I've searched for suggestions on this forum and others online for an itinerary that includes castles and manor home near and north of Aberdeen, but haven't found anything. I am planning a three week visit to Scotland, arriving the morning of April 12, 2018, and our focus outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow will be castles, manor homes, and beautiful scenery. My husband and I plan on spending three full days in Edinburgh and at least that in Glasgow. That leaves a full 14 days for a roadtrip. We plan to rent a car at E airport when we leave that city and return it to G airport before our stay there, making an upward loop between the two. I have a long list of castles and manor homes and also wanted to Staffa National Nature Reserve. I really want to get an itinerary in place and lodging booked before we leave so we don't have to spend time trying to figure out any of that once we're there. I'm open for suggestions of places to add or leave off. I don't know what realistic travel times are so please let me know if my plan is crazy. Places on my list include: Castles Stirling, Doune, Glamis, Balmoral, Blair, Crathes, Drum, Fraser, Craigievar, Fyvie, Brodie, Dunrobin, Eilean Donan, Dunvegan, Duart, Brodick, Culzean. We also want to visit Leith Hall and Haddo House while in the same area as several castles on this list. I'm sure there are others that are just as beautiful or more so, and perhaps someone could tell me what to add and which to cut if we must. I'm trying to plan a route where we can stay in one place for 2-3 nights but I know that might not be possible. Suggestions on routes and good places to stay? I expect the scenery along the way will be worth the trip as well, but I'm sure there are places I know nothing about and might wish to add. Villages, Bnbs, pubs, museums on the route? We love historic places, pretty villages, country and coastal scenery, museums and pubs! We may not be young (60ish), but we've found a positive attitude and excitement over learning and seeing new things help a body keep going!
You will not be able to see all the castles on your list in the amount of time you have. I would suggest that you get a map and map out the location of all the castles and then pick two or possibly three areas you want to focus on. So for example focus on castles northeast of Edinburgh towards Aberdeen, and those along the way to Glasgow. Or skip those around Aberdeen and focus on those on the way to Inverness and then back down to Glasgow.
Driving takes longer than you may think, - you can use via michellin to estimate travel times between sites but bear in mind those are only estimates and don't account for weather, accidents or road work.
Three weeks sounds like a long time, but when you start plotting how much time it would take to drive from one destination to another, the days will be eaten up quickly. Distances and driving times in Scotland are deceptively long, in my experience. If you spend day after day rushing to one castle after another, just to check them off your list, you'll soon be tired and cranky.
One Rick Steves guiding principle is to try to stay at least 2 nights in each place because you'll sleep better and you'll save time checking out and checking in at a new lodging.
As the previous comment advised, take a good look at a road map and plot out where your desired castles & other points of interest are. From this you'll be able to see if there are clusters near a place where you could stay for 2-3 nights. Conversely, if there is one that's a real outlier and it's a high priority for you, then you'll know you need to plan extra time to get there and back.
The Secret Scotland site has some realistic driving itineraries that you may find helpful.
I can suggest several good places to stay.
Edinburgh: Inverleith Hotel
Nairn, east of Inverness: Tali Ayer B&B
Isle of Skye (on the mainland, walking distance from Eilean Donan castle): Dornie Hotel
Inverarary: Brambles -- and have dinner at the George Hotel
If you want to stay in a castle, the Stonefield Castle Hotel in Tarbert, Kintyre is not bad. It's a ca. 1830 building, though -- it was never a "real" castle in the sense of having fortifications etc.
Thank you both for suggestions. I'm trying to be ruthless and take some sites off my list of wants. Believe it or not I've done that a few times already. I do realize from driving in Wales and England on previous trips that drive times are much different from what I'm used to but it's still easy to overschedule when there is so much to see. I will check out recommendations asap! Thank you so much!
I've decided to add two extra days to our itinerary. We had planned to spend a few days enjoying London again before flying home, but since we been there a few times, I've decided to use those days in Scotland. Hopefully, this will help keep us from getting too exhausted. Here's what I'm thinking for the first part of the trip, again hoping for input on what could be improved: 4 nights in Edinburgh, pick up car at airport and drive to Stirling via Falkirk. 2 nights in Stirling, with one full day to explore the castle and town. Next we would drive to Invurnie via Glamis and a castle visit. We stay for 6 nights and explore Castles Fraser, Fyvie, Craigievar, Crathes, Drum and Balmoral. Also want to visit Leith Hall and Haddo House from here. If we cannot manage to fit all of these into 5 1/2 days, which should we skip? On the final afternoon, we'll drive to Nairn for 2 nights. From here we would visit Brodie and Dunrobin Castles then head west toward Eilean Donan Castle and Sky. The next 8 days I have yet to plan in any detail. I'm wondering if we should pass on Sky? We won't be doing too much on foot and I've read that Sky is overrun by tourists which is actually destroying the natural beauty. I know it's gorgeous, but is Mull and Staffa (or another island) a good substitute? Thanks again for any and all advice!
