When planning a Scotland trip and dreaming about far off, remote parts of the country, you might be wondering how on earth you get there without the added hassle and expense of renting a car. Getting around Scotland doesn’t have to be hard and you can still get yourself to some pretty remote places using trains, buses and ferries.
I’ve used almost all of these modes of transport over the years to get around Scotland. Having a car definitely helps to get out of the way, but for anyone who doesn’t have one, don’t fret! There’s still a lot you can see and experience.
Do you need a car to explore Scotland?
If you’re just visiting Scotland’s cities then, no you don’t need a car. If you want to explore more of the countryside then having a car does help, but you can still do a surprising amount without one.
Travelling around Scotland without a car might take a little bit more planning but can be done. It helps to check what your must sees are and then figure out if it’s doable with public transport.
Even if it’s not doable, you may be able to join a small tour group visiting some sights – it’s actually a really good way to see some more remote landmarks that are on your bucket list if you don’t want to rent a car.
You might also like: Getting to Loch Ness from Inverness
Getting Around Scotland without a car:
Here are some of the options for you and your Scotland trip if you don’t want to rent a car.
Useful Links for planning getting around Scotland:
- Google Maps – enter your start and end point and toggle to get public transport options. You’ll find out operators, bus numbers and times.
- Traveline Scotland – plan journeys
- Trainline – best place to book your trains
- Calmac – ferries to most islands
Buses run all over Scotland and are the best way of getting to small towns and villages around. If you’re in cities they can be great to get you to different areas too.
Buses can be run by different companies in different areas so it’s worth checking which one you need before heading out to the bus stop. Often tickets are specific to each company too.
Always check your return journey before heading out, especially if you’re off somewhere remote, sometimes there’s only a couple of buses a day.
Trains are great to get you into the heart of a new area of Scotland. You can get between all the big cities by train and even into some areas of the Highlands too. The best journey is probably heading over the Glenfinnan Viaduct though – Harry Potter train anyone?
If you’re traveling from or onwards to London trains can be a good way to get that done easily and with the added advantage of being able to see the British countryside go by on your journey.
Again, like the buses, there are a few different operators, but the majority of trains are run by Scotrail.
I find that Trainline is the best online place to get tickets and I use them all the time. They are great to check times and your options and e-tickets can be purchased and added to your phone. Paper tickets can be picked up from most station if you prefer that or you can buy tickets from most stations too. Some stations aren’t manned and will only have ticket machines.
Eurail and Interail rickets can also be used in Scotland (and throughout Great Britain) and may be a cost effective way of getting around.
Tip: trains can be expensive, especially if you buy tickets close to your travel date. If you know where you’re going and when buying in advance can work out cheaper. You can buy from around 12 weeks in advance on Trainline.
Railcards are recommended to purchase if you’re traveling extensively by train – there are a few on offer whether you’re young or are travelling with another person or with kids. If you’re not sure whether it will save you money, check out fares with and without a railcard on Trainline – you’ll see the difference.
Trams / Subway
Edinburgh has a new tram system that is great for getting about. Glasgow also has a subway. Both can be good for getting to different areas of the cities.
Edinburgh’s tram can also get you easily from the airport to the centre of town so if you’re landing there it’s super easy.
If you don’t have a car then taxis can be a good way to get yourself, your luggage and your companions to your hotel without the hassle of public transport. You can even use them to get to different parts of Scotland – be aware that it may be quite costly to do it this way.
You’ll find local taxi firms all over Scotland. The best thing to do is to google ‘Taxi company’ for where you need them and you should get a list of local firms. You can then get in contact with them to get a quote for where you need to go.
Some taxi services can even provide guided tours of the area! Again, perfect if there’s a few of you and you want a more private option than some of the organised tours (below).
Scotland’s ferry company, Calmac, runs services to almost all of the islands around Scotland so if you’re planning to do some island hopping then getting familiar with them is a good idea. If you want to see Orkney or Shetland you’ll need to check out NorthLink Ferries.
These services always allow foot passengers and generally it can be an inexpensive way to get around.
Timetables change when travelling in late Autumn or Winter months so be aware that what can be doable in Summer might not be all year round. Also check the timetable for return services as not everywhere can be visited as a day trip.
If you have your heart set on visiting some of Scotland’s sights but are a little bit tight on time, or you just don’t fancy getting to grips with public transport, then a private tour is a great way to see some of the country without the hassle.
You can explore castles, lochs, distilleries and so much more. Some trips will even take you to the islands as well.
I recommend checking out the following if this appeals to you:
- Rabbies – local company that provides lots of Scotland tours
- Get Your Guide – lots of guided tours by many operators
- Viator – lots of guided tours, owned by Trip Advisor
Walking / Hiking
Finally, it would be a little bit remiss of me to not mention walking as a way of getting around. Ok, you probably don’t want to explore the whole of Scotland by foot but perhaps you might be interested in doing some of the long distance walks around.
The West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way are two of the most popular trails and will provide some amazing locations to hike. I’ll be honest, I’ve not done them myself (yet) but I’ve heard fantastic things about them.
Book your Scotland Vacation:
Check flights: Skyscanner
Book Car Rental: DiscoverCars
Book hotels: Booking.com
Book Vacation Rentals: VRBO.com
And don’t forget to pick up a guide book!