The Ultimate Scotland Road Trip
Are you looking for things to see and do on your ultimate Scotland road trip? Look no further! To get the best insider tips, I have asked around and compiled a list of Scotland road trip ideas by travel experts.
Scotland Roadtrip Planner
By Gemma of Everything Edinburgh
If you plan to visit Scotland, the start of your trip will likely take place in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
Interesting history, local food, sweeping landscape, lovely beaches, unique pubs – you could easily lose a week to this city and still want to return to do more.
The traditional things to do in Edinburgh include visiting Edinburgh Castle, sampling the national drink at The Scotch Whisky Experience, eating haggis at an Old Town restaurant and learning more about the city’s history during a spooky ghost tour above and underground.
While these are great things for first-timers to do, other tours get under the skin of Scotland’s capital and expand on what this city has experienced and has to offer.
For example, you could learn more about the statues and buildings you walk past and how they impact the city’s diversity during the Edinburgh Black History Tour led by Lisa Williams, author, poet, and founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association.
You might also want to build a deeper appreciation for Edinburgh’s architecture with Cobble Tales. Some of these tours take you to the picturesque Dean Village and Stockbridge. There’s even an audio tour if you prefer to avoid the crowds.
Did you know that Edinburgh plays host to a three-week festival every August? Well, you don’t have to visit during its busiest time to appreciate the Scottish banter. Check out the comedy tour hosted by a local stand-up comedian all year round.
St. Andrews and Fife
by Lavina of Continent Hop
St.Andrews is one of the places many visit when in Scotland as it is one of the prettiest seaside towns famous for its golf courses. Yet, just 20 miles away is Fife, which has a tremendous farm-to-table food revolution happening and which has one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.
Lindores Abbey Distillery is a distillery located in an Abbey, and the first recorded account of the production of Scotch Whisky (known as Aqua Vitae back in the 1400s) in Scotland is said to have occurred here!
The Abbey fell to ruins in the 1600s but was revived later and now is a massive distillery that conducts tasting tours for visitors and has cultural evenings organised for the locals, including poetry readings and dinner that visitors can participate in.
In addition to whisky tastings, you can also participate in making your own Aqua Vitae here.
Not only is the distillery worth visiting, but the area it is located in is very picturesque, making it a must-visit if you’re passing by this region of Scotland.
The sunsets in Fife are magical, so it is definitely worth a detour if you’re in the East of Scotland.
by Victoria of Guide Your Travel
Newburgh is a tiny little town located around 20 minutes north of the city of Aberdeen. It’s home to authentic pubs and beautiful nature. The main attraction in Newburgh is the local beach. It’s also called “seal beach” sometimes because this is the best spot to go to see Scottish seals.
Hundreds of them gather on the beach and they’re an absolute favourite among tourists. This is also a fantastic spot to go for a quick hike as there are plenty of little paths among the sand dunes.
There is also a nearby golf course with a fantastic view. Add Newburgh to your itinerary for Scotland to get back in touch with nature and enjoy the beauty of northern Scotland.
Once you’ve had enough of hiking and exploring you should make the quick 10-minute drive to Ellon. This nearby town is a bit larger than Newburgh (although still small) and is home to one of Scotland’s most well-known beer breweries.
Brew Dog offers brewery tours and has an in-home bar at the brewerie. With lots of delicious craft beers and even gin to try you absolutely need to stop here on your road trip. Brew Dog is world-famous and seeing the brewerie will be a unique experience.
by Erica Riley of Travels with Erica
Balmoral Castle is known as the Scottish home to the royal family. Every summer the royal family holidays at Balmoral, and it is one of the best (and most popular) royal sights in Scotland.
The closest major city to Balmoral is Dundee. You can take a bus to Balmoral Castle, but it is much easier to rent a car and drive.
The castle was first purchased by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852 and has remained in the hands of the royal family ever since.
Since the royal family vacations at Balmoral, it is only open for tourists to visit from April to July. Balmoral is unique in that you can only tour one room of the palace: the ballroom. There is a seasonal exhibit every year in the ballroom that highlights portions of the Queen’s private art collection.
The majority of the time you spend touring Balmoral is spent exploring the grounds. You visit the Queen’s vegetable garden, Queen Mary’s flower garden, and can even walk along a river on your way back to the car.
Admission is £15 for an adult and £6 for a child. You have the option of renting an audio guide, which you should seriously consider. The audio guide requires a £5 deposit, and it is returned to you when you return the audio guide.
Visiting Balmoral Castle is the perfect way to combine the royal family’s history in Scotland and the beauty of the highlands.
But the best experience is the walk along a narrow path down to the castle with a cove on the left and the castle straight ahead. Dunnottar Castle is believed to have been built in the early Middle Ages but the remaining buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries.
