Road Trip Guide: Exploring Scotland

Scotland has more to offer than bad weather and green mountain landscapes. When I flew to Scotland with my family in the summer to travel the country by car, we were able to get to know Scotland with all its facets. And one thing is certain: we will definitely come back at some point.

 

In 10 days we have traveled over 1,000 km by car, visited more than 10 historical castles, enjoyed the solitude of the Scottish highlands and, in addition to the overburdened tourists' fortresses, also found some remote places off the mainstream route.

 

I would like to share our travel plans with you, so your trip will be an amazing adventure as well. From Germany we flew to Glasgow and spent our first two days in the beautiful city. Over Loch Lomond and Glencoe we travelled to the famous Isle of Skye by ferry and back to the mainland across a bridge. We explored the highlands, the nature and the coast of Scotland and pitched our (imaginary) tents north of Inverness before we visited the notorious Loch Ness the next day and looked for Nessie. Along the east coast, we headed for Edinburgh. We were able to visit many old castles and small Scottish towns before spending our last two days in the capital of Scotland.

You have probably found my blog post, because you are planning your trip to Scotland as well. Here is an overview of our route and sightseeing stops:

  • Day 1: Arrival & Glasgow West End (Botanical Garden · Byres Road · University of Glasgow · Kelvingrove Art Gallery)
  • Day 2: Glasgow (Glasgow Cathedral · Necropolis cemetry · George Square · The Lighthouse (museum & view) · graffiti art · drive to Loch Lomond
  • Day 3: Loch Lomond · Dunnstaffanage Castle · Glencoe · Glenfinnan Viaduct · Isle of Skye · Fairy Pools
  • Day 4: Eilean Donan Castle · Inverewe Garden · Mellon Udrigle · waterfalls of Measach · Rogie Falls
  • Day 5: Dunrobin Castle · Loch Ness · Urquhart Castle · Elgin
  • Day 6: Pittmedden Castle · Aberdeen · Crathes Castle · Dunnottar Castle · Glamis Castle · Dundee (Dundee Law, RSS Discovery & HMS Unicorn)
  • Day 7: Verdant Works · St. Andrews (Cathedral & Castle) · Elcho Castle · Stirling Castle · Edinburgh
  • Day 8: Edinburgh (Royal Mile, National Museum of Scotland, statue of Bobby, cemetery)
  • Day 9: Edinburgh (Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle, Parliament, Palace of Holyrood House)
  • Day 10: Edinburgh & Departure
Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Road Trip itinerary

Day 1: Glasgow

Our plane landed in Glasgow in the morning and after getting our car from the rental agency, we drove over to the city center, which is only about 15 km from the airport. Since we stayed in the West End of Glasgow, we decided to explore this area on our first day. We were fortunate to check into our rooms, freshen up, and went on: A few days ago, I have already booked a walking tour through Glasgow's West End. The inner city was planned for the next day.

 

By chance, we were the only four participants and our very friendly tour guide showed us around the hip area for about two hours. The tour started at the Botanical Garden and also included the University of Glasgow, Byres Road and the Kelvingrove Park. We enjoyed the tour and can only recommend booking the same tour. Especially the Botanical Garden, the university and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery are worth a visit. Byres Road, with its many small shops and cafes, also invites you to take a walk.

 

Looking for a nice but affordable hotel, we found the Ambassador Hotel next to the Botanical Garden. The rooms under the roof were small but comfortable.

 

Glasgow Scotland ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants University of Glasgow

Day 2: Glasgow to Loch Lomond National Park

Doing city trips, I usually book rooms without breakfast, as I love breakfast in small individual cafes and bistros around the city. In Glasgow we found one of those: Kember & Jones, where we enjoyed an extensive and very delicious breakfast.

 

Today the city center of Glasgow was on the agenda. We took an Uber to Glasgow Cathedral, because the way from the West End to the city center is quite far. Next to it is the cemetery Necropolis built on a hill, from whose top you have a great view of the city and especially the cathedral. The easy climb is worth it and you will be rewarded with spectacular photo opportunities. 

