The Ultimate Scotland Road Trip Itinerary
Before I’d even started travel blogging my way around Scotland, travel itineraries were at the very origins of this particular adventure. I wanted to help visitors coming to my country to get the very most from their time here, to avoid traps and to visit only the best of Scotland. It was superbly rewarding to help so many travellers (particularly from across the pond) and hearing about their unforgettable visits around Scotland. Time restraints meant I had to take a step back from creating bespoke itineraries more recently but the enquiries still come in and I’m putting my planning hat back on to give you this epic Scotland road trip itinerary!
First up, here is a holistic 3 week Scotland road trip itinerary that is aimed largely at first-time international visitors. I strongly value immersion in a place, travel should not be rushed. That said, as a big traveller myself, I’m well aware that budgets and lifestyles mean that some of us may only be able to visit a place once in their lifetime…and don’t want any regrets. Hence, this aims to give potential one-time visitors a full taste of Scotland’s best. Naturally though, I encourage you to come back for more.
Days 1-3 Edinburgh
Days 4-5 Fife and Dundee OR Perthshire
Days 6-10 Aberdeenshire or North Coast 500
Days 11-14 Harris and Lewis OR Skye
Days 15-17 Lochaber and Argyll
Days 18-19 Loch Lomond/The Trossachs OR Stirlingshire
Days 20-21 Glasgow
NB// Doing this journey would be near-impossible without your own car and I would never recommend taking on the Highlands and Islands without one. Public transport is simply not always reliable enough in these areas and a car remains the most efficient form of transport up north. Public transport is much more advantageous in Central Scotland, however, for those that don’t fancy city driving.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 1-3
If you’re jetting in from afar, Edinburgh is very likely to be your starting point. You can purchase my Edinburgh city guide for a full look at the city’s must-sees. But chances are Edinburgh Castle, The Real Mary King’s Close and the back alleys of the Old Town will be on your itinerary. For more tips, here’s a look at my outdoorsy highlights of the capital.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 4 and 5
Fife and Dundee OR Perthshire
Here’s the first of several decisions that you’ll have to make when following this 3 week Scotland itinerary. Heading north from Edinburgh (across our stunning new Forth Bridge!) you can spend a day town hopping between the likes of Culross, Dunfermline and Aberdour or head straight to the east coast and follow the East Neuk of Fife. A smattering of quaint fishing villages line this beautiful route and you will eventually snake your way up to St Andrews. Golfers will lustily not be able to see past it as the home of golf but it also boasts some fabulous historical attractions…and a damn fine beach. Culture vultures will love Dundee on your continuing journey north – read on here for the full run-down on this, the rising star of Scottish cities.
As for Perthshire, this is a better bet if you’re after something more rural. Big Tree Country, it is home to some of the world’s oldest, tallest and most beautiful trees that really burst to life in autumn in particular. A great, easy introduction to the Highlands, head to the likes of The Hermitage, Killiecrankie and Kinnloch Rannoch (heads up Outlander fans!) for superb walking for all abilities. Tourism hubs like Pitlochry and Dunkeld are always strong choices for a base. Those looking for a mountain hike can target the likes of Ben Lawers, Ben Vorlich and Schiehallion.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 6-10
Aberdeenshire and Inverness-shire OR The North Coast 500
Another big decision for travellers here. Option A is one for the history (and whisky) lovers and boasts a ridiculous concentration of fabulous Scottish relics. Here’s my top picks from the Jacobite Campaign this year and the coastal beauties like Dunnottar and New Slains are also not to be missed. When you’re saturated, head inland and take the road to Elgin, via Speyside. Here you’ll find the heartland of Scotch whisky (around half of our distilleries are here) and there’s something for everyone. Whether just looking at taking in a distillery or two or at several days’ worth of detailed exploration and comparison, you’ll have the freedom to do so with this timeframe. Returning to history as you continue north, crumbling Elgin Cathedral and moving Culloden are top drawer attractions. If seasonality allows, you may even be able to spot a dolphin or two at Spey Bay. End this option in or around Inverness where you can easily pop down to Loch Ness. Most Scots would agree this is not the most photogenic of our Lochs by far, but for many it remains a bucket-lister.
