Scotland is one of few countries I’ve traveled to that I immediately felt drawn to. It had this magnetism about it. It’s hard to explain without sounding cliché, but this island is just magic. I know I’ll be back again for another tour of Scotland by car.
My husband and I spent ten days in Scotland for a road trip. June was a decent month as the midges aren’t bad, and the weather is cool and overall less rainy. We were lucky with some clear and beautiful weather (with of course the daily intermittent rain)!
Scotland Road Trips– Heads up about driving if you’re from the US:
Driving from the airport to our hotel was our first experience with driving on the left side, and it was- admittedly- terrifying. My husband John did just fine, but I wouldn’t have done nearly as well! There are also many things we aren’t accustomed to (manual, roundabouts, etc.) in the US. Luckily we had some experience from a road-trip we did in nearby Ireland previously!
Overall, we had a good experience, and we drove ~1300 miles total! We loved that there weren’t huge expressways filled with ugly billboards, or miles of boring highway. The majority of the roads were scenic, through small towns or countryside, and had fewer lanes. I made this awesome Spotify playlist, and took in all we could on this Scotland road trip of a lifetime!
Here is my daily itinerary for our ten day Scotland road trip!
Day 1: EDINBURGH
To get a feel for this city, start in the touristic and historic center. The main road is called The Royal Mile, and this street alone provides hours of entertainment. Between all of the narrow alleyways (called “closes”) and old buildings, it’s one of my favorite parts of the city! Each building could tell such a story of what its witnessed over the years. Parts of it feel straight out of a book or movie set. || Watch a video recap of my time in Edinburgh ||
Are you a fan of Outlander? If so, see Bakehouse Close while you’re on the Royal Mile. You’ll immediately recognize it as Jamie’s print shop from season 3. My other favorite was Advocate’s Close, it has a great view and popular photo opp of the city below!
Nearby, another popular spot is Victoria Street. The colorful buildings have so much character, and are said to have inspired J.K. Rowling with her vision for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. There are a few boutique shops (check out “Museum Context” if you love HP!), and several pubs and restaurants. || Watch my video about visiting Museum Context ||
Just off Victoria Street is the centuries old cemetery of Greyfriars Kirkyard. I’m personally a huge history lover, and so I love checking out old cemeteries. Reading the stones can honestly teach you a good deal of the city’s history. It also helps create a more human connection to what can, at times, feel like an overwhelmingly long history!
This cemetery is touted as being a place where J.K. Rowling would stroll when writing Harry Potter, and she supposedly got the inspiration for several famous character names from the headstones (most notably there is a grave for a “Thomas Riddell”). She did debunk this rumor on her Twitter account, but that doesn’t stop the various Harry Potter or literary walking tours from still claiming this is the case!
Just outside the cemetery, make sure to see the bronze dog statue for good luck! Known as “Greyfriars Bobby”, this Skye terrier became a local legend for faithfully spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner, until the dog died in 1872.
Back in the city center, you can’t miss seeing St Giles’ Cathedral. We were lucky enough to witness a group of schoolchildren giving a bagpipe performance in its courtyard.If you hang around this area long enough, you will surely hear some tunes! The interior of the church is worth a visit (donation required to enter).
From the Royal Mile, head downhill towards the looming architectural display that is the Scott Monument. It’s in a fun part of town, and makes for a nice photo! Nearby, stop at Ross Fountain for a great photo opp of Edinburgh Castle on the hilltop behind.
FOOD IDEAS: Check out the well known World’s End Pub if you’d like, or grab a drink at the Balmoral Hotel Scotch Whisky Bar. || Read about more Edinburgh food ideas ||
LODGING: No. 53 Frederick Street. – Great location, historic building, very friendly owners! Tons of food, grocery, and parking options nearby.
