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Solo traveler's itinerary/logistics issues

I am having trouble planning a solo trip to Scotland and I need some advice from someone who can help me with the logistics. I would be traveling on Icelandair’s stopover option and would like to include Scotland in the trip. Since I will already be spending a few days in Iceland, I do not have a ton of time to spend in Scotland. I know some will say I should spend more time in Scotland but my sister has already told me I will be going with her at some future date so if I don’t see everything I will not be crushed.

I was originally going to fly into Glasgow (Aberdeen is also an option on limited days) and take the train directly to Edinburgh since nothing in Glasgow interests me, at least not this trip. No matter what, I will spend at least 2 full days in Edinburgh. I was then going to do a 3 day tour of the Highlands with Loch Ness/Urquhart Castle/Isle of Skye included. Unfortunately I don’t think it will hit everything I want to see on Skye and the cost is getting pricey with a single supplement. Also most tours include a stop at a whisky distillery and as a (mostly) teetotaler, this is a waste of my time. So I am looking at other options, preferably on public transport. I will drive short distances but I am not a fan of driving on the left. I did it in Ireland and I prefer to have a passenger who can warn me before making boneheaded traffic blunders.

After wrestling with logistics, I've narrowed it down to three options. Option one is to fly into Glasgow and take the West Highland train to Maillag. On day 2, I would rent a car to travel around Skye and leave the car at Kyle of Lochalsh (I found a local car rental business that will let you do that), then take the train to Inverness. I would need to find a tour or rent a car to see Culloden/Loch Ness/Urquhart Castle. On day 3, I would like to take the train to Edinburgh but make a stop in Stonehaven to see Dunnottar Castle. Problem is, I will have my luggage with me and understand it is a walk from the train station. I pack light but this would be inconvenient (and may be forbidden by the castle).

Option two is to save the West Highland line for a future trip and take the train directly from Glasgow to Inverness (hoping the view is as spectacular). I found a day tour leaving from Inverness that will see everything I want on Skye plus Loch Ness/Urquhart Castle so that would take up all of day 2 and I would have to spend a second night in Inverness. On day 3, I would take a taxi to Culloden, take a taxi back to Inverness to check out of my hotel, take the train to Aberdeen then to Edinburgh with the stop in Stonehaven (still have the luggage problem though). And I'm not sure if the taxi is the best option to get to Culloden.

Option three is to fly to Aberdeen, backtrack to Inverness on day 1, do the Skye/Loch Ness day tour on day 2, on day 3 take the train to Aberdeen and leave luggage at a hotel, take the train to Stonehaven and back to hotel for the night and then leave for Edinburgh the next morning. I’m just wondering if day 3 would be a waste of a day just so I can store my luggage. Or should I take the train all the way to Edinburgh and do the Stonehaven train trip as a day trip from there?

I’m big on efficiency especially time and cost so if someone can make recommendations that would make this trip work, please let me know. I hate the idea of backtracking but that may be the only way to make it work. Best scenario would be luggage lockers at the Stonehaven train station.

Posted by
7400 posts

Hi, I can't give you advice specifically for Scotland, but I'm wondering from your first paragraph if you should consider what your itinerary could be at Scotland if you weren't stopping in Iceland. The cheaper price on airline tickets may not justify how you could maximize your days where you really want to travel, instead of spending those days in Iceland.

Posted by
6 posts

Iceland is a higher priority for me than Scotland. If I can't make the Scotland part work, I will just go to Iceland.

Posted by
103 posts

I wouldn't fly to Aberdeen, the flight from Iceland is operated by a relatively small propeller plane and hence the flight takes a good hr longer than the flight to Glasgow. It'll also possibly be a good bit more cramped, noisy and bumpy than the Glasgow flight, which is operated by a large jet. Also Aberdeen to Inverness isn't that quick a journey by public transport, it doesn't save much time over Glasgow or Edinburgh-Inverness.

Tbh, whatever you do, you're trying to see a lot in a short space of time and public transport in rural Highland areas is limited and may be constraining. You may be best advised to cut something (Stonehaven is a bit of a detour) or take the tour, which at least let's you efficiently hit lots of sights without having to hang around waiting for infrequent trains/busses in the Highlands.

The W Highland line is definitely more scenic than the line to Inverness.

