If you’re visiting Scotland without a car, I’ve got you covered. In this guide, I break down Scotland’s extensive public transport network and how to use it to make the most of your trip. 

As a non-driver, I always rely on public transport to get around Scotland. It takes some extra time and planning, but I’ve been able to reach even the most remote places without a car. You don’t just have to stay in the cities!

The easiest way to get around Scotland without a car is to stick to places on the train network. I also recommend using small-group tours if you want to cover more ground. 

Journey planners like Traveline Scotland are essential for car-free Scotland itineraries and remember to always check your route before travelling!

Read on for an in-depth look at Scotland’s public transport, alternative ways I use to get around and the best places to visit without a car. 

The public transport network in Scotland 

The front of a large ferry from on deck. A blue Scottish flag waves in the breeze with the shadow o an island appearing across the sea.
Visiting Scotland without a car isn’t complete without catching the ferry!

Scotland has an extensive public transport network which can take you to most places you want to go. Services include: 

  • Trains 
  • Buses
  • Coaches
  • Ferries
  • Glasgow subway 
  • Edinburgh trams 

I’ll explain how each of these works, what they’re like onboard and how to book them in more detail below. 

How to travel Scotland by train 

Photo taken from a platform of tracks and a train pulling in with the blue ScotRail logo. Visiting Scotland without a car is easier with the train.
Waiting for the train at Glasgow Central

The main rail company in Scotland is ScotRail. There are others but they mostly operate between Scotland and England. These are Cross Country, LNER, Avanti West Coast, Lumo and the Caledonian Sleeper. 

If you’re travelling within Scotland, you will most likely be on a ScotRail train. So, where does it go? Pretty much everywhere. 

Its national routes go from Thurso down to Gretna Green and from Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast to Aberdeen on the east coast. There’s even a route to Carlisle in England. 

Its central routes operate within Scotland’s central belt, joining Glasgow and Edinburgh and going as north as Loch Lomond and as south as the Scottish Borders. 

Some of the most scenic train lines in Scotland include: 

West Highland Line 

It runs from Glasgow to Oban or Mallaig. You travel along Loch Lomond and up into the Highlands. The train splits and one half goes to Oban in 3 hours 20 minutes and the other half goes to Fort William and Mallaig in 5 hours 30 minutes. I love this journey!

Kyle Line 

Starting in Inverness, this route travels from coast to coast across the highlands before arriving at Kyle of Lochalsh. It takes about 2 hours 40 minutes 

Stranraer Line 

Starting from Glasow, this route goes southwest into Dumfries and Galloway (Robert Burns country). It travels along the coast before arriving at Stranraer in approx. 2 hours 25 minutes. 

Far North Line 

This line takes you from Inverness along the North Sea coast up to Thurso, the UK’s most northerly mainland point in about 4 hours. 

Carlisle Line 

Travelling south from Glasgow, the route takes you through Dumfries and Galloway and Gretna Green before crossing the border to arrive at Carlisle in England in about 2 hours 25 minutes. 

Borders Railway 

Starting from Edinburgh, the route heads south to the border town of Tweedbank in less than an hour. 

Amenities onboard

Standard class is pretty standard on ScotRail. Each seat has a plug socket by the window or under the table which is handy for charging your phone. There are toilets on board and free WIFI. You can reserve your seat if you book in advance. 

On long-distance train routes, there is a food and drink trolly service but I wouldn’t rely on it. I’ve only seen it once or twice when travelling across Scotland by train. 

As for bikes and dogs? Up to two well-behaved dogs are allowed on the train if they’re kept on a lead. 

There is storage space for bikes on every train. 

Most of them don’t require you to reserve in advance but some long-distance journeys do as they can get busy during peak times. Always check before bringing your bike. 

Free WIFI

Charging point

Toilets

Food/Drink 

Dogs/Bikes Allowed

Yes

Yes

Yes

Trolley

Yes 

How to book 

For longer journeys, book in advance if you can as you can get much cheaper fares. You can also buy your ticket at the station on the day, using the ticket office or self-service ticket machines. 

I’ve bought my tickets on the day of travel before and I’ve not found a huge price difference. Overall, train prices are much cheaper in Scotland than in England. 

To book tickets in advance, use Trainline or book directly with ScotRail. Don’t forget to add your railcard if you have one. 

Travel around Scotland by bus 

Inside a regional bus in Scotland. The back of blue seats with orange poles in the bus.
Back of the bus!

Scotland is served by regional and city-based buses and intercity coaches. In most cases, they provide an alternative to the train or take you where trains don’t go. 

The main bus operators are First and Stagecoach but most areas are served by local, independent operators. 

