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scotland itinerary help

I am planning for a Scotland trip when I am able to travel again. We will have 21-25 nights and would most likely fly in and out of Edinburgh. The broad outline is to go directly to The Borders for 6 nights. Then head to the Highlands and Hebrides for 6 more nights. Then on to the Orkneys for 6 nights. This leaves 4-5 additional nights including 1 night in Edinburgh before departure.
We would love to do this without a car but feel that it may be necessary in places. We like smaller towns and villages, walking and hiking, castles, neolithic ruins and runes... haggis not so much. Must avoid midges at all costs. We travel in Spring and fall. We have been to Edinburgh and don't need to spend more time there. Is 6 nights a bit much for the Orkneys? Any suggestions for 3-4 additional days/sights?
Thanks Brad

Consider a Rabbie's tour. Then, you can forget about the car. There are all kinds of Rabbie's tours depending on your interest and duration. You can look them up online for the various itineraries. You can also get ideas by looking at the Rabbie's website.

Posted by
19187 posts

My gut reaction is that when you have 21-25 nights and don't care to revisit Edinburgh, 6 nights is rather short for the Highlands and Hebrides. Realistically speaking, you will probably lose a fair amount of time to bad (rainy) weather when you're in western Scotland. However, I've never rented a car in Europe and don't have a good sense as to how much more efficient it is to travel with your own transportation. Then again, you have to deal with ferry schedules in some cases, so traveling around western Scotland with a car isn't like traveling in most other places in Europe.

As for timing, Portree's monthly-summary weather statistics (see link to Wikipedia) show that fall is, on average, a lot wetter than spring on Skye. Furthermore, expected hours of sunshine drop precipitously in the fall.

I would certainly push the trip to 25 days if not longer. I had 26 and found it difficult to cut my itinerary to fit the time available. I won't go into how I spent my time because I am a rather urban-focused traveler and our interests are very different.

Posted by
2774 posts

If you want to enjoy the smaller towns and villages, having your own car is very helpful. How many are in your party? The cost of a car compared to train/bus tickets will be more advantageous with more passengers, but you have to count on a vehicle large enough for your group & luggage.

The Secret Scotland website has lots of good information about planning a self-drive itinerary with realistic time allotments.

Scotland has a robust network of bus lines in addition to the train, so you can get to many places using public transport, but the schedules won't always be convenient for your wishes. Also, standing out in the rain with your luggage waiting for a bus is not all that enjoyable. Others have suggested a tour company like Rabbies -- I have no experience but have never seen anything negative on these forums about Rabbies or The Wee Red Bus tours.

Posted by
111 posts

I did not find driving in Scotland to be too difficult or intimidating - but that's my experience. Others say the narrow roads are particularly scary. If you can relax and take your time you will be fine. Do remember to use turnouts to let the locals get by you. They will appreciate it and so will you. A good map (or several) plus google maps is essential. Google maps can be used offline by downloading the area you will be traveling in. That way there is no data roaming cost.

The flexibility of having your own transportation is a huge advantage in Scotland. There are many roadside views/attractions that you will want to stop and see. We found, for example, that there are many stone circles and castle ruins that are shown on the survey maps but not in guidebooks. You may have to ask a local for directions. With your own transportation you can spend as much or as little time visiting those off the beaten path ruins or a castle or a village as you wish. And then move on to the next attraction. Also, if you wish to hike you can drive to the trailhead and park saving a lot of time and energy getting to the good, scenic parts.

Enjoy, Robbie

Posted by
13 posts

I would suggest hiring a car, and driving up the east coast to John o'Groats, then taking the ferry to Orkney. You'll need at least four days to see all the sights on Orkney. Then drive across the north coast, and work your way down the west coast to Oban. The north coast road will take far longer than you think, as you'll be stopping at every lay-by to take photographs. If you haven't been to Glasgow, you'll need to fit that in on your way back, at least a couple of days, and don't miss the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies.

Posted by
79 posts

We were there last August. Did a loop from Edinburgh up through St. Andrews (husband is a golfer), Upper Highlands, west coast by Oban, then finished in Glasgow (the latter was surprisingly delightful).

We found a car essential. I think it would be tough getting around without one, but perhaps you're a whiz at train schedules. That being said, I think I've shaved 5 years off my life after driving the Scottish roads.

Have you decided where in the Hebrides you plan to go? We took a long day trip from Oban to Mull and then on to Iona. It was achingly beautiful and I wished we had known more about the isles. We would have allotted 2-3 days for them. On the off chance this is where you plan to visit, a ferry from Oban can be easily snagged (I would suggest advance online purchase). The ferries can fit cars. You could explore Mull for 1-2 days. The geography is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings and ripe for trail hikes. Absolutely incredible and hardly a person in sight once you get away from the port town. Isle of Iona would be fun for an overnight. There's abbey ruins and a church that is quite famous for being the birthplace of Christianity. Fascinating for history buffs. You also can rent a bike and tool around the island. My husband walked over to the island's golf course to take a peek. There's maybe 3 hotels on the isle, so book as soon as possible if you're interested.