Scotland is a dream trip. Filled with martian landscapes, vast, open land, and incredible history, Scotland has something for everyone. My family and I did a road trip around Scotland and the Scottish Highlands early one summer and it has been one of my favorite trips of my life. This itinerary for a perfect Scotland road trip is tried and tested. It takes you to popular sites, remote roads, epic drives, and beautiful views. It’s the perfect itinerary for your first time in Scotland.
I hope this itinerary inspires you to plan a trip to Scotland!
If you want to read a more personal tale of our family trip, check out this post, which contains excerpts from my journal.
If you want to know more about visiting Scotland in general, including what to pack, driving, food, and more, check out this post.
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Day 1: Edinburgh
Your first day in Scotland will begin in Edinburgh, the country’s capital. Reachable by air for most of Europe and major U.S. cities as well as by train from London, Edinburgh is well-connected and easy to access. We chose to arrive by train as we had to pick up my brother in London and arrived in Edinburgh around lunchtime.
What to do: While we only had one day in Edinburgh, we saw most of the main sights. Check out this post to learn more about how to spend one day in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a very walkable city and if you’re there for only a day you shouldn’t need to use public transportation.
Accommodation: We stayed at The Principal on George Street in New Town. In hindsight, it probably would have been better for us to stay in Old Town so we could get to everything more quickly, but I’m glad we got to see a bit of New Town. Edinburgh has a variety of accommodations to suit every budget.
Day 2: Aviemore + Inverness
Enjoy an early breakfast in Edinburgh and then pick up your rental car from Edinburgh Waverly Train Station. If you’re staying centrally, this is the pickup spot that makes the most sense.
Day 2 will bring you north of Edinburgh into the Cairngorms National Park, a national park twice the size of the Lake District. It is home to mountains (popular with skiers in the winter), Munros, forests, and waterfalls, and it is truly beautiful.
Stop 1: Aviemore
Stop in Aviemore for lunch and to stretch your legs. Aviemore is a cute little town that dates back to the 18th century. Popular with hikers and bikers, you’ll see plenty of people walking around. Instead of grabbing lunch on the main street, head just south of town on foot and walk down towards the river. There, you’ll find The Old Bridge Inn (23 Dalfaber Rd, Aviemore PH22 1PU), an adorable pink pub restaurant serving some of the best food. Enjoy a pint (if you’re not driving) and delicious lunch before heading back on the road.
Optional stop: Aviemore Ring Cairn and Stone Circle. Located here in a housing development behind a fire station, Aviemore’s stone circle is a great way to get a taste of Scotland’s prehistoric past all to yourself.
Stop 2: Culloden Battlefield
Depart Aviemore and continue heading north for Inverness. Before reaching the capital of the Highlands, make a slight detour for Culloden Battlefield to see the site of the final Jacobite Uprising in 1745. A must-see spot for any Outlander fan, Culloden Battlefield, is surreal. Take time to wander around the paths, noticing the stones marking the spots where Scottish clans fell. While Culloden has become a hotspot for Outlander fans, remember to be respectful of the space.
Note: You’ll see signs for both Culloden Moor and Culloden Battlefield. Follow signs for the battlefield. Entrance to the battlefield is free.
Optional stop: Clava Cairns – 300 yards east of Culloden Battlefield. The Clava Cairns are 4000-year-old burial cairns that date back to the Bronze Age, each enclosed by stone circles. We didn’t get a chance to see these but again, if you like your pre-history, make sure you stop here.
Stop 3: Inverness
You should arrive in Inverness late in the afternoon. We had a little trouble finding parking so we circled the city a couple of times before parking at the bus station. Just keep following the “P” for parking signs until you come across something open—and be mindful of one-way streets!
What to do: Book lovers must visit Leakey’s Bookshop, a beautiful bookstore built in an old church. We also wandered around the graveyard of the Free North Church. You can also explore the Victorian Market, a covered shopping area with 41 stores and two cafes. I also recommend walking down Church Street.
Where to eat: Since we knew we were going to be eating lots of pub food for the rest of our trip, we choose to eat at Black Isle Bar & Rooms, which not only had a lively bar filled with Scots, but also a delicious pizza menu. Other options are Scotch & Rye Pub, The Gellions (the oldest pub in Inverness), and Dores Inn.
Helpful tip: I recommend picking up snacks and drinks at a grocery store in Inverness. Day 3 will consist of a lot of driving, and it’s always good to have sustenance (especially when fires shut down all the convenience stores in Western Scotland!).