Day 2: EDINBURGH
Given I’m a hopelessly obsessed fan of the Outlander series, my first visit was to nearby Midhope Castle. I made an advanced reservation for a 9am entry. While this 16th century castle is intriguing to visit, it wouldn’t really be too exciting for anyone who isn’t a fan of the series. If you, like me, ARE a fan- it is the castle used as “Lallybroch” in the show! It was so cool to see it in person, I loved it! Sadly it is in a state of disrepair, and is unsafe to go inside at all. It’s a 40 minute drive from Edinburgh, and there aren’t any feasible options to get there except by car (as it is somewhat remote). One option is to take a guided “Outlander” day trip out of Edinburgh though!
Midhope Castle is part of the greater Hopetoun House properties, and there are many other activities to do there, including seeing more filming locations from Outlander!
From there, we drove 15 minutes to Blackness Castle. This castle lies along the water, and is scenic from the outside. The inside is small in comparison to most castles, but is worth going in to explore. For Outlander fans, the interior courtyard of the castle is where they filmed all of the “Fort William” scenes.
Next, we drove 25 minutes to a complex called “The Helix”. This is a large park full of biking trails, food trucks, a gift shop and other outdoor activities. The main thing it’s known for though, is the giant Kelpies statue (the Scottish folklore mythological “water horses”)!
Given that my husband is a fan of mechanics, he suggested we stop at the Falkirk Wheel. It’s a rotating boat lift connecting two canals. While I had no idea what to expect, it’s apparently a big feat of design. There is a shop and museum on site, and you can also pay to ride in it.
We then headed back on the hour drive to Edinburgh. In the evening, we took a stroll down Circus Lane. It is a residential street, but incredibly scenic! After dinner, we decided to partake in one of many ghost walking tours of the city. It was a bit cheesy, but honestly super interesting to hear more about the morbid stories of this ancient city!
LODGING: No. 53 Frederick Street
Day 3: EDINBURGH → INVERNESS
In the morning, we left our hotel and started out on our scenic drive towards Inverness from Edinburgh. In total, it is about a 3 hour drive. On the way, we made a quick stop at Drummond Castle Garden. It is of course beautiful, but again may be more special as it was used to film the Gardens of Versailles scenes in that one TV show I keep bringing up!
Next we stopped at the medieval town of Culross (pronounced Coo-Ross) Yes, another Outlander filming location, but even my husband said it was cool and was happy he visited! It truly feels like stepping back in time. It is amazing to me how much history and beauty is packed into such a tiny place. Many of the buildings are from the 16-17th centuries, and are in great shape! Check out the colorful Culross Palace, and the main square (which you may recognize as “the pillory” from the “Cranesmuir” scenes!). Also don’t miss the old church to the right of palace. This is where they would hold women as prisoners before witch trials!
From there, we drove about 45 minutes towards an abandoned mansion restored to look like a religious priory, known as Crawford Priory. There are signs advising you not to enter (given that the building is in shambles), but we were able to take some very nice drone photos! || To see a video, and read more about this creepy place, watch my Crawford Priory video here |
We headed next to Falkland Town (yes…Outlander again, it was used as “Inverness” in the show, but still worth visiting even if you don’t care about the show!). It reminds me of a “quintessential Scottish town” and has many scenic streets and cafes.
As we drove towards Inverness, we made a random quick stop at Balvaird Castle (home to the Murray family, circa 16th century). I love that in Scotland, if you check Google Maps while you drive, you’ll find medieval castles scattered all over that you can randomly just pop in to see!
Once in Inverness, we walked across the bridge from our BNB towards the central part of town. It was a bit of a quiet place, but we appreciated it. We had dinner at a place called Hootananny and stayed for the ceilidh (traditional music performance and dancing). Very fun experience!
LODGING: Strathallan B&B. We stayed in a private room at a local residence. The breakfast was so nice and the owners are absolutely lovely people with great conversation!
Head here to see my detailed packing suggestions and what to wear in Scotland in summer!