Epltd, Tali Ayer B&B looks great and I have booked it for 2 nights. Thanks! Still need to firm up dates for the other locations.
Google maps gives on one journey I have made recently an average of about 40 mph / 65 km/h. This is probably a good speed to base driving times around if you wish to stop on route.
That sounds like extraordinary castle overload! How will you keep them all straight after you've seen them?
Last year we did a few days in Aberdeen (stayed just outside at the Ardoe House hotel) and had a wonderful day visiting Craigievar Castle in the morning, lunching at a place called the Cowshed after, visiting the Falls of Feugh, and then visiting Dunnottar just outside Stonehaven. I loved the contrast between a perfectly kept-up and gorgeous castle (Craigievar) and the atmospheric ruins of Dunnottar.
We also enjoyed the garden at Pitmedden. I'm put in mind of all this since I'm currently putting together a scrapbook for my parents of our trip last summer.
We loved our time in Aberdeenshire and wish we had had longer. We found it very beautiful and a bit "off the beaten path."
Thanks for the info, MC-Glasgow, I will plan on 40 mph. I have done google maps estimates, but I don't really know how accurate, and I'm sure we'll see places we'll want to stop at along the way. Pubs come to mind :)
Kim, I know it is a crazy number of castles, but we love them. I doubt we'll keep them all straight, but our photos will have places and dates so that helps. We live in a place where there's little even 100 years old, and for two people that love the history and architecture found in the UK and Europe, it's really hard not to go overboard. We spent a week in Wales and our castle visits were great fun! Of course we also like to walk around where we stay and just enjoy seeing the towns in the evenings so we'll have to see how things go. I didn't even know about the gardens you mentioned. I will have to find out more!
I have taken a few castles off my list including Doune and Blair, and we'll be flexible as we go along. I did a My Map on google, which allows me to put each site on a map and plot a course between them. It does look daunting, though. I know that RS advises to view the specific areas of a site you are most interested in, and then determine whether to continue or not depending on energy level. The second half of the trip is a little bit more varied, and we'll be doing other sites and museums in Edinburgh and Glasgow at start and end. We also like to walk the towns/cities in the evenings after an early dinner. without any plan in mind. I know we can't see everything in only a month, but maybe someone can tell me which places to absolutely NOT miss. We prefer to skip anything that will be packed with tourists, but sometimes it's worth it. That's one reason I'm wondering if Skye is a must see, rather than another island.
Right now it's on the list, but I'd love some input from anyone who's been in that area.
Thank you to everyone who has posted so far. I am adapting and rethinking each area of our trip after each suggestion!
In rationalising the castles have a look at the two main heritage bodies.
Historic Scotland is the crown agency and tends to be the medieval and earlier sites. Linlithgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, the various Roman ruins are all HS.
The National Trust for Scotland covers more 'modern' sites.
Others like Eileann Donan are privately owned.
Chosing NTS or HS will help cut down if that is important. Says the member of HS and NTS.
I would not skip Skye. I was there just a few weeks ago, and I did not find it to be overrun. Yes, there were a lot of tourists, but it did not detract from the natural beauty or my ability to enjoy the Isle. I found it to be the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
I also second the recommendation for Brambles as somewhere to stay. I got the recommendation from this forum and it was my favorite accommodation during my whole trip. It is in the town of Inveraray which has a nice castle. I do not see it on your list though, so it might not suit your fancy.
I would also not skip Skye, I did a ten day driving tour starting from Edinburgh, stopped at only about half the castles you plan to, and eventually ended up in Glasgow. You will have more time so Skye should not be a problem. I would also highly recommend the drive out to Applecross (as long as it isn't socked in). Stunning scenery. Check the opening times/days for all of the castles that are on your list, I encountered at least one that was closed mid-week. I love castles, but by the time I was done the road trip I had seen enough of them for a while so don't worry about cutting a few from your list. Near Inverness don't miss the Culloden battle field and visitor center. From Inverness I drove all the way up to Ullapool before going to Skye. I got some of my best photos in the area near Gairloch. I had Secret Scotland do a driving route for me (for a fee), and it was great, it saved me a lot of time trying to figure it out on my own.
MC-Glasgow, --Oh dear. Maybe we should just move to Scotland for at least a year...or more. I knew about the NTS which is the website where I found many of the castles I chose. I did not know about HS but just looked at that site and there's so many more great places I would love to go. I think we'll get a pass for both assuming that the passes help with the upkeep of the properties. That way if we use one more than another, I won't feel like it's money wasted. I would absolutely be a member of both, too, if I lived there! If I could smuggle my smallish dog on the plane with me, I would stay for much, much longer. It's not just castles, it's scenery, people, and so much more. :)
Rosemary and Anita, thank you for the input on Skye. It's good to know that it lives up to the hype and we will definitely go! I'm really excited about it now that you both have told me more. Thank you!! I have looked up Brambles and will try to book there. The castle looks stunning and it is definitely the kind of place that appeals to me. I just didn't know about it, and I very much appreciate the recommendation. I'm going to check out the other locations, Anita, and hopefully add one or two to the driving route. Culloden is a must-see as well.
