Scotland is the kind of place that you can travel around for weeks and you would have only just scratched the surface. There is so much to see, but if you don’t have months to spare, here are the best places to visit in Scotland by car. This Scotland road trip itinerary will give you everything you need to see the most magical places across the Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Skye and the Cairngorms National Park on the Eastern side of Scotland.
*We enjoyed a 12 day Scotland road trip, but you can easily amend this Scotland itinerary to 7 days by spending less time in some places and skipping a few places out or by increasing your time in each place by the suggested amount. I would strongly suggest giving yourself as much time as possible to explore Scotland, especially the places mentioned below in Glencoe, the Isle of Skye and the Cairngorms.
*DISCLAIMER: This is a REALLY long post so pick and choose what you need but it is all good stuff, I promise.
How to get around Scotland:
This Scotland itinerary is written from using our own car as transport. You can follow most of the routes outlined below with public transport, but you may have to miss a few stops due to the limitations of public transport to some of the more remote areas.
A car or campervan is definitely the best way to travel around Scotland. If you are looking to rent a car, try AutoEurope - they compare prices from a variety of rental car agencies. If you are interested in renting a campervan a quick Google search
When to visit Scotland:
Before we dive into this Scotland road trip itinerary, we need to discuss what time of year is the best time to visit Scotland. While the weather is at her best during the months of July and August, that is also high season for Scotland with lots of tourists, mainly due to the famed Edinburgh Fringe festival. Also, with the warm weather comes lots and lots of midgeys (mosquitos)!
So my advice (gathered from the Scottish locals) is to avoid July and August and visit when there are no mosquitos, less tourists and good prices - aim for the second half of May or the first few weeks in September.
If you wanted to visit Scotland during the month of December, where the charming Christmas markets come to life, pack appropriately. Winters are cold and dark and the days can be short due to Scotland’s northern location. You may also find some of the tourist reliant towns closed for the offseason, so make sure you do your planning.
No matter when you visit Scotland, I know it will be magical for you. But make sure you pack plenty of warm and waterproof clothing and sturdy walking boots or shoes.
General tips for your Scotland Road Trip:
Download Google Maps offline: Although I had service in most of the country, I would have been completely lost down some of the remote country roads where service is completely non-existent (especially in Applecross, a remote village across from the Isle of Skye).
Travel the Western Region first: The west coast, the Scottish highlands and the Isle of Skye, will take your breath away and you will want to make sure you have your schedule as open as possible for these regions. Don’t leave them to the end and run out of time. Explore the Scottish Highlands first.
Make sure you understand the roads: If you are not familiar with driving in the UK, Scotland can seem a little overwhelming because the roads can be thin with lots of twists and turns. Often you can only fit one car at a time, so you have to utilise passing places and observe road etiquette - but don’t worry, there are plenty of passing places, well marked for you to pull over and admire the scenery while you wait for the oncoming car to pass. Also, be aware that it is common to encounter deer, sheep, cows and other animals on the road in the more rural areas.
Use restrooms when you see them! When you drive further into the rural areas, there are not many rest rooms. We pulled over for a fair few ‘nature wee’s’ but if that's not your thing, make sure you use the restrooms when you see them.
- Pack plenty of road snacks and water: When you are travelling around Scotland by car or campervan, you will be on the road for hours at a time, and in the more rural areas, there are not that many cafes / shops. Pack snacks and water to avoid going thirsty, or worst still, hangry!
Your Scotland Road Trip Itinerary:
It is impossible to create the perfect Scotland road trip itinerary for everyone because we are all different in what we are seeking. Below, I have included a variety of towns, cities and rural areas, with the suggested time frames for each. Feel free to pick and choose what suits you. My biggest suggestion when planning your Scotland road trip is to not restrict your itinerary to a rigid schedule. Use the below to give you an idea of where you would like to visit but keep your itinerary fairly open in case you want to stay somewhere a little longer. We planned the first three days of our itinerary and then booked accommodation as we went along.
Glasgow divides opinions. Some people love it and can see its underlying charms, creativity and culinary delights, while others see it as a huge city that is lacking in anything special. I will let you decide but here are some great places to explore.
What to see and do in Glasgow:
Visit The West End: Glasgow’s West End is super trendy, offering up quirky restaurants, unique bars, boutique shops and vintage finds. Bryes Road and Ashton Lane are at the centre of it all, great places for a stroll and as an introduction to Glasgow.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum: While you are in the West End, head to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This is one of the most visited museums in the UK, outside of London and it is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. There are over 8,000 objects on display, each one as interesting as the other. It very much reminds me of the Natural History museum in London.
