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Do we have to rent a Car?

Looking forward to a first visit to Scotland this June.
Quite nervous about driving but want to see countryside more than just cities.
Would taking trains  allow us the opportunity to see the wonderful scenery and some of the Islands?
Or is a car the only way to do smaller places?


  • YourScotlandTourYourScotlandTour Member ✭✭✭
    Hi Katie @Horizons will be along soon with suggestions of using only public transport.

    You can see a lot but combing public transport with hiring a car is probably a more effective method of getting around. Especially if you're short on time. 
    Bespoke tours.
    Whisky, Castles and Food a speciality.
  • katiepekatiepe Member ✭✭
    Thank you..I imagine you are right but just not sure I would be comfortable driving. Maybe further north the driving wouldn't be so hard (when I am used to the opposite side of the road)? I would never attempt cities.

  • YourScotlandTourYourScotlandTour Member ✭✭✭
    Where are you from? I'm guessing the US?

    The roads here are much narrower, in general and traffic flows faster. 

    The main thing is, if you do drive, keep an eye on the mirror and when you've got a queue of cars 400 miles long behind you, let them pass ;-) don't feel pressured to drive outside your comfort zone. 
    Bespoke tours.
    Whisky, Castles and Food a speciality.
  • HorizonsHorizons Member, VisitScotland Ambassador ✭✭✭✭
    @katiepe Yes it is possible to see big swathes of the Scottish countryside by just public transport (trains + bus + ferry). But if you know how to drive, I'd recommend hiring a car. If you're used to driving an Automatic, make sure you rent one from the big cities as most UK cars are stick geared (and that may be the only thing available on an island).

    The main disadvantage is that the schedules are restrictive, you'll have very limited options in the remote areas (3 or 4 buses / ferries a day) so discipline is needed to stay on track with your schedule. There will also be a fair amount of walking involved.

    The main advantage is watching the Scottish countryside go by without worrying about the road with rapt attention :smile: You also meet so many more people on the way. And last but not least, distillery tours are so much fun, taste to your hearts content before taking a bus back.

    The most popular post on my blog is how to see Scotland in a week by public transport. Check that out for ideas on what a practical schedule looks like. Plus, I have regional writeups on many regions & islands in Scotland and how to get in & around using public transport. Hope they can help and that you have a wonderful Scotland trip!
    I'm Anirudh, an Indian travel blogger who has explored a lot of Scotland by public transport. My blog. Find me on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 week itinerary (fully by public transport)

    My Scotland travels (includes EdinburghSkye, HarrisMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban, DunoonSpeyside)

  • katiepekatiepe Member ✭✭
    Thanks so much! We are from Canada. But a rural part so not used to driving in cities even on "our side of the road!"
    I will check out your links.
    Thanks again!

  • SuYLSuYL Member ✭✭
    edited February 2017
    Hi Katiepe. I spent five weeks touring Scotland solo in spring 2016. Public transportation systems in Scotland are organized, easy to book at stations, via apps or on-line, reliable, safe and very convenient for the most part (meaning, do your research - in remote areas such as Orkney, Sutherland, Caithness, Wester-Ross, Speyside, the Hebrides, etc. some routes/services are limited). I researched travel passes extensively and found them limiting for my 'open schedule' travel itinerary; I found that booking individual fares 24 hrs+ in advance proved most cost effective over my journey. In cities or small counties, the ride-all-day fares were a deal. I only hired a car on the Isle of Skye, the public coach schedules weren't convenient enough for accessing the remote areas and historic sites that I wanted to hike into. In hindsight, I should have done the same in Orkney (although using the bus routes out of Kirkwall worked well enough with some hitchhiking to fill in the gaps). On Skye, the single track roads and 50 MPL highways were easy to navigate for one who had never before driven on the left side of the road. For my next trip I'll confidently hire a car for country travel,p; for the cities tho, I'll confidently rely upon trains and coaches. Above all, do your research.  Hope this helps. /From another Canuck.
  • SuYLSuYL Member ✭✭
    edited February 2017
    Me again. Download apps for the coach, ferry and rail providers, they're very helpful and reliable. My favourite for working out my routes was NAVMII GPS ROI & UK
  • SuYLSuYL Member ✭✭
    @katiepe - and anyone reading this - If you do make use of public transportation, the Traveline SW app is invaluable. Plunk in departure and destination locations, choose the routes that best suit (by dep time, fewer transfers, coach instead of rail if you're on a tight budget, etc), pull up the map to see route, zoom in for street map for walking sections. It's fantastic. I'd save screen shots of the results on my iPad so I could access info when wifi wasn't available. If ferries (such as Cal Mac services) are involved results will be included. 

