Hi friends! I’m wrapping up my Scotland post series today with some road trip destinations! I shared tips on what to pack in this post and did a full guide to Edinburgh here. I’m certainly no expert on the best places in Scotland to road trip to as our ten day vacation was entirely too short to experience all that Scotland has to offer….BUT, the places we made it to were pretty spectacular and definitely worth a visit. Most of them were within easy driving distance to either Glasgow or Edinburgh and could easily be fit into a day trip from either city.
Scotland in and of itself was amazing. Everywhere we went was fantastic, but our favorite and most memorable experiences came from our days spent in the car road tripping around the beautiful countryside! We called it “car hiking” – lol – as we spent a lot of time purposefully getting lost on tiny, hilly backroads. We only barely dipped our toes in the water that is “adventuring in Scotland”….there is SO MUCH we didn’t have time for like the Isle of Skye (and the other isles), Loch Ness (and the other lochs), the northern Highlands, Culloden, Inverness, Glen Coe, etc. but I’m sharing what we DID do below.
Our trip began in Manchester, England, where we rented a car and drove up to Scotland. We spent one day hiking outside of Glasgow in the Loch Lomond area and ended the day at Doune Castle. That night, we stayed in the cutest AirBNB in the small town of Auchterarder! The following day we drove up through the Cairngorm National Park, touching the southern Highland region and stopping at castles along to way, all the way up to Aberdeen. From there, we drove down the east coast (continuing to stop at castles and St Andrews golf course) making our way to Edinburgh where we stayed for the rest of the trip. During our stay in Edinburgh, we did a few day trips exploring the southern edges of the Cairngorm National Park (it was only a few hours drive and well worth the miles).
|Conic Hill Views (about 1/3 of the way up)|
Rent a Car – we used the brand Sixt and rented a Mini Cooper! It was surprisingly affordable and we were able to cross country lines with it (we drove in both England and Scotland) as well as pick it up in one location and drop it off in another. We loved the Mini because it was small and easy to handle (which is helpful if you aren’t used to driving/parking on the wrong side) but it barely had enough room for our luggage so I would recommend getting a larger car if you are a heavy packer or have more than two people.
Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road – everything is opposite in the UK meaning the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and you drive on the left side of the road. It wasn’t that difficult to drive in general….I only really struggled with where to look/yield when at an intersection. Many of the roads in Scotland are incredibly curvy and very skinny, though, so it was a bit nerve wracking if a car was coming towards you……I definitely felt like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday! To me, it was almost as weird sitting in the passenger seat (which felt like it should be the driver’s seat to me) with no steering wheel and having the rear view mirror reflect differently than normal!
Pack Rain Gear and Waterproof Boots – if you plan on doing any kind of hiking, definitely pack rain gear and waterproof boots! There is a LOT of mud, standing water etc. and you will want to have boots that can get very wet and dirty. I wore duck boots and they worked great but the fabric uppers almost got ruined from some ankle deep mud! Also, the wind and rain in Scotland comes and goes VERY quickly so you will want to pack rain gear in your backpack to have with you at all times if plan to go on a longer hike. I never had to wear my rain pants, but I was certainly glad to have my rain/wind jacket!
|Back Roads outside of Blair Atholl|
We referenced Walk Highlands for information on where to park, how to find the trailheads, which turns to take etc. There are thousands of hikes all over Scotland, some just start on the side of a road, it’s incredible to me how much beauty is around every corner.
Conic Hill – this is a relatively easy hike outside of Glasgow with beautiful views of Loch Lomond in the middle of the Trossachs National Park. It wasn’t a difficult or dangerous hike by any means but it was very steep in areas and the wind was treacherous at the top! My heart was beating pretty fast the whole time! The hike begins in a large parking lot (Balmaha Car Lot) and is well marked. Through the trail you will see cows, sheep, cross a small stream and encounter some breathtaking views of the loch, especially if you go towards sunset. It is a 2.75 mile hike (out and back) and took us about an hour and a half. The elevation gain is around 1,120 feet.
