Whether you want to take a budget bus ride up north, a direct train to London or a short flight to Europe, Scotland’s transport network should be able to get you where you want to go.
If you’re lucky enough to be under 26 and are spending some time in Britain you should get yourself a 16-25 railcard. These cost £24 for a year and will save you a third on most train fares (there are a few restrictions to do with weekday trains before 10am). To get one you’ll need a valid passport and proof of a UK address. Go into your local train
station with your ID, proof of address and a passport photo. For more details visit: www.16-25railcard.co.uk.
All the major cities are easy to get to by rail, with regular services that link Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling. Train services are mainly provided by First ScotRail. ScotRail’s Freedom of Scotland Travelpass is a flexible multi-ticket covering the whole country and is valid on the Scottish rail network as well as ferry services to and from the islands and a selection of coach routes. It is valid for travel on any four out of eight consecutive days and costs £105. A pass for any eight out of fifteen consecutive days travel is £140. Contact ScotRail for further details: 08457 550 033, www.firstgroup.com/scotrail
There are some extraordinarily scenic journeys to be made by train. Perhaps the most famous is from Fort William to Mallaig, a journey made on a Jacobite steam train that traverses the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, that features in the Harry Potter films. Getting out to some rural beauty spots is more difficult and many are best reached by car. To get to the islands, such as Mull or Lewis, a ferry journey is usually required.
Though getting to some of Scotland’s far-flung corners can be tricky by rail, coach companies like Megabus and Scottish Citylink offer services throughout Scotland that help connect popular tourist destinations such as Edinburgh, Stirling and Inverness. Thanks to the road bridge, Citylink can also take you to Skye: the service departs from Glasgow three times a day, cost £34.60 one-way and takes six hours. Connecting services with CalMac ferries are available for onward travel to the islands, or even on to Northern Ireland from Stranraer. Visit: www.citylink.co.uk, www.megabus.com/uk or
call 08705 50 50 50 for booking information.
Many travelers choose to follow the beaten path on a bus tour. There are several companies that offer oneday, weekend or longer tours of Scotland that either focus on popular
destinations or are themed to take in a variety of connected experiences. Many tours tend to follow the same loop: starting out from Edinburgh, heading up through Stirling and
Pitlochry, rounding Inverness (with the option to escape to Orkney and the northern islands) before heading back down the west coast via Oban and Fort William and eventually
ending up in Glasgow.
The main Scottish airports are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Prestwick (32 miles out of Glasgow) and Aberdeen. There are smaller airports in the north and on the islands. Be aware that, with these short flights in remote locations, you may find yourself in a very small plane landing on something that resembles a beach. Flights within Scotland can be pricey, even with advance booking. Edinburgh to Shetland, for example, could cost you over £200 return. Until 26 October 2008, internal flights are operated by Loganair in partnership with British Airways (0844 493 0787, www.britishairways.com). Thereafter the service will be run by FlyBe (0871 700 2000, www.flybe.com).
The major budget airlines are Easyjet and Ryanair, who both fly to destinations around Europe. Booking early is advised. If you’re quick off the mark, flights can be very cheap. A flight to London from Glasgow, for instance, can be bought for around £30 including taxes.
Taking a ferry to one of the Western Isles is a great experience, even when it’s raining. The chances are you’ll be on a Caledonian MacBraye ferry (nicknamed CalMac) which sail to 24 destinations on Scotland’s West Coast. If you’re travelling from Glasgow you can often buy your rail and ferry ticket together from First Group. A good way to save money on the ferries is with a Hopscotch pass which is valid for one month from first use and on a number of set routes. The Island Rover pass is a more flexible option, allowing unlimited travel on any route in the network, although you still have to make reservations. An 8-day Rover pass, for example, costs £53 per person and £253 per car.
You can catch the train to the Arran, Bute and Cowal ferries from Glasgow’s Central Station. These rail services are usually linked in with the ferry timetable so you won’t miss your connection. To get to the Oban ferries you’ll need to take the train from Glasgow Queen Street Station. For more information visit www.calmac.co.uk or www.firstgroup.com
There are about 16 Scottish websites that advertise carshare opportunities. The Scottish Government and local authorities fund a number of these. Two of the main ones are trip Share (www.tripshareedinburgh.com) and Car Share (www.carshare.com), both of which are free to use, you simply split travel costs.
The Caledonian Sleeper is an overnight train that gently chugs its way up and down the country joining London and the North West with the main towns and cities in Scotland. The most cost effective option is to travel Standard Class in a twin berth, air-conditioned cabin. Single travellers may have to share with someone of the same sex. Prices start from £19 one way booked, although you’ll have to be mighty quick to secure that kind of price.Advance tickets for sharing a twin berth cabin from London to Edinburgh are usually
£49.50 advance and £115 standard open.
Tickets can be booked online at www.thetrainline.co.uk, at stations, at rail accredited travel agents and from First ScotRail telesales on 08457 550 033. Overseas visitors to Scotland can book their tickets online in advance of travel on First ScotRail trains. The new facility accepts credit and debit cards and purchased tickets can be collected from your departure station when you arrive in Scotland. See www.firstgroup.com/scotrail for more details.
You can also, of course, take a normal train service from London to Scotland (www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com). Booking in advance will save you money.
The overnight bus is the considerably less glamorous option. At best, it will take nine hours to get you from Edinburgh to London, usually longer. You can choose between National Express and Silver Choice Travel Coaches. National Express: 08705 808 080, www.nationalexpress.com, tickets must be purchased seven days in advance, are not flexible and cost between £30 and £38 one-way.There are also daytime services, although these are not always direct.
Silver Choice Travel Coaches: a Scottish company that offers travel from Edinburgh or Glasgow to London for between £29-£45 return – 01355 230 403, www.silverchoicetravel.co.uk