Day 4: INVERNESS
We left first thing in the morning to the Culloden Battlefield. We drove ourselves (10 minutes) to the site of the famous and impactful battle between the Jacobites and the British. The on-site museum was neat to see and did a nice job explaining why this particular battle is so integral to the history of the Scottish culture and the Highlands. I also highly recommend doing the free walking tour of the battle site. Our guide made it so interesting, and without the explanation it’s hard to know what you’re looking at.
From the battlefield, it’s a 5 minute drive to the site of Clava Cairns.They’re about 4,000 years old and were built as a sacred cemetery. It can be a quick visit, but we had lunch there and it was actually great to spend time in such an ancient and mysterious spot.
After the stones, we were ready to finally see the famous Loch Ness and enjoy the scenery around it! We decided first to stop at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition as we had read that it provided a very rational and scientific viewpoint as to how the legends of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, had come about. They went in depth about all the studies and progress trying to find sightings, etc. It was interesting, but full disclosure- it was a bit cheesy and I don’t feel it was worth the cost.
After, we drove over to the 16th century Urquhart Castle. We didn’t want to spend money on admission so we walked around to get views of it, but in hindsight I do regret we didn’t go out on a boat to view it from the water. Next up was a scenic drive “The Loch Ness Loop” which essentially just circles around the lake and back to Inverness. On the way, we stopped at the scenic Invermoriston Bridge and also did a quick downhill hike to check out Foyers Falls and a few others.
Back in Inverness, we had dinner at Black Isle Bar & Rooms. They were slammed on the ground floor, but we headed upstairs where they have cute little rooftop sheds. The pizza was amazing!
LODGING: Strathallan B&B.
Day 5: INVERNESS → ORKNEY
Are we crazy? Yes, probably. Today was the day we decided to head to Orkney from Inverness, and back to the mainland, all in one day. Would I recommend doing it this way? Honestly, not really. Add another day in Orkney, it absolutely merits it!!!
We left Inverness at 5am in order to drive north to Scrabster and take the 2 hour ferry to Stromness. The ferry ride was fun and had beautiful views including the Old Man of Hoy. They had lounge seating, cafeteria, and even a bar! We took our car with us, and thankfully the whole process was easy. Read more about taking a ferry to Orkney | Check out a video I made of our ferry journey|
First stop is the prehistoric Ring of Brodgar. A circle of ancient standing stones (2500 BC!), scientists are still not positive what exactly this spot was used for. If you’re curious, you can read about some of the Brodgar theories here. It was cold, windy, but very visually stunning. It’s truly impressive to think about what the ancient peoples could have been like. My one complaint about this site is that they were “re-growing the grass” and so while you could normally get within 3 feet of the stones, when I went we were very far away. I was upset about that honestly, as it took away from the experience a bit.
Just down the road is another ancient site, the Standing Stones of Stenness. While not as grand a scale, I liked visiting these more than Brodgar as you were able to touch and get close to the stones. Yes it was better for photos, but it is also nice to just feel connected to something so truly ancient beyond our comprehension.
From there, we headed to the UNESCO world heritage site of Skara Brae. We didn’t realize we had to buy tickets in advance, but luckily it was not crowded and the staff was friendly. Skara Brae is the site of an ancient settlement along the water, and the stone structures were built in 10,500 BC (making them older than the Pyramids of Giza!)!!! It’s officially the oldest human structure I’ve ever seen!
After exploring the ancient village, we headed into the small seaside town of Kirkwall. We went inside the Cathedral, and I roamed around the cemetery reading all the tombstones while listening to ravens cawing all around.
Next we drove to the Yesnaby Cliffs. This spot was incredibly scenic, and we saw some puffins! We spent over an hour taking in the views, looking for seals, and flying our drone for some epic footage!
Sadly, the ferry back to Scrabster was at 5pm, so we had to end our short time on Orkney. When we got back, we headed to our AirBNB, which was a small 18th century cottage near the town of Forss. It was a last minute decision to stay here, but it ended up being my favorite AirBNB rental I’ve ever done!
