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10 night Scotland itinerary- advice

Hello! After discussing it for years, my mom (70s) and I are finally going to Scotland! I'm still working out all of the details, but I've come up with a basic itinerary and would love input before I start booking. Based on her interests/abilities, there will not be any moderate or strenuous hiking, though she's certainly fit enough to walk several miles a day. We also are not whisky drinkers or golfers, so those don't appeal to either of us. She's much more interested in the natural beauty of Scotland and historical sights or museums, but not into art museums. Also, I know we left out Glasgow and I am 100% ok with that. We fly into and out of Inverness, will rent a car and have 10 nights. Thank you!!

Day 1- Fly into Inverness and get rental car. Inverness walk and Castle. Sleep in Inverness.

Day 2- Tour that includes Culloden, Clava Cairns, Loch Ness & views of Urquhart Castle. Sleep in Inverness.

Day 3- Drive towards Stonehaven. Stop at Balmoral Castle (possibly just to see from outside), then Dunnotter Castle. Sleep in Stonehaven area.

Day 4- Drive towards Edinburgh. Stop at Glamis Castle on the way. See ???? sights. Sleep in Edinburgh.

Day 5- Royal Mile Tour (~3 hours) and any other sights, shopping etc. Sleep in Edinburgh.

Day 6- Drive to Stirling & explore sights (Stirling castle, Holyrood Church, Old Town Jail). Sleep in Stirling.

Day 7- Drive towards Glencoe. Do the Glencoe Lochan hike (weather permitting). Sleep in Glencoe area

Day 8- Drive towards Isle of Skye. Stop at Glenfinnan Viaduct & monument on the way. Take the Mallaig-Armadale ferry to Skye. Sleep in Isle of Skye.

Day 9- Possible Tour of Isle of Skye or explore on our own. Sleep in Isle of Skye.

Day 10- Head back towards Inverness. Stop at Eilean Donan Castle on the way and any other sights not seen (maybe Urquhart Castle). Sleep in Inverness.

Day 11- Fly home 🙁

Posted by
27041 posts

You seem to be moving around a lot, so I'm doubtful you'd have time for either of these sights, but I'll mention them just in case: I believe you'd enjoy the newish National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh; everything is beautifully displayed. And Rosslyn Chapel is intriguing. It's about 40 minutes from Edinburgh by public bus and no doubt faster by car if you can deal with the (I assume) hassle of having a private car in Edinburgh.

Posted by
49 posts

Thanks for your response. I've looked into Rosslyn Chapel, but I'm just not sure there's time for it. Maybe we'll play it by ear. Does the rest of the itinerary look doable to you?

Posted by
27041 posts

Honestly, I don't know. I'm a public-transportation traveler who spent 26 days in Scotland, and I skipped most of the places you're going; our only overlaps are Edinburgh and Skye. But we have others who will be in a position to help you.

Posted by
1819 posts

It looks a sensible itinerary to me although it does have quite a few one night stops, which can be hard work! Driving is reasonable and not too long each day allowing for time to stop and enjoy things. The Lochans walk is lovely. Eilean Donan Castle is just a stop and admire from the outside job. The inside is disappointing and not worth bothering with.

If going via Balmoral, you might also want to stop off and visit Craithie Kirk where the Queen used to worship.

On Day 4 after Glamis Castle, you might want to stop off in Falkland on the way to Edinburgh. It is a lovely old town with a lot of character. Falkland Palace is also pretty special too.

Day 6 - Close to Stirling is Bannockburn, where the Scottish army of Robert the Bruce com prehensively defeated the English Army of Edward II.

If you haven’t already found the Undiscovered Scotland website, it is well worth checking out. It has lots of information about things to do and visit in Scotland that just don’t feature in the guide books. Start with the map page for the area you want to visit and click on the links for text pages with lots of information and pictures.

Posted by
23 posts

Hi emmye!

My main concern is that this seems like a lot of driving for 10 days, and not leaving time for rest days or potential inclement weather. Since this sounds like a meaningful trip for both of you, I want to make sure we get you feedback that will help you not only determine what is viable/will feasibly work, but what will best set you up for a memorable-in-a-good-way experience.

To best help you, it might be useful to have more context: how much travel experience--domestic or international--do you and your mom have (I'm trying to understand whether you have experience traveling at this pace and like it, so if we should focus more on logistics feedback), and have you traveled together as adults? When you picture a perfect day together in Scotland, setting aside your itinerary for a moment, what comes to mind first? When you think about a favorite travel day from a past vacation, what was it like?

