It’s difficult for me to find the right words to describe the rugged beauty of the Scottish countryside, the friendliness of it’s people and the power of countless looming castles to transport you straight into the past. It’s a country where movies and photos can’t accurately portray the way the light shines through the trees, the way the rain glistens off the grass or the excitement of finding puffins nestled on the cliffs. The best way to experience Scotland and truly see the lush and changing landscapes is by car. We’ve put together the ultimate road trip guide and include the best places to visit in Scotland. While I could definitely return again and again, we covered a lot of ground in our 2 week journey and hope to inspire your visit.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland
Our favorite area of Scotland is the highlands. The landscape is rugged, green, boundless and most of all, stunning. It’s a sharp contrast to the bustling city of Edinburgh where modern and old world charm merge.
If you find yourself limited on time or just want to relax and enjoy some of the countries unique heritage, we’d suggest not missing the following:
- Invearay Castle
- Oban – pretty seaside village and tasty fish and chips
- Edinbane – see Fairy Pools on the way
- Durness – you can’t miss the puffins!
- Glamis Castle
- Stirling Castle
While these aren’t the only spots on our list of the best places to visit in Scotland, they are our top picks.
Scotland Roadtrip Itinerary – Overview
Our 15 night roadtrip was jam packed with activities and allowed us to get a great overview of the country’s various regions. There is so much to see and do in Scotland that it wasn’t easy to balance drive time with everything we wanted to see. We also found a limited amount of accommodation options available in our budget and even booking 6 months in advance meant that we had to alter our planned stays slightly. We traveled with my mother-in-law, so we needed a minimum of 2 bedrooms at each rental. Booking a rental for 5 people and 2 bedrooms instead of four people and one bedroom can drastically change the availability of options in small villages.
Here’s how we broke down our trip:
- 4 nights in Edinburgh
- 2 nights in Glasgow
- 1 night in Oban
- 1 night Edinbane
- 1 night Durness
- 3 nights Inverness
- 1 night Barra
- 2 nights Stirling
Here’s what we did in a nutshell:
✅ = we saw or did this activity
❌ = not enough time or we chose something else. These are other highly recommended stops.
*Please only use the drive times mentioned as a guide. Once we arrived in Scotland and started driving, it took longer than anticipated to reach our destinations.
Day 1 London to Edinburgh 4h 20m
Kings Cross station heading to Edinburgh
Stay 4 nights in Edinburgh
Day 2 Edinburgh
✅Saint Giles Cathedral
❌National Museum of Scotland
✅Tom Riddles tombstone
Day 3 &4 Edinburgh
✅Calton Hill (amazing view)
✅The Royal Mile/ Old Town
❌surgeons hall museum (18th century)
❌Princess street gardens (views)
❌Camera obscura world of illusions
Optional Tours and excursions
❌family ghost tours (1 hour)
✅Real Mary Kings close (1hour)
❌Maid of forth (boat trip wildlife 4 hours)
❌Royal Botanical gardens
✅Leith the coastal village
❌Royal yacht Britannia
Day 5 Drive to Glasgow
✅1h 6 m to Glasgow
❌Kelvgrove art gallery
Stay 2 nights in Glasgow –
Day 6 Glasgow
✅Riverside Transportation Museum (The tall ship /science center)
✅Cathedral St Kentigern
Day 7 Glasgow to Oban
Stop at Waitrose for groceries before arrival
✅1h 5m Fynre ales brewery (PA26 8BJ)
✅13 m Inveraray Castle (PA32 8XE)
✅Glencoe (PH49 4HX)
✅45m to Oban
may see roadside bag pipers
Stay 1 night in Oban
THINGS TO DO IN OBAN
Wander the waterfront
Day 8 Drive Oban to Edinbane
Stop at Tesco supermarket
Stop for photos of Castle Stalker
✅1h 28m Glenfinnan Viaduct for “Hogwarts Express” (PH37 4LT) best to be in position by 10.45
✅ 20m Neptune staircase (PH33 7NG)
✅1h 30m Eilean Donan Castle (IV40 8DX)
❌ 1h 15m Fairy ponds (IV47 8TA)
