I bought a membership for my trip. And, if you are at all thinking of Orkney, see my other post. :)

Pam

Posted by 2denisiel
9 posts

Thank you so much for your informative replies! Based on your advice, we are going to fly into Edinburgh, pick up a car when ready to leave Edinburgh and go up to the Highlands and then make our way back down and end around Glasgow. Not sure what route to take but at least now I know which flight to book.

That was a great suggestion to use Edinburgh as base and visit the border areas such as Hadrian's Wall. I have to see how much the one way charge is to drop off the car other than Edinburgh. I am a little concerned if we have a car there because I read that parking is quite difficult, maybe we should use Glasgow as a base instead?

I will plan the route and, if you don't mind, will write back with more specific questions about where to stay and where to visit.

Wanted at this point to express my sincere thanks for your help, really appreciate you taking your time!