Glasgow Necropolis and Glasgow Cathedral: The Glasgow Necropolis is one of the most incredible Victorian cemeteries you will ever see and it is perched on a hill overlooking Glasgow city. It is the perfect place for a peaceful wander. From here, walk down to the cathedral, which is one of Glasgow's most magnificent buildings, as incredible on the inside as it is on the outside.
The Lighthouse: The Lighthouse is Scotland’s national centre for art and architecture with panoramic views across the city. Take the spiral staircase to the top of the tower and enjoy Glasgow from a unique vantage point.
What and where to eat and drink in Glasgow:
- The Dockyard Social: Expect food trucks, beers and live music. Located in an abandoned warehouse in Glasgow’s former docklands, Dockyard Social features hand selected local street food trucks, serving up delicious food from Pizzas to dumplings while bands and Djs pump out the tunes live on stage.Tickets are £5 each which get you a free drink on arrival.
- The Singl-end is a bohemian cafe and bakehouse, regularly named as the best brunch spot in Glasgow. It has relaxed vibes with freshly baked cakes and colourful dishes. Great options for vegetarians.
- Ubiquitous Chip for modern Scottish cuisine.
- The Gannet is cozy yet stylish and the perfect place for dinner. It has a roaring fire, flickering candles, friendly staff and hearty food.
- The Chaakoo Bombay Cafe: Glasgow has been named the Curry Capital of the UK so to start off your Scotland Road Trip, head to Chaakoo Bombay Cafe, an Iranian inspired restaurant with a delicious tapas style menu.
- The Finnieston Cocktail bar is an award winning bar and restaurant in Finniestone, home to over 60 gins and known as the first and best gin bar in the city.
- The Howlin’ Wolf is a super cool blues bar with live bands. They serve up burgers and pizzas, think American food with a British touch.
- Do not miss the Hanoi Bike Shop on Ruthven lane: A delicious cafe serving up Vietnamese street food. Expect bicycles hanging from the ceiling, friendly service and a lively atmosphere.
Where to stay in Glasgow:
The best areas to stay in Glasgow are:
Glasgow City Centre: You couldn’t get any more convenient, with two train stations in the middle of the city and lots of accommodation options, everything is within walking distance.
Finnieston: If you are looking for something a little different, Finnieston is famed for being one of the hippest places in Britain. It mixes old school working class spots with hipster bars and restaurants as well as boutique shops and vintage finds. If you are interested in staying in Finnieston, choose somewhere close to Argyle Street.
The West End: A mix of old money and student hotspots, the West End offers a great mix of cocktail bars, pubs, vintage shops and sweet boutiques.
For your next stop on your Scotland road trip, drive through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park on the West side of Scotland. Make sure you stop in the village of Luss for some food. It is stunning - located on a loch, with its very own ‘beach’. Suggested place for lunch The Drovers Inn.
(For an added WOW to your Scotland road trip itinerary, drive via Inveraray Castle and Kilchurn Castle or stop at the Falls of Falloch - a waterfall just off the A82)
Glencoe and Fort William:
Glencoe is a village in western Scotland. It lies in steep-sided Glencoe valley, in the Scottish Highlands. The area is known for waterfalls and trails that climb peaks such as Buachaille, Etive Mor, Bidean nam Bian and the Pap of Glencoe. Glencoe is absolutely stunning and it is the perfect place for avid hikers or those looking to relax while surrounded by undeniable beauty. This for me was one of the best places on our 10 day Scotland road trip.
What to see and do in Glencoe & Fort William:
Hiking: Glencoe village is stunning. With 18th-century thatched cottages and beautiful imposing mountains it feels like you are in a real life fairytale, and if you are lucky, you will get to spot red deer and golden eagles. As mentioned above, there are a number of hikes to do but if you are limited on time - The Pap of Glencoe should be your top choice. It is moderate in level and suitable for those new to hiking but with a good level of fitness. There are some steep ascents and a scramble up the rocks at the end to reach the peak, but the views are absolutely incredible. The hike will take you around 3-4 hours up and back. You can find out more here.
Fort William & Ben Nevis: Fort William itself is nothing special - but it is the gateway to climbing Ben Nevis - the highest mountain in the British Isles. I didn’t do this because it is incredibly touristy, and I found the hikes around Glencoe even more impressive. But if climbing Ben Nevis is in your sights - head to Fort William. Fort William is around a 30 minute drive from Glencoe, so you could always visit it for the day but stay in the serenity of Glencoe for the night.
