10 Days on the Road Well Travelled
It’s that time of year when enquiries start coming in from the well-prepared travellers out there as to how to plan their perfect trip to Scotland. I’m going to have to close my eyes, cover my ears and grind my way through this a bit I’ll be honest. A big part of my job is opening up all of Scotland to travellers and shining some spotlight on the oft-forgotten spots. I veer away from the best-known, over-promoted locations where I can. But, keeping my international travels in mind, I know that sometimes there are places you simply must see on any given trip. A 10 day Scotland itinerary seems to be the most common timeframe that comes in, so here’s my thoughts on how to get the most out of my homeland in that – appallingly – limited time.
I’m also making some assumptions with the below itinerary. Namely that this is your first visit to Scotland, that the thought of missing Skye and Loch Ness is unthinkable and that you’ll be moving at a pretty relentless pace. That you’ll want a variety of things in there including plenty of culture, history, Highland landscapes and a distillery or two. I’m also assuming you will be driving your own vehicle, the Highlands are pretty much impossible to do justice to otherwise. But if you are a repeat visitor, are looking for a fairly relaxing holiday and want to explore off the beaten path, IGNORE THIS COMPLETELY and instead dig deeper into this website.
10 Day Scotland Itinerary
Days 1 and 2 – Edinburgh
Let’s say you’ve flown in to the capital to keep things simple. I think it needs a minimum of 2 days and there are countless options here. Some of my recommended big hitters include:
- Edinburgh Castle
- Real Mary Kings Close
- Scotch Whisky Experience
- National Museum of Scotland
- A walk up Arthur’s Seat (or Calton Hill for something easier)
- Climb to the top of the Scott Monument
- Water of Leith walkway and a wander into Dean Village
Edinburgh city centre is pretty easy to get around on foot, the alternative is by bus. You can delay hiring a car until you are ready to leave the city.
Day 3 – Dundee
I’m really chuffed that I feel the need to include Dundee on a 10 day Scotland itinerary, even one as ruthless as this. The City of Discovery has long been simmering quietly on an increasingly cultural footing, but there’s no question that the new V&A Museum of Design has kicked things up a level. Allow a couple of hours for the V&A, be sure to pop into Discovery Point next door and also to Verdant Works. The latter is an outstanding tribute to the city’s harsh industrial past, specifically its status as the jute capital of the world.
Day 4 – The Drive to Inverness
Your first foray into the Highlands starts with the drive through Perthshire and this is where the landscape teasing begins. Time is tight within this timeframe but the ideally located Hermitage – or alternatively Killiecrankie a little further north – offer the perfect motorway stop to stretch the legs and appreciate the magnificence of these densely wooded landscapes. Allow around 90 minutes for this break.
Before you know it, you’ll have crept into the western Cairngorms further north. One of the best whisky distilleries of them all, Dalwhinnie, is another helpfully placed roadside stop here. Driver kits are available for those behind the wheel and what they do with their whisky-chocolate pairings is genius. Allow around 90 minutes for a tour and a tasting.
The final stop I advise for today is Culloden. Perhaps the most poignantly atmospheric battlefield you’ll ever visit, this was the scene of the last major land battle in Britain and the calamitous end point for the Jacobite cause. Outlander fans wouldn’t dream of missing this place but I think every history fan simply must find space for it over your 10 days. The Visitor Centre and desolate battlefield moor itself require a couple of hours.
Day 5 – Inverness to Skye
Having spent the night in or around Inverness, head south first of all to Loch Ness. Scots do not understand the fuss about our most famous loch, it’s a long way from being our most attractive. But I’ve had enough conversations with first time visitors to realise that there’s no getting around this one, so here it is. In its defence, Urquhart Castle on the lochside is a stunner and this is where I’d head. Allow around an hour for a nosey.
Continue south and, once you reach Invergarry, head west to Skye. The island is seamlessly accessed by bridge but you’ll probably want another castle stop at the famous Eilean Donan on the mainland en route. Once you are on Skye, seek out accommodation in or near pretty Portree. Just be advised that you’ll have to book several months in advance.