Posted by
49 posts

wasleys- You are correct, it IS a lot of one night stays. I'm not sure how to change that though with my current itinerary and I hate to cut anything out. If I did cut anything, I guess it would be Stonehaven, though I really want to see Dunnottar Castle. I also didn't want too much driving in one day and I don't want to do a lot of backtracking. Thanks for your suggestions. I will definitely look into those places and that website!

Posted by
49 posts

Hi Avens! What great questions you asked!

I say that travel is my love language and I think I have a decent amount of experience here in the US, as well as abroad (I've visited 16 countries as an adult and didn't travel at all as a child). My mom has not traveled nearly as much and is not the best traveler (couldn't put together an itinerary, doesn't like airports, wouldn't figure out her bearings in a new town or the public transportation system etc), which is why I do all the planning and she just tags along :) And yes, we have traveled together several times, including Europe, as adults.

I like to go, go, go! However, I do try to build in down time as well for rest, going off the beaten path or unforeseen circumstances (weather, traffic etc). And it is a lot of driving, but I tried to divvy it up so there weren't any days that exceeded 5 hours (and those include stops along the way). I'm just not sure what I could possibly cut out to lessen the driving and still feel like we saw "the best" of Scotland. I am definitely open to suggestions!

The perfect day would involve a scenic drive, discovering something not on my list, meeting other travelers, having a great meal and seeing incredible sights. I hope that helps and thank you so much for your feedback!

Posted by
849 posts

I’m just going to make a quick comment about your route and the number of stops you are making in the number of days you have. As others have suggested, I think you are making far too many one night stands, and you really don’t want to still have the car in Edinburgh. I started my driving tour in Edinburgh then went first towards St. Andrews, stopping at Glamis along the way. Then went up through central Scotland towards Inverness, stopping a couple of times along the way. Then from Inverness to Skye, via the bridge, with a stop along the way. A couple days on Skye, then back down to Glasgow, with a couple more stops along the way. I’m leaving out the details because our interests are not exactly the same, but I did stop at many of the places on your list, and had the car for ten days. I used Secret Scotland to get a custom driving route and it worked great. They thought my driving route was going to be too much, but I don’t think the understand the size of Canada, and a long weekend trip can be over 500km one way. Still, you want to have time to really enjoy the scenery. The best way to do that would be to add more days if you can (I had three weeks total), or remove some stops and save them for next time. Try not to backtrack , or zig-zag, if you can help it as it will save you time, and this is why doing a loop tour makes sense. There are some very knowledgeable people on this forum, and I’m sure they will chime in with better information than what I can give.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, emmye,

That is a very nice, well planned ten day itinerary. Are you possibly able to add an extra day or two? I just worry that you may end up being somewhere and regretting that you don't have an extra day. Skye and Edinburgh would be the places I'm thinking about. Both need more than a day.

Inverness to Stonehaven will be a full day's drive if you go via Balmoral. There are two ways to approach the drive if you do go that way: A9 from Inverness to Carrbridge; A938/A95 from Carrbridge to Grantown-on-Spey; A939 to Ballater; or A96 to Nairn; A939 to Ballater. From Ballater, A93 to Crathes; A957 to Stonehaven.

Your faster alternative would be to take the A96 from Inverness to the Aberdeen bypass (A90), then the A90 to Stonehaven. That drive can be done in just over three hours. The route via Ballater/Balmoral, however, is considerably more scenic.

Stonehaven to Edinburgh is an easy drive, and Glamis Castle is not far out of the way. If you're a fan of J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), there is a museum of his childhood home in Kirriemuir, which you can visit on the way to Glamis. There are several other places of interest on your proposed route; however, you should try to get to Edinburgh early to take in as many of the sights as possible before your full day.

In addition to the places you've already mentioned for your day in Stirling, you may want to try the Wallace Monument. And as Wasleys recommended, the Bannockburn visitor center. After having visited Culloden, you'll want to see a battlefield where the good guys won!

Be sure to make a reservation for the Mallaig to Armadale ferry. They have been putting smaller ferries on that route recently, and they fill up fast. It's one of the least expensive CalMac ferry voyages considering the time saved.

As you have basically only one full day on Skye, make sure that you plan it out before you arrive. There is a lot to see and do, and some good hikes of varying difficulties. Walkhighlands is a good website to explore for ideas. If you want to take in a traditional music session, check with the tourist information (TI) office in Portree.

