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Tattoo 2023 and 12 days in Scotland

Planned 2021 trip finally going to happen in Aug 2023.

6 adults - in our 60's - active and healthy (3 college friend couples) Planning to visit Scotland in Aug 2023. Would sincerely appreciate the forum's thought on the first draft of of our planned schedule. Suggestions on things to do, places to stay (we're a Hampton Inn level or simple VRBO kind of traveler) Primary focus is history, culture, and landscape scenery.

Days 1-3 / Arrive Edinburgh from US - spend 3 days in Edinburgh including attending the Tattoo. Thoughts on what else to do beside strolling the Royal Mile and visiting the castle.

Day 4 / Rent a car and begin travel north-northwest. Visit Stirling Castle and Inchmahone Priory. QUESTION - is the Culloden Battle field worth the additional 3 hr drive or do we go elsewhere?

Day 5 / Drive to Glencoe (sightsee along the way) - overnight in Glencoe area. Loch Ness, "Harry Potter" train viaduct, what else?

Day 6 - 8 / Drive to Oban, take ferry to Mull. Was told to visit one of the less "touristy" of the isles to get the experience without the crowds of say, Isle of Skye. THOUGHTS?

Day 9 - 11 / Take ferry back to "mainland", spend 2 days in Loch Lomond area

Day 12 / drive back to Edinburgh for flight home

Posted by
29278 posts

maybe leave enough time in Edinburgh to enjoy the Fringe while you're there. Be expecting the Fringe crowds.

Posted by
2473 posts

This looks like a nice itinerary! Along with Nigel, I would say plan on some Fringe shows to fill your Edinburgh time. There is plenty to see there if you feel like you want to, but at this unique time, make the most of the Fringe. They will have a program available online to look through early and you can buy tickets ahead of time online to make life easier.

Mull is very nice. Skye is beautiful but yes, it is more crowded. Can’t answer about Culloden since I haven’t been there yet. If you have time for a visit to Iona, it is worth including but might take most of your full day there.

Others will chime in with more suggestions. The problem with Scotland is there are few bad choices. 🤣

Posted by
841 posts

Culloden Battlefield isn't worth the long drive and isn't an effective use of your time. If you want to visit a battlefield, think about Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce defearted the English Army of Edward II. It's on the southern edge of Stirling and fits in much better with your itinerary.

https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/bannockburn

Have you found the Undiscovered Scotland website? If not it is a wonderful source of ideas. Start with the map page of the area you want and follow the links to the information pages with lots of pictures. It covers many of the hidden gems ignored by the guide books. Youy can then chose the places that really catch your imagination rather than someone else's must sees (which may be the kiss of death to you!!!)

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/

Posted by
281 posts

Wonderful you will be in Scotland in Aug. 2023! With the caveat of acknowledging that different people's interests vary, here are a few comments from my late July - early Aug. 2022 trip to Scotland with rental car (except for in Edinburgh):

-Edinburgh: we tremendously enjoyed visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is anchored in the port suburb of Leith. Rode a city bus to get there/easy to determine which bus to ride using app/easy to pay the fare via "tap and pay." I knew Edinburgh would be very crowded in August, and it was.. More than just the crowds, I found myself annoyed by the Fringe acts along the streets; on the other hand, some people love the Fringe.. Edinburgh Castle is definitely worth seeing; if possible, I recommend you buy advance tickets for when it opens; we did this and saw most of the Castle before the crowds arrived; for example, we didn't have to wait to enter the building where the crown jewels are displayed.

-The Kelpies - on your drive from Edinburgh to Stirling Castle, you will likely pass The Kelpies, the largest equestrian statues in the world/located right by the motorway. My friend owns horses, so we exited the motorway and drove 10-15 minutes in a circuitous route to the site. If she hadn't been with me, I likely wouldn't have stopped. I mention The Kelpies just so you'll know to watch for them from the motorway.

-Stirling Castle: Normally historic sites are my top interest, but I thought Stirling Castle was very overrated. It has a magnificent view, but signage in the various buildings provided too little background detail. If you do go, I strongly recommend you pay in advance for your tickets and PARKING adjacent to the castle.

