Our 10 Day Driving Tour of Scotland
After a month in England, we boarded a train for the 4 hour journey from London to Edinburgh. We did lots of searching online for driving tours of Scotland and only found paid tours. Even the itineraries we found couldn't be viewed without paying. So, call us cheap, but we mapped out our own route through Scotland that we ended up really enjoying. And we're giving it to you for free! We had booked a car online through Europcar located right in Edinburgh's Waverley Train Station. After learning that a car seat rental is an additional £11 per day (approximately $18 USD), we decided to purchase a seat outright and leave it in the car when we left. That saved us a whopping £80 and we ended up taking the seat with us when we left Scotland. The woman at the counter pointed us in the direction of a store where we could purchase the seat. We made our way there, bought the seat, picked up the car, entered the road on the LEFT side, and we were on our way.
Each of these stops deserves a full writeup of its own, but I'll briefly discuss each here. I'll link to the more detailed posts as we write them. This could easily be modified into a 1 week driving tour of Scotland by moving from place to place faster or by not spending as much time in Edinburgh.
Day 1 - Arrive in Edinburgh, get the car, drive to Perth. Accommodations in Perth.
The drive out of Edinburgh is a bit dicey, but once you cross the Queensferry bridge it gets easier. If you don't have trouble with heights, be sure to take the right lane and peer through the openings in the bridge to the water below.
We didn't spend much time exploring Perth itself as we didn't see anything online that told us it would be of much interest. However, it's a great place to stay for day trips in the area.
We headed to Dunkeld in the afternoon. The old cathedral there, built from the 1200s to 1500s, is beautiful and free to visit. The view of the bridge over the River Tay next to the cathedral has a very medieval feel.
We considered stopping in Birnam as well but just didn't have time. We read about some nice hikes there and about an Oak tree that is said to be one of 2 remaining of a forest celebrated in Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Tip: get off the main highways and take as many side roads as time allows. The Scottish countryside is beautiful.
Day 3 - Dewar's Whisky Distillery, Blair Castle. Accommodations in Kingussie.
We would have liked to have visited a smaller whisky distillery on our trip, but as it turns out most do not allow children under 12. Dewar's World of Whisky was great. They are famous for their blended whisky, so the one we visited, the original in Aberfeldy, was just one of many located across Scotland and it wasn't too big.
The "wee dram" of whisky we were given to taste at the end of the tour wasn't enough to do any damage, so we pressed on through Pitlochry to Blair Castle. More of a stately mansion than a castle, it wasn't as interesting as other castles we've seen. The rooms are full of random artifacts that gave the entire place a cluttered feel. It was also quite expensive compared to some other, more historical and interesting castles we ended up visiting. The grounds and garden are nice for a walk though.
Day 4 - Inverness, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Dornie. Accommodations in Dornie.
Knowing we wanted to get from Kingussie to Dornie, with a stop at Urquhart Castle, we decided not to stop in Inverness. There is a castle there, but as castles go it isn't very old - the current structure was built in the 1800s. Also, only the grounds are open to the public so it certainly wasn't worth a stop.
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle were both somewhat of a letdown. We didn't find the loch to be terribly beautiful. The castle, mostly in ruins, turned out to be a nightmare to visit. The parking lot is small - far too many people for far too few spots. Once again, priority is placed on large tour buses. And from the lot the castle doesn't look that interesting, especially when we knew we would see Eilean Donan later that day. My guess is that people go to Urquhart because they don't want to travel as far as Eilean Donan.
But the next part was the best of the entire Scotland trip. The areas from just west of Loch Ness to Dornie on highway A87 were some of the most beautiful landscapes we'd ever seen. Even with the intermittent rain it was hard not to stop for photos every 100 yards.
Day 5 - Relax, Isle of Skye. Accommodations in Dornie.
After a few days on the move, we decided to take half a day and relax. We had found a great little 2 bedroom coach house on Airbnb that was spacious and comfortable. In the afternoon we drove over the bridge to Isle of Skye. Eleanor was clearly tired of being in the car, so we decided not to go too far. The scenery was beautiful, but not as good as what we'd seen the previous day. Had we made it further north that would probably have changed. Up near Uig is supposed to be some of the best scenery on the island.
Day 6 - Eilean Donan Castle. Drive to Killin. Accommodations in Killin.
Eilean Donan Castle is fantastic. Get there early before the tour buses arrive and you'll have the place mostly to yourselves. The castle is unbelievably picturesque. It was one of our favorite to visit - a close second to Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland (Chillon is bigger). Before arriving at the castle, stop at the restaurant just across the bridge for this photo:
Day 7 - Killin, Finlarig Castle. Drive to Edinburgh. Accommodations in Edinburgh.
The drive from Dornie to Killin was nice - beautiful scenery, windy roads, lakes, etc. We decided to stop in Killin because of the number of B&Bs available. The morning before we left, and due to some advice from our hosts, we happened upon an old ruined castle called Finlarig. Not much remains, but it was cool to see an old castle just sitting in the middle of the woods - no ropes, no admission charge.
Days 8, 9, 10 - Edinburgh
We made the drive from Killin through Sterling and back to Edinburgh. There is a monument to William Wallace in Sterling we considered visiting, but we were a bit tired of being tourists by that point. Or maybe that was just Eleanor :)
There were lots of places we wanted to go but just didn't have the time. On the east coast we missed St. Andrews and Aberdeen. Getting further up into the Highlands and the islands would have been great. We originally thought we'd go to Loch Lomond and into Glasgow for a night or 2. But sometimes we just have to be happy with what we were able to see. Maybe we'll return one day and see more!
More about Edinburgh in future posts...
I hope you enjoyed our free driving tour of Scotland. Have you been to Scotland? Do you have any tips or suggestions?
Be sure to pin this for reference if you are considering a trip to Scotland!