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5 Day Itinerary driving through Scotland

I am struggling greatly with an itinerary for my first visit to Scotland, which is limited by schedule constraints. I would truly appreciate your thoughts, expertise, and opinions on the proposed rough itinerary (which can be reversed):

My husband and I will arrive in Edinburgh on 5/19 and hopefully be in the room and ready to explore by 3:00pm. Only want to do a couple of the main things in Edinburgh like the castle, the Royal Mile, maybe Arthurs Chair and maybe a ghost tour in the evening.

Day 2: Maybe a few hours in Edinburgh and then drive up towards Cairngorms National Park and the Culloden Battlefield. Stop on the way to see a sheepdog exhibition at Kincraig. Overnight somewhere in the triangle of Aviemore, Inverness and Ft. Augustus.

Day 3: Explore around Loch Ness, perhaps Urghart Castle, on the way to Isle of Skyle. See Eilean Donan Castle. Stay the night on Skye.

Day 4: Continue exploring Skye. Drive toward Ft. William area see Glenfinnan Viaduct where Harry Potter train comes through, and stay the night somewhere in that area.

Day 5: Drive around Trossachs, see Glencoe, Doune Castle, and maybe Stirling Castle. Need to end up in Glasgow, where we will take the Caledonian Sleeper train to London.

Most important sites for us are: Sheepdog exhibition ( I believe these are at 4:00pm most days), Glen Coe, Glenfinnan, and Skye. Also really want to be able to see some Highland cows (coos?)

Is this sensible to do with about 4 1/2 full days outside of Edinburgh and allowing for reasonable driving time and actually experiencing the destinations for a bit? I could add another day, perhaps, but it could be very problematic to do so.

Thanks so much for looking this over and taking the time to offer comments and suggestions. I am open to all suggestions regarding routes, places to stay, etc... I am overwhelmed by trying to plan this, as I travel independently, but mostly to city areas where it is much easier to plan itineraries and public transport place to place. This is my first itinerary of this type.

Posted by
658 posts

Hi, hokie8789,

Virginia Tech? You've set yourselves a busy schedule, based on what you've posted so far. First of all, what time are you actually arriving in Edinburgh? Are you flying in and hiring a car right away? You mentioned arriving in your room by 3:00 p.m. Is that because of the check in time, or is that the time you actually expect to arrive at your lodging?

If you're planning to visit the castle, Royal Mile, and Arthur's Seat on your first afternoon, and then still be able to do all that and do a ghost tour, you are going to have to hustle. You may have to skip Arthur's Seat, as it's a good 90 minutes up and back. You might be able to do Arthur's Seat the following morning, if you get an early start.

Edinburgh Castle closes at 6:00 p.m. Last admission is at 5:00 p.m., but you really need to give yourselves two hours. Otherwise you'll be rushed, and you won't be getting your money's worth. The Royal Mile leads downhill from the castle to Holyrood Palace. You'd have to skirt Holyrood Palace to start the ascent of Arthur's Seat. But if you really want to enjoy the Royal Mile, you should postpone Arthur's Seat until the following morning. Plus you should try to pre-book your ghost tour, so that you get the one that you want.

If you are planning to see the sheepdog demonstration and visit Culloden the same day, it's going to be well nigh impossible, if you want to visit the visitor centre. The visitor centre closes at 6:00 p.m. in May. Kincraig is about 35 miles south of Culloden. By the time the demonstration is over, it will be close to 5:00. You can still visit the battlefield, which will still be open. In May, there should still be plenty of daylight when you get there. Best thing to do is procure as much information as possible before you go, and print out an interpretative battlefield map.

If you're heading on to Eilean Donan and Skye the next day, you should definitely stay in the Inverness area. That way, you can head south on the A82 in the morning, visit Urquhart Castle, and then turn on to the A887 at Invermoriston, then over to the A87, which will take you past Eilean Donan and over the bridge to Skye.

As you're planning to visit Glenfinnan, you should take the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, to avoid 40 miles of backtracking from Fort William. Be sure to make a reservation for the ferry. If you want to see the Jacobite, check the train schedule and get to Glenfinnan in time to climb up to the viaduct to see the train westbound. You can visit Glencoe after you leave Fort William, on your way to the Trossachs. From Glencoe, take the A82 to Crainlarich, the A85 to Lochearnhead, and the A84 to Kilmahog, where you can take the A821 to Aberfoyle for the Trossachs loop, then back to the A84 for Castle Doune and Stirling Castle.

