Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Do you love wild landscapes, hiking, heritage, bagpipes, kilts, history, ghost stories, highland cows, and the freedom to drive in a car where you want to go on? Then a Scotland road trip is in your future!
I have driven through Scotland twice
- Once from Edinburgh to the Fairy Pools and back to Edinburgh- length of time 5 days in October
- Once from Glasgow to the Fairy Pools to Inverness to Edinburgh- length of time 7 days in June
Here's my advice for the best possible road trip: Go in June for daylight until 11pm...and drive from Edinburgh (stay for 3 days), to Inverness (2 days), Isle of Skye (2 days), to Glasgow (1 day).
Keep reading for advice on car rentals and driving, accommodations, hiking, and experiences to make this your best trip ever!
1) Car Rental:
First of all...do you get motion sickness from being in a car for days? Do you feel the earth sway if you go up and down dozens of mountains in a car? This might not be the trip for you. The highlands are very bendyyyy! There aren't a lot of bridges or tunnels (we only went over maybe two bridges that weren't in cities and zero tunnels to be found), so you will be driving around a lot of bends on very small single lane passing roads when you get really far out there. I have only been carsick maybe twice in my life, and I even got car sick on day 4 in the isle of Skye on our way to kilt rock after Tim was yelling Weeheee around one of the hundreds of bends we had taken that morning!
For our first trip to Scotland we rented a 4 door ford and the second trip we rented a Volvo SUV....I for one prefer the SUV if you are going to get way out there and go off the highway into some hiking trails. You don't need to rent a tiny car for the roads to pass, and I feel the SUV is safer and made our whole trip more comfortable.
LEFT LEFT LEFT. When you are driving on the left side of the road and going through a million turn abouts....just chant left left left as you buzz through the turn about on the highway. They even have a handy sticker in the window for us as a reminder. It takes some getting used to, but if I can drive in a major city and highway on the left side of the road by myself.....you absolutely can! I just kept saying to myself "hug the white line" to stay centered...and when I was driving with Tim as the passenger he was screaming "hug the white line" at me while gripping the dashboard and having a panic attack! Remember, If you get an automatic you will have to shift with your left hand, which Tim had not problem with at all.
DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH THE HIGHLANDS AT NIGHT. Unless you are a superhero. And have a death wish. I can't stress this enough as an American driving a stick shift on the wrong side of the road around blind bends with logging trucks rolling by you, and not really knowing where you are going. With that said...go to Scotland in JUNE! It's daylight until around 11pm and there is still a break of light until 2am in the morning. It's crazy, and we would just stare out of our window at midnight in confusion about why the sun is just now setting! We have been in October when nothing was blooming and it got dark quickly, and I really preferred June where we had all day to hike and play outside. Plus everything is blooming in June and the highlands are a lush green and so beautiful! You will pass millions of these purple blooming bushes, and highland wildflowers are everywhere.
We use airbnb for everywhere except for one place to stay in Scotland...and that is the Sligachan Hotel in the Isle of Skye. We actually stumbled on this gem on our first trip to Scotland after hiking the Fairy Pools all day (see hike or bike below), and we were just too tired to drive to our next airbnb so we ditched it and checked into the suite they had here. This hotel has a free amazing breakfast the next day. You can order eggs Benedict, avocado toast...whatever you like! Coffee lovers be warned....the Scots do not drink strong dark coffee. There was one morning after a long night of drinking scotch, that I just wanted a good cup of columbian coffee so bad but had to settle for bean water I could see through.
Attached to the hotel is a distillery...that's right! You heard me! They have over 400 different types of whiskeys, and many on tap. You will NOT be disappointed! The food there is great, and over all the environment is warm and social with dogs allowed next to the fireplace, and groups or hikers gathered around the tables for beers and dinner.
3) Hike or bike:
We have 3 favorite hiking places in Scotland: The Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye, The Devil's Pulpit in Finnich Glen just outside of Glasgow, and Bruar Falls behind the house of Bruar.
Bruar Falls: If you are starting your drive in Edinburgh a great stop is Bruar Falls. You can buy a picnic lunch at the house of bruar and the hiking trail is hidden directly behind the house of bruar. It's a very moderate hike that you can do in 1 hour up to the bridges and waterfalls. The only bad side is the first time we visited here in 2016 it looked like an enchanted forest. The second time we came in 2019....they cut a LOT of the trees down. I'm sure what is going on with the lumber and trees there, but if the trees are are all gone at the highest bridge it's worth it to hike just to the first small bridge at the bottom and get some lunch there. While you are in the area you can visit the Blair Castle to tour the mansion and grounds.
The Fairy Pools: In the Isle of Skye lies a beautiful stream of crystal clear blue water that comes down from the mountain. You can hike it all the way to the mountain and search for fairies here. When Tim and I visited in October there were maybe a dozen other hikers there with us, but in June there were hundreds! It's a very popular place. Take your time to hike this, and explore. It might take you 4-6 hours to hike all the way.
Biking the 500 is on my bucket list to return! Not ALL 500 miles of course, but definitely strapping some e-bikes onto the back of the SUV next time. There is also a bike trail head that starts at the Dalwhinnie Distillery that I'm extremely interested in doing.
There is so much to do in the cities! Shopping, food, and history. On my list to do in each city:
1) Glasgow: Waxy O'conner's Bar for drinks is a multi-level bar with a tree house/church feel. The Counting House used to be an old bank and you can dine in one of the vault's, drink a realm of the unicorn gin and lemonade, and eat an amazing dinner for a relatively inexpensive price (ironic because the restaurant is in a bank)! Glasgow Necropolis is a nice little uphill hike to see a view of the city and learn about some history! Glasgow Cathedral is an outlander film location for fans and art lovers alike.
2) Edinburgh: I LOVE EDINBURGH! We loved the Dungeon tour! It was so much fun and they will pick you to play parts in the tour with your group. You will learn about some of Scotland's greatest criminals and history. We also loved the castle which has a royal dog cemetery in it by the way. The Royal Mile is amazing for pub crawling. Hiking to the top of Calton Hill and Arthur's seat to see the views of the city and the coastline is so amazing! All in all Edinburgh is my #1 favorite city in Scotland. We will absolutely return to eat dinner at the Witchery and wander around local pubs in love!
3) Inverness: Inverness is just adorable. There are plenty of streets to pub crawl, dine, and go shopping at! It's a must stop for at least one night for dinner. Especially if you want to slow down a bit to rest and do some laundry and relax in a nice airbnb. The battle of Claddugh is very close and Loch Ness for kayaking or boat tours to see if you can find Nessie! There is even a Loch Ness monster museum on the loch, and the Urquhart castle.
I hope this was helpful! More importantly I hope this inspires you to go and have an adventure of your very own! Anywhere you go there will be a castle within 10 miles, and great local pub. Whether you go as a couple or with a group of friends, or even solo you are going to have the best trip of your life here. We will have been twice and will return!