Small Group Tours vs Coach Touring in Scotland
Comparison between mini-coach and coach tours
There are many Scottish tour companies offering a variety of itineraries around many parts of Scotland and choosing one can be a frustrating experience since most have similar offerings. One of the most important criteria in choosing a Scottish tour operator is, without a doubt, the type of vehicle that they use.
Many of the larger tour companies in Scotland and most of the ones where the tour originates somewhere else (either in other parts of Britain, Europe or Canada and the US) will use regular size coaches that sit 25+ people. These tour coaches can sit large groups of up to 50 people. There are a handful of 5-star Scottish tour operators, however, like Rabbies or Timberbush who use 16 seat mini-coaches. This means that the maximum tour group size is 16, effectively turning a regular sightseeing tour into a small group tour.
Benefits of Touring Scotland by mini-coach rather than Coach
Road network in Scotland
The first thing to remember is that the Highlands of Scotland is a very sparsely populated area. The majority of roads in the Scottish Highlands and in rural Scotland, in general, are narrow, single-track roads marked every half mile or so by passing places used by drivers to let traffic past. It's along these single-track roads that you get to truly experience Scotland at its best and unfortunately, these are not suited for large coaches.
Most of the one day Scottish sightseeing tours take you along main roads because they try to cover as much ground as possible in a 10-12 hour tour. Whereas coaches will have no problem travelling along these roads, they cannot easily make detours and must stick to a fixed itinerary. The 16-seat mini-coaches, however, have the advantage of being able to make quick off-the-beaten track detours to show you a hidden castle or a stunning glen. In essence, with small group tours you have a more flexible itinerary because drivers can and often do make off-the-beaten track detours.
This advantage is even more important on 2, 3, 5 and 7 day tours (and basically any multi-day sightseeing tours of Scotland). It's on these trips that you want a genuine Scottish experience and unfortunately, coach tours cannot deliver that to the same extent mini-coaches do because they will be unable to explore some of the most scenic and beautiful parts of Scotland.
It's not just that mini-coaches can take you onto the back roads of Scotland where other sightseeing tours can't manage but with a smaller group tour you get more time off the bus, more personal attention and more time to interact with the locals. The tour guide is able to answer personal questions about Scotland in more detail, they're able to make photo stops and other unscheduled stops more easily, can take the whole group on short walks and are generally more accommodating because of the small group size. That's not to say that on coach tours the guides aren't as accommodating, but the larger number of people on the tour does make it more difficult and it does take away much of that flexibility.
The mini-coaches used by Scottish tour companies like Rabbies and Timberbush are luxury 16-seater Mercedes coaches, they're custom-built, are very comfortable and clean, have air-conditioning and anything else you may need (like clean windows needed for spotless photographs!).
Bottom line, if given the choice, I would always choose a Scottish small group mini-coach tour over a regular coach tour because it's better suited to explore Scotland in every possible way.
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