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Image: Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag seen from Glen Etive

The Highlands

The Scottish Highlands is really the Scotland of your imagination and the perfect backdrop for your next adventure. It's no wonder that it was named as one of National Geographic's "Best of the World" destinations in 2023. Explore the mysterious Loch Ness, pass through the striking Cairngorms National Park, walk up Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis, or discover the rugged coastline of Caithness.

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Things to do in the Highlands

Slow down and take the time to engage with the Scottish Highlands. Between city, countryside and coast, the Highlands offers plenty of things to see and do.

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9 Hidden Gems You Mustn't Miss around Loch Ness

Discover the hidden gems of Loch Ness, and explore some of the best things to see & do in the area. From ancient mysteries, to enchanting forests.

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7 Amazing Things To Do Around John O'Groats

Find great things to see and do in John O’Groats and the surrounding area. Discover amazing castles, experience the Northern Lights and more!

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12 Top Things to Do in Moray Speyside

Find great things to do in Moray Speyside. Including towns to explore, towers to climb, castles to discover, and more!

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11 Amazing Activities & Things to do in Inverness

Find out about attractions, activities, tours and more in Inverness.

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Epic Cycling Routes & Holidays in the Highlands

Explore the Highlands on two wheels.

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Unmissable Things To Do in Fort William

Get set for action in the outdoor capital of the UK.

Inspiration for Highland breaks

Wherever you choose to stay in the Highlands, you'll find stunning hotels, trendy hostels, comfy B&Bs and a whole range of unique self-catering accommodation. 

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The Torridon, a luxury estate retreat in Wester Ross

Places to Stay

Check out these handpicked locations for your next holiday in the Highlands.

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Harry Potter Film and Book Locations Itinerary

Follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter with our 4-day itinerary travelling from Edinburgh to the Highlands.

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4-Day West Highland Railway Line Itinerary

One of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.

The Great Glen Way

The Great Glen Way is a popular and challenging walking route.

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North Coast 500 Itineraries

Check out the 2 free itineraries or become a member for more tips on planning the ultimate themed route.

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The North East 250

The North East 250 explores everything for which Scotland is famous in a unique Scottish road trip.

North West Highlands Geopark

Follow one of the Pebble Routes through the North West Highlands Geopark.

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Find out more about the National Cycle Network

The routes provide a unique snapshot of the country’s rich history whilst also connecting all of Scotland's major cities.

Unique Experiences

Whether you're attending a Highland Games, sampling local whiskies or adventuring up the UK's highest mountain, let the Highlands spark your imagination. 

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Speyside's Malt Whisky Trail

Follow this 3-day itinerary around some of Speyside's top whisky attractions in the north east of Scotland.

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Highland Games in Scotland

From the tug o' war to the caber toss, Scotland's Highland games are not to be missed.

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Discover Ben Nevis, Scotland’s iconic peak, “the mountain with its head in the clouds”.

Map of the Highlands

Explore the highlands.

Get friendly and helpful advice for your trip at our iCentres.

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The Highlands by Area

Geodiversity, outdoor adventures, history, arts & crafts, music, food & drink - whatever it is you love, you'll find it in the Highlands.

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Moray Speyside

Discover a land of natural contrasts, from the mighty Cairngorm Mountains to the rugged world-famous Moray coast.

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Inverness & Loch Ness

Discover the history, experiences, people and places that surround Inverness and Loch Ness.

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West Highland Peninsulas

Discover rugged mountains, stunning coastlines, beautiful lochs, historic castles and much more.

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Easter Ross

A place you can reset the clock, drinking in the scenery whilst sipping a locally distilled single malt.

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Fort William & Lochaber

Welcome to the outdoor capital of Scotland.

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Aviemore & The Cairngorms

The UK’s largest National Park, in the Scottish Highlands, offers masses of things to do including watersports, snowsports and wildlife watching.

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Nairn is a relaxing and friendly seaside town on the Moray firth.

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Skye & Lochalsh

Your perfect Isle of Skye adventure awaits!

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Wester Ross

Explore and stay in this beautiful area, famous for walking and hiking.

Caithness & Sutherland

Adventurers will find this region rich in unique leisure opportunities.

Travel to and around the Highlands

Getting to the highlands, getting around the highlands, bus and coach.

You can easily get to and around the Highlands using the extensive network of public transport and roads. The region may appear remote, but this beautiful part of Scotland is very accessible and is certainly worth the journey. 

For local bus services and timetables check out  Stagecoach Bus

To work out your travel plans, decide which area of the Highlands you want to visit, and you can then find information on travelling by train or other forms of transport.

Inverness is a travel hub for the Highlands, with local services to and from places such as Nairn and Elgin, or connections further afield to cities like Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

For train times and ticket information check out Scotrail

Depending on which part of the Highlands you are travelling to, local websites have up-to-date information on how to get there by car and other forms of transport. Choose a location and take a look at the one of the links below: 

Travel to Inverness, Nairn & Loch Ness  

Travel to Moray Speyside  

Travel to Skye  

Travel to North Highlands  

Travel to Fort William & Lochaber  

Travel to the Cairngorms National Park  

Travel to Ullapool and Wester Ross  

Inverness Airport is located to the east of Inverness city centre, with a short journey time to the centre by car. The airport has flights to and from destinations across Europe, including several airports in London.

It is also possible to fly to other airports in Scotland, including Edinburgh Airport and Glasgow Airport before travelling north to your destination.

Discover more about flying to Scotland

The Highlands is a beautiful place to explore on a bike. There are a number of cycle routes  to explore in the area, which provide a blend of wide open spaces, forests and woodland - along with relatively quiet roads in many locations. 

Using public transport on your trip to the Scottish Highlands is easy and accessible. 

A local bus network connects towns and villages in the region including popular places such as Inverness, Fort William and Aviemore.

Railway stations in the Highlands include Fort William, Wick, Thurso, Carrbridge and Kingussie.

You can get to most places that have rail services from Inverness train station. 

For more information, visit the Scotrail website.

The Highlands has an extensive road network including several waymarked driving routes such as the NC500  and SnowRoads Route .

Bringing your electric car? Browse charging points in the Scottish Highlands.

The A9 links Inverness to southern Scotland. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh are around 3 hours away, while the west coast of Scotland is accessible via the A86 and A82 to Fort William. The A96 links Inverness to Aberdeen on the east coast.

What's on in the Highlands

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Nairn Highland Games

© Iain Fairweather

Find out about the great events happening in the Scottish Highlands, spanning from cultural exhibitions to physical challenges in stunning landscapes! 

Places to eat in the Highlands

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MacGregors Bar, Inverness

Food and drink

A tip from your local expert.

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Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

Just north of the beautiful fishing village of Ullapool, Knockan Crag Visitor Centre is open year-round and promises an earth-moving experience for all. Follow the Rock Route into the North West Highlands Geopark and step back in time!

Assistant iCentre Manager, Ullapool

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Scottish Highlands   Travel Guide

Courtesy of miroslav_1 | Getty Images

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11 Best Things To Do in Scottish Highlands

Updated Feb. 11, 2021

The best way to tackle this wildland is to figure out what kind of adventure you want to have. If you're looking for heart-pumping hikes, hit up the mountainous Cairngorms National Park or traverse the U.K.'s tallest peak, Ben Nevis . For low-level

  • All Things To Do

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Isle of Skye Isle of Skye free

If you only had time to visit one part of the Scottish Highlands, let it be the Isle of Skye. Located on the west coast of the Highlands, Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides. The island is filled to the brim with otherworldly landscapes. There's a lot to see on this island, but travel experts and visitors say you can't leave without peeping these gems: the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr, Neist Point and the Fairy Pools.

The Quiraing is the perfect introduction to Skye's spellbinding geography. As you descend down the Quiraing, you'll be greeted with sweeping views of stunning geography: Cracked plateaus with craggy cliffsides lead the way to an expansive valley of verdant rolling hills, stately rock formations and alpine lakes. Situated 13 miles south is the Old Man of Storr, a single, pinnacle-shaped rock which stands out for its looks; it's so tall and distinct, it can easily be spotted from sea level miles away.

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Glencoe Glencoe free

You may hear the word "glen" a lot during your trip to the Scottish Highlands. A glen is another word for a narrow valley and the Highlands is filled with them. The most popular glen for visitors – not to mention one of the most popular attractions in the Scottish Highlands – is Glencoe. Glencoe is situated 23 miles south of Ben Nevis along Loch Leven in the central Highlands. The valley is consistently lauded by both travelers and locals for its awe-inspiring landscape, with many recent visitors describing its terrain as "out of this world." The A82 highway conveniently cuts right through the verdant Glencoe valley. Many visitors report only driving through Glencoe due to time constraints, but many express regret at not being able to explore this stunning area more. Luckily, if you are short on time, travelers do say the scenic drive certainly impressed and there are multiple viewing spots along the highway.

If you do have time to explore Glencoe, you'll find the area offers spectacular hikes and great water activities on Loch Leven. The Coire Gabhail, or Lost Valley hike, is a popular 2 ½-mile trail that weaves through a wooded gorge between some of Glencoe's munros and ends in a wide, open valley tucked away from the view of the highway. If you want to hike to the top of a munro, try the 5-mile-long Buachaille Etive Beag or the 7-mile-long Bidean nam Bian for sweeping views of the Glencoe valley. 

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Cairngorms National Park Cairngorms National Park free

Cairngorms National Park is its own world. You could easily spend days exploring the many mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and villages that comprise the United Kingdom's largest national park. Measuring 1,748 square miles, Cairngorms not only boasts four of Scotland's five tallest mountains but also five of the U.K.'s six tallest peaks. In addition to plenty of hiking, biking and skiing trails, the park also features unique attractions. Here you'll find ancient castles – including Balmoral Castle, a favorite of Queen Victoria – and an impressive number of breweries and distilleries, as well as Britain's only free-grazing reindeer herd, the Cairngorm Reindeer.

With so much to see and do, the park may be overwhelming for first-time visitors. The most popular activities in the park are hiking, seeing the Cairngorm Reindeer and riding the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, which transports passengers 3,500 feet up into the park's mountain range. For a low-level trek, try the 5-mile-long Kingussie to Newtonmore trail, which weaves along the base of the Monadhliath Mountains and the peaceful River Spey.

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Popular Tours

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The Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle from Inverness

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Day tour to Isle of Skye and Fairy Pools from Inverness

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Eilean Donan Castle Eilean Donan Castle

Of all the castles to visit in the Scottish Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is the one worth taking the detour for. Located near the small town of Dornie in the northeastern Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is considered an icon among locals for its rich history and picturesque placement at the junction of three different lochs (Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long all meet here). The castle was originally built in the 13th century by Alexander II of Scotland to guard the area against possible Viking invasions. The castle stood in grandeur for hundreds of years until the 18th century, when the Jacobites (Catholic Scottish opposition group to the Protestant, English-ruling government) took over the castle and occupied it. Soon after, English forces descended upon the castle and destroyed it in battle, leaving Eilean Donan in ruins for hundreds of years. It wasn't until the early 1900s that a lieutenant colonel bought the land the castle occupied and rebuilt Eilean Donan from the ground up.

Inside the castle, you'll find period decor, as well as weaponry and artifacts from the Jacobite era. However, most travelers admit making time for Eilean Donan primarily for its scenic address. The castle is situated on a very small island surrounded by lochs lined with leafy munros. Accessible only by an old stone footbridge, it's easy to see why the castle is considered such a special place for Scots. Travelers do say that since this is such a popular attraction, it's best to get there early as coach buses are known to stop here on tours of the Scottish Highlands.

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Glenfinnan & the West Highland Line Glenfinnan & the West Highland Line free

The "Harry Potter" movies were filmed throughout the Scottish Highlands (the location of Hagrid's hut can be found in Glencoe ), but the most recognizable location is in Glenfinnan. Remember that stately, stone bridge the Hogwarts Express always crossed on its way to Hogwarts? That's the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The Jacobite Steam Train, which shares a striking resemblance to the Hogwarts Express, runs along the Glenfinnan Viaduct. If you can swing it, you should consider a ride on the train, even if you aren't a "Harry Potter" fan. That's because train follows the West Highland Line, considered one of the most scenic train routes in the world. The West Highland Line travels along the west coast of Scotland, through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and remote Highlands areas inaccessible by car. Note: The Jacobite Steam Train follows part of the West Highland Line, not all of it; the ScotRail operates the route in full. 

If you aren't riding the train, you can get a great view of the viaduct from the Glenfinnan Trail View Point, which starts conveniently at the Glenfinnan train station. Travelers who visited the Glenfinnan Viaduct recommend coming when the Jacobite train is scheduled to pass by. "Harry Potter" fans particularly enjoyed the view, saying it was fun to imagine that they were watching the Hogwarts Express on its way to school. Others travelers offered mixed reviews, with some saying it was nothing more than a train passing over a bridge.

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Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park free

Scotland's first national park houses Loch Lomond, Britain's largest loch. The park is much smaller than its northern neighbor ( Cairngorms National Park is 1,748 square miles while Loch Lomond & The Trossachs measures 720 square miles), but it still offers plenty of things to do. While Cairngorms is known for its mountains, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs stands out for its many beautiful bodies of water. Along with the grand Loch Lomond, the park has 22 other lochs to its name, yielding about 39 miles of coastline for visitors to enjoy, as well as 50 rivers. 

The park is divided into four distinct areas. Loch Lomond is considered its own distinct area and is the most visited, offering villages for visitors to stay, shop and sightsee in. The second most-visited area is the Trossachs, situated northeast of Loch Lomond. The Trossachs stands out for housing two National Scenic Areas, the Great Trossachs Forest and Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, the former of which stands as one of the U.K.'s largest national nature reserves. The Trossachs is an endless sea of munros (mountains higher than 3,000 feet) overlooking glittering lochs, including the popular Loch Katrine. For breathtaking loch views, hike Ben A'an, a 1,491-foot-tall hill that overlooks both Loch Katrine and Loch Achray. If you're looking for something a little more leisurely, hit up part of the 30-mile-long Great Trossachs Path, which passes by Loch Katrine, Loch Arklet and Loch Venachar.

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Loch Ness Loch Ness free

You can't leave the Scottish Highlands without visiting the infamous Loch Ness, Scotland's largest loch (by volume). Loch Ness is known worldwide for housing the mythical, dinosaur-like monster, Nessie. The loch spans 23 miles in length and is 700 feet at its deepest, making the Nessie conspiracy all the more plausible. Aside from the Nessie legend, Loch Ness offers stunning scenery, with forest-filled mountains flanking either side of the serene loch. Most travelers choose to enjoy Loch Ness by cruise. Sailings depart from various towns along the loch, including Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit and Inverness.

There are also multiple points of interest and hikes worth exploring offshore. One of the most popular attractions is the thousand-year-old Urquhart Castle, which sits in ruins at the edge of Loch Ness in Drumnadrochit. Drumnadrochit is also home to the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, perfect for those wanting to learn more about the legend of Nessie. For hiking, you'll find plenty of trails in and around Loch Ness. The Fall of Foyers trail, which is close to 3 miles in length, takes travelers to the popular Fall of Foyers, the shores of Loch Ness and atop hills overlooking the loch as well. For more of a trek, try the highest hill in Loch Ness, Meall Fuar-mhonaidh. This nearly 6-mile trek takes travelers to the top of the hill, offering expansive views of both Loch Ness and the general Great Glen area (which spans from Inverness to Fort William). 

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Scottish Highlands Beaches Scottish Highlands Beaches free

If you really want to take in the full spectrum of the Highlands' geographical grandeur, make time for its beaches. Some of the beaches feature waters so clear and sands so white they resemble the kind of shorelines you'd find in the Caribbean. In contrast, there are also a plethora of beaches in the Highlands that are much more dramatic in landscape, akin to the rocky, mountainous coastline you'd come across in the Pacific Northwest.

If you're on the west coast, start at Camusdarach Beach in Morar. Camusdarach Beach is a lengthy shore backed by soft dunes and flanked by green hills and craggy bluffs. The beach also offers views of the mountains on distant isles, including the Isle of Skye . For a more Caribbean feel, head to Achmelvich Beach, located in the northwestern town of Lochinver. It features clear, turquoise waters and nearly white sands. For something a little more remote (with far fewer crowds), trek to Sandwood Bay. This beach requires visitors to traverse an 8-mile round-trip coastal hike, but is consistently lauded as one of the best beaches in Britain for its rich blue waters and striking cliffs situated on either side of the shore. If you'd prefer a shorter walk, Sango Bay in Durness offers similar scenery.

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Loch Ness 1-Hour Cruise with Urquhart Castle Views

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Loch Ness Cruise and Urquhart Castle visit from Inverness

Loch Ness Cruise and Urquhart Castle visit from Inverness

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Scottish Highlands Golf Courses Scottish Highlands Golf Courses

If you're a golfer and happen to be in the Scottish Highlands, you'll want to take advantage of the region's beautiful courses. In fact, the Scottish Highlands is home to some of the best golf courses in the world. Here, you can find courses both along the water and inland as well as in remote areas and well-connected locales. The highest concentration of golf courses can be found in Caithness, Ross-Shire, Speyside, Sutherland and Inverness, though there are noteworthy courses spread out elsewhere as well. 

There is truly a course for all types of golfers in the Scottish Highlands. If you prefer your golf with a side of Scotch whiskey, travel south to Speyside (a known distillery hub in Scotland) to enjoy the Speyside Golf Experience . If you're looking for something more remote, head up to the Brora Golf Club in Sutherland, where instead of yardage markers you'll likely run into sheep on the course. If you want to golf where King Edward VII once did, head up the Royal Dornoch Golf Course (after he visited, the course altered its name to include "Royal" in the title).

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Duncansby Head Duncansby Head free

England has the White Cliffs of Dover, Ireland has the Cliffs of Moher and the Scottish Highlands has Duncansby Head. Located on the northernmost tip of Scotland's east coast, Duncansby Head features jagged cliffs – draped in rich, evergreen vegetation – that stretch as far as the eye can see. While you'll likely find this kind of geography in other parts of the coastal Highlands, what makes Duncansby Head stands out are its stacks. The Duncansby Stacks are a series of striking rock formations that stand less than a mile off the coast of Duncansby Head. With their rocky silhouettes so closely resembling that of the mainland's edge, it almost looks as if they are puzzle pieces that could easily fit right back into the slits of the cliffs.

The trail to get to the Duncansby Stacks is a little more than 5 miles in length and incredibly scenic, according to recent visitors. The trail lines the edge of the coast, starting at John O'Groats, a small village nearest Duncansby Head. Before you get to the cliffs, you'll pass by a few low-level beaches. Once you get to the lighthouse, you'll reach Duncansby Head and be less than a mile from the stacks. Visitors note that they had to traverse through grassy meadows along this part of the trail and, considering the damp nature of the area, strongly suggested sturdy boots. Visitors also reported very windy conditions, so bring a sturdy jacket with you as well. When you reach the stacks, don't forget to look down. Travelers say that they were able to spot seals and puffins around the cliffs and on the beaches.

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Ben Nevis Ben Nevis free

The most popular trail in the Scottish Highlands is also one of its most challenging. Ben Nevis, the U.K.'s tallest mountain, sits just 7 miles southeast of Fort William. Nevis clocks in around 4,406 feet high, yielding incredible views at the top for those tough enough to ascend its summit. Of all the 125,000 travelers who visit the mountain per year, only 25,000 successfully conquer Ben. The trail is nearly 11 miles total and, according to the Fort William tourism board, takes about seven hours to complete (four hours up and three hours down), though some hikers reported that it can take less time in ideal weather conditions. Travelers who did reach the top say the trek was completely worth it for the unmatched views of the Highlands.

Echoing the concerns of the Fort William tourism board, hikers said the weather conditions in Ben Nevis are unpredictable and can change rapidly, even during a perfect summer's day. Always check the weather beforehand. Wind conditions in particular are known to get more intense the closer you get to the summit, regardless of the temperature. And because the terrain is entirely composed of rock, you'll want to wear the proper hiking shoes. Plan to carry lots of water and snacks, and know that the only restrooms available are at the bottom of the mountain.

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10 Days in the Scottish Highlands: The Ultimate Itinerary

Posted by Francesca Brooking | Europe , Scotland | 14

The Highlands are arguably Scotland’s crowning glory. This mountainous region draws many visitors for its promise of solitude, glorious landscapes and castle ruins among other things. 

In this article, I’ll walk you through this 10-Day Scottish Highlands itinerary so you can make the most of your trip.

This itinerary was booked through Byway Travel, a low-impact travel company that does all the fiddly planning for you so you can sit back and enjoy the trip. It can be completely tailored to you too.

Encompassing Scotland’s northwestern side, highlands itineraries tend to include some of the Western Isles along the coast and for good reason.

The seafood is absolutely outstanding here and the beaches are simply breathtaking (some of the best in Europe!) 

So, when it comes to planning your Scottish Highland Itinerary, you’re spoilt for choice. How can you make sure you see the best of everything? A low-impact UK tour operator, Byway Travel, is here to help.

They take into account your preferences to create a tailored itinerary that’s kind to the planet. 

It’s perfect for solo travellers or couples who love adventure but want the ease of having the finer points planned.

The trip allows you to immerse yourself in nature with minimal impact on the environment. 

If you love mountains, islands, cosy guesthouses, pubs with roaring fires, organic whisky distilleries and quite possibly some of the best train journeys in the world then this itinerary is for you.

And hey, if you would prefer to organise this Scottish Highlands road trip yourself then you can replicate this itinerary too. 

Map of this Highlands & Islands itinerary

Why you should visit the scottish highlands & islands.

Kilchurn Castle in Loch Awe. It's a must for your Scottish Highlands itinerary.

The majestic Kilchurn Castle

The Scottish Highlands and the Western Isles are where nature and adventure meet. Here, the sparsely populated landscape is rugged and wildlife is abundant.

The Inner Hebrides claim to have some of the best beaches in the world and you can spend your time hiking, island-hopping, visiting distilleries and enjoying fresh seafood. 

The Highlands, in particular, are known for their beauty. Although hardly a best-kept secret, they’re remote enough to make you feel like it’s just you and nature. 

You can journey up the Western Highlands by train past dramatic ruined castles, ride a steam train over Scotland’s most famous viaduct and enjoy lochs galore at every turn.

What’s more, wildlife lovers can catch sightings of porpoises, dolphins, minke whales, seals, eagles, deer and so much more!

Wondering what to pack for a trip to Scotland? Read my complete guide here.

So, what is Byway Travel?

A girl in a red jacket stands facing the tall cement archways of Glenfinnan Viaduct with rugged mountains behind.

Byway Travel is a new tour operator on the block that specialises in bespoke package holidays for the UK and some parts of Europe.

The wonderful thing about this travel company is that their whole ethos centres around helping you have off-the-beaten-track experiences through slow travel. 

Every tailored trip is a no-fly holiday. You’re invited to explore by train and boat, stop at unique stays and enjoy lesser-known activities en route. 

Byway is your go-to travel planner. They sort everything from your accommodation to your activities as well as all your transfers. They’re on hand to help you every step of the way, including during the trip itself. 

When arranging your tour, the Byway team will take your preferences into account to make sure the trip is tailored to you. You’ll also get expert advice on all the hidden gems and local favourites in the area you’re planning to visit. 

