Getting Around Scotland

The majority of Scots live in the central belt, which spreads from Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh, virtually on the east coast. Public transport here is efficient and places are easily accessible by train and bus. Off the main routes, public transport services can be more scarce, particularly in more remote parts of the Highlands and Islands.

With careful planning, everywhere is accessible and your clients will have no trouble getting to the main tourist destinations. In most parts of Scotland, especially if the scenic backroads are taken, the low level of traffic makes driving wonderfully stress-free.

Air Travel

Scotland has five international airports: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Prestwick and Aberdeen and Inverness. Scotland also has numerous minor airports which are very useful for reaching far-flung islands.  

Click on the links below for useful information about Scotland’s main airports:

There are a wide range of interconnecting flights between each of these and the main hubs. Compared to budget carrier prices, those on internal flights can seem pretty expensive on the whole, however the time saving compared to other travel methods may make it worthwhile.

Most flights are operated by Flybe. For inter-island flights in Shetland (excluding Fair Isle), you need to book direct through Loganair. Other services between the mainland and several of the major islands are provided by Eastern Airways. Also, Loch Lomond Seaplanes provide an unforgetable travel experience as you fly by sea plane over some fo the most beautiful scenery in Scotland.

Coach

All Scotland's major towns and cities are served by long-distance bus services, known across Britain as coaches, the majority of which are run by the national operator, Citylink. There are various discount cards on offer for those with children, those under 26 or over 50 and full-time students: contact Scottish Citylink for more on these. Coaches are generally cheaper than the equivalent train journey and, as a result, are very popular.

For busy routes and travel at weekends and peak season suggest to your clients that it’s best to buy tickets in advance from the website or any bus station in the UK, as this will guarantee them a seat. Make sure that you check the baggage allowance restrictions, as coaches often have limited space for larger items such as prams, charge for other extra baggage, and have rules on transporting items such as bicycles.

There are a multitude of different coach providers offering a range of different services throughout Scotland – Scottish Citylink can provide more information here. The main operators, First, Stagecoach, and National Express, and a number of independent operators, run local bus services within Scotland between the main cities, towns and villages. City and town services are frequent, while in rural areas there is a reduced service. For information on all services in and around Scotland’s towns and cities, visit the TravelineScotland website.

Some rural areas, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, are only served by the Postbus network, which sees numerous minibuses carrying mail taking between 3 and 10 fare-paying passengers. Details of Postbus routes and timetables can be found on the Royal Mail website.

If your clients are travelling a lot in England and Wales too, they might be better off with a National Express Brit Xplorer Pass, which gives them unlimited travel throughout Britain on National Express coaches.

Cruising

As a cruise destination, Scotland is undoubtedly up there with the best. Breathtaking scenery, stunning cities, haunting history, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a variety of ports large and small make Scotland the perfect cruise destination.

Scotland’s cruise ports are ideally located for inclusion in Scotland itineraries, transatlantic re-positioning, or for combining with cruises to Iceland, Faroe Islands or the Norwegian Fjords and Europe.

Driving

If your clients want to cover a lot of the country in a short time, or just want more flexibility, they will need their own transport.

In order to drive in Scotland, non-UK citizens will need to supplement their national driving licence with an international driving permit, available from state and national motoring organizations at home for a small fee.

If they’re bringing their own car into the UK they should also carry their vehicle registration or ownership document at all times. Furthermore, they must be adequately insured, so they need to check their existing policy.

 

Ferry

Scotland has over sixty inhabited islands, and nearly 50 of them have scheduled ferry links. Most ferries carry cars and vans, and the vast majority can - and should - be booked as far in advance as possible.

Ferries on the River Clyde and to the Hebrides

Caledonian MacBrayne (generally abbreviated to ‘CalMac’) has a virtual monopoly on services on the River Clyde and to the Hebrides, sailing to 21 islands altogether. They have two types of reduced-fare pass. If your clients are taking more than one ferry, it’s worth suggesting the discounted Island Hopscotch tickets. If they’re going to be taking a lot of ferries, they might be better off with an Island Rover, which allows 8 or 15 consecutive days unlimited ferry travel. It does not, however, guarantee a place on any ferry, so booking ahead is recommended.

Ferries to Orkney and Shetland

Car ferries to Orkney and Shetland from Aberdeen and from Scrabster near Thurso are currently run by NorthLink Ferries. Pentland Ferries run a car ferry from Gills Bay, near John o’Groats, to St. Margarets Hope, Orkney, while John o’ Groats Ferries run a summer-only passenger ferry from John o’Groats to Burwick in Orkney. The various Orkney islands are linked to each other by services run by Orkney Ferries.

Shetland’s inter-island ferries are run in conjunction with the local council, and information about routes and timetables can be found on the Shetland Islands Council website.

Other ferries

There are also numerous small operators round the Scottish coast that run day-excursion trips.

Train

Scotland's rail network is at its most dense in the central belt, reducing to a few main lines in the Highlands; these however do link with most of the major ferry ports to the west coast islands. Abellio ScotRail runs the majority of train services, reaching all the major towns, sometimes on lines rated as among the great scenic routes of the world.

Rail Tickets

Your clients can access Scotland’s rail network website here, or buy tickets for Abellio ScotRail trains at stations, from major travel agents, or over the phone and online with a credit card. If the ticket office at the station is closed, they can usually buy a ticket on board from the inspector using cash or a credit card. However, the inspector cannot always issue discounted or special-offer tickets.

Discount Fares, Passes and Apps

Abellio ScotRail trains offers an extensive range of ticketing options with discounts available over a huge array of categories based on for example, age, numbers travelling, advance booking and time of travel, and combining train travel with other transport options.

For details of all the numerous discounted national rail passes running to, from, and around Scotland, visit the National Rail enquiries website.

If Scotland is only a part of your clients’ itinerary, more flexible – if more expensive – options are the various national rail passes which allow unlimited travel across mainland Britain. The only one that can be bought in the UK is the All-Line Rover, which allows 7 or 14 consecutive days’ travel (with discounts for national rail card holders). BritRail passes are only available for purchase before your clients leave their home country online.

If your clients have been resident in a European country other than the UK for at least 6 months, an InterRail pass, allowing unlimited train travel within Britain might be a cost-effective way to travel, if Scotland is part of a longer European trip. This can also be purchased online at the RailEurope website.

Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with 270 rail and coach companies to offer their customers travel to thousands of destinations in and across 45 countries in Europe. Their aim is to bring together all rail, coach and other travel services into one simple experience so your clients can get the best prices and smart, real-time travel info on the go.