Owing to all sorts of factors, not least of which was travelling on a bigger-than-backpackers budget for the first time, driving Scotland for 10 days was one of the best trips I’ve taken to date.
I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with this incredible country! From gorgeous scenery, unique roadside animals (hello, coos!), castles, ocean, burly Scot accents, and plenty of good beer and whiskey, there’s something for everyone.
Day 1 – Glasgow
Day 2 – Fort William
Days 3 – 5 – Isle of Skye
Day 6 – Ullapool
Days 7 – Inverness
Days 8-9 – Edinburgh
Day 10 – Stirling (or Edinburgh)
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I arrived in Glasgow late afternoon, having spent the day on the train from London (which is a stunning initiation into the country and highly recommended – much more relaxed than a flight (and airports), too!).
Don’t bother with the express train; it costs £22 and takes 30-40 minutes. Grab the regular train to Euston station for only £6 instead – though it will take you about 1.5 hours, it’s perfectly comfortable and you can watch London go by!
With limited time to enjoy much of the city for the day, I’ve opted not to include it as a full day on the itinerary. However I did note a few places below worth eating and drinking if you find yourself there similarly!
Glasgow is very much the “working city” of Scotland and it has a bit of a ruggedness to it that is both appealing and yet less enticing than the majesty of Edinburgh.
That said, the inner city is beautiful and boasts many murals! They were hiding in plain sight on nearly every street. With the combination of older buildings, modern/commercial buildings, and great parks and murals, it’s a city worth a stop if you’re driving.
Extensive research led me to the conclusion that rental cars are cheaper out of any city other than Edinburgh. Since the trains from London (or Edinburgh for that matter) get you just as easily to Glasgow, it may be worth comparing prices to save yourself some money!
From Glasgow, I grabbed a rental car and headed towards Fort William to catch the famed Harry Potter train. I am not a Potterhead, but I am enamoured of trains, bridges, and that “olden days” aesthetic! It was an absolute must.
The drive between the two cities can be slow going but it’s beautiful and afforded plenty of gorgeous places to pull over en route. In fact, I would have loved to have an entire day to do just this stretch of highway. Half a day was ok though, in the interest of seeing more and getting farther flung.
The journey would be about 3 hours direct, but with stops along the way it took about 5 or so.
The Jacobite Steam Train was one of my highlights of Scotland, which is saying something given that I loved every bit of the country. So…you really might want to consider doing it!
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is famous for being the spot where you can get shots of the Jacobite steam train as it passes…over the viaduct.
The train will pass at around 11am, so leave Fort William no later than 9:15 to make sure you get there and get parked with enough time to scope out a spot. The parking is horrendous – don’t doubt me on this! You may have to head to the overflow lot and walk back.
There will be lots of people vying for a spot. Get your spot and stand in front of your camera to stake out the area. People have no shame! ALSO, consider taking a different angle down below or go up the hill behind the parking lot instead for a different (and probably more interesting) take on the classic shot!
After a brief stop at the little train cafe in Glenfinnan (where the train will also stop – so bonus! you can get up close and personal with the train, even if you didn’t ride it!), head to the Isle of Skye.
Skip the ferry at Mallaig. It looks like the faster option but it’s busy, often behind schedule, regularly cancelled, and if you aren’t lucky enough to hit it just right, you’ll lose most of a day backtracking (as I did!).
Head to the Skye Bridge instead! The drive to Skye is beautiful and the elegant bridge connecting land…and Skye (see what I did there!?) is worth the extra driving.
This was a big, jam-packed day! Having lost so much of the day before, I really crammed in as much as I could. But honestly just driving around the island, there was so much to see and do, that I hope for your sake you can take some time to pull over and drink it all in!
I’m throwing a day more than I had on here because the Isle of Skye was gorgeous and so much of my time there felt rushed. I really recommend taking the time to meander more, do at least one of the hikes, and even just sit in Portree’s little harbour and read or paint.
Whether on your way on or off the island, don’t forget to stop at the Eileen Donan Castle (apparently particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset). It sits very near the bridge, on the mainland.
This was the most frustrating day of my entire trip – made so because of the absolute unexpectedness of how far, how slow, and how small and long the roads were through the Highlands. It actually altered my entire itinerary (which I had based on serious research and google mapping every distance) and prompted me to write an entire post on things you should know about driving the Highlands!
In the end, it was lovely and an absolute highlight, but I’ll definitely be needing to head back to get to the Northern parts of the Highlands. I can imagine they must be incredible, based on the beauty I was fortunate to see despite the mix-up.
Let’s face it: you’re going to Inverness for one, maybe two reasons: Loch Ness and Culloden. You can do these in one morning, easily. You could even avoid spending the night in Inverness if you wanted to just cruise through! But it is a fair drive from Ullapool and two of my trip highlights were in fact, en route, meaning I arrived to Inverness a bit late to be fitting in both locales.
Edinburgh is very much one of those cities in which you could spend a day and have a great time or explore for a week straight and still feel you hadn’t seen it all. Which to my mind, makes it a very cool city indeed.
Stirling likely doesn’t make most itineraries, because it’s small and really more of a University town than anything. That said, it’s close to both Edinburgh and Glasgow, so it’s easily accesible and it does boast one claim to fame: William Wallace.
That’s right. Stirling is the site where he famously beat back the English army, and so there is a monument erected in his honour! The monument itself is quite cute, with the tiniest winding stairway allll the way up, affording views of the surrounding countryside. It’s a bit pricey to my mind (£20 if I recall), but may be worth it to some.
Also, Stirling University’s grounds are beautiful and very walk-able. Plus there are a few older buildings to roam, as long as you’re decent at blending in 😉 Certainly worth checking out if you find yourself in this cute little University town. Have fish and chips for lunch at the Allan Water Cafe and meander a few cute shops nearby.
If Stirling doesn’t interest you, I recommend taking another day in Edinburgh! I found the city enchanting just to wander and wished I’d had a lot more time there – be sure to wander through the tiny alleyways you encounter to find the best little spots and report back on the any magic you find!
And last but not least, if you can find any excuse to stay in a castle, regardless of price or prestige (it’s still a castle, who cares if it’s the fancy dancy one!), then do it. Because YOLO, guys. And also, it’s amazing!
(I stayed at Melville Castle and you can read all about it here before deciding if it would fulfill your castle dreams.)
It bears repeating that Scotland is an INCREDIBLE place to visit and you should not tarry – plan your trip asap!
If you’ve been, what was your fave spot? Did I miss anything!?
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