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I Am A Newbie Please Help!


Considering a trip to Scotland and have some seriously issues building an itinerary!! Also what is the best time to go? I've always done all of my Euro travel in April/May but the weather is a littler cooler and rainy in Scotland. Any advices on a good time? Here are my itinerary options but together from different website. Oh yeah we have the option of 2 weeks plus travel time. Any pros and cons are greatly appreciated!!!

Option 1
Day 1: Sleep Edinburgh Day 7: Sleep Harris or Lewis
Day 2: Sleep Aberdeen Day 8: Sleep Harris or Lewis
Day 3: Sleep Inverness Day 9: Sleep Isle of Skye
Day 4: Sleep Kirkwall Day 10: Sleep Isle of Skye
Day 5: Sleep Kirkwall Day 11: Sleep Fort William
Day 6: Sleep Ullapool Day 12: Sleep Trossach National Park Area
Day 13: Sleep Edinburgh

Option 2 (Rick Steves Version)
Day 1-3 Edinburgh
Day 4-5 Glascow
Day 6-7 Oban
Day 8-9 Isle of Skye
Day 10-11 Inverness
Day 12 Pittochery-Ballater-St Andrews
Day 13-14 Stirling
Day 14 Edinburgh

Posted by
2146 posts

I love Scotland, so I'm glad you have a chance to visit.
From my perspective, your Option 1 has too many one-night stands. Are you traveling by car or public transportation ?
Time of year: We have been in the area three times in August. Two times we had wonderful weather, and the third was typical Scotland rainy. I do think the best chance for clearer weather is August. We'll see what others have experienced. In any case, it's still Scotland and fantastic. On most of the days I've been there, the rain alternated throughout the day, but there can be intense periods.
In Edinburgh, the Fringe Festival takes over the city for most of August. I think it's an incredible performing arts festival, and can't wait to go for a third time. However, hotel prices increase greatly and availability decreases. I would certainly recommend experiencing the Fringe for a few days.
Safe travels!

Posted by
63 posts

Based on my experience on my first trip to Scotland, I agree with the previous response that there are two many one-night stands and even the two-night stops are overly ambitious. Travel in Scotland is more leisurely than you would anticipate because the roads are often narrow, on the islands they are one-lane, and you have to factor in time spent waiting for ferries to the various islands. The Rick Steves itinerary can be ambitious because they have already planned everything out regarding transportation. In Scotland the journey is half the pleasure because of the lovely scenery and small towns. My suggestion would be to focus on the limited areas you want to see and spend more time on those areas. There are numerous guidebooks you can read to get an idea of what you would like to see, and the Visit Scotland website is helpful too. What you don't see on your first trip you can always see on your second, which is what I am doing this fall!

Posted by
63 posts

As a followup to my previous reply, we went in late May and had glorious weather, temps in the 60s and and most days without rain, though the locals kept telling us that the lack of rain was unusual for that time of year.

Posted by
216 posts


Do any of you suggest specific towns/itinerary to stay in? We are an active couple 40 &52 with no children joining us. We will be driving our way through.

Posted by
6793 posts

General planning advice is that every time you change locations, you will lose one half to a whole day of time. Whether traveling by rail or by car, its not just the road time, but the checking in and out of hotels, getting to and from transportation, parking, meal/restroom/fuel stops, and the unforeseen. And you get just plain tired of travel, especially if you're driving.

Posted by
629 posts

I agree with others that option 1 seems highly ambitious and tiring in terms of the number of one night stops you have. I think you're trying to cram too much into the available time. I don't think it's realistic to try to see both the Orkney Islands and the Outer Hebrides in the same trip. If you are set on coming to Skye, then the Outer Hebrides (Lewis & Harris) is an obvious add on to that, whereas the Orkney Islands are very far away and would take ages to get to. So I'd suggest one or the other.

On the other hand I don't like Rick's version either! I think he devotes too much time to the cities/towns (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness) and insufficient time to the Highlands and Islands. I think if you are a city person then great, you might enjoy Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Stirling, but if you want to get out and see the scenery then the balance is not right.

For what it's worth I'd avoid Inverness unless you particularly want to use it as base for some 'must see' sight. It's very much a working town and not particularly scenic or of interest to visitors (IMO).

