10-Day Scotland Highlands Road-Trip
A road-trip wasn’t the original plan, it just kind of happened. Flights into Edinburgh were cheap, the weather was supposed to be great, and I had always wanted to visit Isle of Skye. It evolved from there.
In the summer of 2016 I took a road trip through Scotland with my mom and my sister that started and ended in Edinburgh (make sure to check out my full travel guide for Edinburgh), and it was epic. I saw more sheep than people, witnessed the magic of real-life fairy pools, and ate a deep fried Mars bar (which I don’t recommend). It didn’t come without its struggles: one-lane roads, driving into a muddy ditch, and eating Indian food where the salt was swapped with sugar (true story). Wherever we went entertainment followed, and every minute was a new adventure. If you've ever thought about taking a trip through Scotland or somewhere else in the northern UK, here is a glimpse into what you should expect.
Here’s an overview of what our 10-Day Road-Trip looked like:
Day 1: Fly into Edinburgh; Hike Arthurs Seat
Day 2: Explore Edinburgh; Edinburgh Castle
Day 3: Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Day 4: Isle of Mull and Oban; Highland Games
Day 5: Drive to Isle of Skye; Glencoe, Eilene Dunan Castle
Day 6: Isle of Skye; Fairy Pool Hike, Neist Point
Day 7: Isle of Skye; The Quaring Hike, Kilt Rock
Day 8: Inverness and Aviemore; Loch Ness
Day 9: Pitlochry; Dalwhinnie Distillery
Day 10: Back to Edinburgh
Day 11: Fly home
Day 1-2: Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a lot of fun. There are lots of things to do, see, and eat! Check out my complete travel guide to Edinburgh, HERE!
Day 3: Edinburgh to Isle of Mull
We picked up our Hertz rental car in the middle of Edinburgh during morning rush hour. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. I do not recommend this because the city was crazy busy and it was my mom’s first time driving on the left side of the road. It was chaotic to say the least. Oh, it was also pouring down rain.
We drove straight to Oban where we (barely) caught the ferry to Isle of Mull. We had reserved our ferry ticket in advance and I do recommend doing this, especially in the summer months. However, it was stressful because it was a tight connection. We had not allowed ourselves enough time to adjust to the driving and weather. If you're heading to Oban by ferry, I suggest allowing yourself plenty of time.
We did not see as much of the Isle of Mull as we would have liked due to weird ferry timing and the number of one, yes one, lane roads. However, the main reason we were on the Isle of Mull was the Highland Games. We were very fortunate that the timing lined up perfectly. If you don't know what the Highland Games are, scroll down for more information!
Day 4: Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Tobermory is just the cutest harbor town. We stayed at the youth hostel which sits right on the harbor and is bright pink. The hostel was comfortable and easily accessible to the small town of Tobermory. We stayed in a three-person private room which was spacious and had all of the necessities (bedding, lots of outlets, etc.) The women’s bathroom was right down the hall. The hostel was quiet and fairly empty which felt like we had the whole thing to ourselves. The host even let us do a small load of laundry for free.
The Highland Games are a Scottish Tradition. We woke up after a great night sleep at the Tobermory Youth Hotel and popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate the tradition. A proper Scottish parade complete with town leaders, bagpipes, and families leads the attendees to the Games initiating the official start. Anyone is welcome to join the parade as it passes by. It was quite an experience.
The Highland Games were pretty incredible. If you are like me, I imagined javelin throwing, dancing, and kilts. And that was pretty accurate. Plus hamburgers and beer. Check out the photos from the Highland Games!
This quaint bakery sits right on the Harbor and is arguably the most popular place in town. It was quite busy everytime we went (which was twice). Once for lunch and once for breakfast. Both times were fantastic. Quality food, good prices, and quick service.
