Scotland might be small, but there are a lot of destinations on your average Scotland travel bucket list. How will you possibly manage to visit Edinburgh, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye in a mere 7 days? My Classic Scotland Itinerary for Scotland in one week should give you an idea of how to see the major touristy spots in Scotland without having to sweat it!
Scotland is the kind of place where you could travel around for weeks and weeks and you still would not have seen all the highlights and only scratched the surface of understanding what’s going on in a Scot’s head. And that is even though the country is so small. But there is no denying that you don’t always have months to spare to travel a place, so finding a way of squeezing as much of Scotland as possible into a week or two becomes a skill for many people planning a trip to Scotland.
While after three years in Glasgow I am still far from ‘having done it all’ I have been on several trips with visiting friends and family to see some of the essential must-dos that Scotland has to offer – the classic Scotland itinerary, so to say. Loch Ness, Edinburgh, Skye – these are only a few places you must not miss on your first trip around Scotland, so I thought a little one-week itinerary based my own experience could be a great start for your own research! Prepare for a tour de force through Scotland!
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How to get around Scotland
This itinerary is written with a rental car in mind – you can follow my route through Scotland by public transport as well, but you might have to cut a few stops due to time limitations, or simply because the bus or train won’t stop everywhere.
I always find the best deals at AutoEurope because they compare prices from a variety of rental car agencies, find the best price and add affordable carefree-insurance on top! I recommend renting with internationally renowned agencies, like Sixt, Europcar or Avis (all of which I’ve tried and had great experiences within Scotland), or with local brands such as Arnold Clark.
You can find more info on how to get around Scotland in my guide to everything you need to know about planning a trip to Scotland, and some tips for driving on the left-hand side in my Scotland driving tips.
Fancy something off the beaten track?
Check out my itinerary for a week along the north east coast of Scotland!
Day 1: Arrive in Glasgow
Whether your plane actually lands at Glasgow airport or in Edinburgh, hardly matters because the cities and their airports lie so closely together and are so well-connected by bus, that it is easy to start your trip around Scotland in the one city even if you land in the other. To save your some driving on your way up to the Highlands I recommend to base yourself in Glasgow for the first night. If you have some daylight left, who not hop on board the City Sightseeing Bus (read my REVIEW) to get an overview of the city, and then head for dinner and drinks in town to get a feel for the city.
Glasgow Travel Essentials:
Where to Stay in Glasgow | Hotels are super affordable – I summed up my favourites for all budgets here. AirBnB is a great option if you prefer your own place. You can use my referral to get £25 off your first booking!
Getting around Glasgow | Glasgow is a very walkable city, but you can get buses or the subway for longer distances between different quarters. Traditional black taxis can be a bit expensive, so I suggest to use private hire companies like Network Private Hire or the Uber!
The best restaurants in Glasgow | There are more restaurants in Glasgow than sand on the beach. For Scottish food try Two Fat Ladies in the City, the Red Onion (vegan menu available) or Gandolfi Cafe. I also love Sarti and Paesano (both Italian), Nippon’s Kitchen (Japanese, sushi) and Ranjit’s Kitchen (Indian curries). For a great food market, check out Platform, which is open every Friday to Sunday and is located in the Arches underneath Central Station.
The best pubs in Glasgow | Glasgow’s pubs deserve a city trip in itself. Try Sloan’s, The Pot Still, The State Bar or Babbity Bowster for a taster – and a dram!
Day 2: Loch Lomond, Glen Coe & Fort William
Leave Glasgow right after breakfast to make your way north. You will be happy to have the entire day at your disposal because even if the drive from Glasgow to Fort William theoretically takes less than 3 hours, the scenic stops along the way and the windy roads will slow you down significantly.