Day 6 – Skye
Aside from being overrun in peak season, and not far off the rest of the year, Skye wrestles with Assynt for me in the running for Scotland’s most jaw-dropping landscapes. Fitting all of these into one day is impossible, so pick 2 or 3 and make sure your camera memory card is empty:
- Old Man of Storr – viewable from the roadside or as part of a 4-hour return hike to the summit
- The Quiraing (best viewed from the Uig to Staffin road)
- Fairy Pools
- Talisker Distillery
- Elgol – take a boat trip to Loch Coruisk
- Neist Point – the spectacular view and walk to the lighthouse
Days 7 and 8 – The Outer Hebrides
Hmmm. Yes, this lot were always going to make it on to the 10 day itinerary. I’m making no apologies. What you actually get up to here depends a lot on your interests, but the beaches will feature prominently. Last year I was immersing myself in outdoors activities like kayaking and coasteering, the year before was more about hiking. While there’s a lot to see, the simplest course of action is to focus on Harris and Lewis. The former is all about landscapes and beaches, the latter more on history. Callanish Standing Stones, Dun Carloway and Gearrannan Blackhouse Village are the obvious, excellent historic Lewis attractions. As for South Harris’ beaches, Luskentyre, Scarista and Hushinish are my favourites.
Your ferry from Uig, will come in and out of Tarbert, Harris’ ‘capital’. This gives you an ideal opportunity to purchase some Harris Tweed and pop into the shiny new Harris Distillery, source of the gin that has taken the industry by storm.
Day 9 – Drive back to Glasgow
Today is a long journey, ending a trip that’s been full of them! If you’re still with me, get the ferry back to Skye and begin the 5 hour drive back to the bright city lights. Stops along the route are countless but allow at least half an hour for Glen Coe. This is hillwalking heaven and countless routes are open to you, but time will of course be tight. Another logical stop is Loch Lomond, and pretty Luss is the popular pit-stop ahead of the final stretch back to the city. You’ll get a great perspective of Scotland’s second most famous loch from the pier, including the sulking mound of Ben Lomond.
You’ll arrive just in time for a Glasgow curry!
Day 10 – Glasgow
My home city is a fitting end and deserves to be lauded with the same affection that travellers have for Edinburgh. It’s great to have seen Glasgow’s numbers on the rise in recent years and folk are seeing it as a wonderful accompaniment and source of comparison to the capital. Culture, architecture, nightlife and shopping are the city’s key assets. Give this lot plenty of consideration, and be sure to get to the West End if nothing else:
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- Glasgow University campus
- Glasgow Cathedral
- Gallery of Modern Art
- Botanic Gardens
- The Riverside Musuem
- Clydeside Distillery (if you’ve not had enough whisky yet)
Glasgow’s iconic Subway is the ideal way of getting around between the major sites and the city’s many green spaces will chill you out after this busy itinerary.
For departure, you will likely either be heading out of Glasgow Airport or Edinburgh (a regular bus leaves directly from Buchannan Street station to Edinburgh Airport).
Time of Year to Visit
I’ve made a job out of showing that Scotland is a year-round destination. Even in the depths of winter, my travels this year to the likes of the Isle of Mull have underlined that I think. That said, and based on my initial assumptions above, the best months to come are generally May, June, September and October. Climate change keeps increasingly messing with weather systems and upsetting normal expectations but those are usually the best weather-wise. The dreaded midges are not at their peak, days are long and fellow tourist numbers are much less challenging.
I’ve been twitching throughout this article. As a Scot, it goes against my entire focus and criminally misses out so many great spots that deserve your attention. But the truth is Scotland is a big wee country. It is completely impossible to cover it in one trip, regardless of how long, and you can only do so much. There’s no mention in this 10-day Scotland itinerary for Southern Scotland, for the North East, the Inner Hebrides or even the North Coast 500. Disgraceful, I know. My only excuse is that you’d send me hate mail if I’d pushed you any harder – these are your holidays after all.
But we have covered several magnificent ruins; the best Glen of them all; our most famous lochs; maybe the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see; our best standing stone site and our most complimentary cities. You’ll have poked around a couple of the classiest distilleries and sampled plenty of local seafood. Obviously if you have more time, spread out your journey a bit and you’ll enjoy it all the better. If you have less, the Outer Hebrides chunk may be beyond you.
If 10 days it is, you’ll be shattered but you’ll have a full understanding of what brilliantly diverse Scotland is all about. Enjoy the journey.
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