 

Glasgow Scotland ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Necropolis cemetery

 

Over George Street, where you can find a huge graffiti, we walked over to George Square, where we visited the museum The Lighthouse, from whose viewing platform one has a madly great view. Alone the ascent over a spiral staircase is an experience. To be fortified for the shopping in the afternoon, we made a lunch break in a teahouse. My mom loves tea, and since they had Scottish scones also in gluten-free, she enjoyed our high tea at the Macintosh Tea House very much.

 

Glasgow Scotland ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants The Lighthouse view museum

 

In the afternoon our journey continued. The drive over to the next sight planned for the next morning was quite long. That’s why we decided to drive half of it on the evening already. So we ended up at the Thistle House at Loch Fyne in the Loch Lomond National Park area and were thrilled. The Victorian country house was right on the water and was our favorite of all our accommodations. The rooms were generous and lovingly decorated. Especially the breakfast was excellent.

Day 3: Loch Lomond National Park to Isle of Skye

After a hearty breakfast at Thistle House, we continued our road trip in the morning. Our first destination was the Dunnstaffanage Castle from the 13th century. Formerly a fortress, there are only ruins left to see. Although there are many Scottish castles that are more beautiful or in better condition, Dunnstaffanage Castle is worth a visit. Then we went to Glencoe, a scenic area, where one of the famous scenes of James Bond was shot. From the Visitor Center we took a short walk. Longer walks around the landscape are also available to admire the stunning landscape.

 

 

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Glencoe landscape

 

Glencoe was already well-attended, but the closer we got to the Isle of Skye, the more people drove on the streets. Especially the Glenfinnan viaduct, the bridge known for the Harry Potter films, over which the Hogwarts Express drives, was crowded as hell. The visitors' car park was full and the cars parked on the side of the streets and in the side streets. Nevertheless the bridge is impressive.

 

By ferry we drove from Maillaig to Armadale on the Isle of Skye. Although our ferry was not completely full, you should reserve ferry tickets in advance. Fortunately, I'm not getting seasick too fast, but because the day was quite stormy, the small ferry rocked quite heavily. After about 40 minutes we reached the famous island and continued our drive to our Airbnb apartment in Broadford.

 

After a small break we wanted to visit the Fairy Pools in the evening. The river Brittle forms many small and large water pools along its course, which are extremely beautiful, especially in the sunshine. Before we reached the pools, however, we helped a young Chinese couple from Shanghai with their broken tire. One of the front tires had burst, the rented car had no spare tires and working mobile network is rare in the Scottish highlands. My dad knew what to do, so together we drove a few kilometers to a parking lot. Luckily, a Scot joined us, who, as it turned out, worked as a Coast Guard. He arranged everything else, and waited for help with the couple.

 

We finally continued our ride to the Fairy Pools. The visit in the evening is really worthwhile, as during the day masses of tourists are visiting. We could explore the fairy pools in the evening quite undisturbed. To pass two smaller rivers, it is important to bring your rain boots. We were well equipped and walked towards the river. Although the sun was no longer shining and the rain started, the course of the river and the pools were impressive and I would recommend everyone to go there.

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Isle of Skye Fairy Pools

Day 4: Isle of Skye to Invergordon

In Broadford you can find some breakfast cafés. We were glad to get a table at the Deli, because in summer there are just too many tourists on the island.

To get back to the mainland, we drove over a long bridge with great views. Our first destination of the day was Eilean Donan Castle from the 13th century. It is situated on a small island, which can only be reached by a pedestrian bridge. The castle is really impressive and serves as a special photo-motif. To visit the castle, you need a ticket from the bridge on, but you can take great photos while standing on the parking lot.

 

 

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Eilean Donan Castle

 

The next stop was Inverewe Botanical Garden on the northwest coast of Scotland. The huge area includes not only a classical garden but also a forest area, a viewing platform on the sea as well as a nice property. If you are a garden lover, this stop is for you.

 

A few kilometers further north is one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. To check this one out, we drove along a long single-lane road through the hills towards Mellon Udrigle. The beach was beautiful and we agreed for this one to be one of the nicest beaches of the country. Although the Eilean Donan Castle was one of the most visited castles in Scotland in the morning, we now escaped the masses of tourists: in front of us was a great white sandy beach and a turquoise blue sea. Although the weather up here is not too good and the temperatures are low, but any sea lover should visit! We have already googled for vacation houses at the beach for a next visit.