Byway is an environmentally friendly travel company. They create trips that don’t rely on flying and they recommend sustainable places to stay that support the local community wherever possible. 

They’ve also recently become a Certified B Corporation.

B Corps are businesses that balance purpose and profit. This means that they’re legally required to scrutinise their impact on their employees, customers suppliers, community and environment. 

You can read more about B Corporations here. 

To be honest, I think more businesses should be B Corps!

Read More:  10 of the Best Tour Operators in the World

Your perfect 10-day Scottish Highlands itinerary

An orange Highland Cow stands in a muddy field in Pollock Park, Glasgow.

Byway Travel are specialists in adventure and this amazing tour was put together specifically for those who love nature, wildlife and the remote wilderness.

The tour focuses on the Western Highlands and Scottish Isles, including the Inner Hebrides so you can get the best of the mountain landscape and rugged coastline.  I did this tour myself so I can attest that it’s a brilliant trip.

Scottish Highlands trip details 

Length: 10 days

Start-end: Glasgow

Adults: 1 (the tour is designed for solo travellers but it can be customisable)

Extras: The tour can be completely tailored to you

Price: From £1,257 per adult (including transport and accommodation but not activities)

Below is your Scotland 10-day itinerary. Like any Byway tour, it’s completely customisable to you: 

Day 1: Glasgow to Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is a must for your Scottish Highlands itinerary. The loch is surrounded by the hills of the Trossachs National Park.

The first stop on your trip is Glasgow. It’s a beautiful city, well-known for its 18th-century and art nouveau architecture.

Although Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, Glasgow is much bigger. It’s also a cultural hub, home to the National Theatre of Scotland and the Scottish Ballet. 

Glasgow is a fascinating city, well worth a look around before you head over to Queen Street Station to catch the West Highland Line northbound. 

This train journey is particularly beautiful, so there will never be a dull moment outside the window. In fact, it’s easily one of my all-time favourites. Get ready to feast your eyes on deep forests, rugged mountains and shimmering lochs all the way up.  

Before long, you’ll reach the iconic beauty that is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Hop off at Arrochar and Tarbet Station to stretch your legs and explore for a couple of hours. 

Loch Lomond makes for a fantastic lunch stop. Afterwards, you can go walking on one of the many popular hiking routes, take a kayak out on the water or simply sit and admire the view. 

Read More:  13 Best Day Trips from Glasgow by Public Transport

Loch Lomond to Isle of Mull 

For the next leg of your journey, rejoin the West Highland Line to reach the port of Oban. Once again, you’ll be spoilt for scenic views speeding by your window.

Stunning highlights include the dramatic sight of the ruined Kilchurn Castle at the top of Loch Awe. Awe is right as the ruins cut a striking image that’s mirrored in the dark waters of the loch. It’s really quite something to see!

Once you arrive at Oban, take your time grabbing a bite at one of its many eateries. You won’t regret it as this little resort town is Scotland’s seafood capital. You bet they will be serving the best fresh fish around! 

Day 1-4: Explore the Isle of Mull

Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Colourful houses lined up across a harbour

To reach Mull, you need to get on a 45-minute ferry. Tobermory on Mull is an excellent place to set up base for a few nights.

You have an abundance of coastal walks, cosy pubs and eateries with delicious, fresh seafood on your doorstep. Seriously though, the seafood is out of this world here – especially the crab!

For the next four days, allow yourself to really sink into island life. There are plenty of things to do on Mull. You can head down to the beach for wildlife spotting. On a good day, you can see the likes of dolphins, porpoises, otters, white-tailed eagles and plenty of seals. 

The Ross of Mull is an excellent place to go wild swimming, crag climbing, cycling and kayaking. You can go island-hopping on Ulva, Staffa (for puffins!) and Iona .

I recommend doing this wildlife boat trip to the dramatic island of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. I saw cormorants, dolphins, seals and rare feeding minke whales!

You can also take a water taxi to Drimnin to visit Nc’Nean , an organic whisky distillery. 

If you want to see more of the Scottish islands, south of Mull lies Islay which is famous for its whisky. I recommend staying at the beautiful Glenegedale House. You can r ead a review of it here. 

Where to stay: Harbour View B&B

Where to eat: Fisherman’s Pier (for award-winning fish ‘n’ chips!)

Day 5: Visit remote Corrour

Corrour is part of this Scottish Highlands itinerary. It's a remote moorland with hills and a loch.

Today you’ll take the ferry back to the mainland and travel to Corrour.

It’s a particularly special stop for those who want to go somewhere really remote. Corrour is only accessible by train, bike or a twenty-minute walk. There are no public roads.

If you stay here for a night, you can ramble through the surrounding moorland, visit the beautiful Loch Ossian and hike up Beinn na Lap (although you will need to have the right equipment with you!). 

Corrour is also a fantastic place for stargazing as there’s hardly any light pollution. It’s just you and uninterrupted views of the sky all night long.

Where to stay: Corrour Signal Box (from March – otherwise Corrour Station House in the winter)

Where to eat: Corrour Station House

Day 6: Corrour to Glenfinnan

A red steam train crosses a cement curved viaduct with a huge plume of white steam. Rugged mountains form the backdrop. The Jacobite train on Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Now if you’re a bit of a Harry Potter fan then you’re going to absolutely love this part of the Scottish Highlands itinerary. If not, well, it’s just as thrilling, don’t worry. 

You’ll leave Corrour and board the train northbound to Fort William.

Here, you’ll have a chance to get on the Jacobite Steam Train – otherwise known as the Hogwarts Express – which will take you over the 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct. 

This viaduct is an iconic Scottish landmark located at the top of Loch Shiel. Most people know it as the train route to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, although it has an impressive list of other film credentials to its name.

It’s also the longest concrete bridge in Scotland. 

If you want to spend a bit more time here, head close to the shores of Loch Shiel where you will find the Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Centre.

The Monument was erected in 1815 as a tribute to the Jacobite Clansmen who fought and lost their lives in the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’). 

In the Visitor Centre, you’ll learn about the 1745 Jacobite Rising, Prince Charles’ campaign to regain the British throne and his final defeat at the Battle of Culloden. 

You can also climb to the top of the Monument and be treated to panoramic views of Loch Shiel and the surrounding Highlands.

Another ‘eek’ moment for Harry Potter fans – you might recognise Loch Shiel’s island as the location where the Triwizard Tournament was held!

Editor’s tip: If you want to ride the Jacobite Steam Train, your ticket includes a return as standard. It goes directly from Fort William to Mallaig and back again – no stops.

If you want to see the steam train go over Glenfinnan – and explore the area – you will need to get the ScotRail and get off at Glenfinnan. Here’s a guide to the steam train schedule.

Day 6-10: Knoydart Peninsula and the Small Isles OR Isle of Skye

Isle of Eigg coast with a view out towards another island.

After a thrilling ride on the Jacobite Steam Train, head to Mallaig and the Knoydart Peninsula where Byway recommends you stay for another four nights. Here you can make the most of the Small Isles, including Eigg, Muck and Rum.

The Guardian called Eigg Britain’s most eco-friendly island in 2017. This remote Scottish Isle is said to be a pioneer in sustainability.

Virtually 100% of its energy is produced by the first grid in the world to be powered by a combination of wind, solar and hydro schemes.

What’s more, all those cables are underground to protect the island’s unspoilt beauty.  

A popular activity on Eigg is hiking up An Sgùrr, the island’s highest peak. This dramatic hill has stunning panoramic views of Eigg, the other Small Isles and across to Skye. 

Where to stay: The Glebe Barn

Where to eat: Galmisdale Bay Cafe & Bar

if you don’t want to spend as long on Knoydart, I recommend tailoring your trip to include the Isle of Skye too.

Skye is particularly famous for its geological features such as the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, Dunvegan Castle and the Cuillin. You can also visit the stunning Fairy Glen and Fairy Pools. 

From Mallaig, you can get the ferry over to Skye (it’s pretty short!) then drive or take the bus up to Portree.

If you’re castle-hunting, another one not to miss nearby is Eilean Donan Castle but you’ll need to drive or get the number 917 bus from Portree to get there as it’s technically on the mainland.

Stay at Viewfield House , a cosy country estate with an amazing breakfast. Or check out this guide to Skye accommodation here.

Read More:  31 Sustainable Tourism Destinations for Solo Nature Lovers

Day 10: Mallaig to Fort William

An overcast day with clouds descending over a loch and a jetty sticking out from the shore. Loch Linnhe in Fort William.

It’s home time but not before you’re treated to another selection of jaw-dropping views via the Mallaig to Fort William train.  It’s back over Glenfinnan Viaduct so you have another opportunity to admire the view.

Fort William to Glasgow 

The last leg of your journey down to Glasgow takes you past the Horseshoe Curve and Ben Dorain en route. Sit back, relax and enjoy a Scottish Highlands and Islands holiday well spent. 

Spending a bit longer in Fort William? Discover these epic day trips nearby!

So that was your Highlands itinerary!

Photo of a stone spiral surrounded by small hillocks and terraces. A girl in a red coat stands in the distance. Fairy Glen on Isle of Skye.

Byway’s Scottish Highlands tour gives you a perfect snapshot of the country’s wild and iconic landscapes.

This epic 10-day itinerary gives you mountains, lochs and islands galore. You also have fantastic hiking opportunities (so bring your boots!) and a chance to see some incredible wildlife.

The great thing about this tour is that it’s completely accessible by train and ferry. You don’t need to fly or hire a car anywhere. To get up to Scotland, they usually arrange for you to travel on the Caledonian Sleeper.

You can also easily turn it into a road trip itinerary if you would prefer.

Everything is sorted for you from your transport to your accommodation. It’s an effortless way to adventure in the Scottish wilderness. 

Book your Highlands tour with Byway. Visit the website for more information. 

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The Scottish Highlands are Scotland's crowning glory. This 10 day Highlands and islands itinerary covers everything from ancient ruined castles to the Glenfinnan Viaduct (aka the route to Hogwarts), gorgeous islands and dramatic landscapes. Discover your perfect Highlands itinerary without needing a car.

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About The Author

Francesca brooking.

Francesca Brooking is the Founder of Little Lost Travel. A travel expert with a passion for the planet, Francesca is on a mission to help you travel well. From Costa Rica to Jordan, she's travelled all over the world. When she's not off on an adventure, she's reviewing sustainable travel products and writing travel guides.

14 Comments

Wow, this looks incredible! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I enjoy visiting scenic, sparsely populated places far more than big cities. Would love to visit Scotland one day!

Thank you! Yes me too. There’s something so soothing about nature. Scotland is just such an incredible place. Edinburgh is one of my all-time favourite cities.

Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.

Thank you! It really is.

This looks like an amazing itinerary in the Scottish Highlands! It’s been on my bucket list for years. Pinning it for future planning!

Thank you! It really has the best of everything.

You make me miss the Highlands and Islands so much! I did an Outlander tour around Inverness but missed so much of what you highlight here. Thank you for this! I’ll go back with your tips in tow. #TravelBlogTuesday

Outlander tour sounds amazing! I would love to do that too.

Oh my! This is so incredible. I’ll probably change my next destination to Ireland! Bookmarking this 😉

Definitely! 🙂

What a fantastic itinerary! With a few places I haven’t been to too 🙂 and it’s very reasonably priced!! Will have to consider them for future adventures 🙂

Absolutely! Something to look forward to after the pandemic.

It’s an excellent itinerary. I haven’t set foot out of Scotland outside of Edinburgh so following this route might be a good start. The Isle of Mull seems brilliant for wildlife.

Absolutely! This itinerary would be a fab place to start. Nice and easy!

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visit scotland highlands and islands

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Last Updated on 25/05/2024

  • EXPLORE THE REGION Unique experiences, finest local produce and accommodation to suit any traveller. Uncover what the Highlands and Islands have to offer for your next trip by diving into our landscape and the stories it holds! Discover More
  • DISCOVER THE BEST OF AUTUMN EXPERIENCES From golden forests and autumn wildlife to atmospheric skies and northern lights, autumn is a truly enchanted time in the Highlands and Islands. Discover why this is the perfect destination for an autumn break off the beaten track. Discover More
  • PLAN YOUR AUTUMN ADVENTURE Not sure where to start? Find inspiration for your perfect Autumn break with one of our self-guided itineraries based on ancient and modern stories. Discover More
  • GET INSPIRED BY OUR PEOPLE The Highlands and Islands is a region of storytellers. Gather around a cosy log fire in a pub and listen to fascinating stories, local legends and tales handed down through generations. Explore our spirit through our stories! Discover More

INSPIRING STORIES, UNFORGETTABLE SURROUNDINGS

Autumn in the Highlands and Islands is stunning and the perfect time of year to escape into nature. From breathing in forests bathed in gold and red, to enjoying a brisk walk along a white sandy beach and feeling the warmth of roaring fires in the evening light, you won’t want to miss out on an Autumn adventure here.

Storytelling is an intrinsic part of the culture of the Highlands and Islands. Stories have shaped our land and people past, present and future! Become part of the story and share moments you’ll never forget this Autumn.

Acknowledgements

The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands project is a partnership project between The Highland Council and High Life Highland , which will be delivered in collaboration with VisitScotland

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with thanks to our funders

Inverness and Highland City Region Deal , European Regional Development Fund , Scottish Government , NatureScot and Highlands and Islands Enterprise

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Scottish Highlands

The Scottish Highlands: The Complete Guide

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The Scottish Highlands belong on every traveler's bucket list, but, in particular, the beautiful region of Scotland is coveted by nature lovers and outdoorsy adventurers. Located in the western and northern areas of Scotland, the Highlands feature unparalleled scenery, from towering mountain ranges to sweeping, green countryside to sparkling lochs. It's the sort of place that feels otherworldly, especially when you leave the beaten path and get into the more remote areas of the Highlands. It can be difficult to decide what to include on a Highlands itinerary, but you really can't go wrong, especially if you give yourself plenty of time to explore.

The Top Destinations in the Scottish Highlands

The Highlands represent a massive area of northern Scotland, including numerous towns, national parks, and wilderness areas. Deciding what to see can be intimating at first, especially when looking at a map, so it's best to narrow your visit down to a few solid destinations. While there are many places to go around the Scottish Highlands, some of the best and most memorable include Cairngorms National Park, Loch Lomond and Glencoe.

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park is one of the most famous areas in the Highlands, boasting magnificent views you won't forget. The vast area is the largest national park in the U.K. and welcomes both day-trippers and those who hope to spend a few days (or even a week) exploring its lakes, mountains, and natural formations. Camping is particularly popular in Cairngorms and there are numerous campsites, for both tents and camper vans, throughout the park.

Cairngorms National Park isn't just for hiking and camping, either. The park features numerous museums, historic sites, and even castles, all of which should be part of your itinerary. Look for Balmoral Castle, Ballindalloch Castle, and the Highland Folk Museum , which showcases living history.

Scotch lovers shouldn't miss the Glenlivet Distillery , where the distillery showcases whiskey-making and even includes a tasting on its tours (which should be booked in advance).

Isle of Skye

Located off the west coast of Scotland, Isle of Skye is famous for its rugged yet picturesque landscapes and its beautiful coastline. There are numerous villages throughout the island, including Portree and Dunvegan. Many visitors come to Isle of Skye to spot its varied wildlife and enjoy its iconic hikes. Isle of Skye is best visited during the warmer months, when you can better enjoy the hiking trails and beaches.

There's a lot to see and experience on Skye, so it's best to stay at least a few days, whether it's in a holiday home rental or a campsite. Check out the Talisker distillery and Dunvegan Castle and Gardens , which has been the ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Many visitors also opt to take a boat tour around the island, if you'd like to join one look for tours leaving from Elgol or Portree. If you don't have a car or a rental, stay in one of the main areas, like Portree, but the more remote destinations on the island are recommended for a quiet, nature-focused getaway.

Inverness and Loch Ness

The city of Inverness, located in the far north of Scotland, has a sizable airport and a bustling downtown with nice restaurants and shopping areas. The city is also the gateway to Loch Ness, a beautiful destination that has far more to offer than just its mythic monster. Hiking, fishing, cycling, and skiing are all popular activities in the scenic areas around Inverness, but there's also plenty of history, from Inverness Cathedral to Fort George.

To best explore Loch Ness, book a boat cruise. After the cruise pay a visit to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition . Families will also enjoy Nessieland, a small theme park with play areas and attractions based on Nessie herself. Adventurous travelers should rent a bike and ride the Loch Ness 360° Trail , which circles the entirety of Loch Ness.

Fort William and Ben Nevis

Found in the western part of the Scottish Highlands, Fort William is a town best known as the gateway to Ben Nevis, the U.K.’s tallest peak that was once an active volcano, and the Glen Nevis valley. While many visitors will want to come during the summer for hiking and outdoor activities, the mountains also boasts great skiing at Nevis Range during the colder months. There area has numerous hikes, in varying degrees of difficulty, and many people attempt the steep trek to the top of Ben Nevis via one of its two faces.

Fort William itself is a small town with nice bed and breakfasts and holiday cottages, and there are also several surrounding villages to explore. There are also great pubs and seafood restaurants in the area, including the Ben Nevis Inn, located at the base of the mountain's footpath.

TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan is a small island in the western highlands where Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh meet, and standing atop the island is the iconic Eilean Donan Castle. It's a place you'll recognize from a lot of movies, including the "The World Is Not Enough" and "Highlander." The historic castle, which dates back to the 13th century, welcomes visitors year-round (although opening hours vary by season). Visitors can also book into the castle's vacation cottages. The castle is located near the village of Dornie, another scenic spot to visit during your journey.

Glencoe, found in the Glencoe valley, is best known for its walking trails and the Glencoe Folk Museum , which showcases 18th-century heritage as well as the history of the Glencoe massacre of 1692. The winter brings skiing and sledding at Glencoe Mountain, while spring and summer invite visitors to bike, go sea kayaking and dip into Lochaber Geopark .

Don't miss Glencoe Lochan, a forested wilderness area north of Glencoe's village, and nearby Loch Leven, where you can follow the Loch Leven Heritage Trail around the lake. Hop a boat or kayak to the uninhabited island of Eilean Munde, the burial place of Glencoe's Macdonald clan, in Loch Leven.

Trossachs National Park and Loch Lomond

The famed Loch Lomond can be found in the Trossachs National Park , a vast park known for its amazing views and water sports. Camping is popular in the Trossachs, with wild camping permitted if you want to go more remote. There are also lots of trails for hiking and cycling, and there are six long-distance trails that make their way through the park (each is about 25 miles long and takes several days to complete). Golfing is also popular, with numerous courses available for visitors, including the Buchanan Castle Golf Club and the Aberfoyle Golf Club. At Loch Lomond, look for the Luss Heritage Path, which traverses the countryside as well as the ancient village of Luss.

There are many towns in the Trossachs, many of which lay alongside one of the lochs. Look for St. Fillans, on Loch Earn, and Callander to get a taste of small-town Scottish life. While there is some public transportation around the park, it's best to rent a car or camper van when exploring Trossachs National Park.

Things To Do in the Scottish Highlands

There's a lot to see and do in the Highlands, some of which is dependent on what time of year you visit. Most travelers prefer to tour around the Highlands during the spring, summer, or early fall to take advantage of the nice weather and long hours of daylight. Whether you prefer to explore national parks, uncover historical sites or hang out in the town pub, there's something to do for every type of visitor, including families with kids.

  • Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the Highlands, particularly in the national parks and around Glencoe. Be sure to look for advice from the local visitor's center on the best trails for your ability level and be mindful of any weather conditions. Scotland also features numerous long-distance walking trails, in case you want to make a several-day trek through the wilderness.
  • Camping is another highlight of the area, especially since Scotland allows wild camping (which means you can camp anywhere, as long as you follow the rules of the particular area). Many travelers opt to camp for a few nights or even their entire trip, so make sure you have the right gear and you get any necessary permits ahead of time.
  • Golf courses are a dime a dozen in the Highlands and many boast impressive views. Look for famous courses like the Castle Stuart Golf Links and the Dragons Tooth Golf Course.
  • Outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, cycling, and rock climbing can be found throughout the Highlands, and many towns have shops offering boat and bike rentals, as well as fishing gear rentals.
  • Scotland's history dates back hundreds of years, which is evident in the numerous historical sites and castles around the Highlands. You could make an entire itinerary of just castles, which can be found all over the area, often in remote locations. Do some research in advance to ensure the sites are open during your visit as many involve long drives to access them.
  • The Highlands are also known for their whiskey distilleries. Most of the 47 local distilleries welcome visitors, including the area's oldest, Glenturret at Crieff and Balblair at Tain. Those interested in malt whiskey should embark on the Malt Whisky Trail, which features eight distilleries around Speyside.

How To Get There

The Highlands are relatively remote and quite vast, so the best way to visit is via rental car. International travelers can fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh, and rent a car there before traveling north. Alternatively, visitors can fly into Inverness, a smaller airport in the north of Scotland, and then drive to their chosen destination. You can also opt for a camper van to help simplify your travel as wild camping is legal in Scotland.

Those looking for a more scenic route should book a train journey from Glasgow or Edinburgh, both of which are three to five hours away from various Highlands destinations, including Fort William and Aviemore (which offers access to Cairngorms). The journey from Edinburgh to Fort William includes the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct and picturesque scenery included in the "Harry Potter" movies as the Hogwarts Express makes its way from London to the wizards' school. Use the Trainline website to find the best route when booking a train. Buses are also available from Glasgow to Fort William or Glencoe.

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Michelle Bhatia

written by Michelle Bhatia

updated 26.04.2024

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Landscapes of wild and enigmatic beauty, imbued with a sense of myth and ancient history. Dense forests and forbidding mountains, lonely lochs and rivers at almost every turn – and craggy coastlines revealing stunning beaches to rival any in the Caribbean. An unparalleled playground for outdoorsy types, opportunities for adventures are endless. The Scottish Highlands and islands may be officially part of Britain, but they are a world apart.

1. Find solitude on the Knoydart Peninsula

2. spot wildlife, 3. attend a highland games, 4. hike around glen coe, 5. wild camping, 6. drive the north coast 500, 7. visit atmospheric castles, 8. dig your toes into white-sand beaches, 9. learn about scotland’s ancient heritage, 10. potter around tobermory, 11. take a tour of islay distilleries, 12. outdoor activities in the cairngorms, 13. attend a shetland festival.

If you’re looking for inspiring ideas of things to do in this outstanding area of Scotland, check our guide to the 13 best things to do in the Scottish Highlands and islands. And for even more ideas and practical information buy our Rough Guides Scottish Highlands and Islands .

Travel ideas for England, created by local experts

The Great British Road Trip

20 days  / from 3042 USD

The Great British Road Trip

Get ready to explore Britain on this unique self-drive road trip. Choose the car of your liking before you hit the road: from the Cotswolds and its picturesque villages over the Beatle's favorite hang-out in Liverpool to Scotland's capital Edinburgh: this trip includes many highlights to be explored

Magical 7-Day Family Adventure in Scotland and England : From Harry Potter to Loch Ness!

7 days  / from 1372 USD

Magical 7-Day Family Adventure in Scotland and England : From Harry Potter to Loch Ness!

Searching for an unforgettable family adventure? Scotland is the perfect destination! With a perfect balance of nature, adventure, and Scottish culture. This 7-day trip offers a delightful mix of activities that everyone in the family will enjoy. Get ready to create life long lasting memories!

