I’ve had a lot of guests in Edinburgh asking me if a day tour from Edinburgh to Loch Ness was worth it. Usually I would say that Loch Ness is too far to comfortably travel to in a day, but I’d never done it myself…until now. Thanks to a great trip with Gray Line Tours, I was able to find out firsthand.
Gray Line Tours
I found out that Gray Line was one of the very first tour companies operating in Edinburgh, chartered back in 1998. There are nearly two dozen companies now, with more staring every year. However, Gray Line is still the only company which makes individual pickups from your hotel or B&B throughout Edinburgh.
Gray Line offers 8 different one-day tours around Scotland…as far as you can get from Edinburgh in a day. Some of the options include Loch Lomond, the Borders, St. Andrews or a magical Highlands tour including a ride on the Hogwarts Express.
The coaches (buses) used by Gray Line are the bigger ones (40+ seats). This does limit where the bus can get to, and it can be a busier tour, but there are advantages too. Our guide Brian has been with the company for 18 years, and he knew more about Scotland and the tour route than any other guide I’ve had on other tours.
As attraction prices are not included, the cost of the tours are kept low. At each stop, you have the option of paid and free attractions. Gray Line picks cheaper attractions as well, while not sacrificing quality. But if you’re on a budget, you can stick to it and still see the country.
How Far is it From Edinburgh to Loch Ness
Loch Ness is one of the most impressive lakes in the world. Here are some of the facts. It’s so big that it has more water than all other bodies of water in the UK combined, and could hold the world’s population…twice. A constant temperature below the surface creates a completely unique biosphere, and underground caves could hold just about anything. Due to the peat (semi-decayed plant matter) that the water is filtered through, the water has a blackish color, and visibility is limited to just a few feet. Thus, Loch Ness’ primary attraction, the Loch Ness monster, can never fully be disproven.
Is it worth it as an attraction? Absolutely? If you only have one day in Scotland to get up and see the lake, should you? Definitely.
Taking the most direct route, Loch Ness is 160 miles from Edinburgh. Driving in Scotland is not like driving on the freeways in the US. The direct route takes 3.5 hours on a good day without traffic. The better route is through Glencoe which is five miles longer but takes an additional half an hour due to the curving roads.
If you’re going to be driving, expect to spend at least 7-8 hours behind the wheel. If you conquer the right-side steering and narrow, windy roads in Scotland (which isn’t that hard to do), you’ll still have about three 3,842 spots along the way that you’ll want to stop at for photos. Besides, you won’t get the great information from a tour guide if you go on your own.
Gray Line Loch Ness Tour
The Gray Line tour from Edinburgh to Loch Ness runs every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pick up from your designated spot will be shortly before the tour leaves. A shuttle will take you to the bus. Food is not included on the tour, so bring some snacks or a packed lunch if you want. Just no fish and chips – have consideration for your fellow passengers.
The main attraction of the tour is to Loch Ness, where you will have enough time to take the cruise or to explore the town if you’re on a budget. The hour boat tour is with Cruise Loch Ness with their new catamaran for £13.50 ($19).
Depending on the time and traffic conditions, the bus will make a couple other stops around Scotland for photo opportunities. The best one is in Glencoe, one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the country.
The other stops on the route are the bathroom and coffee breaks (although there is a clean toilet on the bus). The driver will choose stops which are less crowded with other tours. My guide went to the Trossachs Woollen Mill outside Callander, Spean Bridge Woollen Mill and Pitlochry.
Booking with Gray Line
The Loch Ness and Loch Lomond tours run daily, while the other six tours run one day a week (except for the Harry Potter Tour to Alnwick Castle which runs twice). All tours leave at 9 a.m. except for the Edinburgh to Loch Ness tour (8 a.m.) and Hogwarts Express tour (6 a.m.). Most tours are £36 ($51). The Loch Ness tour is £47, Loch Lomond is £39 and the Hogwarts Express tour is £110 which includes the cost of the train ticket. Discounts are available for children, students and seniors.
- Website: Gray Line Scotland
- Phone: +44 (0)131 555 5558
- What to bring: Comfortable shoes, waterproof jacket, and optional snacks and drinks.
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Activities in Edinburgh
Hopefully you’re planning to spend more than a day in Scotland. Here are some other activities to fill your trip.
- Begin Your Journey in Scotland with a Secret Food Tour in Edinburgh
- What the Da Vinci Code Didn’t Show You About Rosslyn Chapel
- There’s a Cat Cafe in Edinburgh!
- Enjoying the Happiest Place in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe
- Camera Obscura in Edinburgh Brings Out the Kid in You
- Experience the Underground Preservation of Mary King’s Close
- Escape Edinburgh: The Most Fun Activity in Edinburgh’s New Town
- Finding the Best Ghost Tours in Edinburgh
- 9 Free Attractions to Visit in Edinburgh
- 10 Activities for The Perfect Day Trip from Edinburgh
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.