Halò! In September, Seb and I just spent one week in Scotland, exploring this beautiful country from east to west. It was our first glimpse of the Scottish countryside and it exceeded our expectations! While a week was not nearly enough to explore Scotland, I do feel we got a nicely balanced taste of what makes this country such a joy to visit. Here’s my Scotland travel guide, aka what we did, in hopes that it sparks your imagination or helps you with trip planning!
Sept. 8th The sun greets us warmly on our arrival at Edinburgh airport on this Sunday afternoon. After leaving our backpacks at our friends’, we are out to explore the Old Town. We start with a hike on Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. The soft light of the sun embracing hills and grass is golden, and so is the sound of the bagpipes near us. There are lots of people there so we decide to stop on another hill offering a beautiful view over the city.
The walk takes us to the Royal Miles. Up and down we go, stopping by at every close – those smalls corridors that cross one or more buildings to connect streets to each other – often offering beautiful views. Advocates Close might be one of the most famous ones, leading to the Waverley station.
It’s getting colder now that the sun has set so we head to the New Town to have dinner in a typical Scottish pub, The Guildford Arms. I choose a local mussels and fries dish and Seb a typical haggis. It is spicy and delicious, far from what we’ve expected!
Sept. 9th Today is all gloomy and rainy, a typical lovely Scottish weather! We start our day with a walk through the Holyrood Park, heading to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
It is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh and the home of modern Scottish royal history. The apartments and rooms are breathtaking, filled with incredible details and a lot of beautiful paintings and portraits. It’s hard to believe that it is still used nowadays! The most stunning part is the Holyrood Abbey. Despite being only ruins now, it is not hard to imagine it was once one of the grandest medieval abbeys in Scotland. Because of the rain, the Palace gardens are closed today but seems to provide the perfect dramatic background with Arthur’s Seat.
The rain has stopped now as we are on our way to have lunch with our friend Mathilde, at the Edinburgh Larder. Everything there is locally sourced and perfectly cooked, definitely a must-try when in Edinburgh.
A few minutes walk from the cafe is what’s became my favorite point of view of the Castle, the Vennel Steps. Far from the crowd buzzing in the streets, we are the only ones there, admiring the Castle standing proudly on its volcanic plug.
Right around the corner is the coolest bookstore in Edinburgh, called Armchair Books. We end up spending a lot of time there, fascinated by all the old books.
We then pick up our car at Enterprise car rental (they’re super professional and nice so I recommend it!), and on the road we go!
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
The first stop of our road trip is Balmaha, a small village on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond. We watch the sun setting over the mirror-lake before having a delicious dinner at The Oak Tree Inn!
Our hotel is Mhor 84, located on the north-east of Loch Lomond. The bed is incredibly comfortable, but all in all I think it is a little bit overpriced. We should have give the Oak Tree Inn a try…
Sept. 10th We start this second day in an unusual place: Inchmahome Priory. Located in the middle of Scotland’s only lake, Lake of Menteith, this peaceful, wooden island is only reachable by boat. We called ahead to book our tickets and are ready to ride the second boat of the morning, around 10:45am.
Not only are the grounds beautiful, but it’s also rich in history. Much of the castle ruins date back to the 13th century. This monastic sanctuary was founded in 1238 for a small community of the Augustinian order. Later, Robert the Bruce sought solace at Inchmahome Priory and Mary Queen of Scots found safety here as a child in 1547.
After coming back to the main land, we head north to Killin, known for its spectacular Falls of Dochart. Before admiring the river, we stop at the homonym Inn for lunch. They serves the freshest local produce from wild venison to river salmon, which are both absolutely delicious. As the sun play hide-and-seek with the clouds, we watch and listen to the River Dochart, beautiful falls winding their ways around the rocks.
An hour-drive from Killin is Glen Coe Valley and The Three Sisters. The road is rolling hills on rolling hills, and even if I am driving, I am giggling and in awe of this scenery! It is all gloomy and rainy, only making it even more mystical. As we arrive at the car park, the weather clears enough for us to stop and walk a bit along the hiking path to take photos of the incredibly picturesque scene.
Glen Coe definitely is one of the most scenic and beautiful places in the Scottish Highlands and visiting “The Three Sisters” is a great way to experience the Highlands and learn about the history of Scotland. This beautiful green valley is a magical land straight out of a medieval story book and worth the visit.
Soon it starts pouring again so we return to our car and hit the road to Onich, where we are going to spend the night. The rain is becoming stronger and stronger and we are completely soaked as we run inside our hotel. To go dining is an adventure itself. We weather the storm to take a ferry to the opposite side of the loch, outward and return, a little bit sceptical rather we will be able to go hiking the next day or not…
Sept. 11th We wake up with a tiny bit of a blue sky at the west and a heavy dark cloud at east, but still decide to go hiking. I don’t want to skip the hike I have been wanting to do since I started planning this trip: the Ben Nevis North Face hike. The route is said to take in some of Britain’s most magnificent rock scenery, and it is not a very difficult hike.