Refreshing English Countryside Break

5 days  / from 648 USD

Refreshing English Countryside Break

Outside of London, England is known with a countryside full of history, picturesque villages, patchwork hills, and winding country roads. Explore the countryside with its castles, parks, and historical cities such as Oxford.

If you truly want to get away from it all – two words: Knoydart Peninsula. This wild and beautiful area of the Highlands, just northwest of Fort William, has no roads and just one dinky hamlet. The only way to get there is by boat from Mallaig or on foot. Walking, most likely from Kinloch Hourn, or Loch Arkaig, will most likely take you two to three days, sleeping overnight in bothies, or wild camping. But with scenery this stunning – rugged monros, lochs and tufted moorland, and views out to neighbouring islands – what’s the rush? If you do need a dangling carrot, the village of Inverie is home to a welcoming pub. The Old Forge has fantastic loch views and holds regular live music sessions. It also happens to be the most remote pub in Britain.

Dawn on a mountaintop on the Knoydart Peninsula @ N Mrtgh/Shutterstock

Dawn on the Knoydart Peninsula © N Mrtgh/Shutterstock

Accommodation is mostly in Inverie, with a hostel, B&B, and self-catering options . And Doune Knoydart Hotel, six miles from the village, provides the perfect Highlands hideaway. Owners can pick you up by boat from Mallaig.

Start planning your unforgettable trip to Scotland today! Simply get in touch with our local experts who will tailor a unique itinerary to suit all your wishes.

From seals to whales, dolphins, beavers and birds of prey – when it comes to wildlife, the Scottish Highlands has it covered. It’s exciting to catch sight of a beaver, particularly as these furry water-loving creatures were hunted out of Scotland 400 years ago. But 2009 saw a project to reintroduce them into the wild around Knapdale Forest, in Argyll. Head to Dubh Loch for the most likely sightings and marvel at their construction of a 60-ft-long dam.

Cairngorm wild reindeer @ A D Harvey/Shutterstock

Wild reindeer in the Cairngorms © A D Harvey/Shutterstock

You can see bottlenose dolphins and porpoises in Moray Firth, particularly in spring or summer, whales and puffins off the Isle of Mull, and basking seals on Mousa, in the Shetlands. And there's no match for the sight of 12,000 storm petrels flying in to the ancient broch, on the island at dusk. Eager bird spotters should also head for the Cairngorms for the chance to see ospreys, as they migrate from West Africa to Loch Garten, and possibly even golden eagles and peregrine falcons – if you’re really lucky. There’s also a herd of reindeer roaming the hills by Loch Morlich, and the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre offers guided trails into the mountains, with the opportunity to stroke and feed the animals.

Mention the Highland Games and you’ll probably imagine a tartan-wearing, muscled-up Scot, heaving a tree trunk into the air. And yes, tossing the caber is one of the biggest, and probably most spectacular, events featured during a Highland Games. But as well as sporting events, there’s a whole lot more to the games, such as dancing competitions involving the Highland Fling, and bagpipe-playing competitions. There’s also money to be made from winning, which adds a competitive edge to proceedings and a sense of drama to the day. The games take place between May and mid-September and the best-known events are held at Braemar – which usually sees a royal in attendance, Oban and Cowal. But smaller events can be the most fun and are well-worth a detour when visiting the Scottish Highlands.

Ceilidh dance competition at Scottish Highland Games @ A. Karnholtz/Shutterstock

Ceilidh dance competition at Scottish Highland Games © A. Karnholtz/Shutterstock

It’s no mere hype: this is Scotland’s most magnificent glen. It’s a stunning landscape of glacial valleys, flanked by steep-sided rocky munros in various shades of vibrant greens and earthy ochre – the summits often shrouded in moody cloud cover. It’s worth the drive just to gaze at the magnificent scenery, such as the peaks of Buachaille Etive Mhór, the Aonach Eagach ridge and the Three Sisters. However, to really get a sense of the wilderness at Glen Coe , get your hiking boots on and explore on foot. There are some seriously challenging routes for the more ambitious and experienced hiker, as well as less arduous expeditions. A good introduction to the glen is the half-day hike over the Devil’s Staircase, while one of the loveliest walks is the Buachaille Etive Beag circuit, which is somewhat easier on the thighs, as it doesn’t involve scaling a munro.

A beautiful cottage on the banks of the river Coupall and backed by the Buachaille Etive Mor mountains at Glencoe in Scotland @ Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

The peaks of Buachaille Etive Mhór at Glen Coe © Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

The wonderful hike and glorious views of the Allt Coire Gabhail hike belies the grim history attached to it, that of the terrible Glen Coe Massacre in 1692, the culmination of a feud between the MacDonalds and the Campbell clans. And the hike explores the so-called “Lost Valley”, where the MacDonald clan hid their cattle during this violent period.

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Why choose to pitch up away from relative campsite comforts and the sense of security offered by fellow campers sleeping just metres away under canvas? Well, for one thing – because you can. Unlike the rest of the UK, Scotland allows wild camping in open country, the proviso being, “leave no trace”. There’s no queueing for the loo in the morning, or listening to the sounds of other people snoring – apart from those you choose to zip inside your tent with.

Camping in a tent in Scotland highlands @ Stefano Zaccario/Shutterstock

Wild camping in the Sottish Highlands © Stefano Zaccario/Shutterstock

Secondly, there’s something life-affirming about spending the night slap bang in the middle of the wilderness, with nature and its drama on all sides. Whether you camp next to a stunning white-sand beach, or lonely loch, nestle yourself in a glen, or settle at the foot of a moody mountain, wild camping is one of the best things to do when you visit the Highlands.

The creation of the North Coast 500 may have been a canny marketing ploy, but “Scotland’s answer to Route 66” is up there in the hit parade of Europe’s best road trips. The 500 miles takes in the full roster of the Highlands’ draw-dropping landscapes, as it loops around the remote north and northwest areas – from Applecross, on the west coast, north to Durness, across the top to John O’Groats, and south along the eastern side. You’ll get incredible coastal views over rugged clifftops, with islands dotted out to sea, glorious beaches, wild moorland, lochs and brooding mountains, and crumbling castles.

The Kylesku Bridge spanning Loch a' Chà irn Bhà in in the Scottish Highlands and a landmark on the North Coast 500 @ Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

The Kylesku Bridge on the North Coast 500 © Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

Rather than making it your mission to get around the route, take life in the slow lane. Picturesque Plockton, crofting village Achiltibuie, and the lovely fishing town of Cromarty are short detours off the route and well worth a wander.

Castles in Scotland ooze centuries worth of history – involving betrayal, conspiracy, fierce fighting and murder. There are atmospheric, crumbling ruins, such as picturesque, 15th-century Kilchurn Castle, at the tip of Loch Awe, in Argyll. And there are grand, wonderfully preserved, architectural piles, such as Dunrobin Castle in the north, and Blair Castle in Perthshire. Dunrobin was modelled on a Loire Chateau and bags the title of biggest pad in the Highlands. Turreted Blair Castle, meanwhile, dates from 1269, and is a gloriously sumptuous affair – all antlers, shields, muskets and bundles of antiques, as well as items belonging to Queen Victoria – and set within lovely grounds.

Blair Castle in Perthshire Scotland @ inspi_ml/Shutterstock

Blair Castle in Perthshire © inspi_ml/Shutterstock

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Last, but not least, is relative newcomer and delightfully over-the-top Kinloch Castle, on the Isle of Rùm. Built by millionaire Sir George Bullough in 1900, the red sandstone pile is a display of Edwardian extravagance and eccentricity. In its heyday there was a conservatory for growing exotic fruit, a greenhouse with hummingbirds, even some alligators until they were shot when on the loose. Guests were serenaded before dinner with tunes belted out from an orchestrion, an electrical barrel organ, which is on display. There are tiger rugs and stags’ heads, and a Steinway piano, which still bears the marks of a lady dancing on it in her high heels.

Gazing at any of those white-sand beaches and you could think you’re in Barbados. Ok, it’s definitely not as hot and, sure, the water temperature can be decidedly bracing. But the Highlands is blessed with stunning coastlines and oodles of gorgeous beaches. Stick a sweater on and you won’t know the difference.

Argyll has stunning sands at Kiloran Bay on Colonsay, and on Islay, Coll and Tiree. Beaches at Gruinard Bay in Wester Ross in the northwest Highlands are excellent, and routes north of Lochinver offer a string of them, such as the white sands and turquoise waters in the tiny bay at Achmelvich.

Further north is the jewel that is Sandalwood Bay, its sugar-white beach, backed by large dunes, taking top billing. To get there, however, it’s an eight-mile round trip of a walk from Blairmore. But, boy, it’s worth it.

Gruinard Beach situated 12 miles north of Poolewe, in northwestern Ross and Cromarty on the west coast of Scotland @ Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

Gruinard Beach in Wester Ross © Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

The Western Isles also has its share of beautiful beaches. Harris has the pick of the bunch, the best being the stunning swathe of golden sand at Luskentyre. And gorgeous, deserted beaches punctuate the coastlines of Barra, and neighbouring Vatersay. Make sure at least one of these is on your itinerary when you visit the Scottish Highlands.

From Iron Age forts, burial grounds and mysterious standing stones, to remains of Neolithic settlements, the ancient archaeological sites scattered across Scotland provide a window on past civilisations going back thousands of years.

A fair few have fetched up on Orkney, on the West Mainland, the best known being the Neolithic village Skara Brae . The amazingly well preserved, turf-covered group of houses were only discovered in 1850, after a storm blew away the dunes, which had been keeping them secret since 3000 BC. It’s fascinating to see the domestic interior – living room, fireplace, beds and cupboards, all fashioned from stone. West Mainland is also the site of one of Europe’s most impressive Neolithic burial chambers. Like Skara Brae, Maeshowe is well preserved – and even contains some racy Viking graffiti.

Skara Brae, a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the Bay of Skaill on the Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland @ LouieLea/Shutterstock

Neolithic settlement Skara Brae, on Mainland, in the Orkney Isles © LouieLea/Shutterstock

Other intriguing remains include the monolithic prehistoric standing stones at Callanish , on Lewis in the Western Isles, and the incredible archeological site of Jarlshof on Shetland’s South Mainland, which contains remains from the Iron Age, Bronze Age, Pictish and Viking.

Tobermory is the most attractive fishing town on Scotland’s west coast. Sitting at the northern tip of the Isle of Mull, it’s a paintbox of colour, the cluster of houses along the waterfront painted in bright shades of red, blue and yellow. You can easily while away an hour or two along the harbour, but during your visit, make time for the small, but wonderful, Mull Aquarium. It’s the only catch-and-release aquarium in Europe, which means that the jellyfish, octopus, sea scorpions, and whatever else they have at the time in the tanks, are released back to the sea within four weeks of capture. If it’s a rainy day (odds are), pop in to the Mull Museum to peruse the fascinating collection of exhibits, such as objects salvaged from a ship that sank during the Spanish Armada, in 1588.

Tobermory in Scotland @ TTphoto/Shutterstock

The pretty harbour of Tobermory © TTphoto/Shutterstock

Wildlife seekers should take a wildlife-watching tour. Sea Life Surveys offers trips to see whales, dolphins, basking sharks and seals.

If you’re stopping overnight on Mull, Highland Cottage is a superb B&B high above the harbour, which also dishes out first-rate evening meals.

Islay doesn’t do whiskey by halves (which is fortunate, as a half-pint might put you under the table). With eight distilleries, the nation’s favourite tipple is serious business on this Hebridean island. And going on a guided tour is on many a tourist’s itinerary when they visit Scotland, not least because you’re likely to get a wee, or rather, generous, dram at the end of it. It’s also a great way to while away an hour or two during a burst of inclement weather, which, let’s face it, is likely to happen at some point on your trip.

Lagavulin Distillery on the Isle of Islay, Scotland @ Russell Ouellette IV/Shutterstock

Lagavulin Distillery on the Isle of Islay © Russell Ouellette IV/Shutterstock

Each whiskey has its own distinct characteristic, as does the distillery in which it was produced. For example, the saltiest and peatiest malt on the island is produced at Ardbeg , and the small, characterful distillery offers one of the best tours. The most central distillery is Bowmore , which does its own malting and kilning, while Bruichladdich is the most progressive and prides itself on its natural processes. And, should whiskey not float your boat, they also produce Botanist gin.

Britain’s biggest national park lures lovers of the outdoors. Sitting within the Cairngorms Massif, the largest mountain range in the UK, Cairngorms National Park is a vast, wild, and beautiful place, of craggy, vertiginous monros, dark lochs, and ancient forests – all teeming with wildlife. There are limitless opportunities for fantastic outdoor activities, walking being the most obvious. But there’s also mountain biking, pony trekking, kayaking, whitewater rafting and fly-fishing on offer. And, although it’s no match for its European counterparts when it comes to ski resorts, the slopes at Aviemore offer a fun day’s skiing and snowboarding when the gods are smiling and conditions are right.

Tourist walking down from Cairn Lick to Loch Lee. Angus, Scotland, UK. Cairngorms National Park @ iweta0077/Shutterstock

Hiking in the Cairngorms National Park © iweta0077/Shutterstock

The area around Aviemore, such as the Rothiemurchus Estate, is also great for mountain biking, as are the trails within the Glenlivet Estate, whether you’re a beginner or up for a more challenging spin. If you want someone to lead the way, Full On Adventure specialises in guided biking tours. And G2 offers lessons and trips in watersport activities, as well as rock climbing and canyoning – and telemarking and back-country skiing in the winter.

From foot stomping folk music, to fire-wielding Vikings – the Shetland Islands hosts a bunch of fun and lively events during the year. The Up Helly-Aa fire festival in Lerwick ignites in January, with a procession of around 900 torch-bearing men decked out in Viking costumes, or other extraordinary (and somewhat random) outfits, such as giant insects – and culminates in the burning of a Viking longship. Get an invitation from a local, or buy a ticket for the Town Hall celebrations.

The highlight on the calendar, though, is the Shetland Folk Festival in May. It's a rollicking four-days (and into the small hours) of eclectic folk music, with local and international bands taking to stages big and small across the archipelago.

Up Helly Aa is a viking fire festival unique to the Shetland Isles, North of Scotland, UK © Andrew J Shearer/Shutterstock

Up Helly Aa fire festival in Lerwick, Shetland Isles © Andrew J Shearer/Shutterstock

There’s even more fun for fiddle fans, with the week-long Fiddle Frenzy in Lerwick in July, and the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival held over a long weekend in October.

visit scotland highlands and islands

If our Scottish Highlands travel guide has inspired you to plan a trip to the Highlands and you want to find out more about the region, buy our Rough Guides Scottish Highlands and Islands . It’s packed with exciting ideas on things to do, along with practical tips and recommendations on where to stay. What’s more, if you purchase the guide, you can download a free ebook.

Top image: The peaks of Buachaille Etive Mhór at Glen Coe © Helen Hotson/Shutterstock

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The Perfect 10-Day Scotland Itinerary: Highlands & Islands

10-day scotland itinerary

A good roadtrip is a thing of beauty.  A perfect balance of planned stopping points and freely roaming where the day takes you.  It takes a lot of work to structure an itinerary just right so you have all the time you want to stop and explore, but always get to where you’re supposed to end up.

The roadtrip I took over 10 days in Scotland with my parents and grandma was one of the more challenging trips I’ve ever planned.  And I’ve found that to be true of most of my epic roadtrips, partly because there are SO many possibilities.  It’s different than just going to a city and seeing the key sights.  Your options are almost limitless.

10 Days in Scotland...an amazing 10-day Scotland roadtrip itinerary to explore the best of the Highlands and islands!

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So I’ve put together a super thorough outline of our 10-day Scotland itinerary to help you plan your own roadtrip adventure!  Specifically, we focused on Scotland’s Highlands and islands…while they require a bit more work to get to, you will be rewarded with mind-blowing scenery and a feel for local culture, without fighting any crowds.

How this post is laid out:

  • General tips for planning a trip to Scotland
  • Overview 10-day Scotland itinerary for the “Highlands & Islands”
  • Arrival, Glen Torridon
  • Applecross & Bealach na Ba
  • Isle of Skye
  • Isle of Harris & Lewis
  • Skye again (for a boat trip)
  • Glen Coe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, & over to Iona
  • Isle of Iona & Isle of Staffa

10-day scotland itinerary

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Building a 10-day Scotland itinerary

The main tourist season is early spring through early autumn, with the peak season being July and August.  Typically that time is going to be the best weather and the biggest crowds (though “biggest” is still somewhat relative in my opinion vs. places like Ireland).

And the weather can be rainy and chilly at any time.  Make sure you pack layers and things that can dry quickly, as well as a good rain jacket and bag of some sort that can protect your phone or camera.

I’m a big Highlands & islands fan, but be aware that during the tourist off-season a lot out there shuts down, and even finding housing can be tough.  Also, if you’re traveling in the summer, car ferries can be full so you may want to consider booking ahead if it’s important you make a certain time and it’s a more popular route.  We didn’t for the most part, and were totally fine.

Here is how we spent our 10 days in Scotland:

  • Day 1:  arrival early morning, get rental, and head toward Glen Torridon; Inverness makes a great lunch stop
  • Day 2:  enjoy your drive through Applecross & Bealach na Ba on the way to Skye
  • Day 3:  driving around the Isle of Skye , including the Quiraing , Kilt Rock Falls, Neist Point Lighthouse
  • Day 4:  take the ferry up to the Isle of Harris & Lewis , including the Callanish Stones
  • Day 5:   back to the Isle of Skye for a boat trip to Loch Coruisk
  • Day 6:  drive through majestic Glen Coe & see the Glenfinnan Viaduct on your way to Iona
  • Day 7 & 8:  bask in the serene, historic Isle of Iona , and take a boat out to the famous Isle of Staffa
  • Day 9:   play the tourist in Edinburgh
  • Day 10:   head home!

One thing to note:  For us, ending in Edinburgh made sense, because we could then drop off our rental car, take a cab into town and be free.  We are great hitting the road right away, even off an overnight flight.

However, some people will be more comfortable beginning in Edinburgh to spend a day getting used to the time difference before driving…you can take a cab back out to the airport to pick up your car if you want (to avoid driving in the city).

Here is a rough (not perfect) idea of our 10-day Scotland itinerary driving route.  You can see the map live here as well.

How to plan a Scotland road trip - 10-day Scotland itinerary

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Where to stay in Scotland

Within each day’s section, I’ll mention where we stayed the night.  I totally recommend bed and breakfasts in the Highlands and islands, though we had the occasional hotel—and they’re not cheap.

But B&Bs are great because you will typically get to enjoy home-cooked traditional Scottish treats like tea and shortbread, scones, porridge, smoked fish, eggs, and more.  Make sure to try lots of different foods and also enjoy seeing a slice of local life!

Do I need a rental car?

Yes, absolutely.  This is not the type of itinerary that can be done by public transport!  For renting a car, I always search in a few different places and compare both the prices and specific offerings/benefits.  My go-to’s are  DiscoverCars ,  RentalCars.com , and  AutoEurope as well.

Here are in-depth posts on our entire Scotland road trip!

A Day on Scotland’s Mystical Isle of Harris & Lewis

How to Spend 2 Stunning Days on the Isle of Skye

Views for Days:  Hiking the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye

Soaking in Serenity:  Scotland’s Tiny Isle of Iona

A Day on the Magical Island of Staffa

Skye’s Moody Loch Coruisk & the Black Cuillins

Exploring Glen Torridon, Bealach Na Ba, & Applecross

A First-Timer’s Guide to 24 Hours in Edinburgh

How To See Scotland’s Glenfinnan Viaduct & Jacobite Train (Yes, The Hogwarts Express!)

10-day scotland itinerary

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What you need to know before visiting Scotland

Scotland is technically not a country in its own right, but is part of the UK.  It sits to the north of England, connected by a land border, and will be governed by whatever laws England is living by at any point in time.

  • Driving distances:   It’s not a very large country (about the size of South Carolina in the U.S.), but don’t be deceived by distances—they will take longer than you think!  I’ve included detailed info on driving in Scotland at the bottom of this post.  In general I found the roads to be much better than in the remote parts of Ireland, however.
  • Currently (March 2019) you don’t need a visa to visit the UK if you’re a U.S. citizen with a passport.
  • However, things are a bit tricky in general for Scotland because of Brexit (the UK severing their partnership in the European Union)…soooooo the best I can tell you is to do some digging and make sure to check your country’s State Department website to understand up-to-date info.
  • You can pay with a credit card easily in Edinburgh and other bigger towns, but make sure you have cash on you —out in the boonies you’ll definitely need cash (even for B&Bs).  And out in the boonies ATMs can go down or run out of money (happened to us on Harris & Lewis), so my best advice is to make sure you have plenty of cash on hand.
  • Also, make sure to get gas frequently! And food, for that matter, if you’re not traveling in peak season.  Neither is a sure bet out in remote areas, so take it where you can get it.

Want to know all my inside trip planning tips?   Download my e-book  here!

Day 1:  Arrival, Inverness, Glen Torridon

We started our 10 days in Scotland by getting our rental car at the Edinburgh airport upon arrival and hit the road immediately.

After a coffee and pastry stop, it was smooth sailing, and we got into Inverness a few hours later for a late lunch.  We only spent an hour or so in Inverness, but it was so cute!

Read more about our first day here!

Pretty Inverness...a 10-day Scotland itinerary

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Our destination for the day was the Glen Torridon area, but we made a quick detour to the lovely Loch Maree.  It was a perfect place to get out of the car for a bit and stretch our legs.

This afternoon’s drive was very much about the journey, not the destination.  We wound through various quiet roads and towering hills, before coming into Shieldaig for the night.

Beautiful Loch Maree - 10-day Scotland itinerary

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We’d booked a B&B, but the owner had to go out of town unexpectedly so her friend had us at her house instead…which was honestly kind of weird, but I think it really speaks to the feel of community out here in the more remote areas.  Lovely, really.

We enjoyed peaceful little Shieldaig up in the Highlands - 10 days in Scotland

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Day 2:  Applecross & Bealach na Ba

The next morning we headed toward Applecross, enjoying our run-ins with these shaggy Highland cows (“coos”).  I mean, look at that face!!

A perfect 10-day Scotland itinerary...Highland 'coos'

I also immensely enjoyed this honors system one-stop-shop roadside stand 🙂

10-day scotland itinerary

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The drive was largely beautiful for the morning, including a lovely stop at a cute place called The Potting Shed (and now The Walled Garden) …it’s like a magical fairy garden, and the food was delicious!!!

A Perfect 10-Day Scotland Roadtrip Itinerary: Highlands & Islands | Everything you need to know to plan an amazing 10 day Scotland itinerary, a roadtrip route, where to stay, what to see, and more! Scotland is a gorgeous country full of all sorts of scenery and wildlife, and amazing history and culture. Tips for planning a trip to Scotland. #scotland #roadtrip #itinerary #10dayitinerary #isleofskye #isleofstaffa #isleofharrislewis #isleofiona #edinburgh #uk #seals #eileandonan #castles #waterfall

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We drove the famous Bealach na Ba (meaning “pass of the cattle”), full of steep switchbacks and hairpin curves.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but we navigated it very well despite kind of crummy weather.