If you've already seen Urquhart Castle on day two, consider returning to Inverness via Plockton and Lochcarron. Or you can still do a loop through Plockton and Duirinish (for the Highland cows), then return to the A87 for Eilean Donan and the Five Sisters.

I hope that you and your mum have a wonderful time in Scotland!

Very best wishes for 2023!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Try to find lodging in Edinburgh which can provide you with a dedicated parking space. Driving in Edinburgh can be very frustrating, not to mention expensive! Leave the car and take public transportation, shanks' mare, and taxis.

Posted by
49 posts

Hi Anita! Thanks for your feedback.

I know that it's a lot of one night stays, but truthfully, I don't mind that too much. I've done other trips like that, WITH KIDS, so I figure it'll be much easier if it's just adults :) And I'm not sure how to eliminate any of those stays either, as I don't feel that any of those stops warrant more than a one night stay, nor do I want a longer drive any of those days. Open to suggestions of course!

Unfortunately I don't think I can add any days to this trip. I have a job and 3 school age children, so it's kind of incredible that I can get away for even 10 nights! I may beg and plead with my husband to see if I could get 2 additional nights. Ideally I'd stay for a month of course, but that is so far from reality for me. My mom is in her 70s, so this will be her only trip to Scotland and I want to cram in as much as possible.

Re: driving in Edinburgh, I'll have a rental car for the entirety of the trip, but am not planning on actually driving IN Edinburgh, aside from getting to our Airbnb (one that includes parking). I've also read of park and stay lots outside of the city, which I am interested in as well. Anyone have experience with one of those?

Posted by
49 posts

Hi Auchterless and thanks for your feedback! I'm just not sure that I can add any days to my itinerary as getting away for even 10 nights is quite tricky. If I can possibly add 2 nights, I would add one to Edinburgh and one to Isle of Skye. Regardless of how much time I have some place I almost always wish I had "at least 2 more days!!" My husband can verify this ;)

I may skip Balmoral, though I thought it would be a nice stop en route to Stonehaven. It may depend on the day of, whether I want a more scenic drive or the quickest.

Thank you for all of the other suggestions. Wallace Monument is on my list, but I'll research the others!

Posted by
1101 posts

Is there any reason to fly into and out of Inverness? Just asking because if you fly into Edinburgh you could do that portion of your trip first before you pick up the rental car. Then head back to the airport on the tram and pick up your car to start your circular route of all the other sites you mention, ending up back at Edinburgh airport.
Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
23 posts

Emmye, knowing you and your mom have done similar travel together before makes me much more confident in this itinerary! You've gotten good feedback above, which can help you think through where to prioritize your time to tailor the trip to your preferences. I like the idea of flying into Edinburgh and picking up the car when you plan to leave, because it would allow you to get a hotel or Airbnb close to city center, so you don't have to spend time and energy transiting from a neighborhood with parking or to a carpark elsewhere.

Depending on what airline you're flying and from where, there may also be more flights to/from Edinburgh than Inverness, which could help if there are delays or cancelations. This is a secondary concern but might be worth checking since every vacation day is precious!

Posted by
49 posts

I should've added that we're looking to fly into and out of Inverness because that's where the best deals are for when we want to go (May) and where we're flying out of (DC). I'll certainly research flights thoroughly before booking though, keeping in mind that it might be best to travel in and out of Edinburgh. Thanks all!!

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi again, emmye,

If you do decide to skip Balmoral on the way from Inverness to Stonehaven, there are some sites which may be of interest.

First would be Elgin Cathedral. This is one of the most impressive ruined cathedrals in this part of Scotland. You'll be travelling through Elgin on the A96.

Next would be Huntly Castle. You'll be going through Huntly anyway. It's a ruined castle, but fairly impressive.

Last would be Fyvie Castle. This is a spectacular castle, both inside and outside. It's a little bit out of the way, but once you've visited the castle you can take the A947 through Oldmeldrum to join the Aberdeen bypass. Or you can take the B9170 from Oldmeldrum to Inverurie, and rejoin the A96 from there.

Any of these, in particular Fyvie Castle, would make up for missing Balmoral. All of these have websites, if you want to get more information.

Don't forget that mum will get a discount any many of these sites, as an OAP. Look for "Concession" prices.

Best wishes once again!

Mike (Auchterless)