Other things to do and see in this area:
From Glencoe you can drive to Drimnin (2 hours) one of the most remote places in Scotland. It lies at the end of 12 miles of single track road from Lochaline. It is located on the north east shore of the Sound of Mull, offering incredible views over Mull. The 12 mile drive from Lochaline out to Drimnin (and back) is beautiful and you will pass through unbelievable scenery, but there is not a great deal to do once you arrive. This is ideal for those who like to find out what’s at the end of every road. While you are in Drimnin don't miss the Drimnin estate and the Mc’nean distillery - a young independent whisky distillery offering single malt since 2017. They offer tours - must book in advance.
Where to Eat and Drink in Glencoe & Fort William:
After a day of hiking, you will want a nice warm dinner and perhaps a drink. My absolute top recommendation is to visit the The Clachaig pub. It is in the middle of the mountains in Glencoe and their food is insanely delicious. But get there early if you would like to eat inside (around 5pm) as it is very popular, and when you get there, you will understand exactly why.
Another option is the locally run pub, Glencoe Gathering, expect a warm Scottish welcome here.
If you fancy some fine dining, head to The Laroch Restaurant and Bar, located about 15 minutes from Glencoe in the village of Ballachulish, on the shores of Loch Leven. While the food is more fine dining than pub grub, it has a warm and welcoming feel and the staff are amazing.
Where to Stay in Glencoe:
I highly recommend Strath Lodge Glencoe (mid range budget). The owners Don and Dawn are incredible and the place itself is otherworldly. We stayed in a bedroom with almost floor to ceiling windows exposing the mountains that surrounded us. There was a huge ensuite and everything you needed for a restful night's sleep after a day of hiking. But the cherry on the cake is breakfast. From beautiful overnight oats, to a full Scottish breakfast, it offers absolutely everything and the perfect way to set you up for the day. And if you are lucky enough, you will spot deer in their back garden.
Other accommodation options in Glencoe:
Glencoe visitors centre:
Before you leave Glencoe, make sure you visit the Glencoe Visitors Centre. Located in the small village of Ballachulish the Glencoe Visitors centre helps you to understand the remarkable history, landscape and wildlife of this magical place in West Scotland. They have an eco-friendly visitor centre, nestled in the woodlands as well as stories about what makes the glen so special. They also have a powerful short film, which takes you on a journey through millions of years, shining a spotlight on those who lived in and climbed the Glencoe mountains (please note that they are not open Monday's and Tuesday's).
Glen Etive road for waterfalls and reindeer:
On your way out of Glencoe, head to the Glen Etive road (around 45 minutes) which has been labelled one of Scotland's most beautiful drives. The Glen Etive road is 12 miles of peak Scottish scenery, including mountains, moorland, lochs, unending skies and if you are lucky, reindeer. It may be short, but it packs a lot in. It is no wonder why it was used as the location for the Bond Film, Skyfall. Drive down the road as slow as you like, until you come to a Loch right at the end. Get out of the car to stretch your legs and breathe it all in - it really is something else.
To reach the Glen Etive road, follow the A82 between Glencoe and Bridgy of Orchy. The turning is signposted off the main road close to the Kingshouse Hotel (on your right if you are coming from Glencoe and on your left if you are coming from the south). There are no facilities in Glen Etive (no shops, bathrooms, petrol etc) and mobile phone signal is nearly non-existent so make sure you plan in advance, including bringing those all important snacks with you.
Glenfinnan viaduct - For the Harry Potter Fans:
If you are heading north from Glencoe, make sure you stop off at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for its role in the Harry Potter films and as the largest railway bridge in Scotland. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is around a 30 minute drive west of Fort William, located just off the main road (A836). This stunning railway line offers a jaw dropping location, attracting visitors from all over the world
Regardless of your love or indifference for Harry Potter, this is an amazing sight to see and spectacular in its own right. The surroundings are simply stunning, with views over Loch Shiel and if you plan it well - you can see the famous Jacobite Steam train travel over the viaduct in all its glory.
Please note: If you would like to see the steam train they run 10.45am and 3pm - make sure you arrive 30 - 45 mins beforehand to make sure you get a parking spot. On your way up from Fort William, you will see the Glenfinnan Visitors centre on your right. There is a pay and display system (£3). Then it is a short 5 minute walk up a little hill to get a great view of the viaduct and steam train.
If you are looking for nearby hikes check out the: Three Sisters or Hidden Valley nature preserve (harder than the Three Sisters)
Eileen Donan Castle:
After the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and on your way to the Isle of Skye, don’t miss a stop at the Eilean Donan Castle.