I jealous that you'll get to spend 3 weeks. I spent 9 days last August and it was the greatest 9 days of my life. I drove from Glasgow over to Mull, then up to Skye and then ended in Inverness. Mull was my favorite because it just seemed more magical and mystical which is what I like. Tobermory is a wonderful little town and if you want to treat yourself to a castle stay, there is Glengorm Castle just outside of Tobermory. I didn't stay there, stayed at a bnb in town (which was lovely), but walked around the grounds at Glengorm and it's now on my bucket list to stay there should my budget ever allow. I drove across the isle to Iona (free parking on Mull, walk on ferry to Iona). I stayed one night on Iona and went to Staffa - if the weather is good, this is such a great excursion. You'll see puffins which I missed - so definitely plan on Staffa if you can. On Skye, I stayed near Dunvegan at an old minister's manse that is now a bnb and it was fabulous. It is called Kinloch Follert and was in such a peaceful location and the owners made it so welcoming. It was easy to get to Dunvegan castle (well worth a visit) and I also spent a day driving from there along the Trotternish Peninsula and back. I didn't do any hiking, just stopped to see some sights I wanted to see and then make it back to my home base. In April, it won't be light as late - so you might not want to do that all in one day. Eileen Donan is worth a stop just for pictures - its the most photographed castle and you'll see why! You'll have the best time - Scotland is just so magical.
Connie, thank you for all the great information. I've been looking at the map following your routes and I really appreciate the detail you included! I think the plan for Mull, Iona, Staffa, ferry, etc. sounds perfect! I also found the BnB you mentioned. All the web sites say there are no dates available during the time we will be in the area, but I'm going to email them just to make sure. This is a dream trip for me and I'm glad that you loved it there! Your enthusiasm for the country is so obvious from your post that I'm even more excited about making this trip! When were you there?
If you haven't looked into the Orkneys I might consider that for the second half of your trip. Also, castle and museum overload is a real thing! I love castles and museums but I can only do so much before it becomes overwhelming and not as enjoyable. I've found you have to think that you'll be back so there's no need to fit everything into one trip. That helps me from overbooking myself. I would say a day for Stirling Castle would be more than enough. My favorite castle that I've been to on your list is Dunrobin. They have an excellent falconry show that you will not want to miss and the grounds their are beautiful. Happy planning!!
Cynthia, thanks for the reply! Where in the Orkney Islands would you go and how long would you spend? I'll pull out the RS guidebook and check it out. Luckily I have time to modify our itinerary if needed as I get suggestions from this forum. For Stirling, I thought we would leave Edinburgh city after lunch, rent the car at the airport, stop at Falkirk and see the Kelpies, then go on to our BnB in Stirling. We would spend one full day in Stirling and leave the next morning and visit Glamis castle on our way to Inverurie. I've booked six nights there and plan to use it as a base for five days of site seeing some of the places on our list. I'm trying not to push too hard so we can enjoy what we see rather than worry about time. By the way, I have taken five castles off my list as everyone here has recommended reducing the number. Unfortunately, I may not make it back to Scotland due to health problems. This is probably a now-or-never trip, at least as far as castles and places that require a certain amount of mobilty. That's one reason I really value the input on this forum!
Another question... Should I have Pitlochry on my itinerary or not? Any other suggestions for lovely villages that we could see on our drives through the country?
Hi Adrienne! My husband and I took the ferry from John O' Groats and then drove to Kirkwall if memory serves. It was incredibly easy to get around to see all of the sites we wanted to see since we had a rental car. I think your itinerary for Stirling sounds perfect and choosing a base to branch out from is a great idea!
Thanks, Cynthia. Good to know. I think this sounds like a great idea!
From another Cynthia in the USA: we really enjoyed a visit to the Orkney islands (collectively known as "Orkney"), as well as to Skye during our 3-week trip a couple of summers ago. We reached Kirkwall, Orkney by ferry and left by plane, but rented a car while we were there. Since you'll have a rental car the whole time, you could arrive and depart via one of the car ferries from/to mainland Scotland.
Among the things we did and saw in Orkney was a drive south from Kirkwall on the A961, along the Churchill Barriers and all the way down to the Tomb of The Eagles, a museum and stone-age tomb on South Ronaldsay Island. We also visited the must-see Neolithic Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. We made a reservation and visited the Maeshowe tomb, and also drove to the Skara Brae site, and up to the Brough of Birsay island. You can walk out to the lighthouse and Viking town ruins on the island off of the mainland island, but you need to time it right so you cross back to the mainland before high tide closes off the walkway! Very rewarding.
We also attended a storytelling session in the town of Stromness one evening. Rick Steves' guidebook has lots of details. but you might also want to consult the Lonely Planet and/or Rough Guide books.
Glad that you're going to visit Skye. It should be a lot less crowded in April than it was for us in August, but even then, we didn't find it overwhelmingly full of tourists like us :) Prepare for more than a little rain.