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However, those tours cost money. A lot of it. And that’s not easy for me as a budget traveler. So while I can’t write this from experience of taking all those tours, there is one tour I took which I am extremely happy with.
This is a very unique bus tour. First of all, it’s free. Yep. Just like the wonderful walking tours I take in every city I travel tour, this tour operates on a donation basis, and only asks for you to donate for what you feel the tour is worth. Having said that, I’ll tell you why this tour is worth a lot!
The route of the tour covers quite a few great destinations. First is the Forth Bridge and Queensferry Crossing for a photo opportunity. Next is the Wallace Monument for a short hike or free shuttle to the top and enough time to either tour the tower or get some great photographs. Then it’s past the famous Sterling Bridge and onward to a photo opportunity at Sterling Castle (an actual tour through the castle would take too long and put a price tag on the tour). The next destination is a short stop on Loch Menteith for another photo opportunity and time for a stroll on the shore, depending on the height of the water. Lunch is in the quaint town of Aberfoyle, where you have a large choice of locations to eat at, a cheap wool shop and a chance to see a sheepdog show. Then, after another photo opportunity at Three Lochs Peak, you get to the highlight of this tour. Delivering lunch…to the Hairy Coos. Hairy Coos are Scotland’s own breed of cow, which you’ll find out more about on the tour. But suffice to say, the cows run to get fed when they see the bright orange bus approaching. After that it’s a wonderful stroll along Loch Katrine, and finally a visit to Castle Doune of Monty Python fame.
The tour leaves from Deacon’s House Cafe at the top of the Royal Mile close to The Hub (castle turned ticket center). The tour leaves every day at 8:45 AM and returns around 6 PM. I would recommend getting there around 8:30, but most important is booking the tour. While there is a very small chance you’ll be able to get on the tour the same morning because of a cancellation, the tour actually books up several days in advance. So make your on-line reservation NOW.
Lastly, Alastair is the bus driver and tour guide, and a fantastic one at that. He adds in tons of great information, personal experiences, history, trivia and comedy throughout the tour, all of which you’ll just have to take the tour to experience, since I’ll never spoil the tour by giving things away.
If you’re going to Scotland for any length of time, this tour is a must.
Then for the extra special tour, there is TourSkye on the Isle of Skye. I will briefly point out that the Isle of Skye has nothing to do with the name of my website, although the spelling did influence my parent’s choice of the spelling of my name.
The Isle of Skye has the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in Europe (granted, I haven’t been to Iceland yet). While you can take a tour from Edinburgh, I don’t recommend it. As mentioned above, the best tour in Edinburgh is the Hairy Coo. If you want to get to the Isle of Skye, my read more on the best and cheapest way here.
Once you get to Portree, there are two main tour options: SkyeBus and TourSkye. My friend took the SkyeBus while I got a tour with TourSkye. We compared notes on our tours afterwards, and notwithstanding the fact that her bus broke down, we agreed that I got the better tour – by far.
There are two tours offered, one to the “best” destinations on the island and the other to the “fairy” destinations. I got the tour to the fairy destinations. And here’s what made it so good.
At the fairy pools, you will be given enough time to actually jump into the pools, get great photos, etc. You will get to see the Talisker Distillery and possibly even eat at the Oyster Shed, depending on the driver that day. You’ll get to see the backside of Dunvegan Castle (better than paying the £11 to enter) and while you won’t see the Fairy Flag, you’ll see the Fairy Bridge where the flag was exchanged. You might get a couple more destinations (I think my tour guide actually customized the tour a bit for me), but the final destination will be the Fairy Glen. Words will never suffice for how beautiful they are.
The tour leaves every morning from Portree from 9:30, but they will also pick you up in Bradford at 9:00 or Kyleakin at 8:30. The cost is £40 per tour, which will be the best money you’ve ever spent for a tour. At least it was for me.
I actually didn’t have the usual drivers of the tour so I can’t really rate them, although I did find out that one is the grandmother of Danny McAskill (world-class stunt BMX rider). Instead I was amazingly lucky enough to get Rob, the owner of the company. Rob was fantastic, and I was able to see how well he handled the other visitors of the tour with wonderful care and attention to detail.
As I said, there are two tours with TourSkye and my recommendation would be to go for two days and take both tours. For the rest of the information on where to eat, stay and the rest, see my post on the Isle of Skye.
Whichever tour you take, or if you take none, I will end this by one final comment. You must get to Scotland if you are a traveler. This country is fantastic, and it’s not for nothing that I now call Edinburgh my new home.