I’ve always put off visiting Scotland due to it being infamous for being cold and wet. Little did I know about the beauty of the Scottish Highlands and horrific history that make it.
I visited Scotland for the first time in September 2018. While too early for autumn, we got caught in some of the best weathers (it being non-rainy is everything to thank!).
Our 7-day Scotland itinerary covers the very basics of the Scottish Highlands, the bigger cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and the all-important Stirling Castle. We skipped the Isle of Skye as we wanted to save it for another time when we had more time to explore the Northwest in depth.
It goes through a very straightforward road trip itinerary from North to South, starting at Inverness and ending at Edinburgh.
To learn how to plan a route on Google maps easily, read How To Plan A Route On Google Maps (To Use Offline On The Go).
These 7 days in Scotland can be easily stretched into a 10-day Scotland itinerary, which would be much more ideal so there won’t be too much rushing around
- Scotland Road Trip Itinerary – 7 Days
- Day 1 – Inverness
- Day 2 – Urquhart Castle
- Loch Ness
- Glenfinnan Viaduct
- Day 3 – Fort William
- Day 4 – Oban
- Day 5 – Luss, Loch Lomond
- Day 6 – Glasgow
- Day 7 – Edinburgh
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Getting around Scotland
For the most part, driving is the way to go around this Scotland itinerary unless you’re only planning to stay around major cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, where the public transport network is more frequent and comprehensive.
Compared to driving in New Zealand, the towns in Scotland are closer together – give and take an hour’s drive to get from town to town versus 3- to 6-hour drives in New Zealand.
I’ve missed going on road trips, and this Scotland road trip sure reinforced my love for road trips!
Scotland Road Trip Itinerary – 7 Days
Day 1 – Inverness
Inverness is known to be the capital for outdoor adventures, hence without further ado, our first agenda was to go rock climbing on conglomerate rock in the Scottish highlands.
These rocks looked like they were pebbles glued together by cement, forming this rock face. Climbing it felt iffy, as if by any stroke of luck, the rock may be pulled loose and we’d take a fall. This was exactly the fate that befell Philip when he pulled a rock and fell.
We sat by a wee spot for lunch which were pre-made sandwiches. I took the drone (that we loaned from Singapore rental platform for travellers) out for a test and got out some funky little shots. You can see the end product of the video here:
If rock climbing is not your cup of tea, we also visited Cairngorns National Park, a relatively flat hiking trail for one and all. It set a good prelude to the actual hiking to be done in Ben Nevis a few days later.
For those seeking more adrenaline rush, you can hop off the regular trail towards the ridge and do some scrambling i.e. climbing up the big boulders of rocks.
We were concerned that the loud-sounding motor from the drone would harass hikers, so we were careful to take the drone out only when there wasn’t anyone around. At one of the peak plateaus, we managed to capture some panoramic aerial footage.
The summit here is apparently the 2nd highest in all of Scotland, with Ben Nevis being the first, rising at 1,345 metres in height.
There are also other sightseeing around Inverness if you have more days to spare here.
Day 2 – Urquhart Castle
This day was our first foray into our Scotland travel itinerary, and our first taste of the weather of Scotland. We were playing hide and seek with the sun, the rain and the clouds all day long. The weather in Scotland is unpredictable at the very least.
We drove to see Urquhart Castle, more the shattered remains of it really, and its trebuchet that still remains. Given that we weren’t expecting much from the castles of Scotland, Urquhart Castle sure didn’t disappoint.
The area it covered was much more than I had expected, though I did have trouble trying to imagine how the royal life used to be beyond the knocked-down fort.
By the time we arrived at Loch Ness, heavy rain was pouring down on us. We had lunch in town and moved on towards Fort William, not bothering to be trapped into the curiosities of the Loch Ness monster that the town publicized so much for. The Loch Ness monster felt more like a tourism symbol essential to the small town’s bustling activities than anything else.
Along the way, we stopped by Glenfinnan to see the famous viaduct where Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express was filmed. Due to the unplanned timing, we failed to catch the actual train pass the viaduct.
