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Basic Building Blocks for Scotland Visit

My wife and I are planning a trip to Scotland in 2018 and we're not quite certain where to begin. I'll note several places we would like to visit and a few other logistic matters and leave it up to those who know Scotland to provide basic building blocks.
We want to visit (in any order) Edinburg, Glasgow, Inverness, The Isle of Skye, and while not in Scotland, Durham

Duration of visit:
Two full weeks (in Scotland/Durham)

We’re retired so we can visit anytime. We’d prefer to visit with lesser crowds (in museums/lodging, etc.) but most important we want to visit when we have the “best chance” for sunny days, temperature not as important as sun.

Mode of Travel:
We enjoy traveling via train as we’ve met many interesting people on the train, but we’re thinking a rental car may be preferable for the Highlands and Lake District. We would even be open to taking a local “cruise” (we use the word broadly) if such would visit most of the places we want to visit.

We would like to change lodging as little as possible during the two weeks, preferring to make day-trips (from a limited number (maybe 2, maximum of 3) “gateways”. We’d like to spend at least one night (not included in the 2/3 above) in the Highlands at some kind of “special” place, we’ve heard of Kinloch Lodge that we think would qualify as such a “special” place. Otherwise, we’d prefer to stay in small hotels, or B+B’s that would be appropriate for a multi-day/night stay. We are not interested in “franchise” type lodging. Where should our "gateways" be? (Any suggestions for specific lodging?)

Depending on the time of year with best chances of sun, what type clothing to pack (we don’t mind doing our laundry during the visit) and we plan to do some “serious” (for us) walking in the Highlands. We will not pack anything "dressy or formal".

International Flight:
We prefer to fly out of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte (?). We’d like to avoid NYC airports and Atlanta. We prefer so called “premium economy” air travel. We assume we’ll likely change plans in London, Amsterdam, Dublin (or elsewhere) to get to Edinburg, Glasgow (maybe Newcastle). Suggestions?

Specific Venues:
We are not “night people” and rather enjoy museums, orchestral music, historic architecture/gardens, and, of course (for Scotland) the natural landscape. "Not to be missed" in/near places we've noted?

We do not have a budget as such but would like to keep the overall cost as modest as possible, renting a “stick shift” small car without AC is not a problem, and we prefer casual, local cuisine for meals. We would like to have en suite bath for all lodging.

Posted by
2928 posts

I'll just comment on the car rental and choosing "home base" locations. You mention you're retired, so be sure to check the age limits on renting a car. If you can't rent due to age, all is not lost. Scotland has a robust network of bus routes as well as the trains.

Be aware that a lot of Scotland is spread out. It takes longer to get from one place to the next than it looks on a map. Therefore, a home base with day trips is not as easy as you might think. But, 2 or 3 nights in a given location might work well.

See the Secret Scotland website for some ideas on realistic driving itineraries. And, of course, read the Scotland section in the RS guide to Britain.

Here's an idea for you. Skip the car. You can take a train from Edinburgh to Oban. Bus to Inverness. Then, train back to your last destination. You can also add in some Rabbie's tours. Make a list of what you want to do. Play golf? Castles? Boat trips? History? Sheep? Hairy Cows and Scotch? There's a lot of choices. Of course, I recommend a RS guidebook for lodging and restaurant tips.

Posted by
2928 posts

You're looking for sunshine. If you go in May or June you'll have long days so the sun will be up -- if not actually out -- for many hours. It will rain some of the time, that's a given no matter what time of year you go to Scotland.

For walking/hiking, since you want to go to Durham (and I agree, it's a jewel), consider a walk on Hadrian's Wall. The section around Housesteads Roman Fort, between Hexham and Haltwhistle (west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) is awesome.

Posted by
278 posts

Just to give you some of the sources I used when planning my last two U.K trips.

First, my favorite website for Scotland places to go is Undiscovered Scotland. It has very in-depth articles on just about everything to see, all plotted out on a clickable map (unfortunately, the clickability doesn't seem to work on my iPad, but it works great on my laptop). Also, if you do decide to drive, the site also recommends some drives that take in the best sights in a certain area.

Second, I cannot recommend TripAdvisor enough to find places to stay. Just put together your desired itinerary, then go to TripAdvisor and look for the most highly recommended places in each town. I found really fantastic B&Bs and hotels all over Britain and Ireland just by using that site.

Also, when researching things to see, don't forget something as basic as checking out travel books from the library--they are great for helping you put together your itinerary. And if, like me, you are into archaeology, Scotland will have several digs happening every summer, and many will have a Public day for locals and tourists to stop by and see what they are finding. Something to think about researching! Highland Games, sheepdog herding contests, local festivals--you never know what you'll stumble across on your trip.