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Ugh! Stuck with planning first trip to scotland

We are going to Scotland for the first time in May
We are flying into Glasgow departing Edinburgh. Arrive in Glasgow May 24 Depart Edinburgh June 7
(Hotels two nights and Edinburgh three nights booked already)
I know we are a bit late in the game with planning but didn't know what vacation days we get until this month.

I have been trying to follow the Rick Steves suggested itinerary in the book but at a stall. Not sure if Oban is worth the stop etc

I have reserved rooms for the beginning and ending parts of our trip.
All refundable just in case.

We like to stay two days min in any one place.

We will be driving ourselves

Any sensible routes any one recommends?

We do have the mindset we won't see everything and just getting a taste for future trips.

Wish list are

Loch Ness
Glencoe
Eilean Doran Castle
Inverness

Stirling and Edinburgh Castles

Falkirk wheel and Kelpies

We love nature and history

Just stuck on a sensible route

Thanks !

Posted by
14647 posts

If you have a car it will be easy. Start in Glasgow, head north, then east, then south and end in Edinburgh. Encompass Glencoe, Loch Ness, Inverness in that semi circle. Try not to backtrack.

You probably want to add the Isle of Skye, and possibly a ride on the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig.

Scotland is wonderful and beautiful. I keep going back.

Posted by
3877 posts

So you have 14 nights with 5 already decided, leaving 9 nights for the rest of your wish list.

The choices are myriad. First, if you DO want to go to Skye, you are late for the lodging search so that should be soon. You might choose 2 nights Ft William, 3 nights Skye, 2 nights Inverness, and 2 nights in the Highlands. Or skip Skye and choose another of the islands.Or you might choose 3 nights in 3 towns.

I haven’t stayed in Oban, but instead chose to stay on Mull, which was lovely. The good thing is it’s all beautiful so anywhere you go will be good!

You will find a lot of info on potential routes and towns and it might be worth your time to go back through and skim.

Posted by
822 posts

Oban is a good place to do a day trip to Mull and Iona, otherwise skip it. Are you stopping in Glencoe to go hiking? That is really the focus of that area, otherwise there is not much to interest tourists, those days would be better spent going to Skye. I personally drove right past Loch Ness, there are much prettier lakes elsewhere. I used Secret Scotland to get a driving route specific to me and what I wanted to see. The price was reasonable, the directions good, and they provided suggestions for things to see on the way. I did the opposite route to your plan, starting in Edinburgh, then to St. Andrews, then up the middle stopping in Ballater for some family research, onwards to Inverness, across to Skye, back down to Oban and back to Glasgow. That’s the basic route, there were some short side trips including driving over to Applecross. I had the car for ten days.

Posted by
555 posts

Your "two night minimum" guideline will paint you into a few corners. If your goal is to sample Scotland for future trips, I'd suggest seeing a broader range of places, even if you don't see everything in a specific spot.
I typically try to spend one night in a place, leaving for the next spot in the afternoon, so I have the entire morning, then spend two nights, having a full day, then leaving early the second day for the next one-night spot (where I'll have the full afternoon and morning, repeat). That way you get about 24 hours in each place.

I would do two nights in Oban so you have a full day for the Three Island Nature Trip out to Iona, Lunga, and Staffa. One night is plenty for Fort William. Glencoe is only a few short hikes (Lochan, Steall?) unless you tackle Ben Nevis. I liked Doune Castle better than Edinburgh or Stirling, but I like ruins over operational.

Maybe 2x Glasgow, 2x Oban, 1x Fort William, 3x Skye, 1xInverness, 2x Orkney, 3xEdinburgh. If you can't find lodging on Skye I'd make 3xOrkney and add Aberdeen and St. Andrews before Edinburgh. I'd Drop the car in Inverness and fly to Orkney and fly back to Edinburgh. Whatever you decide to do will be memorable. You really don't want a car in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Posted by
6048 posts

As TexasTravelmom said, Skye books VERY early so it may be too late to find something. There is a Facebook group called Skye Rooms that you might want to join that deals in last minute requests for rooms.

Mull is supposed to be very lovely (I have not been yet - I'm going on my first trip to Scotland in May) and would probably be easier to find accommodations at. You also might think about the Isle of Arran, known as "Scotland in Miniature." It contains all the landscape and terrain of Scotland but reduced down in size on this small island.

