10 Travel Tips for Scotland Without a Car

10 Travel Tips for Scotland Without a Car
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Scotland… the land of kings and Vikings, the Loch Ness monster and highland cows, Game of Thrones and Outlander. It took me about 80 countries before I made it to the United Kingdom, and the wildness of Scotland made it my personal preference. I had waited to go because I thought it was a place you’d need a car to explore, and therefore wouldn’t be the best choice for a solo traveler by myself.  However, I was able to pack in a lot within my 8 days: Edinburgh->(Highlands, Glen Coe, Loch Ness)-> Inverness-> Nairn (beach town)-> Skye (Fairy  Glen, Kilt Rock, Old man of Storr)-> Fort Williams-> Oban -> Isle of Mull, Staffa (great alternative to the Giant’s Causeway with hexagonal rocks) and Iona-> Glasgow-> Home, mostly following Beyond Our Horizons’ itinerary.  I figured I’d write down some car-free travel tips for Sotland to make your  journey easier.

Scottish roads on the Isle of Skye. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Scottish roads on the Isle of Skye. Photo courtesy of Katie.

1) Travel around Scotland is absolutely possible via public transit.  With the plethora of one lane, winding country roads, it’s way more relaxing when someone else drives. I mostly followed this “two-week car-free” itinerary and it worked quite well for me. I had booked all my buses ahead of time because I was worried about traveling through peak season (July) especially because some routes may only happen once a day. However, I don’t think any of my buses were completely full. I also learned that Citylink has a “Explorer Pass” bus deal with unlimited rides during a specific time period.  That would have been cheaper than buying tickets individually, so look into that.

2) May is the driest month. I lucked out with wonderful weather in July and spent most of my trip in sunshine or passing cloud. However, I heard tales of plenty of people who spent extended time in Scotland and couldn’t see anything because of rain, wind and fogs. Scottish people are pretty fun but it would be disappointing to spend vacation time and money seeking shelter in the pubs.

Castle by Loch Ness. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Urquet Castle by Loch Ness. Photo courtesy of Katie.

3) There isn’t that much to do in Loch Ness. One of my couchsurfing hosts was infinitely amused by all the travelers who can’t leave Scotland without looking for Nessie. Yes, Loch Ness is pretty (especially when you consider the surrounding park), but all it is only a really big lake.  The joke is Nessie doesn’t make an appearance until you have a few whiskeys in your system.

I saw Loch Ness on Timberbush’s Highlands tour, where you had the option to hang out at a hotel, do a river cruise or check out Urquhart Castle and do the river cruise. I did the castle and river cruise (£40), because I was already there, but neither was too extraordinary. The castle did have tours and characters in costume, but there are so many other free castles around the country.

One related hack: I did the highlands tour and asked my driver to drop me off in Iverness. The cost of the day tour was about the same as a flexi-bus pass to Inverness (£40) and it helped shorten a long day. I highly recommend Timberbush as a company.

Isle of Skye, near Kilt Rock. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Isle of Skye, near Kilt Rock. Photo courtesy of Katie.

4) Campers often get the best spots. Wild camping is legal in most places in Scotland and throughout my trip (but especially on Skye), campers had front row seats to some of the most amazing views in the country. Because I was traveling by myself and weary of the weather, I didn’t camp but if I could do it again, I might spend a whole week camping and hiking on Skye.  Here’s a list of top wild camping spots in the country that I plan to save for my next trip.

5) Book accommodation in Skye in advance. Most of my trip could have been done without advance bookings but Skye’s popularity is skyrocketing. This was the one place that some people had to miss out on because they did not arrange their transport and accommodation in advance. I heard they may need to explicitly restrict the number of visitors to the island in the future, so plan for this part.

6) Dining options are somewhat uninspiring for vegetarians. Supposedly Glasgow’s west end is becoming a new vegetarian hot spot, with places like the 78 bar and kitchen. Throughout my trip on the west coast, there were a lot of pubs, fish n chip shops but not a ton of inspiring options for vegetarians. Most towns had an Indian Restaurant, but even the menus at two Indian restaurants were more meat-heavy than I was expecting.  Scottish cheese and chocolate is cheap and delicious, but can’t live off that!

Street art in Glasgow. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Street art in Glasgow. Photo courtesy of Katie.

7) If you’re short on time, skip Glasgow. It’s common knowledge that Edinburgh is an exquisite city with plenty to do. I only had a day in Edinburgh, which was not nearly enough, and quickly ran out of things to do in Glasgow. I enjoyed the street art, wandering through free museums (Modern Art Museum and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum) and exploring the West End of Glasgow but wish I skipped it in exchange for another day in Edinburgh.

8) A distillery tour is worth it. I’ve been on a few in my life but it was still valuable learning about what makes Scottish whiskey unique, and characteristics of whiskeys from the various regions of the country. I went to the Oban Distillery, because it was in the center of town (tour was £10 and included a couple tastings and a glass). The cheapest I saw was the Ben Nevis distillery outside of Fort Williams (£5) but there are plenty of options around the country. The later afternoon tours get sold out during peak season so you may want to book in advance.

Pelicans on the Isle of Staffa. Photo courtesy of Katie.

Pelicans on the Isle of Staffa. Photo courtesy of Katie.

9) Scottish pounds are different than English pounds. This might be obvious for people who have spent time in the area but I didn’t realize the Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland print their own currencies and you may occasionally have trouble using them across countries. I learned this right before arriving so I could plan accordingly but found it non-intuitive.

10) Scotland’s popularity is rising so go now! Between Scotland’s increasing presence in pop culture and people purposefully seeking cooler climates (there was a massive influx of Spanish and Italian groups), Scotland’s popularity is skyrocketing. Edinburgh was almost uncomfortably packed but the crowds got better the further out I went.  I’d encourage you to go sooner rather than later! You won’t regret it.  I know I want to return when I have time to live in this bookshop.

Songs of the Moment: Sign of the Times- Harry Styles (the music videos is shot on the Isle of Skye)

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