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Scotland Itinerary

First time trip to Scotland, 4 people ages 58-71, no health issues. Want to see Braemar Highland Games. Interests are castles, gardens, abbeys/churches, scenery, whiskey, history, easy walk/hike? To fit trip into 2.5 weeks, willing to miss Glasgow, don't need Loch Ness. Want as few 1 night hotels as possible.
Fly into Edinburgh- 3 nights
Visit St. Andrews and fishing villages- stay 1 night in area?
Go to Braemar area for Games, whiskey touring- 2 nights
Go to Nairn- Cawdor, Culloden, whiskey- 2 nights
Drive to Portree- best scenic drive from Nairn?
Portree and Skye- 3 nights
Go to Mull- Tobermory, Mull, Iona- 3 nights
Glencoe driving tour then continue to Melrose- 2 nights
Borders abbeys, see Jim Clark museum in Duns (brother-in-law insists we go there)
Return to airport and fly out of Edinburgh

If I have to shorten trip, I could omit Mull, or Skye, but both sound so good. There are three golfers among us and playing one round would be great- any course- if near spa, the non-golfer would enjoy it.

How does this itinerary seem- too much? Should it be shortened or tightened somehow? Arriving Aug. 28- still deciding between overnight flight or day flight arriving 9:35 pm into Edinburgh. Or, should we save Edinburgh for last?

Posted by
1130 posts

It looks good to me, with a reasonable amount of time in each place.

You don't say when you are planning to visit. If it is this summer, you will need to get places booked as accommodation on Mull is limited and both Skye and Mull get booked up quickly.

St Andrews would be a lovely place to stay with its ruined castle and cathedral. Its not too far to drive to Braemar next day.

If visiting Culloden, do try and include a trip to Clava Cairns which are about 10 minutes drive. They are open 24/7 and there is no charge to visit. They are best seen late afternoon when the visitors have gone and the light is better. They are a lot more ‘atmospheric’ then.

You have the choice of two routes between Nairn and Portree. The northern route would be the more scenic. The drive along Loch Ness is busy and you don’t get many good views of the loch from the road. Make the slight detour to have a look at the outside of Eilean Donan Castle. It is the picture on all the tins of shortbread. Don’t bother with going inside as the castle may look old but in fact was rebuilt about a hundred years ago. Admire from the outside and move on!

I much prefer Mull to Skye - it is quieter with less tourists and has some stunning scenery.

Have you found the Undiscovered Scotland website? It is a wonderful source of ideas and highlights many hidden gems not found in the guide books. Start with the relevant map page and follow the links to text pages with information and lots of pictures.

Also, remember in Scotland it is whisky without the ‘e’ - the Scots can get quite upset about this. Irish whiskey has the ‘e’...

Posted by
12 posts

The Braemar Games are Sept. 2 in 2023. We aren't set on length of trip yet, one option is to shorten it to 13 or 14 nights. I'm wondering if we might want to concentrate on southern Scotland more to save time and driving. If we took out going to Skye, for instance, how should we revise trip? Stay in Ullapool for one night instead of three nights on Skye? Stay in Braemar for 3 nights instead of just two and from Braemar visit Cawdor Culloden Nairn from there? Skip the North/West Highlands completely and just concentrate on Mull and maybe elsewhere in Arygyll? Should we just go to Edinburgh at end of trip in mid-September? Thanks- I'm interested in learning more about exploring Arygyll to visit/see, the drive from there to Borders next is easy. Maybe we should add Glasgow? Cities aren't why we want to see Scotland though (Edinburgh aside).

Posted by
5178 posts

The Clava Cairns are only a couple minutes drive from Culloden battlefield. They don’t take very long to visit, but are worth seeing.

In Nairn we stayed at Sunny Brae B&B. I highly recommend it. It’s only a few minutes drive from Cawdor and about 20 minutes from Culloden. The hosts even did our laundry for us, for a £15 fee. It was worth every pence.