Not only was the cottage itself great, but we had access to explore the beautiful property. We hiked up to old St. Mary’s Chapel and cemetery, and had ocean views of Crosskirk Bay. The owner left us some local pastries, so we enjoyed those while looking out for orcas, which he said he has seen there before!
LODGING: Crosskirk Cottage– Check out this video to see the views! An absolute gem of a find!
Day 6: INVERNESS → PORTREE (ISLE OF SKYE)
Today we began the drive to Portree, which is the main town most people stay in while exploring the Isle of Skye. During the 2.5 hour drive we made a quick stop at Castle Leod which is still home to the Mackenzie Clan descendants to this day!
Our next stop was the iconic Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most recognized in the country. It has been in a few movies too! After walking around the outskirts of the castle, we went inside for the guided tour. It was a little disappointing as there was not much signage, and I think some sort of audio tour would have been nice. I like knowing the history of what I’m looking at!
From the castle we drove 45 minutes to stop at the Sligachan Old Bridge for photos. From there, we went to the car park for the Fairy Pools Hike. I’ve heard and seen so much about this place, but it started raining crazy hard right when we arrived. The hike was not fun as a result, and we weren’t overly impressed with the views. I have heard good things though, so I’m guessing it’s better when it’s not rainy and foggy!
Now that we were on the actual Isle of Skye, we checked into our hotel and drove into Portree town to explore, and took photos at the scenic “colorful houses overlook”. If you’re visiting in high season, making dinner reservations in advance is a must! The town is small and it gets packed!
We had dinner reservations at Caberfeidh Pizza. The service was not very good, and food was overpriced. The workers seemed annoyed by our existence, but this is how we felt about all the places in Portree (but not anywhere else in Scotland!). I’m sure it’s the nature of a “tourist town” though. Nearly every person we saw was a traveler, and I’m sure it gets frustrating for locals.
LODGING: Feochan Rooms Portree– Basic room but comfortable with nice amenities and a peaceful location.
Day 7: ISLE OF SKYE (Portree)
Today we were ready to take on some of the many incredibly beautiful hikes that the Isle of Skye is known for!
Our first stop was the very short and easy walk to “The Fairy Glen”. Known for its scenic grassy mounds and stone circle design on the ground, some say fairies created it and live there now. There’s actually no known folklore or legends that have been found to back this up however.
Next we drove to the VERY windy but beautiful viewpoint for Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. This was absolutely stunning and a must-see! How can you resist ancient cliffs (that supposedly look a torso and a kilt) and cascading waterfalls ?
After these easy walks (not sure that I can even call those “hikes”), we were ready for some “real” hiking! We headed towards the walk upwards to The Old Man of Storr. This rock formation is iconic of the area. It’s a 1.5 hour hike each way, and was again quite windy. I felt that the hike up was a bit difficult given its mostly uphill, but I saw plenty of children and elderly folk pass me up on the trails, so maybe it was just me! 😅
After a packed lunch, we were ready for more hiking! We started on the absolutely incredible hike known as “The Quiraing”. Even if you aren’t up for the whole hike, simply walking ten minutes down on the trail from the parking lot will give you epic views. This was definitely our favorite hike of the trip, as it offers panoramic vistas of the whole area. We also both said it might be one of our favorite hikes we’ve done, ever! If you can, try to time this hike for a sunny and clear day, otherwise it might not be as impressive. |Click here to see a video of the views! |
Back in Portree, we went to dinner at Antler’s Bar & Grill. While nothing special, it was cozy and had good service!
LODGING: Feochan Rooms Portree
Day 8: PORTREE → GLASGOW
Sadly the time had come to leave the Isle of Skye. We stopped again at Eilean Donan Castle once we were back on the mainland. As we were there early, we were able to get some amazing photos at the castle without the crowds!
