Scotland is an absolute road trip paradise. Apart from just a few motorways in the central and eastern part of Scotland, most of the country is only accessible on smaller roads winding through the scenery. A road trip is the perfect holiday to experience Scotland’s natural beauty and explore off the beaten path. Together with some of Scotland’s best travel bloggers, I sat down and made a list of the best scenic drives in Scotland. Find out which routes are best for you and a few tips and tricks to get the most out of your road trip!
Looks like you’re planning a road trip through Scotland – go you! If you’re in the early stages of your trip planning, it would be helpful to first check out my guide to planning a trip to Scotland with everything you should know about getting around, how to find accommodation, and how to chose an itinerary and activities. You’ve read it already? Then let’s go!
Glasgow to Fort William
Distance: 108 miles
Duration: 3 hours – 3 days
My personal favourite road trip in Scotland is a road that most people rush through in order to reach destinations further up north – the road from Glasgow to Fort William.
Easily driven in 3 hours, I recommend spending at least an entire day on this scenic route, and take in as much of the beautiful landscape as possible. Start early in Glasgow, so you beat the crowds to Loch Lomond and enjoy Scotland’s largest loch all to yourself. Heading further north stop by the Falls of Falloch and Loch Tulla, before you drive through one of Scotland’s wildest regions: Rannoch Moor.
From there it is only a stone’s throw to Glencoe – a must on every Scotland itinerary – and the scenic shores of Loch Linnhe. All around you there are high mountain peaks, that offer themselves for easy and strenuous hikes; and plenty of photo stops if you’re after a memory to take home. By the time you reach Fort William, you will be helplessly in love with Scotland – so make sure you also check out some of the other drives!
INFO: One-way car rental in Scotland
It would be so convenient if you could rent a car in the city, drive up to the Highlands, return the car and either continue on one of Scotland’s many scenic train journeys, or ferry hop from island to island. Only, it’s not that easy…
One-way car rental is very uncommon in Scotland. Even though you can rent cars one-way between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness (I always book through AutoEurope, which is a great platform that lets you easily compare prices and insurance packages), it is unlikely that any of the international rental companies will be able to accommodate smaller towns, such as Fort William or Oban. Additionally, fees apply, and you might not have a lot of choice as to which operator you can choose.
You might be able to find local rental companies (e.g. in Fort William or Oban) who are willing to transfer the rental car to you when you arrive in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Just be aware that smaller companies often operate with a smaller service package than international companies and roadside assistance might not be as fast.
Isle of Bute
by Ana from Lovely Scotland
Distance: 25 miles
Duration: 1 day
Every road trip to an isle starts with a ferry trip! So first things first: get up with your car on Wemyss-Bay to Rothesay ferry and let your adventure begin. You will love the landscape during the sailing.
Even if Bute is a small isle there is plenty to do and to see there. My best advice, if you only can spend one day in this location, is to visit first Rothesay Castle and then take the isolated road B881 to the south until you get to Garrotch. St Blane’s Church, Dunagoil Fort, mystical Blackpark Stone Circle and a hundred fluffy sheep are waiting for you.
Next you can go back to drive across A884, a coastal road with stunning views. I strongly recommend you to make a stop on Scalpsie Bay and to end the journey gazing at the sunset on Ettrick Bay. But if you do that, be careful: you will inevitably fall in love with the Isle of Bute!
The Road to the Isles
by Nicola from Funky Ellas Travel
Distance: 45 miles
Duration: 1 afternoon
Beginning at the foot of Ben Nevis this road winds it’s way towards Mallaig on the west coast, taking in some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer. Photo opportunities present themselves around almost every corner. Atmospheric lochs, majestic mountains and stunning beaches make this section of road one of my all time favourites.
Driving along the banks of Loch Eil you can’t help but gasp at the sparkling water overlooked by the heather covered hills. Glenfinnan, with the famous viaduct used in the Harry Potter films and the monument at the head of Loch Shiel in the exact spot Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at the start of the Jacobite Rising is a great stop. If you can squeeze in a little hike up higher the views over the loch are outstanding.
I also love when you turn the corner and the ocean opens up in front of you and you get your first glimpse of the small isles of Eigg, Muck and Rum. This is where the road changes, as you emerge from the hills and the jurassic-like mountainous landscape out into the open, to the stunning white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the west coast. If you find the beaches of Morar and Arisaig on a nice sunny day you are in for a real treat.