Day 4: Oban
After a full day of watching the Highland Games we took the ferry back to Oban. Oban was just an overnight stop for us, but it was an adventurous one for sure. We arrived right at sunset and had a delicious meal at Eeusk, a seafood restaurant that overlooks the water. Delicious, fresh seafood with a view, there are few things I love more.
A traditional Scottish dance was taking place at a bar/nightclub close by. The hostel arranged a bagpipe player to lead a group of people to the dance. We learned traditional Scottish dances and danced the night away with locals. It was an unforgettable experience. I think this was a special event but always check with your hostel or hotel about unique things that may be going on during your visit!
Backpackers Plus Hostel was the perfect place to stay for a one night stay in Oban. We stayed at one of their guesthouses right across the street from the dorm rooms. It was comfy, cozy, and a central location. Free parking was also close by!
Day 5: Oban to Isle of Skye
Next up, Isle of Skye. Isle of Skye is the reason we were in Scotland. Years ago, I saw a photo on Pinterest of the magical Fairy Pools on Isle of Skye. It has been on my bucket list ever since. Finally getting to go was surreal. It surpassed all my (very high) expectations and I cannot wait to go back soon.
The trek from Oban to Portree, Isle of Skye is about a 4-hour drive. We made it a full day of driving broken up by Glencoe, Fort William, Eilene Dunan Castle, and random picturesque overlooks.
Day 6-7: Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye is a peninsula off the northwest corner of Scotland. The scenery in Skye looks like it came straight out of a movie, or heaven. Tourists flock to the popular location because of the large number of outdoor activities and beautiful sights. I should note CNN recently published an article, Where Not To Go in 2018, and Isle of Skye is on the list. The steep increase in tourism has negatively impacted locals and the police have advised visitors to travel to surrounding areas or outside of the peak summer months.
With that being said...
Affordable accommodations on Isle of Skye can be difficult to find. We found a last-minute Airbnb in Portree, Isle of Skye’s largest town. We were in a cozy 3-person room with a private adjoining bath. This was a perfect, central location for us to stay on Isle of Skye.
This is a magical place and one of the biggest draws on Isle of Skye. The Fairy Pools are a collection of small pools connected by waterfalls, and when the light hits them just right, they sparkle. Unfortunately it was slightly overcast at the time we visited so it wasn’t very sparkly, but still very magical. You do not have to hike very far to see the pools, which makes this a great hike or walk for the whole family.
We did not actually go inside this castle. We drove about a mile or two past it, parked on the side of the road and took some amazing distance shots of it. It was extra windy this day!
Chances are, if you have googled ‘Isle of Skye’ Neist Point has shown up. This is a lighthouse and the most Western point of Isle of Skye. The view is incredible. There are several walking trails that lead to the lighthouse, a large hill overlooking the lighthouse, and different viewpoints. To reach the trails you much go down a large number of stairs, which may make this activity difficult for some. However, you do not have to go down the stairs to enjoy the stunning view.
My favorite hike to date. We fortunately had the opportunity to hike this on the most gorgeous days of our trip. It was warm, sunny, and a light breeze. There are lots of trails at this location. You can find a trail map at the entrance and choose whatever path you would like. We chose a path that led us to the top of a mountain. It appeared the only way to the tippy top was scrambling some rocks (which we were not equipped for). Some points in the trail required jumping over streams and rocks, so make sure to have on appropriate footwear!
A large cliff that is said to resemble a kilt with a waterfall coming off of the side. It is a pretty incredible sight. The waterfall is a very short walk from the car park. Check out that clear blue water at the bottom!
Old Man of Storr
A very popular hike on Isle of Skye. It is about a 10-minute drive from Portree making it an easy day hike. We opted to skip this hike to do The Quaring, but we did get a few pictures of the rocks in the background.
Portree is a cute town. It is Isle of Skye’s largest town and has the most options of accommodations, restaurants, and shopping. We spent an afternoon walking in shops, getting tea, and purchasing a few souvenirs.
