We are planning a trip to Scotland next summer. We don't want to rent a car, so is it feasible to take the train to major cities and then hire a driver to get to remote places we may want to see?
If you've never traveled on trains in Europe, its hard to describe how easy and convenient they are for traveling between most destinations.
You can take the train to a few locations, but the advantage to having a car is you get to stop along the way, and get off the beaten track if you want. You are also tied to the train schedule which may not always work well. You can take the train to larger places and then do guided day trips, but that would limit the places you could stay in as not all towns have the option of day trips. I would think the same would be true with hiring a private driver, most of the them will work out of the larger towns such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. But, I did a google search and found this company: https://www.scottishdriverguides.co.uk/. I don't see any prices on the web site, so that makes me think it is an expensive option, but maybe you could use this service in conjunction with some group day trips?
We found public transportation options easy and economical to use but cannot comment on private car services. A rental car seems to be a liability in the larger urban areas. Since a good part of our Scotland visit was a walking holiday we used public transit to get to the start and finish of our walking tour.
A good public transporation resource is: https://www.travelinescotland.com/public-transport
Linda, Trains do not just go to "major cities", they go to many small cities and towns as well.
I suggest you look at this map: http://www.projectmapping.co.uk/Reviews/Resources/spirit_of_scotland.pdf
Note: around major cities (Glasgow and Edinburgh), this is not showing all stations or even showing all routes (lack of space). But in the rest of rural Scotland you can see all the lines.
Some places are covered, but there are gaps you will need to fill in with buses. this requires research into the bus routes.
My sister and I did a two week trip last summer completely on public transportation and it worked just fine! The rail network is excellent and there are buses that fill in everywhere else. It may take a bit longer at times to go from point a to point b, but you will find that both of you are able to enjoy the scenery and relax vs. drive in an unfamiliar area. Will you make it everywhere in Scotland on this trip? No, but neither will the drivers.
We took advantage of the "Two Together Railcard". I'm putting the link for it just under this paragraph. Basically, if you two will travel together at all times, you can buy a railcard for 30 pounds and get 1/3 off of your rail tickets. You can buy your rail tickets in advance and indicate that you have this railcard, even if you haven't purchased it yet. When you arrive at your first train station, go to the manned ticket window and buy your pass. (Have the application filled out and a passport photo for each of you ready). They will sell you your pass and print out all of the tickets that you purchased in advance. It takes about 10-15 minutes total.
Some people use day tours from companies such as Rabbie's tours to take a day tour or even a 2-3 day tour from a central city or hub. I notice on their website that they will also set up private tours.
I had planned to do this to St. Andrews last year but the tours were full by the time I went to buy my ticket the day before. I ended up just taking public transport for a far lower price and had a great time in St. Andrews anyway.
I've been amazed this year as to all the places where you can take public transportation in Scotland. The combination of train, bus, and ferry will take you just about anywhere you want to go. I'd say that for trips to places you can't get to by public transportation, a taxi would most likely be cheaper than a private driver.
I remarked to my wife several times on our most recent holiday that I couldn't believe that a bus was actually going down that road. Going down those single track roads on the islands, with blind curves, no guardrail, and sheer drops, took a few months off my life. Those bus drivers must have nerves of steel.
I still maintain, however, that car hire is the way to go. Over the years, we've been able to get to so many out of the way places, and haven't had to rely on the bus schedules. Plus there's the luggage aspect as well. My wife and I usually pack lightly when we go over, but then fill our suitcases to bursting while we're in Scotland. On this last trip, my suitcase weighed 24 pounds on the way over, and just under the limit of 51 pounds on the way back. I couldn't see lugging that much weight around on trains and buses.
If you don't think that you'd be comfortable driving in Scotland due to having to shift gears with your left hand, consider an automatic transmission. Once you get out of the central belt area, driving, especially in the Highlands, is a lot of fun.
You will dearly love Scotland!
I agree with Carol.
We use trains, the fabulous bus systems out of Edinburgh, trams, and Rabbies.
We’ve never needed to rent a car in Scotland. Too much bother. We’d rather sit back and enjoy the scenery; let someone else do the driving for us.
Thanks to Carol and Explorer. Feeling pretty confident we can get to where were want to go without renting a car.
Thanks to all for the suggestions.
I spent 3 weeks in Scotland solo and only used public transportation. One suggestion I received from this forum was to book a tour and depart the tour once you arrive at the destination. For example, I booked a day tour out of Oban from West Coast Tours to Iona but departed the tour on arrival to spend 2 nights on my own on Iona. West Coast Tours was gracious to allow me to use the bus/ferry tickets to return to Oban 2 days later. You are forfeiting half of the tour in some cases but is wonderful way to get around in the more remote locations. I found the bus system in Edinburgh exceptional. I downloaded the Lothian bus app on my phone and it literally told me where to walk and which bus number to take when I typed in where I wanted to go. The area around Glencoe was more challenging and I couldn’t see all I wanted but I am returning in September (again only using public transportation). I feel especially traveling alone with out a navigator public transport is the way to go. Not to say some day I may not rent a car while there.
Have a wonderful time!
My wife and I did just what you describe for a visit last April/May. We visited Edinburgh, Aivemore, Inverness, Kyle of Lochalsh, Portree and the Trotternish, Duirinish, Waternish and Sleat peninsulas on the Isle of Skye, Mallaig, Ft. William, Glen Coe, Inveraray, Oban, Glasgow and Stirling/Falkirk all by train and private driver/taxi. The private driver/taxi was a necessity for the Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallig part of the journey, and from Ft. William to Inveraray (we had the driver take us on to Oban, but we could have taken the train) and short taxi trips to get from the train station in Stirling to 2 venues and from the train station in Falkirk to 2 venues. it didn't break the bank and we relaxed the entire trip.
Travel on the train while not luxurious, was quite pleasant and the scenery fantastic. Look at the Spirit of Scotland Pass. It served us very well. The only hiccup was a Sunday morning when the train we thought we would take from Glasgow to Stirling didn't run on Sunday. (it was my fault, I didn't pay close enough attention to the timetables I'd downloaded). It was no big deal, we waited a short time and off we went. No compromise to the itinerary we'd planned for the day.
When do you plan to go in the summer? As i suspect you know, or will know when reading various threads on the Scotland forum, it can get quite busy in summer, particularly in the West Highlands. We booked our private driver/taxi (2 of them) online for our trips to and from Portree and from Ft. William to Inveraray; we arranged these a couple of months ahead of time.
You've got a lot of good advice already, but let me add my two cents.
This is our third trip to Scotland this year, and just the first to drive there. We have survived quite well without a to see the varied sites. We used the train system, city transit in Edinburgh and Glagow (the subway system is pretty basic, but it generally gets you where you want to be). In Edinburgh and Glasgow there is no shortage of small tour companies that will take you to various sites throughout the country. From Inverness we hired a private guide quite reasonably to make a journey over to Skye.
Definitely get the ScotRail pass if you are planning to use the train system much. It will simplify things a lot, and depending on how much moving around you plan on doing, you'll save money. But buy the rail pass before you go. There are special rates for people outside of the UK that are quite reasonable.
Have a great journey, and take the time to meet the people. As beautiful as the country is, our favorite part is just interacting with the folks who live there.