Stop 1: Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond is Scotland’s largest lake (or loch, as the Scots call them) and it’s southernmost end lies only 45 minutes drive from Glasgow. Most tour buses will stop either in Balloch or in Luss, but I personally prefer the scenic points further north along the Loch, particularly the car park in Inveruglas. Either way, wherever you stop along Loch Lomond, make sure to take in the stunning views. Maybe you can even spare some time for a little cruise starting in Tarbet.
Stop 2: Glen Coe
Glen Coe is the kind of place that dreams are made of – or James Bond films. You chose which one you prefer. Driving through Glen Coe is like travelling back in time; there are so many stories to be told about it. It is one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks, a valley surrounded by some of the country’s roughest peaks and most popular hikes, such as the Three Sisters, the ridge of Aonach Eagach or Buachaille Etive Mòr. You will earn some local respect if you manage to pronounce these!
Pressed for time you won’t manage to actually climb any of these mountains, but a quick stroll to Scotland’s most photographed cottage, Lagangarbh Hut at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mor, is a scenic little walk to stretch your legs.
Stop 3: Fort William
Fort William is not so much exciting as a town, but rather for its surroundings. This is where the famous West Highland Way ends (key: plenty of outdoor equipment shops) and where the highest mountain range of the UK begins: the Ben Nevis Range. It takes only 15 minutes to drive from Fort William to the car park of the Nevis Range Mountain Resort from where a gondola brings you further up the mountain Aonach Mor, right beside Ben Nevis. With too little time for the strenuous hike up Ben Nevis (this is not a tourist trail!) this is the next best alternative to climbing the UK’s highest peak.
Fort William Travel Essentials:
Where to StaY in Fort William | Fort William offers tons of accommodation options. I’d recommend Minaig B&B a little bit before you reach the town centre, or West End Hotel in the middle of Fort William.
Restaurants around fort William | For lunch on the way you could stop at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum for fish & chips, or at the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe for an excellent pub meal! In Fort William, I’d recommend Crannog Seafood, because the chef is happy to whip up a vegan meal for you, but alternatively, you can also get good service and great food at The Grog & Gruel. There is also a new vegan cafe in Fort William, called The Wildcat.
things to do in fort William | If you decide to spend more time in Fort William by adding an extra day to this itinerary, here are a few things to do: West Highland Museum, to learn about Highland culture and history; Ben Nevis Distillery, to have a dram and learn how it’s made; Neptune’s Staircase, to watch boats go through the locks of the Caledonian Canal.
Note: Depending on the time of the year, you might not be able to fit in long stops at all three destinations in just one day – chose wisely where to spend more time!
Day 3: Road to the Isles & Isle of Skye
The road from Fort William to Mallaig is a highlight, not only for Harry Potter fans. Although, if you are already here, head to the tourist office in Fort William to find out at what times the famous Jacobite Steam Train will be crossing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct and plan your road trip accordingly.
Read my story of what it’s like to ride the Harry Potter train!
The Road to the Isles is one of my favourite road trips in Scotland and the views you get from the passenger seat are absolutely stunning! Make sure to visit the Glenfinnan Monument and climb to its top for even better views of Loch Shiel. Once you have arrived in Mallaig get your ferry ticket sorted (you should book this in advance, especially during the busy summer months) and kill some time with a takeaway of fresh fish & chips – but beware of the seagulls at the harbour!
The ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on the Isle of Skye only takes around half an hour but offers a stunning vista of Skye and the Small Isles called Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck.
Once you have arrived on Skye, stay and explore the southern part of the island. You could make your way to Glenbrittle, where you will find the famous Fairy Pools, which make for a great walk underneath the peaks of the Cuillins mountain range. Or, you could head for Elgol, from where you can join a boat tour to one of Scotland’s most remote lochs, Loch Coruisk. Alternatively (especially if it rains) visit the Talisker Whisky Distillery in Carbost to learn everything about Scottish Single Malt Whisky and get a taster too!
Check out this post with more highlights on the Isle of Skye!