Arisaig to Tobermory
by Kate from Love from Scotland
Distance: 55 miles
Duration: 1-2 days
Scotland’s west coast is a roadtrippers dream, however, the best section – if you ask me – is not on the North Coast 500. Instead, road trip from Arisaig to Ardnamurchan and across to Mull, to drive through a volcanic landscape, white sands that challenge the Caribbean and those west coast sunsets!
Ardnamurchan has castles, coos and miles of sea lochs to discover, and the most westerly point of mainland UK, Sanna Bay is stunning and Tioram Castle challenges every other castle for the most dramatic in Scotland! From Ardnamurchan jump on the Kilchoan Ferry to Tobermory for a slice of Island life.
INFO: Booking Ferry Tickets in Scotland
It is one of the most asked questions I get – is it necessary to book my ferry tickets in advance?
The short answer is YES, please book your ferry ticket as soon as you know that you will travel across to the islands by boat and plan your itinerary around the available departure times During the summer months, many ferries sell out weeks (or even months) in advance – particularly the more desirable early morning departures.
You can buy ferry tickets for all the bigger crossings online with CalMac (west coast) or NorthLink (Orkney & Shetland) directly. Don’t worry if you don’t know the license number of your rental car – just leave it blank. The ticket for the car usually includes the driver, but additional passengers need to get their own ticket and usually have to board the ferry on foot.
Some smaller ferries operate on a first come, first serve basis, and at every port you will also find a stand-by line if you didn’t get a chance to book ahead or want to catch an earlier ferry.
Tobermory to Craignure, Isle of Mull
Distance: 45 miles
Duration: 1-2 days
The Isle of Mull is one of my favourite islands in Scotland, because it has everything the entire country has to offer, on such a small space: quaint fishing towns, high mountains, fascinating wildlife, white sandy beaches, a castle and even a forest! Instead of taking the direct road from Tobermory to Craignure, I recommend going the long way around the north west of the island (B8073).
After cutting through the hills behind Tobermory, you will soon see the sea again. Your first stop is Calgary beach, a sheltered bay with white sand and gorgeous views out to the ocean. From the beach make your way further south. Being a single track road, this route forces you to slow down, but gives you also plenty of opportunities to enjoy the views across to the Treshnish Islands, Gometra and Ulva. After you’ve passed Eas Fors Waterfall, take a break to explore the Isle of Ulva. Summon the boat to come pick you up (foot passengers only), take a stroll across this beautiful mostly uninhabited island and grab some lunch at the Boathouse.
Back on the main island, it is only a short way back to Craignure. Enjoy the views of high mountains in the island’s south, first and foremost Ben More, the only island munro outside of Skye!
West Side of Lewis
by Katie from Stories my Suitcase Could Tell
Distance: 50 miles
Duration: 1 day
A road trip around the West Side of the Isle of Lewis can take you a brief morning, or a long, leisurely day – but you’ll probably end up doing the latter, because there is a lot to see! The drive is a circular loop, but as a local, I always recommend first driving north-west from the main town of Stornoway to the village of Arnol. Your first stop will be the Arnol Blackhouse, an example of a traditional thatched home that islanders lived in until the turn of the 20th century.
Afterwards, grab a spot of lunch from the locally-sourced menu at 40 North Foods in Bragar – you can either eat in or take food away to eat on one of the nearby beaches, Dalmore and Dalbeg – and carry on along the loop until you reach the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, where you can wander around the restored homes and even hike up along the cliffs.
Next up is Dun Carloway Broch, an old Iron Age fort that’s as much fun to play in as an adult as it is as a child; it sits high on a hill with stunning views across the moorland and out to the Atlantic. And finally, you’ll reach the highlight of the road trip, the famous Neolithic standing stone circle, the Callanish Stones. Pro tip: aim to arrive around sunset, when these ancient stone giants will seem even more magical than usual.
Scenic Loop of South Harris
by Kay from The Chaotic Scot
Distance: 45 miles
Duration: 1 day
Drive just five minutes south from Harris’ main town of Tarbert and you will shortly be enveloped by otherworldly scenes, courtesy of the ‘Golden Road’. Nicknamed for the cost of its construction, rather than the glow of the landscape, this is a scenic drive unlike any other. Visitors commonly describe the road as lunar-like, which is a truly accurate description; the composition of the ancient rock bears close resemblance to that of the moon! Stop in at the Clò-Mòr Harris Tweed Exhibition in Drinishader, and look out for the many abandoned croft houses which scatter the area. Continue onto ‘The Bays’ to go seal spotting at Finsbay and visit the medieval St Clement’s Church at Rodel.