Posted by
7574 posts

Skye is wonderful, and we had 3 1/2 days there and needed more. Rather than a quickie visit that might not fulfill your Skye dreams, might you be going there later with your sister, who could also maybe be a driver or blunder-avoiding passenger? The roads on Skye are even narrower than those on mainland Scotland. Then, even if you're a skilled driver, you'll be sharing the road with other visitors (some of them in their own left-hand drive cars from Belgium, Italy, etc., brought over on the ferry), so you have to watch out for the other guy!

We had a week in Iceland this past April, and needed more time there, too, so if your stopover in Iceland is a week or less, I'd suggest keeping this trip to Iceland, and enjoying Scotland with your sister in the future. As a mostly teetotaler, you might not be interested in Icelandic Brennivin or beer, but do try some of their licorice!

Posted by
138 posts

With limited time, I would forget about getting the most "sights" into your time. Here's an alternate idea: ask people who have been there, "What was your favorite place in Scotland, the place that really said "Scotland" to you?" Then I would go to that place (by train, so you can see more of the countryside) and spend three days there. Years ago, my daughter and I went to Spain for a week, and she insisted that we reduce the number of total destinations, so that we could spend spend a minimum of three nights in one city. We chose Granada, and spent three days exploring that wonderful city, including an entire day walking up the hill to the Alhambra, spending six hours there, and walking back. And lots of time to just drift and get the feel of the city. I thought it would be too much time in one place but it turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. Anyway, that's my "two cents". (Yes, I know I'm mentioning Spain in the Scotland forum, but the principle is the same.)

Posted by
6113 posts

Tours rarely cover everything that interests any particular individual, which is why most people travel independently.

Really, Skye needs at least two full days as it takes time to get around the island plus time to get there. Loch Ness is one of the least appealing lochs - far too many tacky Nessie shops and traffic congestion. I suggest that you focus either on Edinburgh plus Skye or Edinburgh plus Inverness. The former would be my choice as it provides a good contrast. Culloden is just a field but with a good audio commentary which takes c 1.5 hours. If time is very limited, I would recommend that you cover castles and scenery rather than just a field.

Posted by
4171 posts

If you found a tour from Inverness to do most of what you want to do at a price you're happy with, go for it. I find that a little odd, though, since Skye is off the west coast of Scotland and Inverness is pretty far east of there, but Urquhart is enroute, very close to Inverness.

My husband and I took a public bus from the central bus station to Culloden and back and then took a public bus to and from Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle the same day. You need to check the opening hours for Culloden or both places for the day(s) you plan to visit. It can be done by public transportation and very cheaply, plus we enjoyed being on the bus with people who were going about living their daily lives. It takes about 30-45 minutes each way to either place. We had lunch at the very nice cafeteria at Culloden. The whole day was made more enjoyable for me because the person at the bus station where we bought our tickets saw where we were from and told us she was a member of the Desert Museum here in Tucson. Now what are the chances of that?

About Iceland. My husband has Icelandic heritage. We were there on a way-too-short stopover several years ago. We swore to go back for a much longer period, but it hasn't happened yet. Our daughter spent 6 weeks there last summer and will spend about the same amount of time this coming summer on an archaeological dig affiliated with U Mass Boston where she's finishing up a master's. She went a week early with some of her class/dig mates, rented a car and traveled around.

Unless you rent a car, the canned trips out from Reykjavik are almost the only options to get around. Car rental is very expensive, as is everything there, but we love Iceland. It's one of the most fascinating places I've ever seen...if you are not a city type. It is cold and windy, though, almost any time of year. She coped pretty well, being originally from the Seattle area and having gone through the terrible 2015 winter in Boston.

I plan on being in Scotland about 2 weeks in mid-May. I'll definitely be dressing for the weather in layers upon layers including a good rain coat. I don't think the weather is very different, especially up in the far north where I'll be part of the time. I'll be going from Edinburgh to Thurso, then on to the Orkney Islands by ferry. Part of the journey is on the Far North Scenic Line. That will be a long day on the train, but a scenic one. Fortunately, I have time to do that. You may not want to spend so much time in travel from one side of the country to the other. I always think of nights, not days, so I got a little lost in your days there.

I was hard to tell from your post whether or not you've checked all the transportation resources for your options. ScotRail and/or National Rail are the ones I've been using for trains. I've been using Traveline for other kinds of public transportation, especially local, but it will also give trains.

