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First time to Scotland and need help building an itinerary

Hello everyone,

I'm new to this site and forum but I hear it's awesome :)

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Scotland this year (August 28 to September 12) and I would really like some help mapping out an itinerary that will highlight some of the really beautiful spots (I know all of Scotland is beautiful) and allow an easy pace given this will be our first time driving on the left hand side of the road.

After much research I think we want to stick to the North West side and include Isle of Skye, Lewis and Harris with 2 or 3 days in Edinburgh at either the beginning or end of the trip. I understand that the Fringe festival is coming to a close at the end of August so I'm not sure if we should avoid that and save Edinburgh till the end and start our trip in Glasgow. I would like to see some castles, wildlife, coastal towns, and rugged mountains. A distillery would be nice as well. Below is a rough idea but I would really like some input as I'm not sure where I should be stopping and what needs to be seen.

August 29 - fly from Toronto to Glasgow (or fly to EDI a day earlier and start there?)

August 30 - spend one night in Glasgow (avoiding the end of Fringe in EDI)

August 31 - pick up car and drive north to first stop for 2 nights (not sure where to stop)

September 2 to 4 - make our way to Isle of Skye, spend 2 nights and take a day tour of the area

September 4 to 7 - take ferry from Skye to Lewis and spend 3 nights sightseeing around Lewis & Harris

September 7 to 8 - take ferry to Ullapool then pick a place to stay for one or two nights while we explore Fort William, Loch Ness,Ben Nevis and Glencoe (any suggestions are welcome)

September 8 - not sure where to head next

September 9 - drop off car and stay in EDI until departure early on September 12

Any input is greatly appreciated!

Posted by
256 posts

Scotland is a lovely country and you will have a great trip. Some thoughts and suggestions; most rental contracts don’t allow you to take a car on a ferry. Perhaps others can weigh in on that. Please consult the Michelin website viaMichelin.com for travel times & distances. If you use Facebook, follow the Ministry of Transports “The Official Highway Code” page. They post useful tips and road rules that you will need to know when driving over there. Have either one of you driven a RHD car? Some can find it daunting.
I don’t recall spending time in Glasgow outside of family research. Edinburgh is worth a few days and nights for sure. Sterling Castle and the monument to William Wallace may be of interest. The Falkirk Wheel is a different type of lock that offers a short boat ride through it. We spent a week in Aberfeldy in the Highlands and day tripped from there. Dewars had a distillery there. My wife said we went to Fort William but I don’t recall it. If you are a Harry Potter fan then I suggest you book the train ride ticket in advance. We did not. However, we did get to the bridge in time to see the train go across the bridge. Scotland was easy to get around. However, I would recommend a good paper map and understand that you will lose mobile service in some parts of the country.

Posted by
1077 posts

Look at www.visitscotland.com for excellent visuals for all of Scotland. It is probably a good idea to do the Western Isles before they have too many tourists in the near future. Skye will be particularly busy in August/September so reserve as soon as possible. There are many periods of history represented throughout Scotland. Many of the Medieval Castles and Abbeys are in the South. You can follow a "Mary Queen of Scots" Trail, a "Bobby Burns" Trail, a "Jacobites" Trail, a "Victoria" Trail, and a of course a "Distilleries" Trail. When you are in Glasgow you should visit the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery for a great background knowledge for your tour of historic Scotland. Edinburgh is the icing on the cake.

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, cas125,

First off, if you and/or hubby are apprehensive about driving on the opposite side of the road, hire a car with automatic transmission. It'll cost a little bit more, but it'll be one less thing to think about. You can watch videos about approaching roundabouts and driving on single track roads with passing places, and you should be able to find a copy of the British Highway Code on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. You should also invest in a copy of the latest edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Scotland's Highlands and Islands, which will provide you with copious amounts of information about the places to which you'll be travelling. Or the Lonely Planet Guide to Scotland, which covers the entire country.

Might I suggest that you make your first stop after Glasgow the town of Fort William. That way, you can visit Glencoe and Ben/Glen Nevis, and save yourselves a couple of days after you return from Ullapool. After Fort William, you can take the scenic drive on the A830 out to Mallaig for the ferry to Skye.

September 4th. is a Friday. There is only one ferry to Harris on that day; be sure to make a reservation well in advance. You can save a little bit of money by getting an Island Hopscotch ticket on CalMac (Mallaig to Armadale; Uig to Tarbert; Stornoway to Ullapool).

After you come back from the Outer Hebrides, you could pick any of several ways to reach Inverness for your visit to Loch Ness. Chances are you'll be on the 2:00 p.m. ferry out of Stornoway. That ferry arrives in Ullapool at 4:30 p.m. You probably don't want to be driving too far that evening, so you could spend the night in Ullapool or drive a little bit south to Aultbea or Gairloch. Actually, Ullapool might be a better bet, as it's a straight shot to Inverness from there. If you catch the 7:00 a.m. ferry out of Stornoway, that opens up a whole travel day back on the mainland.