Thankfully not rain (I think we would have turned back), but fog was sadly rolling in, and by the time we got to the summit it was pure pea soup.  The drive itself was gorgeous though!  If you’re thinking about including Bealach na Ba on your 10-day Scotland itinerary, make sure you consider the time of year, because bad weather makes this a bad idea.

Driving Bealach na Ba on our 10-day Scotland itinerary

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From there it was on to the Isle of Skye, with a brief stop at the famous Eilean Donan Castle.  The tide was out and so it didn’t look quite as Pinterest-y as I’d have liked, but it was still super cool!

10-day Scotland itinerary ideas - a roadtrip through the Highlands & islands

We based ourselves up on the Waternish peninsula on Skye for this leg of our journey, as it was pretty central and made it easy to get to all the places we wanted.

Read more about driving Bealach na Ba & visiting Applecross here!

Day 3:  Isle of Skye

There were so many things I wanted to see and do on Skye that there was no way we could do them all.  But ultimately, the itinerary we ended up with really nice mix of the iconic Skye sights, complemented by a few more under-the-radar ones.

Of all of Scotland’s islands, Skye is probably the most easily accessible—it’s pretty easy to get to, fairly big and diverse, and so has more B&Bs, restaurants, and other tourist infrastructure.

Skye also has absolutely amazing natural beauty, from dramatic cliffs to moody dark lakes to sea cliff waterfalls to fascinating rock formations.  The best parts of Skye require you to put some work in, though—particularly hiking.

Read more about our two days on gorgeous Skye here!

10-day scotland itinerary

If you’re up for that hiking, then head first to the Old Man of Storr, probably the most famous hike on Skye—indeed, perhaps in Scotland.  Sadly the fog rolled in right as we arrived, and there was zero visibility.

After walking up just a bit, we gave up and hit the road again.  We next enjoyed a stop at the beautiful Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, kind of jostling the crowds aside to get a beautiful pic.  It’s a quick stop but a must!

Trying to hike the Old Man of Storr in the fog - a 10-day Scotland itinerary

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Then gear up for another amazing hike—the Quiraing.  Or what I dubbed “Mud and Mayhem”.  The hike is stunning and majestic and intense and moody, and the views are 100% worth it.  But, like much of the Highlands and islands of Scotland, the weather is…also moody.

The Quiraing is an absolute must-do! A 10-day Scotland itinerary

The trails were super muddy and the weather couldn’t make up its mind.  We didn’t actually finish the hike (and I think we may have gotten lost somehow), but it was mind-blowingly beautiful and one of my favorite things of the trip.

The pics below are just a tiny taste to whet your appetite, but you can see the whole shebang, find out how to visit, and read more about hiking the Quiraing here!

10-day scotland itinerary

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Finally, get out to Neist Point Lighthouse for sunset (or, as we called it when we were there, foggy windy rainy twilight where little goats constantly photobombed you…).

10-day scotland itinerary

We stayed two nights at Hillside B&B in Kyleakin (or Stein, the lines are all fuzzy).  It was a good location for exploring the Trotternish Ridge and Waternish Peninsula, clean and comfortable.  Great view too.  This was a bit less warm and B&B feeling though, more of a place to stay, and to be fair we weren’t there a ton.

There were several things on the Isle of Skye that we didn’t get a chance to experience due to time and weather, and you can read more about them in my full post on Skye !

Day 4:  Isle of Harris & Lewis

This is one of those places (like Staffa below) that truly feels magic when you’re there.  It was also one of the more “out there” places we visited on our Scotland roadtrip itinerary, requiring an almost 3-hour ferry ride from the northern tip of Skye to get there.

But boy, is it worth it!!  The long two-in-one island (the biggest in Scotland) boasts mystical standing stones, chilly beaches that look tropical, archaeological sites, and amazing wildlife.

Read all about visiting the mystical Isle of Harris & Lewis here!

Beautiful Isle of Harris & Lewis in Scotland - what to do on a 10-day Scotland itinerary

We stayed in Tarbert, the main town on Harris.  It’s adorable and super walkable, and then we hit the road to drive around the island as soon as we could.

The Callanish standing stones are one of the big draws on the island, and one of the biggest standing stones in Scotland.  They’re over 5,000 years old, older than Stonehenge!

I won’t blame you one big if you pretend you’re about to jump through time a la Outlander…

The amazing Callanish Stones in the Isle of Harris & Lewis - what to do with 10 days in Scotland

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We continued along the famous Golden Road, seeing old churches, sweeping coastal views, glassy lakes, and more.

A Perfect 10-Day Scotland Roadtrip Itinerary: Highlands & Islands | Everything you need to know to plan an amazing 10 day Scotland itinerary, a roadtrip route, where to stay, what to see, and more! Scotland is a gorgeous country full of all sorts of scenery and wildlife, and amazing history and culture. Tips for planning a trip to Scotland. #scotland #roadtrip #itinerary #10dayitinerary #isleofskye #isleofstaffa #isleofharrislewis #isleofiona #edinburgh #uk #seals #eileandonan #castles #waterfall

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The weather wasn’t really in our favor to see the faux Caribbean sparkling water and white sand that makes the beaches here famous, including Luskentyre (the second pic below).  But they were beautiful and moody nonetheless.

The stunning beaches of Harris & Lewis - 10-day Scotland itinerary

We stayed at the  Hotel Hebrides , which was lovely.  It was 180 pounds per night for a 4-person family room, which was about $280 USD at the time.

Day 5:  back to Skye for a boat trip

We were up bright and early for the ferry back to Skye the next morning, and then drove all the way down to Elgol for a fairly “off the beaten path” boat trip.

While most of Skye is pretty well-known, this corner of the island isn’t nearly as frequented by tourists.  We boarded the Heather Grace an headed toward remote Loch Coruisk, backed by the majestic Black Cuillin mountains.

Once we docked, we had a short hike over to the lake, where we walked around and saw some cool wildlife (including a red deer), and generally got EATEN ALIVE BY MIDGES.  Mostly it was about soaking up the atmosphere.

Read more about our Loch Coruisk boat trip here!

A Perfect 10-Day Scotland Roadtrip Itinerary: Highlands & Islands | Everything you need to know to plan an amazing 10 day Scotland itinerary, a roadtrip route, where to stay, what to see, and more! Scotland is a gorgeous country full of all sorts of scenery and wildlife, and amazing history and culture. Tips for planning a trip to Scotland. #scotland #roadtrip #itinerary #10dayitinerary #isleofskye #isleofstaffa #isleofharrislewis #isleofiona #edinburgh #uk #seals #eileandonan #castles #waterfall

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The gray skies and fog added to the overall moodiness of the entire trip.  The inky blue water and rich moss-covered cliffs rising around us, wreathed by fog, were so cool.

A Perfect 10-Day Scotland Roadtrip Itinerary: Highlands & Islands | Everything you need to know to plan an amazing 10 day Scotland itinerary, a roadtrip route, where to stay, what to see, and more! Scotland is a gorgeous country full of all sorts of scenery and wildlife, and amazing history and culture. Tips for planning a trip to Scotland. #scotland #roadtrip #itinerary #10dayitinerary #isleofskye #isleofstaffa #isleofharrislewis #isleofiona #edinburgh #uk #seals #eileandonan #castles #waterfall

AND THEN THERE WERE THE SEALS!!!

Cute seals!!! We saw a ton on our 10-day Scotland itinerary

I mean, I can’t even…

Once back on land, we were happy to warm up with some tea and homemade shortbread at our B&B!  Mrs. MacDonald welcomed us with some tea and homemade shortbread, and we had a delightful and very filling breakfast the next morning while watching the sun rise.

For this leg of the trip we stayed at Coille Challtainn in Isleorsnay, down on the south part of Skye.  Not only was it close to our boat trip, but it made taking the ferry back to the mainland the next morning super easy.  If you stay here, make sure you walk down to the local pub in Eilean Iarmain and have dinner or a pint!

I loved staying in B&Bs during our 10 days in Scotland - what to do on a 10-day Scotland itinerary

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Day 6:  Glen Coe, Glenfinnan , over to Iona

The next morning we took the early ferry over from Armadale to Mallaig, on the mainland.  Our eventual desintation was the Isle of Iona, but we took our time heading down to the Glenfinnan Viaduct and through Glen Coe on our way.  This is a travel and repositioning day, but a gorgeous one.

10-day scotland itinerary

Why Glenfinnan, you ask??  Duh, to see the Hogwarts Express!!!

The Jacobite, a bright red steam train that takes tourists on a scenic ride through parts of Scotland, is known to Harry Potter fans as the famous wizard Hogwarts Express, and you KNOW it was on my must-list when I booked my trip.

You need to look up the schedule ahead of time to find out when it will pass over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (like in this scene ), and then stake out a spot and enjoy its white cloud belching, chug-a-chug-a journey over the bridge.  I wish we’d had time to go up close to the viaduct as well, and grab some photos—it’s way more massive than it looks!

See more about the Glenfinnan Viaduct and Jacobite Train here!

10-day scotland itinerary

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We got weirdly lucky and, after we stopped for a bit in town for some souvenirs, walked back out to our car and there was the train passing us!  My little nephew has watched my mom’s video of the “choo choo” about 47 million times… 🙂

10-day scotland itinerary

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Speaking of Harry Potter…if you’re up there taking in the view of the Jacobite Train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct, TURN AROUND.  Yep, this view should look kind of familiar too if you’re a fan.

You’re looking at Loch Shiel, a piece of Glen Coe that was also used in filming some of the Harry Potter movies.  In fact, it’s one of the two lochs used for filming the movies over the course of the series (you can read more about this and other locations here ).  There are quite a lot of (gorgeous, scenic) places in this area that were used in filming.

A beautiful view of Loch Shiel (used as the location of Hogwarts) - 10-day Scotland itinerary

Now we’re getting to what was probably my favorite part of our entire Scotland itinerary.  After leaving this area, we headed along a super windy road and finally got to Lochaline, then took the ferry over to Fishnish, on the Isle of Mull.

10-day scotland itinerary

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Isle of Mull

I’ll give a little shoutout to Mull as well…we didn’t get to spend any time there, just crossed the island to get over to the Iona ferry, but it is so pretty and charming.  If you have time to explore, I recommend spending a day there!

The sea drive is gorgeous, we took the (sloooooow) scenic route around and enjoyed ourselves.  They have all these different animal crossing signs in different places, ranging from ducks to otters—I wish I’d gotten pictures of them all!

10-day scotland itinerary

The wait for the ferry in Fionnphort was scenic in itself, with the area’s famous pink rocks against the bright blue water.

10-day scotland itinerary

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They don’t allow you to take your car over to Iona, so we just grabbed our luggage and took the ferry on foot over to Iona for probably our favorite two days of the entire trip!

Days 7 & 8:  Isles of Iona & Staffa

These two days were absolutely magical!   I totally fell in love with Iona’s peace and quiet.  It helped that we had a three-day stretch of picture-perfect weather, which really helped us be able to soak in the serene beauty and history of the island.

Despite its tiny size, Iona is pretty famous in the religious history of Scotland.  The now-restored abbey pictured below was founded in 563 AD by St. Columba, and was a center for the spread of Christianity in Scotland among the Picts and Scots.  Over the centuries, the monastery weathered multiple Viking attacks, and the island was even controlled by the King of Norway for about 50 years (I mean…WUT).

It also photographs beautifully at sunrise…

Read more about how to visit the Isle of Iona here!

Magical sunrise on the Isle of Iona - 10 days in Scotland

Besides exploring the abbey and nunnery ruins, one of the other things to do on Iona is to climb Dun I (“dun-eee”), an Iron Age hill fort.  We had beautiful weather for the hike, and the view from the top is completely worth it, if the visibility is nice!

10-day scotland itinerary

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You also should just wander around the island—it’s only a little over 3 square miles!  That means you can walk side to side in almost no time.  I wish we’d had more time to walk all the way around, particularly the beaches on the northern end.

10-day scotland itinerary

But alas, we didn’t have the time because we had something else super special to do—a boat trip to the famous Isle of Staffa! 

We boarded the Iolaire of Iona and headed out to sea.  Along the way we got to see some absolutely adorable chubby seals basking in the sun.

Taking a boat over to the Isle of Staffa - what to do with 10 days in Scotland

Staffa is a tiny little uninhabited island famous for its natural hexagonal rock formations and being the home of the Cave of Melodies.  Once the boat docked, most people headed for the Cave of Melodies, so my parents and I instead climbed up onto the top of the island to appreciate the view.

Read more about visiting the Isle of Staffa here!

10-day scotland itinerary

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I was completely obsessed with the way the hexagonal basalt columns rose and fell to make different shapes.  They were mesmerizing.

10-day scotland itinerary

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Once everyone else had lost interest, we made our way over to the Cave of Melodies, or Fingal’s Cave.  It’s kind of tough to get a good picture of, but it’s really pretty and famous for its gorgeous acoustics.

Mendelssohn wrote his “Hebrides Overture” after visiting the cave and hearing how the water and air reacted with the unique structure (hence the “Cave of Melodies”).  My parents, grandma, and I sang some harmonies to see how the sound would echo and amplify—it was amazing!

Finghal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa - a 10-day Scotland roadtrip itinerary

Needless to say, if you’re over in that area, I *highly* recommend doing a trip out to the Isle of Staffa!

We stayed at Torrasa B&B on Iona with Sara and Graham’s family and it was lovely, but I think they’ve recently closed.  And if you can’t tell, these few days were probably our favorite out of our 10 days in Scotland.  So try Ardoran House instead, it looks amazing!

After about a day and a half on Iona, we took the ferry back over to Mull, picked up our car, and headed back toward the mainland.  Along the way we drove through Glen Coe and enjoyed the scenery, with a stop at the Clachaig Inn for lunch.

10-day scotland itinerary

Our final destination was Edinburgh, where we dropped off our car at the airport and took a cab into the city to enjoy our last day on foot.

Day 9:  Edinburgh

Edinburgh really is charming, one of those cities that is all about little details and quirks.  It’s also very walkable, which I appreciate.  Sadly the weather continued to be a Gloomy Gus, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Read tons more about what to do in Edinburgh & a great walking route here!

Foggy view of Edinburgh Castle - 10 days in Scotland

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We loved the moody look of Edinburgh Castle from afar, but since it was pea soup fog everywhere we didn’t bother spending time up at the castle for the view.  The pics we took from Princes Garden were pretty great though.

10-day scotland itinerary

A lot of our time in Edinburgh was just walking ( here’s a great route ), soaking in the ambiance.  Read up on the Bonnie Prince’s story, enjoy the floral clock, sit and have tea and a scone at Clarinda’s, and pretend you’re royalty at Holyrood Palace.

10-day scotland itinerary

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The weather cleared up a bit in the afternoon and we were able to enjoy a view of Arthur’s Seat as we climbed Calton Hill.  But that view doesn’t hold a candle to the view of Edinburgh from the top—if the weather permits, you definitely have to head up and enjoy the sunset up there!

10-day scotland itinerary

We stayed in a HomeAway apartment right at World’s End Close on the Royal Mile.  The location was absolutely perfect & our day in Edinburgh was the perfect end to our 10 days in Scotland!

Tips for driving in Scotland

The biggest thing to know is that everything will take longer than you think!  As you’re researching you’ll see a distance and think, “Wow, 30 km isn’t that much!”

Technically, you may be right, but that 30 km might take you an hour—especially if you’re stopping off for photos, getting blocked by sheep, or get caught behind a slow vehicle.

Other things to consider:

  • One tip that someone gave me years ago for international roadtrips is to use AA Route Planner to estimate driving times, and then probably add 25% onto whatever it says for places like northern Scotland and the islands.
  • Scotland has plenty of really nice, well-maintained roads and highways, but just remember that you’re probably not used to driving on the left—you need to be careful!  There still are some rough and dodgy roads in rural Scotland, but on the whole I felt the roads were much better than in Ireland.
  • Also note, most rental cars are manual (stick shift), so if you need an automatic (I do) you’ll need to choose it intentionally and it’ll cost more.  Honestly though, even for a skilled stick shift driver, getting an automatic removes one of the variables to figuring out how to drive on the left and staying focused.

Hopefully this has given you a ton of inspiration and tips for building your own roadtrip for a 10-day Scotland itinerary…can you see why the “Highlands & islands” is the way to go??  If you have any questions as you’re building your own itinerary, hit me up in the comments!

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The perfect 10 day Scotland itinerary...an amazing roadtrip

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5 Day Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands Itinerary

Last updated: May 29, 2024 - Written by Jessica Norah 57 Comments

In August, I had my very first look at the beautiful Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye! Spectacular landscapes, castles, mysterious lochs, waterfalls, tasty seafood dinners, and Highland coos are a few of the many treasured memories associated with our Scottish Highlands itinerary.

The Highlands make up the northwestern part of Scotland, and designate a primarily historical divide with the Lowlands area where there were once much larger cultural and language divides. Although a huge land area, the Highlands and the northern islands of Scotland are sparsely populated, primarily rural, rugged, and full of biodiversity. This area is perfect for those looking for natural beauty and an escape from city life.

We did this first trip to the Highlands and Isle of Skye with Edinburgh-based small tour operator Rabbie’s Travel, and we’ll share our own trip experiences and lots of photos on that tour! We’ll also provide a general Scottish Highlands itinerary that we roughly followed for those who may be thinking of putting together their own independent Scotland trip itinerary.

Glen Coe Scotland Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary guide

Table of Contents:

Planning your Scottish Highlands Itinerary

How to get to scotland.

There are multiple options for getting to Scotland. By plane, the main international airports are in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but if you want to arrive in the Highlands, Inverness Airport is also a popular option. If you don’t want to fly, then there’s train service from London to all of the major cities in Scotland. The fast train service from London to Edinburgh for example takes around 4.5 hours.  You can also catch trains from cities throughout the UK or take the EuroTunnel to get here via France if you are coming elsewhere in Europe. 

As well as the standard train services, there’s also an overnight sleeper train that runs from London to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Fort William, and Inverness. Known as the  Caledonian Sleeper , this train service offers comfortable sleeper accommodation and a service that runs more slowly than the standard trains so you can sleep during the journey. A fantastic way to reach the Highlands. You can read more about our own personal experience riding the Caledonian Sleeper .

You can save a lot of money on fares by booking train tickets well in advance. If you are in the UK and would rather travel by bus, there are daily coach connections to Scotland from a number of cities which take longer but may save you money compared to train fares. You can check National Express for coach connections and prices. 

What exactly are the Scottish Highlands?

The Scottish Highlands refers to the northwestern area of Scotland and includes some of the northern islands. The exact boundaries of the Scottish Highlands differ based on different definitions. The areas of the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland were once differentiated by differences in language and other cultural differences, and today while there is a still a strong Highlander identity, most of these differences have faded. Check out Wiki pedia to read more about the historical cultural differences and boundaries of the Scottish Highlands .

Ways to get around the Scottish Highlands? 

Once in Scotland, you can get around via car, motorhome, bus, train, or via a tour company. Ferries are also used to get visitors to most of the islands.

Car or Campervan

You can easily rent a car in any of the major cities of Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, etc.) and do a self-driving holiday. This is a fantastic way to move at your own pace and see the things you want to see and have a lot of freedom. This is a great method for independent travelers who feel comfortable driving in the UK. Compare car rental prices and book online here .

You can also rent campervans or RVs in Scotland to do a camping holiday as there are many places to camp throughout the country. We would recommend renting a smaller RV as the larger ones won’t be able to easily access some of the smaller rural roads and parking areas.

We recommend using Motorhome Republic for campervan rental – they compare prices across the major rental firms in the UK to find the best price for you. You can book your RV for the UK through them here .

The important things to note if you are renting a vehicle is to make sure you are fully insured, check out our guide to driving in the UK , (especially if you are used to driving on the right side of the road), and be prepared for narrow, rural, and mountainous roads in the Highlands. 

On several roads in the Highlands and islands, you (or the other car) will have to stop and pull over to allow cars to pass as roads become one lane in some places. Make sure you understand how to drive on single track roads before you go. Winter conditions can make some roads impassable and dangerous, so be sure to check the weather forecast and road conditions if traveling in the winter. We recommend renting the smallest vehicle you need for the best maneuverability in the Highlands.

Bus or Coach

The UK is well connected via a good bus system. Buses are generally referred to as coaches within the UK. You can visit many of the cities and even villages of the Highlands via coach and can also use buses to get to many of the ferry connections if you are interested in visiting some of the Scottish islands not connected via road. Some websites to check out to plan your travel by bus are CityLink , National Express , and Stagecoach . You can book tickets online, by phone, or in person at bus stations (and sometimes on the bus). Best to book ahead, especially during busier times of the year (weekends, holidays, summer).

If you are planning to do a lot of bus trips, ask about passes offered by the bus companies as most of the companies offer passes or tickets that allow for reduced fees for multi-journey trips. Also make sure that you check the baggage allowance restrictions as there are often limited space or special instructions for larger items (e.g., baby buggys, bicycles, sports equipment, extra luggage).

The advantage of traveling by bus is that it is often the cheapest option and the coverage is good; however, bus services often do not stop at attractions in between cities and small villages may not have bus services. However, you may want to consider combining a bus trip with taxi rides, hikes, or bike rides from nearby towns to attractions that you wish to see not covered by the local bus network.

Scottish Highlands by Train

Traveling by train is a great way to see some stunning scenery and the West Highland Line is well-regarded as one of the most scenic train journeys in Europe. Most of the trains in Scotland are run by ScotRail and you can check the available routes and services online. If you are going to be traveling in Scotland by train a lot, check out the special travel passes offered by ScotRail to see if they will save you money.

There are also special trains that you can take in Scotland through parts of the Highlands including the Caledonian Sleeper (sleeper train),   The Jacobite Steam Train (“Harry Potter train”), and the luxurious  Royal Scotsman .

However, while the train network is quite good in central Scotland, it is not as well developed in the Highlands and there are many towns and villages that do not have train stations. The train can still be a good option if you have only a short time or are OK with mixing train travel with other modes of exploration (rental car, taxis, bus travel, tour company).

Tour company or Private Guide

There are also a number of tour companies in Scotland that offer group and private tours of the Scottish Highlands. Many of the local companies offer departures from Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness, but other departure cities are possible as well. We have done several tours with local Edinburgh-based tour operator Rabbie’s Trail Burners , including a 5-day tour of the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye  which is the basis of this post.

But if you have less time we can also recommend this 3-day Isle of Skye tour  or a 1 day Highlands tour . Booking a group tour is easy, economical, and takes out the stress of planning and driving. However, the main downside to any group tour is that there is not that much flexibility in the schedule. Another option is to book a private tour with a guide (offered by most tour companies) so you can help customize the itinerary and have more flexibility.

Weather in the Scottish Highlands? 

One thing you can count on in Scotland is that the weather is fickle. Expect some clouds and rain on your trip, and potentially snow if you are visiting in the winter. January and February are the coldest months where temperatures may go below freezing (average 4 – 5 °C or 39 to 41 °F) and July and August are the warmest months (average 12 – 14 °C or 54 to 57 °F). The rainiest months are generally October to March and the driest months are generally the summer months.