They run more frequently in main towns and cities while rural areas have more reduced services. Always plan your route ahead of time so you don’t get caught out. 

Main coach services include National Express, Citylink and Megabus. They tend to serve long-distance routes between major towns and cities. 

Amenities onboard 

Most local buses outside of cities don’t announce each stop so make sure you’re following your route live on a map so you know when to ring the bell and get off. 

Well-behaved dogs are usually allowed on regional buses but bikes are not.  

Coaches have comfortable seating, plug sockets, fold-up tables, overhead reading lights, a toilet and sometimes WIFI. Large luggage can be stored in the compartments inside the coach. Dogs and bikes are not allowed. 

Free WIFI

Charging point

Toilets

Food/Drink 

Dogs/Bikes Allowed

Yes (Coaches)

Yes

Yes (Coaches)

No

No (except dogs allowed on regional buses)

How to book 

If you’re travelling on a regional bus (not Citylink, National Express or Megabus coaches), you can pay your fare to the driver on board. They take cash and contactless payments. Pay by card if you can as they can’t give you change. 

Some regional buses have apps where you can book tickets in advance. I don’t recommend it as I tried it once and couldn’t load my ticket without 4G!

For Citylink, National Express and Megabus, it’s best to book in advance as tickets can be expensive and routes are busy. You can book directly with both operators. 

Not sure what bus network you need? Plan your route with Traveline Scotland. The journey planner will tell you. 

How to use the ferries in Scotland 

A large white ferry docked in the harbour with a blue sky behind. Visiting Scotland without a car is easy with the ferries.
The CalMac ferry to the Isle of Arran

Ferries serve the main islands and large lochs in and around mainland Scotland. The main operators are: 

Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) 

CalMac sails between the Inner and Outer Hebrides as well as the Firth of Clyde, West Highlands and West of Scotland. 

Northlink Ferries 

Northlink sails between Aberdeen, Scrabster, Orkney and Shetland. 

Pentland Ferries 

Pentland Ferries serves the route between Gills Bay in Caithness and the Orkney Isles. 

Orkney Ferries 

Orkney Ferries exclusively serves destinations in the Orkney Isles. 

Shetland Ferries 

Shetland Ferries sails inter-island routes in the Shetland Isles. 

Western Ferries

Western Ferries is a small operator which sails between Hunter’s Quay (Dunoon) and McInroy’s Point (Gourock) on the Firth of Clyde. 

Winter and summer ferry timetables vary so always check them before you travel. 

Amenities onboard 

Large passenger ferries tend to have indoor and outdoor seating. CalMac has a cafeteria, a lounge for dogs and a coffee lounge. Northlink has additional cabins and sleeping pods for overnight journeys. 

Some smaller ferries have limited amenities onboard but crossings are short so it’s not too bad. Remember to wear layers and a waterproof jacket if you’re outside as it gets cold and windy. 

Bikes and well-behaved dogs are allowed onboard. 

Free WIFI

Charging point

Toilets

Food/Drink 

Dogs/Bikes Allowed

Yes (large ferries)

Yes (large ferries)

Yes (large ferries)

Yes (large ferries)

Yes

How to book

As a foot passenger, you have much more flexibility than if you have a car, but I still recommend booking ferry tickets in advance wherever possible. Popular routes get busy so it’s a good idea to secure your spot.

Some minor routes only have the option to pay when you board but that is quite rare. If you buy tickets at the time of travel, make sure you’re there before check-in closes which is usually 30 minutes before departure. You can pay by card. 

If you’re booking online, you get the best rates if you book directly with the ferry company rather than a third-party provider. 

Editor’s tip: train times often line up with ferry sailings – e.g. train from Glasgow to Ardrossan Harbour to get the ferry to the Isle of Arran – it can be a bit tight though so don’t dawdle!

A note on travel passes and rover tickets 

An empty four seater surrounding a table on a ScotRail train.
Travel passes can help you save money but I’ve never used them

There are a handful of travel passes and rover tickets which can help you save money if you’re visiting Scotland without a car. 

I’ve not used them as they have restrictions which just make my itineraries more complicated than necessary. I’ve found public transport pretty cheap in Scotland, anyway! 

Travel passes and rover tickets: 

  • Rail and Sail – a train and ferry combined ticket. it doesn’t guarantee you a place on specific ferries
  • Scottish Grand Tour – applies to four days of travel over eight consecutive days 
  • Highland Rover Travel Pass – four days of unlimited travel over eight consecutive days through the Highlands 
  • Central Scotland Rover – three days of unlimited travel around the Edinburgh-Glasgow area 
  • Spirit of Scotland Travel Pass – four days’ travel over eight days or eight days’ travel over 15 days across all of Scotland 
  • Rail and Bus – a rail and bus combined ticket 

Travel around Scotland with tours 

A white minivan with the Rabbie's tours logo is parked outside of a stone building with a patch of grass at the front.
Small group tours are a hassle-free way to see Scotland

Some places in Scotland are just too difficult to reach without a car. This is where tours can fill the gaps. 