The 21 arches that make up the viaduct are 15 metres high. Standing at the base of these arches, the sight of the sight of the viaduct is imposing, for lack of a better word.
Stay: Glen Nevis Holidays
Driving in to Glen Nevis Holidays where we will stay for the night was a little confusing. It goes through a single lane road which passes through other Glen Nevis properties. Our Luxury Cottage was in the deep end of the road, which is perfect for a little hideout getaway.
Surrounded by nature, you could spot all kinds of wildlife around the cottage – birds, squirrels and some other guests even spotted deer in the mornings! (We knew this because there was a log book detailing all the animal spotting by the former guests who used to stay in this cottage.)
It was quite literally that you can gaze at birds and squirrels while going about your cooking, looking out the kitchen window.
The massive size of the cottage is nothing like we expected.
Having only an evening at this cottage is an insult to a place that I could easily call home, complete with a full-serviced kitchen with all kinds of pots and pans you will ever need, a full knife set, a dining table, a kettle, microwave, oven and even a pasta strainer! I haven’t even gotten started past the kitchen.
The apartment was also equipped with a washing machine, dishwasher, and nothing beats a sparkling clean bathroom. It was if we were the first occupants of this apartment!
The cottage was so spacious that it even had its own faux fireplace, DVDs to watch, a dressing table in the bedroom.
The only caveat was that the heater didn’t seem to be working, easily solved with the thick, fluffy blanket that gave us one of our best sleeps ever.
Day 3 – Fort William
We started the day hiking up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in all of Scotland, at 1345 metres above sea level.
While we hiked along a well-worn path, we went off the trail for a short cut up from the halfway point, climbing up by a stream bed. We rejoined the main trail after we arrived at the waterfall.
As we arrived the top, the gravel road turned to large stone pebbles, and the mist thickened with every ascent. The wind was also biting and strong, so we were looking for a good hideout amidst the ruins at the top to rest and have our packed sandwich lunches.
What we didn’t expect was how the place was truly a modern-day ruin, with the smells of pee and garbage strewn at every corner. Picking a clean corner was nearly impossible.
We hurriedly went on our journey down after a quick refuelling bite. As we went down the zig zag trail, we couldn’t help but appreciate how the views of the lake, the mountain and the forest complimented each other.
Right after our descend, we headed straight to Glencoe.
Home of some of the most beautiful mountain ranges at every corner you turn, it was a pity we couldn’t spend a longer time at this place as we came directly after our hike at Ben Nevis.
After checking in, we walked along a river stream that offered picturesque views with a backdrop of the mountains in every green and yellow hue, reminding us how lucky we were to be here to witness the beginning of autumn.
On hindsight, we would have preferred to allow at least one or two full days here as part of our Scotland itinerary to experience some mountains.
Stay: Hostelling Glencoe
The hostel in Glencoe reminded me a lot of living in a wood cabin – furnished simply and maintained in the most basic fashion.
Google Maps didn’t give a very good indication of where the hostel was even though there was only one road leading to it. It was only after a wrong turn to another accommodation nearby that we realized the hostel was further down the road, housed in an old, simple building.
Nestled in the hills, the hostel is a prime place for getting into the hills. It would otherwise be inaccessible without a car.
The receptionist didn’t help with getting us acquainted either, simply handing us a brochure to familiarise with the area – we had to figure everything out and orientate ourselves on our own. There was nothing in the form of entertainment around the hostel, except for a bar down the road at another accommodation.
The hostel is made of two levels – the first containing the reception and dining area; and the second level containing the 10 rooms.
The room we stayed in was lit dimly. It was furnished simply with bunk beds and a sink. The shower and W/C are in separate rooms.
Day 4 – Oban
Oban is characterised by its cute tiny streets, with old-world charmed buildings haphazardly scattered around the centre by Oban Bay. Oban is popularly known to be the port to Isle of Mull, and Isle of Iona, and most would say to spend majority of your time in these cute isles.
Oban surpassed my expectations of it being a small, boring town though. Because we didn’t book the ferry ahead of time, we weren’t able to catch any in time. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, when we decided to spend the remaining of our (only) day in Oban centre instead.
