The Ultimate Scotland Road Trip
It didn't take long after setting foot in Scotland for me to establish it as one of my new favorite places on Earth. The glorious natural scenery mixed with the vibrant cities is the perfect match. I want to share an overview of the route we took on our 12-day road trip around the country for those curious how to create an itinerary that intertwines city and country, letting you experience all the best that Scotland has to offer.
Days 1-2: Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and a perfect starting point for your journey. We went carless the first couple of days while we explored the city, but headed back to the airport on the third day to pick up our rental car there since it would be the most convenient place to return it to on our way home. Rental cars are available for check-in inside the Arrivals terminal at Glasgow Airport, with the cars parked right outside for easy pick-up. Our first two days were spent exploring this unique city, which I have covered in its own separate post! Head over HERE to read more about what to see, do, eat, and where to stay in Glasgow.
Day 3: Loch Lomond & Tarbert
On the morning of Day 3, we hopped on a bus back to Glasgow Airport where we picked up our rental car and hit the road. Our first stop was Loch Lomond and the picturesque lakeside village of Luss. We stopped for a coffee and my first ever affogato at St. Mocha Coffee Shop and Ice Cream Parlour, walked around the lakeside, and drove up the road to see and walk through Luss.
After spending a little while walking around, we continued on to our stop for the night, the quaint village of Tarbert. In Tarbert, you must make the very short hike up to Tarbert Castle, is now ruins but in the Middle Ages, it was a royal stronghold with a perfect vantage point overlooking the harbor. We stayed the night at the Knap Guest House, which features very nice rooms with water views and a super friendly host who set out breakfast for us the night before, knowing that we were leaving prior to the usual breakfast start time the next morning. I hope to stay there again one day.
Days 4-5: Islay
At the crack of dawn the next morning, we set out to take the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen on Islay, car included. It's one of the longer ferry rides I've taken at 2 hours 20 minutes, with no complaints from me since I love ferries. I also find them to be dual purpose in that they transport one from one place to another while also providing a marvelously scenic ride with views that couldn't be seen any other way.
We arrived in Port Ellen, a truly tiny harbor town and found maybe the only place serving breakfast, a small hotel, where we devoured yet another full English breakfast (they even had veggie sausage for my vegetarian self). We then set out to explore the town a bit and get acquainted with the area. A bit later, our real plans for Islay began and we went off on three whisky distillery tours and tastings at Lagavulin, Laphraoig, and Ardbeg. Each was different, informative, and of course very delicious. It was surreal to be standing in the place where these whiskies originate from, on this small little island, tasting them and learning more about them right at their source. If you are a whisky fan, you should really get yourself to Islay.
Day 6: Oban
After taking the ferry back across from Islay to Kennacraig, we headed north to Oban. Because we arrived very late, we didn't get to see Oban in the evening, but the next morning, we headed up to McCaig's Tower. The tower is solely walls as it was never completed after the architect's death in 1902, but it boasts the best vantage point of the city and harbor.
Day 7: Fort William
From Oban, we entered the beautiful Scottish Highlands, beginning at Fort William. There is much to discover in this area, so we made a full day of exploring, starting with a hike to Steall Falls. I was especially interested in this hike not only due to the fantastic scenery, but because it was the shooting location of a scene in one of the Harry Potter movies (Goblet of Fire when Harry is battling the dragon). Cue fan-girling. The Steall Falls hike turned out to be one of my favorite activities we did this trip. We meandered upwards through the forest alongside a river until we emerged into a field with a roaring waterfall as the backdrop. Highly recommend!
Our next stop of the day was at Glenfinnan Viaduct, another Harry Potter filming location (in The Chamber of Secrets, the Hogwarts Express crosses this bridge while Harry and Ron are flying the car alongside it) and a real-life track over which the Jacobite steam train crosses daily. We stuck around hoping to see the train go by (I even looked at the schedule!) but, alas, it never came. It was really cool to see and a nice walk around nonetheless!
Days 8-9: Isle of Skye
En route to Skye, make a pit stop to see Eilean Donan Castle. This castle, which was occupied by multiple clans before being destroyed by government ships during the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland in the early 1700s, has been reconstructed and is a fascinating historical site.
The Isle of Skye is its own little heavenly world on an island. It's a large island accessible by bridge rather than ferry and I found the scenery there to be the most sensational in all of Scotland. We spent two days touring the island, starting with a (long) drive out to Neist Point lighthouse. I should point out that driving in Scotland is challenging if you are not used to single lane roads for two way traffic, roundabouts every mile, and the distraction of cute baby sheep in every direction. The drive out to Neist Point had all the above and some of the most narrow roads of the trip. Even though I wasn't the one driving, I'm saying that it was worth it. Walk all the way down to the lighthouse to check out the structure, but be warned that the walk back up is not easy.
We spent the night at the Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse, which is one of the most fun places I've stayed before. Our "room" was a pod cabin on a hillside with sweeping views. The pod had its own bathroom, bed, desk, and fridge and there was a common building where we could go to use the kitchen or hang around in a super cute lounge area. I wish we could have stayed there longer!
The next day, we set our sights first on the Quiraing, a hiking area of dramatic green cliffs. Things did not quite go to plan when our rental car got completely stuck in the mud in the parking lot (after we drove up the long winding hill where we witnessed a sheep giving birth). Fortunately, Scots are the friendliest, kindest people and about six men who saw our situation assisted in pulling us out. Despite the snafu, we were still able to take in the magnificent landscape and are grateful for a story with a happy ending that will forever make us smile.
We continued south to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, a rock formation in the cliffs that resembles a kilt nearby which a waterfall drops into the ocean.
We spent the night at the cozy Portree Hotel in the cute town of Portree. Portree is very walkable, so I suggest heading out on foot to see the colorful houses along the harbor and enjoy dinner in town.
Day 10: Portree to Inverness
This morning was possibly my favorite of the trip. We drove just up the road to a hiking trail that I was really excited about and that exceeded my greatest expectations: The Storr. It is a steep, rocky hill featuring grassy slopes, but it is otherworldly and tough to describe with words, so here are some photos.
Without a doubt, one of my favorite hikes I've ever done!
After we had stood in wonder for a satisfying amount of time, we continued southward to Inverness. On the way, we made a stop at the Culloden Battlefield where the Jacobite forces were defeated in one last battle in 1746. If you've ever read or seen Outlander, it is a prominent location within the series. Reading those books sparked a real interest for me in the Jacobite rebellion that took place in Scotland in the mid-1700s, so visiting this site and the attached museum was amazing.
Days 11-12: Edinburgh
Our final days in Scotland were spent in Edinburgh, a city filled with history, music, and cobblestone streets, before heading back to Glasgow to depart. Click HERE to read about our experience in Edinburgh!
Check out my custom map below to see our driving route!
I sincerely hope you enjoyed following along on our Scotland road trip adventure! It was such a blast and gave us so many amazing memories. I encourage anyone who has ever considered visiting Scotland - do it!! You will most definitely not regret it.
If you have any questions about road trip planning or anything else, as always, feel free to ask!