Tours are the easiest and most hassle-free way to travel. Your itineraries are done for you and you don’t have to worry about transport or parking. It’s a win-win!

They aren’t for everyone though. You don’t have as much flexibility or control over where you go and you’re with other other people which you might find a blessing or a curse. 

I always prefer small group tours of no more than 16 people. The experience still feels personal without the big coaches and crowds. You could do private tours but the price is significantly higher.  

I use GetYourGuide and Viator to find tours to places I’m interested in. They make it easy to compare companies and prices. The main tour operators in Scotland are: 

Rabbie’s 

They offer small group tours of most of Scotland’s main highlights on day trips and multi-day excursions. 

I’ve used them to visit Loch Ness and Glencoe. Tours depart from most major cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness. 

Tmberbrush Tours 

Similar to Rabbie’s, Timberbrush does award-winning tours of the Scottish Highlands and islands. 

They can take you to Skye, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Glenfinnan and more. They depart from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. 

Haggis Adventures 

Ideal for budget backpackers, Haggis Adventures runs one to 10 days tours around Scotland to places like Orkney, Shetland, Glencoe, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. Tours start from Edinburgh and Inverness.  

Highland Explorer Tours

Highland Explorer Tours runs award-winning coach day trips and multi-day tours of the Scottish Highlands and islands. They have multi-lingual audio guides. 

Heart of Scotland Tours 

Heart of Scotland Tours runs small group tours around Scotland from one to seven days starting from Edinburgh. They also offer private tours. 

Wild Scotland 

More of a database, Wild Scotland connects nature lovers with sustainable outdoor activities around Scotland whether it’s cycling, wildlife watching, hiking or sailing. 

Byway Travel 

Byway Travel does self-guided, car-free itineraries using public transport. You choose where you want to go and they create a bespoke itinerary just for you with all the tickets you need. 

They’re available on WhatsApp for the duration of your trip. I’ve used them before for my no-car Scotland itinerary and they were great at taking the stress out of navigating public transport. 

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Other car-free transport options in Scotland 

An undergroud tunnel with train tracks and posters on lit up white walls. Two people stand waiting on the small platform on the subway in Glasgow.
Waiting for the subway train in Glasgow

Cycling 

Cycling is a popular way to explore Scotland both as multi-day itineraries and one-day excursions. 

There are some spectacular cycling routes, including the North Coast 500, Fort Augustus to Fort William and the Hebridean Way. One of my favourite experiences was hiring e-bikes and cycling around the Trotternish Peninsula on the Isle of Skye.  

You can hire bikes all over Scotland and cycle for the day or you can bring your own. Trains like the Caledonian Sleeper and ScotRail have bike storage but you’ll need to reserve them ahead of time. 

Tram & Subway 

Edinburgh has a tram network which runs from the airport to Newhaven through the city centre. You can buy a ticket at the ticket machines at every stop. 

Glasgow has a subway which runs in a circuit through the west end and city centre. It’s divided into two lines: Inner Circle and Outer Circle. Both stop at all 15 stations across the city. 

To use it, you need a Subway Smartcard which you can buy at the customer service counter at the subway station. It costs £3 and you can top it up or buy a ticket. 

I just used it for one day so I paid the all-day fare of £3.10. An adult single fare for one journey is £1.60. 

Flights 

Scotland has a handful of large airports on the mainland and some smaller ones dotted around the islands. The country is small enough to get around the mainland without flying and you couldn’t even if you wanted to. 

If you’re travelling to some of the remote islands, flying can be useful. Routes to places like Barra (Outer Hebrides), Benbecula (Outer Hebrides), Orkney and Shetland tend to be served by Loganair. 

They’re pretty expensive so it’s worth weighing up cost and time in comparison to ferries. I would look at more sustainable travel options in Scotland, personally ;). 

How to plan your car-free travel in Scotland

A white boat for cruising sits on the water at a dock with tree covered hills behind on Loch Lomond.
Loch Lomond has handy water taxis

Now you know all the public transport options, how do you plan it all? I’ve found Traveline Scotland to be the best journey planner. It’s a bit clunky to use but it’s more accurate than Google Maps, particularly in rural areas. 

I find Google Maps useful for navigating when I’m walking in between places like a bus stop or train station. I can also use it to work out where I am in real time. 

For hiking in Scotland, I prefer Walkhighlands as it has detailed trails with descriptions that are easy to follow. It also has a GPS but I’ve never used it. 

