How to Get Around Scotland Without a Car
If you’re thinking about experiencing the magic of Scotland without the hassle and cost of renting a car, you’re in for a treat. Our guide is all about helping you navigate Scotland’s wonders using trains, buses, and your own two feet.
From the misty Highlands to the vibrant streets of Edinburgh, get ready to uncover the best of Scotland, car-free.
Best Places To Visit In Scotland Without A Car
Visitors can easily unveil the beauty of Scotland through enchanting destinations that are easily accessible without a car through careful planning.
To craft an unforgettable Scotland itinerary without a car, you will need to check routes and distances between destinations ahead of time, so we’ve got a few ideas to help you out.
With these routes, you can immerse yourself in Scotland’s allure while relying solely on public transportation.
Here’s a sample Scotland itinerary for 7 days with no car:
Day 1-2: Edinburgh
Begin your one week in Scotland without a car with a day and a half in Edinburgh. Here, you can explore the historic Royal Mile, indulge in a dram of whisky, and ascend Arthur’s Seat for panoramic views.
You can easily reach Edinburgh’s city centre from the airport with a tram or bus in about 30 minutes and from just £5.50 for a single journey. In fact, it’s probably easier to get to the city without a car, as you’ll need to pay about the same just for an hour of parking!
Day 3: Glasgow
Continue your journey in the morning by hopping aboard a train to the vibrant city of Glasgow, famed for its art scene, shopping delights, and architectural marvels. You can get there in just over 50 minutes, or take the Scottish Citylink bus 900 in 85 minutes if you’re on a tighter budget.
Day 4-5: Fort William
Next, embrace the scenic West Highland Line as it leads you from Glasgow to the iconic town of Fort William, nestled in the shadow of Ben Nevis. Take an early afternoon train so you can enjoy the morning in Glasgow. The journey will take almost 4 hours, but it’s the perfect way to relax after 3 busy days in the city.
Spend the evening exploring the town centre, before setting out early the following morning on a hike.
Day 6-7: Isle of Skye
Early on your 6th morning, you’ll head towards Skye. First, jump on the train from Fort William to Mallaig, which takes just under 1.5 hours. From there, you can take a CalMac ferry to Armadale on the Isle of Skye—it’s only around 30 minutes.
Enjoy the day and the following morning on Skye, where dramatic landscapes and Celtic legends come to life, before heading back to the airport in time to return home. To get there, you can take a coach from Skye to Glasgow, then from there back to Edinburgh.
Shorter on time? It’s also possible to plan 4 days in Scotland without a car
For those with four to five days to spare, consider a more condensed exploration of Scotland’s best towns and cities, with just a day or so in each, and short journeys between them.
Day 1: Edinburgh
Spend the day quickly exploring Edinburgh’s highlights. Why not jump on the hop-on, hop-off tour bus to see everything?
Day 2: Pitlochry
Make your way north to the captivating Highland town of Pitlochry, a gateway to outdoor adventures and Highland charm. The Megabus M90 or a train can both take you there in about 2 hours, and the bus costs just £5 or so.
Day 3: Inverness
Delight in the historic allure of Inverness, known for its castle, riverside walks, and proximity to Loch Ness. The easiest way to get there from Pitlochry is by train, which takes just over 1 hour 45 minutes, and has only 2 stops along the way.
Day 4: Stirling or Glasgow
Conclude your journey in the picturesque town of Stirling, home to historic sites like Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. Alternatively, head to Glasgow instead, if you want to experience Scotland’s biggest and most populous city.
The train from Inverness to Stirling is a bit less than 3 hours, and to Glasgow it’s around 3.5 hours. Or, the M10A by Megabus takes around 3 hours 45 minutes and costs about £11.
If you have 5 days in Scotland without a car, visit both cities. They’re only 35-45 minutes apart, with frequent, cheap bus and train services connecting the two.
No matter the duration, Scotland’s heartwarming landscapes and vibrant cities await your discovery, all without the need for a car.