TIP: Allocate a couple of days to roam around Oban, Isle of Mull and Isle of Iona if you decide to visit these isles! Isle of Mull is larger than you think – it takes an hour by car to get from one point to another, which is necessary if you want to visit Isle of Mull. Public transport is not as frequent as you might like. Be sure to check the last buses and ferries when planning your way over!
For lunch, we had Fish ‘n’ Chips at Oban Seafood Hut, an open-air stall under a green shack by the bay, recommended by the locals at our hostel.
We roamed around book stores and cafés, but not before stopping at the famous and quaint Oban Chocolate Company café to indulge in hot chocolate.
Our evenings were treated with some whisky tasting (of course) at Oban Distillery, as we were shown around the whiskey distillery.
We bided our time waiting for the sunset atop McCaig’s Tower, an open stone tower dating back to 1897 that offers quite a bird’s eye view of downtown Oban.
This structure reminded me of Rome’s Colosseum.
Stay: Hostelling Oban
The hostel at Oban felt like quite an upgrade from our Glencoe stay, with bright, spacious rooms, a view to the sea from our room, and incredibly helpful staff at the reception.
The refreshing sea breeze in the evening made for a great stroll by the bay as we made our way to and from the hostel and city centre.
With 2 large communal eating spaces, this hostel certainly caters to big groups, like when we chanced upon a group of pre-schoolers having breakfast on the day we checked out, making for a rambunctious morning to start off!
In part due to its proximity to town centre, its affordability and limited rooms, this hostel is often fully booked. We’d recommend to book in advance if you choose to stay here.
Through my experiences staying around all kinds of accommodation, I can say that the airiness, spaciousness, cleanliness and lighting of a room certainly play a pivotal role in feeling right at home!
Day 5 – Luss, Loch Lomond
Continuing our 7-day Scotland itinerary, we drove into Luss this morning. Luss is a small harbour town right by Loch Lomond.
Strolling around Luss, we came across several cute gift stores and old brick houses along the way.
A good introduction to Loch Lomond would be to attend a mini cruise with Cruise Loch Lomond in Luss. However, upon arriving, we were misinformed of the ferry timing and missed it by 15 minutes.
Listen to the live commentary on this leisurely 90-minute circular cruise as it goes around the island jewels and explores the historic Lomond landscape. Learn all about the marauding Vikings and the feuding clans of the past.
Lunch saw us at The Lodge on Loch Lomond. As part of their policy of developing a direct relationship with Colquhoun’s growers and producers – much of the produce used at the restaurant is sourced from nearby. Lunch menus are generally altered twice each season, according to the best available produce.
We had a sumptuous and extravagant meal consisting of steamed west coast mussels and baked crispy camembert for starters, and a good dose of meat with our beef burger and beef onglet steak. The mains were less impressive than our starters, and I found my beef steak a tad too overcooked and dry.
Post-lunch, it was time for some cold feet with Stand-Up Paddle boarding arranged for us.
SUP no doubt provides the opportunity to mix outdoor recreation with sightseeing and makes for a unique, fun and exciting way to explore Loch Lomond.
Donning a thick wet suit surely helped in fighting the cold waters of the loch. After some introductory lessons, we hopped on our paddle board to get a real taste.
The weather was erratic at the very least. While I felt thankful for the occasional bouts of sun rays, I couldn’t say the same when it started with a 5-minute downpour while we were in the middle of the loch trying to get to a nearby small island. Thoughts of being stranded on the loch was constantly at the top of my mind, haha.
The sun mixed with rain did offer us the rare shows of rainbows during our hour-long activity, which made for the cold rain pelleting down on us.
Paddle boarding is also more tiring than I thought it would be, especially when paddling against the dastard currents.
Stay: The Inn on Loch Lomond
The Inn first opened in 1814, and has retained its traditional charm ever since, serving as a watering hole to generations of travellers, from far and wide.
The new Inn on Loch Lomond’s 200-year heritage has been honoured with a stylish and contemporary refurbishment in 2008.
The age of the inn is evident as we made our way to our room, with carpeted flooring and a corridor wide enough for just one person to move.