Finnich Glen – C’s favorite experience of the whole trip! This is a very short hike outside of Glasgow. It is only about a 15 minute drive from Conic Hill and is a MUST if you have the time. It isn’t much of a “hike” per-say, but more of a half mile stroll through the woods along a ravine. You can park on the side of the road and you just stick to the ravine until you come across the stairway known as the “Devil’s Steps” or “Jacob’s Ladder.” Once locating the stone stairway, it goes straight down to the gorgeous moss covered glen. The steps are very steep and slick so I wouldn’t recommend it for young families or older folks as it could be dangerous. Finnich Glen was the location of the “Liar’s Stream” in the Outlander TV show! It boasts blood red water around the “Devil’s Pulpit” stone. I wish I would have brought my real camera with me on this hike as opposed to just my iPhone because the photos do not do it near enough justice.
Falls of Bruar – an easy hike, suitable for families and older folks who don’t want an overly steep climb. The falls are BEAUTIFUL! This hike begins just behind a large shopping center, the House of Bruar. It is a well marked path, mostly walking upstream along a river, and is very quiet and peaceful. If you hike the entire trail to the second bridge, it is about a mile and a half out and back. However, the first viewpoint and bridge is by far the most stunning! If you do hike to the second bridge, there is a picnic area at the top to rest at.
Arthur’s Seat – located in the heart of Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano that towers over the city. It was named for King Arthur, himself! It is a short but steep hike and is a very popular tourist attraction and destination….aka not a peaceful hike but a busy one! There are multiple ways to get to the top, all varying difficulties and distances, but most start at Holyrood Park. The path we chose was about two miles total and had an 830 foot elevation gain. It took us a little over an hour but we did stop at the top to take pictures. It was VERY windy – so much so that I almost got blown over while taking a photo!
|Conic Hill overlooking Loch Lomond|
|Finnich Glen, aka Devil’s Pulpit or the Liar’s Stream from Outlander|
|The Falls of Bruar|
|The Falls of Bruar|
|Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat|
|Atop Arthur’s Seat|
You can’t even begin to imagine the amount of castles that there are in Scotland unless you’ve been there yourself. There are literally castles everywhere you go! I felt like we saw a TON of castles but we only saw a small handful of them. Some are in ruins, others are turned into museums that you can tour, some can be rented as event venues or vacation homes and some are still lived in. All of them are amazing! I’m listing the ones we visited below as well as some others that we didn’t make it to.
Doune Castle – the medieval castle itself isn’t anything breathtaking but it was extra cool to see because it is Winterfell in Game of Thrones, Castle Leoch in Outlander AND the castle in Monty Python! It was already closed when we stopped by, but I believe you can tour the inside.
Glamis Castle – a stunningly large castle with a beautiful, long driveway lined with trees… Glamis is where the Queen Mother was born and Queen Elizabeth II visited it many times during her childhood. The castle is the legendary setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It does cost a few pounds to drive on the property and see the grounds…and a few more pounds if you want to tour the castle, but I think it’s worth it to see its beauty up close.
Craigievar Castle – probably my favorite castle of all because it was straight out of a fairytale. This pink castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney when he created Sleeping Beauty’s castle! You can only tour the inside of the castle in the summer and cannot enter the building unless on a guided tour. However, the grounds are open year round. Apparently the last residents of the castle (who left in the 60s) didn’t appreciate modern day technology because there is no electricity inside.
Dunnottar Castle – this castle is in ruins but it has the most jaw dropping backdrop I’ve ever seen! It is situated on the cliffs of the breathtaking North Sea coast and is like stepping back in time. It does cost to enter the castle grounds but it is completely worth it! I will say that it is a bit of a hike to the castle from the parking lot (and quite a climb on the way back), just FYI! I should not have worn a dress and heeled boots haha. This castle was last lived in during the 1700s but went into ruin when the Lord of the castle took part in the Jacobite Rebellion. There are many buildings outside the castle itself to explore such as the chapel and stables among others. Some say that the castle is haunted!
Midhope Castle – Outlander fans will recognize this castle as Lallybroch! It is located about 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh. It does cost a few pounds to park and enter the property but you cannot enter the castle itself. However, if you’re an Outlander fan, it’s worth the trip! It looks EXACTLY like it does on TV and is super cool to see in person. I fan girled so hard!