There is quite a bit of fluctuation though depending on where you will be in the Highlands or islands as the average temperatures and rainfall for Inverness are different from those of the Isle of Skye for example. The western Highlands because of the mountains and coastal winds are one of the wettest and windiest areas in Europe. Check the forecast before you leave for your trip to help guide your packing. Be prepared for rain and be sure to pack some rain gear (e.g., raincoat, boots, poncho, umbrella). Dress in multiple comfortable layers so you can adjust to fluctuating temperatures throughout the day. 

We did the trip discussed and photographed in this post in August and we were lucky with four out of five good weather days and only one rainy day. However, the week before, our driver told us that they had four out of five gray and rainy days, so you just never know and it is best to just be prepared!

Midges & Ticks

People planning a Scottish Highlands itinerary generally plan to spend some time walking, hiking, or climbing on at least part of their holiday. Scotland has several typical pests that you may encounter depending on the time of year of your travels, including ants, ticks, mosquitoes, and wasps. One of the most annoying creatures in Scotland has to be the highland midge, which is a small flying insect that only lives in northwest Scotland and northern Wales from the late Spring to later Summer. Midges tend to fly around in clouds and will bite humans, although they are not dangerous, just annoying. They move slowly, so if you walk quickly you can often move faster than they do, but if you are stopped you can easily get swarmed by hundreds of these pesky creatures. Similar to mosquitoes, they are most prevalent in damp and humid places and at dawn and dusk.

If you are planning to be traveling in the Highlands in Spring or Summer, you might want to come prepared with a midge repellent such as Smidge . Avon Skin-So-Soft is also said to work as a midge repellent although we have not tried it. Other pesky creatures to watch out for are ticks as I got several from wandering around the high grasses around the lochs in the summer, so be sure to check your scalp and body for them after walking in grassy areas. The best protection for ticks is using an insect repellent that contacts DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or permethrin and wearing clothing without skin-exposing gaps. If you are not familiar with ticks, be sure to read about the proper way to remove a tick in case one becomes attached.

Best time of year to visit the Scottish Highlands?

The Scottish Highlands are a great place to visit no matter the time of year. If you are looking for the best weather, May to September are your best bets. To avoid crowds, avoid the busiest months of July and August. During the summer months you’ll find many towns hosting Scottish Highland Games . The winter brings snowy mountains, holidays celebrations, and many fewer visitors. You’ll find cheaper rates during the winter months but you’ll also find that some guest houses, hotels, and restaurants shut down on the off-season months (October to Easter) and some attractions may have reduced hours or shut down completely. This is particularly the case in the smaller villages where you may have difficulty finding even basic services. So if there are specific places you want to visit, be sure to check ahead to see if they will be open and their hours before you book your trip. 

Our 5 Day Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands Itinerary

As already mentioned, we took a 5-day bus tour of the Scottish Highlands with Rabbie’s Trail Burners in August. The exact tour was the Highlands Explorer tour (they also offer several other trips that include the Highlands and Isle of Skye, as well as customized and private tours) and you can read a complete review from Laurence of that trip (including info about the driver/guide, bus, lodging, itinerary attractions, fellow travelers, etc.). Our trip included the services of a driver/guide, a group of 15 people (the max group size), a new Mercedes-Benz small tour bus, and transport to all the attractions on our itinerary. Guests get to choose their level of accommodation (from hostel to 5-star hotel), whether they tour attractions or not, and most evenings are free so guests can explore on their own.

Rather than rehashing all of what Laurence wrote about, I wanted to focus this post on the specific day-to-day itinerary for those wanting to visit the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye, which are two of the most popular areas of Scotland for visitors. This suggested Scottish Highlands itinerary covers most of the major sites in both places and should help you choose the best bus tour for you or plan your own independent trip to the Scottish Highlands. 

Rabbies Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Day 1 of Scottish Highlands Itinerary: Edinburgh to the Highlands

We started our trip from Edinburgh, but one could also easily begin from Glasgow, Inverness, or another location and adjust this itinerary as suited. Laurence and I caught a bus from our home in Roslin (a village about 6 miles from Edinburgh) and checked in at the Rabbie’s Cafe which is centrally located in Edinburgh. It is nice that you can grab coffee and breakfast here before you leave.

We then met our driver/guide Ross and learned that our tour was fully booked (meaning 15 guests total) and we loaded into the comfortable Mercedes-Benz bus to start our tour. Ross gave us an overview of the tour using a map and asked if anyone had any questions before we set out north. That day we had a long drive ahead of us, heading from Edinburgh to Ullapool (some Rabbie’s tours overnight in Inverness instead of Ullapool).

Rabbies guide Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Ross drove us by some of the main attractions of the city as we were driving out of Edinburgh. If you have not visited Edinburgh before, I would consider spending a few days in the city before or after your trip to the Highlands. It is a beautiful city full of history, culture, art, and good food and whiskey! For Edinburgh recommendations, you can check out our top 21 attractions in Edinburgh and for those who have been to Edinburgh before or have more time to explore check out these 25 lesser known Edinburgh attractions .

Forth Bridge 

The red Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge that crosses over the Firth of Forth about 9 miles from Edinburgh. It is the most famous bridge in Scotland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. You’ll also see here two other bridges: the Forth Road Bridge and the new Queensferry Crossing. We drove by the Forth Bridge on the first day of our tour but stopped for a photo stop on our last day before returning to Edinburgh. The town of Queensferry is also worth a quick exploration if you have time.

Forth Bridge

Our first stop was the picturesque Perthshire town of Dunkeld that sits along the banks of the River Tay. The Dunkeld Cathedral is the main attraction which is now a part ruined and part active parish church. It was built between the 13th to 16th centuries, thus encompassing a number of architectural styles and elements.

Other things to do in Dunkeld include walking along the river to see  the Thomas Telford Bridge, checking out the shops along Atholl Street (and the Atholl Memorial Fountain), checking out the colorful exteriors of the “Little Houses” of Dunkeld which include twenty 18th century private houses restored by the National Trust of Scotland , and stopping at the National Trust owned Ell Shop, which is a restored weaver’s shop. If you have more time, there are a number of lovely woodland walks around Dunkeld including taking a trail through the Hermitage .

Dunkeld Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

House of Braur & Falls of Bruar

The House of Braur is actually a Scottish country clothing store that has morphed into a giant complex including multiple shop buildings, a food hall, cafeteria, and art gallery. This is a popular tourist stop for lunch and shopping. We had a quick lunch at the cafeteria and also bought a couple of gifts at the sales building which is located in the very back building (head here if you are shopping on a budget). However, for those not very interested in shopping, there is a wonderful hike you can take from the shopping complex to the Falls of Bruar.

The hike to the waterfalls is along a well-marked path and is easy to moderate in difficulty. Find the trailhead by going to the House of Bruar car park and then walk around the building and follow the signs for Falls of Bruar. There is a choice of two marked paths. It is about a 30 minute walk to the lower falls and bridge another 30 minutes or so to reach the upper falls and upper bridge on the longer circular path. We just did the walk to the lower Falls of Bruar and the first stone bridge which we found very lovely and definitely worth the hike. Robert Burns loved the waterfalls but felt that there were not enough trees at the time. So he wrote the poem  The Humble Petition of Bruar Water to the Noble Duke of Atholl , which asked owner John Murray, the 4th Duke of Atholl, to plant some trees and bushes around the waterfalls. Eventually Murray did just that and also laid out the paths that are still used today.

Bruar Falls Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Carrbridge is a small town named after its most famous attraction, the Bridge of Carr. The Bridge of Carr was built in 1717 for estate purposes by Brigadier-General Sir Alexander Grant  to provide passage for foot passengers, horses, stock, and for coffins being transported to Duthil Churchyard. It was also locally nicknamed the “coffin bridge”. Carrbridge also has several shops and cafes that you can visit and it is a short but pleasant stroll through the town.

Carrbridge Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Cairngorms National Park 

Cairngorms National Park is the largest national park in the United Kingdom, and it includes the largest area of native woodland in Britain and 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the UK. The park provides a refuge for some of Britain’s threatened and endangered animals including a number of raptors, the capercaillie, and the Scottish wildcat. Cairngorms National Park is a great place for outdoor pursuits and hiking, cycling, climbing, camping, and wildlife viewing opportunities are abundant year-round. In winter, there are snowsports and in summer watersports. Everything from golfing to castle tours are also possible within this vast area.

This is a stop for most tourists heading north, not because of the loch itself but because of the legendary Loch Ness Monster that is believed to inhabit the lake. The Loch Ness Monster, affectionately called Nessie, is believed to have been first reported in 1933 although some say reports date back to the 6th century. There are people who still look for Nessie including  resident Loch Ness monster hunter, Steve Feltham , who has been keeping a watchful eye on the loch since 1991.

The loch itself is notable for being the second largest loch in Scotland based on surface area and the largest lake in the British Isles based on volume. It is a large lake and quite deep and murky in parts, which has kept the legend of the Loch Ness Monster alive. We had a brief stop here and walked along Dores Beach and said hello to Steve Feltham who has his home and shop set up here. Some visitors were swimming when we were here as the sun was shining although the water was still fairly cold. Other popular things to do on and near Loch Ness , include visiting the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition , visiting Urquhart Castle , and taking a boat cruise on the loch .

Loch Ness Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Inverness is often considered the unofficial capital of the Highlands, serving as the administrative center for the Highland council area and being the largest city in the Highlands with a population of about 50,000. Inverness has nice river views, a historical Old Town area, Inverness Castle, St. Andrew’s Cathedral , and several museums, including the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery . There are also a number of walking paths leading from Inverness and several attractions within a short drive that you can visit, such as Fort George and the Highlanders Museum  and the Culloden Battlefield .

If you are starting your trip from Inverness, Loch Ness is an easy day trip being only a 30 minute drive from Inverness. Inverness is also a great place to stock up on any supplies you need for your trip as most towns in the Highlands have only small grocery stores and shops and services are more limited.

Inverness is also the starting point for the North Coast 500 route and you will see some of the North Coast 500 attractions along the drive or with your tour. If you have extra time and want to drive the full route you can detour here and head north. Here are some reasons to drive the NC500 to give you an idea of whether it is a good fit or not. We recommend at least 5 days to do the full route at a moderate pace.

Our final stop of our first day exploring the Scottish Highlands was in  Ullapool . Ullapool is a small fishing village located on the east shore of Loch Broom. Although a small town, it is a major tourist destination in the Scottish Highlands as it offers a number of lodging options, shops, and restaurants. It is a pretty town to walk around, particularly the harbor area which is home to a wide array of boats, from fishing boats to yachts. From Ullapool, you can also catch ferries to the Hebrides.

We stayed in the Riverside B&B which serves a hearty Scottish breakfast each morning. While in Ullapool we had a nice dinner at The Celidah Place , a recommendation from our guide Ross, which is one of the nicer restaurants in town and our food was excellent! The next evening we grabbed dinner after sunset from The Seafood Shack , which is a new and popular food truck serving fresh local seafood for diners on the go.

Ullapool harbor Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Tips :  This first day of our trip was a long day of driving, although punctuated by some great stops. If you are doing your own tour and have more than 5 days, I would consider breaking this day into two (or three) separate days so you have more time to explore these places.

Day 2 Scottish Highlands Itinerary: Ullapool to Ardvreck Castle 

After a hearty Scottish breakfast at our bed-and-breakfast, we headed out for the second day of exploring the Scottish Highlands. Compared to the first day, this day was light on driving and bus time with frequent stops and all the locations were relatively close to Ullapool. We did a circular loop from Ullapool and back, stopping at lochs, beaches, and historic ruins.

The Sutherland area of the Scottish Highlands doesn’t get a huge number of visitors and is an easy place to find some peace and quiet amongst its wind-swept beaches and craggy lands. This was the day that we learned that Ross is an avid photographer, trying to add in extra photo stops when possible which made Laurence very happy! This is definitely one advantage of taking a tour as the drivers know the best places to stop for photos. We made several minor stops in the area (a few of which I am not exactly sure where!), but here are the main places we visited on the second day to help you put together your own Scottish Highlands itinerary!

Ardmair Beach

A short drive from Ullapool, we had a 30 minute stop at Ardmair Beach, which lies on the shores of Loch Kanaird and has a long pebble beach. It is a tiny fishing village but today is mostly a holiday area. During the summer and holiday season, you can rent boats here and there are a number of self-catering chalets and homes, as well as a caravan and camping park. It is a great base for hiking or boating.

Ardmair Beach Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Stach Pollaidh

Another one of our photo stops was at Stach Pollaidh , which is a craggy mountain known for its many sandstone pinnacles. It is a popular place for climbers of all sorts as the mountain can be climbed in less than 3 hours and offers nice views and some interesting rock formations.

Achiltibuie 

Next we headed to the village of Achiltibuie and made several stops in and around the village. The village is known for its seafood, particularly its lobster and crab so a good place to stop for a seafood lunch. The village was used as a filming location in the British/Roman historical drama The Eagle . There are a number of walking paths, easy-to-climb mountains, and beaches in the area around Achiltibuie.  Achiltibuie is also a great gateway to the Summer Isles, a group of 20 small islands lying off the Coigach peninsula, and boat trips are possible to reach the islands where you can explore rock formations, caves, and beaches. 

Achiltibuie Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

In this area, as in many areas of the Highlands, you can still see remains of former tenant homes and local crofter’s stone houses. Many of these ruined homes belonged to the local people around the time of the Highland Clearances which was the large-scale forced displacement of Highlanders in the 18th and 19th centuries who had been living as tenant farmers.

The Clearances led to a steep decline in the population of the Scottish Highlands as people were forced to leave and it sadly led to the destruction of much of the Gaelic culture in the region. Crofting laws were later established to help protect tenants who were previously at the mercy of landowners who could easily force eviction. A croft is a unit of agricultural land that is regulated by special crofting laws, often used by tenants although they can also be owned by the occupier as of 1976. Crofting is still practiced today in parts of the Highlands and on some of the islands of Scotland.

croft house Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Achmelvich Beach

Achmelvich is another small settlement along the northwest coast of Scotland in the Sutherland area. It has become a popular tourist stop because of its pretty bay and sandy beach, as well as caravan park and camping park. There is also a hostel and self-catering lodging available in the area. Note that pets are not allowed on most parts of the beach and caravan/camping parks.

Achmelvich Beach is a beautiful beach on a sunny day and Laurence and I were very surprised at the size and look of the beach, as it looks very out of place in northern Scotland with its light sandy beaches and turquoise waters. People were out swimming and kayaking during our visit, although the waters were still very cold and many were wearing wetsuits to stay warm.

We also had a great short hike along the coast and if you are spending some time in the area you might also consider some nearby climbs, such as the distinctive Suliven mountain .

This area is a popular place for swimming, hiking, water skiing, boating, fishing (permit needed), and wildlife viewing (birds and sealife). You can also take a short walk to what is believed to be Europe’s smallest castle (term used somewhat loosely), known as the Hermit’s Castle built in the 1950’s.

Achmelvich Beach Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Ardvreck Castle & Calda House

If you love historical sites, I would plan a stop to see the ruins of Ardvreck Castle and Calda House which have a picturesque setting next to Loch Assynt. Ardvreck Castle is believed to have been constructed by the Clan MacLeod in the late 15th century with additions of the tower and upper portion of the castle in the 16th century. The castle was later attacked and captured by the Clan MacKenzie in 1672.

It was a wife of one of the MacKenzie men who persuaded her husband to build a more modern and comfortable home nearby called Calda House around 1726. Calda House was one of the first classical style homes in the Scottish Highlands and likely the grandest house at the time in the Highlands. Debts of the MacKenzies soon forced them to leave their house and put it up for sale. It was later burned in 1737 and never rebuilt.

There are some great information panels here talking about the two buildings, the MacLeod and MacKenzie families, and some of the tales associated with the buildings. You can walk to and around both buildings, but be careful as neither are structurally sound. When the waters of the loch are high, it floods the peninsula causing the castle to be cut off from the mainland. To reach it at these times, you’d need to wade or swim across a small channel or water.

Ardvreck Castle Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

After our visit to Ardvreck Castle, we headed back to Ullapool for a free evening on our own!

Day 3 Scottish Highlands Itinerary: Ullapool to Isle of Skye 

After another filling Scottish breakfast at our B&B, we headed out to make our way to the Isle of Skye, where we were going to spend the night in the town of Portree. Today our goal was the Isle of Skye, but the day was filled with loads of sights and stops on the way, including several lochs, a spectacular mountain road, and the majestic Eilean Donan Castle. Today the tour was definitely about the journey, rather than the destination!

Lochs, Lochs, Lochs

A loch is simply a Scottish word for lake and we made photo stops at several lochs on our third day in the Scottish Highlands as we journeyed from Ullapool to the Isle of Skye. A few that we visited along our route were Loch Broom, Loch a’ Chroisg, and Loch Clair. The lochs vary greatly in size, character, and atmosphere throughout Scotland and the weather really makes a giant difference. Sometimes you have moody cloudy foreboding looking lochs and other times sunny lochs with glass-like surfaces offering beautiful reflections! Great places for a nice walk. 

Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

We next stopped in the village of Torridon for a morning coffee break. It is a pretty area located along the shores of Loch Torridon and the hills of Torridon are some of the oldest in Europe. It is a popular place for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, cycling, and other outdoor activities. We specifically made a stop for coffee at The Torridon Inn , which is located next door to the popular and luxurious Torridon Hotel . A number of other accommodation options are also available in and around Torridon.

Torridon Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

It was also near Torridon that we ran into some Highland coos, or cattle, and some of them happened to be grazing and resting right next to the road. This Scottish breed of cattle is the oldest registered cattle in the world and a well-recognized icon of Scotland. 

Highland coo Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

After Torridon, we continued along the coast of the Applecross Peninsula which offered some nice views. We made our way to the little village on the Applecross Bay. Here we had a nice lunch at Applecross Potting Shed Cafe & Restaurant . The food was good and the restaurant is worth a stop just to stretch out and view their pretty walled garden which was filled with all types of flowers when we visited. Nearby you can also see the exterior of the Applecross House and we saw several deer near the house. There are a number of walking options in the area as well that go around the bay or into the woodland area nearby.

Applecross was one of the most isolated communities in Scotland and until the early 20th century was only reachable by boat. Then the Bealach na Bà mountain pass was constructed but it was quite a treacherous route and often inaccessible in winter. It was not until the late 20th century that the easier alternate low-level coastal route via Sheildaig – Kenmore – Applecross Road was built. We used this route to reach Applecross although we did take the Bealach na Bà on leaving Applecross.

Applecross Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Bealach na Ba

Next we drove the Bealach na Bà (“Pass of the Cattle”). The Bealach na Bà is a windy narrow mountain road that rises from sea level to an elevation of 2,053 ft. It is one of Britain’s highest roads and is famous for being twisty and having some tight hairpin bends and switchbacks.

On a clear day, you can see some nice views of the Isle of Skye and other landmarks from the road. We were able to see some nice scenery along the way. It is about 11 miles in length and links Kishorn to Applecross. The road is not advised for large vehicles and caravans or to be driven in bad weather conditions. Today, as mentioned earlier, you can also take the easier alternate low-level coastal route via Sheildaig – Kenmore – Applecross Road to reach Applecross as we did when we arrived in Applecross. 

Bealach na Ba Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

You’ll likely recognize the exterior of Eilean Donan Castle as it is one of the most photographed Scottish castles. It sits on a small tidal island at the intersection of three lochs and is located near the village of Dornie. The original castle was believed to have originated from simple fortifications built in the 13th century by the Clan Mackenzie and became the stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail. The castle was also used by their allies the Clan Macrae who were assigned as constables of the castle. The castle sprung up in stages over the centuries, but was falling into dereliction by the eighteenth century.

Eilean Donan Castle was largely destroyed in 1719 by the Royal Navy on an attack of Spanish soldiers occupying the castle who fought on behalf of the Jacobites supported by the Mackenzie and MacRae clans. The castle lay in ruins until 1919 when restoration was begun and the castle was rebuilt between 1919 and 1932 by John MacRae-Gilstrap. It was opened to the public in 1955 and can be reached by a footbridge that connects it to the mainland.

So the castle of today is a rebuilt version of the original as very little of the original remains although there are some masonry fragments, a few artifacts, and the remains of a medieval tower that can still be seen on a visit today. It is often advertised as a 13th century castle but it dates only from the 20th century. Despite this, the castle is still an interesting place to explore with some lovely artifacts, a beautiful timbered Banqueting Hall, and lots of information on the MacRae family who still run the castle through a trust.

However, the problem with the castle is that it is often very crowded with visitors and since many of the staircases and passages are quite narrow, it can be a bit claustrophobic inside the castle. We were able to enjoy our visit, but it would have been more pleasant if we had visited at a less crowded time. So if you can visit it first thing in the morning or during the off-season I would recommend doing so. 

Eilean Donan Castle Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Arrival on the Isle of Skye

We arrived on the Isle of Skye a little before sunset on the third day of our Scottish Highlands trip. The Isle of Skye is not technically part of the Scottish Highlands, although it is administered by the Highland council area. The Isle of Skye, sometimes nicknamed the Misty Isle, is the largest and most populated island of the Inner Hebrides islands.

We arrived via road crossing the Carrich Viaduct which connects the mainland of Scotland to the island of Eilean Bàn and then across the Skye Bridge which connects Eilean Bàn to the Isle of Skye. Ferry crossings and public buses are also alternate ways to reach the Isle of Skye from the mainland. Ferries from Skye can also transport passengers to other islands.

The Cuillin

One of the first distinguishable geological features that we came across once on the Isle of Skye en route to Portree was the Cuillin. The Cuillin is a range of rocky mountains, that are often referred to as the Black Cuillin and sometimes also include the Red Cuillin.

The Black Cuillin are true mountains, mainly compased of gabbro, and twelve of the peaks are listed as Munros (a Scottish mountain over 3,000 ft. in height named after Sir Huge Munro). Sgùrr Dearg has the only peak (topped by the Inaccessible Pinnacle) that requires true rock climbing in Scotland to reach, making it one of the most difficult Monros for those engaged in “Monro bagging” where hikers attempt to summit all of Scotland’s almost 300 Monros.

The Red Cuillin, also referred to as the Red Hills, are lower and more rounded than the Black Cuillin, mainly composed of granite.

Cuillins Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Portree was our destination for the evening, and our home for 2 nights. Portree is the largest town on the Isle of Skye and sits alongside a pretty harbor. It was originally mainly a fishing village but now caters mainly to tourism and serves as a hub for services to those living on the island (banks, grocery, churches, cinema, library, secondary school). Portree has a lot of restaurants and shops for visitors and the harbor area is a great place to enjoy a walk or coffee. Many wildlife sightseeing boat trips also leave from Portree.

We stayed in another bed-and-breakfast, this time the Feochan Guest House . We liked the guest house, tasty breakfast, and friendly hosts; however, I would only recommend this for those with a car or those who are OK with a walk into the city as it is about a 15 or 20 minute walk into the town center of Portree from here. 

Portree Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Day 4 Scottish Highlands Itinerary: Isle of Skye Explorations 

After another hearty Scottish breakfast, we headed out to explore our new surroundings. The fourth day of our Scottish Highlands itinerary was filled with stops all over the Isle of Skye, taking in a number of the most scenic and historical sites on the island.

Unfortunately our luck ran out on this day and in the afternoon the amazingly good weather stopped and we ended up with lots of clouds and rain. This limited us doing some of the intended hikes and dampened our enthusiasm for wandering around the lochs and beaches, but we still really enjoyed our time on the Isle of Skye and can’t wait to return.

