Ah, Scotland, land of the Vikings! Where the misty highlands are somehow even better in person than the photos you’ve seen, the ancient castles are straight out of a fairytale, and the echoes of bagpipes stay with you forever.
Nestled in the northern part of the British Isles, a trip to Scotland should be at the top of every culture and outdoor buffs travel bucket list. Come for the stunning untouched landscapes, rich history, and cultural charm, and stay for the whiskey distilleries and delicious food.
On our trip to Scotland, we spent weeks driving around the country exploring the busy streets and sleeping under the stars in the Scottish Highlands. We even rode the Hogwarts Express.
Scotland had a huge appeal to us as Myles is half Scottish so he was excited to explore his Viking heritage. Myles’s roots trace back to the bustling streets of Glasgow where his grandfather was raised. So we figured what better way to understand one’s heritage than to embark on a road trip across this magical land?
Here’s a sneak peek of what awaits you in this guide:
- The allure of Edinburgh’s historic charm and the tales that its cobblestones tell.
- A deep dive into the streets of Glasgow
- A trip to the north: exploring Inverness and more.
- Chasing the Harry Potter trail: From train rides to castle visits, immerse yourself in enchanting spots that inspired the Wizarding World.
- Navigating the rugged beauty of the Highlands, unveiling nature’s artwork.
- Unearth the secrets of Scotland’s isles – treasures often overlooked by the regular tourist.
- Tips, tricks, and savvy advice to make your Scottish journey smooth and memorable.
From chasing the Harry Potter trail to feeling the thrill of the open road, this guide is your ticket to an unforgettable Scottish adventure and a must read for your trip to Scotland.
Why plan a trip to Scotland?
Ever thought about what makes a destination truly unforgettable? It’s not just the sights, sounds, or the postcard-perfect landscapes. It’s the feeling, the memories, and the stories that get etched into your heart. And Scotland? It has that magic in spades.
The mystical legends
Scotland is your storybook come to life. It’s tales of valiant knights, mysterious creatures, and age-old battles turned into your everchanging backdrops. Remember the legendary Loch Ness Monster? Or the tales of William Wallace that inspired the film: Braveheart? These aren’t just stories; they’re a part of Scotland’s rich tapestry of history and mythology. Even downtown big cities you will feel like you’re in a fairytale.
When Mother Nature crafted Scotland, she was in a generous mood. Rugged coastlines? Check. Sweeping highlands? Double check. Serene lochs? Oh, she went all out. Whether you’re hiking up Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, or simply taking a leisurely stroll along the beaches of Isle of Skye, the natural beauty of Scotland is bound to leave you awestruck.
Pro tip: For a truly mesmerizing sight, head to the Isle of Staffa. The hexagonal columns, a result of volcanic eruptions, are a sight to behold!
Scotland isn’t just about its past; it’s a vibrant blend of the old and the new. From the soul-stirring notes of bagpipes to the foot-tapping rhythms of ceilidh dances, the Scottish culture is a celebration in itself. And let’s not forget the festivals! Be it the spirited Hogmanay New Year celebrations or the grandeur of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, there’s always a reason to join in the fun.
Pro tip: Visit in August to catch the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But book your accommodations early; the city gets bustling!
With its extensive coastline and numerous islands, Scotland offers some of the best scuba diving experiences in Europe. If you can brave the cold water and love scuba diving in Scotland is a must! Explore underwater wrecks, discover marine life, and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of playful seals or dolphins. Scotland’s waters are as enchanting as its lands.
Planning your trip to Scotland
The best part of traveling is the excitement you get before you leave, that romantic trip planning stage! It’s so much fun planning out travel adventures, so we’ve compiled a list of some planning notes to help you cross off some planning essentials. From picking the perfect season to ensuring your suitcase has all the essentials, we’ve got you covered.
Best time to visit Scotland
- Weather: Scotland’s weather is as diverse as its landscapes. While summers (June to August) bring longer days and milder temperatures, they also see the most tourists. Spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) offer a pleasant middle ground – fewer tourists and relatively mild weather. Winters can be cold, especially in the Highlands, but there’s a certain charm in seeing Scotland’s landscapes blanketed in snow.
- Tourist influx: Summer is the peak tourist season, especially July and August. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds but still enjoy good weather, consider visiting in the shoulder months of May or September.