If you can’t see a way to get to a place or you just want to make things easier for yourself, look at guided tours. They tend to hit up a lot of popular places like Glencoe and depart from major cities. 

Places to visit in Scotland without a car

The ruins of a catle sits in front of a beach across the bay. Yellow gorse flowers in the foreground. Isle of Arran is one of the best places to visit in Scotland without a car.
The beautiful Lochranza Castle on Arran!

Scotland’s cities are the easiest to visit without a car as they have the best public transport infrastructure but that doesn’t mean they’re the only option. I’m a nature lover so I’m always trying to get outdoors. 

Below are a few of my favourite places in Scotland which I’ve reached without a car. This is just the start though. 

If you have somewhere in mind, check Traveline Scotland, have a look at tours on GetYourGuide or read my Scotland itineraries. They’re all car-free. 

Edinburgh 

Scotland’s capital is very walkable and most attractions in the city centre are within easy reach without public transport. You can also get around using trams, buses, ridesharing bikes and trains to the outskirts. 

The city is a good base for exploring the Scottish Borders and the east coast. I have a guide to the best day trips from Edinburgh without a car and you’ll be surprised at how many you can do!

Glasgow 

Glasgow is bigger than Edinburgh but the city centre is fairly walkable. There are lots of safe cycling paths if you want to save your feet plus buses, trains and the subway can take you further. It’s another great base for day trips around Scotland.

The city’s main train stations, Glasgow Queen Street and Glasgow Central are a short distance from each other so it’s easy to go between them. Be careful you don’t get them mixed up when booking your trains!

Fort William 

Hailed as the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK,’ Fort William is a popular town in the West Highlands. 

It resides in the shadow of the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, and it’s also the finish point for the iconic West Highland Way, a 96-mile hiking route, starting from Milngavie. 

Fort William is reachable via the ScotRail train from Glasgow and the Caledonian Sleeper from London. It has a major bus station with buses connecting Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. 

Inverness 

Located on the northeast coast, Inverness is the largest city in the Scottish Highlands. Its two most famous neighbours are Loch Ness (eight miles away) and Culloden Battlefield (five miles away). 

Inverness is fairly easy to get around without a car. A bus can take you to Culloden and I recommend doing a day tour for Loch Ness. 

The city has an airport with national and international routes. There’s a train station served by ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper, giving you access to some parts of the Scottish Highlands without a car. 

Isle of Skye 

The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s most famous island. It has iconic landmarks including the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, Fairy Pools and Fairy Glen. 

Skye is reachable by Citylink bus from Glasgow (it goes through Fort William too). Buses go to Uig and Portree, the main town. 

The island is harder to navigate with public transport so if you want to see as much as possible, I recommend doing a day tour from Portree. 

Isle of Arran 

Located in the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Arran is Scotland’s seventh-largest island. It’s known for its award-winning whisky distillery, castles and standing stones. 

Arran is an easy day trip from Glasow and you don’t need a car. Take the train from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan Harbour and the CalMac ferry to Brodick. From there, you can find buses serving the north, south and centre parts of the island. 

The buses and trains align with the ferry sailings but they still aren’t that regular. Focus on one part of the island rather than trying to see it all. I went to Lochranza. 

Isle of Mull 

Another island on the west coast of Scotland, Mull is known for its whisky, wildlife and the colourful fishing town of Tobermory. 

The south part of Mull is reachable by ferry from Oban and the north is reachable by ferry from Kilchoan. 

I recommend the latter route if you’re staying in the main town of Tobermory. I took a bus from Fort William to get there. 

Balloch

Balloch is a town which sits at the very bottom of Loch Lomond. 

It’s accessible via the ScotRail train from Glasgow plus it’s served by buses and water taxis, making it an easy base to explore Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. 

I stayed in Balloch as it had the most accommodation options. From there, I took a bus to nearby Luss and a water taxi to Balmaha, home of the iconic Conic Hill. 

Final thoughts on visiting Scotland without a car 

A large ferry crosses a body of water on a blue but cloudy day. The hills of Mull can be seen in the distance in Scotland.
The CalMac ferry coming into Oban

I hope you’ve found this car-free guide to travelling around Scotland helpful. 

With apps like Google Maps and Traveline Scotland, getting around Scotland using public transport is easy to do but journeys can take longer. 

You’re at the mercy of timetables and might be waiting around more than you would like for your connections. 

It’s a slower form of travel so don’t try to see everything! Tours can help plug the gaps in harder-to-reach places. 

Always, always, always check timetables and route information before you set off as public transport is subject to cancellations and delays in the UK.

And finally, scroll down to find some more car-free Scotland travel guides and inspiration!


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