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Bill again, Scotland.

My tentative dates are October 5th depart Portland Oregon then arrive either Edinburgh or Glascow. Leaving on October 15th; 8 good days to explore.
I enjoy reading all the entries on the forum and I thank you for replying to me. My questions are;
How many days should I allow for Edinburgh and then Glascow as well? And why do you say that.
Is Edinburgh Castle worth all the hype or are the other castles just as noteworthy? Are there more then 1 castle that would be a
strong consideration.
Outside of the touristy realm, what are the must see and dos for Edinburgh as well as Glascow?
Would the train be a suggestion if I wanted to go to Loch Ness?
What day trips from either location would be recommended for photography, interacting with the locals, Scottish food
and the true Scottish distillery?
Would it be time and cost effective if I rent a car?
What are the points of interest that are a must?
Are sweatpants, jeans, and casual shirts acceptable attire for most of the places?
What isles are a must see for the trip, and why?
And, just as important, what are the **absolutely do not do** items/sights?

Thank you all for your input. Please, feel free to give me any ideas you like. I am trying to put together my "to do" list.

Thank you again.

Bill from Oregon

Posted by
6481 posts

Head to Powell’s and buy the RS Guidebook to Scotland.

Read it. Will answer many of your questions.

IMHO sweatpants give off an air of disrespect. Like you couldn’t bother to dress.

Rent a car if you want to see Loch Ness.

Posted by
914 posts

I visited Scotland for a week in 2015. You’re going to love it. The people are sooooo friendly. Just be prepared to not understand a WORD of what they are saying, especially in Glasgow where the accent is very thick. The younger people are easier to understand. But some people (including our taxi driver) could have been speaking a completely different language for all we understood! Finally he started talking in a Texas accent (he worked with a guy from Texas) so we could understand him.

I would consider flying into Glasgow and out of Edinburgh, or vice versa. Then split your time between the two cities. You might look into a day trip (or two) to see some of the countryside. We did a day trip with Rabbie’s from Glasgow that included Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and a distillery tour. Highly recommend Rabbie’s as a way to see a lot in a short period of time and not have to drive. How you split your time might be determined by where a day trip you’re interested is based out of. They offer them from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Rick’s book has the highlights and recommended walks in both cities.

I would not rent a car. I would not wear sweatpants. Jeans and casual shirts will be fine.

Find out which pubs are having live music and spend an evening with the locals. We had a lovely evening chatting with a couple that was celebrating the wife’s retirement. They welcomed us and gave us lots of tips. And gave us good practice in getting used to the accent. The husband did mention that he was speaking very slowly for our benefit!

I enjoyed Stirling Castle more than Edinburgh castle. But I would recommend both. Read up on the history of each.

I would not do any isles on such a short trip.

Posted by
21319 posts

You don't have much time. I'd be inclined to pick one of the two cities (most would choose Edinburgh though I liked Glasgow just as much) and would probably limit my time there to 3 nights (two full days). To avoid wasting time I'd put that city visit at the end of the trip and plan to fly home from that city--though transportation between Edinburgh and Glasgow is frequent and quick, so it would probably be workable to visit Edinburgh and fly out of Glasgow or vice versa.

Scotland does have public transportation in the form of trains and buses, but the countryside is rather lightly populated, so that transportation is usually not frequent. On a short trip, having to work around train and bus schedules can be especially frustrating. That's one reason it is handy to have a car for your outside-the-cities sightseeing. Another reason is the weather. Even in the middle of the summer it rains a lot, especially in the western part of Scotland. If you have a car, you can check the weather when you get up in the morning and drive in a direction where you have a hope of not being rained on all day long. It's much harder to do that when you're using trains and buses, because in some cases you need to make those reservations days ahead.

Posted by
5669 posts

Rent the car once you leave Edinburgh. Don't have a car in either Glasgow or Edinburgh, the parking the driving it is not worth it. On the other hand if you want to see the countryside do rent a car. I usually spend a day or two in Edinburgh and then pick up a car and head north.

