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 most essential must-do’s 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!
How to get around Scotland
This itinerary is written with a rental car in mind – you can travel Scotland by public transport, but you might have to cut a few stops due to time limitations, or simply because the bus/car doesn’t stop there.
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!
You can find more info on how to get around Scotland in my Scotland 101 – How to Plan a Trip to Scotland guide, and some tips for driving on the left-hand side in my Scotland Driving Tips.
Or maybe you fancy a different kind of itinerary, more 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 for get a feel for the city.
Glasgow Travel Essentials:
Where to Stay | 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 busses or the subway for longer distances. Black taxis can be a bit expensive, so use Network Private Hire!
Where to Eat | There are more restaurants on Glasgow than sand on a beach. For Scottish food try Two Fat Ladies in the City, the Red Onion (vegan menu available) or Gandolfi Fish. I also love Sarti & Paesano (both Italian), Nippon’s Kitchen (Japanese, sushi) and Babu Bombay Street Kitchen (Indian curries).
Where to Drink | Glasgow’s pubs deserve a city trip in itself. Try Sloan’s, the Pot Still, the Griffin 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 up 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 busses 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 traveling back in time; there are so many stories to be told about it. It is one of Scotland’s mst 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. Earn some plus points if you manage to pronounce these!
Anyway, pressed for time you won’t manage to actually climb any of these, but a quick stroll to Scotland’s most photographed cottage, Lagangarbh Hut at the foot of Buachaille Etiv Mor, is the least you could fit in. #lonelyhouse
Find out more: The most scenic stops between Glasgow and Fort William
Stop 3: Fort William
To be honest, Fort William is less exciting as a town, but even more so for its surroundings. This is where the famous West Highland Way ends (key: plenty of outdoor equipment shops) and 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 Eat | 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!
Note: You might not be able to fit in long stops at all three destinations on just one day – so chose wisely where to spend more time!
Day 3: Road to the Isles & Isle of Skye
This road 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.
The Road to the Isles is one of my personal favourites 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 (ideally you’d 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 sea gulls 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, namely Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck.
Once on Skye make your way to the south-west of the island, the area around Glenbrittle, Carbost and Talisker. This is were you will find the famour Fairy Pools which offer themselves for a stunning hike below the Cuillin Mountain Range. Alternatively (or 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 of Isle of Skye!
Isle of Skye Travel Essentials:
Where to Eat | The Isle of Skye might be big, but many villages are rather small. You will find the greatest variety eating out 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 all your attention, 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
There are actually more than one stop at the Trotternish Peninsula because this is where some of Skye’s most popular landmarks are located. The Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and the Quiraing are all situated on this peninsula and of course also all worth a stop!
Stop 2: Dunvegan Castle
While this castle is often left out of traditional Skye itineraries, I think it is an absolute staple, especially if you are into landscape gardening and wildlife watching. 2 reasons: seeing the beautiful castle gardens in full bloom; and taking a boat trip to the local seal colony!
Stop 3: Neist Point
Scottish lighthouses are there to impress (well, and to guide boats obviously) and Neist Point 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!
You might also like: 5 things to do on the Isle of Skye
Day 5: Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness & Inverness
Leaving Skye behind early in the morning you come past the gorgeous castle of Eilean Donan Castle – how could you nt stop for a few photos?
Then 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 contents of its water 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 could be convinced to go on a monster hunting cruise, although I haven’t tried this yet. What I have done though is visit 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:
Where to Eat | 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 around 3-3.5 hours, but how boring would it be not to stop anywhere on the way?!
Stop 1: 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 2: Pitlochry
Picturesque as anything, Pitlochry is a very popular weekend getaway for many Scots. A highlight is the Edradour Whisky Distillery, one of Scotland’s smallest, which alone makes this town worth the stop.
Stop 3: South Queensferry
One final stop before you arrive in Edinburgh: South Queensferry, from where you get a great view of the iconic Forth Railway Bridge!
You might also like: The essential guide to trying Scottish whisky
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 grad a drink in the Old Town, but other than that don’t stress yourself.
Edinburgh Travel Essentials:
Where to Stay | Hotels in Edinburgh can be very expensive, but I’ve summed up my favourites for every budget here. Again, you might consider AirBnB instead – you can use my referral to get £25 off your first booking!
Getting around Edinburgh | Edinburgh is a very walkable city, but you can get busses for longer distances. Taxis can be a bit expensive, but there is also Uber!
What to Do | Edinburgh has a lot to offer! Check my Edinburgh archive for inspiration!
Where to Eat | There are so many restaurants in Edinburgh’s Old Town, it can be quite tricky to tell the gems from the tourist traps. I recommend Civerinos, The Edinburgh Larder or Ox184.
Where to Drink | 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, but luckily everything is close by, so that you can easily get a good glimpse of it all 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 of 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
– Patrol the Royal Mile and count how many bag pip buskers you can find
Avoid waiting in line and book your tickets for Edinburgh activities in advance!
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 newly opened vegan restaurant Harmonium gets 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 barber shop! 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. Next time you visit Scotland make sure you bring a bit more time with you!
Realistically 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 beautiful locations such as Oban, the Isle of Mull, the Cairngorms National Park, the Royal Deeside, Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire or St Andrews – to name just a few.
For more inspiration check out my Scotland 101 – How to Plan a Trip to Scotland guide and find out what to bring on a Scotland trip by consulting my packing list.
Have you ever been to Scotland? What was your favourite experience or place to visit?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.
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