Croft 36 at Northton is the perfect pit-stop for fresh pies, soup and cakes, before looping around the popularly photographed west coast. The paradisaical beaches are even more dreamy in real life, particularly against a mountainous backdrop. Pull into the ‘Passing Place’ for a perfect shot of Seilebost, and explore Horgabost and Luskentyre on foot, before returning to Tarbert.
I have a love-hate relationship with single-track roads. One the one hand, they often lead to the most beautiful places and are certainly off the beaten track; on the other hand, they’re scary, narrow and despite that still frequented by buses and lorries…
Chances are, that you won’t get around driving on single-track roads during your road trip in Scotland – certainly not if you follow some of the scenic routes described in this list. Here are some tips and trick for navigating single-track roads in Scotland:
- Don’t be in a rush. I tend to drive 30-40kmh max. on single track roads. This also means that you will probably need more time than your GPS or Google Maps estimates.
- Let drivers behind you pass you – particularly locals, as they often go way faster than you on these roads.
- Drive as far left as you can for best visibility.
- Look as far ahead as possible and spot oncoming traffic.
- Use your headlights to signal oncoming drivers in the distance. Wave your hand or flick your fingers to thank them when you pass them.
- There’s an unwritten law that cars going down will stop and wait for cars going up to pass them.
- Always stop for lorries/buses/campervans etc. and give them as much space as possible.
- Don’t park in passing places. Depending on how busy a road is, it can be OK to stop for a photo, but don’t leave your car on a passing place to go for a hike.
North Queensferry – St Andrews
by Gemma from Two Scots Abroad
Distance: 90 miles
Duration: 1-3 days
One of the lesser known road trips in Scotland starts by heading over the new Queensferry Crossing from Edinburgh to the Kingdom of Fife. Stop off and visit the world’s smallest light tower and enjoy the views of the Forth Rail Bridge. Then head to the historic capital of Scotland, Dunfermline, to see the Abbey and Palace, browse the new museum or catch a gig at the Alahambra. Next, head to Cowdenbeath to snap the street art murals and make a splash at Lochore Meadows just outside of Lochgelly. But this is only a selection of things to do around Fife.
Outlander fans will find Falkland of interest, before setting off for St Andrews (where Prince Will and Kate Middleton met) and then the fishing villages of the East Neuk. Keeping on the coastal route, stop off at Kirkcaldy to see a show at the Adam Smith Theatre then hit the beaches of Kinghorn, Burntisland and Aberdour. Hikers, why not join the Fife Coastal Path for a stroll before heading back to Scotland’s capital.
Distance: 30+ miles
Duration: 1-3 days
The Royal Deeside is a gorgeous lush valley in the east of the Cairngorms National Park. The route through the valley is part of the Castle Trail, leading past beautiful castles such as the Royal summer residence Balmoral Castle, and through some of Scotland’s most fertile land.
Begin your drive in the south of the valley, high up in the Cairngorm mountains. Past the Glenshee ski resort, you descend into the valley, entering lush green forests and a serene landscape. Your first stop is Balmoral Castle, where you can walk the gardens that were designed during Queen Victoria’s time. Next up is the quaint town of Ballater, the main hub if the valley and starting point for many adventures on foot, by bike or by train.
My favourite spot along this route is the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve, which is an inviting natural landscape expanding around Loch Kinord and offers plenty of easy hikes to go on a Scottish wildlife safari.
If you continue the drive towards Aberdeen, you come past many more castles along the Castle Trail and you could finish by visiting stunning Dunnottar Castle by Stonehaven or a night out in Aberdeen!
Aberdeenshire coast to Inverness
by Victoria from greatHerday
Distance: 150 miles
Duration: 2-4 days
Between Aberdeen and Inverness, there is a plethora of stunning beaches, spectacular scenery, thousands of years of history and a notable change in Scottish accents. Taking the A90 from Aberdeen, heading North towards Peterhead, you will pass a beautiful little coastal village named Cruden Bay which is home to the spooky Slains Castle and a picturesque beach where Netflix ‘The Crown’ was filmed. Continuing further up North, are the little fishing villages of Crovie and Pennan. Pennan in particular is known for playing film-set to ‘Local Hero.’
Following the coast will lead you through Banff, MacDuff, Gardenstown, Cullen and Portsoy. Portsoy hosts the infamous Portsoy Boat Festival which is definitely worth checking out. Turning onto the A96 at Fochabers, you can head towards Inverness via Brodie Castle, Nairn, Kilravock Castle, Cawdor Castle, Fort George, Castle Stuart and Culloden Battlefield.
Need even more Inverness inspiration? Check out these things to do in Inverness.
INFO: Calculating driving time in Scotland
I have hinted at this before – distances in Scotland are not to be underestimated!