- Cultural events: Scotland boasts a plethora of events year-round. From the Edinburgh International Festival in August to the vibrant Hogmanay celebrations ringing in the New Year, there’s always something happening. Do a bit of research and align your visit with an event that piques your interest.
How to get to Scotland
- By car from London: If you’re up for a road trip, driving from London to Scotland offers scenic views and the freedom to stop at quaint towns along the way. The journey can take anywhere from 7 to 10 hours, depending on your starting point and destination within Scotland.
- By train: Trains are a comfortable and scenic way to travel from London to major Scottish cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow. The journey takes around 4 to 5 hours. Plus, there’s the added bonus of stunning views, especially as you approach the Scottish border.
- By plane: Major airports in Scotland, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, are well connected with various international and domestic locations. A flight from London to Edinburgh takes just over an hour, making it a quick option if you’re short on time. Be sure to read all about how to find cheap flights.
Scotland packing list
Scotland’s weather, famously unpredictable, can have you basking in sunshine one moment and reaching for an umbrella the next. Here’s what to pack:
- Layered clothing: Think t-shirts, sweaters, a waterproof jacket, and a warmer coat. Layers are your best friend, even in summer! Our last trip was in the end of July and we didn’t bring nearly enough layers for life in the Highlands.
- Sturdy footwear: Whether you’re exploring city streets or tackling mountain trails, a pair of comfortable, waterproof shoes is a must. We love our Vessi’s.
- Hiking gear: If the Highlands are on your itinerary (and it should be), invest in quality hiking gear. A good backpack, a map, and a compass can be invaluable – think like a girl guide!
- Umbrella and rain gear: Rain showers are frequent, so always carry a compact umbrella or raincoat.
- A portable charger: And make sure you get a power converter. These can be lifesaver. Scotland, like the rest of the UK, uses type G.
Getting around Scotland
Whether you’re gripping the steering wheel while driving along winding roads or leaning back in a train seat watching the world go by, there’s magic to be found. Let’s dive into the various ways you can explore this beautiful country.
The Scotland road trip experience
We will always speak so fondly of our epic UK road trip where we spent weeks driving through Scotland. The raw beauty of the Highlands, the narrow one-lane roads with passing places, and the surprise encounters with wandering sheep made for a journey I’ll cherish forever.
Travel tips for driving in Scotland:
- Stay on the left: Remember, in Scotland, they drive on the left side of the road. It might take a moment to adjust, especially at roundabouts, but you’ll get the hang of it.
- Renting a car: Most international airports and cities offer car rental services. Always compare prices, check reviews, and consider getting additional insurance.
- Scenic routes: Scotland is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking drives. The North Coast 500, often dubbed Scotland’s Route 66, is a must-do. And don’t miss the scenic journey through the Isle of Skye.
- Download your route: If you’re downloading your route on Google Maps, make sure to go into your settings and click “avoid highways” and “avoid toll roads” and prepare to get taken down the most beautiful backroads along your route.
- Always keep some coins handy: While most major roads are free, there are a few toll bridges and tunnels.
- There’s a right to roam: Ok this isn’t really a driving tip but it’s a GREAT one! Scotland, unlike Wales and England, has a right to roam which means you can wild camp on government land. Knowing this, we made sure our rental cars seats folded down flat so we could sleep in our car under the stars one night in the Highlands – an experience we highly recommend.
If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, Scotland’s public transportation system has got you covered.
- Buses: They’re everywhere! From city buses to long-haul routes connecting major towns, buses are an affordable way to get around. Companies like Scottish Citylink offer extensive networks.
- Trains: Scotland’s rail network, managed mainly by ScotRail, is efficient and offers some of the most scenic train journeys in the world. The West Highland Line and the Jacobite Steam Train (aka The Hogwarts Express) are personal favorites.
- Ferries: Islands like the Orkneys, Shetlands, and the Hebrides are best accessed by ferries. Companies like CalMac Ferries provide regular services, and the journeys often come with panoramic sea views.
Pro tip: Consider getting a rail or bus pass if you plan on using public transport extensively. It can save you money and hassle.
Top destinations: Scotland's Highlights
From city centers to small oceanfront communities in the highlands, Scotland’s charm is felt in all corners of this beautiful country.
Check out our full list of Scotland’s top destinations including a list of the best castles in Scotland.
