Trip to Scotland – and we sneak off to enjoy fine coastline

Here’s a trip to Scotland, as an example. A seven-day Scottish itinerary taking in some of the best of our country. As well as the main destinations, we suggest a diversion – almost off the beaten track – to some lovely coastal scenery – but don’t worry – you’ll see Skye as well. 

We often get asked about a trip to Scotland. Here’s an enquiry that came our way a while ago. As it’s a fairly wide-ranging answer, we thought it should go on a separate page! This answer here describes a seven day itinerary.

By the way, you know that we can’t really answer questions like this very often. I mean, not for free anyway! (‘Coughs apologetically and raises eyebrow in a quizzical manner.’)

Trip to Scotland: the question about itinerary planning:

“Firstly – I love your views on Scotland! I am also not too keen on Aberdeen or Glasgow as places I really want to see. Therefore, I really think you could answer this question best: We are staying in London for about 3.5 weeks from the end of October.

We want to see Scotland, possibly do a 7 day self drive holiday, starting from Edinburgh.

I know you already list your 7 day trips here, but what would you suggest if the best route to take via car from Edinburgh to see all the best of Scotland (going up to Inverness, and seeing the Isle of Man and Skye if possible too)?

We really want to make sure that we have no regrets about missing any cool places.” / Thanks, Jonathan Jordaan, South Africa.

Our reply was…

Dear Jonathan / One of the popular and interesting routes for you to take in order to see some of the best of Scotland in 7 days is to start from Edinburgh – then head north to St Andrews (the home of golf and much more) – then head towards Perthshire – taking in the pretty towns of Dunkeld and Pitlochry and nearby Blair Castle. Overnight in area.

Blair Castle in winter
Blair Castle in winter

Blair Castle pictured in deep winter. (It won’t be like that when you visit!) We have had good service in their cafe ourselves in the past and it’s certainly a popular stop off the A9, the Highland Road.

Head for the Cairngorms National Park, then for the whisky….

Next day, head north on the main A9 road to Aviemore and the Cairngorm National Park.  Enjoy low level walking on the many trails through the ancient Caledonian pine forests.

This is a good area to see wildlife, especially birds, plus you can also take a walk to see our only roaming-free herd of reindeer.

Next day head through the unique Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside, if interested, to learn how some of Scotland’s finest malt whiskies are made.

To the Moray Firth coast…

Then you can head north to the Moray Firth coast, famous for its fine weather, beaches and Scotland’s only resident colony of bottlenose dolphins.

(Sometimes visitors miss this part out on their trip to Scotland, but we really like the Moray Firth!)

The town of Elgin offers you Johnstons of Elgin – they make and sell Scottish cashmere of the finest quality plus offer free mill tours on weekdays plus they have shops, a heritage centre and nice cafe.

A trip to Scotland suggested route
There is no guarantee given with this map that by following it you won’t end up in, say, Oregon. But you can see the general route. Note the clever diversion off the main drag, to discover the Moray coast. A different Scotland. But, rest assured, you’ll still see Skye.

Take time to go down to the coast – to spot maybe dolphins, probably seals, definitely photogenic villages – Cullen, Portknockie, Findochty and more.

Then head west to Inverness – an all but inevitable destination on many a trip to Scotland – where you base yourself and also take in the excellent visitor centre at the site of the Battle of Culloden. Cawdor Castle is also worthwhile.

Roseisle Beach, between Burghead and Findhorn, Moray
Roseisle Beach, between Burghead and Findhorn, Moray

Trip to Scotland: From Inverness, it’s down Loch Ness and west to Skye

Next day head down the A82 to visit Loch Ness. Drumnadrochit is the main centre plus loch tours are available – later continue west through Glen Sheil towards Kyle of Lochalsh – maybe overnight in the pretty village of Plockton.

Next day drive over the Skye Bridge and explore Skye. Portree is the main small town. Elgol is worth driving to if the weather is good for a really wonderful view of the Cuillin Mountains. Dunvegan Castle is interesting as is the only distillery on Skye, Talisker.

Remember though that Skye is very popular and busy in the main season – you won’t be getting the main attractions all to yourself. Obviously, you should not leave accommodation provision to chance.

Just make sure you book in advance.

Beaches near Morar - the famous White (or Silver) Sands of Morar
Silver Sands or White Sands of Morar.

Back to Mallaig on the mainland

…and the Road to the Isles

To make your trip to Scotland even more worthwhile, you might need a second night on Skye – maybe in the Armadale area then catch the ferry from here back to the mainland and the fishing village of Mallaig.

From here enjoy a wonderful drive on the famous “Road to the Isles” – though in this direction it’s really the Road from the Isles!

Stop off to see the silver sands at Camusdarroch. Then be sure to visit the National Trust Visitor Centre at Glenfinnan to learn about the start of the 18th century Jacobite Uprising.

You will also have great views of Loch Sheil and also the Glenfinnan viaduct. (Often called the Harry Potter Bridge’ and probably drawing more visitors here than tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie!)

Overnight in or near Fort William – a small town the foot of Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the UK. More below…

Out of the Highlands, via magnificent Glencoe

Next day head south on A82 through the dramatic Glen Coe – famous or notorious for a 17th century massacre. There is a excellent NTS visitor centre telling the story of the glen.

Next, you drive across Rannoch Moor, which is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation. This expanse was at the heart of the last significant ice field in the UK during the last ice age.

Rannoch Moor, looking towards the peaks of the Blackmount
Autumn on Rannoch Moor, looking towards the peaks of the Blackmount

Continue south – maybe stopping off at The Green Welly Stop at Tyndrum – this is a favourite with us – plenty of parking, nice clean toilets and great home-baking, soups, shopping and wifi!

Then continue south towards Stirling. Visit Stirling Castle, a must see on any trip to Scotland, as one of its largest and most important castles both historically and architecturally.

Overnight in Stirling or back in Edinburgh which is only a 40 minute drive to the east.

So, there are lots of ideas here – but you probably can’t see all this in exactly 7 days – it depends on your own particular interests of course – but the route described is a sound itinerary for around seven days.

Best check out the Scottish weather characteristics as well.