Happy to come back with suggestions but could benefit from knowing just a bit more about your interests. For instance, if archeology - then definitely go to Orkney. If stunning hiking - then Skye. If white sand beaches - then Harris. If golf - then St Andrews. Castles - then Edinburgh and Stirling. etc, etc.

Posted by
102 posts

I don't particularly recommend spending 2 days in either Inverness or Stirling - There's a great deal more to see in Edinburgh and Glasgow than in these places, so it doesn't make sense to spend the same amount of time in the latter as the former.

I'd agree with skyegirl on Inverness, although it maybe a base to visit other places nearby. Aberdeen isn't necessarily that much of a tourist hotspot either - is there a specific reason you're interested in going there?

Generally I'd also agree with what others have said - scale back considerably on what you plan to see so you actually have time to see places properly rather than driving non stop.

More generally if hiring a car I'd strongly advise not to drive on the day of arrival due to jetlag. You also don't want a car in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Bear in mind that there are airports at Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, so don't presume on flying to Edinburgh - one of these other airports may suit your itinerary better - or you may want to open jaw onto one and out the other.

Indeed, if you're located in Tampa, bear in mind that Virgin Atlantic fly nonstop from Orlando Int to Glasgow on Fridays and Saturdays, so this may be of use. Thomas Cook airlines also fly this route. In contrast there are no direct flights from Florida to Edinburgh.

Posted by
216 posts

We love the outdoors... could care less for art and museums. We have traveled throughout Greece and Ireland by car. I know nothing about Scotland and have pulled these itineraries off the internet. This is why I am asking for suggestions.

Thank you for the info on Thomas Cooke and Virgin! I will definitely look into that. Usually find very cheap flights on British from Tampa to London and connect!!

So.. I am asking someone to build me options lol

Posted by
976 posts

Hi, NursCyn,

Here's my tuppence, for what it's worth:

Day 1: Arrive Edinburgh/Glasgow, spend part of the day exploring on foot and by public transportation. Spend the night in Edinburgh.
Day 2.: Continue to explore Edinburgh. Spend the night.
Day 3: Pick up a car at EDI. Drive to Aberdeen. There is a heck of a lot to see and do in the Aberdeen area. There are several excellent castles to explore, including Dunnottar, Crathes, Craigievar, Fyvie, Drum, and Haddo House. There is a lot of hiking/walking to be done as well, within and without the city. Spend the night.
Day 4: Drive to Inverness. Ideally, you should drive up to the Moray coast, and explore some of the fishing villages. Enjoy some Cullen Skink in Cullen. Overnight in Inverness.
Day 5: Pick out a scenic route to Ullapool from Inverness. There are many. Overnight in Ullapool.
Day 6: Morning CalMac ferry to Stornoway. Arrive Stornoway at 1:00 p.m. Drive to Callanish Standing Stones and Dun Carloway broch. Spend the night in or around Stornoway.
Day 7: Head south to Harris, and visit some of the stunning beaches there. Take the Golden Road. Walk out to the 14th. century church from the village of Northton. Spend the night in or around Tarbert.
Day 8: Continue to Explore Harris. Overnight there.
Day 9: Ferry from Tarbert to Uig, on Skye. Be careful here, as the ferries leave at a different time each day. Overnight on Skye,
Day 10: Explore Skye. Overnight somewhere central
Day 11: Continue to Explore Skye. Take a boat trip from Elgol Overnight at same lodging.
Day 12: Ferry from Armadale on Skye to Mallaig. Drive to Aviemore. Overnight in Aviemore.
Day 13: Explore Aviemore area and Cairngorm National Park. Overnight in Aviemore, or drive south toward Edinburgh.
Day 14: Return to Edinburgh or Glasgow, and overnight there. Or return to Edinburgh/Glasgow on day 13 and return the car at EDI/GLA on the morning of day 14.

You'll notice that I've left out Orkney altogether. Unless you're interested in Neolithic sites, you really wouldn't have enough time to get to Orkney and fit in the Outer Hebrides. Kirkwall to Ullapool is pretty much a full day's drive. The scenery is astonishing, but you wouldn't have time to stop and enjoy it. I understand that you want to see as much as you possibly can in your two weeks, but you need to get out of the car to really get a feel for the Scottish countryside. There is lots of good hiking and countryside walking on all of these routes and destinations.

