Though there is fun to be had in Scotland’s major cities, you have to get on the open road to really experience everything the country has to offer. As long as you can get past the driving on the left side, the route around to Skye and Glencoe will take you through some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ve ever seen. Here is some inspiration for an 11-day Scotland road trip itinerary.
Day 1-2 Glasgow
For cost-saving and convenience, your road trip doesn’t have to start until you leave the major city of Glasgow. You’ll be fine on foot to explore the city’s free museums and numerous pubs. Glasgow isn’t heavy on sightseeing, so it’s a good place to relax and get your bearings before getting out to the Highlands.
On the West End of the city, you’ll find a nicely curated collection of art and history at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The University of Glasgow nearby is a popular spot for Harry Potter fans as unconfirmed lore says that Hogwarts was modeled after the grand campus. The resemblance is uncanny and people have put traffic cones on the statues all around campus to reinforce the similarity.
Also in the area is the popular nightlife haven Ashton Lane. There’s an entire row of busy pubs and restaurants along with the Innis & Gunn Brewery Taproom to keep your whistle wet when you’re trying to avoid the rain outside. The Southside is another popular area to eat and drink. Pollokshaws Road is full of eateries and shops, and it’s walking distance to some of the city’s best parks like Queen’s Park and Pollok Country Park.
There are plenty of car rental companies right in city center, though if you’re worried about braving city center traffic, the airport is only 15 minutes away and puts you further outside the hustle and bustle to begin your road trip.
Day 3 Loch Lomond and Fort William
Barely an hour out of Glasgow is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. This is a good place to spend your day among the lochs and wooded glens before stopping for a night at Fort William. Loch Lomond is one of those places where you can be really active if you want, or you can enjoy the scenery from the shore or from a boat.
Conic Hill is one of the popular short hikes in the park, totaling 4 km, which can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours depending on your fitness level. If you brave the sometimes muddy path to the top, you’ll get rewarding views of Loch Lomond. A note about finding Conic Hill – the hike begins from the Balhama Visitor Center and car park. Don’t put Conic Hill on Google Maps or your GPS. Parking requires cash or the use of an app, which may not work with a non-UK phone number. So bring change. The nearby Milarrochy Bay is a comfortable stop on the shore of Loch Lomond that requires no hiking at all.
Further east in the park is the Three Lochs Forest drive, a 7-mile drive that passes by Lochan Reòidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray. The drive includes several picturesque viewpoints to enjoy the scenery and some wildlife. You can even picnic along Loch Drunkie. This area includes some easy hiking trails that are each around a mile long.
If you prefer to see the loch by boat, short sightseeing cruises are available from Tarbet Pier and Luss Pier. You can also rent paddleboats or kayaks along the shore if you prefer a less structured sightseeing trip.
After a day of adventure in Loch Lomond, you can reach Fort William by way of Glencoe to have a night of rest. Fort William sits at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain peak in the UK. If you’re interested in paying Ben Nevis a visit, it might be a good idea to spend two nights in Fort William. For those who want a little altitude with none of the work, the Nevis Range Gondola takes you about 650 meters up the 1345-meter mountain.
Day 4-5 Isle of Skye
Before you even arrive on Skye, you may want to stop at Eilean Donan Castle, set in the picturesque meeting point of three lochs. You can tour the inside and outside of the famous castle and bridge which has been featured in the original Highlander as well as the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough.
The Isle of Skye has some of the most unique landscapes in Scotland including everything from waterfalls to dramatic cliffs to seaside villages. The driving on Skye will be some of the most treacherous, often involving single lanes that are shared by traffic in both directions using passing points, sometimes on the side of a mountain. But the payoff is well-worth it.
Most people visiting Skye make Portree their home base as this is the largest town on the island with plenty of places to eat, drink, and be merry. From here, almost everything is a 30-45 minute drive. Aside from Portree, Talisker Distillery is another notable stop if you’re a whisky drinker. They offer distillery tours and have a bar outside where you can do tastings or enjoy one of their craft cocktails.
Everything else on Skye is of the majestic natural variety. The great thing about many of these stops is that you can enjoy them regardless of your level of fitness. For instance, the most iconic views of the Quiraing can be easily accessed by foot from the car park. If you so choose, the circular hiking route around the Quiraing is about 6.2 km and can take anywhere from 3-4 hours.