Loch Fada and the Old Man of Storr

One of our first stops was to take a look at the Old Man of Storr, which is one of the most recognizable rock formations on the Isle of Skye. It is a finger of rock that juts out of the surrounding landscape. Ross told us the legend behind the name and you’ll find that many of the rock formations in Scotland have interesting legends behind them. The Old Man of Storr hike is one of the most popular and busiest walks on the island and it takes about 1.5 hours to hike up and down the trail from the carpark. We also stopped to see the beautiful Loch Fada nearby where you can see the Old Man of Storr in the distance.

Loch Fada Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Mealt Falls 

Mealt Falls are waterfalls fed from nearby Mealt Loch that plunge off the side of the sea cliff into the sea. With the backdrop of the Kilt Rock, the 90m cliffs shaped like a kilt, these are a stunning sight and we were lucky to have good weather to view it from the visitor overlook. We also read signs here that a very extensive collection of dinosaur remains have been found on the Jurassic rocks along this coast.

Mealt Falls Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

We stopped in the village of Staffin for a coffee at the Columba 1400 Cafe , which has some nice views of the town. Columba 1400 is a social enterprise and charity with the jobs and funds supporting young people going through tough times. If you visit Staffin, keep an eye out for the unique dalmation houses, which are white houses painted with black spots.

Staffin Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

A s mentioned earlier, a number of dinosaur remains have been found in certain areas of the Isle of Skye. One such place is the dinosaur tracks found on the beach at An Corran in Staffin.  A second track of dinosaur tracks have also been discovered along Score Bay near Duntulm Castle on the Isle of Skye. For those truly interested in the dinosaur fossils and tracks, I would make a visit to the Staffin Museum  (best to call ahead as irregular hours and sometimes only open by appointment) which has a number of artifacts and the staff can also arrange lectures and guided walks for interested individuals.

Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

The Quiraing

The next stop was a landslip called the Quiraing. A landslip may not sound very exciting but it is another distinctive area of scenery on the Isle of Skye and provides some nice views from the top. The landslip formed on the eastern face of the Meall na Suiramach, the northernmost summit of the Trotternish. The Quiraing is home to a number of landmark rock formations, including The Needle, The Table, and the Prison and a popular place for hiking.

Quiraing Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Skye Museum of Island Life

If you are interested in learning more of the history of the Isle of Skye and want to see what Highland life would have been like for past generations, check out the S kye Museum of Island Life near Kilmuir. Here you will find information and artifacts housed in a collection of thatched cottages.

The Faerie Glen

On the other side of the Trotternish Peninsula near Uig, we visited a curious geographic region known as the Faerie Glen. This is a grassy hilly area that looks a bit like a fairytale land that is the subject of folklore and legends, believed to be the home of the faeries. It is a great place to get out and wander and hike. A bit of a scramble allows you to reach the top of the large upthrusted rock formation known as Faerie Castle, also know as Castle Ewen. You’ll also likely find rock labyrinths near the castle.

Faerie Castle Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Dunvegan Castle

If you are looking for a castle to visit on the Isle of Skye, you may want to head to Dunvegan Castle . The first constructions of defense walls were initially built here in the 13th century and additions to the castle continued until the 19th century. Much of the exterior was heavily restored in the 19th century in a romanticized version of the original.

The castle is unique in that it is said to be the longest continuously occupied castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of MacLeod for 800 years. Inside you can see hundreds of years of artifacts, including the famous Fairy Flag that when unfurled in battle is believed to assure a victory for the MacLeods. Also of note here is the five acres of formal gardens that can be visited either in combination or separately from the castle. You can also book seal viewing trips, fishing trips, and boat cruises from Dunvegan Castle.

Dunvegan Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

About 20 minutes from the town of Dunvegan in Colbost is The Three Chimneys which is a popular and award-winning restaurant on the island. We haven’t eaten here yet but the reviews are wonderful and you can also stay overnight in the guesthouses.

Neist Point

Neist Point is another of the Isle of Skye’s scenic points. Here on a clear day you will have excellent views over Moonen Bay. This spot is believed to be one of the best places for spotting sea birds, whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sharks on the island. It is also a popular area for fishermen. The Neist Point Lighthouse sits at the end of the causeway. 

B rochs are Pictish round towers built around 2,000 years ago, and there were many of them situated all over the Isle of Skye and northern Scotland. It is unclear what exactly they were used for, perhaps lookouts, defensive structures, or just homes. You can still see signs of them throughout the Isle of Skye, with one of the best preserved and most accessible being the Dun Beag near the village of Struan. There have been a number of coins discovered in and around this Iron Age structure suggesting it may have been occupied until the nineteenth or twentieth century. It is free to visit Dun Beag and there is a small carpark and information panel nearby.

If you want to visit a distillery while on the Isle of Skye, then you’ll need to head to Talisker distillery in Carbost on the shore of Loch Harport. Talisker is the only whisky distillery on Skye. The original distillery was built in Carbost in 1830, but a stillhouse fire destroyed most of the distillery in 1960. The whisky set the nearby loch aflame! Visitors to Talisker can do a distillery tour, tasting, or just enjoy the visitor center and store. If you would like to do a tour, it is best to call in advance as in the busier months, there can be a bit of a wait.

Talisker whisky Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

The Faerie Pools

Another popular attraction on the Isle of Skye is the Faerie Pools near Glenbrittle. The Fairie pools are a series of scenic clear water pools on the River Brittle with small waterfalls. This is another popular place for a short hike, it is about a 45 minute roundtrip hike from the carpark to reach the main fairy pools. Sadly during our visit, it was raining and gray making the area very muddy and not a fun place to hike so we skipped the faerie pools and headed back to Portree for the evening.

Final dinner at The Granary

After arriving back in Portree, Laurence and I decided to have a dinner out on our own booking dinner reservations at The Granary . We had drinks and a nice dinner here and recommend it to anyone looking for a mid-range option for dinner in Portree focusing on local products. It was a great way to end our time on the Isle of Skye before walking back to our bed-and-breakfast.

salmon Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Tips :  We would recommend spending more than 2 nights on the Isle of Skye if you have the time, especially if you are interested in doing boat tours, hiking, visiting museums, or want to just spend your time slowly discovering the treasures of this island. To see everything on the list above for more than a quick photo stop, you’ll definitely need more than one day.

Our tour took in the major highlights of the Isle of Skye and a few other places that we recommend, but there is more to do on the Isle of Skye and if you have time, we’d recommend spending at least 3 days on the island if you can squeeze them into your Scottish Highlands itinerary. We’ve returned to Skye a number of times since this tour. If you have been to Skye before, have more than a day or two, or want to avoid crowds, you can read our tips for avoiding crowds on the Isle of Skye and finding lesser known attractions.

However, if time is limited, you can still see a lot in 1 day and doing a tour like we did saves a lot of time as many of these locations can be tricky to find and parking can be an issue in the summer months. Having a driver made a big difference and saved us a lot of time.

Day 5 Scottish Highlands Itinerary: Isle of Skye to Edinburgh

On the final day of our Scottish Highlands itinerary, we said goodbye to the Isle of Skye and headed back to Edinburgh. But along the way we saw an important war memorial, the tallest mountain in Scotland, famous scenery locations, and had a photo stop at a famous castle.

Five Sisters of Kintail

One popular area of mountains for hillwalkers is Kintail which is mostly owned by the National Trust of Scotland . The Five Sisters of Kintail are a well-known set of high ridges with three of them being classified as Munros. Also in the area is the Falls of Glomach which is one of the highest waterfalls in Great Britain, but the falls requires a 8 km trek on foot to reach. We only drove by this area and heard the legend of the Five Sisters of Kintail from Ross (involving five disappointed sisters who were turned to stone) but would love to return to do some hiking here.

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles at 4,411 ft above sea level, and is located near the city of Fort William. It is a popular mountain for Monro baggers and is one of the  mountains included in the National Three Peaks Challenge in the UK. The mountain can be seen from a number of locations throughout the area and we stopped a couple of times to get photos. One good location is at the Commando Memorial.

Commando Memorial Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Spean Bridge & Commando Memorial

The Commando Memorial , located near the small village of Spean Bridge, is one of Scotland’s most famous war memorials, and is dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces during World War II. Officially unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1952, the memorial depicts three Commandos in full dress, cast in bronze, gazing south to Ben Nevis. The monument stands as a memorial to all the British Commandos who trained all over the Lochaber region.  Today, the memorial is used for major memorial services, including the D-Day landings and Remembrance Day ceremonies. It is a popular tourist spot both as a stirring memorial and as a scenic overlook.

Commando Memorial Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Nearby in the small village of Spean Bridge we stopped for a break and some time for shopping at Spean Bridge Woolen Mill. We ended up picking up a couple of gifts, including some snazzy plaid winter hats! There was also a whisky shop with free whisky samples here.

Fort William

Fort William is a popular tourist center in the Scottish Highlands due to its proximity to a number of attractions and it is a central gathering point for hikers, climbers, and bikers. For instance, it is near Ben Nevis and serves as both the northern end of the West Highland Way and the southern end of the Great Glen Way. It is the second largest town in the Highlands with about 10,000 people so it is also a great place to pick up supplies and access services.

There are a number of things to do in and around Fort William , but we had only 1.5 hours here so we decided to see the old fort ruins, explore the town center, and visit The West Highland Museum. T o save time, Laurence and I decided to have a picnic lunch at the ruins of the fort which is a today a nice park and recreational area. There are a number of informational panels around the ruins that tell about its construction, use, and dismantlement. It was originally built by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1654 to pacify the local Clans and was later used as defense against Jacobite uprisings.

After lunch, we walked into the town center and visited The West Highland Museum which we can highly recommend if you want to know some of the local history. The staff here were friendly and admission was free. As we were leaving Fort William we also got to see The Jacobite steam train take off which runs from Fort William to Mallaig.

West Highland Museum Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Glenfinnan, a nearby town, is a popular tourist stop for both its Glenfinnan Memorial (remembering those who died for the Jacobite cause) and the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The 21-arch viaduct is special on its own but has become a popular tourist attraction due to its use in the Harry Potter films.

Glen Coe, also often written as Glencoe, is a beautiful glen of volcanic origins as well as the name of the nearby village. The River Coe runs through the glen, giving it its name. There are a number of interesting landscape and geological features here, perhaps the most well known being the mountain of Bidean nam Bian and its three steep ridges known as the Three Sisters of Glencoe.

The glen is known for its photogenic beauty (see this stunning  series of photos of Glencoe Laurence has taken), as the birthplace of the legendary Ossian (the cave of Ossian), and for the brutal 1689 Massacre of Glencoe . Glen Coe is also a popular movie filming location and the home of the fictional Andrew Bond, father of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Once owned by the Clan Donald (a.k.a. MacDonald), the land is now owned and protected by the National Trust for Scotland . A stop at the Trust’s Glencoe & Daleness Visitor Center is a good place to learn about the history of the area and get information on popular walks and hikes in the area. If you are visiting in the summer, expect the carparks in the area to be busy.

Glencoe Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Callander is a small town often referred to as the gateway to the Highlands because of its location, and a popular stop for those going to or returning from the Highlands. We stopped here for a coffee break (at Apple Jacks), walked along the River Teith, and saw the small “Hill of Kessog” mound which is named after Saint Kessog who preached in the area in the 6th century. A popular walk from town is to the Bracklinn Falls.

We learned here from Ross that the idiom “armed to the teeth” is said (at least by some) to have originated in medieval Scotland when Highlanders were asked to surrender their weapons before crossing the River Teith in order to sell and trade peacefully with the Lowlanders.

Callander Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Other Attractions of Interest between Callander and Edinburgh

If you have more time to venture beyond the Highlands, there are many great attractions between Callander and Edinburgh. A few recommendations (although there are many more), are Stirling, Doune Castle, and the Kelpies. The city of Stirling and nearby has a lot of great attractions, including Stirling Castle and the National Wallace Monument. Doune Castle is a medieval castle made famous as the primary filming location for the cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail and most recently used in Season 1 of the TV series Outlander .

The Doune Castle audioguide is very good for doing a self tour of the castle. Also nearby are whisky distilleries that can be toured . The Kelpies are giant horse-head sculptures located near Falkirk in The Helix park . Built in 2013 as the largest equine statues in the world, these are fast becoming one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. Also nearby is the unique and interesting Falkirk Wheel .

Doune Castle Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Return to Edinburgh

After five full days of sightseeing, we returned back to Edinburgh around 7pm that evening, said goodbye to our fellow travelers, and then caught a local bus back home! This was my first time to the Scottish Highlands and both of our first times visiting the Isle of Skye and we loved it!

Like most of Scotland, the Highlands are a beautiful area with loads of history and culture. We saw so much in 5 days, and you can easily see a number of the highlights of the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye on a 5-day trip from Edinburgh (or elsewhere in Scotland). We can’t wait to return and are actually planning to spend a week on the Isle of Skye over Christmas with family.

If you have more time, I’d recommend a week or so to travel more slowly and have more time to really explore these places, whether this is on your own or traveling with a tour.

We had a great time with Rabbie’s and have done several tours with them and can highly recommend them in terms of price, driver/guides, booking policies (if you book a tour, the tour goes even if you are the only one booked!), and itineraries.

If you are considering a tour, I’d highly recommend reading over Laurence’s detailed review of our Scottish Highlands tour  and my prior post on our tours to the Scottish Borders . But whether you choose to book a tour or plan your own independent trip, we hope that this post is helpful in putting together your own Scottish Highlands itinerary!

Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Have you been to the Scottish Highlands or the Isle of Skye? If so, let us know your favorite spots. If not, which of the above places would be at the top of your Scottish Highlands itinerary? As always, we love to hear your comments and we’re happy to answer any questions about our Scottish Highland trip with Rabbie’s or any other questions you may have about travel to Scotland!

A Five Day Itinerary through Scotland's beautiful Highlands region plus the Isle of Skye

**Disclosure: We received a complimentary tour to the Scottish Highland and Isle of Skye from Rabbie’s Trail Burners in order to review the service as travel writers; however, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. You can read more in our Ethics Code about how we accept work.**

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Linda D TAGGART Post author

July 11, 2023 at 7:21 am

Thank you for sharing all of this wonderful information! We would love to see the Highlands, but unfortunately we have limited time. We will be in Edinburgh for 3 days and then we will be taking a cruise with Windstar, which will stop at Oban for a day. Do you feel it would be best to try and see the Highlands from Edinburgh or Oban. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers! Linda

Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author

July 12, 2023 at 4:31 am

I would probably recommend taking a day tour from Edinburgh to see some of the Highlands since you have the 3 full days in the city. Most people can see what they want to see in Edinburgh in 2 days but of course you should make a list and check to be sure. But from Edinburgh, it is easy to take a train or join a small guided tour group (we recommend Rabbie’s, a local tour operator) for a full day of seeing some of the landscapes and attractions of a part of the Highlands. I would see our article on Edinburgh day trips for lots of ideas of possible trips from Edinburgh, some of them head into the Highlands.

The Highlands and Islands region of Scotland is huge but leaving from Edinburgh would give you the best chance to spend a day seeing different things. With a cruise, you will likely have a more limited and strict timing and it is more difficult to make a day trip or get a tour from Oban (unless your cruise offers one you like).

Sp Oban is actually in the Highlands, it is often called “capital” of the West Highlands area. So this is a different part of the Highlands than you would have explored with a day trip from Edinburgh. It’s a lovely little resort town and nice to spend a day wandering around to see the harbor, the castle (Dunollie Museum, Castle & Grounds), there are a couple of small museums, a gin distillery, walks (such as the short walk up to McCaig’s Tower) and you can enjoy a boat ride from the harbor here or go kayaking. It is also a good place to try local seafood. So I would take advantage of your time in Oban since you have only the day. It is lovely on nice sunny day to do a bit of walking and boating here. If you get bad weather you can still make a nice day of it——I’d probably visit the castle, the Oban War & Peace museum, have a seafood lunch, and make a stop at the gin distillery.

Hope that helps! Jessica

July 12, 2023 at 9:58 am

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your suggestions and super prompt reply!

July 12, 2023 at 10:26 am

You’re very welcome and if you have any questions as you plan your time in Scotland, just ask!

Wishing you a wonderful time in Scotland!

Best, Jessica

Jane-Marie' Duddy Post author

July 17, 2021 at 2:17 am

Hi Can I book this please

July 17, 2021 at 5:46 am

Hello Jane Marie,

Yes, you can book this same tour, you can do so directly online via this link . You just need to choose an available date of departure and the type of accommodation you would like (or you can book it yourself if you prefer although we’d recommend having them book it for convenience).

Let us know if you have any further questions and wishing you a great trip!

Himanshu Jain Post author

December 25, 2019 at 8:48 pm

Sounds great….. But, how much will be the expense?

December 26, 2019 at 7:46 am

Hi Himanshu,

The cost of the 5 day trip is going to depend a lot on how you want to travel, what you decide to do, and the type of lodging you choose. But if you are wanting to do the same 5-day Scottish Highlands tour with a tour company like we discussed in the post, we did our trip with Rabbie’s. The base price per person is normally between £200 and £320 per person for the 5 day tour. It depends on your dates and what level of accommodation you include, and you can check the latest prices here .

If you do a tour with Rabbie’s, you will pay for all your travel costs, driver, and guide. You can also book you accommodation with them (recommended) which usually includes breakfast. Then you will just need to take money with you to purchase your other meals, souvenirs, attraction entry fees, etc. You can generally find inexpensive meals each day and your driver can help guide you to dining recommendations at each stop.

Melinda Ballingal Post author

November 1, 2018 at 7:10 am

Planning my Fourth trip to Scotland but first trip to Skye, so wanting to spend a minimum of 3 to 4 nights on the Isle. My question is what town would be the best home base? Would love to not have to change rooms each night. We are thinking of a September trip to capture more daylight hours and possibly avoid a lot of busy travelers.

November 1, 2018 at 8:35 am

Hi Melinda,

September is a good time to travel in Scotland. The Isle of Skye won’t be quiet in September but it won’t be as busy as summer. Most seasonal attractions and businesses stay open until October or November. Weather is unpredictable on the Isle of Skye, but Sept is normally one of the better months 😉

I would base where you stay on two factors: 1) where do you plan to visit and 2) how do you plan to get around (car, public bus). For instance if you plan to mostly visit spots around the northern and middle parts of the island, I’d stay in one of those two areas. But if you plan to drive all over the island, then I’d stay in the central area of the island. Access to most towns and attractions is quicker if you stay along the main road as well. So in that case you might look between Portree and Sligachan, or around that general area, especially since this is your first visit.

I will assume you are driving, but if you are taking the bus, you’ll want to base near a bus stop (e.g., Portree, Armadale). Stagecoach is the bus service that currently operates on the island.

I would book your accommodation in advance, as well as any tours or activities. But for your daily visits, I would keep those flexible if you can so you can work around weather in case you have some bad weather days on your visit.

Check out our article on how to avoid the crowds on the Isle of Skye for specific accommodation recs as well as loads of tips avoiding crowded areas.

Hope that helps, and if you have further questions as you plan your trip, just let us know. We’ve been to Skye in every season now and pop over there about once a year.

New to Scotland Post author

March 3, 2018 at 8:08 am

Hi! Found this post and it is such a gem! Very useful information. This May, we’re headed to Scotland for 6 nights. We plan to do 3 in Edinburgh on the front end, and then 3 nights in or near Skye. We’re traveling with a young toddler (still napping), and so have to limit our transitions between inns. We’re doing Airbnb in Edinburgh. Do you have a recommendation for a town to stay in near or on Skye for three nights that would provide a lovely town to explore, and an ideal jumping off point for Highlands exploration (for jaunts no more than 1 hr drive away at a time)? Thanks in advance!

March 3, 2018 at 9:49 am

Glad you are finding our website helpful in planning your first trip to Scotland! We have loads of content on Edinburgh articles here and on our other blog here . So that might be helpful in planning your 3 days in Edinburgh. We live just south of the city so feel free to shout out if you have any questions or need recommendations.

Hmmm, on the Isle of Skye, the biggest city is Portree which has the most services (shops, hotels, restaurants), has a lovely boat harbor, and is walkable if you stay near the center. There are a lot of places to stay in Portree . However, it is a 50 minute drive from Portree to just get off Skye so it would not really allow you a chance to explore any other parts of the Highlands outside of Skye within a 1 hour drive. But I’d recommend Portree if you want to spend most of the time on the island and looking for a walkable place with stuff to do. You could easily spend all three days exploring different areas of the Isle of Skye as it is much bigger than most people imagine and travel times are slow because of the roads (many are single-track roads ).

Off the island, you could try Kyle of Lochalsh which is the town just before you cross the bridge to go onto Skye. It is handy in terms of location and has some walkable parts and a few shops and restaurants, but it doesn’t really have much in terms of actual attractions and not sure I’d describe it as “lovely”. It is about a 50 minute drive from Portree on Skye and is within about an hour of other places in the Highlands (e.g. Eilean Donan Castle, drive to Applecross, Lochcarron).

For more loveliness, I’d recommend Plockton which is just a bit further away and is a small but pretty little town. It has several hotels & shops, and is walkable (stay near the center). It is about 1 hour drive from Portree on Skye and you can make many scenic drives within an hour to some other spots in the Highlands (e.g. Eilean Donan Castle, Applecross, Lochcarron). For lodging in Plockton, we can specifically recommend Plockton Inn or Plockton Hotel in terms of places to stay in the center. The town has palm trees (very unusual in Scotland!), a little harbor and beach area, and there is a well-rated seal boat trip you can take from there with Calum’s Seal Tours that is family-friendly.

Hope the above helps give you some good options! Just let us know if you have further questions as you plan your trip.

March 3, 2018 at 11:32 am

Thank you very much! This is wonderful. We hadn’t stumbled on Plockton, and now I think that’s where we’ll stay for the three nights. Makes the drive to and from Edinburgh more manageable but still close enough to explore Skye. We’ll also check out your other recommendations, including for Edinburgh. Thanks again!

March 3, 2018 at 11:50 am

Plockton is lovely and I think you’ll enjoy it there. The drive is about 4.5 to 5 hours from Edinburgh depending on how you decide to drive there, but there are loads of places to stop along the way to break up the long drive. Best, Jessica

Sili Suli Post author

January 10, 2018 at 8:31 pm

Many thanks Mr. Laurence and Mrs. Jessica for their excellent information. I do have a dream to travel to Scotland, especially on the Isle of Skype at the end of 2018. Hopefully I do not experience any obstacles to take care of tourist visa at the British Embassy in Jakarta.

January 11, 2018 at 4:59 am

Hi Sili, I hope that your tourist visa application process goes smoothly and you are able to visit the Isle of Skye this summer. If you are not renting a car we can definitely recommend taking one of the Rabbies tours such as this 3 day Isle of Skye tour and this 5 day Isle of Skye & Scottish Highland tour . Please let us know if you have any questions about coming to Scotland once you have your visa. Best, Jessica

Denise Post author

January 3, 2018 at 7:35 am

This was a such a great post. It was so detailed and gave a great idea of the whole journey. I felt as if I took the journey through the Highlands with you. i’m currently illustrating a map of Scotland Highlands and this post helped me a lot. Thank you!