Eilean Donan is a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet, again in the Western Highlands of Scotland. The Eileen Donan castle is incredibly picturesque and frequently appears in photographs and films and on television. Surrounded by some majestic scenery, it is no wonder why this castle is now one of the most visited places in the Scottish Highlands. I didn’t go in, but you can pay to do so - find out more here -
(If you wanted to see Loch Ness, it is a 1 hour drive from here, on the way to Inverness. But I would save this to after you have visited the Isle of Skye which is unbelievably special).
From Eileen Donan castle, it takes around 1.5 hours to drive to the main town on Isle Of Skye, Portree. You will drive over the bridge via the Kyle of Lochalsh, which I highly recommend. But if you would prefer to take the ferry, you can do this from Mallaig, which takes around 45 minutes and docks at Armdale.
The Isle of Skye will seriously take your breath away. The weather isn’t always great, but the landscape, scenery, people and places more than make up for it. Base yourself in Portree when visiting the Isle of Skye and make sure you give yourself at least two days if not more - the island is absolutely beautiful, with so much to see. You could easily spend a whole week hiking here around the unending landscapes, historic ruins and viewpoints. Portree is perfectly positioned for exploring the rest of the island and the town itself is quaint and charming.
What to see and do on the Isle Of Skye:
Dunvegan Castle: This 13th century castle is home to the Macleod Clan and any visit to the Isle of Skye is incomplete without enjoying the wealth of history Dunvegan Castle & Gardens has to offer.
Sir Reginald MacLeods was the first Chief to open Dunvegan to the public in 1933. Since then, the number of visitors has risen from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands. Despite such numbers crowding into a space that was designed to keep people out, this stunning castle still maintains the atmosphere of a family home.
Visitors can enjoy tours of an award winning castle and delight in the beauty of its formal gardens. You can also take a boat trip to see the Loch Dunvegan seal colony, stay in one of its charming Victorian holiday cottages, enjoy an appetising meal at the MacLeod Tables Cafe or browse in one of its four shops offering a wide choice of high quality Scottish products.
Coral Beach: Close to Dunvegan castle is a beautiful beach made from crushed white grains of coral like maerl. They basically look like millions of cake sprinkles. You can wild swim here in high tide (although it is freezing!) Take your snorkel and go and explore, or simply stroll down this hidden gem, breathing in the views. Learn more here.
Neist Point Lighthouse: Neist Point Lighthouse is one of the most iconic places on Skye, and for that reason it does get busy. But it is a cool place to visit and the views are incredible. And if you are lucky, you may see minke whales, basking sharks and dolphins! For an extra special experience, catch the sunset here (it is very popular for this, so get there early). You can walk down to the lighthouse from the car park, or walk along the clifftops. Pack suitable walking boots as it can get very muddy and pack plenty of layers!
For somewhere a little quieter but equally impressive, visit Macleod’s maidens - it is a 17km round trip but the views across Loch Bracadale make it all worth it.
Trotternish Peninsula: Possibly the most beautiful end of the island, with some incredibly famous locations nearby, this is a must visit on your Isle of Skye itinerary. The Trotternish ridge has developed incredible natural features - such as large pinnacles of rock jutting out of the ground, created by landslides over the years. This place is magical. As an alternative, take a drive around the Sleat Peninsula.
The Fairy Pools (35 minute drive from Portree): This waterfall cascades down the side of the mountain into numerous smaller pools and with the surrounding scenery, it is breathtaking. Be aware that the Fairy Pools is only accessible in good weather because you have to cross a river to get there - if it has heavily rained the night / day before, you sadly won't be able to see the Fairy Pools up close. Make sure you are wearing sturdy boots and waterproofs.
While this is certainly one of the most talked about sights on the Isle of Skye, it is touristy. If you are looking for something quieter, enjoy one of the many hikes around the Isle of Skye. The scenery is equally impressive, or visit Coire Lagan in Glen Brittle. This involves a 1 hour hike to reach a small lake, encased by black peaks of the Cullin mountains.
Old Man of Storr Hike: This very popular walk climbs up for a close look at the massive pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr - one of Scotland's most iconic places.
The Old Man is in fact just one element in an array of impressive rock features, and the views out over the Sound of Raasay and to the mainland are simply stunning.
Getting there: You can take the bus (Number 57) which goes there 4 times a day from Portree - get off near Storr car park or you can drive. Your starting point is the Storr car park on the left side of the A855 heading from Portree.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Head there early because it gets busy and as the day goes on, the rain will set in and it gets very wet. Make sure you pack layers and waterproofs!