 

 

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Mellon Udrigle Beach

 

On the way to the Rogie Falls, we came across the waterfalls of Measach. Over a suspension bridge one can first look down vertically at the approximately 45 meter deep waterfall, before walking over to a further viewing platform, where you can see the waterfall in its full dimension. We reached the Rogie Falls a short time later. Although this waterfall is much smaller in comparison, it is impressive to see the salmons trying to jump back up the waterfall. For the first time I have been able to experience this spectacle live.

 

We stayed at the Tuckers Inn in Invergordon, a simple but very clean hotel. Both dinner and breakfast were delicious. We did only book this hotel because many other options in the region were already booked. But it so nice and we do totally recommend the Tuckers Inn.

Day 5: Invergorden to Elgin

After a delicious breakfast we started our trip. First we headed north to Dunrobin Castle, a fairy tale castle from the 13th century with almost 200 rooms. We arrived just before the official opening and were lucky: we were already allowed in and so we got ahead of the tourist masses. There is much to see, next to the castle you can also see the garden, from which great photos of the castle are possible.

 

 

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Dunrobin Castle

 

Back south, past our accommodation we continued towards Loch Ness. Heading towards this tourist attraction, the streets got crowded again! We wanted to visit Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, but the search for parking was quite difficult. The car park was full and the guard sent us further to not block the road. When we tried again, we were fortunate enough to get in and found out that there were many free parking spaces - why did the guard not know? As it was crowded as hell, we were fine with taking a picture from the parking lot. Be prepared for long queues. However, if you want to save your money, the view from the parking are is quite good.

 

 

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Urquhart Castle Loch Ness

 

At Loch Ness there is also an information center or you can do boat trips. However, these should be booked in advance.

 

On the way to our accommodation we made a stop at the Brodie Countryfare. We drove by by accident and were interested in this modern shop with great decor, local and organic food, souvenirs and a restaurant. Definitely worth a visit. Having arrived in Elgin, we still managed to visit the main branch of Johnstons of Elgin’s, a luxurious clothing brand, selling high-quality cashmere products. A visit to their factory is also possible here.

 

Today we spent a night at the Mansion House Hotel. The Baronial Villa was built in the 19th century and has a small indoor swimming pool and spacious rooms in the same style as the house, so my sister and I slept in our own (somewhat old-fashioned) sky beds that day. Definitely a nice experience, if there is no party celebrated in the lobby, because the walls are very thin and my parents could hear everything, as if they took part.

Day 6: Elgin to Dundee

Today we had a lot planned: the first stop was Pittmedden Garden. While my parents explored the garden, my sister and I enjoyed a tea at their cafe. We drove on to Aberdeen, but didn't like this city at all. Neither the promised university, nor the inner city of Aberdeen could convince us to stroll around.

 

The visit to Crathes Castle was next. My mom loved the garden of the property and the castle was also interesting - the entrance price is quite high though. I was delighted by the next castle: Dunnottar Castle. The castle ruins date back to the 5th century and sits on a rock in the sea, from which you could see both land and water. The castle has an exciting history with many legends and is well visited. Nevertheless, certainly worth a detour, as the castle on the rock in the sea is very impressive.

 

 

Scotland UK ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants Dunnottar Castle

 

Our last stop of the day was the Glamis Castle. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to visit the castle, but honestly, we had no desire to see another castle from the inside. So we enjoyed the look of the impressive building and shot a few photos.

 

In the evening we reached Dundee. We stopped at the Dundee Law, fron where you can admire a great view over the town. After check-in, we also visited the RSS Discovery. The three-nave wooden ship is now a museum, but we were only able to see it the the outside. We also walked to the HMS Unicorn, a war ship whose figurehead is decorated with a unicorn.

 

Overnight we stayed at the Westport Serviced Apartment, an apartment hotel. Our apartment had a spacious and cozy living room and a large balcony and two spacious rooms. We felt very comfortable here and could enjoy an evening "at home“.

Day 7: Dundee to Edinburgh

The last day of our road trip started with a visit to the Verdant Works Museum, an old jute factory. If you are interested, you can learn a lot about the machines and the lives of the employees.