What To Do In Scotland Without A Car
Now you know where to go in Scotland without a car, you’ll of course be wondering what to do when you get there. Are the attractions easy to get to without a car?
Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do in Scotland without a car! In major cities, most of the popular tourist attractions are either within walking distance from the bus or train station, or are well-connected by public transport.
Especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow, you’ll have no problem ticking everything off your list without a car.
For example, you can easily walk up to Edinburgh Castle, take a bus out to the zoo, or hop on a tram down to the Royal Yacht Britannia.
In Glasgow, the Subway (sometimes known as the Clockwork Orange) can take you across the city in a matter of minutes. Jump off at St Enoch for a spot of shopping, or ride to Kelvinhall to pass the morning soaking up some culture at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery.
Things To Do In Pitlochry Without A Car
Pitlochry offers plenty of activities without the need for a car. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the charming town streets, explore the famous Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder, or take in a show at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Nature enthusiasts can embark on scenic hikes like the Ben Vrackie trail, and don’t miss a visit to the Blair Athol Distillery for a taste of Scotland’s finest whisky.
What To Do In Inverness Without A Car
Inverness offers a range of attractions accessible without a car. Explore the historic Inverness Castle and its surroundings, stroll along the picturesque River Ness (don’t forget to cross and explore the islands), and discover the city’s rich heritage at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. The city’s Botanic Gardens including two tropical houses are well worth a visit too (and are free!).
Wondering how to get around Inverness, Scotland without a car? Visitors can use the reliable public transportation system, including buses and taxis, or opt for walking and cycling to fully enjoy this charming Scottish city. It’s not too big, so the city centre attractions are easily walkable.
Day Trips From Oban Without A Car
It’s easy to embark on delightful day trips from Oban without the need for a car. Take a Cal-Mac ferry to the Isle of Mull, where you can explore picturesque villages and the colourful Tobermory waterfront. Discover the ancient Dunstaffnage Castle and its history, or enjoy scenic train journeys to nearby destinations like Fort William and Mallaig. The well-connected public transportation system allows you to make the most of your Oban visit without the need for a car.
Of course, you will want to pass some time in Oban itself. Pass an hour at the War & Peace museum on a wet day, or take a walk up to McCaig’s tour and soak in the view. Of course, no trip to Oban would be complete without popping into Oban Distillery to sample the local produce!
Stirling, Scotland Without A Car
On your trip to Scotland, you’ll want to discover Stirling, a history-rich gem that’s easily navigable without a car. Iconic sites like Stirling Castle and the National Wallace Monument are easy to get to from the city’s train and bus stations if you’ve just arrived from elsewhere.
The Castle is a short (uphill) walk from these transport hubs, while buses can take you to the Wallace Monument in no time.
There’s plenty of other options to explore using just your own two feet, too. Delve into the Old Town’s alleys and explore the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum for a cultural touch, or take a walk up Mote Hill for some unbeatable views of the countryside around the city. That’s not even the best part about the summit—you’ll also find two cannons and a stone formerly used for beheadings at the top!
Glencoe, Scotland Without a Car
It takes a bit of planning to explore the Scotland Highlands without a car, but it’s certainly possible. The easiest option, if you don’t mind a bit less flexibility, is to embark on guided bus tours departing from nearby towns like Fort William or Ballachulish. These tours offer the chance to soak in the dramatic beauty of Glencoe’s mountains and valleys while enjoying insightful commentary from local experts. Additionally, public buses run to Glencoe from Fort William, providing a convenient mode of transport for independent explorers looking to take things at their own pace.
Once you’ve arrived in Glencoe, immerse yourself in its natural wonders. Embark on scenic hikes such as the Glencoe Lochan Trail, offering serene loch views. For history buffs, the Glencoe Visitor Centre unravels the area’s tragic past through informative exhibits.