From Stirling, it's only about a 90 minute drive to central Glasgow, but you have to leave time to drop off your car, after getting petrol. You also need to get yourselves to Central Station for your London bound train.

You really haven't given yourselves a lot of time to explore each place. You'll see some wonderful scenery, but if there's anything that you can eliminate, outside of the essential places you want to visit, then you wouldn't be as rushed. Personally, I don't want you be so rushed that you don't enjoy yourselves. You said that this will be your first visit to Scotland. I don't want it to be your only visit!!

Best wishes for your holiday!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: be sure to make a reservation for your overnight on Skye, and for the ferry, if you decide to go that way. Best to stay around the south end of Skye (Broadford or Breakish), so that you'll be closer to the ferry the next day.

Posted by
658 posts

Hi again, hokie8789,

I'm just looking again at your itinerary. You said that you have 4 1/2 days outside of Edinburgh, but it looks as though you only have 4 1/2 days total:

Day 1: overnight Edinburgh
Day 2: overnight Inverness
Day 3: overnight Skye
Day 4: overnight Fort William
Day 5: overnight on the train

Day 1: 1/2 day
Day 2: full day
Day 3: full day
Day 4: full day
Day 5: 3/4 day

If your departure day to London is on a weekend day, the Sleeper leaves earlier.

Am I missing a day somewhere? You'll be able to get lots of help and advice on this forum, so keep asking questions.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
12358 posts

It sounds as if your first stop in Europe may be Edinburgh, in which case I think you are probably going to really struggle with your Day 1 plans. You and/or your husband may well be severely sleep-deprived and jetlagged after the overnight flight. I would not be in fit condition to take in the displays at the castle, and I would certainly not be interested in doing an after-dark tour, because I would be asleep by then. But then I'm 67 years old. Perhaps the two of you will be raring to go when your feet hit Scottish soil.

Posted by
17 posts

Mike (Auchterless), thank you so much for your prompt and thoughtful response! Yes, I am a proud VT Hokie. :-)

We probably won't get to the room until at least 3:00, assuming our flight is on time with no hitches. I didn't intend to try to do all of the Edinburgh attractions that first day. Maybe the Edinburgh Castle or Arthurs Seat the day we get there, and then the ghost tour in the evening. We will be dealing with the time change, so will try to stay up to as late as we can on that first night to get acclimated. We can do the other things in the morning before we start out - hoping to be on the road by lunchtime.

I wonder if I reversed this and started the other way, making us arrive in Culloden first, and then drive down to see the Border Collies later, if that would be more workable? We have a border collie, that we adore, and this is a must see for us.

We will have the entire last day up until almost 11pm, as the Caledonian Sleeper doesn't leave until 11:40. I don't think we can get on early since it will be coming to Glasgow from the North.

I do have an option to cancel the sleeper and stay one more day in Scotland and fly from Edinburgh to Paris, which is the next destination, but that will present some challenges of it's own. Currently, we take the sleeper train to London, spend that next day in London, overnight near St. Pancras station, and get up and take Eurostar to Paris. We could skip London and the Eurostar; it is just a stop off point, and we were just going to do a couple of things that day (I've been and done most things there, but my husband has not.) If you think an extra day in Scotland would be hugely beneficial, I would value that opinion. Transportation has been especially difficult with this trip due to the confines of when we can arrive and depart, which hinges on my husband's approved time off from his job.

Your recommendations regarding the ferries, and where to stay are SO helpful and appreciated. I hope that I can still find some nice accommodations at this date. Edinburgh booked with no problem, but I am not sure about some of these smaller places. I am not a fan of staying a different place each night, but I do not know how to avoid it with the time that we have.

One last thing: will I be able to see the Scottish Highland cattle anywhere along my proposed itinerary? That is important to me too! Thanks!

Posted by
2866 posts

Sorry to sound harsh, but your schedule is unrealistic. The joy of rural Scotland is having the time to stop and take in the scenery.

Are you arriving after a transatlantic flight? You will be lucky to see everything that you want to an your arrival day, particularly if you suffer from jet lag.

Day 2 - you are going to spend some time in Edinburgh, then you have about 6 hours of driving planned, plus you want to spend at least an hour at Kincraig. Culloden is at least a 2 hour visit. Something needs to give.

Day 3 - at least 4 hours of driving plus exploring Loch Ness (there are many better lochs to visit) and visiting 2 castles won’t give you much time to see Skye.