You could do Stirling Castle as a day trip while staying in Glasgow (or Edinburgh). Or even consider taking a day tour from Rabbies or another tour company (that's what I am going to do - I will have a car for most of my 3 week trip but will NOT have it while I'm staying in Glasgow or Edinburgh).

Posted by
26511 posts

Lodging on Mull in places accessible via public transportation can also be very tight. Oban was easier for me in 2019, though I agree that for most tourists Oban is just a base from which to travel to Mull, etc.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, amr880,

You say that your first two night are booked. I'm assuming that is in the Glasgow area. There are many wonderful museums and galleries in Glasgow, most of which are free. A lot will depend on how tired you are after your trans-Atlantic flight as to how much you want to see on May 24th.

If your last three nights are in Edinburgh, that leaves you with nine days/nights on the trot.

Personally, I would skip Oban. I like Oban, and I love Mull and Kerrera, but that is going to tie up two days, and you don't have that much time for your "sampler" visit.

Here's what I would recommend for your time in Scotland:

Day 3: Take the A82 along the shores of Loch Lomond. Have a brief stop in the village of Luss on the west shore. Continue through Glencoe on the A82. Take a couple of short hikes if the weather is conducive. Stay on the A82 to Fort William, and stay there. If you get there early enough, take a drive up Glen Nevis, or take the Aonach Mor gondola, if it's running.

Day 4: Take the A830 to Mallaig. Check out the Glenfinnan Viaduct, especially if the Jacobite is running. Once in Mallaig, take the ferry to Skye (reservation essential). If you can't find accommodation on Skye, do a day loop: A87 to Sligachan, A863 to Struan, B885 cross-island road to Portree, A87 back to the Skye Bridge. Stay somewhere near Kyle of Lochalsh. Actually, now that I think about this, it would be more scenic to take the A87 to Portree, then head for the bridge via Struan and Sligachan.

Day 5: Visit Eilean Donan castle. Double back and take the A890 to Strathcarron, then the A896 to Lochcarron and through Glen Torridon to Kinlochewe. For a real adventure, take the Bealach-na-ba hill pass to Applecross, then follow the coast road around the Applecross peninsula to Shieldaig. From Kinlochewe, follow the A832/A835/A9 to Inverness. Stay overnight in Inverness.

Day 6: Explore the Loch Ness area. You could visit Culloden Moor, as many visitors do, take the Ness Islands walk, do part of the Glen Affric walk, and possibly catch some some music in one of the venues in town. Stay overnight in Inverness.

Day 7: A96 to Nairn, then the A939 through Grantown-on-Spey to Ballater. A quick visit to the outside of Balmoral Castle, then the A93 east to Crathes Castle. From Crathes, the A957 Slug Road to Stonehaven. If it's not too late in the day, visit Dunnottar Castle. Stay near Stonehaven.

Day 8: Two choices: You can visit Dunnottar if you didn't have time to do so the previous day, then either a) Take the coast road (A92) to Dundee, stopping in Montrose and Arbroath along the way, and visiting the spectacular Lunan Bay and the Arbroath cliff walk; or b) take the fast road (A90) to Dundee, then cross the Tay Bridge and visit St Andrews and the towns along the East Neuk of Fife. Stay in Dundee or somewhere on the East Neuk.

Day9: Continue to explore the East Neuk/St. Andrews/Dundee area. Overnight near Dundee.

Day 10: Take the A90 to the M90 to the A9 and visit Stirling. Visit the castle, the Wallace Monument, and Doune Castle.

Day 11: Head for Falkirk and visit the Wheel and the Kelpies. If you're Outlander fans, visit Blackness and Midhope Castles on the way to Edinburgh.

This is starting to sound like If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium! (I'm showing my age!) However, this is just a general outline of what I would try to accomplish if I had the number of days which you have. All of this is subject to modification, and it certainly puts paid to your striving to spend at least two nights in each place.

Best wishes for your plans! I can 100% guarantee that this will not be your only trip to Scotland!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Just south of Stonehaven is the amazing Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve, where a short walk will bring you to steep sea cliffs which are home to thousands of gulls, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, and even puffins.

Posted by
3115 posts

If you love nature and history, I'll just say you can't go wrong just about anywhere in Scotland. Don't overthink it. You won't be able to see every place in the time you've got. Just enjoy!