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12 day Scotland trip report

My mom and I recently returned from an incredible 12 day trip to Scotland. Interests include: historical sites, quaint towns, natural beauty, and a bit of shopping. We visited Inverness, Stonehaven, Edinburgh, Stirling, Ft. William, Isle of Skye and places in between. Thanks to so many on this page for advice and recommendations!

Day 1- We flew on BA into Inverness, with a layover in Heathrow. Making our connecting flight was stressful, but we did it! Rented an automatic car (thank goodness) from Sixt.

It was my first time driving on the left, so I was a bit nervous. There was SO much traffic in Inverness and by the time we arrived at our B&B I was worried that I had made a big mistake in renting a car for the entirety of our trip.

Our host was quite friendly and our room was clean and quaint. After checking in, we took the bus into the city center, walked around and grabbed dinner at MacGregors. The beer was good; the burger was a let down (strangest texture of meat I’ve ever had). Live music and singing started at 6:30 and was quite fun. Headed back and crashed around 9pm.

Day 2 - We did an Inverness & Culloden tour with Happy Tours. There were only 8 of us in the van and our tour guide, Bill, was so knowledgeable, entertaining and quite comical. Saw Loch Ness, Urquhart from a distance, visited a farm with hairy coos and an adorable little shop, saw Beauly Priory, stopped at Singleton Distillery (still don’t like whisky, ha), Culloden battlefield and Clava Clairns. My mom did try to go through the stone to Jamie Fraser, but alas, it didn’t work. It was an exceptional day! Had reservations at Number 27 Restaurant and we both did the 2 course meal, which was delicious. Service was also so friendly.

Day 3- Went to Cawdor Castle, which was enjoyable, and Elgin Cathedral (covered by the Historic Scotland Explorer passes) which we both loved. Such beautiful ruins and we also discovered a lovely park/flower garden across the way as well. I was getting more used to the driving by now. Whew! As we continued on towards Stonehaven the blue skies turned grey and the rain came pouring down. Visibility was awful and unfortunately we could barely even see the outline of Dunnottar Castle🙁 We had reservations at Marine Hotel and again had a scrumptious dinner. Stayed in a lovely B&B in Stonehaven with the friendliest hosts.

Day 4- Stopped at Glamis Castle and joined a tour, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. They have a fantastic gift shop as well. We continued on to Falkland (many Outlander scenes filmed there). The cutest town and we found some nice shops and a yummy coffee & tea room. After my navigation sending me in 4 different directions, we finally found the correct route to Edinburgh. So many people warned me about driving in Edinburgh, but I had to chuckle, because I thought it was easier driving in the city than on some of the ridiculously narrow, windy country roads. I’m also used to traffic and city driving where I live, so that could be why.

I rented an Airbnb for us near Leith. Getting in was a bit of a hassle, but it had off-street parking and was close to public transportation. Yay! After lugging my mom’s and then my suitcase up 33 steps we opened the door and could feel each other’s disappointment. It had an overwhelming smell of food and was just downright dirty. Walls were heavily scuffed, visible dirt along the baseboards and lots of mold in the shower. Thankfully we had dinner reservations at Mamma Roma that night. Italian food fixes everything, right? Both pasta dishes were tasty, though my mom’s was absolutely fabulous. Back to the dirty, smelly Airbnb. At least the bed was comfy.

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Day 5- We had a 3 hour walking tour of the Royal Mile with yet another interesting and engaging tour guide, followed by a reservation at Edinburgh Castle. The castle’s location is so impressive and the city itself is quite charming. I wish we would’ve had more time to explore.

I wanted this trip to be perfect for my mom, so we checked out of the Airbnb and drove across town to the Sheraton. Talk about a step up! We were pretty exhausted by this evening, so we just enjoyed the complimentary canapes (including haggis bon bons, yum!) and some drinks in the lounge there.

Day 6- We had an all day Outlander Tour booked with Rabbies. My mom read all of the books when they first came out and has seen the series as well, so I knew she’d love this. Our guide was a young guy named Cameron and he drove us around to many sites used in the series- Midhope (outside views only), Blackness Castle, Linlithgow Palace (outside views only), Doune Castle (had a free audio guide) and the very charming village of Culross. We had free time in Linlithgow for lunch and exploring and stumbled upon the cutest cafe with the tastiest sandwiches, So Strawberry Caffe.

Our pass once again covered some of the sites, which was great. Lots of steps and walking that day (I think about 18,000 steps for me) so we were hungry by evening. Found an Italian place very close to our hotel and split a pizza and salad. It was the perfect amount for us, but our waiter must’ve asked us 5 times if that was all the food we were going to order. And he mentioned twice that no service was included in our bill. It was so off-putting. There were only 2 other tables filled, so it’s not like we were taking up valuable space. Disappointing service but the food was fresh and good, albeit a bit pricey compared to other meals we’d had.

Day 7- Headed to Callendar House. Unfortunately they were in between art exhibits, but we could still tour the home. We also each had a pot of tea and shared a sandwich, scone and brownie at their onsite cafe. It was a lovely stop.