    I'd use the above-mentioned NAVMII GPS ROI & UK app to work out where I was during the more remote rail or coach stretches and how far I was from my destination. (On city busses the NAVMII GPS app allowed me to see how close I was getting to the stop I wanted.)

    App icon:

    Example, Ullapool to Plockton: The next departures are listed, all involve a walking transfer and coach and rail, all under 4 hrs of travel. Note, today as I post it's Sunday afternoon in Scotland, another example of how doing one's research is invaluable, no travel options remain for today. (In some areas public travel options are not available seven days a week - welcome to the Highlands!)

    I choose to depart Monday morning, details listed include walking instructions of 1/2 km, coach route #891 toward Kinlochbervie, exit at Garve and transfer to ScotRail toward Kyle of Lochalsh, exit at Plockton station, walk 1 km into town. Note: For rail travel, book online 24+ hrs in advance for reduced fares. Or choose travel times outside of busy commute times, also cheaper, often by several pounds.

    Pull up map of route from bottom of screen, map can be zoomed in to see street names for walking sections.

    I really hope knowing about this valuable app helps anyone who is planning a trip to use public transportation to travel Scotland. And their transportation systems are very good considering the remoteness of parts of the Highlands. I used this app more than any other. Good luck and enjoy your Scottish adventures! Slainte mhath!
  • katiepekatiepe Member ✭✭
    Sorry to take so long..I had issues with my sign in..appreciate the input..thanks..still undecided to be honest!
  • YourScotlandTourYourScotlandTour Member ✭✭✭
    What's causing you the most confusion?
    Bespoke tours.
    Whisky, Castles and Food a speciality.
  • katiepekatiepe Member ✭✭
    Not confused just not confident driving. Doing a bit of research on trains and buses right now just to see if it works easily. If not may decide to rent a car so watch out! :)
  • MogMJMRMogMJMR Member ✭✭
    Hi @katiepe Scotland's roads vary hugely; from the very busy 4 lane M8 to very narrow country lanes, so if you are feeling nervous I would avoid it. (speaking as as a fellow non confident on unfamiliar roads driver!)

    Over the years I have found a good solution for me is to travel by train, but to then hire a car for a day or 2 in more remote areas (being a country girl, the country lanes are no problem, but the motorways are tricky!) I find this means I can enjoy my holiday rather than stress about the long drives.

    I have also  travelled on most rail routes in Scotland including the most remote (Inverness - Thurso, Kyle - Inverness and Glasgow - Mallaig ) and they offer AMAZING views.  I would really recommend this - you can then soak up the view without having to keep an eye on the road.

    Most Hotels and B and Bs will look after your luggage early or later than your departure and I have never found travelling with luggage by train a problem.

    I once made use of a Highland Rover Ticket and travelled around Scotland using this rover rail pass available from Scotrail:
    This is what I did:

    Night 1 - Glasgow
    Day 1 - Travel Glasgow - Fortwilliam using pass
    Night 2 - Fort William
    Day 2  - Spend day on Jacobite train (Steam Train not included in pass - but this is just an added extra) 
    Night 3 - Fort William
    Day 3 - Travel Fort William - Mallaig then Ferry to Skye - use bus on island then travel by bus to Kyle on mainland - All this travel using pass apart from small fee for ferry
    Night 4 - Kyle of Lochalsh (as no accommodation on Skye available - this was fine and only a 30 minute bus journey across the bridge)
    Day 4 - took bus from Kyle then went on an organised tour of Skye (not included in pass but again just a suggestion) then travelled back across bridge and took train from Kyle to Inverness (included in pass)
    Night 5 - Inverness
    Day 5 - You could travel then Inverness - Glasgow using the pass (I returned to Aberdeen)

    I used the Highland Rover Rail pass and found it great value for money.

    The routes are very scenic too:

    Hope this helps <3

    Based in the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire has a special place in my heart.
  • katiepekatiepe Member ✭✭
    Thank you all..just an update..this first trip we are taking an organized tour..that way I will see first hand for our second trip if I would be able to drive! :)
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