We visited the borders abbeys. They are pretty close together so easy to visit in a single day. Parking could be limited at a couple of them. Check the open hours before going. For example, Jedburgh closes an hour earlier during the winter months. When we arrived at Melrose the ticket office was closed for lunch. If that’s the case when you’re there, there’s another entrance on Cloisters Rd. between the abbey and Commendator's House Museum. Just walk in there, visit, and pay after the ticket office reopens. We had the Historic Environment Scotland 2 concessions (retired) annual pass, so for us, we just showed it on the way out. There are a couple different passes you may want to look into depending on how many HES sites you plan on visiting. Also, with the abbeys, each was and probably still is undergoing some restoration. Parts of each were blocked off by fencing for safety reasons in October, but to me, they were still worth visiting.

If you are into cloth, nearby is Lochcarron of Scotland in Selkirk. If offers a very nice tour of its woolen production facility.

Posted by
12 posts

Have re-done our itinerary, here is it now-

Fly into Edinburgh- 3 nights
Go to Duns (Clark museum) stay Melrose- 2 nights
Visit Culzean, stay Dumfries- 2 nights
Go to Mull & Iona- stay Tobermory- 3 nights
Visit Cawdor, Clava Cairns, Findhorn, Culloden, whisky- stay in Abelour? 3 nights
Going through Ballater, go & stay Stirling- 2 nights
Last morning and fly home
15 nights total

Thoughts? Decided to skip Highland games this time, and we would miss Skye and Glasgow also. We like castles, gardens, abbeys & churches, whisky, history, scenic rides. Trying to maximize stays & minimize car travel time. Early September trip. If we could add Skye for 3 nights, we’d have to give up something else- not sure trip can be longer. If not Abelour, should stay be in Grantown-on-Spey or somewhere else? Thanks!

Posted by
1130 posts

This is looking like a workable itinerary and it makes sense to drop the Highland Games, Glasgow and Skye.

Why Dumfries? It seems rather an outlier on your trip and going via Culzean is definitely the LONG way round You are talking of a minimum of 5+ hours drive PLUS stops. What are your plans for Dumfries as it would make more sense to chose somewhere around Culzean for your overnights. You are doubling back on yourself to go to Oban for the ferry to Mull too. That is going to be a full day's drive and involves getting round Glasgow (not a pleasant experience...)

If you want a more scenic drive from around Culzean, drive up the coast to Gourock and take the ferry across to Dunoon and then drive along Lock Eck to Inverary and then Oban. This will take about the same time but is a much more pleasant and quieter route with some very good scenery. It takes you past Benmore Gardens which are worth a visit.

If you want something else to do around Culzean, then think about [Dumfries House][2, which was saved for the nation by King Charles. Its restoration provided much needed employment in a very deprived area and it is now a rural skills training centre. The inside is splendid with an amazing collection of Chippendale furniture and it is surrounded by lovely grounds.

The other alternative would be to do a day trip to Arran on the ferry from Ardrossan. Brodick Castle has wonderful gardens and you could link this in with a drive around Arran for the scenery.

Either Aberlour or Grantown on Spey would work. If you want a blast of nostalgia, there is the Strathspey Steam Railway

There is also Fort George which was built after Culloden to control the Highlands. It was built on an isolated promontory jutting into the Moray Firth and was protected by a series of banks and ditches which could be flooded if attacked. The scale of Fort George is impressive and it is virtually unchanged since it was built. It remains one of the largest and most impregnable fortifications in Europe. However by the time it was finished, the Highlands were relatively calm and no action was ever required from Fort George. There is a story, maybe apocryphal, that one shot was fired by a jittery soldier on night duty who thought he saw a Jacobite soldier creeping up to the fort and fired at him. Next morning the guards found the dead body of a cow. It is an amazing place.

Posted by
3196 posts

If you're staying in Tobermory, a drive to Calgary Beach is worth it. It belongs in the Caribbean. There is a bright pink house on the hill above the habour that I recommend. Parking in Tobermory can be a challenge and this gets you away from it, but it is a steep walk into town.

A lunch recommendation while in Tobermory

4 people and 1 vehicle? You'll probably be getting more than a small vehicle then, study up on driving on single track roads. Once you get used to them you'll be OK, I know I wasn't perfect, but you could tell who did their homework and who didn't.

We enjoyed Cawdor Castle, the garden is spectacular.