✅30m Portree (IV51 9HQ)
In Portree stop to get gas and groceries if needed
16m From Portree to Edinbane
Stay 1 night Edinbane
Day 9 Drive Edinbane to Durness
✅ 22m Isle of Skye brewery (IV51 9XP)
❌ 10m Quiraing hike (IV51 9LA). rain/ fog so we missed out
✅5m Mealt falls/ kilt rock (IV51 9JE)
❌10m The old man Storr (IV51 9HX) rain/ fog so we missed out
✅2h 30m Ullapool village (IV26 2TY)o
✅ 1h 19m to Durness
Stay 1 night Durness
Day 10 Drive Durness to Inverness
✅ Fairaid Head puffins in Durness
✅1h 30m Dunrobin castle (KW10 6SF)
❌22m Glenmorangie Distillery (IV19
❌ 34m Black Isle brewery (IV8 8NZ)
✅22m to Inverness
Stay 3 nights in Inverness
Day 11 Inverness
❌Inverness Wildlife cruise, drive the West Bank of Loch Ness
❌Speyside brewery (IV36 2GU)
Day 12 Inverness
✅40m Urquhart Castle (IV63 6XJ) too expensive for ruins, we took photos
✅Cawdor castle could skip if not enough time
Day 13 Drive Inverness to Barra
✅1h 11m Dufftown AB55 4DH
✅GLENFIDDICH DISTILLERY 930 to 4
✅1h 15 m Kinaird lighthouse (AB43 9DU) just took photos
✅40m Fyvie castle (AB53
✅20m barra Castle
Stay 1 night in Barra
Day 14 (7/16) Barra Castle to Stirling
✅33m Dunnottar castle (AB39 2TL) ruins, just took pictures
✅48m Glamis castle (DD8 1RJ)
❌ 38m St Andrews Castle (KY16 9AR) bridge closed with 2 hour detour, so we missed it
try land yachts (KY16 9XL) reservation needed, st Andrews
✅45m innis & Gunn Brewery (PH1 3TS)
✅35m to stirling (FK12 5NZ)
Stay 2 nights Stirling
Day 15 Stirling
✅ Stirling castle
❌William Wallace monument saw from parking lot, didn’t pay to go up
✅ Falkirk wheel (FK1 4 RS)
Day 16 Stirling to Edinburgh
45m returned car to Edinburgh and took the train back to London
Scotland Roadtrip Itinerary – Ultimate Guide
Day #1 Edinburgh
We took the train from London, leaving Kings Cross Station and arriving at the Edinburgh Waverley Station. If you have extra time, get in line for the all important photo opportunity at Platform 9 3/4 before departing.
Note – If you choose the “anytime” option, you won’t have an assigned seat. You’ll need to hurry to the specified train cars to ensure seating together. Have tickets ready to scan to get through the barrier when the track is announced. Booking on the same day can cost hundreds of pounds per person, so you should definitely book in advance!
We packed drinks and lunch with plenty of books and movies downloaded to make the 4.5 hour journey sail by. The views from the train were pretty but varied little during most of the trip.
Other than getting settled into the apartment, hitting the grocery store, and cooking dinner, we didn’t do too much on evening #1. There was a match for the 2018 World Cup, so we HAD to stay in and watch. Our apartment was within walking distance to the station, but is no longer available to rent. Consider a hotel or apartment within walking distance of the Royal Mile which will allow you to navigate a large part of the tourist attractions on foot.
Day #2 Edinburgh
We woke early and walked down the historic Royal Mile, window shopping and making a quick visit to St. Giles’ Cathedral. K got super excited when he spotted a Snickers drink and just had to try it. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste as great as he hoped and 1/2 went into the trash. Luckily I’d convinced the kids to share one and not buy 2!
Most of the day was spent exploring the impressive Edinburgh Castle. Supposedly I visited the castle as a child, but my only memory is standing in the pouring rain and my parents purchasing a large umbrella. If traveling with young kids, there is a Children’s Quiz that will allow them to track down clues during the visit. Some of the most interesting parts of the castle included the Prisons of War exhibition, Great Hall, Royal Apartments, and the Argyle Tower.
Tip – Purchase tickets in advance to save money. Once you have a firm itinerary, you may want to consider the Explorers Pass. Depending on the attractions you want to visit, it could be a great deal, especially for families.