Good luck with your planning. Traveling solo, I do not plan to drive anywhere. I'd rather see the countryside from a bus or train than to pay constant attention to driving on the left side of the road. I'm a wimp, I know.

Posted by
287 posts

Traveling through the Highlands is time consuming because of distances and spending time at the things you want to see. For example, trying to do Culloden and Loch Ness and Urquhart in one day is IMO not feasible. Dunnottar is a fairly hefty hike from the parking lot out onto the piece of land it sits on, so again, traveling to your destination and then seeing it and traveling on are time intensive.

I did an 8-day tour of the Highlands in October on a tour bus with a local driver and local guide who knew all the ins and outs and back roads, etc. and even with that "local" knowledge we filled up every single minute of 8 full days with traveling from point A to point B, to spending time at the attractions, having lunch, traveling on to the next stop, etc. Example: we spent one full day going to, from and visiting Culloden. Similarly Urquhart and Loch Ness filled up one full day.

Posted by
5648 posts

You might not want to rule out a multiple day tour just because it stops at a whisky distillery. The tour will likely only take an hour or so and you'll learn something about the culture even if you don't drink the whisky. The tour I took stopped at one of the distilleries in Pitlochry. I suspect our guide would have let someone hang out in the town had they not wanted to take the tour.

We took a 4 day minibus tour that spent 2 nights in Isle of Skye and one night in Inverness in 2014. It was a very efficient and inexpensive way of seeing some of the countryside on a short trip without renting a car. We traveled with a very enjoyable guide and stayed at aome interesting B&Bs.

Posted by
30 posts

I would definitely do option two. Like you, I'm all about efficiency and avoid backtracking as much as possible. We rented a car in Glasgow and did a huge circle of the country: Glasgow--Ft.William--Skye--Loch Ness--Aviemore--Stonehaven--Edinburgh--Stirling--back to Glasgow. As I was the driver 99% of the time, I feel like I missed out on seeing a lot of the scenery (as I was marginally terrified driving on the wrong side of the road on the narrow, wet, highland Scottish roads). I'd definitely recommend having somebody else drive if you are only going to be there for a short period of time. We didn't really tour Loch Ness much, we spent like two hours at Urquhart and that was good enough for our time constraints. Dunnottar was awesome, so if you can make that work, do so.

Posted by
118 posts

I am also going to do a solo tour of Scotland in late August 2016 - but for alonger, around 9 or 10 days. I'm curious about the car rental company you found on Skye that allows you to drop the car at a different location. I'm thinking about doing a short term rental but the majority of my travel by train/bus. Could you share who the rental company is in Skye? I was in Scotland in 2009 and visited Inverness and Urquhart Castle - I really enjoyed that area and have some great pictures of that time. I didn't get to spend anytime on the islands and that is what I want to do this time. I also am not up for a lot of driving by myself but do think I may have to do some short term car rentals. Thanks.

Posted by
6 posts

It is Morar Motors. I haven't spoken to them personally but their website states, "One-way rental is available between our two Morar Motor depots at Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig – Hire from one and drop off at the other having explored all the places in-between!" Good luck!

Posted by
5678 posts

You've gotten some good advice. I don't think that option one is feasible. On your day 2, you can do the drive from Mallaig to Kyle, but if you want to see anything of Skye, you need to budget 3-4 hours on the island, unless you're just driving from Armadale to Kyle. And if that is all you're doing, then I would save it for another trip as you're missing so very much. Most Americans and other nonScots just don't realize how big the Island is. And you have small roads. At any rate, the train ride from Kyle to inverness is nearly 3 hours. It's stunningly beautiful, so it's marvelous. I am sure that there are more trains in the summer, but right now, on a Monday you can catch a 5:13PM train that gets in at 8 PM or the earlier 1:46 PM that gets in at 4:20. There is no time to see either Urquhart or Culloden. Here's the link for checking on trains in Scotland. Use the "buy" search to find out what is available.

You can take a public bus to Culloden. It's an easy trip and the TI can help you.

Have you thought about contacting Dunnottar castle directly and asking them about left luggage? There is a contact us page on their site, here.


Posted by
4 posts

I just posted on another thread here about our upciming trip. But regarding Skye. I booked a tour for May with Skye Scenic tours. They have excellent reviews and are limited to 8 people. Pick up at your lodging in Inverness and drop off in Ft William 4 days 3 nites. And looks to be a great value. You may want to check it out

The owner is a Skye native.