Isle of Skye Travel Essentials:
Where to Stay on the Isle of Skye | Accommodation on the Isle of Skye can book up far in advance, so make sure you book your B&B as early as possible – especially if you visit during the summer months or local holidays. We booked a B&B far off the beaten track to get some peace and quiet: Fineviews B&B in Carbost – to be more central I’d recommend staying in Portree!
Places to Eat on the Isle of Skye | The Isle of Skye might be big, but most villages are rather small and don’t have too many dining options. You will find the greatest variety of restaurants in Portree, but we also had a lovely meal at Taigh Ailean Hotel in Carbost.
Day 4: Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye requires more than a day, especially if you want to visit such iconic places as the Old Man of Storr, Dunvegan Castle or the lighthouse at Neist Point. The earlier you can start your day, the better – it will be a long one.
Stop 1: Trotternish Peninsula
The Trotternish Peninsula alone could take up a whole day because this is where some of Skye’s most popular landmarks are located. The peninsula lies north of Portree, and I recommend following my route suggestion anti-clockwise. In this area, you will find the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, Mealt Falls and the moon-like landscape of the Quiraing. All worth a stop, but if you want to stop anywhere for a longer walk, I recommend either the Old Man of Storr (plan 2 hours) or an easy walk in the Quiraing! No matter where you walk, make sure you roam responsibly and adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code!
Stop 2: Dunvegan Castle
While Dunvegan Castle is often left out of traditional Skye itineraries, I think it is an absolute highlight, especially if you are into landscape gardening and wildlife watching. Two things you must not miss while you’re visiting this castle: wandering the beautiful castle gardens and seeing everything in full bloom, and joining an official guided boat tour to the local seal colony!
Stop 3: Neist Point
Scottish lighthouses are there to impress (well, and to guide boats obviously) and Neist Point lighthouse is no exception. While I haven’t been lucky to see this lighthouse on a clear and dry day yet, I will keep trying and so should you!
Day 5: Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness & Inverness
Leaving Skye behind early in the morning and making your way off the island across the bridge, you come past the gorgeous Eilean Donan Castle – how could you not stop for a few photos?
Now, you make your way east to one of Scotland’s most legendary places: Loch Ness. Hardly any other place has had scientists and wannabe-scientists wonder about the local wildlife as much as this lake – and who could resist the myth of Nessie. I like to picture her as a friendly dinosaur-like creature that hides away until this world is finally friendly enough to welcome people/animals/creatures that are different. Until then, the myth lives on!
While I’m not one for the two (!) Nessie museums in Drumnadrochit, I can only recommend going on a monster hunting cruise on the loch! Another highlight in Drumnadrochit is a visit to the castle ruins of Urquhart Castle from where the views over the loch are particularly beautiful.
Final stop for the day is the town if Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Base yourself here for the night, for a pole position for your way back south on the next day.
Loch Ness Travel Essentials:
Restaurants in Inverness | Options in the smaller villages and towns are limited, but even if you don’t stay in Inverness, it’s worth the drive there for a Scottish meal at the Castle Tavern!
Day 6: Blair Castle, Pitlochry & Edinburgh
The drive from Inverness back down to Edinburgh takes just around 3-3.5 hours – but who wants to spend time on the motorway? Here are a few stops to incorporate on your way down.
Stop 1: Loch Morlich
The Cairngorms National Park is worthy of a whole separate holiday, but if you only stop here, for one thing, make it Loch Morlich near Aviemore. It is arguably one of Scotland’s most beautiful lochs and you can either take a walk or try some water activities.
Stop 2: Blair Castle
While I’m not one for endless castle tours, the forest and gardens surrounding Blair Castle are worth the ticket and make for a great pit stop to stretch your feet after a couple of hours in the car.
Stop 3: Pitlochry
A quaint and picturesque town, Pitlochry is a very popular weekend getaway for many Scots. One highlight in the town is the Edradour Whisky Distillery, one of Scotland’s smallest!