Alternative hikes: For hiking around the Isle of Skye, I highly recommend checking out the WalkHighlands website. It is so helpful and breaks down each hike in terms of time, difficulty, terrain and so much more. Or, ask the locals. They are so friendly and great for giving advice and hikes away from the usual tourist trolls. Here are some of the hikes I was recommended but sadly didn’t have time enjoy:
- Bla Bheinn (Blaven) - great hike for impressive viewpoints
- The Needle and Quiraing loop walk
- Rubha Hunish - an off the beaten path gem and once an old coast guard's lookout bothy - it is able to sleep up to three if you are brave enough to sleep somewhere with no heating! But the views… You will need at least half a day for this walk.
The Fairy Glen: On the West side of Trotternish at Balnacnoc, above Uig, is the Fairy Glen. The road winds around small round-topped grassy hills with lochans (ponds) in between which gives the glen an otherworldly feel.
The Isle Of Skye has a long history involving the Fairies, most of which is related to Dunvegan Castle and their ‘Fairy Flag’. Sadly, the Fairy Glen (much like the Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle) has no real stories involving fairies. It is just that the location is unusual so it has been given the nickname Fairy Glen. Don’t miss the Rha Burn - a magnificent double waterfall with a large plunge pool.
You can head to a former coastguard station, which sits on a cliff at Meall Tuath, overlooking the Fairy Glen - the views from the watch room, which is now a renovated shelter open to the public are unbelievable. Search Rubha Huish on maps (do this before you set off as phone signal is almost non-existent here).
Parking is very limited in the Glen. I recommend that you park in Uig and walk into the Glen (30min) - it is a really lovely walk.
The Isle of Raasay: If you have more time, consider a trip over the Isle of Raasay. The Isle of Raasay is a 15-20 minute ferry ride from Sconser on Skye. The ferry takes both cars and foot passengers. Raasay is an excellent place for hikers, bird watchers and outdoor enthusiasts. It feels more secluded and quieter than Skye but it does get busy in the Spring and Summer months. The island does have some main roads but it is predominantly hiking trails - some more difficult than others. If hiking is not your thing, you can book day tours and visit their famed Whisky Distillery.
Where to eat and drink on the Isle of Skye:
- The Three Chimneys - world renowned Scottish restaurant
- Scorrybreac - Fine dining in Portree
- The Old School Restaurant - slightly cheaper, homely feel. Book in advance
- Red Roof Café - Great for Vegans
- The Edinbane Inn - Contemporary cosy Inn
- The View Restaurant at the Cuillin Hills Hotel
Where to stay on the Isle Of Skye:
Accommodation is definitely more expensive on the Isle of Skye in comparison to the rest of Scotland, but you can find some bargains in the form of hotels, air BnBs and camping. But irrelevant of the accommodation you book, make sure you book in advance - especially if you are enjoying your Scotland road trip in high season over the summer months. We visited in September and booked 4 weeks in advance.
I highly recommend Canowindra, owned by Georgie and her husband. The location is fantastic (5 minutes drive from the centre of Portree) and the rooms are huge. It is not cheap at £150 per night but worth every penny! Breakfast is included, along with tea, coffee and biscuits in your room.
From the Isle of Skye, drive over to Applecross in Wester Ross, which takes around 2 hours. The drive there is spectacular, it was one of the highlights of my Scotland road trip. There are two ways to reach Applecross. You can take the winding coast road or the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the cattle). This road is the highest in Britain, reaching over 2,000ft, and at points located in the clouds before dropping down to the quiet street, offering incredible views out access the bay of Raasay and Skye.
What to see and do in Applecross:
Applecross is home to just a few hundred people, accessed only by two roads, making it a haven from the noise of modern day life. While there isn’t a huge amount to do here, it is like a breath of fresh air and of course, the views across the bay are absolutely breathtaking. For me, this was the perfect place to relax, chat to the locals and spend a lazy day surrounded by nature but in front of a cozy little fire. If you would like something more adventurous there is kayaking as well as plenty of hiking around the surrounding area. Ask at your B&B for activities and where to go - best thing to do here is to chat to the locals to find out what is going on at the time you are visiting.
If you are really tight on time, you could skip Applecross and head straight to Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park.
What and where to eat in Applecross:
The Applecross Inn: The Applecross Inn is an award winning pub and b&b offering insane views across the bay. The food is heavenly and the locals are super friendly. If you would like to have dinner here, make sure you book in advance, this place gets booked up quickly! They also do takeaway.
Where to stay in Applecross:
There are plenty of options here, but here are my top recommendations
Applecross Inn: This is the most popular place to stay in Applecross because it is located right on the waterfront of the loch. Book early though, this place is fully booked months in advance.
Clachan Manse Bed & Breakfast: Terry and Daniel are the owners of Clachan Manse, located just off the banks of Applecross Bay. I didn’t stay here but it came highly recommended to me. Another lovely BnB with a warm homely feel to it.
