Getting Around Scotland
There are several small airports in the north of Scotland that are served by flights from Glasgow and, in some cases, from Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh as well. These include Barra, Benbecula, Kirkwall (Orkney), Sumburgh (Shetland), Stornoway and Tiree. The islands are accessible by ferry too, but if your time is limited, it may be worth taking a flight. The landing strip at Barra is especially spectacular – planes land on the beach! Flybe (www.flybe.com) operates most routes.
The main motorways within Scotland connect Edinburgh with Glasgow (M8); Edinburgh with Stirling (M9); and the Forth Bridge, near Edinburgh, with Perth (M90). The main cross-country road, the A9, connects Perth with Inverness and Thurso. National Tourist Routes are brown-signposted scenic roads.
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In general, the internal trunk road network is better and more direct on the east coast, and roads north of Inverness tend to be slower and often single track. Snow is common in winter, especially in the Highlands, and motorists are advised to follow local advice concerning weather conditions. The main cross-country road, the A9, connects Perth with Inverness and Thurso.
Roads in Scotland are classified as in the rest of the UK. Categories include: motorways; A roads, linking major towns and cities; B roads, which connect to A roads and link smaller roads to the network; classified unnumbered roads, which tend to be minor roads; and unclassified roads, which are local roads.
All the major international car hire companies are represented in Scotland's cities and larger towns.
It's easy to hail a taxi on the street or pick one up at a taxi rank in the larger cities. Taxis in Edinburgh and Glasgow are metered black hackney cabs, so are highly visible. In smaller towns, you may need to call up a taxi in advance; hotels and tourist information centres will be able to provide numbers.
Scotland has a wealth of quiet roads suited to cycling. Highlights include the Border Loop in the south, the northwest Highlands, the route from Barra to Lewis (with ferry crossings) and the Glasgow-Inverness stretch of Sustrans Route 7. Most cities and larger tourist towns offer bike hire. Scotland's mountain biking is world class too. Downhill junkies can test their mettle on the UK's world cup course at the Nevis Range ski area. The 7stanes, meanwhile, are seven superb courses in the south of Scotland.
Scottish Citylink (tel: 0871 266 3333; www.citylink.co.uk) is Scotland's main coach operator, connecting over 200 towns and cities across the country. The Explorer Pass offers savings if you're planning on making a few journeys.
Speed limits are 48kph (30mph) in urban areas, 113kph (70mph) on motorways and dual carriageways, elsewhere 80kph (50mph) or 97kph (60mph) as marked. Seat belts must be worn by the driver and front seat passenger. Where rear seat belts have been fitted, they must also be worn. It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. The minimum driving age is 17.
The AA (www.theaa.com) and RAC (www.rac.co.uk) are able to provide a full range of services to UK members touring the UK. These organisations can also assist people who are travelling from abroad with maps, tourist information and specially marked routes to major events or places of interest. In the event of a breakdown, call the AA on 0800 887 766 or RAC on 0844 273 7172.
National driving licences are valid for one year. Drivers must have third party insurance and vehicle registration documents.
All the major towns and cities have bus services. Glasgow also has an underground and a suburban train network. Edinburgh is building a controversial and much delayed tram line, which is due for completion in 2014.
ScotRail (tel: 0845 755 0033; www.scotrail.co.uk) operates train services across Scotland. There are good services connecting all the main towns, particularly in the Edinburgh-Glasgow area. Many of the routes that pass through the Highlands (such as Perth-Inverness, Inverness-Kyle of Lochalsh and Glasgow-Fort William-Mallaig) are spectacular. The network extends right up to Thurso and Wick in the extreme north of the country.
Train tickets tend to be cheaper if booked in advance. Even if you book up to 1800 the previous evening, you’ll usually save money. Railcards offer up to a third off travel for families, travellers over 60, young people and disabled travellers (www.railcard.co.uk).
Freedom of Scotland pass: allows four days’ travel within eight days or eight days’ travel within 15 days. The pass covers journeys on all trains within Scotland, ferry travel on Caledonian MacBrayne and Argyll Ferries (20% discount available on Northlink Ferries), and numerous coach routes. Available to UK residents from ScotRail (www.scotrail.co.uk) or to overseas residents from BritRail (www.britrail.com).
Highland Rover: allows four days’ travel within eight days on trains, ferries and coaches in the Highlands. Available from ScotRail or BritRail.
Central Scotland Rover: allows three days’ travel within seven days on trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh along with unlimited travel on the Glasgow Underground. Available from ScotRail or BritRail.
Ferry services operate between the mainland and all the Scottish islands. Caledonian MacBrayne (tel: 0800 066 5000; www.calmac.co.uk) operates the largest network of ferries on the River Clyde and west coast, serving many islands, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Northlink Ferries (tel: 0845 600 0449; www.northlinkferries.co.uk) operates services to Orkney and Shetland; from Aberdeen to Lerwick (some via Kirkwall, Orkney); and from Scrabster to Stromness (journey time - 1 hour 30 minutes).