Do you ever have one of those trips that you know will be the trip you look back on for decades to come and say, “Now that was the trip of a lifetime,”? Our family road trip through Scotland was that trip for me.
For one week, my mom, dad, brother and I road tripped through the Scottish Highlands, driving for hours on single track roads and seeing otherworldly landscapes I could never have imagined. We hiked, wandered and explored, finding natural wonders at every turn. We didn’t want the trip to end. Or at least, I didn’t.
Nevertheless, Scotland is a magical destination and I can’t wait to share this trip of a lifetime with you.
I will write detailed posts on each of our destinations as well as an in-depth post on how to plan your own road trip through Scotland (including how to avoid any of the mistakes we made!). But for now, enjoy the teasers below, copied from my travel journal.
Day One: Edinburgh
We awoke early in the morning and got the train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. I noticed my anxiety (which I usually get on any form of transportation I cannot control) was much less than it normally is. Perhaps it was the fact that I was excited about the trip. Or maybe it was because I was with my family, so deep down I knew that I didn’t have to have my guard up 150% and be on high alert for things to potentially go wrong.
We arrived late in Edinburgh because farmer Fritz forgot to pull his gate away from the track and when we arrived at our hotel we were greeted with a proper Scottish wedding at our hotel. After grabbing a drink and some chips at a random pub, we climbed up to Edinburgh Castle for a walk around and some history.
I never realized how hilly Edinburgh is. My health app said we climbed 37 flights that day and I believe it!
Before our day in Edinburgh ended, I made sure we visited Greyfriars Kirkyard, Elephant House Cafe and St. Giles Cathedral. While I wish we could have had more time in Edinburgh, I was excited for our week in the Highlands surrounded by nature.
Day Two: Aviemore | Inverness
Our first destination from Edinburgh was Aviemore, a little town in the Cairngorms. My brother Michael was the principal driver of the trip, which had us all more than a little anxious. Nevertheless, we made it there unscathed, mostly because the roads were wide and well kept, something that would not happen for the majority of our trip.
Aviemore is outdoorsy and beautiful. We ate lunch at an adorable little restaurant I had scoped out before our trip and walked around for a bit. We ended up at a little stone circle that just happened to be in someone’s yard (where I had a strange sense of deja vu).
After leaving Aviemore, we continued in the direction of Inverness, stopping at Culloden, probably the most famous sites of the Jacobite rebellions. It was peaceful and eerie, with dreary grey skies and green, marshy land for miles. You could feel the weight of the history at Culloden, perhaps even more so because of the clan markers scattered throughout the moor.
Inverness was grey and larger than I thought it would be. I made sure to bring us to Leakey’s Bookshop, a secondhand bookstore built in an old church. Needless to say, I wanted everything and walked away with nothing because it was too hard to decide what to pick. After eating a very good pizza dinner surrounded by a Scottish family celebrating what we think was a christening (complete with kilts, sgian-dubhs, and sporrans), we headed to our hotel, which I have decided is where I will get married.
Day Three: Loch Ness | Beauly | Shieldaig | Applecross
We stopped at Loch Ness mostly just to say we saw it—I always have a hard time visiting places that I know everyone visits because I know they will be crowded and oftentimes inauthentic. However, the loch was impressive and we found a cool docent who talked to us for a while about the history of Urquhart Castle as we walked around it.
On our way back north, we stopped in Beauly to visit Beauly Priory, whose ruins date from the 13th century.
Next began our long drive west where we were meant to stop for lunch in Torridon but instead had to drive to the larger village of Shieldaig because everything was closed due to fires in West Scotland. We created a makeshift picnic using random snacks we gathered in the general store. While not what we had planned, it was nice to have a picnic lunch outside at a picnic table facing a lock on a sunny day.
What followed is probably one of the highlights of the trip: driving around the Applecross peninsula and the winding mountain road Bealach na Bà, easily one of the best drives in the world. I will describe more in a later post, but let’s just say it was both a white-knuckled drive and one where I couldn’t stop marveling at the landscape. Would I personally make the drive? Probably not. Would I have someone drive me on it again? Definitely.
Our Airbnb for the night was on the beach overlooking the Applecross mountains. We watched a bright pink [10 pm] sunset with our host, before passing out for an early start for Skye.
Day Four: Skye
Skye was…wow. I see why so many people go there. We only had time to spend the day there—we would probably need a couple weeks to properly explore the island. But what we saw was beyond beautiful: the surreal fairy glen, epic cliffsides, and more. Pictures don’t do it justice. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and it made me want to see even more.