After a lunch of fish and chips, we saw Tom Riddle’s tombstone. I think I was more excited about it than the kids. They just aren’t die hard Harry Potter fans like their mom.
We also went to the school Derrick’s grandma attended in the 30’s. It’s now an art gallery but it was cool to see the place she spent so much time as a child. We had several other spots on our itinerary as we travel down memory lane, snapping photos to send off to grandma.
Days 3 & 4 Edinburgh
We spent 2 more full days exploring Edinburgh. We tried to visit the Palace, but the queen was in residence so it wasn’t open to the public.
Across the street from the Palace is the Scottish Parliament, so we popped in for the free tour. I found it interesting to learn about the building and government but the kids couldn’t have cared less. After our lesson, we walked up Calton Hill to take in the views and see the monuments. K wanted to walk up to Arthur’s Seat but his idea for a 2nd hike of the day was vetoed.
We decided to take the Real Mary King’s Close tour to go underground in Edinburgh on day #4. It wasn’t exactly as cool as I’d expected but it was interesting to learn more history of Edinburgh and life in the 17th century. I asked for the kids opinions:
K- “the coolest part was when the lady was talking about the plague.” and “It was way better than you making us go to another museum.”
Lucy – “the ghost story at the end was scary!”
Personally, I think they need to come up with something better as the “ghost story” was the worst part of the tour. Sadly, we missed seeing the queen as our tour was during the exact time she was visiting St. Giles Church. We saw on the news that Price William was there as well! Now, those would have been cool photos!
We also did a lot of browsing in and out of the tourist shops. I so wanted to buy a cashmere wrap but couldn’t justify the 200£+. But, oh was it soft!
Days 5 & 6 – Edinburgh —> Glasgow
We picked up our rental car booked through Auto Europe and hit the road to start our roadtrip around Scotland. Our first stop was to the town of Haddington to see where Derrick’s grandma was born and lived until the age of 9, when her house was bombed during WWII. It was a bit of an emotional experience for my mother-in-law. Next up was a drive to the Marchmont Estate where grandma was sent to school and to live. Her father was away involved in the war efforts and her mom was a head nurse at a hospital in London.
There are lots of other options as stops along the way from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Another idea would be to skip the intermediate stop, drive straight through and spend that extra hour in either city.
After exploring family history we made our way to Glasgow where we spent 2 nights. During our first evening, we wandered the grounds of Glasgow University and walked around Ashton Lane. We missed out on Kelvgrove art gallery as it was closed when we tried to visit our first night and we ran out of time on the 2nd day. If driving straight into Glasgow, this gallery was highly recommended.
The next day we visited the Riverside transportation museum with the tall ship, went inside the Cathedral St Kentigern, and walked up the Glasgow Necropolis. Derrick, of course, wanted to pick up beer so we had a tasty lunch at Drygate brewery. The city is also a great place to search for street art.
We rented THIS apartment through Airbnb and would recommend it. There was free parking on the street during the weekend, the apartment was clean and within walking distance to the University.
New to Airbnb? Use THIS LINK to sign up and get a $40 credit on your Airbnb rental!
Day 7 Glasgow —> Oban
Derrick made me get up early to hit the road and start our journey toward Oban. Our first stop was to Fynre ales brewery. You know, because it was on the way…
Then we spent time wandering Invearay Castle. We almost skipped the castle since it was a bit pricey, but I’m so glad we decided to visit! The castle is lovely and made a great start to our tour of Scottish Castles. It’s been home to the Dukes of Argyll since the 18th century and for my fellow Downton Abbey fans, it was the scene of the Christmas 2012 episode.
We made a bit of an unexpected detour to see the Lunga House where Derrick’s grandma was evacuated during WWII. Lunch was a relaxing picnic of sandwiches as we drove through the gorgeous countryside. We wanted to climb to see Ralston Cairn Glencoe but couldn’t get a parking spot in the area. Instead, we took a short hike nearby to capture views over the valley.
Once in Oban, we wandered the streets and seaside before enjoying a delicious dinner of fish and chips at Oban Fish & Chips.
Day 8 Oban —> Edinbane
We were up and out of the apartment in Oban by 8:30 in the morning. Considering we heard people partying at the bars all night, I was understandably a bit grumpy. We stopped for photos of Castle Stalker then jumped back in the car.