Applecross BnB: A fab little BnB about 10 minute drive from the Applecross Inn, away from the main street and further into the mountains. Wonderful views, secluded and peaceful. Applecross BnB is run by Moray and Moreen, friends of Dawn from Strath Lodge in Glencoe. The welcome you will receive is second to none, and it really feels like you are ‘coming home’. They have a lovely log fire in the front room, a very hearty breakfast (Vegan options available) and comfy beds. I highly recommend staying here.
Today you set off from Applecross before heading on to Inverness. Stop off at the Rogie Falls on the way to watch the salmon jumping up the river! If you are not a city person, feel free to skip Inverness. It is beautiful but I prefer Glasgow and Edinburgh.
What to see and do in Inverness:
The Clava Cairns: The Clava Cairns are a well preserved Bronze Age stone burial complex, dating back 4,000 years. The site offers a complex of passage graves, ring cairns and standing stones in a beautiful setting just outside of Inverness (16 minute drive). The Claba Cairns are free to visit and open all year round.
The Victorian market And Leakey's Bookshop: Leakey's Bookshop is Scotland's largest secondhand bookshop. It comes complete with an open log fire and just about any book you could think of. Leakey's was established in 1979 and for the last 26 years, it has been housed inside an old Gaelic Church dating back to 1793. With over 100,000 selected volumes, they have been actively buying books through the Highlands for over 40 years.
Urquhart Castle: Urquhart Castle is a ruin that sits beside Loch Ness, in the Highlands of Scotland, around a 30 minute drive from Inverness, close to the village of Drumnadrochit.
Urquhart Castle has witness some of the most dramatic chapters of Scottish History and it makes for an interesting stop on your Scotland road trip. You can climb the Grant Tower that watches over the loch, peek inside a haunted prison cell and imagine yourself banqueting in the Great Hall. Expect to pay around £5 for entrance. https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/urquhart-castle/
Glen Affric: Is something a little different. If you are interested in hiking close to Inverness, head out of the city and stay around, Glen Affric, a small village around a 40 minute drive from Inverness. Glen Affric is one of the finest glens in Scotland and with the variety of scenery it offers, it is no wonder why it is so popular with walkers. You have many options for walking around here including the National Nature Reserve, a magical wooded area and one of the last remnants of the original Caledonian Forest.
What and where to eat and drink in Inverness:
- Nourish: In the centre of Inverness - Vegan and Vegetarian
- Rocpool: In the centre of Inverness
- The Dores Inn: Located just outside of the centre of Inverness, cozy and romantic.
- Cafe 1: Cafe / restaurant - very relaxed vibes
- The Mustard Seed: Great views over the river
- River House Restaurant
Where to stay in Inverness:
Plenty of Airbnb’s in the centre of Inverness or there is a lovely little guesthouse with breakfast called the Corbies Rest Guest House. Expect to pay around £80 per night.
The Cairngorms National Park is a mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland and it is really special. As the UK’s largest National Park it offers a huge range of things to do including epic hiking, watersports, snowsports, wildlife watching and cycling. Whether you want to stay in a boutique hotel or sleep outside under the stars, the Cairngorms National Park has it all.
Aviemore is a small town in the Cairngorms surrounded by scenery and while it is a major Highlands holiday resort, it still retains its charm and magic and doesn’t feel overcrowded or touristy. Aviemore is the perfect place to stay all year round with direct access to the national park - you can walk there or drive to the central points in 10 minutes. Aviemore is also an excellent base for exploring the wider area of Badaenoch and Strathspey. However, if you are looking for somewhere a little quieter, take a look at Aberfeldy.
What to see and do in the Cairngorms:
The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd: The Cairngorm Reindeer herd is Britain's only free-ranging herd of reindeer and visiting them is an incredibly special experience. For most of the year, these tame and friendly animals range the Cairngorm mountain range. But in order to monitor breeding and the health of the animals, for some parts of the year, the herd spend time further down the mountains on the hillside close to the rangers in an enclosed space (it doesn’t feel enclosed at all - it is massive).
While some of the herd (there are 150 in total) spend some time down on the hillside, the rangers offer hillside walks so you can see the reindeers up close and personal and learn a bit more about them.
It takes around 20 minutes to reach the reindeer ‘enclosure’, but the walk is fairly easy. While you are not allowed to touch the reindeers it is a phenomenal experience to be so close to these animals while they enjoy their feed.