The weather on Skye can be inclement and a 3 night stay gives the best opportunity to explore what the island has to offer. When I was last there, the clouds were so low that the Cuillins (mountains) were shrouded in mist for 2 days and weren’t visible.

Day 4 - you will get to the Viaduct before reaching Fort William. There aren’t many steam trains a day and parking there is difficult. A more realistic 3.5/4 hours of driving, depending where you stay.

Day 5 - 4+ hours of driving. Personally, I dislike sleeper trains as the last thing I do is sleep on them! Have you experienced this kind of train before? I end up cranky for a couple of days due to the loss of sleep. Flying to London maybe a better option.

Your “must sees” are in opposite directions, but I would suggest that you either head towards Inverness OR Skye, as I fear you are going to spend so long in transit, that your trip will not be a pleasant experience.

Posted by
17 posts

Auchterless (Mike): These are the days I have:
5/19 arrive Edinburgh; overnight in Edinburgh
5/20 leave Edinburgh by lunch hour (1/2 day outside of Edinburgh)
5/21 Full day
5/22 Full day
5/23 Full day
5/24 Full day up until sleeper leaves.
Does this help? thanks!

Posted by
202 posts

Gosh this sounds like a real whirlwind tour! You will basically be seeing bits of Scotland, but only from the window of your car as you zip past. I think you are tying to cram way too much in to too short a time period. It sounds exhausting. The distances probably don't look much to you on the map, but the roads are nothing like you will have experienced back home. Our roads are narrow, and so many American visitors tell me they find the whole experience of driving here a bit of a challenge, especially when they encounter the single track roads we have up here on Skye. You will also find that google maps etc give completely unrealistic driving times. You will need to add between 25 and 40 percent to whatever time you think a journey will take.

You will have barely time to scratch the surface of Skye. Maybe you could have 2 nights on Skye, arriving via the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and departing in the morning by ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, then drive as you suggested via Glenfinnan to Glencoe (a fairly easy drive). You could overnight south of Fort William (a dreary town) somewhere like Ballachuilish. You could make it as far to Stirling at the end of Day 4. Hope this helps.

Posted by
17 posts

Jennifer,
You do not sound harsh. I appreciate your opinion, and that's why I asked. It is sounding like I need to try an add that extra day if I can. I know it is only one day, but may make a difference. One day more is all that I can do, unfortunately. Also, it sounds like I may need to cut a few things out, and I will do that to make it a more enjoyable trip. I will take Rick Steve's approach and assume that I will be back. I have not been on a sleeper train. I think it held some allure for me, and also saves a hotel night, but I am not a great sleeper, so I may end up cranky for a few days too! I purchased a flex ticket that is refundable.

Posted by
658 posts

Hi once again, hokie8789,

If it were me, I'd definitely spend the extra day in Scotland, and fly on to Paris from EDI. Or GLA. I know that EasyJet has good fares from both, but they have really stringent luggage requirements. However, the final decision is yours. I've never done the Eurostar; it sounds like fun!

There are several places to see Highland cattle outside of Edinburgh. There's actually a website! It appears that there are several farms along the B9152, which is the road that parallels the A9 between Kincraig and Aviemore. Also there are Hieland coos in the field adjacent to the Culloden Battlefield car park. And at Kilmahog, which I mentioned in an earlier reply.

However, the one place you can definitely see them is in the hamlet of Duirinish, which is off of the A87 between Eilean Donan and the Skye Bridge. The road is narrow (one lane with passing places), but there are cows wandering in the road outside the village. We were there this past July, and had to stop the car, as they were blocking the road. Got some good photos!

Yes, if you get an early start out of Edinburgh, and are making really good time on your way north, you could easily do Culloden before Kincraig. However, that would pretty much mean that you'd have to bypass Aviemore and Cairngorms National Park on the way north. You could conceivably pay a flying visit to one or the other after you're finished at Leault farm. Just be sure to allow yourselves enough time after Culloden to get back to Kincraig by 4:00 p.m. From the Leault Farm website, it looks as though they may have Highland cattle on site.

You're looking at a minimum of 4 1/2 to five hours drive time from Edinburgh to Culloden. And that's without stopping. By the time you get to Kincraig, you would most likely be exhausted. You'd need to leave Edinburgh by 7:00 a.m. to do Culloden, Kincraig, and then get to Inverness. Don't forget that it's going to take some time to get out of Edinburgh and across the Forth Road bridge.