Islands Without Cars, Scotland
You can discover the enchanting Scottish islands without the need for a car, offering a unique and serene escape from the busy cities you might be used to. The Isle of Skye, for instance, beckons with its rugged landscapes and quaint villages. Getting around Skye without a car is easy. Just opt for guided tours that traverse the island’s highlights, including the iconic Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr. Public buses also provide convenient transportation to explore Skye at your own pace.
If island hopping is on your agenda, the West Coast offers opportunities to explore various isles without a car. From Oban, you can catch ferries to islands like Mull, Iona, and Staffa, making island hopping in Scotland without a car a breeze. These islands boast their own distinctive charm, from historic sites to stunning natural formations like Fingal’s Cave. Let the allure of Scotland’s car-free islands inspire your journey, where each destination promises a memorable experience amid unspoiled beauty.
Is The Train a Good Option to Travel Scotland?
Can you tour Scotland by train? Absolutely!
Although there were strikes across the rail network throughout 2022 (and they’re still ongoing in 2023), it’s still very much possible to travel Scotland by train. In fact, it’s not only possible, but one of the best, most relaxing ways to enjoy Scotland’s scenery while travelling from A to B.
ScotRail operates Scotland’s rail network, and it has routes covering the whole country, all the way to the UK’s most northerly train station in Thurso.
Places to Visit in Scotland By Train
The Spirit of Scotland Travel Pass is a golden ticket for exploring the nation’s stunning vistas and vibrant urban hubs. Offering unlimited travel across Scotland’s railways, this pass lets you hop on and off trains to your heart’s content. Whether you’re gazing at the dramatic Highland scenery or immersing yourself in the cultural richness of Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness, the pass ensures seamless connectivity when getting around Scotland by train.
Craft your own unforgettable train journey with a suggested itinerary: Start in the bustling city of Glasgow, where you can explore world-class museums, vibrant markets, and the bohemian West End. Then, hop on a train bound for Fort William, where you’ll be greeted by the majestic Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. Journey onwards to the enchanting Isle of Skye, where dramatic cliffs and serene lochs await your discovery. A visit to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, unveils tales of history and the mystique of Loch Ness.
When travelling by train in Scotland, keep these tips in mind: Book your tickets in advance for the best deals, as prices can vary. Don’t hesitate to strike up conversations with fellow passengers, as you’ll often find locals more than willing to share insider tips. Also, remember that the scenery outside your window is a showstopper, so have your camera ready to capture breathtaking moments as you traverse this captivating country.
Scotland Tours: No Car Needed
For a stress-free way to travel around Scotland, you can’t go wrong with organised tours. With these, you don’t have to worry about checking train timetables or booking bus tickets. Instead, you just need to sit back and relax as local experts take you through the best spots of your chosen destination!
There are many bus trips in Scotland to choose from, like bus tours from Edinburgh to the Highlands, that will show you the best of the area with plenty of stops to soak up the scenery along the way.
Although they can be a little pricey, the cost is generally worth it compared to booking your own transport and entrance into the attractions that may be included as part of your tour. Plus, you don’t get the local expert knowledge about the destinations when visiting on your own.
Some of the most popular tours to consider include:
Rabbies Outlander Tour
This ever-popular tour takes you through many of the stunning locations used to film historical drama Outlander. You can choose from one or four-day tours departing from Edinburgh or Glasgow. On the Outlander tour, you’ll visit spots like Doune Castle and Glencoe, while expert guides talk you through the significant history of these locations.
Highland Explorer Tours (Inverness & Edinburgh Departures)
This company has earned five stars from the Scottish Tourist Board and comes recommended from nearly all guests who have taken part in a tour. Highland Explorer Tours offer several single-day tours, including an Outlander Experience, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle visit, and a Whisky & Waterfalls tour.
There are also 3-8 day tours on offer, where you can take in sights including puffins on Scotland’s islands, tour the Isle of Islay’s distilleries, or visit the Isles of Skye and Orkney and complete the NC500, all in one trip of a lifetime.
