Scotland is a ruggedly beautiful country that attracts tourists from around the world. If you are planning your perfect 1-2 week long Scotland trip & begin asking around friends & online groups (e.g. VisitScotland forums) for tips, you are likely to hear these phrases more than others:
- Just rent a car & drive around
- Oooh definitely go to Skye, it’s breathtaking
- You can easily spend a week in Edinburgh
- Take a day-long Highland tour to see the Highlands
Along with these phrases, there will be hundreds of helpful tips inviting you to go to Place X to see the real Scotland. These are the gems you want to action on but they are scattered across the country making it a planning nightmare.
Here’s the catch: You can’t drive or are not confident driving on the “other side”.
Fret not. We are going to provide a sample week long itinerary based mostly on public transit. This begins and ends at Edinburgh and covers Highlands, Lochness, Skye, Mull & Loch Lomond park. We’ve have done a version of this trip ourselves & will share pictures. Note that this writeup does not include Isle of Arran which we recently visited & highly recommend as well as some other Scotland trips we have written about. Arran in particular is definitely some of the Best of Scotland.
The further reading section opens links to our detailed blogposts in a new tab. You’ll find local recommendations, public transport options & more pictures on them.
Time to read: 10 minutes
Scotland public transit resources:
- Trains (Booking) : www.scotrail.co.uk
- Train Timetables : www.scotrail.co.uk/plan-your-journey/timetables-and-routes
- Scottish Citylink (Long Distance Buses) : www.citylink.co.uk
- Scottish Citylink Timetables : www.citylink.co.uk/timetables.php
- CalMac (Ferry Company) : www.calmac.co.uk
- CalMac Timetables : www.calmac.co.uk/calmac-summer-timetables
Day 1: Edinburgh to Inverness (via Glencoe, Loch Ness)
This is a hack that worked out really well for us. Take the 1 Day Highland Tour from Edinburgh that will cover Callander, Glencoe & Loch Ness but ask the driver to drop you off at Inverness. We recommend this because
- Glencoe is almost impossible to reach by public transit & unless you want to ski or live in that area, the 10-15 minute photo-op is ample time to see the Three Sisters view.
- The cost of the bus tour (£44) is about the same as the Anytime train ticket (£42.30) from Edinburgh to Inverness
- Does the Loch Ness boat tour (special group pricing) before reaching Inverness which saves you the hassle of taking a bus round trip from Inverness to Loch Ness.
The “Real Scotland” trip will now commence from Inverness. As you’ll reach town by about 5 PM, take a stroll along the river Ness or visit the cathedral.
Day 1 Pictures
Day 1 Further Reading
Inverness Highland Games
Day 2: Orkney Islands Day Trip from Inverness (feat. Skara Brae)
Although the day trip is stressful (14 hours out of which 7 are spent just to reach Orkney), we feel it is rewarding as it packs in a taste of the isles. We were especially mesmerised by Skara Brae, a 5000 year old stone age neolithic village & the Ring of Brodgar, a circle of standing stones also from the same era. We highly recommend staying for 2-3 days in Orkney if seeing Scotland at a leisurely pace, it is one of the country’s hidden treasures.
Tip: In front of the Italian Chapel is the Orkney Wine Company shop. They specialize in delicious fortified wine & have samples for you to try. It’s some of our favourite wine to this day, give it a try.
Tip: This day can be skipped to spend an additional day in the Isle of Mull (coming up)
Day 2 Pictures
Day 2 Further Reading
Day 3: Inverness to Skye (via Eilean Donan castle)
The Citylink bus 917 from Inverness to Skye leaving at 9:15 AM is your direct connection to Skye. However, that would mean missing out on the Inverness – Kyle of Lochalsh Rail line, one of the most dramatic rail journeys possibly in the world.
Our recommendation: Take the 11 AM train to Kyle of Lochalsh (Timetable : Highlands -> North Highlands) and arrive at 1:30 PM. Pre-book a taxi to take you to Eilean Donan castle (about £15) & enjoy one of the most spectacular castles Scotland has to offer. Catch the 3:53 PM bus 915 towards Uig & reach Portree by 5:15 PM (in time for dinner & a harbour walk). This schedule is valid all days of the week at the moment.
Day 3 Pictures
Day 4: Skye Day Trip (feat. Fairy Glen, Kilt Rock, Old Man of Storr)
As mentioned in our Isle of Skye writeup, we feel Skye Scenic tours is the best way to see Skye. The guide Donald really knows the island in & out and the tour is very well paced. We cannot recommend him enough. If you are driving around, pick from the Skye attractions below (TripAdvisor links) to make your own adventure.
- Fairy Pools
- Fairy Glen
- Dunvegan Castle
- Old Man of Storr
- Talisker Distillery & Oyster Shed
- Neist Point Lighthouse
Tip: From this year, Skye Scenic tours is doing a 4 day Western Highlands tour that starts at Inverness & ends at Fort William (a part of our itinerary). The Outer Hebrides are an additional component of that tour that we have not yet done. Worth considering.
Day 4 Pictures
Day 4 Further Reading
Day 5: Isle of Skye to Isle of Mull (via Fort William)
Similar to Day 3, this is an entire morning of sitting in a bus that hugs the West Coast of Scotland (sit on the right side of the bus for the view). Leave Portree on bus 915 at 7:45 AM for Fort William & change there to the 918 for Oban. Once in Oban (scheduled 12:27), treat yourself to a seafood spread found next to the train station as there is more than an hour left for the ferry. Catch the 1:50 PM CalMac ferry to Craignure or a fast shuttle to Tobermory with Coastal Connections. Spend the rest of the day relaxing & taking in the fantastic views from Mull.
Tip: As described in our Isle of Mull writeup, Shieling Holidays are a great base for Mull but are also self catering. Stock up on groceries in Oban before getting on the ferry if you plan to hire out a Shieling for a couple of days.
Tip: Mountain enthusiasts can get off at Fort William & take on Ben Nevis to round their trip off. If they have a spare day, they can also consider Ben More in Crianlarich as it’s on the way back to Glasgow.
Day 5 Pictures
Day 6: Isle of Staffa & Iona (feat. Fingal’s Cave, Iona Abbey)
By this time, the reader’s eyes are glazing over & the traveller’s body is getting tired. But if the weather is right, we think that Day 6 will re-energize you simply with its views. Staying at Craignure makes the trip to Staffa & Iona less challenging.
Take the 8:25 AM 96/496 bus from Craignure to Fionnphort & the switch over to a Staffa Trips / Staffa Tours boat to Staffa. On the way back, choose to get off at Iona & walk over to the abbey. Catch the 3:19 PM bus back to Craignure.
Tip: Stock up on Seafood sandwiches from the shack in Fionnphort & bring them back for dinner, they’re really good. Ask the bus driver if it’s possible to use the fridge on the bus.
Day 6 Pictures
Day 6 Further Reading
Day 7: Back to Glasgow/Edinburgh (via Loch Lomond)
We’re going to squeeze out some more sightseeing on the last day by visiting Duart Castle close to Craignure for a bit more than an hour. Have your lunch near the ferry terminal & catch the 1:40 PM ferry to Oban. Then catch the 2:41 PM train to Glasgow Queen Street followed by a final train to Edinburgh (if needed).
Day 7 Pictures
P.S. Phew, thanks for reading till the very end, we know this was a long read & it’s amazing that you have pored through the details & the pictures. We are passionate about travel & want to spread the word of the true beauty of Scotland & other parts of the world that can be accessed even if one cannot drive. If you enjoyed reading this, consider following us on Facebook / Instagram.