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Scotland by train

Considering Scotland on a train pass for 1-2 weeks. Is this feasible to cover the best places and spots? Better by car? Would love to hear opinions.

Posted by
10304 posts

Don't rule out Scotland's bus system. It's extensive. Traveline Scotland can help you plan public transport of all types around Scotland:

https://www.travelinescotland.com/

And before you buy a train pass, map out your itinerary and see how much point to point tickets would cost. Easily bought online via apps.

Posted by
130 posts

Thanx! Can you suggest an app or two to use for the trains and buses, I'm completely unfamiliar with what one might use.

Posted by
2473 posts

It depends on what you consider the best places and spots. Regarding apps, Traveline Scotland is available as an app as well.

Posted by
19519 posts

Travelinescotland.com is what I used for my trip last year. It seemed very reliable for buses (this was pre-COVID-19, of course). I did notice some discrepancies concerning train schedules between TravelineScotland and the NationalRail.co.uk website. I believe the latter is the last word on trains (though I don't know that either of those sites cover the special historic/tourist short-distance trips). I'd recommend checking all rail schedules on the NationalRail website.

I'd be very cautious about buying a train pass. First, they rarely save money. Second, you may end up having some travel legs that can only be accomplished by bus or are faster by bus. For rail journeys you can save a great deal of money with Advance tickets. Those are non-refundable and typically need to be purchased well in advance; that may not be terribly practical in the COVID-9 era, but it might be workable for you if things settle down well before you intend to travel.

If you are interested in the scenic beauty of the Highlands and islands such as Skye, a car will be really helpful. Not only will it provide a lot more flexibility than public transportation (both trains and buses being infrequent in rural western Scotland), it will also make it possible to respond to weather conditions by heading away from the rain. Without a car, you are at risk of missing out on things you want to do if you are not quite lucky with the weather; there is a great deal of rain in the west.

If your interests are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Dundee, etc., a car will not be necessary. Small-group (van) day tours are offered by several companies and could be useful if you just want one or two days outside the major cities.

Posted by
13 posts

There really is only one train journey in Scotland - Glasgow to Mallaig across Rannoch Moor, then ferry to Skye, and another ferry to Kyle of Lochalsh back to Inverness. (You can include Inverness to Wick and the ferry to Orkney, but that's a "back the way you came" trip"). From Inverness you can go via Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth to Stirling (don't forget a side trip to the Falkirk wheel) and thence back to Glasgow.

My "trip of a lifetime" in Scotland was driving up the east coast to John O'Groats, then taking the ferry to Orkney (Ring of Brodgar, Stone of Stennes, Skara Brae) and then driving across the north coast (stopping at every lay-by to take photographs) and down the wiggly west coast to Oban.

Posted by
130 posts

Just starting to plan for next year (hopefully) and my Rick Steves Scotland arrives in the mail next week!! Was pondering whether or not bothering with a car was fine as there seemed to be lots of train options but it seems to be train/bus is fine, car is better so far.

I just love the thought of being taken somewhere without either my wife or I having to drive, and just enjoying the scenery out the window.

Posted by
10304 posts

There are many train journeys in Scotland. Some more historic and scenic than others.

The apps I used were:

Traveline
National Rail
Scotrail
First Bus

I have been to Scotland numerous times and never rented a car. I love the scenery and want to be able to enjoy it without having to watch the road. I've taken trains, buses and even one day tours to areas not easily accessible by public transport. For tours I've used:

http://www.rabbies.co.uk

The company is very popular with people on this board.

Posted by
19519 posts

Dig into your guide book, come up with a target destination list, and check with us again. I am a big, big fan of public transportation and do not rent cars in Europe. I love sitting an relaxing on a train or bus. In most places that policy has not terribly limiting, given my interests (I'm not really into stately homes and castles, though I do like beautiful gardens, and I can't do hikes across uneven ground). I may not be able to get everywhere, but I can get to enough places to make me happy. On Skye, though, it was a real problem not having a car, made worse because of weather issues.

Demand for tourist services in rural Scotland during peak season exceeds supply, so you probably will not be able to wait to book a tour until you have a semi-reliable weather forecast (which might be just 24 hours ahead of time).