Road Scholar Trips To Scotland
This US-based company offers various itineraries around Scotland of around two weeks in duration. Whether you want to explore the Best of Scotland or enjoy Scotland at a Slower Pace, there are plenty of options to see the country’s highlights by a guided coach tour. The best part? Tours include accommodation at city centre hotels and meals throughout!
Bus Tours from Edinburgh to the Highlands
An Edinburgh bus tour to the Highlands is a great way to see the best of Scotland: rugged, remote landscapes where you’re the only person for miles around, and ancient architecture combined with modern facilities.
There are a few tour operators to choose from offering a bus tour of the Highlands from Edinburgh, including Rabbies and Highland Explorer, mentioned above. These tours can take 10-12 hours, as parts of the Highlands are quite a distance from Edinburgh, and there aren’t motorways (highways) along much of the route.
Hiking Scotland Without a Car
Hiking in Scotland without a car is certainly doable, especially if you are up for a long-distance challenge! There are some incredible trails that take you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Long-distance Hiking Routes
For those who seek the ultimate long-distance journey, the West Highland Way beckons with its 96-mile route from Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, to Fort William. Traverse over rolling hills, alongside serene lochs, and through charming villages, immersing yourself in Scotland’s stunning beauty. It’s one of the most famous long-distance hikes in the UK, and it takes an average of a week or eight days to complete.
Don’t forget to book your accommodation in advance if you’re hiking the West Highland Way in the summer, as it can book up quickly. That is, of course, if you’re not planning on camping.
If 96 miles sounds a bit much, venture further north to tackle the Great Glen Way, a 79-mile trail stretching from Fort William to Inverness. Encounter the iconic Loch Ness, picturesque glens, and captivating history along this route. It takes between 4-7 days to complete, and you can do it by boat or bike if hiking doesn’t sound like your thing. Most of the route is across fairly easy terrain, but there are challenging sections, as well as additional munros nearby for the more adventurous hikers to test their skills.
Shorter Hikes and Tips
Looking for shorter, equally rewarding hikes? Consider the enchanting landscapes of Cairngorms National Park or the dramatic coastal paths along the Fife Coastal Trail. Each step promises awe-inspiring vistas and an unforgettable connection to Scotland’s natural wonders. Wherever you base yourself on your trip to Scotland, you’ll never be too far from a new hiking path to explore.
A word of warning for those embarking on a long-distance hike: The Scottish weather can be unpredictable, so make sure you have waterproof boots and lightweight clothing that can dry easily overnight in a tent!
Despite this, hiking through Scotland’s breathtaking landscapes without a car opens up a realm of adventure for both nature enthusiasts and avid trekkers. Prepare to be amazed by the vastness of the Scottish wilderness as you tackle some of the most remarkable trails in the world. Walking in Scotland without a car offers a chance to truly appreciate the country’s rugged allure while minimizing your carbon footprint. So lace up your boots, pack your sense of adventure, and let Scotland’s trails guide you through a journey of a lifetime.
Cycling through Scotland is an exhilarating way to experience its stunning landscapes and vibrant culture. Whether you’re an avid cyclist or just looking for a leisurely ride, Scotland offers a diverse range of cycling routes to suit every level of experience.
You can undertake some of the long-distance routes mentioned above if you’re up for a challenge, or just hire a bike in the city to get around at your own pace.
Don’t forget to check the weather and plan your accommodations and rest stops along the way to make the most of your Scottish cycling adventure!
Top Cycling Routes in Scotland
- The North Coast 500: Known as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, the North Coast 500 is a legendary 516-mile circular route that takes you on a journey through the Scottish Highlands. Expect breathtaking vistas of rugged coastlines, ancient castles, and charming villages. This epic ride is a bucket-list adventure for cyclists around the world.
- The Hebridean Way: For a unique island-hopping experience, the Hebridean Way is a 185-mile route that traverses ten islands in the Outer Hebrides. Enjoy the tranquillity of pristine beaches, explore ancient ruins, and savour the distinct Gaelic culture along the way. You’ll go between the islands via causeways and ferries; it’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!
