After finding everything there is to do in Edinburgh, we set out on a 5-day road trip around Scotland. *Spoiler Alert*: We think Scotland must be on everyone’s bucket list (and please don’t make us pick between Scotland and New Zealand). Scotland is jam-packed with dramatic scenery, nature’s wonders, and legends that will continually leave you in awe. The air is charged with magic, and the energy constantly shifts as the weather changes.
Most retirement travelers will start their Scotland road trip itinerary in Edinburgh, and so did we. There are various routes for touring Scotland by car, and the web of roads throughout the country allows a lot of variety for travelers to loop around. To help you plan your own adventure, we curated this itinerary around the best places to visit in Scotland by car. We will take you from historic Edinburgh to the picturesque Isle of Skye and from the mystical Glencoe Valley to the vibrant city of Glasgow. Prepare to be captivated by stunning vistas, rich history, warm Scottish hospitality, and many scenic drives on the left side of the road.
Best Places to Visit in Scotland on a Road Trip
We commenced our adventure in the capital city of Edinburgh and made out way to the ancient town of St. Andrews. We suggested St. Andrews as a day trip in our Edinburgh post, but here is what you need to know. St. Andrews is a quaint town full of historic ruins, beachside promenades, and a world-famous golf legacy. As the birthplace of golf, it is home to the oldest golf course in the world and a Golf Museum. Big fans of the sport ourselves, we had to make a stop and participate in golf-themed sightseeing.
Continuing on, we ventured up north to Inverness, the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, to tour the capital of stunning landscapes and mysterious legends. Depending on how much time you have to spare, Inverness is the ideal place to extend your road trip up north.
We checked in for one night at Inverness Lochardil House and went out exploring the city starting with the imposing Inverness Castle, of course.
Located right in the heart of the city, the ancient fortress dates back to 11AD, and its towers offer panoramic views. Then we stretched our legs with a stroll along the banks of River Ness. The river took us past Inverness Cathedral,and after admiring its stunning architecture, we popped into Leakey’s Bookshop. Set in an old Gaelic Church with stained windows and claiming to be the biggest secondhand bookshop in Scotland, Leakey’s is definitely one of the most charming and coziest we’ve ever seen. There is even a fire going when the weather is cold! We browsed the selection for a new read and soaked in the magical atmosphere.
We stopped at a lovely restaurant in town called, Number 27 Bar and Kitchen. The staff was top notch and the food was excellent. We cannot wait to return! If you go, be sure to have the Cullen Stink, a fish stew that was to die for! We loved it. Pro Tip: Make a reservation. We saw so many people be turned away for not knowing. As a matter of fact, most places in Scotland require reservations during high season.
The following day, we headed south along the legendary Loch Ness. We kept our eyes peeled to the lake’s surface for a chance to catch a glimpse of its elusive inhabitant, the Loch Ness Monster, whose sightings date back to 565 AD! Alas, no such luck, but we did visit the beautiful Urquhart Castle jutting out on the loch and the Loch Ness Center, where all the history, myths, and mysteries of the lake and its monster are gathered.
Isle of Skye
While driving through the Isle of Skye, we had a pleasant surprise, we were able to meet up with another full-time traveling couple, RayGlobalTravel, Kathy & Brian. We spent the day together talking travel and took a hike to a nearby cemetery and standing stone on top of the hill. This is how we make memories! Thanks for a great day, guys!
Our Loch Ness curiosities satisfied, we set our sights on the ethereal Isle of Skye, a place where myth and natural beauty converge. Crossing the iconic Skye Bridge was one of the most breathtaking moments of our 5-day self-drive tour. Scotland’s greatest landscapes seem to be gathered on the Isle of Skye, so plan your road trip to allow enough time to visit this gem of Scotland. We settled in at the Tables Guest House for 2 nights to give ourselves plenty of time, but we could’ve kept going for longer! Here are a few places that make the Isle of Skye truly magical.
The Fairy Pools that cascade with crystal clear water are not to be missed. Hunt for postcard-worthy views hiking up the Quiraing, which offers panoramic views over the entire island. Get mesmerized by the breathtaking rock formations of the Old Man of Storr, the most photographed attraction on the island. It’s a steep climb up rock-lined stairs, but the views are worth it. Catch the sunset at Neist Point Lighthouse, sitting on the edge of dramatic cliffs. Admire the majestic Mealt Waterfall surrounded by the rugged coastline. And take a tour of Dunvegan Castle, which is not only the sole castle on the island but also the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland – 800 years, to be precise.
Unmissable Filming Locations
Leaving the Isle of Skye, make a quick stop to admire the magical views of the Eilean Donan Castle, a picture-perfect fortress built in 1220, nestled on a tiny island. Its worldwide fame is attributed to being featured in many popular movies, including James Bond and Entrapment.
The next filming attraction is for Harry Potter fans. Located 30 minutes west of Fort William, a trip to Glenfinnan Viaduct is a bit of a detour, but it’s a bucket list-worthy spot even for those who have never seen the Harry Potter films. Surrounded by rolling green hills, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the most picturesque rail routes you will see. And imagine your luck if your visit aligns with a steam train passing. It’s a beautiful sight that draws quite a crowd.
Glencoe Valley is home to otherworldly scenery and tragic history. Its rare beauty served as filming locations for masterpieces like Skyfall, Harry Potter, and Braveheart. Savor your drive through the valley, known as one of the most scenic drives in the UK. And if you have time, go out exploring the hiking trails.
Loch Lomond Trossachs National Park
We journeyed to the enchanting Loch Lomond Trossachs National Park, the very first National Park in Scotland, for the last two nights of our Scotland itinerary. 5 days were coming to an end all too quickly! We settled in at the MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel for 2 nights in the small town of Aberfoyle, the perfect base to sightsee around the park. After waking up to breathtaking views over Loch Ard, we took off exploring the serene shores of Loch Lomond, the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain, and embarked on scenic hikes through the Trossachs, known as the ‘Highlands in Miniature’. This is the magical place where lush forests, sparkling lochs, and rolling hills await at every turn. If you love being on the water, we recommend renting a kayak for an afternoon paddle around Loch Lomond. And to take in amazing views from above, climb the Conic Hill.
On the final day of our Scottish road trip, we ventured into Glasgow, a city buzzing with culture, art, and unique architectural styles. We took a stroll along the vibrant City Center Mural Trail, marveled at the impressive architecture of the Riverside Museum, and delved even deeper into the thriving arts scene by visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which is just as beautiful on the outside as the eclectic arts and artifacts collection housed inside.
As the day progressed, we took a pit stop in Falkirk, the town located right between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Falkirk is home to some of Scotland’s modern wonders like the Falkirk Wheel, a marvel of engineering and the world’s only rotating boat lift. And the Kelpies, the world’s largest monument dedicated to horses. The two horse heads were erected as a testament to the horsepower that drove the industrial development in Scotland. We recommend staying until sunset to see the Kelpies light up in different colors.
As the sun set on our journey, we drove into Edinburgh to complete the circle and jet off to another adventure on the Faroe Islands. Our 5-day road trip through Scotland came to a close way too quickly, but we hope the rugged beauty of the Scottish countryside inspires you to embark on your own unforgettable adventure and share your recommendations in the comments below.