I have a four-day conference in Edinburgh in March. My partner and I are planning to travel around Scotland for 4-5 days before the conference. In our pre-Edinburgh visit, we're interested in scenery, castles, and possibly a distillery visit somewhere along the way. We're renting a car and thinking of visiting Oban, Glen Coe, Cairngorns, Pitlochry, and St. Andrews (we definitely want a full day in St. Andrews for a variety of reasons). Will we regret not going to Loch Ness and the isle of Skye? Our reasoning, which could be based on false assumptions, is that both are touristy, and we're not sure what those places have to offer in March. Thanks very much in advance for your feedback!
I haven't been to either, but I think that while there are places that are 'touristy' because of inflated hype, there are other places that lots of people want to visit because they are truly great. My guess is that these fall into the latter category. One thing I just read about the Isle of Skye is that it has extremely dark skies (almost no light pollution), and is a great place to see the Northern lights and other celestial phenomena. March sounds like a relatively uncrowded time to be there, anyhow.
One excellent site you might consider is Doune Castle (AKA Monty Python Castle), about 7 miles NNW of Stirling; it's on the way to Edinburgh if you are coming from the western islands or coast. The castle is in very good shape, in a park-like area; we loved it.
Also, since you're considering Oban anyway, you could take the ferry from there across to Mull, which is spectacular. I have not been to Skye, but when I do visit, I will be amazed if its beauty exceeds that of Mull. The Isle of Iona is just off the SW tip of Mull; it has gorgeous topography of course, but also very picturesque medieval ruins, as well as Iona Abbey, which has a pretty cool museum.
Another spectacular drive in that area is the Morvern Peninsula, just NE of Mull. You could drive through there coming from or going to Mull via the Lochaline-Fishnish ferry.
I would not worry about it. With only 4-5 days, you are not going to see all the great sights in Scotland. Pick the ones that you most want to see and focus on places that are fairly close together and don't involve too much travel time.
For the record, Skye is wonderful, and I enjoyed Loch Ness too. Both attract a lot of tourists, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth seeing. But you can't do it all, and Skye in particular is pretty far from Edinburgh so doesn't seem like the best choice.
I hope you have a great trip. Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world!
You don't have enough time to cover Skye properly and as it's remote, this keeps the number of tourists down. Loch Ness is tastelessly touristy. Distilleries and castles are touristy.
The Cairngorms merit at least a full day.
The weather could still be snowy in March or you could get great crisp days, which may impact on where you can access. Easter is at the end of March and schools will be on holiday if you are travelling at that time, so accommodation will be busy.
Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions. I just googled the Easter school holiday in Scotland this year. It begins the day after we're leaving Scotland!
There are about 32000 lochs in Scotland and about 31000 of them are more interesting and attractive than Loch Ness. Skye is magnificent.
We were in Scotland in April. We have been to Oban, Glen Coe and Loch Ness and would not go out of my way, unless they are on your way to somewhere else, as there are many more interesting places. If you want to play golf in St. Andrews I think that you must make arrangements ahead of time. As for as tourists...there probably won't be that many in March. Some of the historic sites may not be open until April. We hardly ran into anyone in April. The Whiskey Valley with the distilleries is a nice drive and it goes by several of the Victorian Castles. Look at the Historic Scotland site for "real" castles. Check the World Heritage site for other interesting locations such as New Lanark. If you are Clan it can be interesting to follow their history.
I second the advice that with only 4-5 days you should just focus on places you truly want to see and places that are not too far apart. Scotland has so much to offer and is so spread out, you could spend a year and still not see everything.
The driving times you'll find on a site like Google Maps are assuming you don't take any wrong turns, don't need bathroom breaks, and don't see any attractive unexpected things along the way that tempt you for a short visit. I've had a few friends go to Scotland and come home complaining that their entire trip consisted of racing from one location to another. Unless you really love driving on winding mountain roads, you will be happier with no more than 2-3 hours of driving per day, on average (maybe a longer day to get from point A to point B, but then a shorter driving day to make up for it).
P.S. Since you're leaving out of Edinburgh, if you fly into Glasgow you might get a chance to see more variety than if your arrival & exit were Edinburgh.
Aer Lingus offers affordable fares to both cities from many US airports, often with a change of planes in either Dublin or Shannon. The carrier for the Scotland legs is Stobart Air and you will be on a small plane with very limited carry-on space so you might as well check your bags through to and from your US airport vs your Scotland airport.
Don't worry about it a bit. You'll seen plenty of beautiful places and can come back for another trip once you fall in love with Scotland and its people. :)