The rain starts pouring again as we reached the North Face car park around 10:00am. We decide to wait a little for it to clear. It stops 20min later so we are off to hike. Between forest paths and stunning views, sun rays and rain showers, we climb at a good pace to finally approach the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC) Hut – a private, locked shelter for mountaineers – two hours after starting the hike. The wind is really strong up there and the path involves walking in the river with a strong current so we start our way back.
Back in the car around 2:30pm, we quickly drive to the Ben Nevis Inn to have a well-deserved lunch! A delicious burger and a traditional fish and chips later, we are refueled and ready to drive all the way to the most visited castle of Scotland!
As always, the road is offering unspoiled and breathtaking landscapes and it is hard not to stop every 5 minutes!
Eilean Donan Castle
We arrive at Eilean Donan Castle right in time for sunset! The castle is already closed but there are still a few people taking photos and flying their drone over it. Sadly we don’t have enough time to do so but we still manage to take some photos of the most romantic castle of Scotland and wander around.
The castle was found in the the 13th century and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie. Being destroyed in 1719, it had to wait until the 20th century to be rebuild, on top of the ruins. Some archaeological researches found fragments indicating the presence of an Iron Age or early medieval fortification. Nowadays, it seems that you can actually get married there and use it as your wedding venue! Isn’t it amazing?!
As the sun disappears behind the horizon, we hit the road again to our hostel near Loch Torridon. This scenic road is the highest road of Scotland, offering us breathtaking views and a perfect light on the moors. It’s pitch dark when we arrive at the Torridon Youth Hostel, just in time for check-in. A good soup and shower and we are sleeping soundly, knowing that tomorrow is going to be a long day too.
Sept. 12th For our fourth day of road trip, we have one destination in mind, the Isle of Skye, with a few spots along the way. Our first stop is the River Torridon, on its way to Loch Maree. The weather is all grey and windy but the river is nicely winding through green hills, with some typical Scottish houses sprinkled along the way.
Even if the weather isn’t as perfect as I would have like it to be, we decide to drive a little bit up north, to the Loch Maree, which Queen Victoria especially loved. It is one of the largest loch in Scotland and contains over 60 wooded islands: the largest island there contains a loch that itself contains an island (how cool is that!), a unique situation in Great Britain . The Loch is famous for its dreamy blue waters reflecting perfectly the surrounding mountains.
We park our car at the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve parking. We wander around the lake but there’s also a trail up in the mountains, which must offer an incredible view. The wind is kind of strong today so we are sadly not rewarded with a perfect mirror lake. Yet there is so much quietness and peacefulness to be felt walking along the loch. Birds are flying around us, coming to drink and playing in the trees. It is exactly what I pictured when I envisioned Scotland. We really feel the quintessence of the Highlands. I would definitely come back again to venture further.
Isle of Skye
As we get closer to Portree, we spot a beautiful group of Highlands cows so we stop to shoot their beautiful bangs. We arrive in Portree under a vibrant sun just in time for lunch. We have the best and cheapest fish and chips ever at the port, before wandering a bit in this cute town. It is surprisingly packed with tourists so we quickly decide to leave to go to our next stop.
Around the Cuillin Hills
Scotland and the Isle of Skye has always been seen as a magical place. Along with the beautiful landscape, there are plenty of myths and legends to stimulate your imagination. The Sligachan old bridge has a great tale about the enchanted waters running under it. You can read more about this myth here. After taking some photos, off we are to our second spot, the Fairy Pools.
It is already 5:00pm when we arrive at the car park. Most of people are already leaving but there are still a great amount of tourists on the path to the pools. As you know, I’m not a big fan of crowds so I am a bit disappointed. We see a few “pools” and clearly this place hasn’t stolen its name! The crystal clear blue waters are absolutely magical and I just want to jump in so badly (it must be so cold tho’)! One bold fellow actually did it!
Before our trip, I studied the trajectory of the sun on the Photographer’s Ephemeris app (as I always do), and saw the sun will lighten up perfectly the famous Neist Point Lighthouse when setting down. It is more than an hour and a half drive from the Fairy Pools. On the road, we make a quick stop to take some pictures of the sheep grazing in the meadow, with the soft light of the golden hour.
The sun sunk into the ocean just as we park, extinguishing its orange glow in the waters off the horizon. The clouds are turning pink, offering us a magical moment, despite the crazy wind!
The 2-hour drive to our B&B is quite epic. It is pitch dark, the rain is as heavy as the winds are strong. We are in the middle of nowhere, with sheep escorting us along the single track roads.
Our B&B is located at the end of the world, on the shore of Kilmaluag Bay. Ria greets us warmly despite the late hour. We have the entire floor beneath the roof. Everything is new, perfectly clean and cozy, warm. Just what we need after a long and exhausting day.