As a Harry Potter fan, I was super excited to visit Glenfinnan Viaduct to get photos of the “Hogwarts Express” as it steamed across the bridge. K even crossed a small river in less than 5 minutes with 1 shoe in his mouth to get a video of the crossing for me. You want to be in position by 10:45am to ensure you don’t miss the train.
We made a brief stop for photos of Neptune Staircase to see the 8 locks before visiting Eilean Donan Castle. It’s a pretty castle that provided an interesting look at the restored 13th century island castle. There’s a kids hunt to keep available for free to help keep young visitors happy. Lucy had a good time figuring out the clues and the staff is great at giving hints, so you can keep moving through the castle.
Due to weather we skipped our mini hike to see the Fairy Pools 🧚♀️ Lucy was as a bit disappointed but she was also voted to skip a hike in the rain. Our last stop was to the seaside village of Portree for photos and a trip to the grocery store. Then as we drove to our hotel in Edinbane, where we were stopped several times by sheep staring at us as we dared try to drive across THEIR road.
We stayed at THIS hotel in Edinbane and would definitely stay again. It was a bit pricey, but we were limited on accommodation options. There’s a lot more lush landscape than accommodation in the Highlands! A full breakfast was included and dinner in the restaurant was delicious. The beds were super comfortable and the rooms were spacious with surprisingly good water pressure for being in the middle of nowhere. My only complaint is that we didn’t save enough time in our itinerary to explore the grounds.
Day #9 Edinbane —> Durness
We started our morning with a traditional Scottish breakfast at the hotel. I tasted blood pudding and haggis but I didn’t like either. Haggis is one of the dishes to try in Scotland, so I can say that I at least gave it a whirl. It wasn’t so much the flavor I didn’t like, it was the texture.
Our first stop of the day was to Isle of Skye brewery where Derrick picked up a few beers and yet another beer glass. We were pushing 15 glasses in our luggage. Not counting what had already been taken home! Why couldn’t he collect shot glasses like my stepdad!
We planned to take the Quiraing hike but the weather wasn’t cooperating. We didn’t have appropriate clothing and footwear to hike in the rain. When we return to Scotland, I’d ensure hiking boots and a good raincoat were packed for everyone. Since this trip was added in as we moved from Nice back to the USA, I wasn’t able to pack appropriately for Scottish weather. We stopped to see Mealt Falls, Kilt Rock, and the Old Man Storr but couldn’t see much through the fog.
While it was a LONG drive along winding roads, the countryside was stunning! The landscape constantly changes as you pass lush hillsides, rocky cliffs, massive lakes and pastures of sheep. And get stopped more often than you would think as a sheep or 3 hangs out in the middle of the road.
We made a quick stop in the Ullapool village to pick up groceries, then it was on to Durness for the night which was the northern most point of the country we visited.
We rented THIS “apartment. ” While it definitely wasn’t my favorite accommodation during the roadtrip, we didn’t have a lot of options in the area. It was sufficient for one night and clean.
Day 10 Durness —> Inverness
We saw puffins! Finally, finally, finally! We scoured the cliffs for almost 2 hours in Durness before Derrick finally spotted the adorable puffins hanging out by the sea. We almost gave up but lucky for us, Derrick was determined. We learned on the walk back that there is a path by the sea where you can walk through the cow pasture and keep on the road, walking for almost 1 hour to reach the cliffs. Another option would be to take a boat tour to see the puffins from the water. You really have to keep finding puffins on your list of best places to see in Scotland. These little guys are seriously cute!
After the puffins, we toured Dunrobin castle, a pretty fairytale castle with water views. We felt like we’d crossed out of the UK and were back exploring another French château. We toured the castle fairly quickly, but spent a great deal of time in the gardens. Lunch was a random (and delicious) stop as we drove from Durness to Dunrobin Castle.
We stayed 3 nights at THIS rental. It was located on a large wooded lot outside of the city with a massive kitchen, family room and 3 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. After being so busy for 1.5 weeks, it was nice to relax a bit.
Days 11 & 12 Inverness
We wandered around Inverness, but I can’t say that it was one of my favorite cities. I replaced a broken suitcase at TKMaxx, (yep, that’s what it’s called!) so that was pretty exciting. Everyone was exhausted, so we knew this would be a good place to slow down and relax. If you want to keep moving, it’s possible to see everything we planned for days 11 and 12 in just one full day.