This Hill Trip experience costs £17.50 per person and you will likely go in a group of 8-20 people, depending on the time of year. Once you are in the enclosure, you are left to your own devices to take pictures of to simply sit down and breath it all in. Expect to spend around an hour there so allow for 2 hours for the whole experience.
Hiking boots, phone / camera, warm clothes and layers are essential.
Cairngorms National Park: The activities that you can do inside the Cairngorms National Park are endless. There are incredible hikes as well as cycling, horse riding and running routes as well as Quad Biking tours. In the winter months when there is snow on the mountains, snow based activities are incredibly popular, such as skiing and snowboarding.
The Cairngorms National Park has some of the cleanest rivers and lochs in Europe so it is no wonder why watersports are so popular here. On offer is fishing, sailing, windsurfing, swimming, gorge walking as well as paddlesports and rafting. The Cairngorms National Park is also home to two dedicated watersports centres, at Loch Insh and Loch Morlich, each offering their own beauty and natural surroundings.
Craigievar Castle: Craigievar Castle is slightly out of the way at nearly 2 hours drive from Aviemoor, on the way to Aberdeen, but it is not everyday that you get to marvel at a pink castle, said to be Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella. Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, if fairytales were real, all castles would look like Craigievar. Here you can admire an impressive collection of artefacts and art or enjoy a peaceful stroll around the gardens and estate.
The below you could see on your way to Edinburgh as they are further South.
Blair castle in Pitlochry (1 hour from Aviemore): Blair Castle first opened in 1269 and stands in beautiful grounds near the village of Blair Atholl around a one hour drive from Aviemore. The castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Murray and was historically the seat of their chief, the Duke of Atholl. There are more than 30 rooms to explore, filled with Scottish cultural history, architectural design, period furnishings and family portraits. You will see a beautiful Victorian bBallroom, decorated with 175 pairs of antlers, an Entrance Hall full to the brim of weapons and a jaw dropping Drawing Room.
Expect to pay £15 per person to visit the Castle and gardens.
Another castle to visit is the Castle Menzies in Aberfeldy which is around 1.5 hours from Aviemore, close to Blair Castle.
The Birks of Aberfeldy (1.5 hours from Aviemore): The Birks of Aberfeldy is a circular walk through woodland on the western outskirts of Aberfeldy. Visitors can follow well defined paths that wind through the trees, offering excellent views across the white water of the falls and across the Strathtay. The Birks are impressive all year round, but during the autumn months, with the changes of the trees and colours of the leaves, it feels even more magical.
Where to eat and drink in Aviemore:
- Alvie forest food
- The Old Bridge pub: Amazing - make sure you book in advance
- The Winking Owl: Unassuming bar and pub food, great service
- La Taverna -AMAZING Pizza place - they do takeway
Where to stay in Aviemore:
Ardlogie Guest House is a friendly and relaxed Guest House located in a peaceful location across from Aviemore’s centre. They offer great views towards the River Spey and Cairngorm Mountains. The rooms are cozy and comfortable, there is a jacuzzi hot tub, breakfast is out of the world and the garden is beautiful, with frequent sights of deers and other wildlife. But the cherry on the cake is the hosts, Kirsty and Kevin. With their boundless energy, warmth and welcome, you will feel right at home. I cannot recommend this place highly enough for your Scotland road trip. But book in advance as they are incredibly popular and when you get there, you will understand why.
The birds nest: This place was recommended to me but I haven’t stayed here - although it looks beautiful. This little gem is located around 2 miles from Aviemore and it is an absolute find for your Scotland road trip. It is rustic yet luxurious with unparalleled views over The Cairngorms. You can rent out this log cabin / workshop conversion through Air Bnb here.
Edinburgh is a fantastic place to end your Scotland road trip! Edinburgh is Scotland’s compact yet hilly capital. Think cobbled streets, cozy pubs, an imposing castle and friendly locals. And there is so much to see and do!
What to see and do in Edinburgh:
Stroll through the Old Town of Edinburgh: The Old Town if Edinburgh is beautiful, it feels like to are stepping back in time. You can expect lots of cobbled streets, historic houses, cozy pubs and picture perfect squares. Don’t miss a stroll down Victoria Street, from the Royal Mile down to the Grass market. Stop in at the boutique stalls and cute little restaurants.
Golden Hare Books: A charming independent bookshop on St Stephen Street (number 68) with a wood-burning stove and magical atmosphere.
Hike up Arthur’s Seat: Arthur’s seat offers one of the best views over Ediburgh as well as the surrounding areas. Fun fact for you - Arthur’s Seat forms the largest part of an extinct volcano that once stood in Edinburgh. The hike takes around 30 minutes (or less) and it is relatively easy. Just make sure you wrap up warm, it gets very windy at the top. And head there early to avoid the crowds.