Sept. 13th We take our time this morning. The sun is shining, we spot a seal in the sea. The windows of our floor views out on the ocean, the Scottish mountains on the mainland and the Quiraing. Breakfast is perfect. I have the best porridge I’ve ever eaten, and Seb the best full breakfast ever. Peter comes to greet us too and they give us some advice for the day. Peter and Ria are Dutch and they’ve been living here for almost 10 years now; not hard to understand why!
It’s 11:00 am when we finally leave this dreamy cottage. We arrive at the Quiraing car park under a heavy dark cloud. This doesn’t augur well for the next hours… There’s a 2-hour hike there but we don’t have the time to do so. Instead, we just walk a bit and enjoy the view. The Trotternish Ridge escarpment, where is located the Quiraing, was formed by a great series of landslips; the Quiraing is the only part of the slip still moving, and the road as its base, near Flodigarry, requires repairs each year 😮
Our second spot of the day is the Old Man of Storr. It’s rainy and all grey as we start the hike to the top. Soon, the clean path of the beginning of the hike changes into a muddy and slippery ascent. After more than an hour of hiking, we finally arrive to the viewpoint I was looking for. As a miracle, rain has stopped and the sun is getting out of the clouds.
The 5pm ferry takes us from Armadale to Mallaig, where we drive for almost 30 min to our last B&B of our road trip, the Glenfinnan sleeping car! Part of the Glenfinnan Station Museum, it was built in 1958 and retains many of its original features but has been converted by the Museum into a unique and comfortable bunkhouse accommodation for up to 10 people.
Sept. 4th Today, we have a delicious breakfast at the dining car, right next to the sleeping car, before starting the 20 min. hike to the Viaduc Viewpoint, under the rain. We are not alone at the viewpoint but we manage to find one nice spot to see the famous Hogwarts Express of Harry Potter!
In order to see the Jacobite Steam Train on the Glenfinnan viaduc like us, you need to check the departure time of the train from Fort Williams to Mallaig here. The train will cross the viaduc 30 min after leaving Fort Williams.
We wanted to go to Kilchurn Castle before going back to Edinburgh but we obviously won’t have the time to do so. On our way back to Edinburgh, we quickly stop at Pitlochry, a really cute small village where a music festival is taking place. We have a great lunch at the Inn, the soup of the day made with peas and kale is absolutely delicious!
Back in Edinburgh, we just chill out and enjoy the remaining time with our friends. We leave Edinburgh around 10:30am, completely spellbound by Scotland.
I’m so glad we decided to visit Scotland. Since our trip to Ireland last year, it had been at the top of our list and it was everything we’d imagined it would be. If you get the chance, go!
- Rent a car, it is the most convenient way to explore Scotland, especially if you want to explore more remote areas such as the Highlands (and I bet you do!). If you have time however, you can also do everything by bike (we saw a lot of people doing this) or take the bus.
- Despite the Isle of Skye being a must-see for a first-timer, I wouldn’t actually advise to go there if you are looking for calm and peace. It is incredibly crowded, way more than everywhere else we’ve been to. I would rather suggest you to try the Isle of Mull.
- Don’t do like us and book in advance a whisky testing tour! There’s plenty of really good distilleries in Scotland 🙂
- Regarding accommodations, we mainly stayed in hostels and it was perfectly clean and convenient.
- If you go to the Isle of Skye, I can only recommend you to stay with Peter and Ria. You’ll have the best time you could ever dream of!
Day by day
Day 1 – Edinburgh
[14:00] arrival at Edinburgh Airport
[16:30] – Arthur’s Seat
– Old Town
🍴Dinner: The Guildford Arms (11:00-23:00)
🛌Stay at: friend’s apartment
Day 2 – Edinburgh / Loch Lomond
🍴Lunch: Edinburgh Larder Cafe (8:00-17:00)
[14:00] – Vennel Steps
– Armchair Books (10:00-18:30)
[16:00] pick-up the car at Enterprise
🍴Dinner: The Oak Tree Inn
🛌Stay at: Mhor 84
Day 3 – Lake of Menteith / Glen Coe
[10:30] Inchmahome Priory
🍴Lunch: The Falls of Dochart Inn
[18:30] Glen Coe Valley, the Three Sisters
🍴Dinner: The Inn at Ardgour
🛌Stay at: Corran Bunkhouse
Day 5 – Loch Maree / Isle of Skye
[9:30] – Torridon river
– Loch Maree
🍴Lunch: The Harbour Fish & Chip
[15:30] – Sligachan old bridge
– Fairy Pools
– Neist Point Lighthouse
🛌Stay at: Kilmaluag Bay B&B
Day 6 – Isle of Skye
[11:00] – The Quiraing
– Old Man of Storr
[16:30] Ferry from Armadale to Mallaig
🛌Stay at: Glenfinnan Sleeping Car
I hope this travel guide to Scotland will be useful for you and if you need, feel free to reach out with any questions! And don’t forget to tag me in your stories and posts on Instagram if this article inspires you!
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