- The Lochs and Glens Route: Stretching over 200 miles, this route connects the Glasgow and Inverness, passing through the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and the Cairngorms National Park. Pedal alongside shimmering lochs, lush forests, and charming villages while catching glimpses of wildlife.
- Edinburgh to St Andrews: If you prefer a shorter ride, the route from Edinburgh to St Andrews is an ideal choice. Covering around 70 miles, this route takes you through picturesque countryside and offers an opportunity to explore historic sites in St Andrews, home to one of the world’s oldest golf courses.
- Mountain Biking in the Scottish Borders: For mountain biking enthusiasts, the Scottish Borders offer an array of thrilling trails. The 7stanes trails, spread across several forests, provide a variety of challenges for riders of all skill levels. If you’re looking for thrills in beautiful surroundings, you can’t do it better than on these trails!
Exploring Scotland without a car can be an adventure in itself, and with some thoughtful planning, you can make the most of your journey. Here are my top 10 tips to help you navigate Scotland efficiently:
- Embrace Public Transport: Scotland has an extensive public transportation network, including buses, trains, trams, and ferries. Invest in an “Explorer Pass” or “Spirit of Scotland Travel Pass” for unlimited travel on trains and buses, making it cost-effective and convenient.
- Plan Ahead: Research your routes and schedules in advance. Scotland’s remote areas may have limited service, so knowing your options and booking tickets early can save you time and stress.
- Be Flexible: While planning is essential, be open to spontaneity. Scotland’s landscapes are full of hidden gems, so allow yourself to make detours or explore off-the-beaten-path attractions when they catch your eye. Just don’t forget to check what time the last train to your next destination is at so you don’t get left behind!
- Download Transport Apps: Many transportation companies in Scotland have apps that provide real-time updates on schedules and disruptions. Download these apps to your smartphone for easy access to information on the go. Trainline is my go-to for checking train schedules, disruptions, and booking tickets.
- Pack for the Weather: Scotland’s weather can be unpredictable. Pack layers, waterproof clothing, and sturdy, comfortable shoes for outdoor adventures. Umbrellas are handy, but be prepared for windy conditions!
- Accommodation Planning: Ensure your accommodations are conveniently located near public transportation hubs or within walking distance of attractions. This saves time and minimizes the need for additional transportation, especially if you’re moving on to new destinations every day or two. You’ll save valuable time to explore more of each location.
- Use Visitor Information Centres: Scotland’s visitor information centres are incredibly helpful. Drop by for maps, advice, and local insights. They can assist you in planning your daily activities when time is limited.
- Respect Local Culture: When using public transport or interacting with locals, remember to be polite and respectful. Scots are known for their friendliness, and a simple “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Thank the bus driver as you’re leaving, and have your tickets ready for inspection on the train!
- Try Guided Tours: Guided tours can be an excellent way to explore Scotland without a car. Whether it’s a walking tour of Edinburgh or an organized bus tour to the Highlands, these experiences provide valuable insights into Scotland’s history and culture.
- Enjoy the Scenic Routes: Many of Scotland’s train and bus journeys offer breathtaking views. Keep your camera handy and enjoy the ever-changing landscapes outside your window. Grab a window seat if you can!
A Last Word…
There you have it, your ultimate guide to getting around Scotland without a car. Whether you want to explore the highlights of the country by train or challenge yourself to a 500-mile bike ride, there are plenty of ways to get from A to B without driving.
How to get to the Highlands from Glasgow?
To venture from Glasgow to the enchanting Highlands, simply board ScotRail’s West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban, Fort William, or Mallaig. This iconic rail route offers spectacular views, passing through scenic landscapes where no roads have ever been built. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey as you immerse yourself in the beauty of the Scottish Highlands with an included audio tour of the scenery you pass along the way.