Cities and Culture
Glasgow: Dive into Scotland’s vibrant culture starting with Glasgow. A nod to Myles’ family heritage, this city offers more than just memories. Don’t miss the innovative designs at the Riverside Museum and feel the pulse of Scotland’s cultural heartbeat.
Edinburgh: The capital! Wander through the cobbled streets leading to the majestic Edinburgh Castle. Along the Royal Mile, you’ll find shops, history, and charm aplenty. And if you’re visiting during festival season? You’re in for a treat with world-class events lighting up the city.
Inverness: A smaller city further north often referred to as the gateway to the highlands. While small, there is a surprising amount to do in this northern Scotland city.
Discover the raw beauty of Scotland’s landscapes. The mystical Isle of Skye is just in a league of its own with one of the coolest experiences you’ll ever have. From the towering peaks of Ben Nevis to the expansive wilderness of Cairngorms National Park, every corner has a story to tell. And don’t forget the magical Fairy Pools – a dip might be chilly, but it’s a memory you’ll cherish!
Things to do in Scotland
If you’re wondering what to do in Scotland, the good news is you have no shortage of options. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or love a good city, Scotland has it all.
- Edinburgh Castle – A fortress that dominates the skyline.
- Loch Ness – Go monster hunting or simply enjoy the view.
- Inverness – The gateway to the Highlands.
- Scotch Whiskey Tour – We celebrated Myles’ birthday with one of these in Inverness, and it was a blast!
- Cairngorms National Park – For outdoor enthusiasts, this is a must-visit.
Read our full list of things to do in Scotland.
Best hotels in Scotland
- Budget hotels:
- Mid range hotels:
- Luxury hotels:
Best restaurants in Scotland
We love eating our way through a country so we always try to include some top restaurants to try.
- The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh: Dine amidst the hauntingly beautiful Gothic decor. Located steps away from Edinburgh Castle, this spot offers a dining experience that feels straight out of a fairy tale with its candle-lit ambiance.
- The Dome, Edinburgh: This grandiose restaurant, once a bank, is now known for its stunning Georgian architecture. Come Christmas, it sports one of the most iconic festive decorations in the city.
- Ubiquitous Chip, Glasgow: Nestled in the West End, dine in a verdant courtyard surrounded by a multi-tiered terrace. It’s like stepping into a Scottish food forest.
- The Treehouse, Alnwick: Ok, we’ll admit this is not quite in Scotland, but close to the border. This enchanting restaurant is set in a tree canopy. Wooden walkways, twinkling lights, and treetop views make it a magical dining retreat.
- Stravaigin, Glasgow: Their motto is “Think Global, Eat Local.” Offering a basement bar, a street-level café, and an international menu, it’s a culinary journey without leaving Scotland.
- Britannia Spice, Edinburgh: Housed in a former whisky warehouse on the docks, this multi-award-winning restaurant offers dishes from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Thailand, symbolizing Scotland’s rich trading history.
- The Dining Car at The Strathspey Railway: Relive the golden age of rail travel. Enjoy a traditional Sunday roast or afternoon tea while journeying through the Scottish Highlands on a vintage steam train.
- Rooftop Restaurant at The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh: Elevate your dining experience, literally. Enjoy panoramic views of Edinburgh’s skyline while savoring locally-sourced dishes.
- Gandolfi Fish, Glasgow: Located in a former cheese market, this spot retains much of its original 1930s charm. Seafood lovers, get ready for some of the freshest catches in Scotland.
- The Boathouse on Ulva Island: A boat ride away from the Isle of Mull, this remote seafood restaurant offers stunning views of the island. Fresh, locally-sourced seafood is the star here, with the daily menu determined by the morning’s catch.
Is Scotland worth visiting?
We can’t recommend traveling Scotland enough. We’ve thoroughly explored the country and have so many great things to say about it. From hiking in the highlands to getting lost in the castles, we both agree that a Scotland road trip is our favorite way of touring this beautiful country.
Thanks for stopping by!
From the historic streets of Edinburgh to the bustling city life in Glasgow, and all the way up to the natural beauty of the Highlands, Scotland is one of the best countries to visit. We spent weeks in the country sipping whiskey in Inverness and hiking the trails of Skye and can’t wait to explore again.
Whether you’re following the footsteps of Harry Potter, exploring the historic castles, or cruising the downtown cores, every moment in Scotland promises to be unforgettable.
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