Most of the routes I've suggested are fairly short drives of three to four hours. The only long drives would be Aberdeen to Inverness via the Moray coast, but you can easily shorten it, or skip driving down in to every village. Aberdeen to Inverness by the direct route is only three hours. The other long drive would be from Skye to Aviemore.

There is really no "best" time of year to visit Scotland. I've been there in every month except October. You'll get the most daylight hours in June, and the best weather any time between May and September. There is more competition for accommodation from mid-June to the end of August. Be sure when you've solidified your plans to make the ferry reservations. You can do that on the internet, or by telephone. You can save some money by getting an Island Hopscotch ticket, for your route from Ullapool to Stornoway, Tarbert to Uig, and Armadale to Mallaig.

I hope that gets you started. It's a beautiful country!


Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Just looked at your day 12 RS route from Inverness to St. Andrews by way of Pitlochry and Ballater. You'd have to be a real masochist to attempt that drive in one day!

Posted by
629 posts

Mike's suggestion above chimes perfectly with what I was suggesting! As for the best time of year - well I'd say May or June. Long daylight hours and in my opinion (I live here) less rain than in July and August and correspondingly fewer midges (small biting insects that are a complete menace). You will want to be aware that accommodation is very limited in the Highlands and islands especially on Skye, Lewis & Harris, so you will need to book well ahead (probably just after Christmas) to get the best choice of accommodation in whatever price bracket you choose.

Posted by
11292 posts

"We love the outdoors... could care less for art and museums."

Then you'll want to minimize your time in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I loved both of these cities, but they are cities. Edinburgh has a striking natural setting, so a day there on arrival (to get over jet lag a bit before you start driving) makes sense. Otherwise, you'll want to focus your time in other places, like Mike's itinerary suggests.

Posted by
52 posts

I'm in a similar boat and will be posting my own itinerary soon. I'm between two tours, with 7+ days on my own. Best of luck and I'll be following this one.

Posted by
3248 posts

We went late May early June last year and the weather was better than we expected in terms of both temperature and rain. We packed some warm clothes and serious rain gear and didn't use either.

Posted by
5669 posts

There is more to Orkney than neolithic sites. :) There are some great walks on Hoy and elsewhere. Have you found WalkHighlands? It is a great resource. Here's the link to the Orkney page.

Most of my Scotland trips have been in late August early September, but July is delightful if you like the long days. My most recent trip was in June last year which I really enjoyed. My sister and my parents both visited in May. They had a great time, but they did encounter brisk weather. My mom was very happy that she had brought along her lined jeans from LLBean. :) That said one of the coldest days I've experienced in Scotland was in the third week of July. Bring layers. And, you can always buy a sweater if you find you need one.

In terms of the first itinerary, you could consider flying directly to Orkney. That's what we did for one trip. It was a long day of travel, but we were so tired at the end that we pretty much got past our jet lag. We flew from Wisconsin--Madison-St. Louis, Heathrow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Kirkwall. We were on the same plane from Edinburgh to Kirkwall. We left at 2 PM from Madison and got into Kirkwall at 6 PM the following day. You can rent a car on Orkney and then take the ferry to Thurso where you can take the bus down to Inverness where you can pick up another car for the balance of your trip. BTW do ditch the car when you get to Edinburgh or Glasgow. You don't want to have to pay for parking or worry about driving in either city.

On our trip, we spent 3 days on Orkney and then spent 3 days doing a circle drive around the top of Scotland. You could just as easily head to Ullapool and catch the ferry from there. I would try to spend the night in Ullapool so that you are there bright and early for the Stornoway ferry. You can return to the mainland via Skye and then on down the west coast to Glasgow or Edinburgh.


Posted by
11443 posts

I spent most of this past May in Scotland. The weather was fantastic. I think we went something like 12 straight days without rain.

I have been many times. While I like Edinburgh and Glasgow, to me, the key to Scotland is the scenery.

My first time, I rushed through Scotland. Big mistake. Take your time and enjoy it.