SCOTLAND. You’re a beauty. The way you look, act and breathe. It swept me off my feed. I’m falling for you, with every fibre of my heart. Scotland, you’re a beauty. I don’t know where to start.
After going on a massive road trip through Australia a couple of years ago, I decided it is about time to hit the road again. And what could be a better place than green, hilly Scotland?! It is not only easy to reach but also rather affordable – compared to other dream road trip destinations.
We took a RyanAir flight to Edinburgh for less than 40€ and spend a couple of days exploring the Scottish capital before picking up our campervan. In general, renting a car in Scotland is comparable cheap and easy. I’m 21 y/o and was allowed to drive our Spaceship campervan without paying an extra fee. Also, there are plenty of affordable camping sites throughout Scotland with great facilities and friendly staff.
The best thing about driving through Scotland? You can see so much in so little time. Within only one week we’ve got lost inside of ancient castles, drove through the highlands, crossed bridges onto islands, hiked extinct volcanoes and took naps on the beach. So, what are you waiting for?
I’m not big of a hiker – I’m a driver. So, if you are looking for the best hikes, the following post will most likely disappoint you. If, however, you are looking for stunning drives, great cafes and cultural stuff, this is your post to read!
7-days Road Trip through Scotland
I mapped the entire trip on Google maps for you. In total, you’ll drive roughly 1250 km in 7 and a half days.
Day 1: Edinburgh – Stirling – Glen Coe
We started our journey in Edinburgh, where we rented our campervan (which looked more like a FedEx Truck). According to our plan, we were supposed to have our first stop in Stirling. However, we ended up driving past it. Why? Because driving into a city ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD simply seemed like something we should avoid on the first day. If you are braver than we were, I’d recommend stopping though. I’ve only heard and read great things about Stirling and will visit it next time for sure.
First stop: Doune
Our first stop was Doune, a small, adorable village. Its little castle is famous for being used as a set for the Tv series Game of Thrones and Outlander. We didn’t end up going inside but had a walk around it.
LUNCH STOP: The Buttercup Cafe
You can sit in the backyard of the building and they serve freshly baked pastries and local food. They have a selection of non-dairy milk and cake as well! We had the homemade scones, which were SO yummy!
After this first stop, your highland adventure will begin. You’ll enter the A89, which is known as the ’Scottish Highland Highway’. The drive towards Glencoe is about 200 km and takes roughly 2 ½ hours. However, I’d strongly recommend to plan some more time for photo stops and breaks to enjoy the spectacular landscape. I’ve never seen anything like it. The glen is the remain of an ancient supervolcano and is still partly owned by the MacDonalds, an old Scottish clan.
Second stop: Glencoe
Our final stop of the day was the small village of Glencoe. Frome here, you can explore the highlands via foot or bike. The lake Loch Leven is absolutely stunning. You can also find a couple of pubs and shops in the village.
Day 2: Glen Coe – Fort Williams – Isle of Skye
The second day leads you past the Ben Nevis – Britain’s highest mountain – and towards the Isle of Skye.
First stop: Fort Williams
Fort William is about 45 mins drive from Glencoe and the gate to Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak with 1,345m above sea level. If you want to hike it (or do one of the many mountain bike tracks in the area), plan an extra day here. We just had a stroll through the bustling center, had a coffee, bought some books and had a stroll along the ruins of Inverlochy Castle.
There are two possible routes to take to get to the Isle of Skye. Either you drive via Mallaig and take the ferry (approx. a total 4 hrs drive) or via Dornie and cross the bridge onto the island ( approx. 3 1/2 hrs). It’s up to you! Unfortunately, the ferry connection was closed when we were in Scotland. So, we took the drive via Dornie which proved to be absolutely stunning.
Second stop: Dornie
I must say, the Eilean Donan Castle just outside of Dornie is one of the most romantic castles I’ve seen in the whole of Scotland. And believe me, Scots have more than a handful of castles. We enjoyed a cup of tea just a few meters away from the bridge that leads towards the castle that dates back to the 13th century. We are talking about more than 800 years here. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.
Third stop: Portree
After Dornie you’ll cross a phenomenal bridge and (finally) reach the Isle of Skye. Prepare yourself for rough, single-lane roads and loads of campers, busses and sheeps coming your way. We made several stops on our way to Portree to try to capture the landscape surrounding us. Honestly, no picture does the job. When you arrive in Portree, just park your car in the middle of the village and start exploring. Portree is a lovely fishing village on the east side of the island. The colourful houses and boats give you almost the feeling of being somewhere in the south of Europe.
A great spot to catch the golden hour is the ‘Old Man of Storr’, a famous rock formation only 15 drive away from Portree. It takes approx. 30 mins to get to the top but it is absolutely worth the view.
Day 3: Isle of Skye
We spent the whole day driving around on the Isle of Skye – as I said, we aren’t big on hikes. However, driving through the Quiraing, a massive landslip north of Portree, was one of the best routes I’ve ever done. The landscape is simply impressive. There are many parking spots along the route where you can stop, take pictures, go for a short walk or pet the sheep. You can also hike the actual Quiraing walk, which is a 2 hrs loop walk.
LUNCH SPOT: Janns Cake – Dunvegan
In the west of Skye, you’ll find the small village of Dunvegan. It is most famous for its castle and gardens, which is Scotland’ oldest continuously inhabited castle. The Clan MacLeod has been living here for 800 years! This might sounds impressive but trust me Jann’s cakes can easily keep up with it. They are fresh, huge and absolutely delicious! A must!