January 3, 2018 at 9:53 am

Hi Denise, Thanks for taking the time to comment and glad that you enjoyed our Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary! So great when you one can connect with travel content. Best of luck on the Highlands map – sounds like a fun project! Best, Jessica

Michael Browne Post author

May 19, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Just planning our days in the Highlands. You’ve made our planning so much easier. Thanks!

May 20, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Hi Michael, Hope you have a wonderful time in the Scottish Highland and do let us know if you have any questions – we are coincidentally traveling in the north of Scotland as I write this 😉 Thanks for taking the time to comment! Happy travels, Jessica

Marius Dan Post author

May 1, 2017 at 5:47 am

You should also check St. Andrews, I took a trip there with a bunch of students and had a great time. Its basically a college town, really old, near the North Sea Coastline.

April 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Have you been to Stirling? It’s the town with the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. Charming place….

April 30, 2017 at 11:36 am

Hi Marius, We have driven through Stirling several times, and have taken photos from the outside of Stirling Castle but we have yet to actually visit! It is on our mental list of places to visit and spend more time while we are living in Scotland. Stirling and Aberdeen areas are two spots we haven’t explore much yet! Best, Jessica

Stuart Macpherson Post author

March 30, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Great 5 day itinerary, I would certainly suggest staying for longer though. Next time you are passing through Contin on the way to Skye feel free to drop in to the Coul House for refreshments or why not stay the night and hike to Rogie Falls or Knockfarrel in the morning prior to breakfast.

March 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Hi Stuart, Yes, Skye definitely deserves more than a day if possible, we’ve actually spent about 9 nights there so far! Thanks so much for your suggestions and we may indeed be staying at the Coul House when we drive the North Coast 500 in May! Best, Jessica

Tanja Post author

January 18, 2017 at 7:57 am

Wow, gorgeous photos of the Highlands! I’ve been to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. We left the Highlands for another trip! One day:)

January 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

Hi Tanja, Hope you get a chance to return. The bigger cities of Scotland are great, but I personally have most enjoyed our time in the rural areas and small villages of Scotland. Best, Jessica

Agness Walewinder Post author

December 29, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Great guide! I would definitely love to visit the Forth Bridge and take some pictures of the landscape from there. I’ve been only to Wales and few cities in the UK so Scotland is still undiscovered for me.

travelcats Post author

December 31, 2016 at 2:40 am

Hi Agness, Yes Scotland is a beautiful country and it is surprising to us how many people visit England multiple times but never venture north to Scotland! Hope you get a chance to visit the Forth Bridge and see some of the lovely landscapes of Scotland! Jessica

eileen g Post author

December 18, 2016 at 6:22 am

Another great, detailed itinerary! We were in Edinburgh this fall and I very much want to see the rest of Scotland. There is all the gorgeous scenery. We were very impressed by Scottish food in Edinburgh and want to sample more. I’m a fan of Celtic mythology and the Gunn clan is somewhere up north. so lots of good reasons to get there!

December 18, 2016 at 11:25 am

Hi Eileen, Yes, I hope you get chance to explore more of Scotland in the future too. We love Edinburgh (obviously) but there are lots of other places to visit. Just visiting Edinburgh is a bit like just visiting London but not seeing the rest of England, and a second visit is a great time to explore more of this beautiful country! The Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye are two good places to start. Best, JEssica

Lara Dunning Post author

December 12, 2016 at 7:51 pm

Scotland is high on my list so I am saving this for future reference. There are so many great places on this itinerary that I’d want to take a more leisurely attitude and experience it at a slower pace. But, not so slow that I couldn’t outrun a cloud of midges. 🙂

December 13, 2016 at 3:43 am

Hi Lara, That is the perfect pace to explore the Highlands, slow but faster than the pesky midges! ~ Jessica

Corinne Post author

December 12, 2016 at 4:04 am

Jess, We loved our highlands road trip a couple of summers ago. We went to many of the places you mention in your itinerary. I was super surprised at how good the food was!

December 12, 2016 at 5:11 am

Hi Corinne, So glad to hear that you had such a nice trip as well – I remember reading some about it! Yes, I was actually surprised as well about the food even though I’m living in Scotland 😉 We had a few really nice meals on the trip. Best, Jessica

Vlad Post author

December 11, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Awesome post! I’ve done a two day tour of the Highlands this summer but I want to go back and stay more days, to visit Isle of Skye as well. Pinned this for later 😀

December 11, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Hi Vlad, glad you liked it and hope it helps you plans your next trip to the Highlands and Skye! ~ Jessica

Lolo Post author

December 10, 2016 at 1:15 am

Wow what an absolutely thorough guide! We hope to visit the Scottish Highlands one day when we make it there! There is so much to see and do and so much interesting history! I especially want to see Eilean Donan Castle and I’m pretty sure that’s the same castle in the movie “Made of Honor”

December 10, 2016 at 4:33 am

Hi Lolo, Glad you found our Scottish Highlands itinerary helpful! Yep, Eilean Donan Castle has been a backdrop for many films, most notably perhaps James Bond (The World is Not Enough), but yep “Made of Honor” is also one where the wedding takes place. TV and film related settings are important for tourism in Scotland, movies like “Highlander” and “Braveheart” and newer shows like “Outlander” convince a lot of people to come see the beauty of Scotland. Jessica

Anda Post author

December 10, 2016 at 12:16 am

I wonder if it’s possible to see these part of Scotland on your own. I like more flexibility in my schedule, although I agree that it’s more economic to book a tour. I didn’t expect to see so much sunshine in this area. Were you just lucky, or sunny days are not so rare in Scotland?

December 10, 2016 at 4:20 am

Hi Anda, Yes, you can easily see it on your own if you feel comfortable driving in the UK. You can rent a car in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, etc. and just see the sites on a self-drive trip. Bus and train trips are also possible but you’d have to combine with taxis and hikes to reach all the places we went and allow more time. Booking a tour is probably cheaper and more efficient in that the guides know where everything is located but of course you don’t have the flexible schedule or independence. Both are good options, depending on how you like to travel. Yes, we were lucky with the weather, the summer is definitely the best time to try to catch the sunshine although also a busy time for the Highlands. We’re heading back up to the Isle of Skye in a couple of weeks and are interested to see it in winter. ~ Jessica

Ruth Post author

December 9, 2016 at 8:29 pm

I am speechless right now! I have never been a fan of the British Isles. But, lately, I have been reading posts about Scotland and Ireland and have to say I am amazed at the natural beauty of both places. Add to that castles and interesting ruins and I think I have the perfect combination of things I look into a destination. I think I am mostly concerned at the weather. I would try to visit on summer or early fall and cross my fingers. Those Scottish cows are so cute. Does Laurence use a tartan while in Scotland? #TheWeeklyPostcard

December 10, 2016 at 4:03 am

Hi Ruth, Hopefully after reading all our Scotland posts we’ll convince you to visit the UK 😉 Laurence’s family are not from Scotland (England, Seychelles, & born in Wales) but I believe someone in his family did have a tartan kilt so he does actually have a passed-down moth-eaten kilt at his mom’s house I believe, and I have never seen it on him yet! Let us know if you do start planning a trip! Jessica

Elaine J Masters Post author

December 9, 2016 at 3:09 pm

I think of that region as perpeptually cloudy. Truly gorgeous and looks like a perfect road trip. Got me thinking!

December 9, 2016 at 4:08 pm

Hi Elaine, Yes, I think many people see Scotland as always cloudy. It is cloudy a lot (and gray), but not always. You can actually see from our photos we had some clear blue skies a couple of days – but most often you do have clouds even on a nice day as you can see in other photos. It doesn’t actually rain heavily that often but it drizzles a lot. It has sort of a certain moody misty mystique which is appealing if you dress for it. It is always beautiful here but when the sun shines, that is my favorite time, it really highlights the gorgeous natural beauty of Scotland! Hope you get a chance to come experience it yourself some day! ~ Jessica

Anisa Post author

December 9, 2016 at 2:46 pm

Wow wow wow, your pictures are absolutely amazing. I went to Isle of Skye in September and loved it to. I still need to explore the Highlands more though. so this post is really helpful. I especially love all the castles. Thanks so much for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

December 9, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Hi Anisa, Thanks! We do pride ourselves in our photos (most taken by Laurence) and we were also super lucky with the weather on that trip. The Highlands have some good castles (e.g., the photogenic Eilean Donan Castle) but you might want to look in other parts of Scotland for some of the most impressive. Of course there are the mighty Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle – probably the two most famous (and historically important) in Scotland, but Aberdeenshire is a place to consider as it has a large number of castles and stately homes (including the Royal Family’s Balmoral) and there is a Castle Trail you can follow there. You’ll also find the largest inhabited castle in Scotland in the lovely Scottish Borders region. So many castles all over! 😉 Jessica

Arnie Jacobsen Post author

December 9, 2016 at 12:15 pm

That first image, my friends, is killer. I’m afraid I going to have to hide this post from Jo though. She will be hounding me to go!! I’ll never hear the end of it! (Just a kidding!)

December 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Hi Arnie, Glad you enjoyed our photos from the Scottish Highlands – if you really love the first photo of Glencoe, you should check out Laurence’s photo essay of photos from Glencoe: http://www.findingtheuniverse.com/2015/01/the-stunning-landscapes-of-glencoe.html He has taken some amazing shots in and around Glencoe 😉 Hope you and Jo get a chance to visit. Jessica

Kathi Post author

December 9, 2016 at 5:28 am

What a beautiful and detailed itinerary! Love your photos – you seem to have been very lucky with the weather <3

December 9, 2016 at 7:14 am

Hi Kathi – Glad you enjoy it! Yes, we were definitely lucky with the Scottish weather on this trip! Just the week before the same tour had 4 solid days of rain and only one somewhat clear day. ~ Jessica

Sonali Chauhan Post author

December 7, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Great post….But I don’t think 5 days are enough to enjoy this amazing place. The Scottish Highlands is a most beautiful place and I think I will need lots of days to enjoy it!

December 8, 2016 at 2:45 am

Hi Sonali, Glad you enjoyed our post on the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye. I agree, I think if you have more time for your trip, you should spend more than 5 days explore this area of Scotland. As I said, I would recommend at least a week if you have it. You can still use this Scottish Highlands itinerary and just spend more time at each place along the way! Let me know if you have any specific questions as you plan your trip to Scotland! Best, Jessica

Gavin Manerowski Post author

December 7, 2016 at 3:48 am

Its really a very informative post for the people who wish to travel Scotland. Thanks for the information!

December 7, 2016 at 5:03 am

Hi Gavin, Thanks for taking the time to leave us a comment and please let us know if you have any questions about any upcoming travels to Scotland! ~ Jessica

Olivia Post author

December 5, 2016 at 7:43 am

Wow! Fantastic post! Makes me want to go to Scotland 🙂

December 6, 2016 at 2:44 am

Thanks Olivia, and that is exactly our intention 😉

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Wick Heritage Centre

Wick Heritage Centre

Tracking the rise and fall of the herring industry, this great town museum displays everything from fishing equipment to complete herring boats. It’s…

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Northern Highlands & Islands and beyond

Rock formations in Sango Bay near Cape Wrath.

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  • DESTINATION GUIDE

The essential guide to visiting Scotland

Here’s everything you need to know about this land of lochs—when to go, where to stay, what to do, and how to get around.

Flowers fill the hills under a dramatic sky at dusk.

Why you should visit Scotland

Monumental mountains and misty glens. Castles with hidden stories. A dram of whisky straight from the source.

Best time to visit Scotland

Spring: Many attractions are open without summer crowds. Golf courses open in April; the season officially starts in May.

Summer: This is the ideal time for hiking and biking, although accommodations along the most popular routes—such as the West Highland Way —fill up well in advance. There are plenty of events, including the Edinburgh Festival and Highland Games .

Autumn: Changing leaves create arresting scenes in forests—it’s a great time to visit Perthshire , known as “Big Tree Country.” The Edradour and Glenturret distilleries are well placed for combining a walk with a whisky sampling.

Winter: The Edinburgh Christmas Market kicks off in November, and Scots prepare to celebrate Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). On January 25, pubs honor Burns Night —the birthday of national poet Robert Burns —with a dinner of haggis , neeps (turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes).

Lay of the land

Cities: Well-heeled capital Edinburgh hosts the world’s largest performing arts festival . The medieval Old Town looms over Princes Street gardens and the New Town with art galleries and chic bars. Glasgow is boisterous and friendly, with a lively music scene. Craggy Stirling , topped by the eponymous castle, was the site of several historic battles. On the east coast, Dundee and Aberdeen pack museums and maritime history into their walkable downtowns.

Highlands: Hikers flock to the heather-bound moors and mountains of Cairngorms National Park ,   overlapping the Speyside whisky-producing region. The landscapes surrounding Glenfinnan and Glencoe have featured in films.

Hebrides: The Isle of Skye is famed for its otherworldly topography. Flawless beaches await on Lewis and Harris . On Mull ,   stop by the colorful coastal town of Tobermory or scale the rugged slopes of Ben More.

Northern Isles: Neolithic sites, including Skara Brae, are scattered across the Orkney Islands . View Viking sites and the eponymous ponies on the Shetland Islands .

Southern Uplands: Stately homes and castles grace the Scottish Borders. Dumfries & Galloway is home to the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere and the majestic Sweetheart Abbey .

North East:   Seek out royal connections at Glamis Castle in Angus, or Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire. Photogenic Perthshire is home to the prestigious Gleneagles hotel and golf course.

Central Belt: Relive the greatest victories of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace at Bannockburn and the National Wallace Monument , respectively. The John Muir Way spans 134 miles of lochs and woodlands.

A group of boys work to pull a rope, the soil is visible where they've tried to brace themselves with their feet.

Getting around Scotland

By plane: Daily flights operate from Glasgow to several Hebridean islands. Flights to   Sumburgh (Shetland) and Kirkwall   (Orkney) depart from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen.

By bus: National Express and Citylink operate buses between the major cities. Buses are limited in the Highlands and Islands.

By train: ScotRail runs most services in Scotland, mostly along the Central Belt. This reduces to a few main lines in the Highlands.

By car:   Driving in Scotland is on the left and requires an international driving permit. Road types include motorways (M), A-roads (A), and B-roads (B). Scotland’s main roads include the A1 from London to Edinburgh; the A74(M)/M74 from Gretna to Glasgow; and the M9/A9, stretching from just outside Edinburgh to Thurso on the north coast.

By boat: Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferries sail to 21 Hebridean islands; Northlink runs car ferries to Orkney and Shetland. Book well in advance.

Know before you go

Scottish languages: Scots Gaelic (pronounced “gaa-lik”) is still spoken by around 60,000 people, mostly in the Highlands and Islands. English, however, has been the main language spoken in Scotland since the 18th century. Though many believe it to be a dialect, Scots (descended from Northern English) is a distinct language , spoken by 1.5 million people.

Hours: Even in cities, restaurants can keep restrictive hours, with some kitchens closing as early as 8 p.m. On Sundays, businesses often open at 1 p.m. and may close by 4 p.m.

LGBTQ+:   Scotland legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. Glasgow hosts Scotland’s largest Pride festival, as well as the Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) in autumn.

How to visit Scotland sustainably

Outdoors: Read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code before setting out. Avoid deer stalking areas between July and February. Refrain from stone stacking, which can cause erosion .

Dining:   Farm-to-table—or, indeed, sea-to-table—is easy to find in this nation of farmers and fishermen. It’s increasingly common for restaurants to display ingredient provenance on their menu.

Shopping:   Seek out independent farm shops and sustainable distilleries . Support Scottish artisans at rural markets and festivals, such as the Pittenweem Arts Festival . Check labels to be sure the products you’re eyeing were made in country.

Accommodation and attractions: The Green Tourism certification scheme, which now operates in 20 countries, was founded in Scotland. It assesses 70 criteria, such as ethical production, carbon, and waste. Certified members—including accommodations, attractions, and tours—display a Green Tourism plaque.

What to read

Scotland: A Concise History , by Fitzroy Maclean (Fifth Edition). The former soldier and politician brings bloody battles and national heroes to life. In the fifth edition, journalist Magnus Linklater adds chapters on Brexit and the 2014 independence referendum.

Rival Queens , by Kate Williams. The historian charts the alliance between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England, which ends in devastating betrayal.

Rob Roy , by Sir Walter Scott. The celebrated writer’s classic work takes place during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715.

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram , by Iain Banks. A humorous travelogue of Scotland’s distilleries, from the iconic to the obscure.

( For more tips on what to do in Scotland, see our Explorer’s Guide .)

Related Topics

  • CITY GUIDES
  • CULTURAL TOURISM
  • PEOPLE AND CULTURE

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Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Consumer Website

On Monday 23 January, a new consumer website and spring campaign launched as part of the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Project.

The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands project is led by High Life Highland and Highland Council, while we work in collaboration to deliver the marketing campaigns. 

New consumer website launched

The new website creates a platform for visitors to discover new and unique locations to visit throughout the Highlands and Islands, using crowd-sources community stories, new film and audio content, alongside 10 themed itineraries. This immerses future visitors in the inspiring stories and interactive content from local communities.

Users of the site can explore the content through 7 key themes:

  • Community and Culture
  • Food and Drink
  • History, Heritage and Archaeology
  • Music and the arts
  • Science and innovation.

For visitors seeking inspiration for their visits, there are 10 itineraries on the site providing a wide range of suggestions. From single day or multi-day trips, themed itineraries will help visitors explore activities and locations that match the visitor’s interest.

Future functionality for the website will include the ability for users to build and create their own personalised itineraries. This will allow visitors to plan, save, download for use on their next visit to the Highlands and Islands. 

Take a look at the website and share with your future visitors.

Spring Marketing Campaign

On Monday 23 January, we launched the spring marketing campaign for the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands. This activity will be live until Sunday 12 March. 

This is a £185,000 campaign which will be promoted to both UK and EU (Germany and Netherlands) audiences. The German and Dutch audiences have been identified for the EU campaign, as they both have access to direct flights to Inverness.  Content for the spring campaign includes video ads for broadcast video on demand channel advertisements (such as Channel4, STV, Sky Go, My5 and On Demand). 

Take a look at some of the video content that will feature:

The Highlands and Islands are Calling - Connection

The highlands and islands are calling - discovery, the highlands and islands are calling - adventure, related links, spirit of the highlands and islands campaign launched, moray speyside industry update, orkney industry update, highland industry update.

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These Fairy-tale Cabins in Scotland Have Some of the Country’s Most Stunning Views — See Inside

It doesn't get more Scottish than this remote getaway, complete with a cozy fireplace, castle views, and beautiful Scandinavian-inspired design.

visit scotland highlands and islands

Courtesy of 57 Nord

"There’s no place on earth with more old superstitions and magic mixed into its daily life than the Scottish Highlands," “Outlander” author Diana Gabaldon once said. And magic is what you'll find as soon as you walk into 57 Nord .

If pop culture is any barometer, Scotland’s beauty is the stuff of legends, and it’s on full display from the floor-to-ceiling windows inside the two modern timber cabins here. Located in the Wester Ross region of the Highlands, Sky House is made for couples and Hill House is designed for four. Both overlook the beloved Eilean Donan Castle (as seen in “Highlander”) and the intersection of three lochs (Loch Duich, Loch Alsh, and Loch Long).

Although remote — a roughly five-hour drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh — this location is an ideal jumping-off point for adventures on the nearby Isle of Skye, as well as the start of the iconic NC500 driving route. But as soon as you set down your bags, the idea of leaving will seem more difficult than driving on the opposite side of the road.

“I was inspired by the setting at 57 Nord, which perfectly embodies the wild beauty of the region,” says owner Mumtaz Lalani. “I wanted guests to feel that same connection with the landscape around them. From the expansive glass windows to the uniquely positioned bathtubs, I wanted our guests to feel immersed in nature.”

Lalani handpicked every item in each house, paying homage to the region's Norse-Gael heritage by mixing Scandinavian and Scottish design. “The carefully considered materials of timber, wool, marble, and travertine mimic and reflect the surrounding landscape, further blurring the line between interior and exterior, creating a deeply restorative experience for our guests,” she says.

Vaulted ceilings, light timber floors, and natural tones give the space an airy and bright feeling that helps ward off any pesky Scottish weather. Local artists provided tried-and-true Scottish touches, like handwoven cushions inspired by basalt rock found on the Isle of Staffa. And the wool rugs lining the timber floors are handmade from the fur of rare seaweed-eating sheep on the Isle of Auskerry.

Scandinavian-style furniture — including hyper-efficient wood-burning stoves, light marble countertops, a low-rise woolen sofa from Muuto, and leather and oak Samurai armchairs from Danish designer Norr11 — accentuate the European design blend.

The property's bathroom soaps are organic products L:A Bruket sourced from Sweden. But no fancy shower gel or rain shower can compete with the picture-perfect bathtubs at Hill House. Set next to floor-to-ceiling windows inside both of the two bedrooms, these stone soaking tubs have panoramic views over the dramatic Scottish scenery.

Each bespoke home has a fully equipped kitchen stocked with everything needed to prepare a meal. Gourmands will love the welcome basket, featuring Scottish cheese, local milk, butter, chocolate, and bread made just down the road.

If cooking on vacation isn’t your thing, local chef Verity Hurding of MasterChef: The Professionals fame can come in by request to whip up a seven-course Scottish feast. You can visit the chef's new restaurant, Eòlach , located inside the nearby Kyle of Lochalsh train station. Duncan, the local fisherman down the hill, can also deliver that day’s langoustines by hand.

If and when you do muster up the strength to leave these ultra-calming abodes, drive to the Isle of Skye to hike around the Fairy Pools or take a quick drive down to Eilean Donan Castle to wander its historic grounds. Need more inspiration? A detailed book of suggested activities and local favorites can be found in each cabin.

After a full day of exploring, pick a bottle of red from the kitchen’s wine fridge, draw up a bath, and light the fire. Gaze out at the last light overlooking the loch or the illuminated 13th-century castle below. It doesn’t get any more Scottish than this — but after all, that’s how it was designed.

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Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

10 Scotland Road Trip Tips You Need to Know Before You Go

A beautiful blue sky over the rugged highlands of Scotland on a road trip

Scotland is a rugged and beautiful country that’s perfect for exploring on a road trip. The craggy coasts, placid lochs, and rolling hills make it a dream to discover. There are countless historic castles, iconic distilleries, and postcard-perfect islands at your fingertips.

I absolutely love Scotland. It’s stunningly beautiful and I can never get enough of the countless changing landscapes, Scotch distilleries, and warm, welcoming locals.

Having been to Scotland over a handful of times in the last decade, I think taking a road trip is the best way to explore the country. Home to just 5.5 million people, it’s a sparsely populated land, so much of your driving here will be out in the countryside. The country is just built for it.

But there are still a few things to keep in mind before you depart.

Here are 10 Scotland road-trip tips (plus my favorite routes) to help make your drive better, safer, and more fun (based on my experience at least):

Table of Contents

1. Get Travel Insurance

2. rent the right vehicle, 3. be ready to drive on the left, 4. understand roundabouts, 5. know the speed limits, 6. add in time for scenic stops, 7. download the right apps, 8. bring a paper map, 9. understand how to drive on single-track roads, 10. don’t rush, suggested routes, scotland road trip faq, get your in-depth budget guide to europe.

