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Seeing Scotland without a car

My husband and I are doing our first England and Scotland trip in May of 2020. Planning tHe Scotland portion of the trip is a little overwhelming especially since we don’t want to drive and are hesitant to book a tour. Looking for suggestions of an itinerary from experienced travelers. We would be more focused in the historical, cultural aspects of the country. Thanks for your suggestions.

Posted by
1524 posts

Hi Toni,

What city in England will you start your tour from, how many days in the UK, and are you flying out of Edinburgh Scotland to head home ?

Posted by
5011 posts

A conundrum. The cities in Scotland are fun, but the whole country is quite beautiful (and arguably the best part of the country are far from the big cities). Getting out there is most efficiently done with a car IMHO. While you can get to some of it readily via public transportation, that can eat up a lot of time (which many of do not have to spare). Personally, I'm not big on organized tours, but if you're committed to not driving, that is going to be your best bet if you want to get out to the small places.

FWIW, driving isn't that difficult, but obviously switching sides does take some adjustment (but once you get over the metal barrier of "wrong-side driving", it frees you up to do so in a large swath of the world, so it can benefit you on future trips). But do be careful (especially at first - IME the first hour of driving in any foreign country is the most stressful and dangerous).

Posted by
1878 posts

I have been researching Scotland a lot, for my set of preferences a car is essential. But based upon your preferences, you could go Glasgow-Oban-Inverness-Edinburgh on the train and catch Rabbies tours when you want to get to the more outlying sights. They have an all day Skye and Loch Ness tours, also Culoden from Inverness. Getyourguide is another one. Culoden and Cawdor Castle are I think reachable by bus (same bus line) from Inverness as a day trip. From what I have seen of Glasgow it seems underrated with some good museums. You can catch a day tour to Mull and Iona from Oban. Don’t miss the Scottish national Museum in Edinburgh. I just say a car is essential for me because I can’t imagine seeing Loch Lomand, Glencoe, and Cairngorms NP only out the window of a train or bus. The connection from Oban to Inverness is a long one though, be aware. Stirling Castle is an easy day trip from Edinburgh on the train, but the Wallace memorial is in the distance so not sure how you would get there.

Posted by
4841 posts

With several trips now to Scotland, only our very first was without a rental car, and that was a short visit, taking the train from London to Edinburgh. Lots of Scottish history and culture concentrated in that city, of course, but there’s a lot of Scotland in other cities and towns, and out in the countryside, plus lots of islands off of the mainland. As mentioned above, public transportation can get you to some wonderful places, but how much time will you have for Scotland overall, and do you have particular locations in mind?

Posted by
18741 posts

It's possible to see a lot of Scotland by train and bus (I spent 26 days there without a car last year), but you will be limited in where you can go and how much ground you can cover if you also want to avoid tours. The weather situation (often very rainy in the west, though I think there's less rain in May than in July, the month of my trip) is an issue when you don't have your own wheels, because you need to pre-book nearly all the city-to-city transportation and all tours, so you cannot adjust your plans based on the weather.

How many nights do you plan to spend in Scotland?

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks! I have just started to plan this trip. We are taking a transatlantic cruise that ends in Amsterdam. From there, I was thinking of flying either to Inverness or Edinburgh and moving south hitting several of the must see spots...Culloden, Isle of Skye, etc. and continuing to England for the remainder of the trip. I'm thinking that the Scottish portion of the trip will take approximately 10-15 days, but it is still in the planning stage. It's a lot when two countries are involved. Planning a trip to Italy was a lot easier.

Posted by
4841 posts

Just wondering, once you make it down to England, will you still be eschewing driving and a tour?

Posted by
92 posts

Hello, My first visit to Scotland was 3 weeks without a car and while it was challenging I found it doable. Granted in the Glencoe area you are pretty limited without a car. As was suggested to my on this forum I used day trips to get to harder to reach locations. For example I booked a Rabbies tour from Inverness to Isle of Skye as my way to get to Skye I simple departed the tour at Portree. Yes, you do lose the return portion of the tour but it was an informative enjoyable way to get myself to Skye without a car. I spent 4 days on Skye and booked a day trip with a local Skye Bus (it is a van which seats approx 12) probably the best day of my entire 21 days.

I took West Coast Tours in Oban to go to Iona and asked if I would be able to utilize the return portion after I stayed on Iona for a couple of days. They were gracious and let me do that.
I did take the train from Inverness to Edinburgh and found it enjoyable and the scenery was beautiful. For me it was worth the extra effort to not attempt to manage driving solo. All that to say, it can be done with a bit of effort. PM me if you have any questions.
You will LOVE Scotland. Taking my 4th trip there in May 2020.
Kathleen

Posted by
17 posts

Laurel, thanks for that Guardian article - Inspiring indeed!

My daughter and I would love that, but I'm not sure my wife could be convinced. We don't have a hard prohibition against tours, but I'm exploring these threads for similar info and looking at various private/bus transport options as well.