Inverness may be capital of the Highlands, but is that status enough to make it a major public transport hub as well?
Why should you rent a car in Inverness?
- Flexibility — for all the obvious reasons, a hire car will give you far more flexibility than go by train or bus will.
- Timing — however scenic the train lines out of Inverness may be, most services only operate a few times each day, so it is difficult to get off en route to take photos and then jump back on again.
- Eilean Donan Castle — again, this is somewhere that with good planning can be reached by coach or a combination of bus and train. The village of Dornie sits on the A87 about 10 miles east of Kyle of Lochalsh. Driving gives you the flexibility of following a similar route to the Kyle line through Glenn Carron (A890), and then returning along the A87 through Glen Shiel.
West Coast and Isle of Skye
- Go West — a car will give much more flexibility for exploring the West of Scotland, especially if you head towards Ullapool and beyond, where there are no trains, and buses are extremely rare, except when operating in conjunction with ferry services.
- Skye — although it is possible to explore the Isle of Skye using buses, they only operate on an infrequent basis. To make the best use of the fantastic scenery Skye has to offer, including the famous Cuillin Hills, a car is essential.
- Loch Ness — if you drive there, you really will just see a large body of water. To capture the spirit of Scotland’s most famous monster, you’ll be much better off on a cruise or organised tour (and we don’t recommend guided tours very often). These can easily be arranged from the centre of Inverness.
- Bike it! If you drive on the A9, chances are that you will see many cyclists taking part in the gruelling John O’Groats to Land’s End cycling challenge. If this gives you inspiration, why not hire a bike in Inverness, and take one of the many scenic circuits which can be explored from the Highland capital — just make sure you take a good map to avoid getting caught out on a long dead-end road.
- Great Glen Way – The Caledonian Canal to the head of Loch Ness is a good place to start your Inverness bike tour – but the more adventurous can continue all the way down to Fort William on the Great Glen Way – and it is even possible to book one way bike rental for this route!
- Whisky tours — there are numerous distilleries within range of Inverness, and taking a coach tour of any of these locations means you don’t have to worry about sampling the product on the way.
Beyond Inverness by train
- The Kyle line. This line alone is a good enough reason not to hire a car for a visit to Inverness. Often rated as one of the most scenic rail lines in the world, together with the West Highland line out of Glasgow Queen Street, it really is one of Scotland’s must see railway routes.
- Plockton. This lovely fishing village, originall set up as a planned community to help stem the flow of emmigration, has been immortalised in the Hamish Macbeth TV series, and is an ideal excursion on the Kyle line.
- Compass covered — unlike nearby Aberdeen, which sits out on the corner of the rail network, train routes from Inverness head out in the direction of all the major compass points — north on the Far North Line towards Wick and Thurso, east towards Aberdeen, south on the Highland Line to Perth, continuing to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and west on the Kyle line to Kyle of Localsh. Out of these four major routes, at least three are scenic for a substantial length of their journey — the line to Aberdeen in our opinion is less impressive.
- Limited road routes — despite Inverness being remote relative to the rest of the UK, it still offers an excellent selection of rail routes, which roughly match the range of routes which are available by road. The main exception to this is the A82, which heads south west to Fort William, and beyond Glasgow, although scheduled coach services are available on this route. Therefore the relative advantage of having a car is much less than it might be at other locations. Is it worth the cost?
- Combine train and bus – e.g. to Eilean Donan Castle, by tain, allow a good 3 hours, using the Kyle Line and a coach to Dornie. Alternatively, the direct coach journey from Inverness to Dornie takes just under 2 hours. Note – mixing one-way coach and railway journeys can be more expensive than making return trips by the same route, but if you book in advance you can get good deals, and you will see more this way.
- The superb Dunrobin Castle even has its own station (Dunrobin), but the castle is only open during the summer months. It takes just over 2 hours to get there by train – or 90 minutes by bus, but the train is more scenic, especially as it heads inland up Dornoch Firth (the detour explaining the additional journey time).
- Take the train up. Although recent years have seen huge improvements in the range of flights to Inverness, there is still a much wider choice of flights to either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Why not take the train in at least one direction, and enjoy the scenic Highland Line – the good stuff starts north of Perth, so it doesn’t matter whether you fly into Edinburgh or Glasgow. There is also one direct train each day from London King’s Cross to Inverness, the Highland Chieftan, taking around 8 hours.
Inverness is one of those places where it is easy to automatically think a hire car is the best option, but there are plenty of reasons to think again.
The Kyle Line on its own is one of them, and because there are so many other options for enjoying this part of the world without needing a hire car, our recommendation is to try and do without one.