NC500: The Ultimate Scotland Road Trip Itinerary
Option 2 sees you forego the above to head directly north for the ultimate Scottish road trip. The North Coast 500 can only be called epic and takes in the amazing diversity of Scotland’s rugged far north. 4-5 days is a little rushed for this stretch but is do-able if you are clear on your hit-list and don’t mind lots of driving. Heading north from Inverness, go up the east coast stopping at the likes of Glenmorangie Distillery, Dunrobin Castle and the Duncansby Stacks. Stick to the coast all the way along the top of northern mainland Scotland and fit in stops at Smoo Cave (and a visit to eerily desolate Cape Wrath if there’s time). The drive south down the west coast is my favourite and is rugged and raw beauty every inch of the way. Hikers may fancy Suiliven (reserve a whole day) or Stac Pollidah. Other highlights include Inverewe Gardens, Ardvreck Castle, Achmelvich Beach and wonderful Torridon. End this section by taking in the Applecross Peninsula (braving the Bealach na ba) if you dare and finish up in pretty Plockton. Golspie, Durness, Ullapool, Shieldaig and Plockton have been my chosen overnight spots in the past.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 11-14
The Hebrides – Harris and Lewis OR Skye
Harris is maybe my favourite place in Scotland. Scotland’s beach capital, the sands here are as beautiful and raw as you’re ever likely to see. Throw in the walking opportunities for all abilities in North Harris and you’ve got a couple of unforgettable outdoor days ticked off immediately. Throw in the historic appeal of Lewis (including Callanish, our best standing stone site) and it’s no wonder the Outer Hebrides are rapidly on the rise. You can get here by ferry from Ullapool (to Stornoway on Lewis) or from Uig on Skye to Tarbert, Harris. Your previous itinerary choices may dictate your route options here.
Ah, Skye. Seen as the classic Scottish island experience, it has no equal in the spectacular landscape department. Requiring at least 3 days, here are many of the best spots. But The Quiraing, Old Man of Storr, Neist Point, Fairie Glen and the Fairy Pools will make it onto just about every itinerary. Skye is also superb for wildlife fans and hikers, where the endless Cuillins will test even the most experienced mountaineers.
To help with your tough decision here, I’d definitely avoid Skye in peak season. The island has had serious over-crowding issues in recent years and finding accommodation, parking and a stress-free visit have become a real challenge.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 15-17
Lochaber and Argyll
The return south has many options along the way and Argyll in particular has a ridiculous range to offer. While passing through Glen Coe is a must (great for walking too, here’s some options) you’ll also want to time exploring around the coastal hub of Oban. Serious hikers may fancy Ben Cruachan, castle lovers will be beside themselves at Kilchurn Castle and whisky drinkers have Oban Distillery to keep them happy. Be sure to embrace Oban’s freshly landed seafood, it just doesn’t get much better.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 18-19
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs OR Stirlingshire
Easing your transition from the Highlands back to reality comes this history-packed region of Scotland. As you exit Argyll you can either spend time exploring Loch Lomond or head into the Trossachs. Ben A’an is amongst our most-loved walks due to its near-unbeatable effort vs reward ratio and Ben Venue and Ben Ledi are other day hikes. Callander is the main hub for accommodation in the area.
If you’ve had your fill of the outdoors, head straight for Stirlingshire, via Doune Castle. A favourite for the cameras it (and nearby Deanston Distillery) are great rainy day options. As for Stirling itself, its powerful fortress is amongst the best days out in Scotland. The stunning panoramic views all around are matched only by the splendour of the Great Hall and Royal Palace. History fans can continue to satisfy themselves with trips to the historic highpoints of neighbouring Wallace Monument and Castle Campbell, amongst others. Lovers of the outdoors are better to spend extra time in the Trossachs.
Road Trip Itinerary Days 20-21
Like Edinburgh at the start of this 3 week Scotland itinerary, Glasgow needs at least a couple of your days. Our biggest city is all about culture, architecture, nightlife, music and green spaces. My city guide covers the lot but don’t miss Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum, the University buildings and the architecture along the River Clyde. Be sure to spend at least 1 day exploring the broad appeal of the West End….and finish with a Glasgow curry at all costs. The city is another international air hub for your departure. Alternatively, you can hop a bus direct to Edinburgh Airport from the city centre.
This 3 week Scotland road trip itinerary is not intended to exhaust you. There is always scope to lose a day here, add one there, have a day off or do the whole thing in reverse. The pace would be brisk, but not break-neck. The attractions would be broad, the landscapes varied and the memories eternal. Peeved that there’s no mention of Southern Scotland? Or that there’s not more islands on there? So am I. What can I say – Scotland really is limitless. Try as I did, it was just not logistically possible but rest assured, these guys do feature in my other itineraries. For now, enjoy this snapshot of my homeland and, if it’s at all possible, make your once-in-a-lifetime visit worthy of a repeat trip.
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