It is free to walk along the cliffs to view the castle and down to the gates but you must purchase tickets to tour inside the castle. The castle is the location for many movies and shows including Hamlet, Victor Frankenstein, Brave (inspiration for the animated movie), Mary Queen of Scots and The Amazing Race.
Dunnottar Castle is only a 7 minute drive to the lovely sea village of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire. The town has a horseshoe harbor, lovely shops and great pubs. You can get to Stonehaven by car or train from Aberdeen, the largest city in the area. It is just a half hour drive or 20 minute train ride, making it the perfect day trip from Aberdeen.
Walk the Moray Coast Trail
by Mel from TravelingMel
The Moray Coast at the north of Scotland is known as the “sunshine coast.” That doesn’t mean it doesn’t rain a lot, just that it’s less rainy than much of Scotland.
Winding along the Moray Firth, the Moray Coast Trail is part of the Moray Way – one of Scotland’s many circular trails. It’s possible to walk a section of the Moray Coast Trail or the whole 160-kilometer (99-mile) Moray loop.
For an easy and highly scenic walk, try the 7-mile Buckie to Cullen section. Start the day at Pozzie Bijou for coffee/tea and pastries. The trail is fairly flat and easy to follow, but there are trail guides for purchase at Pozzie.
The trail leaves the town square in Buckie and follows the coastline of the Moray Firth through several small villages. Keep an eye on the water for the famous Moray dolphins, reported to be the largest in the world.
When you reach the village of Findochty, grab a pint at the Admiral’s Inn Public House and ramble past the marina, down a street of cottages, and back onto the trail. One highlight between Portknockie and Cullen is the Bow Fiddle Rock – a stunning rock arch just off the coast.
In Cullen, savor a bowl of Cullen Skink, a local soup made with smoked haddock. From Cullen, take the bus back to your car in Buckie (or vice versa).
If you’re enjoying a Scotland trip, you need to add Smoo Cave to your plans.
Smoo Cave is the largest sea cave in the UK and is located near Durness, at Sango Bay. You can reach at on any day of the year, although you need to be mindful of the tides. It’s usually inaccessible at high tide.
You don’t need to pay to visit- just park up and walk down. There’s plenty of parking nearby for all types of vehicles, useful if you’re doing a North Coast 500 motorhome or camper van tour.
You reach the cave via a slope which can be slippery after rain, so take care. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk. The cave is 130ft wide, 200ft long and 50ft high. There’s a hole in the ceiling where a waterfall descends after a period of heavy rainfall. This tends to dry up during the summer. Boardwalks have been created to make it easier to walk around.
You can also book onto a guided tour and be taken further into the cave network by experienced guides. There’s also a boat tour into Smoo cave. The trip takes about 20 minutes, costs £5 per person and is first-come, first-served.
Whilst in the area, be sure to visit Sango Bay- one of the prettiest beaches in North West Scotland and plenty to do nearby.
Old Man of Storr, The Isle of Skye
By Rachel from Average Lives
The Old Man of Storr is on the magical Isle of Skye and must stop for on your road trip in Scotland. It is on the north of the island on the Trotternish ridge, only a 10-minute drive from Portree.
You can see the rock formations from the road. But a better way to see them and take photos is to hike to the top to see the iconic and unique rock formations. The hike will take roughly 40-minutes to reach a viewing area and then another 15-minutes to walk towards the rocks. It is not the most challenging hike, but it can be steep, muddy and there may be midges depending on the time of year you visit.
There is a paid parking at the start of the hike, and it can get swamped with people – especially in the summer months. The best time of year to visit is October because the midgies have gone and so have the people.
If you want to make your visit to the Old Man of Storr extra special, you should visit at sunrise or sunset. Nothing comes close to seeing the grand and towering rocks; you will feel like you’re in a natural playground.
by Kristin on Adventures with Ensuite
Berneray is one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides, a group of islands north of mainland Scotland.
The main reason to visit Berneray is because it is home to one of the prettiest Hebrides beaches. The 3-mile-long white sandy beach stretches the entire length of the western side of the island. To the north the Harris hills are visible in the distance with the wild Atlantic Ocean in the foreground.
This beach has developed many admirers and it was recently voted the third nicest beach in Europe by Lonely Planet. It is easy to see why.
At the other side of the island the landscape is craggy and rocky but it is the perfect place to look for seals and otters. Otters are difficult to spot. However, in the little village of Backhill you are nearly guaranteed to see seals at low tide.
On a Scotland road trip the only way to get to Berneray is by ferry. The ferry port closest to Berneray is Lochmaddy, a 20-minutes’ drive away. From here ferries go to Uig on the Isle of Skye once or twice a day depending on the time of year.
It is also possible to get a ferry to other parts of the Outer Hebrides from Ullapool, Oban and Mallaig. Most of the islands in the south of the Outer Hebrides are linked by bridges making it perfect to explore by car, whilst a short ferry ride is needed to travel to the Isle of Harris and Lewis further north.
Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis
By Monique at Trip Anthropologist
In the Outer Hebrides Scottish islands is a magical Neolithic landscape. On the west side of the Isle of Lewis are stone circles almost 5,000 years old. At night the sky is so vast and low it feels like the standing stones will touch the millions of stars that hang above this ancient landscape. And the best this is – you can drive there!
The Callanish Standing Stones have been placed in the shape of a cross. There are then thirteen stones in a circle. In the center of the circle is a great monolith. They were placed here between 2900 BC and 2600 BC. The Standing Stones cross and circle were used for ritual purposes by Neolithic people.
Their positions correspond to positions of the sun and moon and there is clearly an astronomical relationship in the placement of stones but no one knows if the Standing Stones were for religious or astrological purposes.
No matter what their exact function was, they are a startling and eerie must-see destination on any Scottish road trip. The standing stones of Callanish (or Calanais) lie just outside the village of Callanish and the Standing Stones Visitors Center.
Callanish is only a 25 minute drive from Stornaway, the biggest town on Lewis, along the A858. You can leave your car in the Visitors Centre car park and walk 500m to the Standing Stones.
By Bridget at The Flashpacker
Fuel your romantic fantasies by including a day in Mull in your Scotland road trip. The second-largest island in the Inner Hebrides is a wildly beautiful spot with a mountainous core encircled by 300 miles of glorious coastline.
Catch the frequent Caledonian MacBrayn (CalMac) ferry from Oban which will take you to Craignure on Mull’s west coast in 40 minutes. From there, make your way to Tobermory, the island’s small but perfectly main town, with its crayon-coloured houses hugging the harbour’s edge.
There are plenty of things to do in Tobermory other than browsing its charming shops and stopping for a coffee at one of its cafes. It has its own distillery which has been bottling the amber nectar since 1798.
Children will love the Mull Aquarium, the first catch-and-release aquarium in Europe (also a good wet weather activity). Or why not join a sea safari to try to spot seals, dolphin and the like?
Don’t miss walking to the lighthouse at Rubha nan Gall, an easy 2km cliffside walk through woodland. Pick up the signposted path from Tobermory Lifeboat Station. Sensational views guaranteed.
Finally, when it’s time to refuel, head to the Pier Café at the ferry terminal for a plate of seafood overlooking the harbour.
By Blair from Expedition Introvert
Driving up from Glasgow, you can visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the bridge made popular by the Harry Potter movie franchise – where you can take the Jacobite train (as seen in the movie) over it during the summer season.
There is a nice walking path that goes under the viaduct and provides a nice scenic view of bridge, as well as the surrounding area. The walk itself will take roughly 45 minutes to an hour, but make sure to get there early as it is a popular destination on weekends and in the summer.
To take the Jacobite Train, you have to hop on in the nearby town of Fort William for both departure time slots of 10:15am and 12:45pm. If you miss your chance to take the train, the view of the Jacobite train going across the viaduct is a good alternative and fun to see. Plus it’s a chance for the perfect photo op!
On your way to Glenfinnan, there is a small stop off of A82 in the Loch Lomond National Park where you can see the Falls of Falloch. There is a footpath for a quick walk to the small waterfall, ending with a small observation deck to view the Falls.
A great place to take a lunch break and relax to the soft roaring of rushing water in the background. It is not recommended to swim in this body of water as you do not know what is in the water, as well as the locals don’t recommend swimming in the water.
by Bradley of Dream Big, Travel Far
If you are on a road trip in Scotland, chances are you love adventure and the outdoors. Exploring the natural charms of this country is best done when wild camping. There are tons of wild camping spots in Scotland, but one of the most special ones is Glen Coe.
It’s an incredibly popular glen known for its history and romantic setting. Located near Argyll, it is also the gateway to the Highlands where you can witness some of the most stunning views. The entire Bridge of Orchy village area is breathtaking and pretty much suitable for wild camping, but the one close to Loch Tulla Viewpoint is a great option.
Wild camping itself is when you stay overnight anywhere that is not a registered campsite. This could be fields or even car parks, but don’t worry, it’s completely legal here in Scotland!
Additionally, you could try staying at the Glen Coe Mountain Resort, which is a lovely camping site when the ski season hasn’t started. You will find easy access to facilities such as waste disposal and hot showers, while an overnight stay costs a £10 donation.
The landscape in Glen Coe teems with drama and splendor, with rocky mountains and wooded strath that stretch for miles. Of course, you can always drive along the main A82 road and still see the beauty of the glen. Yet waking up to this wonderful sight is an experience in itself!
Be charmed by Loch Lomond
by Danielle of Stuff it go travelling
No road trip in Scotland is complete without visiting Loch Lomond.