-Yes, Mull is lovely. We very much enjoyed a day trip Oban to Mull to Iona and back. (We stayed in Oban and left the car there/did package ferry/bus day tour.)

-Glencoe - the best part of our day in Glencoe was getting off the main highway and driving the 45 minutes each way, one lane Glen Etive road that dead ends at a loch. Superb scenery and there are no fast cars or lorries. There are some good You Tube videos about this road. For driving the main highway through Glencoe, I recommend you try to get an early start because parking is relatively limited at the various stopping points.

-Glenfinnan ("Harry Potter") Viaduct - My friend and I immensely enjoyed walking to the viaduct then continuing uphill on a relatively easy hike to the train station (then walking back on the safe shoulder of the road). There were 2 paid parking lots within a short walk of the viaduct. When we arrived at mid-day, the 1st lot was full, and we felt very fortunate to find a space in the 2nd lot. When we left in mid-afternoon, both lots were full. My recommendation is to arrive in mid morning or late afternoon to perhaps find parking easier...or pack some patience.

-Loch Ness area - if you are planning to stop at Urquhart Castle (we did and enjoyed it; much more informative sign boards than at Stirling Castle), your parking will likely be easier if you arrive relatively early in the morning.

-Culloden - we chose not to visit Culloden, so I can't comment on it.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you to all who have replied thus far. I will take all your advice to heart and let it inform my decisions.

Posted by
194 posts

We spent a month in Scotland from mid-July to mid-August...

This year's Tattoo event -- my first -- was phenomenal. We sprung for the Jacobite package, which included dinner in the castle and then seats in the "U" part of the horseshoe with a direct view of the castle walls on which they project amazing lighting. Worth every penny -- but not cheap. We did the Fringe, too, the shows for which ARE relatively inexpensive so we saw six to eight performers. I wouldn't go to Edinburgh JUST for the Fringe, but since we were there, it was a break from history. Entertainers worked hard. And the city was CROWDED. Your lodging's fee will be adjusted upward accordingly. And if you want more than pub grub for dinner, plan ahead with reservations...

We visited Culloden when we stayed in Inverness. I agree with a previous poster that the drive is too much of an investment for your "return." Your best bet for a battlefield visit is Bannockburn. But I enjoyed both and found the guides and presentations at Culloden to be fantastic. Speaking of guides, we tagged along with the free guides provided at Stirling Castle and they were also fantastic. We enjoyed that stop enormously.

I was -- at best -- warm about stopping to see the Kelpies. My mind was CHANGED instantly upon seeing them. Interesting mixture of art and engineering. A friend sent me some amazing video of 96 floating candles in the pond around Kelpies in honor of the Queen's passing. (Google that.)

We did the one-day, three-island tour out of Oban - Mull, Staffa and Iona. You can pre-book online before you go, which we did. Rick suggests the first boat out. It was fully booked, but we didn't feel like we missed out on anything with the second trip out of Oban. I'm not a big fan of riding on a bus with 60 other tourists, but it was fine... In fact it was very comfortable and enjoyable. The driver was entertaining and informative. We were there at the end of July -- and the weather was stunning. The waters barely had a ripple. It was so amazing the drivers joined the boat to Staffa because they'd never seen it that amazing. We enjoyed the PUffins and the caves. And the boat ride out and back we were thoroughly entertained by a pod of Minke whales and many porpoises. Take your own water and sandwiches if you'd like (you can grab them in town before you go to the boat), but you can grab food and drinks on the trip.

A side note... Fewer than 12 hours before we were to arrive our VRBO in Oban canceled because the hosts had Covid. Panicked because it is the high season, we ultimately found a lovely room in Perle Oban... Not cheap, but it was among the most memorable settings on our journey. Great views of the harbor, and easy walking to pubs and eateries. The meals at Perle Oban are also quite good.