Day Five: Fort William | Glenfinnan | Invergarry
This was an easier day for us, as we needed to recover from all the go-go-go in Skye. We woke up late and made our way to Fort William (stopping and obsessing at the M&S Supermarket on the way in) where we walked around and ate lunch. Then, we purchased some shorts because it was SO. HOT. I legitimately had a hangover from all the sun and heat the day before and was practicing that delicate balancing act of staying cool while not getting burnt (I failed)—not something I ever thought I’d say about Scotland!
We headed to Glenfinnan Viaduct because I was not about to be that close to it without seeing it. For those who don’t know, Glenfinnan Viaduct is the famed viaduct that the Hogwarts Express travels over. While it wasn’t as magical as Harry experienced it—perhaps because the classic steam engine wasn’t running—I’m glad I got to experience of my childhood, and to be honest, adulthood.
Our stay for the night was at a lovely farm in Invergarry, home to chickens, two donkeys, three Shetland ponies and three dogs (including a Welsh terrier, and Airedale and a Boxer). Needless to say, my entire family freaked out when we saw the Welshie puppy and spent the entire evening playing with the dogs and chatting with the owner and his wife and (would you believe it?) a mom and daughter from Tampa. It was a perfect, relaxing evening that I didn’t want to end.
Day Six: Glencoe | Glen Etive | Loch Lomond | Crossbasket
Our last long drive of the trip took us from Invergarry all the way to southeast Glasgow. We were in the car for most of the day, but we had some epic drives and scenery.
We stopped for a quick hike shortly after we passed Glencoe. It was forested and smelled like Christmas trees throughout—basically my definition of heaven.
Turning onto Glen Etive, we were floored by the views. Single track roads again, these were better at having larger passing spots where it was possible to park a few cars, making it very easy for us to pull over every couple hundred yards or so to take in the scenery. For those who don’t know, Glen Etive is the “Skyfall” drive they take on the way to James Bond’s childhood home. While you only see it for a few seconds, we were hooked from the beginning and were on it for about 3 hours.
We had a picnic lunch on the side of the road, which was probably one of the best decisions we made on the trip. There’s nothing quite like sitting quietly on a beautiful day surrounded by some of the most beautiful lands in the world.
At one point we considered turning back, but I’m so glad we didn’t. If you ever drive Glen Etive, go all the way to the end. You’ll be greeted with the most stunning vista of your life and never want to leave. I’m not a camping girl but I would have seriously considered camping there!
After my family dragged me away, we continued our drive back to the autoroute and towards Loch Lomond, which was by far the most populated loch we had seen on our trip, looking almost like a lake in North Carolina or even Florida with lake houses, boats, fishing and more.
On the outskirts of Glasgow, we had our first large highway experience in Scotland and it was a little overwhelming given that we had spent the majority of the trip on quiet, single track roads. After some GPS difficulties, we made it to our hotel for the next two nights, Crossbasket Castle Hotel.
Day Seven: Stirling | Glengoyne
Our last full day in Scotland got started a little late. We considered going into Glasgow, but I think we were all reluctant to leave our Scottish countryside adventures and Mike and Dad really wanted to visit a distillery. So, we decided on Stirling Castle and Glengoyne Distillery.
The town of Stirling was much more hilly than I imagined (I actually had no preconceived notions of Stirling, but no matter). The castle wasn’t super crowded, populated mostly with small school groups on field trips and some tourist families, and we are able to tour everything relatively quickly before going to lunch at a pub in the town for one last pie and pint.
Mike and Dad finally got their chance to see a distillery when we took a tour of Glengoyne Distillery. Given that I don’t like scotch and someone had to be the DD back to the hotel, I settled for a few sips and then handed the rest to the boys. Of course, they made friends with our tour guide and Michael got an extra tasting of the super strong stuff. While I don’t really have an interest in scotch, it was cool to see the behind the scenes process of making such an important drink.
Side note: I successfully drove us back to the hotel! It was my first time driving in two years and my first time driving on the other side of the road and while there were a couple close calls (and I was simultaneously laughing and freaking out the entire time) we made it back alive and unscathed!
Day Eight: Glasgow | London
This was our last full day in the UK and I think I can say with certainty that none of us was ready to leave. We drove into Glasgow quicker than we expected, so Michael drove us around. It seems like a very cool city. It reminded me of New York and my parents of a combination of Boston and San Francisco. I would definitely go back, especially after driving past the university!
Overall, our family road trip in Scotland only made me want to go back for another road trip. Surreal, Martian landscapes, kind people, laid-back travelers, and (in our case) beautiful weather made for a perfect trip that left us wanting more.