We enjoyed our cosy stay at The Inn, with the views overlooking the inn’s carpark and the loch beyond, albeit a gigantic spider visitor in our room that one night. Ugh!
Waking up to the mountainous air is one experience I will always seek to recreate.
Day 6 – Glasgow
Next up on our road trip itinerary was Glasgow, one of two of the cities we will visit in this 7-day itinerary.
Apart from the usual tourist attractions, we took the hassle to travel to the outskirts of Hillhead in search of some of the hipster areas with cool pubs and cafés that make for students’ favourite hangout places.
This comes as no surprise, since University of Glasgow is just nearby.
As you walk along the main street of Byres Road, enter the narrow lanes of Ruthven Lane, Ashton Lane, Cresswell Lane, and explore the cafés and watering holes in between.
These little streets offer curious onlookers the chance to shop for little homemade trinklet and hunt down a vintage collection or two!
Other impressive structures include the Glasgow Cathedral and St George Square.
If time permits, take a half day trip to Stirling Castle, the one castle no one leaves Edinburgh and Glasgow without visiting.
This was also the end of our Scotland road trip when we returned our rental car. We moved around by public transport throughout Glasgow and our next destination, Edinburgh.
Stay: Hostelling Glasgow
Our hostel was part of an old building atop a hill by Kelvingrove Park. The room we were booked in, a private double bed en suite, required climbing a flight of grand wooden stairs that have aged with grace – the kind you’d see in old palaces.
Our twin bed room, when we entered, had a strange musty smell – like that of a toilet that hadn’t been aired – and it didn’t go away throughout our stay.
The location was in an upper-class residential area, hence most shops required walking a 10-minute walk around its radius to get to the main streets.
Day 7 – Edinburgh
I know I only allocated 1 day in Edinburgh for you when I in fact spent 4 days in Edinburgh covering most of the tourist attractions.
I would give it 2 or 3 days to explore around Edinburgh, especially when you want to explore the expansive grounds of the Edinburgh Castle, on top of having to queue for attractions around the Old Town and climbing up Arthur’s Seat. More if you’re visiting Edinburgh as a family, as there are so many family-friendly attractions to hit up!
The tours that I got to experience in Edinburgh were very interactive and informative. I enjoyed visiting every one of these experiences, learning about Edinburgh’s horrific past.
I’m excited to share my experiences with some of these tours with you, and I’ll update this section when I have the post on Edinburgh up.
Stay: Hostelling Edinburgh
This hostel really made for a comfortable stay during my trip to Edinburgh. Walkable from the New Town in about 15 minutes and 10-minute walk away from the bus station, this is the largest hostel in the whole network of Hostelling Group in Scotland that I’ve stayed in. This hostel is used to serving large groups of students, as evident in the 3 nights I’ve spent here.
Apart from the occasional rowdiness in communal areas (there was once I was having my meal at the kitchen when stuff started being thrown around me by the group of students), they were kept mostly in check.
Hostelling Edinburgh consists of a bistro space which serves up breakfast, a café for the public that’s open all day, and a self-serviced kitchen. There was a choice of either Continental or Cooked breakfast for guests. Cooked breakfast consists of a daily standard plate of baked beans, sausages, bacon, black pudding, tomato and egg.
I did enjoy the privacy of an en-suite room where I didn’t have to leave the room to visit the bathroom.
As you can see, having 7 days in Scotland to explore around is a tight squeeze. If possible, give it 10 days or more! Of course, feel free to tweak this Scotland itinerary to fit your preferences better, whether you want it to be a 10-day travel itinerary, include more shopping and sightseeing or even more hiking.
Notice another recurring theme – missed train and ferry timings? That’s one important consideration especially if you’re tight on time and want to catch ‘em all!
Another point worth noting is the weather. Prepare yourselves for the wet and cold, any time, any day, any season. The rains usually don’t last long, as does the sun.
Special thanks to VisitScotland, Hostelling and Outdoor Capital of the UK for this Scotland experience, Leasany for the drone and Changi Recommends and AIRSIM for keeping us connected throughout! All opinions remain my own.
4 Sep, Tue – 15 Sep 2018, Sat