Scotland, UK is a breathtakingly beautiful country that can make you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time with the vastness of its untouched lands and the old-style buildings you’ll see in the towns.
Scotland is a popular destination for people to travel to from all over the world. It has some of the most breathtaking scenery, wildlife and weather, not to mention a rich culture and heritage.
The best way I think in which to see it all is a road trip to the Scottish Highlands.
So, grab your snacks and buckle your seats for the ultimate Scottish road trip adventure.
When to visit the Scottish Highlands and Islands of Scotland
The Scottish Highlands can get very busy during the peak season (July-August)
If possible I would certainly recommend visiting Scotland and in particular the Outer Hebrides in May/June or September/October for several reasons:
1. There are less visitors during those times and although it is never crowded there is something truly special about having the fantastic lochs, glens and beaches all to yourself.
2. The midges which can be a real nuissance during the peak summer months are not out in force during the early and later months.
3. If you like to take photos then the light here during the months I mention is incredible. The days are not too long so sunrise and sunset are at reasonable hours and October is possibly the best month for photography as the winter weather just starts to appear creating dramatic scenes.
The Ultimate Scottish Road Trip
Preparing for your road trip
Route: Edinburgh to Inverness
Distance: 318 km
Driving Time: Around 5 hours
Length for Trip: 2-3 Days
Scotland road trip highlights:
- Fun, windy roads, in great condition most of the way
- Epic views on every corner with plenty of designated places to park and take some great shots
- Fresh seafood if you’re feeling hungry
- The friendliest locals around to help you if you get lost
Renting a vehicle in Scotland
After years of collecting Aeroplan points, I was able to cash mine in with a one week car rental at Avis for 25,500 points. Yippee! For those of you who are still struggling to get those points, you can find cheap options on Europcar. Often if you want to rent for 3-6 days, it’s cheaper to just ask for a one week rental. My favorite rental companies are Avis and Enterprise.
- Many credit cards often offer car insurance for rentals so check if your’s provides this option to avoid insurance fees at the rental office which can often cost you more then the rental itself!
- You will need an international drivers permit to rent vehicles abroad. Getting a permit is very easy in most places. In Canada you can visit your local CAA and apply for $25.
- If you are a Canadian renting a vehicle in the UK, you do not need to get an international driver’s permit and will only need to show your local driver’s license.
Tunes for the Road
To make your road trip even better, make a Scottish playlist.
Some great tunes for driving include:
• Highlander’s Farewell by Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas
• Johnny Tarr by Gaelic Storm
• Hug air a’Bhonaid Mhois by Julie Fowlis
• Hinba by Lau
• The Cruel Sister by Old Blind Dogs
• Celtic Pipes & Drums by Peatbog Faeries & Folk Police
• Lough Erne’s Shore by Old Blind Dogs
• Shooglenifty by McConnells Rant
Scottish Road Trip Itinerary
Road Trip – Scottish Highlands – Day 1
Start in Edinburgh and spend at least a day there before hitting the road.
As soon as we arrived in Edinburgh, we headed straight to Fishers for a seafood lunch. Scotland’s seafood is so good, a large majority of it is actually shipped to Spain. We ordered some oysters, mussels, calamari which were all fresh and delicious. If you go Monday-Friday between 12:00-6:00 PM you can get a great deal with their set menu of 2 courses for £15 or 3 courses for £18. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, check out our posts for the best vegan haggis in Edinburgh.
Next on our stop was to head into old town to walk off our great meal. Old town is an architecture enthusiast’s dream with every building having its own unique look and dates back to the medieval times. Make sure to look out for the Castle of Edinburgh and the Royal Mile.
As we strolled through old town, we popped into a few pubs to sample the local beers. Try the Fraoch which is a Heather Ale (Leann Fraoch) that’s been brewed in Scotland since 2000 B.C. Also try the Tennent’s Lager which is the local’s choice in pubs.
When it got to the evening, we booked a ghost tour. Our guide was Max who somehow managed to turn stories of murderers, dungeons and witch hunts into a walking comedy skit which was a lot of fun.
Road Trip – Scottish Highlands – Day 2
A Scottish Breakfast
The next day we started our morning at The Abbey, which is a proper Scottish pub offering a great breakfast starting at £4.95 and an unimaginable selection of whiskey (if you’re up for some early drinking). I went with the Scottish breakfast which includes egg, haggis, sausage, bacon, black pudding, white pudding, hash brown, tomato beans and toast. It was my first time trying haggis, and it wasn’t’t bad at all!
In case you don’t know, haggis is made from sheep’s stomach and is stuffed with liver, heart and lungs of the sheep. Despite the name and what it’s made of, I would eat haggis again.
After breakfast we headed to Arthur’s seat which is around a 30 minute hike to the top of a hill,and over looks the entire city for some fantastic views.