On September 8th., you could spend the night in Inverness. That would give you some time to explore Nairn, Elgin, and some of the towns along the Moray Firth (Lossiemouth, Findhorn, Spey Bay, etc.).

It's about a five hour drive from Inverness to Edinburgh by way of the A9 and M9.

Hope that gives you some ideas. That should provide you with the opportunity to see coastal towns, mountains, and castles. No promises on the wildlife, although you may encounter the occasional Highland cow, or seals and dolphins on your ferry voyages.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
16827 posts

Just a few comments. There are people on the forum who have spent much more time in Scotland than I did.

Central Edinburgh is very touristy even in July. I still enjoyed it, but I would not go there in August unless I planned to take serious advantage of the Fringe Festival. Hotel rates go up a lot, too.

I liked Glasgow. I enjoyed tracking down Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings. With the limited time you have available, I think it's reasonable to crash in Glasgow the first night and move on. Glasgow is a bit closer to the Highland areas you want to see, so I think flying into that city is a good plan. However, I don't know whether you'll find a significant difference in the flight or rental car costs if you land in Glasgow.

Two nights on Skye is quite short. Keep in mind that Scotland tends to be wet, and that is especially true along the west coast. It's entire possible that the day you plan to take the island tour (which you will need to pre-book--they do sell out) will be a bad-weather day. If you plan to drive yourself around, you have a bit more flexibility about where you go, and of course you haven't pre-paid for a tour you might prefer not to take. There are public buses that do a loop around the Trotternish Peninsula in both directions. I chose to ride both of those on a day when the weather really wasn't suitable for doing much walking.

Posted by
1529 posts

Just wanted to add my 2 cents.....don’t worry about the driving. No problem at all.....if I can do it, anyone can! The roundabouts are trickier, but if you miss your turn just go around again. We took our rental car on the ferry. Don’t miss Isle of Skye! So beautiful!

Posted by
3259 posts

August 2015 we had 3 weeks, and started in Edinburgh specifically to see and do some Fringe events. Some were free, some were reserved ahead of time, with an admission cost.

We then headed way up north, to the Shetland, then Orkney islands, but didn’t visit Lewis or Harris. So which place for you to stay enroute from Glasgow to Skye I can’t recommend from personal experience, but maybe add a day (or two?), instead, to your Skye time.

Flying back from Orkney to Inverness, though, we picked up a rental car and drove, partly through pouring rain, to Skye. I don’t recall any provisions prohibiting taking the car on a ferry, or even being asked if that was in our plans. Boy, did the oncoming semi-trucks on the 2-lane highway to Skye seem wide, leaving just barely enough room for us to get by, it seemed, in our lane! Just before crossing the bridge to Skye, we pulled off into the Eilean Donan castle parking lot. Between all the tour buses and cars, we found the very last open parking spot. But then, realizing how packed the castle must be, we drove on, without going in. Took some nice photos of it, though, from the east, with the castle on the far side of the water. Mountains, yes, and impressive! We passed near the Tallisker whisky distillery in the southwest, but didn’t visit.

Skye has narrower roads, sometimes one lane wide. There were lots of signed “Passing Places,” though, where vehicles could pull over to let oncoming cars by. There were a lot of vehicles with Italian or Belgian license plates, where the driver was on the left side of the car or motorhome, trying to drive on the left side of the road. They didn’t always stay in their lane, so Heads Up for fellow tourists!

Coming back to the mainland from Skye, we took the tiny ferry from Kylerhea to Glenelg. We then drove to Fort William - definitely worth a stay for the town and the surrounding area. Leaving Fort William after our last night there, we drove thru another torrential rain all morning, with slow traffic making its way thru the storm. We visited the fabulous castle in Doune, then headed to Stirling, with a much bigger castle. Maybe consider Sterling for Sept. 8. Edinburgh, of course, has a grand castle, too!

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you everyone! This is exactly the discussion I was hoping for. Just to answer some of your questions:

  • We are definitely renting an automatic and I have confirmed that ferries within Scotland are fine. We will also be sure to watch several videos and do our homework.
  • The cost of flying into Glasgow was no different from Edinburgh and when I looked at the map and where we were thinking of going it seemed easier logistically to start from there. This way we can at least see a bit of Glasgow before heading out on our adventure.
  • I have reviewed the visitscotland.com website and there is loads of information and great pictures but it's somewhat overwhelming and I always prefer to hear from those who know :)
  • Aucterless your input on where we should start and finish was great. I needed specific information on the route we should take and so I will be sure to take the A830 to Mallaig for the ferry to Skye. I'm thinking of spending 3 nights on Skye and 3 on Lewis as the consensus seems to be that more time on both is better. I'll be sure to pre-book the ferry if we're leaving on Friday.

Once I get our flights booked I will start a separate thread for accommodations. I'm hoping to stay in B&B's for most of it and a central hotel in Edinburgh.

Thanks again!
Christine