Most domestic air services are geared to business needs, or are lifelines for remote island communities. Flying is a pricey way to cover relatively short distances, but it's certainly worth considering if you're short of time and want to visit the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland.
Airlines in Scotland
Eastern Airways Flies from Aberdeen to Stornoway and Wick.
Loganair The main domestic airline in Scotland, with flights from Glasgow to Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh and Tiree; from Edinburgh to Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh and Wick; from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, Sumburgh and Tiree; from Inverness to Benbecula, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Sumburgh; and from Stornoway to Benbecula. It also operates interisland flights in Orkney.
Hebridean Air Flies from Connel airfield near Oban to the islands of Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and Islay.
Scotland is a compact country, and travelling around by bicycle is a perfectly feasible proposition if you have the time. Indeed, for touring the islands a bicycle is both cheaper than driving (for ferry fares) and more suited to the islands' small sizes and leisurely pace of life. For more information, see www.visitscotland.com/see-do/active and the Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk/scotland/national-cycle-network) pages about the National Cycle Network.
The Scottish government has introduced a scheme called the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on most ferry crossings. This reduces the price of ferry transport to what it would cost to drive the same distance by road, in the hope of attracting more tourists and reducing business costs on the islands. Fares on many crossings have been cut by as much as 60%, and signs are that the scheme has been successful, with visitor numbers well up.
Caledonian MacBrayne Serves the west coast and islands. A comprehensive timetable booklet is available from tourist offices and online. There's a summer timetable and one for winter, when services are reduced. CalMac offers 28 Island Hopscotch tickets, giving reduced fares for various combinations of crossings; these are listed online and in the timetable booklet. Bicycles travel free with foot-passenger tickets.
Northlink Ferries Ferries from Aberdeen and Scrabster (near Thurso) to Orkney, from Orkney to Shetland and from Aberdeen to Shetland.
Scotland is served by an extensive bus network that covers most of the country. In remote rural areas, however, services are geared to the needs of locals (getting to school or the shops in the nearest large town) and may not be conveniently timed for visitors.
First (www.firstgroup.com) Operates local bus routes in several parts of Scotland.
Scottish Citylink (www.citylink.co.uk) National network of comfy, reliable buses serving main towns. Away from main roads, you'll need to switch to local services.
Stagecoach Operates local bus routes in many parts of Scotland.
National Entitlement Card (www.entitlementcard.org.uk) Available to seniors and people with disabilities who are Scottish citizens; allows free bus travel throughout the country. The youth version, for 11- to 26-year-olds, gives discounted travel, and SYHA members receive a 20% discount on Scottish Citylink services. Students do, too, by registering online.
Scottish Citylink Explorer Pass Offers unlimited travel on Scottish Citylink services (and selected other bus routes) within Scotland for any three days out of five (£49), any five days out of 10 (£74) or any eight days out of 16 (£99). Also gives discounts on various regional bus services, on Northlink and CalMac ferries, and in SYHA hostels. Can be bought in the UK by both UK and overseas citizens.
Car & Motorcycle
In Scotland, drive on the left.
A non-EU licence is valid in Britain for up to 12 months from time of entry into the country. If bringing a car from Europe, make sure you're adequately insured.
Car hire in the UK is competitively priced by European standards, and shopping around online can unearth some great deals, which can drop to as low as £23 per day for an extended hire period. Hit comparison sites like Kayak to find some of the best prices.
The minimum legal age for driving is 17, but to rent a car, drivers must usually be aged 23 to 65 – outside these limits special conditions or insurance requirements may apply.
If planning to visit the Outer Hebrides or Shetland, it'll often prove cheaper to hire a car on the islands rather than paying to take a hire car across on the ferry.
The Highway Code, widely available in bookshops, and also online and downloadable at www.gov.uk/highway-code, details all UK road regulations.
- Vehicles drive on the left. Seatbelts are compulsory if fitted; this technically applies to buses, too.
- The speed limit is 30mph (48km/h) in built-up areas, 60mph (96km/h) on single carriageways and 70mph (112km/h) on dual carriageways.
- Give way to your right at roundabouts (traffic already on the roundabout has right of way).
- Motorcyclists must wear helmets. They are not compulsory for cyclists.
- It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone or similar device while driving.
- The maximum permitted blood-alcohol level when driving is 50mg/100mL (22mg per 100mL of breath); this is lower than in the rest of the UK but equivalent to the limit in many other countries.
- Traffic offences (illegal parking, speeding etc) usually incur a fine for which you're given 30 to 60 days to pay. In Glasgow and Edinburgh the parking inspectors are numerous and without mercy – never leave your car around the city centres without a valid parking ticket, as you risk a hefty fine.