Sadly, we failed to find Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster but did enjoy the views over the lake. We saw the Urquhart Castle ruins, but I couldn’t come off the 30£ just to see ruins. We snapped a few photos and moved on. We ended up exploring Cawdor Castle instead. It was lovely on the outside but not as grand as I had expected on the inside.
Day 13 Inverness —> Barra
After leaving Inverness we stopped by Glenfiddich Distillery. My mother-in-law is a distant relation, so we thought it would be cool to visit. She even picked up a couple of tumblers to give to Grandma for Christmas. Then we drove to Kinaird lighthouse but decided against taking the tour inside. We wandered around outside, but could have easily skipped this stop.
We visited Fyvie Castle, parts of which date back from the 13th century. Lucy enjoyed hunting for the little green dolls throughout the castle which represented the ghost of the Green Lady. We’ve heard lots of ghost stories in these old castles!
Arriving in Barra, our castle hotel wasn’t quite as impressive as we’d hoped. We stayed in newer guest houses that were clean and comfortable, but had absolutely zero castle feel. Since timing wouldn’t allow for a straight drive from Inverness to Stirling with stops, I’d suggest picking another village in the area to stay for the night.
Day 14 Barra —> Stirling
The next day we were up super early and out the door to start our drive to Stirling. Who would have thought it could be so hot in Scotland?! Still, I wasn’t complaining about all the warm weather and sunshine after a couple days of cold rain.
Our first stop was a look at the ruins of Dunnottar castle. It was a cool medieval fortress located upon the rocky Scottish Coast. We just stopped for photos again as I didn’t want to spend money for ruins.
Afterwards we visited one of my favorite’s, Glamis Castle. This was the home of the Queen Mother’s Grandfather. Queen Elizabeth spent summers here as a child and Princess Margaret was even born in the castle.
Due to a bridge closure, we missed seeing St Andrews and the Castle. I had wanted to visit here as I’d stayed in a hotel overlooking the golf course during a vacation with my family when I was a child. But sometimes, things don’t go as planned.
We made it to our farmhouse cottage near Stirling in the evening. The kids were super excited to get the chance to help feed the sheep. As the lady came near the fence with the bucket of food, all the sheep came over running and bahhing. Is that a word?
We rented THIS cottage for 2 nights. It was cool to stay on a property with sheep and Highland Cows. It was also only a short drive into the city, so we were able to relax before heading back to the busy streets of London.
Day 15 Stirling
For our last full day in Scotland, we planned to visit the William Wallace Monument. However, I refused to pay 27.50£ for us to climb to the monument then walk up 246 steps. We took photos from the parking lot and moved on. Since there were so many places to see, we really had to balance our budget.
We did visit Stirling Castle which is where Mary, Queen of Scots was born and later died. By this point, the kids were over visiting castles. So we had to stop and have the “be grateful” talk at the start of our visit. We spent several hours exploring the castle, wandered the streets of Stirling, picked up dinner fixings from the grocery store, then made our way back to the cottage to pack for our early drive to Edinburgh where we dropped of the car and caught the train to London.
And that wrapped up our time in Scotland. It was a fantastic 2 weeks exploring the gorgeous country. We’d love to return and spend more time in the Highlands and visit some of the islands. I think we were able to see most of the best places to visit in Scotland while balancing drive time and budget. The entire family loved exploring grandma’s history, wandering castle halls and simply enjoying the lush landscape that we’ve come to associate with Scotland.
We rented our car through Auto Europe to get the best rate. We’ve used the company multiple times to book our rentals and have always been happy with the process, price and service. We’d recommend upgrading to an automatic if this is your first time driving on the left. While Derrick is now confident enough to have a manual, he felt trying to shift and remember to stay on the “wrong” side of the road was a bit too much as a new left side driver. Read more of the benefits of renting a car in Scotland here.
What do you think are the best places to visit in Scotland? Do you have other road trip itinerary ideas?
Train ticket from London to Edinburgh ~26£ pp (if booked in advance)
Car rental = $451.39 USD (we booked a wagon so double the price of our normal rentals)
Tolls = 0£
Miles Traveled = coming soon