A bonus on our return from the three-island tour: the Oban High pipe and drum band plays on Wednesday evenings as a fund-raiser for folks in town and and those traveling through. They were great fun. We found out later, the teacher is one of the top five pipers in the world.

Then we spent time in Skye at a VRBO on the Waternish Peninsula and we had nary a crowd on Skye. It was probably the best mix with the locals for us. Walks along the road gave us a handful of opportunities to speak with people who've lived their for decades or even their entire lives. We stayed at a self-catering place on Geary on Isle of Skye (use google maps and zoom in to see the various self-catering places on Geary Rd (I thinks its a road). From there we took GREAT hikes, including one from Trumpan Church out to the Clan MacLeod Memorial Cairn and Dun Borriafiach - an iron-age defense site. Wear water-proof boots because it gets boggy there. Loch Bay was lovely - and crowd-free, too.

We hoped to take the Cal-Mac ferry from the mainland to Skye, but staffing issues caused the company to cancel an entire day's runs. We wound up using the Skye Bridge. Not horrible, just more driving.

Posted by
194 posts

We usually use VRBO for our trips, and we never had an issue. We had two on this trip. The first, as I mentioned above, was because our hosts got Covid, so they cancelled the afternoon before we were scheduled to arrive. Travelers could cancel because of Covid, so it seems fair that hosts can, too. But it was a bummer -- for a bit.

I sought out another VRBO option but it was peak season so with less that 12 hours before we'd arrive, I expected to strike out. I found another new (according to the VRBO site) property that was very expensive, but I felt I didn't any other options. So we booked it. An hour later I got an email from that second property saying there was a problem with the VRBO booking site and the property didn't have anything to accommodate us. Yikes! That's how we wound up at Perle Oban. Just our good luck... Perle Oban was terrific and a perfect location for our stay in Oban!

I also used another UK company to book some of our accommodations -- https://gaelholidayhomes.co.uk/. I found a property in Inverness on VRBO when we were in the planning stages of our trip. And then I just cruised the Internet for other options, and stumbled on Gayle Holiday Homes, and there was the VRBO property I was interested in... But Gayle Holiday Homes charged less for it. Anyway, that's just another suggestion...

Posted by
2858 posts
  • We were in Scotland in June and loooved Stirling Castle much more than Edinburgh Castle. Stirling focuses more on Royal history and Edinburgh on military history.
  • I'd recommend you look at the Mercat Tours website and take a Royal Mile tour while in Edinburgh. It gives you an insight into the history of the Mile that you can't see by just walking up and down looking at souvenir shops.
  • I enjoyed Culloden, but it is a long way to go just for that. The museum is very well done, but I left wondering if people would understand the significance of the place if you haven't done your homework ahead of time. I like that idea by another poster of the battlefield near Stirling.
  • We spent 3 days on Mull and enjoyed it. A lot of single track, windy roads though. What are you driving? Roads are narrow. People in the backseat may get car sick by the twists and turns.
Posted by
71 posts

Got back from Scotland/Ireland (month-long trip) ten days ago. LOVED the Tattoo - cannot say enough about it. Agree with Nigel and others - enjoy the Fringe. We heard the acapella group Semi-tones - wonderful! We did the Dean Village area and glad we got out there. (Yes - we used Uber to get around when we knew we didn't have the time/energy to walk the entire trip to and back). As for Culloden Battle field - enjoyed (on the RS tour) but not worth a long drive. We did the Heart of Scotland Wee Red Bus three-day tour of Isle of Sky out of Edinburgh - that was fantastic.

Posted by
3 posts

Continued THANKS to all that have commented, given suggestions, and shared their experiences. Keep them coming.

Posted by
6 posts

Just leaving Edinburgh after a four day visit. Use Rick’s Scotland book for some great recommendations. We really enjoyed visiting the Scottish Parliment where we had a tour and attended the First Ministers Questions. Need to book in advance. Also enjoyed Georgian House and the Royal Scottish Museum. I am not much of a museum person, but this was amazing. Royal Mile is fun but crowded with lots of tourists and souvenir shops.