As we continued our 5 hour drive from Portree to Glasgow, we stopped at a little coffee shop. Then, we looked across the street and happened to see ruins of a castle along the road (as one does!). Called Invergarry Castle, we made a quick stop to explore! This was the Clan MacDonell castle, and overlooks Loch Oich. No one else was there, so it was quite eerie and mysterious to walk around.
Next up, we went a bit out of the way to make a stop at the famed Glenfinnan Viaduct. This bridge was used for shots in the Harry Potter movies as the “Hogwarts Express train”. The hike up to the viewpoint was muddy and took longer than anticipated. Once at the top, we realized we misunderstood the schedule and sadly did not get to see the Jacobite steam train it’s known for. If you want to see the train come by, be prepared for crowds- but also do your research!
Continuing the increasingly scenic drive through the Scottish highlands, we stopped at the Glencoe Visitor’s Center. You could in theory drive through the area of Glencoe and not need to get out of your car to enjoy the scenery- although you will probably want to stop! We stopped at a few scenic pullovers to see the Three Sisters, the wee white barn with waterfalls behind it. Glencoe was truly breathtaking and one of the most beautiful spots of this Scotland road trip! We also saw the tallest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis, while driving through this area. || If you’re looking to overnight in Glencoe, make sure to check out my blog post on the Isles of Glencoe hotel! ||
When we finally arrived in Glasgow, we checked into our hotel and got ready for a very unique dining experience! We had dinner on a classic double decker red bus while it drove through the city! Called the Red Bus Bistro, we booked their pizza dinner option, but they also do an afternoon tea. I do wish they gave some sort of historical commentary, but overall it was still fun and definitely memorable! | Watch a video of our dinner on the bus |
Finally, we made our way to the Horseshoe Bar. This classic Scottish pub has been around since the 18th century! Even if you don’t drink, come in just to admire the Victorian decor and the design of the wooden bar (said to be the longest in Europe!). We loved the vibes here, and so stayed for a while to enjoy a wee dram!
LODGING: Z Hotel Glasgow- Good location, but incredibly tiny and cave like rooms with no windows. The lobby area was nice and there was parking, but the rooms had no character.
Day 9: GLASGOW → EDINBURGH
Bright and early we walked from our hotel to the Glasgow Cathedral. The interior is worth a quick visit (and, yes, some of the Paris hospital scenes from Outlander were filmed in there!) but it got quite crowded with tour groups.
Behind the church is the gigantic and Victorian Gothic-era cemetery called the Glasgow Necropolis. The headstones could be considered works of art! Between the view overlooking the city, and the aesthetically crumbling crypts (many with very detailed and interesting stories of how their inhabitants died), this was actually my favorite activity in Glasgow!
Lunch was at Porter & Rye– very tasty and a great environment! We then left Glasgow and drove for 1.5 hours back to Edinburgh, to check in to our new hotel.
Once there, we explored parts of the city (on foot) we hadn’t seen thus far. We started out in the Grassmarket Area for their weekend farmer’s market. We stopped at Stockbridge Market specifically, and enjoyed a Spanish paella food stall while being serenaded with a local primary school’s bagpipe band! This area was so lively and fun, definitely try to come by here!
We walked over next to the Dean’s Village area. The buildings and streets are beautifully impressive, and perfect for photos. It’s hard to believe normal people can just be living in houses like that!
Continuing our walk, we made it to Calton Hill. This involved a quick uphill hike, but had gardens, a museum, and a scenic overlook at the top.
Needing a break from all that walking, we naturally found ourselves at the “The Scotch Whisky Experience” building. Is it touristy? Absolutely. Is it still fun and worth doing? Definitely! The tasting tour lasted about 2 hours, and must be booked in advance. |Pro Tip: The unassuming shop across the street from here is actually massive and had a HUGE Harry Potter themed area! |
As one does in Scotland, we finished off the day by heading to Biddy Mulligan’s pub for some unhealthy food and more drinking!