Best wishes for your travels! And as they say, "Take some time to enjoy the view."

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: As you're planning to visit Culloden, try to obtain a copy of John Prebble's book "Culloden." It's the definitive book about the battle. Your local library should be able to obtain a copy through ILL, although it's readily available on Amazon.

p.p.s.: And last of all, be careful climbing Arthur's Seat. It may look easy, but the rocks can be slippery in wet weather. Also, the Salisbury Crags are higher than the look. www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/man-breaks-foot-arthurs-seat-13941208

Posted by
3935 posts

It's unimaginable that you could cover these distances in this time frame and actually see and enjoy anything. In my opinion, you need to cut several destinations and focus on one or two things. You may not think things are far miles-wise in Scotland, but the roads are curvy and hilly, and in my experience it takes a lot longer to get anywhere than you think it will.

Listen to what Jennifer and SkyeGirl have said. You really only have three days (ok, four with the late departure of the night train if you choose to keep it). This is way too much for that timeframe.

Posted by
17 posts

I have been able to add another day and am working on paring this down some. This is the most difficult trip itinerary ive ever planned, and if I could start again, I would approach it differently. If you will indulge me, I will share a modified attempt and ask for your thoughts. I really do appreciate ALL of the comments and suggestions and take them seriously. It is great to be able to get help and advice from those with experience.

Posted by
17 posts

Here is a revision that I am hoping sounds more reasonable. Still a lot there, but a few things removed, plus an extra full day. So now i have 6 full days, including one full day in Edinburgh.

5/19: Arrive Edinburgh mid afternoon. Overnight in Edinburgh
5/20: Spend the day and night in Edinburgh. Decide which things to do later, but this should give plenty of time as we’re not trying to do a lot there and don’t mind giving up anything that would rush us.
5/21: pick up rental car and head towards Kincraig to arrive by 3:45 pm for sheepdog exhibition. Will route via Stirling because, we want to see Doune Castle and maybe Stirling Castle. We do not necessarily want to go inside this or any other castle in Scotland, besides maybe Edinburgh Castle, because we are more interested in seeing them from the outside in their settings. I’m thinking this should put us in Kincraig at a good time. After Kincraig, we would head north and overnight somewhere between Aviemore and Inverness.
5/22: Visit Culloden Battlefield in the morning (probably a few hours) then route towards Skye via Loch Ness. We aren’t interested in Loch Ness that much, but would just route that way because it makes most sense from Culloden. We would try to go to Skye and stay for two nights there. Would want to see (not go inside) Elean Donan castle on the way. Is this too much for this day? Do I need to leave out Culloden?
5/23 : Skye
5/24: leave Skye on ferry to Maillag and view Glenfinnan Viaduct. Drive to Glencoe and spend some time there. Maybe overnight in Ballachulish.
5/25: head toward Loch Lomond and Trossachs. Take in whatever scenery we can and end up in Stirling. You may wonder why ending in Stirling and not visiting Doune on this end. It is because I initially had this latest route reversed and it worked better, but had our last day on Saturday, and of course then found out that Leault Farms is closed on Saturdays! So I had to find something to use our time wisely before getting to Kincraig on the 21st for the exhibition at 4:00.. My husband wanted to see Doune, so I thought this would work. I don’t think there’s time on the last day to do this, considering coming from Ballachulish...
5/26: drive to Edinburgh airport for flight to Paris.
The border collie exhibition has really kind’ve driven this itinerary. If this were not non negotiable, I could probably cut out going towards Inverness and Culloden.

At any rate, I appreciate your comments on this change. If you suggest particulars to cut out, I will certainly consider. Thanks!

Posted by
202 posts

Yes this looks more manageable. You will need to get cracking on booking accommodation, particularly on Skye. You will also need to pre-book the ferry, on calmac.co.uk being careful to ensure you select Armadale to Mallaig as your routing (I have had guests who booked the ferry in the wrong direction so I always remind people!).

As Mike said in his earlier post you should have no problem seeing Highland cows! Just don't do what a lot of tourists do and slam on the brakes, fling open the car doors and leap out to take a photo without thinking about other road users (I'm sure you wouldn't do that!!!). Also don't park in passing places on single track roads to take photos (lots of people do) as it can cause chaos when other traffic needs to pass. In fact as you are coming to Skye and will likely encounter some of our wonderful single track roads, it would be a good idea to make sure you know what the etiquette is for driving on them (it catches lots of people out). Here is a nice little animation that even includes some highland cows, that explains it all. single track road driving

Posted by
658 posts

Hi once again, hokie8789,

Your new itinerary sounds a lot more doable, and a lot less rushed.