Some other notable spots include the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Glen, the Fairy Pools, and Elgol. The Old Man of Storr hike is 3.8 km long and takes 2 hours if you do the full route. The Fairy Glen is a short 3 km hike that takes up to an hour. The Fairy Pools, where you’ll find numerous picturesque waterfalls takes up to an hour, just short of 2.5 km. The beach of Elgol is another beautiful and very different landscape. It’s reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland but on a smaller scale.
Pretty much everything on Skye is otherworldly and is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Don’t kill yourself trying to see every viewpoint, unless you’re there for a week. Prioritize what you want to see and move through the sites accordingly. You may unexpectedly spend more time than you intended at any one place so it’s unwise to plan too many hikes in the same day.
Day 6-7 Glencoe
Glencoe is the brilliant gem of the Scottish Highlands, where you’ll find the highest and most dramatic mountains everywhere around you. Many people who visit Glencoe stay near Fort William where there’s more accommodation options, but we found that staying lochside in Ballachullish at the Isles of Glencoe felt more cozy and remote. There are plenty of hiking trails and boating to be had on Loch Leven.
Glencoe is another area where you can be as active or as lazy as you want. Some of the most beautiful mountain peaks, like the Three Sisters are easily accessible from the car park. To the left hand side of the Three Sisters car park begins the Lost Valley trail which is 3.5 km and can take between one and a half to two hours. The trail takes you closer to the grand Three Sisters over rocks and stones, across a bridge over the river, and at somewhat of a steep ascent.
Glen Etive has become another popular spot to visit in Glencoe after it was featured in the Bond movie Skyfall. The 11-mile drive is a single track road and can get busy with people passing through the area in the other direction. Your patience will be rewarded by 360-degree views of towering mountains and meandering streams that flow into the loch.
Day 8-9 Islay
Islay is the most troublesome to get to and from because it’s only accessible by boat. If you’re driving, you can take yourself and your car onto one of the CalMac ferries that leaves from the Kennacraig Ferry Terminal. The ferry ride is just over two hours, which is a good way to rest from all the driving, especially when you came all the way from Glencoe.
Islay is a lovely sleepy island with a small beach on Port Ellen and a whole lot of whisky. In fact, the entire place almost reeks of the stuff, which is kind of cute until you have a really bad hangover. Some of the most popular whisky distilleries on Islay are Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, which are all accessible on lengthy but beautiful walk along the shore. You can either devote one whole day to distillery hopping (see how here) and then give yourself a day to recover or split up your visits into two days.
Not including ferry time, getting to Edinburgh from the Kennacraig Ferry Terminal takes about 3:30 hours. If you want to avoid a one-way car drop-off fee, you can also return the car in Glasgow and take a short train into the city, but the difference in driving time is less than an hour so it’s far more convenient to just drive all the way to Edinburgh. The second day on Islay will largely consist of getting off the island.
Day 10-11 Edinburgh
Though it’s a shame to devote only two days to such a gorgeous and vibrant city, the natural beauty of Scotland deserves the majority of the trip. Like Glasgow, you can enjoy it on foot or using public transport, so you can ditch the rental as soon as you arrive.
If you’re a fan of history, there is plenty to do in Edinburgh to keep you busy, like visit Edinburgh Castle or the Palace of Hollyroodhouse, the residence of the British Monarchy in Scotland. Both provide quite a bit of insight into Scottish history if you’re into that kind of thing.
If you’re not quite done with hiking when you arrive in Edinburgh, the city has a lot of nice walks that provide a sweet bird’s eye view like Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat in Hollyrood Park. The climb to Arthur’s Seat can appear deceptively simple but it does get quite rocky at the peak, which can be slippery when it’s raining (almost always).
But Edinburgh is perhaps an even better place to kick back at any of the hundreds of pubs and eat a good meal and enjoy a stiff drink. Edinburgh’s Old Town has some great places for whisky and beer on Victoria Street and the Royal Mile. Over in New Town, you’ll find several grand Victorian bars like Cafe Royal and Voodoo Rooms and some modern cocktail bars like Panda & Sons and The Last Word Saloon. Check out some other choice bars and places to eat here for more Edinburgh-planning ideas.