Scotland's roads are generally good and are far less busy than those in England, making driving more enjoyable.
Motorways (designated 'M') are toll-free dual carriageways, limited mainly to central Scotland. Main roads ('A') are dual or single carriageways and are sometimes clogged with slow-moving trucks or caravans; the A9 from Perth to Inverness is notoriously busy.
Life on the road is more relaxed and interesting on the secondary roads (designated 'B') and minor roads (undesignated), although in the Highlands and islands there's the added hazard of sheep wandering onto the road (be particularly wary of lambs in spring).
Petrol is more expensive than in countries like the US or Australia but roughly in line with the rest of western Europe. Prices tend to rise as you get further from the main centres and are more than 10% higher in the Outer Hebrides. In remote areas petrol stations are widely spaced and sometimes closed on Sunday.
Hitching is fairly easy in Scotland, except around big cities and in built-up areas, where you'll need to use public transport. Although the northwest is more difficult because there's less traffic, long waits are unusual (except on Sunday in 'Sabbath' areas). On some islands, where public transport is infrequent, hitching is so much a part of getting around that local drivers may stop and offer you lifts without your even asking.
It's against the law to hitch on motorways or their immediate slip roads; make a sign and use approach roads, nearby roundabouts or service stations.
Hitching is never entirely safe, however, and Lonely Planet doesn’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk.
Scotland's train network extends to all major cities and towns, but the railway map has a lot of large, blank areas in the Highlands and the Southern Uplands where you'll need to switch to road transport. The West Highland line from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, and the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line, offer two of the world's most scenic rail journeys.
National Rail Enquiry Service (www.nationalrail.co.uk) Lists timetables and fares for all trains in Britain.
ScotRail (www.scotrail.co.uk) Operates most train services in Scotland; its website has downloadable timetables.
Costs & Reservations
Train travel is more expensive than the bus, but it's usually more comfortable.
Reservations are recommended for intercity trips, especially on Friday and public holidays. For shorter journeys, just buy a ticket at the station before you go. On certain routes, including the Glasgow−Edinburgh express, and in places where there's no ticket office at the station, you can buy tickets on the train.
Children under five travel free; those five to 15 years usually pay half-fare.
Bikes are carried free on all ScotRail trains, but space is sometimes limited. Bike reservations are compulsory on certain routes, including the Glasgow−Oban−Fort William−Mallaig line and the Inverness−Kyle of Lochalsh line; they're recommended on many others. You can make reservations for your bicycle from eight weeks to two hours in advance at main stations, or when booking tickets by phone or online.
There's a bewilderingly complex labyrinth of ticket types. In general, the further ahead you book, the cheaper your ticket will be.
Advance Purchase Book by 6pm on the day before travel; cheaper than Anytime tickets.
Anytime Buy any time and travel any time, with no restrictions.
Off Peak There are time restrictions (you're not usually allowed to travel on a train that leaves before 9.15am); relatively cheap.
It's always worth checking the ScotRail website for current family or senior offers.
Discount railcards are available for people aged 60 and over, for people aged 16 to 25 (or mature full-time students), for two over-16s travelling together, and for those with a disability.
You'll find they pay for themselves pretty quickly if you plan to take a couple of long-distance journeys or a handful of short-distance ones. Fill in an application at any major station. You'll need proof of age (birth certificate, passport or driving licence) for the Young Persons and Senior Railcards (proof of enrolment for mature-age students) and proof of entitlement for the Disabled Persons Railcard. You'll need a passport photo for all of them. You can also buy railcards online, but you'll need a UK address to have them sent to.
ScotRail has a range of good-value passes for train travel. You can buy them online, by phone or at stations throughout Britain. Note that Travelpass and Rover tickets are not valid for travel on certain (eg commuter) services before 9.15am weekdays.
Central Scotland Rover Covers train travel between Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Berwick, Stirling and Fife; costs £39 for three days' travel out of seven.
Spirit of Scotland Travelpass Gives unlimited travel on all Scottish train services (with some restrictions), all CalMac ferry services and on certain Scottish Citylink coach services (on routes not covered by rail). It's available for four days' travel out of eight (£139) or eight days' out of 15 (£179).
Highland Rover Allows unlimited train travel from Glasgow to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig, and from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, Aviemore, Aberdeen and Thurso. It also gives free travel on the Oban/Fort William–Inverness bus, on the Oban−Mull and Mallaig−Skye ferries, and on buses on Mull and Skye. It's valid for four days' travel out of eight (£85).