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Scotland renting a car vs train

My wife and I are planning a 5 week trip to the British Isles and Ireland in September 2019. We got our Steves Books and are working on itinerary. Plan to fly to Edinburgh, 4 nights and head to St. Andrews for 2 nights and then north to Inverness. Would like to drive but when I looked at EuRopcar for rental places there were none in small towns to get car and drop off. Thinking of just ding the trip by train. Any help and ideas much appreciated. Also, want to take ferry to Ireland, what is the best place to get ferry?

Many thanks


Posted by
941 posts

Hi, Don,

First of all, I'd highly recommend getting another guide to supplement the Steves' guides. Unfortunately, the Steves' guides are very selective. They leave out a lot of really wonderful places to visit, and concentrate on selected sites. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are quite good, as is Footprint Scotland.

There are no direct ferries from Scotland to Ireland - only to Northern Ireland. There are ferries from Stranraer (Cairnryan) to Larne or Belfast, but if you want to go directly to the republic, you'd need to travel to Liverpool or Holyhead. You can fly directly to Dublin or Cork from most Scottish airports; however, beware of RyanAir.

You won't need a car in Edinburgh. The train doesn't go directly to St. Andrews. You'd need to get off at Leuchars and take the bus in from there. If you're going on to Inverness, you'd have to return to Leuchars, take the train to Aberdeen, then transfer there. Your other option would be to take the train from Leuchars to Perth via Ladybank, then taking the train north from Perth. You would need to change trains at Ladybank, and possibly at Perth.

For my money, I'd much rather drive. You can stop wherever and whenever you want, and your time is not controlled by the train schedule. It does take a couple of hours to a day to get used to driving on the left, and shifting with your left hand, but once you get the hang of it, you'll have a blast! You can rent your car at Edinburgh airport, once you've visited the city, and then drive on to St. Andrews from there. Don't limit yourselves to Europcar. Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, and National all offer competitive rates, especially if you book from the U.S. and use one of the many discounts on offer (AARP, Costco, Entertainment, etc.). Don't worry about not being able to drop off in a small town. You can drop off at a larger town, then take public transportation to your final destination.

You'll find that car hire is much higher in Ireland than in Scotland, due to mandatory insurance purchase.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday!

Mike (auchterless)

Posted by
1738 posts

Drive. have the non-driver be the navigator who can remind you to ‘keep left’

Posted by
1238 posts

Drive. We drove everywhere in Scotland even on roads that said "You have been warned" and "Beware of Sheep". We came back alive. Do a circle tour with pick up and drop off at airport. There is a bus that will connect you to Stranraer and the ferry to Belfast. Mike may have correct info on this.

Posted by
941 posts

Hi again, Don,

If you do decide to take the ferry from Stranraer to Larne or Belfast, there are trains from Glasgow Central station which go directly to Stranraer. Once you get outside of the built up area, it's a really pretty ride. The journey is about 2 1/2 hours, and there are several trains daily.

If your travels in Scotland end you up in Edinburgh, you can hop a train from there to Glasgow Queen Street, then take a shuttle bus or a taxi over to Central Station. The bus to Stranraer is an alternative, but it would probably take longer. The ferry terminal is now in Cairnryan, so once you get off the train or bus in Stranraer, you'd need to catch a bus to Cairnryan (it's about five miles).

If you decide to hire a car for the Ireland part of your travels, you'll need to wait until you get to the republic before doing so. Last I heard, it was really difficult, if not impossible, to rent a car in Ulster and drive in to Ireland. Car rental is very expensive in Ireland, so if you're going that route, best to make arrangements from the U.S. Insurance is mandatory in Ireland, and it's one of three or four countries in the world where you can't use your Visa card to cover the insurance.

I hope that you have a wonderful time in both countries!

Mike (auchterless)

Posted by
1798 posts

Drive. We rented a car for the very first time ever and had a great time. We rented in Inverness drove to Skye, down to Oban, then to Stirling and finally dropped the car off at the Edinburgh airport before spending 2 more nights there. We got to see so much, enjoyed stopping to take photos, or for a quick lunch in a pub. Driving allows you the freedom to really see the's slower travel.

Yes, you may have to drop the car off in a larger city like Inverness, Glasgow or Edinburgh. We paid an extra fee to rent in one town and drop off in another, but it allowed us to not have to back track. I bought a Garmin GPS with Euro maps loaded, hubby drove and I used the GPS to help navigate, it worked perfectly. He was able to pay attention to the road, as I watched the map and alerted him to the next directional turn.

The trains are just between the larger cities, you'll have to also look into bus schedules if you want to get into some of the smaller towns.