We stumbled upon this wool weaving company on our drive out to Neist Point. It is a small family-run business selling high-quality wool goods out of their home and weaving factory. The gracious owners allowed us to try our hand at pedal weaving and gave us a tour around their shop. My sister and I each purchased a scarf.
An adorable harbor-side seafood restaurant in Portree. We enjoyed a delicious, fresh dinner here. The price is a little higher than other places in Portree but the seafood was the freshest we found.
The biggest surprise of Portree was this cozy, upstairs restaurant. The outside decor was unassuming. We took a chance and snagged a table within 15 minutes of arriving. The place was packed with locals ordering home-cooked meals and desserts. I wish I had taken pictures of my outstanding chicken curry dish. It was phenomenal.
A great place to grab a traditional meal of fish-and-chips. I highly recommend ending your meal with a bowl of ice cream.
The supermarket was right around the corner from our Airbnb. It was the perfect place to stock up on picnic supplies for our daily hikes. We found this to be the most affordable option as food on Isle of Skye can be more expensive than the rest of Scotland.
Day 8: Inverness and Aviemore
I was not ready to leave Isle of Skye after two days of exploring. I could have easily spent a full week there. The next stop on our road-trip was Inverness and Loch Ness.
We had been warned Inverness traffic can be intense and Loch Ness is touristy. I would say those two warnings were right on par. There was minimal traffic between Edinburgh and Isle of Skye, but as soon as we got close to Inverness the traffic began to pick-up. Fortunately, my mom is a pro at driving on the left side of the road. Loch Ness is touristy. That is a fact. I really try to avoid touristy places, but I made an exception for Loch Ness, because Nessie is worth it...
We did not reserve a boat tour of Loch Ness in advance. We visited several tour companies after arriving in Loch Ness and found the next available boat tour. We found all of the tours are roughly the same price. The boat tour was about an hour and I found it to be very informative and interesting. We learned so much about the Loch Ness Monster sightings and why the Loch water is black! I recommend bringing a jacket with you no matter what time of year! The boat ride was a bit chilly.
After our afternoon visit in Loch Ness we continued on to Aviemore, a small town on the A9. We stayed at a darling bed and breakfast in the heart of Caringorms National Park. The B&B is a perfect place to stay if you are spending a few days exploring the park. The breakfast was fairly extravagant with lots of choices and options for all dietary restrictions.
This cozy inn and restaurant came highly recommended from a family we met in Oban. The rustic bar is a popular stop for cyclists who are traveling through. The food was decent but slightly overpriced in my opinion. However, I would happily stop in for a pint of beer after a long day of hiking or biking.
Day 9: Pitlochry
Pitlochry was a short drive from Aviemore. We made a quick stop at the Dalwhinnie Distillery for a whiskey tour. I don't really drink whiskey, but the tour was really interesting and they served delicious chocolate truffles along with the whiskey samples. We spent the afternoon walking around the small town of Pitlochry, popping into shops, before driving to our accommodation for the evening.
My mom’s one request when planning our trip to Scotland was she wanted to stay in a castle. Atholl Palace Hotel was just that. It was a stunning property with beautiful, luxurious rooms. We stayed in the carriage house which felt like our own fancy mini castle. The hotel was undergoing some construction during our visit and I can only imagine how beautiful the property much be since the upgrades are finished.
Spa at Palace Hotel
To end our Scottish road-trip we decided to have a spa day at the Atholl Palace Hotel. We all booked massages and facials, which was a great way to rejuvenate after a week of walking, hiking, and exploring the Scottish Highlands.
Day 10: Edinburgh
The last stop on our Scotland adventure was Edinburgh. Have you seen my full travel guide to Edinburgh? I share all my tips and tricks to getting around Scotland's second largest city.
I loved Scotland, and I cannot wait to return. If I were to take a road-trip again, I would spend more time on Isle of Mull, Isle of Skye, and Caringorms National Park. Let me know your favorite Scotland destinations and things I should add to my next road-trip!