Of course you could easily spend months and years exploring every inch of Scotland by car, train, boat or foot, but to begin with, one week in Scotland gives you ample time to do more than scratch the surface. You loved my Classic Scotland Itinerary for a week (find it here) so much, that I thought I’d turn it into a series of different week-long Scotland itineraries. First came the north east Scotland itinerary which led you off the beaten track to some of Scotland’s finest beaches and castles (find it here). Now it’s time for my active Scotland itinerary which will inspire you to leave the well trodden paths, and immerse yourself in the Scottish landscape!
A Quick Overview
This is a 8 day/7 nights itinerary, that can easily be extended by a weekend in the city, or combined with one of my other itineraries!
Starting with a warm up day in Glasgow or Edinburgh, you then begin your Highland adventure with a 4-day long-distance hike along the West Highland Way and end your week with two days of sea kayaking or boat trips around the waters of Oban.
PS: You don’t need a rental car for this tour – it’s actually easier to do by public transport, as the route includes a long-distance hike that is not a loop trail! It is therefore also great for (female) solo travel in Scotland as you can keep your costs low and still get the full experience!
Day 1: Warm up in Glasgow or Edinburgh
Whether you arrive in Glasgow or Edinburgh, either city has ample opportunities for an adequate warm-up day before your active adventure in the Scottish Highlands begins. If you arrive on a later flight and only have half a day to spare, check out one of Glasgow or Edinburgh’s many parks. If arrive early enough to really seize the entire day there are numerous ways to get out of the city and spend your first day in Scotland in the hills close-by.
SUGGESTIONS FOR GLASGOW
Rent a Glasgow city bike and warm up your legs by cycling through Glasgow Green, along the Clyde or maybe following the Kelvin Way. You could even cycle all the way to Balloch on Loch Lomond and take the train back into the city.
Take a walk in Queen’s Park all the way up to the flag pole, criss-crossing the woodlands nature zone, around the pond and back up the hill. It’s not the biggest park in Glasgow, but the hilly woodlands really turn this into a great warm-up.
SUGGESTIONS FOR EDINBURGH
Climb Arthur Seat in the east of the Old Town. From up there you get not only a great view of the city, but it’s also a good way to get your muscles going.
Take the train to North Berwick and take a long walk along the coast and golf links.
WHY NOT HEAD OUT STRAIGHT FROM THE AIRPORT?
The advantage of spending your first day in or close-by one of Scotland’s main urban hubs, is that you still have the opportunity to hit the shops and buy supplies or equipment you forgot to bring for your upcoming adventures!
In the evening, take the train to Crianlarich for a good night’s rest before your adventure on the West Highland Way begins. Trains from Glasgow are direct, from Edinburgh you have to leave slightly earlier and change trains in Glasgow.
Day 2-5: Hiking the West Highland Way
In my opinion, there is no better way to experience the Scottish Highlands, than walking through them. Admittedly, a road trip can get you to some pretty epic view points, but the ones you reach on foot are even more breathtaking and you develop a physical connection to Scotland, that no road trip can offer.
The West Highland Way is a popular long-distance hike in Scotland – probably the most popular of all LD trails here. It spans 96 miles, between Milngavie – a suburb north of Glasgow – and Fort William and takes around 7-9 days to walk in its entirety. As this would take up your entire week in Scotland, I’d recommend to only walk the northern half of the trail. That is still a distance of 50 miles, but it only takes 4 days of walking. You can do this as cheap (camping) or as luxuriously (B&Bs/hotels, restaurants, luggage transfer) as you’d like, just note that accommodation should be booked well in advance and midge nets are advisable when camping.
1) Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy
13 miles, ~6 hours
The first day leads you through lush green woodlands and into the more barren Highlands. You come past the village of Tyndrum, where you can stock up on food and equipment at the local shops (last shop before Kinlochleven). Reaching Bridge of Orchy you can treat yourself to a nice meal at the scenic Bridge of Orchy Hotel.
2) Bridge of Orchy to King’s House
13 miles, ~6 hours
The second day is regarded as the most isolated section of the trail. After you pass Inveroran Hotel by Loch Tulla there is no sign of civilisation until you reach the Glencoe Ski Centre and King’s House 10 miles later. Along the way, stop for lunch at Ba Bridge. If you can’t get accommodation at the ski centre or King’s House, you can hitch or arrange a taxi to Glencoe village where accommodation is ample.
3) King’s House to Kinlochleven
8.5 miles, ~4.5 hours
Your third day on the trail is the shortest, but not necessarily the easiest. Before you lies the Devil’s Staircase, a short but steep ascent into the mountains. It is followed by a long steady descent towards Kinlochleven, which can seem endless. At Altnafaedh you can briefly leave the trail to get a picture-perfect view of Lagangarbh hut and Buachaille Etive Mor. If you arrive in Kinolochleven while its hot and sunny, take a refreshing dip in the river behind the Blackwater Hostel!
4) Kinlochleven to Fort William
15 miles, ~7.5 hours
The last day is a long one – first comes a steep, but short ascent through a birch-tree forest, and then the trail winds up and down through the mountains until it finally descends towards Fort William. You will want to start your day nice and early (try to leave between 7 and 8am) just so you reach Fort William early enough to treat yourself to a refreshing pint at the finish line before catching a bus or train to Oban. The bus only takes 1.5 hours, but the last one leaves just after 5pm; the train takes longer, but offers stunning views and gives you a later option too.
Find more practical advice for this hike and awe-inspiring photos of my journey on the West Highland Way here:
Day 6-7: Sea kayaking in Oban
After giving your legs a rough time on the West Highland Way, it is time for an intense workout for your arms and back. Sea kayaking is a fantastic way to explore the Scottish coastline and the area around Oban offers some of the best kayaking waters.
Across the next two days you can either chose to do an introduction course or individual day trips, or spend a night away on a (self-)guided overnight kayak-camping trip. The options are endless and there are several kayak schools and rental companies in the area who can help you plan your time at sea.
I have been sea kayaking in Oban twice before and made great experiences with a company called National Kayak School. I tried their 2-day sea kayaking introduction course as well as a day trip to Loch Creran. They work with top-notch equipment and have experienced and knowledgeable guides to keep you safe and entertained. I can’t recommend them enough!
If you’ve had enough from paddling yourself, why don’t you join a boat tour to the Isle of Staffa, Mull or Iona?
For more inspiration on what to do and see in the area, check out my guide to Oban:
Day 8: Goodbye Scotland…
…or connect from Oban to one of my other itineraries!
What other activities would you like to read about?
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.