You'll need to get out to EDI fairly early on the 21st., as it's a fair drive to Kincraig. If you're going via Stirling, as opposed to Perth, it's going to put you a bit out of the way. Check out the routing on a map. Stirling would be M9 to A9, then on to Kincraig and Aviemore. Perth would be M90 to A9, which is a much more direct route. You should see how you're doing timewise, once you pick up your car. You could hold off on visiting Stirling Castle (or driving by it) until the 25th. The best view of the castle, and how it stands in the land around it, is from the M9 as it skirts the west side of Stirling.

On the 21st., you should try to get a bit closer to Culloden. If you find good lodging in Aviemore, you'd be just under an hour away. There are a couple of good hotels out by the airport (Inverness), plus a few good ones on the east side of Inverness, which would put you within a short drive of Culloden.

On the 22nd., you should at least stop for photos of Eilean Donan, even if you're not going inside. If you haven't already seen Highland cattle near Kincraig, you'd probably have time for a side trip to Duirinish before crossing the Skye bridge. Be sure that you've made advance lodging reservations for your time on Skye.

If you want to see the Jacobite crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, you need to time your ferry journey accordingly (and make reservations!). The ferry operates about eight times daily. The Jacobite runs twice daily - once in the morning and once in the afternoon. If you don't need to see the Jacobite on the viaduct (along with hundreds of other trainspotters!), you can see it stationary at the train station in Mallaig, where it lays over for about 90 minutes before its return journey to Fort William. The locomotive and tender are really beautiful close up, and the rail cars are very evocative of times past. They usually keep steam up while the Jacobite is at the Mallaig station, so you can get some very nice photographs. And you can also get some excellent fish and chips from the cafe in the train station. If you time it right, you can see the Jacobite from the station platform in Morar. The train stops there for the railroad crossing.

As far as the visit to Glencoe goes, check out the previous itinerary I gave you. Glencoe is not that far from Glenfinnan, so you could push on through Fort William and Glencoe, and stay overnight somewhere around Crainlarich on the 24th., so that you'd have more time in the Trossachs on the 25th., and have enough time to visit Doune Castle, which is on the way to Stirling.

I don't know what time your flight to Paris leaves on the 26th., but make sure to allow at least two hours drive time from Stirling to EDI, plus enough time to get petrol and return your car. If the flight is late afternoon, you may have enough time to visit Stirling Castle before returning to EDI.

One good thing is that you're traveling in late May, so you'll have lots of daylight.

I'm very glad that you were able to rearrange your schedule to allow more time in Scotland. You won't be as rushed, and you'll be able to enjoy yourselves a lot more. And this holiday will only whet your appetite. You'll be back!

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
17 posts

Thank you. Makes me feel so much better about things, and I benefited greatly from your advice. Already having some trouble with booking on Skye, as you predicted. Anything left is mostly on far western side. I cannot budget for $400/night, which is what I find so far on eastern side. Nothing much nearer to ferry. Youth hostels left, but that’s not what we’ll want. May have to fall back and regroup again, but will keep looking. Is it sensible to stay across the bridge if we have to?

Posted by
17 posts

Was able to book an Airbnb on Skye that looks very nice and reputable from a “superhost” with excellent reviews. So, back on track, there. It’s at Broadford area, Hope that will work since we’ll have two days.

Posted by
658 posts

Hi once again, hokie8789,

Broadford is a good location, although it's a bit of a drive up to Trotternish. There are a couple of good restaurants there. I've eaten at Cafe Sia several times. The food is good, and the cost is very reasonable. The Highland melt is delicious!

Glad you were able to find lodging on Skye. Actually, the Skyewalker Hostel in Portnalong is pretty good as far as hostels go. They have a couple of en-suite twins, which are good value, but on the down side, there's not a whole lot to do in the evenings in Portnalong!

A' the best,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
202 posts

Hi again,
Broadford is a decent base - good choice. It's another vote for Café Sia from me. We stop there often on our way home when we've been 'off island'. Great pizza and other Italian dishes, and good coffee too.

Posted by
17 posts

Thank you Auchterless and Skyegirl. Im glad that Broadford will work out okay. I will definitely try out that restaurant!