Scotland looks very small on the map, and if you visit from places like the US or Canada, 200 miles doesn’t sound like a lot. Yet, I would say that 200 miles should be the absolute maximum of what you can manage in a day (during the long summer days) while still spending some time outside of the car.
Google Maps gives fairly accurate estimates for pure driving time, however, Google has apparently no idea how beautiful Scotland is or what a photo stop is… I suggest adding at least 1-2 hours to the estimate in order to schedule in plenty of stops to stretch your legs and snap a few photos.
North Coast 500
by Patricia from Mad About Travel
Distance: 305 miles
Duration: 5-6 days
Highly publicised as “Scotland’s answer to Route 66”, I must admit that the North Coast 500 is possibly THE best roadtrip to do in Scotland. That is, if you have at least 5 or 6 days. Starting and finishing in Inverness, this route will take you to some of the most scenic places in the whole country and will make you fall in love with the rugged wilderness of the North of Scotland.
Driving up the Bealach Na Ba road is a terrific experience, but so is exploring gorgeous castles like Dunrobin Castle or the ruins of Ardvreck Castle. There are plenty of waterfalls, Gardens by the sea and some mindblowing beaches, along with the tall and shrouded peaks of Stac Pollaidh, An Teallach, Suilven or Ben Hope. Make sure you stop at some of the whisky distilleries en route and do not miss Smoo Cave.
by Sonja from Migrating Miss
Distance: 50 miles
Duration: 2-4 days
What better way is there to explore the nooks and crannies of an ancient isle like Orkney than by car? Although there are several roads to take and much to explore, driving from the capital of Kirkwall up to tidal island called the Brough of Birsay will take you past many of Orkney’s best attractions, and can be done in a day at a push.
Your first stop will be Maeshowe, a tomb built by the Picts, but now famous for the Viking graffiti that covers it’s walls. Be sure to book a tour because spaces on tours fill up! Continue past the Standing Stones of Stenness to the Ness of Brodgar, a still active archaeological site where they are uncovering a Pict settlement that’s changing what we know about the past. Just down the road is the famous Ring of Brodgar, one of the largest stone circles in Britain at 104 metres wide. All three of these places are free to enter!
Skara Brae is next, a stone-built Neolithic settlement, where you can take an after hours tour to walk along the streets that were built thousands of years ago. Lastly you can visit the ruins of the Earl’s Palace at Birsay, and if you time it right with the tide and you’re not over pre-historic wonders yet, you can walk across to the Brough of Birsay!
INFO: Avoiding sea sickness
I’m always sad to hear when people skip the Scottish Isles because they’re prone to sea sickness.
Having felt sea sick many times – aboard boats in Scotland and beyond – I can understand the situation. It’s not pleasant to feel this way, especially not on your holiday. Knowing that your only way back off the island is the way that you came, doesn’t help either.
However, the Scottish islands offer some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in Scotland, and it would be a shame to miss out on them. If you think you can manage, here are some tips to avoid & fight sea sickness:
- Bigger ferries are more stable than small boats, so try to stick to those.
- Avoid ferries that cross the open ocean – sorry Outer Hebrides, Orkney & Shetland – and choose short ferry crossings, like the one to the Isle of Arran or the Isle of Mull.
- Eat something with ginger – it’s a natural remedy for motion sickness.
- If all else fails on longer crossings, take sea sickness pills – they’ve saved my life on a choppy crossing to Shetland before. Just don’t mix them with driving!
The Coigach Peninsula
by Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland
Distance: 60 miles
Duration: 1 day
I discovered the Coigach Peninsula by chance while staying in Ullapool and it turned out to be one of my most magical and scenic road-trips in Scotland!
Heading north from Ullapool on the A835, a turn off onto a single track road takes you towards the Coigach Peninsula, through a stunning mountainous landscape, passing the instantly recognisable Stac Pollaidh which always reminds me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I first followed the road to the village of Achiltibuie where numerous ruins of crofts lie abandoned in the nearby fields. This is a good point to stop and refuel with some tea and cake at the Piping School Café.
The road continues on through a remote landscape towards Achduart at the end of the track, which very much feels like the end of the world. Heading back and taking the circular route around the peninsula will bring you to a viewpoint with a superb panorama over the Summer Isles. Further along the road passes the beautiful beach at Achnahaird – this is where you return to the single track road leading back to the A835.
The road-trip route I took from Ullapool around the Coigach Peninsula was approx. 60 miles through some of the most breath-taking and remote scenery in Scotland.
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Thanks to all the bloggers who contributed for their advice & beautiful photos!