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ScotRail Pass and Scotland Travel Questions


A few of my friends and I are planning a trip to Scotland in January. We are all college students, so travelling over winter break is ideal for us. We are too young to hire a car so we planned on using a Britrail/Scotrail pass. As it stands now, we have found extremely inexpensive flights to London. From what I have found, the Britrail pass is essentially the same price as a Scotrail pass. Intuitively, we would be saving money by travelling from London to Edinburgh, however, we would miss out on some of the discounts on bus fares offered with the ScotRail pass. Since we are all under 25, we can't hire a car.

First of all, are we crazy for flying into London? Second, what other transportation costs will we incur during our trip? How close are the trains to attractions such as Doune Castle, or Loch Lomond, or Glencoe for example? Our Itinerary is not entirely set yet, but we would like to know more about transportation in Scotland before we set our locations. Any information is greatly appreciated.


Posted by
16877 posts

You're right about the cost comparison. The Scotland passes don't have youth discounts and the youth rates of the whole-island BritRail passes are actually lower, such as 4 travel days within a month for $180 or 15 consecutive days for $304.

I don't think it's crazy to fly to London but you would ideally spend a night or two there before flying out again. Direct trains from London to either Glasgow or Edinburgh take 5 hours. has maps and destination info you could probably use and has more maps and timetables for the whole country. Guidebooks will also describe the transport options to places they cover and Google Maps also shows rail stations.

Glencoe and Doune Castle are not served by train. Doune Castle sends you to to plan your route by public transport. Loch Lomond rail stations are at Balloch on the south end and Ardlui on the north end, and Arrochar & Tarbet station nearby. The lake area is considered a scenic rail route, as are most rail lines in Scotland, aside from those connecting the two big cities.

While the Scotland pass gives discounts on some P&O Ferries and CityLink buses, buses are usually relatively cheap to start with.

Posted by
631 posts

"are we crazy for flying into London?" - this would depend on where you are flying from and whether you intend to do anything in London. And how much cheaper the London flight was, is there an equivalent offer to other airports further north, such as Manchester? And how many days do you have given that London would take a days travelling time in each direction - if you divided the different fares by the number of real days in Scotland (or somewhere you were actually visiting rather than passing) which would be the best value?

But bear in mind that Scotland is quite northerly and short on daylight in January - put some locations into this

Posted by
123 posts

Fly to Bradley (Hartford CT), Newburgh NY, or Providence RI to hop on direct flight to Edinburgh. Can get train out of Waverly Station there.

Posted by
552 posts

The flight into London may be inexpensive, but what are the costs of getting from London up to Scotland? You will use up one of the travel days on your rail pass, and it will take you half a day, at least, to get there. Definitely look at other options, I flew into Edinburgh via Amsterdam, and out of Glasgow the same way. Some places you want to see will not be served by rail, but you may be able to get a guided day tour from either Glasgow or Edinburgh (or Inverness if you want to go all the way north). The day tours are a good option if you don't have a car. You can base yourself in one of the larger cities and do day trips to see various sights. If you plan carefully you can get maximum use from your rail pass, and see much of what you want to. For instance, spend the first few days in Edinburgh, spend a couple of days to see the city, and then do a day trip say to Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle, or one to the highlands, or even one to Hadrian's wall and Rosslyn Chapel (just an example). Then use your rail pass to get to the next location. I did three weeks in Ireland this way and it worked well. When planning a trip like this you need to start with your wish list and then look at the public transit options to get there, and then look at how your are going to get around once there (guided tours, taxi, public transit). You may find yourself taking certain locations off of your list as they may be too time-consuming or complicated to get to by public transit, or there may be no local option to get around once in a certain place. Just don't set your itinerary in stone until you know it's doable by public transit.

Posted by
11275 posts

Yes, do look into ALL the costs of flying to London and then getting to Scotland, vs. just flying to Scotland. Depending on where you're starting from, a flight to Glasgow or Edinburgh may not cost any more, or take any longer, than a flight to London plus the trains (remember, to figure the price for a round trip train, if you're flying into and out of London). Also remember, if you're flying out of London, you will have to spend at least one night there at the end of your trip, to make sure you don't miss the flight; that's fine if you wanted to do that anyway, but a waste if you didn't (and costs in London, hotels included, are much higher than in Scotland).

And as mentioned above, while you're looking at flights, also look at Manchester. While not in Scotland, it's closer than London, with easier connections (you can take a train right from the airport, without having to change stations).

Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh all get some nonstop flights from a few US cities; with a change in a place like Dublin or Amsterdam (or even London), you can get to them from many more US gateways.

To investigate train connections in the UK, use the National Rail website. It won't have trains loaded for January yet, but by putting in a sooner date, you can get an idea of what routes are available and how long they take.

Posted by
2802 posts

I agree with the others on the wisdom of looking at flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh instead of London, for all the reasons given.

Scotland has a robust network of bus routes in addition to Scotrail. I am not sure whether there's any student-saver pass that allows you to rove on both trains and buses. Bus service is pretty decent all over Scotland except for on the Isle of Skye.

How many days will you have? With the buses, you don't have to be limited to places served by train, but it will be really important to examine both rail & bus schedules to figure out how many destinations you can cover in your allotted time. See Scotrail for trains and Citilink for the buses that serve the countryside. In cities and suburbs there are city buses like Lothian for Edinburgh & surrounding places (including, for example, Roslin Chapel). Also, as someone else pointed out, the days are short in January so daylight travel is going to be limited. A nice cozy pub, OTOH ... BTW the legal drinking age is 18

One of the wonderful things about traveling on public transport is the conversations you'll strike up with locals. Since you're traveling as a group, I hope you will make up your minds to avoid an in-group mentality and instead reach out to the non-group members all around you.