Visit Edinburgh Castle: The castle is beautiful, inside and out and it is possibly one of the most famous castles in Scotland so don’t miss it off your Scotland road trip. It does get busy as it is the main tourist attraction in Scotland, but it is worth paying to go inside.
Enjoy a picnic on the meadows followed by a walk to Calton Hill: When the weather is good, having a picnic on the Meadows is a lovely way to spend a chilled day. It is close to University buildings so you will find lots of groups of people relaxing. Once you have enjoyed some down time, check out the views at Calton Hill - it is close to the Balmoral Hotel and one of the best spots for beautiful views across the city, especially at sunset.
Explore Leith: Leith is a small neighbourhood in Edinburgh on the waterfront, making it a great place to spend an evening filled with drinks and tasty food. I stayed here for 4 days and loved it. It is very cutesy with great restaurants and lovely walks around the water. Also the Queen’s boat, The Royal Yacht Britannia is moored in Leith (at Ocean Terminal) and you can jump on board and have a look around - highly recommend!
Where to eat and drink in Edinburgh:
- The Pantry - tasty food and into Dean Village
- Smith and Gertrude - wine and cheese
- Ting Thai caravan - Thai food
- Secret Arcade - hidden vodka bar
- Panda and sons - speakeasy with weird cocktails
Where to stay in Edinburgh:
There are plenty of places to stay, from cheap hostels in the centre to cute little guesthouses, boutique hotels and Air BnB's. I loved our little apartment in Leith, booked through Airbnb. Or the Ben Cruachen Guest house comes highly recommended. Expect to pay around £85 per night.
Saint Andrews, East Coast of Scotland
St Andrews is a seaside town, north east of Edinburgh. It is well known for St Andrews University which was founded in 1413 and was the place where Prince William met Kate. It is also known for its many golf courses (with the largest golf course in Europe) and home to St Andrews Castle. St Andrews is easily accessed on public transport from Edinburgh or Dundee. This charming town exudes cuteness around every corner. It is the perfect place to potter around and visit historic hotspots, independent shops, cute cafes and beautiful beaches.
Orkney or Shetland islands for off the beaten path.
The Shetland Isles consist of a group of 100 islands of which 15 are inhabited with a population of around 23,000. The Orkney Islands, which are located six miles northern of the Scottish mainland, consist of about 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited with a population of 22,000. Orkney is home to staggering rock formations, ancient sites and impressive nature reserves and the Shetland Islands is the UK's most northerly everything! Great wildlife and impressive wild scenery.
The Isle of Mull & Staffa Island
The Isle of Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Herbrides. It is located off the West Coast of Scotland (close to where Oban is). Mull is very well known for its wildlife, including whales, dolphins and eagles. It is also home to impressive landscapes, perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities.
The uninhabited island of Staffa can be found off the West coast of the Isle of Mull. Staffa is home to the famous Fingal's cave also known as the 'Cave of Melodies' - a distinct six column rock formation, similar to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. During the spring and summer months, these cliffs become the nesting sites for puffins. Expect to see Sea Lions here.
- Waterproof clothing - including jacket and trousers
- Strong and sturdy walking boots - shoes aren't enough for the Scottish terrain
- Scarf, hat, gloves, neck warmer
- Good walking trousers or running leggings (which ever are more comfortable)
- Long sleeve tops (thermal clothing)
- Fleece to go under your jacket
- Flip flops or sandals to slip on after a day of hiking
- Clothes for the evening
- Backpack with rain cover for when you go out hiking
- Hydration Pack - get 2L to keep you covered for a day of hiking
- Reusable water bottle
- Car snacks!
- Zip Lock bags or reusable food containers for snacks during the day
- Shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste etc
- Handwarmers for when you are out hiking
- Electronics / ipad / laptop for movie nights in (download before hand)
- Sat Nav or Google Maps download on your phone beforehand
A Scotland road trip is an experience like no other and it is by far one of the best trips I have done. When you are in a car or a campervan, you can see places that you wouldn't be able to reach by public transport and those remote, raw and untouched areas of Scotland are awe inspiring and dreamlike.
Scotland offers everything you could possible wish for. From bustling cities to never ending landscapes, perfect for hiking and nature lovers. The islands with their views across the waters are super special, the castles transport you back in time and the beaches are unexpected and stunning.
The Scottish people are friendly, always up for a chat and incredibly helpful. The food is second to none and the roads that you will drive along are like nothing you have ever experienced before - in a great way.
If you are considering a road trip to Scotland - DO IT - It is an incredibly special experience.