LODGING: Motel One Edinburgh Royal – Perfect location near the Royal Mile at the bottom of idyllic Cockburn Street. Rooms were nice and the lounge/bar area was fun!
Day 10: EDINBURGH → BORDERS ABBEYS
If you have time and are up to the challenge, throwing in a hike to Arthur’s Seat is highly recommended! Sadly, we tried to go, but the rain put us off. Instead we tried to get coffee at Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe. You need advance reservations, which we sadly did not have!
To start the day, we did the highly acclaimed tour of the city’s medieval underground street system. Named after the alleyway lying below the modern day street, the tour company is called The Real Mary King’s Close. This tour must be pre-booked, and books up fast! I reserved ours months before the trip. If you are intrigued by morbid history, tales of the plague, or how the city’s poor lived in the 17th century- then this tour is perfect for you! No photos are allowed once you descend into the dark underbelly of the city, and it is an informative, fascinating, and “must do” activity!
Instead of relaxing on our last day, we hustled! I had read about the abandoned Borders Abbeys (1.5hr drive one way) that lie along the border with England, and thought the concept of exploring 12th century ruins seemed promising. However, I did end up slightly disappointed due to most of the sites being barricaded off for “construction”.
There are four abbeys, and you are meant to visit them as you drive along the “Borders Abbeys Way”. We only went to three, but you will see why! Built as centers of learning and piety, the four main abbeys of the Scottish Borders were strategically built there in hopes of impressing English visitors, and proving they were capable architects.
First was Dryburgh Abbey. This was in an isolated patch of countryside, and would have been lovely to explore, however it was closed off due to unsafe conditions from the crumbling stones. We could still see some of it, but I was for sure disappointed.
Next is Kelso Abbey. This was a very quick stop, as the ruins are small. There is not an official entry here either. Again, we were sad to see it was fenced off for a “construction project” (that had seemingly been going on for years, but hadn’t been worked on in weeks). Also none of this information was online, so we had no clue. We drove so far to end up looking at them through chain link fences.
Afterwards was Melrose Abbey. This was the largest and most impressive. Even though we had to pay a fee to enter the grounds, most of it was fenced off and still inaccessible. I was frustrated they couldn’t figure out a way to keep people out without blocking the buildings from view. Frustrated, we decided to stroll around the town of Melrose. This was a great idea as the town is actually very pleasant and with tiny coffee shops and friendly residents! (We skipped Jedburgh Abbey).
Leaving Melrose, we had an impromptu picnic lunch at the Leaderfoot Viaduct.
Next, we drove an hour back north towards Edinburgh, on route to Rosslyn Chapel (need advance reservations). It’s hard to describe without seeing it with your own eyes, but this chapel is MAGNIFICENT. I’ve seen a lot of religious buildings all over Europe, and while at times they can feel repetitive- this chapel will always stand out to me. The interior has thousands of incredibly intricate stone carvings, and all merit long discussions and theorizing. If you’ve ever read “The DaVinci Code” books, some of the events take place in this chapel, and they actually filmed a few scenes in the crypt. No photos are allowed inside, but you can see photos of Rosslyn Chapel on their website.
The cherry on top of our incredible journey, we drove back into Edinburgh, parked, and rushed to the entrance of the looming Edinburgh Castle (tickets need to be reserved in advance! I’d say at least 2 days ahead as they book up fast!). We did the self-guided audio tour as we walked through the massive structure. I recommend this, as you can go at your own pace, but you actually know what you’re looking at! There is minimal signage, so just doing it on your own wouldn’t be half as interesting. This castle was so full of amazing stories, it’s a “must see”!
Finally it was time for dinner and drinks! We headed to The Piper’s Rest, which was delicious and also apparently haunted! We toasted our amazing trip, and lamented the fact that we had to fly home the next morning. Until next time Scotland… Slainte!
LODGING: Motel One Edinburgh Royal – Scotland road triplti
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book any of the above hotels or excursions, please know I am an affiliate and may receive a small commission.