Located between Glasgow (30 minute drive away) and Fort William (2 hours drive away), this magnificent loch is a popular leisure and tourist destination in Scotland.
Attracting many visitors each year, people flock to Loch Lomond for a wilderness retreat and to spend some time on/ by the water. Popular activities include boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, playing golf and hiking.
What’s great about this area is it will deliver some of the most scenic road trip views available in Scotland. The main A82 road runs along the western shore of the loch and takes you through picturesque villages and small harbours.
One unforgettable pitstop to try when driving along the A82 is the Drovers Inn. Situated in Inverarnan, north of Loch Lomond it’s a charming historic inn and pub dating back to 1705.
A popular stop for weary walkers and “drovers” in the past, today visitors are transported back in time to experience centuries of Scottish hospitality and hear tales of past visitors and ghosts. Did we mention it’s also rumored to be one of the most haunted hotels in Britain?
The inn’s decor honours the past and features antiques and stuffed taxidermy creatures throughout. For instance, as you enter reception you’ll be greeted by a large grizzly bear. The inn also has a cosy pub serving traditional Scottish whiskeys, lagers and ales and features live music on the weekends.
While their restaurant delivers hearty traditional Scottish food including steak pie and of course haggis, neeps and tatties. No matter how brief your visit is to Drovers Inn, this will be an experience you will never forget.
Explore the Border Abbeys
by Maja of Away with Maja
One of the best things to do in Scotland is to visit the lesser-known region of the Scottish Borders, and explore the Border Abbeys. This is a group of four abbeys, founded in the 12th century: Jedburgh, Kelso, Dryburgh, and Melrose.
These abbeys are all located near the Scotland-England border, and over the years they have all suffered attacks between warring factions. Some of the abbeys are the resting place of important Scots—Sir Walter Scott is buried at Dryburgh Abbey, and the heart of Robert the Bruce is supposedly buried at Melrose Abbey.
While the architecture of all the abbeys is stunning, I especially loved Jedburgh Abbey, and walking down the roofless nave. It’s definitely possible to see all of the abbeys in one day, as they’re located close together in the area of the Scottish Borders.
All of the abbeys are operated by Historic Scotland, and have admission charges for entry (with the exception of Kelso Abbey). While Border Buses provide public transportation between the towns, it’s easiest to get around the Border Abbeys by car—so I’d recommend you have your own vehicle.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss a stop at Scott’s View, a scenic lookout over the Eildon Hills. It was supposedly one of Sir Walter Scott’s favorite views. Exploring the ruins of the Border Abbeys is a must for your Scotland road trip itinerary!
Scotland Road Trip FAQ
What is the best road trip in Scotland?
In my humble opinion this list compiles some of the best Scotland Road trip ideas! Sure, you may find one that is easier to drive or longer or shorter. But the contributors to this post have given you the best of everything.
The mayor Scottish destinations you cannot miss, like Edinburgh, Balmoral Castle and Loch Lomond. And also some insider tips that you will not see on every Scotland Road Trip itinierary, such as the Border Abbeys, Mull and Smoo Cave.
How long does it take to drive across Scotland?
If you were to go from Smoo Cave on the coast, the northern most point of this road trip to Dryburgh near the English border, it woul take 6 hours. You would cover about 300 miles north to south.
But that’s not the point, is it? Take your time and enjoy everything there is to see along the way! Road trips are a fantastic opportunity to try slow travel
How do I plan a road trip to Scotland?
Start with this ultimate Scotland road trip and consider these things in addition:
- Where will you start? Where will you rent the car?
- Check ferry times to the islands
- Check if there are any new restrictions in place to avoid disppointments on the road
- Make sure you have travel insurance coverage
- Look at accommodation options, even if you don’t want to book yet to stay flexible
- If your car won’t have a GPS, check the data plan on your phone for roaming and applicable charges. Navigation is essential on any road trip 🙂
What is the best month to go to Scotland?
In the summer from June to August the weather will be best and the day long. However, that is also the most popular time to visit Scotland. Spring, from March to May, or autumn, from September to November, may be a good alternative.
Let’s face it, we don’t go to Scotland for the weather do we? If you’re into sunny destinations, check out some of my posts about Spain and Italy:
- Best hikes in Spain
- Vilafranca de Penedès wine region
- Slow Travel weekend itinerary Altafulla, Spain
- Northern Italy Towns Weekend Roadtrip – must see’s and hidden gems
- Palamós, Spain
How many days is enough for Scotland?
Ah, is there ever enough time? For this road trip I recommend two weeks. This will allow you to enjoy time at each destination and explore. You can cut it shorter and put two waypoints in one day or cut out the islands completely. That way you can do it in one week.
However, promoting slow travel, you may wish to take 3 weeks and add the cities: Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow. As with any destination, there is never enough time to see it all!