How to get to the Highlands from Edinburgh?
If you’re wondering how to get from Edinburgh to the Highlands, it’s a breeze, with various transport options available. You can opt for a scenic train ride to Inverness or Aviemore, allowing you to relax while soaking in the landscapes. Another choice is a guided bus tour, which offers informative commentary along the way.
If you enjoy driving, embarking on a self-guided adventure is an excellent option for those wondering how to visit the Highlands from Edinburgh (just take care on the single-track roads as you head further north!).
Do you need a car in Edinburgh?
You don’t need a car in Edinburgh as a visitor. The city’s well-connected public transport system, including buses and trams, makes it easy to explore without one. Most major attractions are within walking distance, and taxis and rideshares are readily available. Save yourself the hassle of expensive parking and one-way streets and enjoy the city stress-free.
Daily tickets are available from the city’s main bus operator, Lothian Buses, for just £5 for unlimited travel throughout Edinburgh.
Is Scotland easy to get around in without a car?
Yes, Scotland is quite easy to explore without a car, but it does depend on where you’re going. The country has an extensive public transportation network, including trains and buses, that can take you to many popular destinations. Additionally, guided tours and organized trips provide convenient ways to experience Scotland’s remote beauty without driving. However, if you want to spend a few days exploring some very remote parts of the country, you may find it easier to hire a car.
Can I do whisky tasting in Scotland without a car?
Absolutely! Many whisky distilleries in Scotland are easily accessible by public transport, tours, or even on foot. Several organised tours cater to whisky enthusiasts, providing hassle-free transportation to renowned distilleries. This allows you to try out Scotland’s whisky culture responsibly and without the need for a car. Without a car, you can have a few more drams without worrying about going over the drink-drive limit!
What is the best way to travel around Scotland?
The best way to travel around Scotland without a car is a combination of trains and buses. Scotland has an extensive public transportation network that connects major cities, towns, and even remote areas. Trains offer scenic journeys, while buses reach places the trains might not. There are also various ferries if you want to explore some of the country’s stunning islands.
What is the cheapest way to get around Scotland?
The cheapest way to get around Scotland is often by using public buses. They offer budget-friendly fares and access to various destinations. If you book in advance, inter-city buses can take you from Edinburgh to Glasgow for just £1 (learn more about paying for your trip here)!
The Spirit of Scotland travel pass, offering unlimited travel on buses and trains, can also provide cost-effective options for exploring the country, depending on how much you plan to travel.
What’s the easiest way to get around Scotland?
The easiest way to get around Scotland is by using the extensive train network. Trains connect most parts of the country (although changes may be required), offering a comfortable and efficient mode of transportation. Guided bus tours will take you to popular tourist destinations—often more than one during your trip.
Is there a hop on hop off bus in Scotland?
Yes, Scotland offers several hop-on-hop-off bus tours in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow. These tours provide a convenient way to explore key attractions at your own pace, with the flexibility to disembark and rejoin the tour at designated stops. It’s a great way to see the sights without the need for a car, and you’ll learn a thing or two about the city as you travel.
Even if you don’t listen to the commentary, you’ll still be able to catch a ride to the next attraction you want to visit!
What is the most walkable city in Scotland?
Edinburgh is often considered the most walkable city in Scotland. Its compact layout allows you to explore historical sites, charming streets, and vibrant neighbourhoods on foot. You’ll find everything from iconic landmarks to hidden gems within walking distance, making it a pedestrian-friendly city to discover. Scotland’s smaller cities like Perth and Stirling are also easy to get around on foot.
Can you do the NC500 without a car?
Scotland’s North Coast 500 (NC500) route, sometimes known as Scotland’s Route 66, is not easy to complete without your own transport, be it a car, motorcycle, or motorhome. Public transport is pretty limited along many sections of the route, sometimes running only once or twice a week. If you’re going to be without a car in Scotland, it’s best to explore some of the many locations suggested above instead.