 

Next stop was St. Andrews, a small student city in the south-west of Scotland. Many individual cafes, a small inner city and the ruins of the castle as well as the cathedral invite to a little stroll. Situated right by the sea, you will find an old swimming pool next to the castle, which gets filled with seawater at high tide. Unfortunately, in the summer it gets very busy and finding a place to park your car is difficult. Nevertheless, we liked the small town by the water.

 

 

St. Andrews Scotland ofpenguins&elephants of penguins & elephants St. Andrews Cathedral view sea

 

Before we drove to the famous Stirling Castle, we visited the Elcho Castle. Built in the 16th century, the property does not look very nice at first sight, but is lies very idyllic on a river. We were accustomed from the previous castles, that admission is only due for the castle itself and started taking a few photos. Then we were told quite rude to buy a ticket before entering the meadow. So, whoever wants to take a photo here should stay outside the hedge and not enter the gate at all.

 

Stirling Castle is one of the most famous castles in Scotland and has played an important role in the country's history. For this reason it was getting full of tourists again. We drove to the to of the hill, but did not try to get to the official parking lot, as we found a parking space on the road leading to the castle. The castle is huge and has many rooms and exhibitions that can be visited. If you are interested in the history of Scotland, definitely do visit.

 

The drive to our accommodation in Edinburgh put us to the test. The road traffic of the city is almost worse than in London and from the early afternoon one is in traffic jams. Our Airbnb apartment was very comfortable. Since my mom needs to eat gluten-free and partly vegan, she was happy about the restaurant Amerone, an Italian restaurant, which also serves gluten free. The food was so delicious that we came back the next day.

Day 8: Edinburgh

When we walked into the inner city in the morning, we noticed how full the city was. I know London quite well, as I lived there for six months and I felt like Edinburgh had more visitors than London, at least at that time. We walked along the Royal Mile, a road leading to the castle, and visited the National Museum of Scotland. Although we only entered to protect ourselves from the rain, the museum was very nice. Already the hall is particularly interesting with its design and from the roof terrace of the building you could the city from above.

 

 

Edinburgh Scotland ofpenguinsandelephants of penguins & elephants National museum of Scotland interior

 

Next door is a statue of the dog Bobby, which is a landmark of the city and, according to legend, guarded the grave of his owner at the nearby cemetery. The cemetery is also worth a visit and especially Harry Potter fans should be looking for the memorial of Thomas Riddle. Supposedly the author has been inspired by this name.

 

The rest of the day we spent with shopping and a visit to the National Gallery of Scotland.

Day 9: Edinburgh

On our last day in Edinburgh we wanted to see the Edinburgh castle. We ate breakfast in a small cafe outside and then set off. Our way to the city took us across the Calton Hill, from where you can enjoy a fantastic view. I think, one can not have enough views of a city from above.

 

Then finally, we visited Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, we had not bought tickets online, so we had to wait a little. Like the Stirling Castle, the Edinburgh Castle has a lot to offer and some exhibitions to visit. An old kitchen and the dungeons could be seen here.

 

 

Edinburgh Scotland ofpenguinsandelephants Edinburgh Castle

 

After a long stay we walked along the Royal Mile back to our accommodation. We visited the Parliament with an interesting exhibition and could see the Palace of Holyrood House from the outside, which is the official royal residence in Scotland. My sister and my dad, who did not take a taxi on the previous evening as my mom and I did, but walked the way back home have seen a limousine with police protection. We found out that Prince Charles and William visited the current Military Tatoo Festival ...

 

As our trip ended tomorrow, we had booked an accommodation near Glasgow airport. We drove to a mansion hotel in Paisley, the city where the famous Paisley pattern was invented. After a delicious dinner we packed our bags.

Edinburgh Scotland ofpenguins&elephants of penguins & elephants The Scottish Parliament

Day 10: Edinburgh and departure

On the last day of our trip, we had a delicious breakfast before heading to the rental car agency to return our car. Our flight back home to Germany departed an hour late and we were glad to finally get home at some point.

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What about you?

Have you visited Scotland or any Scottish city in particular? How did you like it? I'd love to hear about your experience!