We arrived in Stirling, found parking and visited several shops before our castle reservation. Showed up at the castle an hour earlier than our reservation time and had no trouble getting in. We joined one of the castle-provided tours and it was excellent! Stewart was very informative and fun. Afterwards we checked into Munro Guesthouse, an RS recommendation. We had a nice, bright room on the top floor. I asked Richard for a good pub rec and he sent us to Nicky Tams.

We walked into this small, loud bar. Two older guys were arguing, which escalated to pushing and shoving and eventually one of them being thrown out. The bartender and some patrons actually apologized for their behavior (guess we’re obvious tourists). I’m really curious what they were arguing about, ha! The bartender was great and told us we could sit upstairs and he’d be up to take our food order. He also recommended the Paolozzi Lager. I’m no beer connoisseur; I stick to lagers and wheat beers and avoid IPAs like the plague, but I thought this beer was one of the best I’ve tasted. Food was also quite good, large portions and inexpensive.

Day 8- We headed towards Fort William with stops at Trossachs Woolen Mill (nice gift shop and hairy coos on property) and Glencoe Folk Museum (tiny museum with some interesting items). We then drove to Ft. William and shopped around until it was time to check into our Airbnb. Our place was spotless and very well equipped. Our host seemed a bit aloof at first, but quickly opened up and was so chatty and friendly. We had dinner reservations at Ben Nevis Inn. Beautiful surroundings and the food was both unique and sumptuous. I had the chicken & haggis rumbledethumps and my mom had the beetroot and brie tart. Can I just say that haggis is delicious!

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Day 9- We were supposed to head to the Glenfinnan viaduct to catch the steam train go by, but unfortunately had to do some much needed laundry instead. We got to the laundromat fairly early and were able to throw in 2 loads. Headed next door to Bake-n-Roll, an inexpensive local place with homey food and very friendly staff (owner?). While the laundry was drying we went for a nice walk along the lake. So serene!

Afterwards we drove to Mallaig. Quick stop at Bloom & Graze for a takeaway sandwich and then got to the ferry for our reservation. The car-loading process is quite easy and efficient. After a short and smooth ride, we arrived in Armadale. Stopped in some shops and the Coop in Broadford before checking into our Portree B&B. We snacked on some “mature cheddar” and grapes in lieu of an actual dinner that night.

Day 10- Our lovely B&B host drove us to Somerled Square where we met for our Real Scottish Journeys SkyeBus Tour. This was a full day of visiting some of Skye’s top spots, on a 16 passenger van/bus. Our guide, Bill, provided interesting info and was funny to boot.

First stop was at the Fairy Pools. We had just under 1.5 hours there to hike and explore. My mom only went as far as the first bridge, but I trekked the whole way and back. Heavy cloud coverage but the sun did manage to pop through here and there.

Next stop was lunch at a cafe, then onto Neist Point, where we had about an hour. My mom took one look at the long, steep stairs and said “no thank you”, so she explored up top, while I hiked to the lighthouse and back. The sun was shining and it was just stunning. Fairy Glen was up next. Sadly it was pouring, so none of us did too much exploring.

Had a brief stop at Quiraing and thought we might all get blown away, ha! Another quick stop to get photos of Old Man of Storr and then it was back to Somerled Square. At some point we stopped at a community center to use the toilets and there was a table of homemade crafts with an honesty box where I picked out a darling wool sheep. They also had a selection of used books, which I’m always sure to peruse. My aunt collects old hymnals, so I’m always on the lookout for them and would you believe that I actually found one?!? It made my day.

I know some warned me that this was too much for one day, but my mom and I thought it was perfect. I was relieved to have a break from driving and my mom isn’t a hiker, so we wouldn’t have needed more time at these sites anyway. The scenery while driving was gorgeous and Bill provided stories, information and some beautiful Scottish music so I never felt like the traveling was too much.

Day 11- I intentionally left this day free for us to go where the wind blows. Went to Portree for shopping and found some great gifts. Then we drove up to the Skye Museum of Island Life. Incredible history and the setting is spectacular. Also visited Flora MacDonald’s grave, after learning so much about her on our trip. I’d heard mixed things about Dunvegan Castle, but we weren’t too far from it, so we made it our next stop. The interior wasn’t overly impressive, but the gardens! Oh my, they were just beautiful.

My mom and I were meeting up with Mardee (from this forum) for dinner at Edinbane Inn, so we headed in that direction with plenty of time to spare. As we were driving, we passed an old cemetery and church in ruins and promptly turned around. Luckily there were actual parking spots, so we walked up to explore St. Mary’s church, dated 1694, and surrounding tombstones. Continued on to the restaurant where Mardee was waiting for us. After exchanging messages it was so fun to meet in person! Great company and a great meal.