There are lots of places for beautiful pictures. You could stop in Aberfeldy. While there you could do the Birk's of Aberfeldy walk. Wonderful pictures of waterfalls. You could drive out toward Glen Lyon to Giorra Dam. You could drive over the mountain to Kinloch Rannoch. The heather will be past it's prime, but this single track road that takes you past Schiehallion beautiful and really interesting geology. You and then head out to the train station on Rannoch Moor for lunch or tea. Wonderful drive in rain or sunshine. When I did it the wind was blowing out of the west and kicking up an incredible surf on Loch Rannoch. BTW this is the eastern part of the Road to the Isles. Or you could head east to Queens View on to Pitlochry and back down the A5 to Aberfeldy. If you have time stop off and check out the Explorers' Garden. You can get some close ups of fall flowers to intersperse with all your landscape shots.

In Edinburgh, if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile explore the Leith Water Walk. I've only done the bit in the city when I walked to the Museum of Modern Art. I bet it won't be crowded in October. It wasn't in September. A lot of people climb Arthur's seat, but I think that there is a great view from Calton Hill as well

As for the Castle in Edinburgh. I visit it every time I go to Edinburgh. I start there. It gives me spectacular views of the city. And it reminds me of the vast expanse of the history of Scotland. Whether it's the beauty of St. Margaret's Chapel even when packed with tourists to the Honors of Scotland and the story of their burial near Dunnator to wandering into the ruins of David II's castle to touring the prison which held American POWs to seeing the teeny tiny room where King James VI and I was born to visiting the war memorial and contemplating my grandfather's WWI experience with the Canadian Expeditionary force, I find it amazing. There is great history at Stirling as well, but Edinburgh Castle feels like the heart to me.

Posted by
5719 posts

For some parts of Scotland, the week that you are there is a holiday for schools, so places will be busier.

October can have marvellous weather or it can be awful! I would either divide the time equally between Edinburgh and Glasgow if you want to see the Highlands or if urban things are more of interest, then 5 days in Edinburgh and 3 in Glasgow.

An alternative to hiring a car would be to take a Rabbies day trip to Loch Lomond or the Highlands, so you don’t have the hassle of driving on unfamiliar roads and finding somewhere to park and you can sit back and enjoy the scenery.

I enjoyed the guided tour of the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh and visited the former royal yacht Britannia at Leith Docks - we took the bus there.

I have spent months and months in Scotland over the years, but I haven’t been to a distillery. I am not a whisky fan. I have had enough to know that the taste varies significantly. If you have a favourite brand, look where they are based and see if they do tours.

Given your timeframe, I wouldn’t head to the islands. The sea can be awful at that time of year.

Don’t wear sweat pants unless you are at the gym or jogging in the street. Don’t bother with Loch Ness unless you are travelling with young children - there are more picturesque places to photograph with less traffic clogged roads.

Posted by
5669 posts

I would say that car hire vs tours would be how seriously you take your photography. With the car you can get to those more isolated spots. One thing to bear in mind I you do rent a car, schedule about a 25-33% more time than indicated on any maps or google as you will find that you want to stop and get pictures. It takes a while to control the "I must stop and photograph this" instinct that can pop on round every bend in the road! The Rabbies tours get great ratings on this site, but unless you go on a photo tour or workshop, you'll be be dodging tourists in your photos. Even on the photo workshop that I did on Skye we were all tripping over ourselves and we were trying to stay out of each other's way.


Posted by
514 posts

My go to resource for Scotland is the Undiscovered Scotland website. Start with the relevant map page and follow the links. It has loads of ideas for places not on the usual tourist itinerary.

With eight days, don't try and be too enthusiastic and try to cover a lot of ground. As Pamela has pointed out drivin g times will be a lot longer than you might expect.

Seriously think about a trip to Loch Ness, which apart from the monster hype, is not the most intereasting of the Scottish lochs. It is also a long drive and if done in a day, much of the time will be spent in the coach (or car). There are other lochs nearer which are just as good eg Loch Tay.

Scotland is stuffed with castles. Edinburgh Castle is one of the busiest as it is on everyone's tick list. Stirling Castle (easy train trip from Edinburgh) is very similar and just as good. Don't forget the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II when she is in Scotland.

Posted by
1681 posts

We have enjoyed several road trips in Scotland. For a first time, you might want a bit of an over-view. Then, when you visit again you can do a more in-depth focus on your favorite areas. The driving is scenic and we consider it part of the vacation. We drive all day but make many stops. Packing a picnic will free up more time for enjoying the scenery. The best guide book for Scotland is the Rough Guide, written by locals.

