You can do a lot by public transport in Scotland. It does get more sparse as you get away from the cities and in some places you really do only have the option of car, organised tour or spending a lot of time on very sparse public transport (or hitch-hiking – in the remote rural areas, this is perfectly normal: usual safety advice applies)
Rail – Ferry – Bus
There is one single source that is supposed to work for all public transport. Timetables. Journey Planner. It’s a website, app and there is a telephone number.
It’s not bad but it can give some slightly odd routes at times so it’s worth just checking each leg of the journey if it doesn’t sound right (from my house to Aberdeen to the south of me, I’m sometimes directed north to pick up a bus that them misses my village – but as that entails me crossing a dual carriageway, no thanks. I’ll wait an extra 10 minutes and stay alive).
http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ – the official UK site.
https://www.thetrainline.com/ – UK wide train travel. claims to offer cheapest seats.
https://www.scotrail.co.uk/ – as the name suggest, Scot Rail (note that some cross border services won’t be listed) but there are some Freedom passes (see end) and discounts available for the Over 50s on ScotRail.
https://www.calmac.co.uk/ – CalMac (also known as Caledonian MacBrayne – a very historic amalgamation of companies) operates most of the west coast ferries.
http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/ as the name suggests operates ferries to Orkney and Shetland from Scrabster (by Thurso, Caithness) and Aberdeen.
http://www.pentlandferries.co.uk/ provides a shorter crossing to Orkney from Gills Bay, Caithness
There are also some smaller ferries of interest to tourists and travellers.
http://www.jogferry.co.uk/Home.aspx John O’Groats to Orkney – passengers only.
http://skyeferry.co.uk/ – summer only heritage ferry on the orginal Skye crossing from GlenElg to Kylerhea.
http://www.lochabertransport.org.uk/TransportinLochaber/PublicTransport/Ferries/CorranFerry.aspx – small ferry crossing Loch Linnhe south of Fort William so avoiding a long drive to Morven (for the short ferry to Mill at Lochaline) and Ardnamurchan Point.
http://www.knoydartferry.com/ – the only scheduled service into Knoydart – no road access. http://www.isleofulva.com/visitor-information/, off Mull – on demand service.
There is also a small summer ferry operating from Nigg to Cromarty across the Cromarty Firth. Link to follow.
Long distance buses (coaches)
http://www.citylink.co.uk/ Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Oban, Skye, Dundee and points in between.Fort William, Ullapool, Wick, Thurso. Portree. Kyle of Lochalsh, … the list goes on. (see Travel Pass at end)
http://uk.megabus.com/Route%20map.aspx More useful for travel to-from Scotland but timetable includes Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow
http://www.nationalexpress.com/home.aspx Buses from England to Edinburgh/Glasgow including from Heathrow.
Finding individual timetables here can be a mess – so http://www.travelinescotland.com/welcome.do might be your best bet.
You can try https://www.stagecoachbus.com/plan-a-journey or http://www.firstgroup.com/journey-planner
But there are major, near monopoly or monopoly providers in the major cities and sometime they have ood dedicated information sources or even a app for your smartphone
Edinburgh – Lothian Regional Transport is publicly owned and delivers a dense network at reasonable prices. Free WiFi too!
Glasgow – Strathclyde Passenger Transport information http://www.spt.co.uk/ There is also an underground affectionately known as the clockwork orange and a fairly dense network of suburban rail. Aberdeen is dominated by FirstBus http://www.firstgroup.com/aberdeen
Inverness – Highland Council lists operators but you are better off with travelineScotland.
Citylink, who run long distance buses, do Explorer Passes 3 out of 5 days £41, 5 out of 10 £62, 8 out of 16 £93 http://www.citylink.co.uk/explorerpass.php
Or there is the Sprit of Scotland Rail/Bus/Ferry pass https://www.scotrail.co.uk/offers/travel-passes/spirit-scotland-travelpass
• Four days unlimited travel over eight consecutive days for £134.00
• Eight days unlimited travel over 15 consecutive days for £179.70
Best buy depends on where you want to go – and how you really want to travel. Often the best advice is to do less long distance travel.