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Day 12- Our last full day in Scotland. After leaving Isle of Skye, we took a detour through the quaint village of Plockton, based on the suggestion of auchterless. After walking through it we continued onto Eilean Donan castle. The car park was practically full and I knew we weren’t going to visit the inside, so we just snapped a few pics and were back on the road. Drove into Inverness and after a few wrong turns found parking near the Market Brae steps. Popped into a few shops and my mom picked out a beautiful Harris Tweed purse.Then we walked to Mustard Seed for our reservation. We opted for the 2 course menu. The food was good, but not spectacular, and our server seemed a bit harried. Overall it was still a pleasant meal.

We had an Airbnb close to the Inverness airport, so checked in after dinner. It was a large corner room with a view of grassy fields dotted with sheep. Our host was kind enough to leave out croissants for us since we had an early departure.

Day 13- Left just before 6am and drove to the Inverness airport. Deposited the car in the short term car park and joined the long line of customers waiting to check in. We made it through and had time to grab coffees to go before boarding. Thanks for the memories, Scotland!

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6274 posts

Emmye, what a wonderful trip report! I know I heard some of this when we met for dinner, but it was so much fun reading all the detail. That Airbnb sounded horrible. I hope you left an appropriate review. And I don’t blame you for upgrading to the Sheraton!

I also had to laugh about the burger. When I stayed on Arran, the husband who owns the hotel I stayed at made me a burger one evening for dinner. He practically hovered over me when I ate it, wanting to make sure it was like an American burger. Evidently he loves American food and loves looking for American recipes. I gave him a recipe for Cincinnati chili that he was very excited about, and In return, he gave me a recipe for the Cubano sandwich that Jon Favreau makes in the movie “Chef.” 😊

I look forward to going back through it in more detail. And please tell your mom, I said hello!

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Mardee- was your burger strange too?? I'll definitely tell my mom hello. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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1596 posts

Enjoyed your report. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

We leave this Monday for Scotland! Can't wait!

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6274 posts

No, actually it was pretty good! Lee, the owner, really is determined to cook American style.🤣

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Sounds like a great trip! And I know I would feel like a really lucky mom to have one of my daughters take me on a trip like this! And good for you for pivoting from a less than happy place to stay!

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2661 posts

Thanks for the report. Nice that you and your mom were able to take this trip together.

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Mardee- we were so put off by the burger the 1st night that we didn't try any other burgers, ha! The other beef I had in Scotland was fantastic though. And have you had breakfast sausage? We absolutely loved it! It's ground so fine and seasoned perfectly.

BigMike- Since I've never to Scotland before, I have nothing to compare really the crowds to, so please consider that when reading my opinions :) Edinburgh certainly had a lot of people, but it wasn't overbearing or unpleasant. The immediate area surrounding the castle and the castle itself were VERY crowded though (during the afternoon, anyway). I cannot imagine what it must be like in summer.

Isle of Skye was noticeably more crowded on Sunday than on the weekdays, both at the various sites and in regards to traffic on the roads. I didn't find Inverness, Stirling or Ft. William too busy. I will say that there was much more traffic on the roads that I anticipated. I consulted Google maps quite a bit before my trip and followed different routes using the street view and there seemed to be so few cars. They must film/photograph off-season.

Hope that helps!

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kmkwoo- have a fantastic trip!! The Scots are the friendliest people I have ever encountered and it's such a beautiful country.

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Isle of Skye was noticeably more crowded on Sunday than on the weekdays, both at the various sites and in regards to traffic on the roads.

Emmye, I think that a lot of that was due to it being the day after the Skye Music Festival ended, and many people stayed on through Sunday.

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1110 posts

Great trip report! Wish I could have met you while you were on Skye. I met Mardee and had a lovely chat!

Yes Skye is busy on Sundays. As Mardee says that particular Sunday followed the Skye Live festival, but locals are also out and about on their day off.

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2942 posts

Thank you emmye.

Would it be appropriate for the locals to stay home so it's not as crowded for tourists? At least during the high season?

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Would it be appropriate for the locals to stay home so it's not as crowded for tourists? At least during the high season?

Um, no. Sometimes in tourist areas during season, anywhere on the planet, there is resentment about the tourists and telling them to stay home is going to go down like a sack of bricks.

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Mardee Yes, I forgot about the music festival! I'm sure that contributed to the heavier crowds on Sunday.

SkyGirl- It definitely would've been nice to meet up!

BigMike- Ha! I live outside Washington DC and I avoid the city in the summer at all costs. Tourists.are.EVERYWHERE!

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6274 posts

I'm in Edinburgh right now and the crowds are horrible but mostly in the Old Town and especially along the Royal Mile. Since I'm staying in the New Town, it only affects me when I venture into tourist territory.

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2942 posts

MC, I'm kidding. Sorry but that's my warped sense of humor. This would be a great premise for a comedy--government officials discussing forcing Scots to stay home during the summer.

emmye, yeah, Washington DC in the summer is crazy crowded. As Yogi Berra might say, "Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded."

Mardee, I'm looking forward to your trip report. Note to self: Make restaurant reservations.