Unfortunately, as soon as we started hike it started raining…hard. On the positive side, there were very few tourists and those we did encounter were retreating down because the rain was making it difficult to hike up.
By that point we saw it more of a challenge against mother nature to make it up to the top and pressed on. By the time we reached the top, not a single person was there and we had the entire spot all to ourselves.
After hearing stories from the ghost tour the night before about people hiking to the top of Arthur’s seat and then falling off, it felt very eery to be there on our own. Not to mention being surrounded by fog, mist, and then getting hailed on (in the middle of summer) which is when we decided it was time to go!
- Arthur’s seat is located in Holyrood Park which is a great place to cycle in or have a walk around.
- It’s also close to Holyrood Palace, which was the home for Mary Queen of Scott’s and is the official residence for the royal family when visiting Scotland.
- Tickets for admission into the palace cost £12.50/adult.
- If you don’t have much time, it might be worth just taking a drive around the road that circles the entire park and hill. The ride is no longer than 10-15 minutes and you can get some great views and spots for scenic pictures.
After conquering the hike up Arthur’s seat, it was time to hit the road to Inverness.
The Cairngorms National Park
Our first stop on the road was to the Cairngorms National Park which is the largest national park in the UK. The park itself contains the ancient Caledonian forest which has almost been wiped out from all of Scotland.
You can find many species of animals there including red squirrels and even wildcats. There are many different paths to go on for hikes, a couple estates to visit, Balmoral Castle and a steam train ride around the park.
- We were short on time to catch a train ride but the Strathspey Railway runs a return trip from Aviemore through the heart of the Scottish Highlands which costs £14.25 for a 90 minute adventure.
- If you are feeling like getting in touch with your nature side, you can find some great wild camping spots in the park.
A Hidden Beach
Just as you exit the Cairngorms National Park on the A86, there is a beautiful sandy beach where you can stop for a picnic lunch, do some fishing or even spend the night camping if you can brave the midges! The beach is located on Loch Laggan in between Quad Bike Tours and Ardverikie Estate, you’ll be able to see the beach through the trees as your drive by with a designated parking spot to stop at.
Every encounter we had with Scottish locals they would always bring up “the midges”. They are similar to mosquitos but much smaller and will drive you crazy in the wild if you don’t have repellent on.
Apparently, the best form of repellent recommended by the locals is wearing Avon Skin So Soft. In truth we were fairly lucky considering the horror stories we heard about them, but we came prepared with repellant just in case, and you probably should too.
Road Trip – Scottish Highlands – Day 3
All along the road to Inverness you will find parking spots which are great to catch some epic views. As soon as you pass the sandy beach you will encounter three castle like buildings. Stop at Glengarry Viewpoint (about 1 hour after passing the hidden sandy beach) where you can stand on a rock and catch views of the entire landscape. Funny enough, one of the lochs is actually shaped like Scotland.
Next, head to the tiny town of Invermoriston and leave your car at the local parking lot. Cross the street and follow the sounds of running water. This will take you to a waterfall for some great shots.
Searching for Nessie and Urquhart Castle
Head back to your car and make your way to Urquhart Castle which overlooks Loch ness for your chance to find Nessie. This is the site of an ancient ruined castle, one of the largest in Scotland which was built in the 13th and 16th centuries. Tickets to visit cost £9 per adult (you can also join a tour). Although we didn’t find the mythical sea monster we were able to catch the sun setting from the castle.
This is the final destination for the road trip and is about a 30 minute drive from the Urquhart castle. For the best views of the city, head up to Inverness castle.
Exploring More in The Highlands
Your trip doesn’t need to end once you’ve reached Inverness. In the Highlands there are many things to see and do.
Unfortunately, we didn’t’t get the chance to personally catch views of the dolphins ourselves but if you head to Chancery Point along the loch of Moray Firth you will have a good chance of seeing them there.
Glen Ord Distillery
You can’t visit Scotland without some Scotch tasting. Take a visit to Glen Ord Distillery which offers tours and tastings. We went on the most basic tour which cost £6 and includes a tasting of a 12 year old whiskey. Interesting enough, this distillery only sells their scotch in South East Asia and is not available anywhere else, including the UK.
Did you know that the modern game of golf was invented by the Scotts? There are a few courses around including Torvean Golf Club, Inverness Golf Club and Fairways Loch ness Golf Course.
Watching the Indigenous Scottish Game of Shinty
An ancient game said to predate Christianity, shinty is a team sport that Highlanders play and was previously used to help train boys for warfare. Catch a game with local Highland teams.
Continuing Your Scottish Road Trip
If you feel up for seeing more of Scotland, I recommend continuing your Scottish road trip through to the Isle of Skye. Skye is well known for its beautiful, unique landscape and best explored on a wild camping road trip. You could always just do a day trip to Isle of Skye from Inverness, visit Isle of Arran, or check out these tours of the Scottish Highlands.