Stop 4: South Queensferry
One final stop before you arrive in Edinburgh should be South Queensferry. From here you get a great view of the iconic Forth Railway Bridge that connects the Scottish capital with the region of Fife!
Stop 5: Arrive in Edinburgh
What better way to end your tour of Scotland’s highlights than in its capital: Edinburgh. Considering that you will probably arrive here in the late afternoon, give yourself a break and relax for a little while! Have a leisurely dinner and a sunset stroll up Calton Hill, maybe grab a drink in the Old Town, but other than that don’t stress yourself.
Edinburgh Travel Essentials:
Where to Stay in Edinburgh | Hotels in Edinburgh can be quite expensive and hard to come by – especially in the summer months and even more so during festival season in August. I’ve summed up my favourite hotels in Edinburgh for every budget here. Again, you might consider AirBnB instead, but try to book a private room, rather than a whole apartment. You can use my referral link to get £25 off your first booking!
Getting around Edinburgh | Edinburgh is a very walkable city, but you can get buses for longer distances. Taxis can be a bit expensive, but there is also Uber!
Things to Do in Edinburgh | Edinburgh has a lot to offer! Some of my favourite activities include the Camera Obscura, the Royal Botanical Garden, climbing Arthur Seat and visiting the National Museum of Scotland. Check out my Edinburgh articles for inspiration!
My favourite restaurants in Edinburgh | There are so many restaurants in Edinburgh’s Old Town, it can be quite tricky to tell the real gems from the tourist traps. Some of my favourite restaurants (which all offer vegan options) include Civerinos, Holy Cow, Harmonium, Hula Juice Bar and Casa Angelina.
Bars & Pubs in Edinburgh | Some of my favourite pubs in the Old Town are Whistlebinkies and the Halfway House, one of Edinburgh smallest pubs!
Day 7: Edinburgh
There is much to see in Edinburgh, you could easily fill a week. Luckily many of the highlights are within walking distance from each other so that you can easily get a good overview in one day. Note that if you want to visit multiple museums, the castle and other attractions you should consider adding one or two full days to your itinerary. Here are some suggestions on how to fill your day in Edinburgh:
– Get a great overview in very little time on board the Edinburgh City Tour by Rabbie’s – a small-group bus tour around the city in a convertible bus! Read my review of the tour here and book your spot!
– Visit Edinburgh Castle (save time with a skip-the-line ticket!).
– Test your senses at the Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions.
– Visit the National Museum of Scotland and make sure to go all the way up to its viewing platform.
– Escape the crowds by visiting the glasshouses in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
– Shop all the vintage you can find in and around the Grassmarket and the Stockbridge area – check out my ethical shopping guide for Edinburgh here!
– Patrol the Royal Mile and count how many bagpipe buskers you can find.
More Edinburgh recommendations:
Lunch & Coffee in Edinburgh | My top two cafe’s in Edinburgh must be Lovecrumbs and Hula Juice Bar in the Grassmarket area. For really nice falafel head to Palmyra Pizza close to the National Museum of Scotland.
Dinner grabs | Time to branch out and head to The Kings Wark in Leith, right by the shore of Leith Water! The fully vegan restaurant Harmonium lives up to its raving reviews too!
Cocktail time | The ultimate cocktail bar in Edinburgh is called Panda & Sons, a little speakeasy bar covered up as a gent’s barbershop! Try to find it!
Day 8: Goodbye Scotland!
After an eventful week, it is time to say goodbye again and make your way back to the airport. While you’ve some beautiful places all over the country, it is really impossible to see the whole of Scotland in one week, Next time you visit, make sure you bring a bit more time with you!
In fact, you could easily fill two weeks with this itinerary and do everything in a more relaxed manner, spend more nights in each location or add a few days in other destinations such as Oban, the Isle of Mull, the Cairngorms National Park, the Royal Deeside, Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire or St Andrews – to name just a few.
Have you ever been to Scotland? What was your favourite experience or place to visit?
Planning a trip to Scotland?
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.