The Fairy Pools
At foot of the Black Cuillins near Glenbrittle are the Fairy Pools, a must stop when traveling the Isle of Skye. The pools are easily reachable and have their own car park – although it can get quite busy. You can tell it is one of the more known tourist attractions but – on the bright side – thus the path is well maintained and easy to walk. The complete return distance to the first main waterfall and pool is 2.4km, with the average time to complete the walk being 40 minutes (with no stops). If you dare to, you can even take a swim in one of the crystal-clear (ice cold) pools.
From there on, we spent the whole day exploring less crowded areas of the Isle of Skye. I’d recommend just go without a plan and let the landscape surprise you! I promise it will.
Day 4: Loch Ness – Inverness – Elgin
This was a day, which can be divided into multiple segments. We decided, however, to cover not only highlands but also the Scottish coast within our 7-day road trip. That’s why we ‘rushed’ through this bit.
Stop 1: Loch Ness – Fort Augustus
After leaving the Isle of Skye, you simply follow A87, along Loch Garry, until you reach Fort Augustus. The village is located at the south-west end of the most famous lake Scotland’s: Loch Ness. It’s a great place to get a panoramic shot of the lake. Also, many tours leave from Fort Augustus and you have plenty of lunch options.
From Fort Augustus, you have two options: Either drive on the east or on the west side of the lake. On the west side, you can find Urquhart Castle. This castle is extremely popular due to its breathtaking view.
We, however, decided to stay off the beaten path and took the B862, also known as “General Wade’s Military Road“, around the lake. It is – once again – mainly a single lane road with passing lanes. But I’m sure we are all able to drive that bit after the Isle of Skye! You have multiple stopping points along the way to enjoy the view across Loch Ness with the hills and glens of Scotland in the background. You’ll pass through remote villages, lonely houses, steep cliffs, dark forest and green hills – it feels like a whole different world.
Stop 2: Inverness
You’ll reach Inverness in the late afternoon, which leaves enough time for exploring the city and its bridges. Coming from the rough highlands, Inverness feels much rather like a southern European city than a Scottish one. It’s the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands and doesn’t disappoint in food and shopping options.
We only spent an hour for dinner in Inverness but if you have the time I’d recommend spending half a day here at least!
Stop 3: Elgin
Elgin is an approx. 1-hour drive from Inverness. Following the A96, you will drive through landscapes that reminded me of central Europe. Green hills, hay fields, and cattle everywhere – it’s so different from the highlands but still absolutely beautiful.
Elgin is a town only 15 mins away from the coast, which has a cute inner city and several dinner options (in case you didn’t eat in Inverness).
Day 5: Elgin – Fraserburgh
Today it’s all about the ocean. You’ll drive further east on the Coastal Trail East – which is clearly mapped with brown signs. There are many adorable coastal towns on your way, which are all worth a stop.
We basically spent the whole day drinking coffee, driving, eating scones, driving again, walking on the beach and so one. You get the idea. I personally loved Cullen the most. The small village has a great breakfast spot, a small harbour (where you can swim!) and even castle hill with a viewing platform.
Final stop: Fraserburgh
Fraserburgh is the biggest shellfish port in Europe. And although it might be only a typical coast town, at first sight, Fraserburgh has a lot to offer. First of all, it is home to Scotland’s first lighthouse. It was built in Kinnaird Head and now forms part of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. I can only recommend visiting the museum. The entrance fee includes the visit of UK’s largest collections of lighthouse equipment, including a collection of lighthouse glass lenses (which are SO beautiful), as well as a guided tour through the lighthouse itself.
Dinner spot: The Captain’s Table
We chatted with the lighthouse museum staff for a while and they all recommend ‘The Chef’s table’ as a dinner spot for us. The lovely women of the museum shop even called them and reserved a table for us – which is absolutely necessary! The food and service were outstanding. By far the best place I’ve ever eaten fish!
Day 6: Aberdeen
We planned a whole day for visiting Aberdeen, also known as the granite city due to its grey stone houses. We parked the camper outside of the city on a P&R parking spot and took the bus into town. Something I’d highly recommend! Saves you time and nerves.
There’s a lot to discover and explore in Aberdeen – from museums and art galleries over the beautiful old town up to the vibrant center of the student city.
Day 7: Craigmore National Park
Craigmore National Park is approx. 1 ½ hours outside of Aberdeen – depending on traffic. It’s Scotland’s winter sport and outdoor activity capital. If you are big into mountain biking, hiking, skiing or any other adventure sport, I’d recommend planning some more time here. We spent one and a half days inside of the park, which was enough to get a glimpse of how beautiful it is!
First stop: Ballater
Ballater is an adorable village located on the River Dee – which you will follow on this route. We had a coffee stop here and took a stroll around town before continuing our way through the park.
Second stop: Balmoral Castle
Only 13 km after Ballater, you can find the Queen’s summer residence: Balmoral Castle. The Queen stays at this castle for several weeks at the end of every summer and it is supposed to be her favourite residence. The castle is therefore only open for public from April until the end of July. It is an absolutely stunning area and worth the high admission fee.
Third stop: Braemar
Your last stop of the day can be the small village Braemar, which is located right in the middle of the park. From here you can explore the are via bike, hike or visit the closeby Braemar Castle. There’s a wide range of restaurants, pubs, and cafes as well as shops too. The camping ground is located right outside of town, which makes it super convenient!
From Braemar, it’s approx. a 2 ½ hrs drive to Edinburgh. We had a stop on our way in Scone, the place where the coronation of the old kings of Scotland took place.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of our road trip through Scotland. We saw a lot in very little time. I cannot wait to come back and explore the areas I loved the most a bit more. If you’ve any tips, let me know!