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Scotland itinerary help - to group tour or not to group tour?

Scotland itinerary help - to group tour or not to group tour?

Old Nov 7th, 2013, 12:57 PM
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Scotland itinerary help - to group tour or not to group tour?

Hi everyone!

I’ve wanted to see Scotland since I was a romantic teenager, yet I’ve never been, despite all the trips I’ve taken over the years. And so here I am, planning my trip to Scotland for summer 2014.

I’ve been reading and researching for a couple of months now, and I’m more torn than ever, so I’d love some honest opinions, tips, advice, anything really.

From everything I’ve been able to glean, public transportation in the highlands of Scotland isn’t exactly awesome and since I’ll be travelling solo, renting a car for the whole trip would be quite expensive. I looked into various small tour options, and found one I quite liked with Rick Steves. I enjoyed a tour I did with them a couple of years ago in Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. Bunking with another solo traveler to save pennies was a plus in my book, and I’m still in close contact with my roomie and several other tour mates.

But I have problems with the Rick Steves itinerary and their tour dates. While pretty comprehensive, the Rick Steves itinerary doesn’t include the Isle of Skye or Eileen Donan, both of which I would really like to see. I could do an additional tour there with a company like Rabbies, but most of the sights included in the 4-day Rabbies tour, except Skye and Eileen Donan, will have already been covered in my Rick Steves tour and it seems quite a large expense just to see those. Glasgow isn’t included either with Rick Steves, but that will be very easy to do on my own after the tour. And then there are the dates. I want to go in August so I can see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but between family and work commitments around that time, my departure and return dates are pretty much set in stone. While I’m across the pond, I was hoping to go to London again, see a couple of the sights I missed my first trip and one that was covered in scaffolding (I’m looking at you, or wanting a look at you, Tower of London), then go north to York, explore the Yorkshire countryside, its ruins, moors and dales, stop very, very briefly in Durham and then hike along Hadrian’s Wall before taking the train to Edinburgh. I’ll be rushing to see all that I want to see in England and make it to Edinburgh in time for the tour departure date.

So, what should I do? I could start with the Rick Steves tour of Scotland and then go south, freeing up a bit more time for England, but I’m thinking I’d like to build up to Scotland, my dream destination. I’m afraid London would just feel blah after that, especially since I’ve already been there and I’ll be tired from a long trip. Or I could not do the Rick Steves tour at all. I could instead do a couple of Rabbies tours. There may be a bit of overlap here and there, but it won’t be as drastic as after a Rick Steves tour. Or should I try to go it completely alone? Or maybe the Isle of Skye and Eileen Donan aren't worth a look, I should bone up on vitamins to get it all done and stop worrying? What say you all?

And thanks in advance! (Especially for reading my endless post, if you've made it this far.)

julie_a is offline  
Old Nov 7th, 2013, 01:04 PM
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I didn't read your whole post but my initial thoughts are save the ££/$$ of the RS tour, go to Edinburgh and Glasgow and maybe another one or two places on your own and take a Rabbies multi day tour to get to the highlands/islands/more remote places. They are cheaper, use smaller causes and are VERY good.
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Old Nov 7th, 2013, 01:31 PM
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I lived in Edinburgh for 18 years, until last year, and always heard the Rabbie's tours were very good. And you'll have a much more intimate and 'Scottish' experience with them than with a Rick Steves tour.

Do you have a particular reason for wanting to go to the Tattoo? IMO it was the least interesting of the 8 Edinburgh summer festivals. The International Festival and some elements of the Fringe, however, were my highlights of the year and are among the things I miss most about Edinburgh.

Out of interest, how are you planning to see "the Yorkshire countryside, its ruins, moors and dales"? (Also amongst my favourite parts of Britain - I'm originally from a neighbouring county & lived in Yorkshire for 10 years.) You'll really need a car for that.

And how long do you have for the whole trip? It sounds as though you need at least 3 weeks.
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Old Nov 7th, 2013, 02:06 PM
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"Eileen Donan" - isn't she Irish, not a Scot?

Eilean Donan is the castle. It's A site in Scotland, but not the reason to rework a whole itinerary.

The Scotophiles who pop on the board and have used a tour will recommend Rabbies, as one already has. This is a consistent theme: Rabbies does good tour.

Thank goodness for the double "b" in the name . . .
BigRuss is offline  
Old Nov 7th, 2013, 06:57 PM
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I would like to pitch in here with a few comments. I have made several trips to Scotland where I drove myself everywhere. Had a great time and swore I would never go on a group tour then last year due to circumstances booked a tour with http://www.adderleytravel.com. I had an awesome time. I actually enjoyed handing over all the decisions and the small tour size was very friendly and intimate. Tim is very knowledgable informative about tours.
I would second the thoughts on Eilean Donan, highly overrated. If you decide to tour on your own you can take a train from Edinburgh to Stirling. This is an awesome castle and easy day trip.
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Old Nov 7th, 2013, 07:54 PM
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Easy enough to visit Skye without a tour and without driving. Take the train (very scenic route) from Glasgow to Mallaig and the ferry from there. Taxis or buses on the island itself. I took the bus back to the mainland over the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh and the train from there to Edinburgh.
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Old Nov 7th, 2013, 09:11 PM
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IMO not easy to do Skye using public transportation. Taxis are expensive and they don't hang around Armadale or Kyle of Lochalsh hoping to pick-up passengers. You'll need to book in advance. Bus schedules are not really well-suited for sightseeing although they do make runs between the main villages. I've taken the train to Mallaig several times but always arrange for a car rental when I arrive at Armadale.
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Old Nov 7th, 2013, 10:19 PM
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Julie_a - I don't follow your reasoning that renting a car would be quite expensive. You can easily get a small economy sized car (perfect for one person) for around £18-25 per day in Scotland (plus fuel of course). If you insist on automatic transmission that might add a bit more.

If you do a comparison with an organised tour - and take out any meals/accommodation that you'd have to pay for in any case - the car hire option is considerably cheaper. Not only that but you have total flexibility to do what you want when you want.

There's plenty of anxiety-ridden people round here who start hyper-ventilating at even the thought of having to drive themselves around Scotland, but any competent driver should be able to cope with this.
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Old Nov 8th, 2013, 02:49 AM
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I did Scotland solo and one of the best choices I made was to take a 3 day tour with Rabbie's tours. They were great!
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Old Nov 8th, 2013, 02:22 PM
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Edinburgh's very busy in August, with the Festival and all its adjuncts. It's not too early to book; the hotels fill up early (having raised their prices).

Agree, Eilean Donan is a romantic-looking castle, but not a must-see, especially inside. The view of ED is worth a detour, yes, but not a trip. But since it's near Kyle of Lochalsh and the bridge to Skye, it's an easy detour.
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Old Nov 8th, 2013, 10:30 PM
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Well each to his own, but I think Eilean Donan castle is well worth a visit, and I don't get why it's so often dismissed on this forum. Yes the inside is largely an early 20th century reconstruction but so is Warwick Castle in England which posters here usually insist is a "must see" (whatever that is). Just zipping past and taking a few photos would miss quite a bit IMO.
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