Craigmillar Castle – the “other” castle in Edinburgh (as opposed to Edinburgh Castle, itself) was my favorite castle to explore! It does cost a couple of pounds to visit, but it is 100% worth the price. It is technically in ruins but has been very well preserved so the whole structure, though just stone, is still in tact. We literally got lost in the castle walls as we explored the nooks and crannies, climbed the turrets and walked the hallways. Mary Queen of the Scotts stayed at this castle for some time as she recovered from an illness, so it has its own royal history!
Other Castles: Castle Fraser, Slains Castle, Blair Castle, Caerlaverock Castle, Carlowerie Castle, Balmoral Castle (all worth a google image search)
|Midhope Castle, aka Lallybroch|
Ruins & Roadside Stops
It is shocking how much you will discover in Scotland just from driving by and stopping at things you find on the side of the road! All of these locations, with the exception of Jedburgh Abbey, were not on our radar until we drove past them on our way back to Manchester to fly home. The whole “car hiking” thing really worked out for us! Though these locations are all in southern Scotland right by the English border, I can almost guarantee you’ll find similar sights all across the country.
Dryburgh Abbey – the ruins of the most beautiful abbey that was built in 1150! It does cost to enter, but it’s really neat to see. A few facts: it was set on fire three times and Sir Walter Scott is buried here. It has a gorgeous medieval, gothic architecture that will take your breath away and is so incredibly peaceful.
Scott’s View – the most stunning lookout…..I made the photo I took my computer’s screensaver! It is said that this was Sir Walter Scott’s favorite place to stop and sit on his way home.
Leaderfoot Viaduct Bridge – we weren’t able to make it to the Hogwarts Express bridge, but this railway bridge was a close second…..especially considering we found it while driving on a highway! It was SO TALL and so stunning, especially with some fall foliage behind it. There appeared to be multiple hikes that began at the bridge, as well.
Jedburgh Abbey – we planned to visit Jedburgh Abbey but ended up spending our entire day exploring Dryburgh Abbey, instead! Jedburgh Abbey, built in the 1100s, is in ruins and is located in the middle of Jedburgh (a small border town). It looks beautiful but we only were able to see it from the car.
|Leaderfoot Viaduct Bridge|
Towns to Stop In
Scotland has some larger cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen, to name a few) but the small towns really stole my heart! They are all super charming and the locals are genuinely kind and happy to help you. I wish we could have spent an entire month hopping from town to town. There are hundreds of towns and I am no expert, but I wanted to share the few that we stopped in because I loved them all.
St Andrews – St Andrews golf course is a must for any golf lover and is the largest golf complex in Europe! It is known as the “Home of Golf.” Though the course was lovely, the town was equally as charming. I wish we would have had time to explore the cute shops and restaurants. I think you could easily spend a whole day/night here.
Stonehaven – this cute seaside town is close to Dunnottar Castle. We grabbed lunch here at The Bay Fish & Chips (YUM) and ate right on the water! The coast was stunning to look at but COLD! Not cold enough to deter me from getting sticky toffee pudding ice cream at Aunt Betty’s, though! It was next-door to The Bay and it called my name!
Auchterarder – where we stayed overnight after hiking at Loch Lomond! This town was small but CUTE and the locals were incredibly welcoming and friendly. We ate at Delivino for dinner per the recommendation of our AirBNB host and the owner was so nice! He asked where we were heading next and wrote us a whole list of suggestions for the area. On our way out of town we grabbed some breakfast sandwiches at NOSH; they were delicious and the lady at the counter was so friendly and helpful!
Blair Atholl – this town was very close to where we hiked at the Falls of Bruar and we drove in, through and around it about five times! We found our one and only “coo” (a highland cow) here! Though not large, it was charming and made us feel like we were in the heart of Scotland thanks to its picturesque backdrops. Blair Castle is nearby (very impressive) and there appeared to be some really cute hotels, inns and BNBs to relax in, as well.
|St Andrews Golf Course|
|Lunch in Stonehaven|
|A “Coo” aka a Scottish Highland Cow|
I could write an entire novel about how much I loved Scotland but I’ll stop here! If you made it this far…..you must be a fellow Scotland lover or be planning a trip there yourself! If you have been to Scotland, please share your favorite spots in the comments. If you’re heading there soon, let me know if there is anything I didn’t cover…I’d be happy to help you plan your trip.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!