Accommodation: Wanting to incorporate unique accommodation into our trip, we stayed just outside of Inverness at Bunchrew House Hotel. This castle hotel is stunning, possibly haunted, and surrounded by peaceful coastline. It is also where I would like to get married if that’s any indication for how much I enjoyed my stay there. If Bunchrew House Hotel isn’t your cup of tea, Inverness has plenty of other accommodation on offer.
Day 3: Loch Ness + Applecross
The next morning, enjoy breakfast at your accommodation and then get out on the road! Day 3 is one of the longest driving days of this trip so I recommend getting an early start. It will be worth it though!
Stop 1: Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
Get your first taste of the famed Scottish loch at Urquhart Castle. This will be one of the most crowded locations on your trip, so its best to get there as early as possible. We spent about 45 minutes exploring the castle ruins, taking in the views, and using the visitors’ center bathrooms before heading back on the road.
Personal note: Out of everything we saw in Scotland, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle were probably the most underwhelming. If you’re on the fence about seeing them, you could easily skip them and not miss out on much.
Optional stop: On your way to the next stop, you’ll drive through Beauly. If ruins are your thing, then making a stop at Beauly Priory is a must. Built in the 1200s by the Valliscaulians, a lesser known reformed Benedictine monastic order. You’ll notice the graves of some of the Fraser and Mackenzie clan. This stop will take you about 10 minutes.
Stop 2: Shieldaig
You will then drive about 1.5 hours to Shieldaig, your lunch stop. While we were there, fires had shut off the power to the entire west coast of Scotland, so the restaurant was closed. We ended up grabbing snacks from the general store just before it closed and having ourselves a little picnic along the shore of Loch Shieldaig while taking in the beautiful views.
Practical information: You’ll park just before you get to the main street of town (there really only is one street) and walk the rest of the way in. If the power isn’t off, eat at Shieldaig Bar & Coastal Kitchen or Nanny’s.
Stop 3: Applecross
This is the beginning of the most epic drive of the trip. You’ll drive to Applecross via the coastal route, which will make the next leg of the trip even more epic. From Shieldaig, the A896 turns south and a small road leads west to Applecross. You’ll be turning onto a single track road that will lead to Applecross.
Stop in Applecross for an afternoon snack/early dinner. We stopped at Applecross Inn, whose power came back on about 30 minutes after we arrived.
Stop 4: The Bealach na Bà
If you’re looking up epic drives in Scotland, the Bealach na Bà is almost always at the top of the list. Not for the faint of heart, the Bealach is a winding single track road through the Applecross Mountains that was built in 1822. With road gradients close to 20%, the Bealach is the third highest road in Scotland and has the steepest ascent of any road in the UK. Bealach na Bà means “Pass of the Cattle” in Gaelic as it was used by drivers who took the same path the road follows today.
Instructions: Drive east from Applecross on the road to Bealach na Bà to Lochcarron. There is a pass with a parking area where I recommend stopping and walking around. Once you stop on the pass continue down the mountainside, along the hairpin turns and onto Kishorn.
If you are visiting in winter or during inclement weather, check this website to see if the road is open. Large vehicles and motorhomes are not allowed on the road. Drive slowly: there are many hairpin and blind turns.
Insider tip: Most guides will recommend driving the Bealach na Bà in the direction to Applecross, but I think driving from Applecross is better because you get the stunning views from the top of the pass and get to look at them on your way down.
Days 4-5: Isle of Skye
Depart early the next morning for the Isle of Skye. From Kishorn or Lochcarron, it is about a two-hour drive to Portree, Skye’s capital.
Day One: Portree & the Trotternish loop
Stretch your legs in this colorful bayside town built on hills. I recommend picking up some snacks for the day and using the public restrooms in Portree before setting off.
Your first day on the Isle of Skye will be spent on the Trotternish Loop, the most popular peninsula on Skye. You’ll want to bookmark this post for the detailed itinerary, but I’ll mention the highlights below.
- Fairy Glen
- Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
- Rubha Nam Brathairean
- Option A: Old Man of Storr (if you want to spend more time hiking)
- Option B: Dunvegan Castle (if you prefer castles to the outdoors)
Accommodation: Spend the night in Portree, where there are plenty of accommodation options. Note: the island is crowded during busy months, so book well in advance to ensure you are able to get the accommodation you would like.
Begin the day with breakfast in Portree. Your first stop will either be Old Man of Storr or Dunvegan Castle, whichever one you didn’t do the day before.