Suggested itinerary: arrive Edinburgh, stay 2 nights.

Get car at the airport. Drive to Grantown vis Ballater. 150 miles. This is the Cairngorm area, lots of scenery and castles.

Drive to Broadford via Garve. 120 miles. From Broadford you can explore Skye and the Torridon area.

Drive to Glencoe or Kingshouse. 100 or 110 miles.. (You can add a detour to Urquhart Castle if you want to see Loch Ness. ) From Glencoe you can also do a loop drive to Kilchurn Castle and Castle Stalker.

Drive to Edinburgh airport and return your car. 120 miles. Fly home evening or next day. Possible stops enroute, depending on your time - Doune Castle, Stirling Castle, the Kelpies.

After you read your guidebook, you can decide how many nights for each area.

Since you asked about clothes: NO sweatpants. Jeans are fine. T-shirts should be plain, not sports logos or political. (However, my DH sometimes wears a Yosemite or Yellowstone T-shirt which sometimes initiates a conversation with another traveler or local person.) Men in Europe seem to wear dark jeans with a button-up shirt for evening meals almost anywhere except really stuffy restaurants.

Posted by
153 posts

I'll be the contrarian here. Although never having been to Scotland I'm looking forward to my departure in less than 2 weeks. We are planning 5 nights in Edinburgh with a car (gasp) so 4 full days. We are frugal so here's how we're doing it.

  1. Using a loyalty brand hotel on the west side of Edinburgh that has free parking and a surprisingly good rate.
  2. 2 full days checking out downtown Edinburgh which we'll get to with a 20 minute bus ride from our hotel. Cheap and no parking costs downtown
  3. 1 full day in Stirling, driving there.
  4. 1 day on the Isle of May, driving to the ferry over. Bad weather? We're hopping a train over to Glasgow instead for the day. (We have and will use a Two Together Railcard for a variety of trips already when we don't have a car)
  5. We'll have the car available for food runs and any little trips we may want to do.

So yes, having a car in Edinburgh can be done with some planning. But I also realize some folk don't want to take buses or drive to Stirling. To each his own, enjoy your vacation!

Posted by
5669 posts

I think that the car in Edinburgh depends immensely on where you want to stay. You can stay a bit further out and have the parking. Or you stay in the City Centre and either pay a lot to park, or don't get a car until you are ready to leave town. The tricky bit is that there isn't much on street parking. I ran into it when staying at the Inverleith Hotel near the Royal Botanic Gardens. We found a place to park it overnight, but I would likely have run afoul of parking if I hadn't consulted. I've driven to Stirling and I've taken the train. Both have their pros and cons. :)

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you all for your insights. There is alot of ground to cover and I believe that a return trip is already in the making. will be fine tuning the trip as I get closer to my departure. Thank you again. Any AirBnB suggestions?

Posted by
4191 posts

If you haven’t priced rental cars, they are expensive. I reserved one for about the same time as your trip and I’ve never paid as much, anywhere. With your limited time, you wouldn’t need a car for very long, so price may not be much of an issue. I only mentioned it so you wouldn’t have rental shock when you did check out renting.

Under the do not do section I’ll say, avoid the tourist shops selling cheap, China-made tartans. If you want a tartan or woolen goods, search out a high quality shop with Scotland made goods.

Posted by
50 posts

We've been to Edinburgh a few times, rented a car at the airport which was easy to navigate out of. For the time you have, I'd probably not rent a car, as you'll be in cities mostly it sounds like.

In Edinburgh I loved climbing up Arthur's Seat, which provides wonderful views. I also loved the John Leslie Pub as it seems very authentic (I later saw that Rick Steves went there one Edinburgh episode).

We did a Rabbie's tour out of Edinburgh to Hadrian's Wall and Scottish Borders for a day trip. It was great. Tour guide was very entertaining and nice to not have to drive.

For views that are amazing, a train ride out towards Aberdeen but only as far as Stonehaven. Cute town with a trail to Dunnotar Castle. I have not taken the train there as we were based in Aberdeen, as we follow their football team.