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Seeing Highlands from Edinburgh

We will stay at a friend's place in Edinburgh during the Festival in August 2020. In addition to day trips from Edinburgh we want to spent a few day in the Scottish Highlands. We don't want a drive by photo op bus tour but we also can no longer drive.

What might be a good plan we could do on our own perhaps with occasional local tours? We usually base and travel in a region e.g. last spring we spend 4 nights in St. Malo and visited Dinan and other towns by bus from there. I don't know if that makes sense in the Scottish highlands/islands. We might need to move from hotel to hotel. Looking for advice on how to begin to plan and what might be the half dozen spots we should plan to include. Or has anyone been on a good tour that was not bus by and photo op? We are terrible tour group tourists; we like to spend time in a place.

Posted by
1863 posts

Have you looked at Rabbies Tours? They have minivan tours from Edinburgh and there are a couple options for the Highlands.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, janettravels44,

Well, you have plenty of time to formulate your plans! How many days would you like to spend in the Highlands, and do you plan to visit any of the islands (Skye, Mull, Harris, Arran, Islay, etc.?), or do you prefer to stay on the mainland?

I am in complete agreement. I would make a terrible group tourist. I like to take time to enjoy each place I visit. You say that you no longer drive. Is hiking/hillwalking out of the question. Can you take walks in the countryside, or are you limited to city/town walking?

Public transportation can take you most places you want to go, and once you get to a specific location, there are usually ways of getting around. Local tours, taxi service, or country buses. Be aware that as you're traveling in August, public transportation may be well crowded. Also, as you're traveling in August, which is peak tourist season in Scotland, you need to have a really good idea of where you want to go.

You can base yourselves in one or more locations (Oban, Inverness, Fort William, Portree, Brodick, Kyle, etc.), all of which can be easily reached by public transportation, and make your way about from there. Get a good guide to Scotland, like Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or the RS guide. They will help you decide what you'd like to see. Also, there are several good videos on YouTube.

Best wishes for your planning phase!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
3122 posts

The Scottish highlands are well served by rail and bus. You can use the Rome2Rio site to look up the connections that exist between any two places you're considering -- for example, Edinburgh to Pitlochry or Edinburgh to Newtonmore.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, epitd,

I've checked out that Rome2Rio website a few times, and they've referred me to bus routes and schedules that no longer exist. It's probably best to check the individual bus companies (Stagecoach, Stagecoach North, West Coast Motors, Citylink, etc.) for up to date schedules and fares. Of course, all that may change by 2020!

Mike (Auchterless0

Posted by
27368 posts

Yes, Rome2Rio is just a first step. It's frightening how inaccurate the travel times, frequencies and fares can be. Though so far it hasn't told me there is a bus when there is no bus service at all. I probably just haven't looked up enough routes.

Posted by
8180 posts

thanks. I have ordered a guide but not received it yet -- on the waiting list at my library. I am a good hiker; my husband may or may not be depending on his arthritis at any one time -- that may affect whether we choose a tour or not. But I looked at some tours and the honest ones show that most of the stops are drive by photo ops which drive me crazy. I'd rather stop in one town for an afternoon and night than drive by 8 for 15 minute photo ops.

We are a long way out and have no real time constraints. I don't know how long we will have use of the apartment but if it is several weeks then it makes it easy to do a couple of side trips. If not then we will build the highland trip onto one end of the Edinburgh visit. Appreciate all the links and suggestions.

Posted by
27368 posts

The issue with Scotland, I think, is that the most dramatic scenery is quite a healthy drive from Glasgow and even farther from Edinburgh. I guess it's hard to sell tours if you say "You'll be on the bus for 3 hours, then we'll stop at X for an hour, then another hour and a half on the bus before we stop at Y for 45 minutes. Then we turn around and return to our starting point (4 hours). It sounds better to mention a bunch of places people have heard of (Loch Ness!) even if it's mostly the briefest of stops.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi again, janettravels44,

I know it's still a long way off, but you may want to consider the Isle of Arran for part of your holiday next year. The trains from Glasgow run directly to Ardrossan Harbour, and it's only a very brief walk to the ferry for Brodick. Once you're on Arran, the bus service is excellent and inexpensive, traveling just about the entire coast from Lochranza to Blackwaterfoot.

There is a good bit to see and do on Arran - some excellent low level walks; Brodick and Lochranza Castles; charming seaside towns and villages; Goatfell, for the more adventurous; and a good choice of lodging and dining. Arran has been described as "Scotland in miniature" as it has mountains in the north, and lowlands in the south. The Highland fault line runs right through the middle of Arran, contributing to the topography of the island.

There's more information in the Lonely Planet guide; unfortunately there's nothing about Arran in the RS guide.

Once again, best wishes for your planning phase!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5651 posts

We did this tour in 2014 and it was a really convenient way to see sights on the Isle of Skye without a car.
https://www.heartofscotlandtours.co.uk/misty-isle

What you might consider is seeing if you can leverage one of these tours (or the Rabbies tours) as transportation for harder to reach places. You wouldn’t necessarily have to return to Edinburgh. For example, you could take a tour like we did to get you to Skye and explore the island. This tour spends # nights on Skye. You could then use it to get to Inverness and stay there on your own instead of continuing with the minivan.

We had a terrific local guide on the tour and it was a small group.

p.s. I just looked a little more closely at the tour description and it is not exactly the tour we took. We stayed 2 nights in Portree and 1 in Inverness. But I still think that you might want to consider using one of these types of tours to get you somewhere that isn’t easily reached by public transportation.

Posted by
27368 posts

Although I haven't done what Laura is suggesting, by the end of my upcoming trip to Scotland, I may wish I had. Public-transportation schedules get pretty sparse as you move north and west.