Stop 2: Neist Point
About an hour from Old Man of Storr and 30 minutes from Dunvegan Castle, Neist Point is the most westerly point on the Isle of Skye. During busy months, parking can be difficult to find. You can either hike to the lighthouse at the end of the point, which will take 1+ hours, or view the peninsula from the coastline near the carpark.
Stop 3: Fairy Pools
The earlier you arrive at the Fairy Pools the better. A one-hour drive from Neist Point, this fairytale-like landscape is very popular with tourists.
Stop 4: Carbost
Drive about 15 minutes from the Fairy Pools to the village of Carbost. Stop for lunch at the Oyster Shed (open M-F 12-5) or The Old Inn (open from 12 noon). If whisky is your thing, be sure to visit Talisker Distillery, the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye.
Depart Skye for Eilean Donan Castle
From Carbost, Eilean Donan Castle is approximately a one hour drive. On our trip, we got there after it closed but still had a lot of fun exploring the area and taking lots of pictures.
Accommodation: If possible, spend two nights at your next accommodation. I recommend either Glengarry Castle Hotel or Ardgarry Farm, both of which we had lovely stays at. You could also stay in Fort William if you would like to be more centrally located for the next day’s destinations.
Day 6: Glenfinnan + Fort William
Your 6th day in Scotland will be fairly restful in order to recover from the past few days of busyness.
Stop 1: Glenfinnan Viaduct
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you must visit Glenfinnan Viaduct (sometimes referred to as the Harry Potter bridge). Drive from your accommodation along the A830 towards Mallaig. Glenfinnan Viaduct is hugely popular on sunny days and during the busy season, so be prepared for crowds and difficulty parking.
You can park at the Visitors’ Centre (for a small fee) or follow the road for 100 meters to a small, free carpark. If you park at the Visitors’ Centre, the most convenient spot for pictures will be from their viewpoint. If you want to get closer to the Viaduct, you can walk down into the private road at the back of the other carpark and stick to the trail to the left, which will lead you to the same level as the track.
Given our exhaustion from the day before, we opted for the former but still enjoyed the view.
If you would like to see the steam train on the viaduct, check out this website for the correct times. It’s best to get to your chosen spot about 5 minutes beforehand.
Stop 2: Fort William
Drive on the A830 back towards Fort William. We spent a couple of hours walking around the town, shopping, and eating lunch in the UK’s Outdoor Capital.
A larger town than most you’ve visited in the past few days, there are plenty of restaurant options.
Optional excursion: Ben Nevis
If you want to see the top of the highest mountain in Britain, now is your chance. And, you don’t have to be a major hiker to do so! 15 minutes away from Fort William is the carpark of the Nevis Range Mountain Resort. From there, a gondola will bring you 650 meters up the north face of Aonach Mor (next to Ben Nevis) where you can enjoy 360° views of the surrounding mountains and region. More information here.
On your way out of Fort William, I suggest stopping at the M&S to pick up snacks, lunch, and water for the next day. You can also stop there on your way out of town the next day if it’s on the way.
Accommodation: If possible, stay where you stayed the night before. We spent the night at Ardgarry Farm and ended up having a nice little picnic of things we picked up at the M&S while leaving town.
Day 7: Glencoe + Glen Etive
Day 7 is a car day, but an epic one. You’ll drive from your accommodation through Glencoe, stop for a quick hike, drive Glen Etive to the absolutely stunning Loch Etive, and end up outside of Glasgow. Like I said, a bit long, but incredibly worth it.
Stop 1: Glencoe
Depart your accommodation and head to Glencoe. We stopped for a few photo-ops when the road shoulders were wide enough to hold multiple cars. While Glencoe is beautiful, the more beautiful scenery is further ahead!
Stop 2: Hike to Signal Rock
Recommended to us by our host at Ardgarry Farm, we drove through Glencoe and stopped at a carpark to take a leisurely hike through a pine forest to Signal Rock. Legend has it that the Macdonalds used it as a gathering place and the Campbells used it to give the signal for the Glencoe Massacre in 1692.
If you’re driving from Glencoe on the A82, the carpark is here [GPS coordinates], on the north (left) side. You’ll walk over a bridge over a stream where the path forks. Go left and up the steps and left again in the next fork, following the blue signpost. You’ll then follow the sign for Signal Rock, which will take you to the right and then to the left at another fork, following the blue signpost again. You’ll walk through a gate and continue onward until you reach Signal Rock.
The hike to Signal Rock smelled entirely of Christmas trees, which made me enjoy it even more. If you’d still like to stay outdoors, retrace your steps and then take another path; or, head back to the carpark and get back on the road. We spent approximately 45 minutes here.