I never leave home without travel insurance . And I never rent a car without comprehensive insurance either.

I know, it’s an added expense. And chances are you won’t even need it.

But what happens if you do need it and it’s not there? You’ll be paying out of pocket for damage. And that could cost you thousands.

Scotland has lots of narrow, rugged, or single-track roads (more on those later) that can be tricky to navigate. Tire and windshield damage is common. Throw in the ever-changing weather, and you’ve got recipe for trouble.

That’s why I strongly encourage you to take out car insurance for your road trip. The peace of mind is worth it.

When it comes to renting a car, I recommend Discover Cars . When you book, it’s easy to add car insurance onto your purchase with the click of a button. The site makes it clear what is covered and how much it costs.

You essentially have two choices when it comes to renting a vehicle in Scotland — and choice will drastically impact your trip. Your options are a car or a campervan.

A car will be cheaper and use less gas, but you’ll have to find accommodation each night. A campervan/RV will be more money and require more fuel, but you can sleep inside the vehicle and thus save money on accommodation. (It’s not my jam but to each their own.)

Both options make for an amazing trip, so there is no wrong answer. Just keep in mind that manual transmissions are the default in Scotland, so if you want a vehicle with automatic transmission, you’ll need to specify that while booking.  

Traffic in Scotland flows on the left, just like the rest of the UK. This is the opposite of the US, Canada, and the majority of Europe (only Ireland, the UK, Malta, and Cyprus drive on the left in Europe).

If you rent a manual vehicle, you’ll be switching gears with your left hand instead of your right, which has a bit of a learning curve. (Personally, I prefer an automatic).

Old habits die hard, so if you’re used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, drive cautiously. Driving on the left can be especially challenging when you arrive at a roundabout (more on that below) or in a city. Take it slow at first, until you adjust.  

Roundabouts are a traffic circles that serve as intersections, instead of stop lights or stop signs. They force vehicles to slow down without stopping the flow of traffic. While they aren’t especially common in the US, they are incredibly popular in Europe (they reduce serious traffic accidents by upwards of 90%).

Roundabouts are very common in Scotland. And they flow in the opposite direction (clockwise) than do those in the US (counterclockwise). When approaching a roundabout, slow down drastically and yield to traffic in the roundabout until you have an opening to enter the traffic circle. All traffic flows the same direction in a roundabout.

If there are multiple lanes, you’ll need to be on an outer lane when exiting. The inner lane of the roundabout is for cars not exiting immediately.

When you’re ready to exit the roundabout, signal so cars behind you know you will be turning.

If you’re not comfortable when you arrive at a roundabout, just take it slow and signal your intentions. They are much easier to handle than you think!  

Posted speed limits in Scotland are written in miles. While this is helpful for Americans like me, travelers from countries that use kilometers will want to pay extra attention.

Common speed limits are:

  • Built-up areas: 30 MPH
  • Single roadways: 60 MPH
  • Dual roadways: 70 MPH
  • Highways: 70 MPH

These numbers are just guides, however. Always follow local signage to ensure safety. When in doubt, it’s always better to go slower rather than faster until you verify the speed. I’d write down some common conversions so you can have them handy if you get confused.  

I know a lot of travelers like to really plan out their routes and itineraries. When you only have a few days, it can be tempting to plan everything to a T (I used to do this a lot). However, there are lots of diversions to explore in Scotland, from quaint towns to scenic vistas to short hikes.

You’re going to want to pull over every few minutes for a vista, mountain, loch, or abandoned castle. The landscape is so beautiful that even the average sights are Insta-worthy. For that reason, build in buffer time in your itinerary so that, if you decide to stop or take a little diversion, you’ll have the time. I can’t recommend this enough. Sometimes, the best parts of a trip are the ones you stumble into. And you definitely don’t want to be rushing from sight to sight either, so plan to be diverted.  

I know, when you head out on a road trip, the point is to get away from your phone so you can enjoy the local culture and stunning views. However, there are lots of apps out there that can help you save money, stay safe, and save time. Everyone road-tripping around Scotland should have the following apps downloaded to their phone:

  • Met Weather – This is the best weather app for the UK. Conditions can change drastically in Scotland, so plan accordingly.
  • Google Maps – The best app for looking up directions. Make sure to download your maps so you have them for offline use.
  • Park4Night – A helpful app for finding spots to park for your RV or campervan (including free ones).
  • Flush – A helpful app for finding public restrooms.
  • Petrol Prices – An app for finding and comparing nearby gas prices for when you need to refuel.

Whenever I go on a road trip, I always bring a paper map . I know, Google Maps is easy and free, and mobile data coverage in Scotland is generally reliable. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. You never know when your phone is going to break, if your signal will be lost (likely to happen if you’re driving through remote areas), or if there will be an emergency.

Give yourself peace of mind: bring a paper road map, and just leave it in the glove box. You likely won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have it (they make nice souvenirs after a trip too).  

Once you get out of the cities, you may encounter single-track roads. These are essentially two-way roads that only have space for one vehicle. This means that if you encounter oncoming traffic, there is no room for you to pass one another.

Fortunately, these roads usually have passing areas built into them at regular intervals, allowing cars to pull over to make room. Take advantage of these when you see traffic coming, so that you can easily pass one another.

Additionally, take it slow around corners on single-track roads. Accidents can occur here because you can’t see oncoming traffic (with whom you’re sharing a lane). So, drive slowly, and always be prepared to stop.

Lastly, keep in mind that many single-track roads are a bit rugged. Blowing a tire can happen easily, especially if you’re pulling off to the side to make room for passing vehicles. For that reason, make sure you have a spare tire and that you also have insurance coverage for your tires, just to be safe.  

While Scotland isn’t huge, there are still a lot of things see and do here. It may be tempting to rush, so you can pack more into your itinerary, but I strongly encourage you to not do so. Quality, not quantity, is the name of the game. I’ve been on countless road trips around the world, and slower is always better. That means driving less and spending more time at each stop. Do that, and you’ll be able to soak in a lot more of Scotland’s unique culture.

Furthermore, chances are you’ll be driving on a lot of smaller, winding roads here, often surrounded by ambling farm animals to watch out for. That means, for safety reasons, you’ll need to slow down and really focus on the drive. Admire the sights, leave room for spontaneous detours, and forget about rushing from sight to sight. You won’t regret it!  

There are a few popular road trip routes in Scotland. They each offer different things to see and do, and each require different amounts of time to complete. To make the most of your time, pick the route that best suits your travel interests.

Here’s a quick look at a few of the best road trip routes in Scotland:

North Coast 500 – This is probably the most popular road trip route in the country. It loops around the northern tip of Scotland, usually starting and ending in Inverness. Popular stops include Bealach na Bà, Cape Wrath, Smoo Cave , John o’ Groats, and Dunrobin Castle.

You’ll want at least five days, though seven days would be preferable. Just keep in mind that it can get busy in the summer.

Edinburgh/Glasgow to Glen Coe – Glen Coe is a picturesque valley in the Highlands that’s both a National Scenic Area and National Nature Reserve. It’s a popular spot for photographers and hikers, and a must-visit location for anyone exploring the Highlands.

Glen Coe is just 2-2.5 hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh , making it an easy day trip (though I suggest stopping overnight, so you can really soak up the views). It’s also a part of several road trip routes, including the Argyll Coastal Route (listed next).

Argyll Coastal Route – This route along the west coast of Scotland stretches for 129 miles (208 kilometers), from Loch Lomond to Fort Williams. It’s a great alternative to the North Coast 500, as it’s less popular (and thus less crowded). Popular stops along this route include the Inveraray Jail, the cairns of Kilmartin Glen, Glen Coe, and Ben Nevis.

While you could easily drive the distance in a single day, plan to spend at least three days. That will give you time to see the highlights without rushing.

Highlands Tourist Route – Cutting across the eastern side of the country, from Aberdeen to Inverness, this route is a popular choice for history buffs, as there are numerous castle and museum stops, as well as the site of the last battle on British soil, the Battle of Culloden (1746).

The route is just 116 miles (187 kilometers), but at least three days are needed to take it all in.  

A rugged shores of Scotland on a beautiful day exploring on a road trip

If you pick a shorter route or just want to do a weekend road trip to camp, three days will suffice.

What is the most scenic drive in Scotland? Some of the most scenic drives in Scotland include the Argyll Coastal Route, the entire North Coast 500, and the Highlands Tourist Route.

Is driving in Scotland difficult? While driving in the cities can be a pain, once you get out into the countryside, it is very easy. Just use caution on single-track roads and in roundabouts — and remember that you have to drive on the left!

Can you drive onto the Isle of Skye? Yep! It’s connected to the mainland via a bridge.

What is the best month for a Scotland road trip? Generally, April-October is the best time to visit. Personally, I like the autumn, as you’ll get to see the changing leaves. It won’t be as warm, but prices will be lower and everything will be less busy.

Scotland is a beautiful destination and perfect for road trips. With stunning scenery, historic sights, plentiful hiking opportunities, and possible Loch Ness monster sightings, I think renting a car to explore is the best way to experience the country. Whether you want to discover the rugged coast or weave about the Highlands, having a car or campervan will make it both possible and affordable. Just follow the tips above and you’ll be sure to have an amazing time!

Get Your In-Depth Budget Guide to Europe!

My detailed 200+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel while in Europe. It has suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, safety tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.

Book Your Trip to Scotland: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • SafetyWing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on Scotland? Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Scotland for even more planning tips!

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Hi, I’m Nomadic Matt, the New York Times best-selling author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and Ten Years a Nomad, as well as the founder of this website! And I’m here to help you save money on your next trip.

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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Smoo Cave waterfall within the cave

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More From Forbes

The beauty of slow travel.

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Slow travel involves connecting with the local people.

“Slow travel isn’t just about taking your time in the places that you visit,” says Christa Adams. “It’s also about immersing yourself in them with the intention of having a more meaningful experience off the main tourist paths.”

Adams, whose travel blog The Spirited Explorer often addresses the issue of slow travel, adds, “It involves spending more time getting to know a destination rather than checking sites off your bucket list. Take Rome, for example. Instead of rushing from the Colosseum to Vatican City to the Trevi Fountain in just a few days, slow travel invites you to spend a couple of extra days exploring lesser-known attractions as well as the iconic sites. It means taking time to enjoy a coffee while people watching, savoring local cuisine, strolling through curious neighborhoods and not taking your itinerary too seriously.”

Slow travel often means savoring local cuisine.

Yves Marceau, vice president of product for G Adventures , says, “We see slow travel as way to dive deeper into a destination to find authenticity and connection as opposed to made-for-tourist experiences. The slow travel experience can come in many forms, like choosing one spot and unpacking once, staying for a longer amount of time and experiencing day-to-day life as a local would. But it can also mean slowing down the pace of a short trip, and taking your time to explore, connect and learn about the people and their lives in the destination you are visiting.”

The general consensus is that this style of travel took root a few years before the pandemic started and has skyrocketed since then. According to those in the travel industry, slow travel can be experienced virtually anywhere in the world. “Italy springs to mind first – possibly because of the Slow Food connection – but honestly, it can and should be attempted everywhere and anywhere that a traveler is interested in visiting,” adds Marceau. “While some destinations might make it easier to participate in a homestay or take a local cooking class, there are also ways to bring the slow travel philosophy to any trip. Step one is be curious and connect with the destination.”

Guests can savor the rich tapestry of Northern California.

Slow Travel California - The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

Perched on a dramatic bluff overlooking the Pacific, The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is a slow travel haven where guests can savor the rich tapestry of Northern California with a distinctly local touch. At The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay guests can sample fine wines from vintners along the coast, craft smores over an open fire on their private terrace, rejuvenate themselves at the spa, or tee off on two championship golf courses. This beach resort feels like its own universe, embracing slow travel against a beautiful backdrop.

Unwind over a gourmet meal at The Charleston Place.

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India-pakistan t20 clash in new york today: here’s what to know about the biggest cricket game of the year, netflix s most popular new movie is getting rave reviews but hit man is pretty bad, slow travel south carolina - the charleston place.

Things move slowly in Charleston — in the best way. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's the southern hospitality or maybe it's the cobblestone streets that force visitors to pause and look where they're going. Whatever it is, the city is a slow travel treat. With a Lobby lovingly nicknamed "Charleston's Living Room," The Charleston Place is perhaps the best location to be when embracing slow southern travel. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Charleston's historic district and is home to cozy guest rooms, an incredible spa, four culinary outlets, and endless guest experiences.

Slow travel can involve visiting the Scottish National Gallery.

Slow Travel Scotland

“It's not the destination, it's the journey,” goes the old adage. It may be a cliché, but in Scotland there's no truer statement. Getting from A to B is not a chore to be done as quickly as possible. Rather, it's a chance for travelers to relax and reflect as gorgeous landscapes pass before their eyes. Rail journeys such as The Belmond Royal Scotsman , a luxury train that snakes across the Scottish Highlands, is a great option for guests to relax, de-stress and reflect upon the passing countryside. Alternatively, Midsummer in the Northern Isles is a period of never-ending days known as the white nights in Orkney and the simmer dim in Shetland , which gives visitors the chance to explore more of the islands than any other time of the year, without being pressured for time.

Experience the Aruba Effect on One happy island.

Slow Travel Aruba

In Aruba travelers can take the time to be spontaneous, relax and appreciate the beauty of each moment resulting in a more enjoyable travel experience. After practicing these slow travel exercises in Aruba, visitors leave the One happy island with a long-lasting feeling of warmth and happiness known as The Aruba Effect. Aruba is filled with the peaceful solace you need to slow things down and reground your relationships surrounded by breathtaking paradise. Slow travel activities include relaxing on some of the best white sandy beaches in the Caribbean, indulging in the island’s fine cuisine, exploring the natural beauty of Aruba’s wildlife and rejuvenating with the island’s spas. The story of Aruba is told on the faces of the diverse and friendly people. Experience the culture in the artwork on the walls of San Nicolas, atop the weather-worn patina on the homes of southern coastal towns and in the ringing of the steel drums that mark the beginnings of Bonbini festival.

Christa Adams concludes, “The best way to practice slow travel is to not feel rushed when exploring a new place and always remembering to take a break and just look around. You never know what you might discover.”

Roger Sands

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News / Politics

John Swinney to join fans for Scotland’s Euro 2024 opener in Germany

The First Minister said he was ‘honoured’ to support the national team.

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  • Scotland National Football Team
  • Scottish National Party (SNP)

John Swinney will join travelling Tartan Army fans to cheer on Scotland in the nation’s opening Euro 2024 match against Germany.

The First Minister will travel to Munich on Friday for the first match and is set to attend the official opening ceremony of the UEFA fan zone in Olympic Park Stadium in the German city.

Mr Swinney said: “Football has a marvellous way of bringing people together, of all ages, of all nationalities, both women and men and it is a privilege to be heading to Munich to join them in supporting our national team and experiencing the warm hospitality of our German hosts.”

The tournament also marks the 70th anniversary of the twinning of the cities of Edinburgh and Munich.

Mr Swinney said: “I am honoured to be able to attend the opening game between Scotland and Germany and I wish our national team, led by Steve Clarke, the best of luck but most importantly I hope all of our travelling fans have a thoroughly good time.”

Sports minister Maree Todd and Culture Secretary Angus Robertson will attend future matches against Switzerland and Hungary respectively.

The ministers will also undertake engagements in Cologne and Stuttgart focusing on culture and sport, sport diplomacy and Scottish-German relations.

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COMMENTS

  1. Scottish Highlands

    Bus and coach. You can easily get to and around the Highlands using the extensive network of public transport and roads. The region may appear remote, but this beautiful part of Scotland is very accessible and is certainly worth the journey. For local bus services and timetables check out Stagecoach Bus.

  2. Discover the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

    The Highlands and Islands boasts stunning landscapes, welcoming communities and thrilling adventures with unique experiences, finest local produce and accommodation to suit any traveller. Storytelling is an intrinsic part of the culture of the Highlands and Islands. Stories have shaped our land and people past, present and future!

  3. 15 Places To Visit In The Scottish Highlands

    Quite possibly the most beautiful village to visit in Scotland, Plockton sits on the edge of a sheltered bay in Loch Carron. Often referred to as the 'Jewel of the Highlands', a string of attractive stone houses line the harbour front. Breath-taking landscapes of coral beaches, tiny islands, and castled hills stretch into the distance.

  4. 11 Best Things to Do in Scottish Highlands

    Explore wallet-friendly waterfront destinations in the Caribbean and U.S. Kyle McCarthy|Sharael Kolberg December 4, 2023. Ranking of the top 11 things to do in Scottish Highlands. Travelers ...

  5. 10 Days in the Scottish Highlands: The Ultimate Itinerary

    Byway's Scottish Highlands tour gives you a perfect snapshot of the country's wild and iconic landscapes. This epic 10-day itinerary gives you mountains, lochs and islands galore. You also have fantastic hiking opportunities (so bring your boots!) and a chance to see some incredible wildlife.

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    Explore The Highlands & Islands holidays and discover the best time and places to visit. Lonely Planet. Destinations. Planning. Inspiration. Shop. Search. Saves. Open main menu. The Highlands & Islands ... The North Coast 500 is Scotland's very own Route 66. Buckle up for a road trip around Britain's outer limits, where you'll find ...

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    Allt Nan Corp. Bruthaich a' Bhodaich Bhig. Shieldaig. Annat Old Cemetery. Uamh An Oir. Torridon. Beinn Ailligin. The Aird and Loch Ness Shinty Trail. Discover the spirit of shinty, Scotland's community sport, in Aird and Loch Ness in this itinerary kindly created by the Camanachd Association.

  8. Uncover the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands

    Autumn in the Highlands and Islands is stunning and the perfect time of year to escape into nature. From breathing in forests bathed in gold and red, to enjoying a brisk walk along a white sandy beach and feeling the warmth of roaring fires in the evening light, you won't want to miss out on an Autumn adventure here.

  9. 10 Best Places to Visit in the Scottish Highlands

    2. Isle of Skye. A terrific stop for everything from wildlife viewing to fossil discovery, the Isle of Skye sits northwest of the Scottish Highlands and is connected to the mainland of Scotland by bridge. While there are quite a few islands off the coast which make up the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye is the largest.

  10. The Scottish Highlands: The Complete Guide

    The Scottish Highlands belong on every traveler's bucket list, but, in particular, the beautiful region of Scotland is coveted by nature lovers and outdoorsy adventurers. Located in the western and northern areas of Scotland, the Highlands feature unparalleled scenery, from towering mountain ranges to sweeping, green countryside to sparkling lochs.

  11. Scottish Highlands and Islands: 13 best things to do

    Potter around Tobermory. 11. Take a tour of Islay Distilleries. 12. Outdoor activities in the Cairngorms. 13. Attend a Shetland festival. If you're looking for inspiring ideas of things to do in this outstanding area of Scotland, check our guide to the 13 best things to do in the Scottish Highlands and islands.

  12. The Perfect 10-Day Scotland Itinerary: Highlands & Islands

    Here is how we spent our 10 days in Scotland: Day 1: arrival early morning, get rental, and head toward Glen Torridon; Inverness makes a great lunch stop. Day 2: enjoy your drive through Applecross & Bealach na Ba on the way to Skye.

  13. 5 Day Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands Itinerary

    A guide for those planning a trip to Scotland and looking for Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary ideas. Spectacular landscapes, castles, mysterious lochs, waterfalls, tasty seafood dinners, and Highland coos are a few of the many treasured memories associated with our Scottish Highlands itinerary. The Highlands make up the north western part of Scotland, and designate a primarily ...

  14. Northern Highlands & Islands travel

    Northern Highlands & Islands. Scotland, Europe. Scotland's vast and melancholy soul is here: an epic land with a stark beauty that indelibly imprints the hearts of those who journey through the mist and mountains, rock and heather. Long, sun-blessed summer evenings are the pay-off for so many days of horizontal rain. It's simply magical.

  15. Spirit of the Highlands and Islands campaign launched

    Article published 16/06/2022. In partnership with High Life Highland, a new campaign which highlights the natural and cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands has been launched today (Thursday 16 June). We're supporting through a contribution of £125,000 and delivery of the consumer marketing campaign.

  16. The essential guide to visiting Scotland

    Scottish languages: Scots Gaelic (pronounced "gaa-lik") is still spoken by around 60,000 people, mostly in the Highlands and Islands. English, however, has been the main language spoken in ...

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    3-8 Day Tours. Our Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, Inverness, Oban and the Highlands tours begin from 2 nights and take in the best that Scotland has to offer. We stay in authentic, cosy B&B's and explore the bloody history, exciting myths, clan culture and awe-inspiring castles in Scotland. Our multi-award winning tours of Scotland will drive you ...

  18. Highlands

    Overview. Statistics on the volume and value of visitors to individual regions of Scotland are collated from several national surveys. These include the International Passenger Survey, the Great Britain Tourism Survey and the Great Britain Day Visits Survey. These national surveys were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel ...

  19. Scottish Highlands

    The Highlands (Scots: the Hielands; Scottish Gaelic: a' Ghàidhealtachd [ə ˈɣɛːəl̪ˠt̪ʰəxk], lit. ' the place of the Gaels ') is a historical region of Scotland. [failed verification] Culturally, the Highlands and the Lowlands diverged from the Late Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots language replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands.

  20. Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Consumer Website

    Article published 30/01/2023. On Monday 23 January, a new consumer website and spring campaign launched as part of the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Project. The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands project is led by High Life Highland and Highland Council, while we work in collaboration to deliver the marketing campaigns.

  21. Scotland's Highlands and Islands

    Experience Scotland as few others have on what National Geographic Traveler magazine named a "Tour of a Lifetime."Sail on waterways through the heart of the Highlands aboard Lord of the Glens, an intimate ship purpose-built for this journey, and navigate the coastal Hebrides islands, calling on villages seldom seen by outside travelers.Discover ancient landmarks and wild places while fully ...

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    Set next to floor-to-ceiling windows inside both of the two bedrooms, these stone soaking tubs have panoramic views over the dramatic Scottish scenery. Courtesy of 57 Nord. Each bespoke home has a ...

  23. 10 Scotland Road Trip Tips to Know Before You Go

    Posted: 5/23/24 | May 23rd, 2024. Scotland is a rugged and beautiful country that's perfect for exploring on a road trip. The craggy coasts, placid lochs, and rolling hills make it a dream to discover. There are countless historic castles, iconic distilleries, and postcard-perfect islands at your fingertips.

  24. Snow in June on Scotland's mountains as Arctic air sweeps in

    Listen to news from the Highlands and Islands on BBC Sounds In 2010 , more than 100 skiers took advantage of ski tows being open at the Cairngorm Mountain resort near Aviemore for the first time ...

  25. The Beauty Of Slow Travel

    Rail journeys such as The Belmond Royal Scotsman, a luxury train that snakes across the Scottish Highlands, is a great option for guests to relax, de-stress and reflect upon the passing countryside.

  26. John Swinney to join fans for Scotland's Euro 2024 opener in Germany

    Copy Link. John Swinney will join travelling Tartan Army fans to cheer on Scotland in the nation's opening Euro 2024 match against Germany. The First Minister will travel to Munich on Friday for the first match and is set to attend the official opening ceremony of the UEFA fan zone in Olympic Park Stadium in the German city.