Stop 3: Glen Etive
To get to the best part of the day, Glen Etive, turn right off the A82 onto a single track road with a sign pointing to Glen Etive (about this point [GPS coordinates]). The turnoff is exactly 11 miles from Glencoe.
We spent the better part of 2.5 hours on this road, stopping often to take pictures, walking around a bit, and enjoying the peacefulness of it all. It was my favorite part of the trip. We ate a picnic lunch on the side of the road about halfway to Loch Etive.
Drive until you reach this point, where you can park, walk by the loch, and take a break. Then drive back the way you came, enjoying the view from the other direction.
Stopping for pictures: This is a single track road with lots of passing points. We only stopped if the passing point was large enough to hold multiple cars so as not to take the space of a car that would need to use it while we were parked.
Stop 4: Various Viewpoints
We continued stopping regularly at viewpoints along the A82—we thought we had seen all of the various landscapes the highlands had to offer but we were wrong!
At the point where and A85 join up, we stopped at The Green Welly Stop for a bathroom, caffeine, and tank refill break before heading on.
Continue on the A82 along Loch Lomond towards Glasgow.
If you’d like to stop once more, visit Luss. It’s a cute little village on the way back.
Accommodation: We wanted our last few nights in Scotland to be spent in a ‘luxurious’ spot, so we stayed at Crossbasket Castle Hotel, about 10 miles southwest of Glasgow. I recommend basing yourself in this area for at least one night, if not the rest of your trip. You could also look into staying at Sherbrooke Castle Hotel or another hotel around Glasgow.
Day 8: Sterling Castle + Glengoyne Distillery Tour
Your 8th day in Scotland will be spent exploring a castle and drinking whisky. Is there anything better?
Stop 1: Sterling Castle
Your first stop of the day will be Stirling Castle. Sat atop a massive hill, Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. While the first record of the castle dates to around 1110, most of the buildings of the castle date from the 1400s and 1500s. Stirling Castle was also home to many Scottish Kings and Queens and was the site of the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542.
Parking at Stirling Castle is limited and often fills up. We were able to find parking on the street by driving around. I recommend parking in town and walking up to the castles. Your thighs will hate you but your sanity will thank you! You can use this guide to see where alternative parking is available. Once you park, walk uphill until you reach the castle.
We wandered around for a couple of hours — the castle complex is massive. If you’re a history buff you’ll love Stirling Castle. There are also plenty of activities to keep young kids entertained.
Eat lunch at Nicky-Tams. Opened in 1718, Nicky-Tams is one of the oldest pubs in Stirling. It has friendly staff and a cozy atmosphere with great food and drink selections. We could’ve spent hours there eating and drinking, but we had to go drink somewhere else!
Wander around Sterling some more if you like after lunch. We didn’t find it to be the most exciting town so after about 10 minutes we headed back to our car to drive to Glengoyne Distillery.
Stop 2: Glengoyne Distillery
Your second and final stop of the day will be at Glengoyne Distillery. I recommend booking a tour online if you know when you’ll be arriving. We did buy tickets when we arrived and were fine as a tour was just about to start. Even if you don’t drink, it’s still interesting to see the process of whisky distilling. The tours last approximately one hour depending on which one you pick and occur every two hours.
You’ll have the rest of the day to relax at your hotel, drink more whisky, and get ready for your last couple of days in Scotland.
Days 9-10: Glasgow
Glasgow is my favorite city in Scotland. Filled with unique and beautiful architecture, few tourists, and delicious food, Glasgow is a must-visit on any Scotland trip. (I actually prefer it over Edinburgh…).
So, what should you do with two full days in Glasgow? I recommend spending one day exploring Glasgow’s West End and the other day exploring central Glasgow, including its cathedral and Necropolis, shops, and thriving restaurant scene.
Some Glasgow highlights: The University of Glasgow (if you like Harry Potter or Outlander you must go here and see the cloisters); Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow Necropolis, Trongate, George Square, People’s Palace.
Where to eat and drink: The Pot Still (one of the best pubs I’ve been to with an excellent whisky selection), Bread Meats Bread, The Piper.
If you have less than 10 days in Scotland:
It’s very possible that you don’t have 10 days to spend in Scotland—that’s fine! If you need a shorter trip, I would start by taking one day each from your time in Glasgow and the Isle of Skye. If you need to take another day from your trip, you can slash Stirling Castle and Glengoyne, or couple one of those with a half day in Glasgow, leaving you with seven days. You can also leave for Inverness directly after you arrive in Edinburgh. If your goal is to see the Scottish Highlands, I recommend days 2-4 and days 6-7.